Last of the Monster Kids

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Series Report Card: Friday the 13th (1993-2003)

9. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
When a film series runs as long as this one has, it’s certainly a good idea to spice up the central concept, especially when the films are as admittedly routine as these can be. However, I still feel “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” strays from the central ideas of the franchise a bit too much. Rewriting series’ history by saying that all this time Jason has been a body hopping demon as opposed to just a hockey-happy maniac comes a bit out of left-field and toys with fan’s expectation too much, especially since it means Jason as himself only appears for brief moments at the beginning and end of the film.

The gore is quite impressive and features some of the nastiest scenes in the franchise and is definitely the main reason to catch this one. Genre fans should also watch out for several in-jokes like the presence of props from “Evil Dead,” “Creepshow,” and “The Birds.” Also of note is that this film also features the most graphic sex scene of the series.

However, other areas lack. I appreciate the writer/director’s attempts to give the characters a little more personality then the clichés usually seen in types like this. That doesn’t change the fact that most of the cast is shrill, annoying, or just plain stupid. Not even the presence of special guest victims Erin Gray or Leslie Jordon can change this.

And what about the Jason make-up? It looks very rubbery and fake. When Jason does show back up at the end, the film actually becomes pretty enjoyable, which makes me wonder if the movie would have been better had he stuck around for the majority of the picture. As it is, “Jason Goes to Hell” is a different but unsatisfying entry in the series.
[Grade: C-]

10. Jason X
By this point the franchise has been around for over two decades. Over that twenty year course, any sense of reality has pretty much been loss as Jason has returned from the dead numerous times, eventually as a super strong, indestructible ultra-zombie; fought a telekinetic chick, took a field trip to New York, became a body switching demon, and been to hell and back. (Same as New York, right?) Naturally, the only thing left to do is send him into space. (“Friday the Apollo 13th?”) Some fans deride this direction, saying it’s too far removed from the series’ roots. I completely embrace it though, as it’s this sort of campiness that keeps the movies fun.

And if it’s nothing else, “Jason X” is fun. Goofy, certainly, and stupid in parts, too, but I was entertain and that’s all I really ask from these films. Injecting some humor into the proceedings helps a lot, especially the “Crystal Lake Holo-deck” scene which is great. The gore and murder scenes are well-done and at least creative, taking advantage of the futuristic setting, though a few of them felt compromised by the budget. The cast is slightly better then expected though none of the talent on screen here is above the series’ standards. The cyborg/Jason fight is fun and Robo-Jason is a slick payoff.

Some of the humor is groan inducing and the pacing could probably be a little better, but if this is any indication of the kind of direction the series is taking, I am pleased. By embracing its B-movie roots and not being afraid to get a little crazy, the franchise may prove to have some legs outside of the eighties.
[Grade: B-]

11. Freddy vs. Jason
It was first suppose to happen back in 1988 (“The New Blood” was made instead) and was set up ten years prior by the end of “The Final Friday,” but it wasn’t until 2003 that “Freddy vs. Jason” actually got made. Pitting the two reigning kings of eighties slasher horror against each other had the potential to be an embarrassment to both franchises, especially when you look at some of the early scripts and concepts that were thrown around during the decade this movie stayed in development hell. However, by hiring some smart fans to write the script and Hong-Kong action veteran Ronny Yu to direct, the payoff is basically a fan boy’s wet dream.

While a bit too much attention is paid to the cast of teenagers, who are typically pretty uninteresting, most of the film centers on the two stars themselves, which is a very smart idea since they’re the ones we all care about anyway. Freddy hasn’t been this nasty since the first “Elm Street” and we get to probe Jason’s subconscious a bit. The movie balances between the two characters very nicely, giving both of them equal screen time, and effectively blends the two universes, which is actually a lot harder then it sounds. There are also several nods here and there to past films in both franchises, which is a nice treat for long term fans.

The final battle between the two is like horror geek nirvana. Though there’s plenty of good gore throughout, the best set-pieces are saved for the final act, as the two terror titans really do beat the shit out of each other. The fight scene is choreographed surprisingly well and Yu watches the whole thing with a steady hand. Visually speaking, Yu’s direction is actually pretty good all the way through, as the film makes great use of color and set design and is very interesting to look at. Basically, this film was everything it should have been and I enjoyed myself a great deal. (I still think “A Nightmare on Friday the 13th” would have been a better title.) [Grade: A]

The next entry in the series, a remake/franchise reboot simply entitled “Friday the 13th,” is in production right now and will premier next February, on the thirteenth, natch. This report card will be updated accordingly around that time. So keep your eyes (and other body parts) peeled.

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