THE WHOLE PICTURE: Jason Gets a Change of Scenery (Part 3 of 3)

WholePicture_Fridaythe13th-3

Franchises are a part of the cinematic landscape. Some series grow more complex and change throughout their run while others just keep doing what’s expected of them. Now, I am happy to announce another ongoing series of our own. Every so often on Moviocrity, I will be looking at each film in a given franchise. One by one they will be reviewed and hopefully give a clear view of how certain franchises survived and how others fell apart. You’ll be able to read all about it in a column I’m calling THE WHOLE PICTURE!


For our final installment of this three-part series on the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, we look at what happens when Jason finds himself in unfamiliar surroundings. After Jason’s New York adventure failed to attract people, Paramount quietly suspended any plans for future FRIDAY THE 13TH films. Likewise, executive producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., who had been with the series since the second installment, decided he wanted to move onto other things before it was too late. So, for a few years, we had no FRIDAY films at all.

New Line eventually secured the rights, not to FRIDAY THE 13TH but to the character of Jason Voorhees. This is why none of the New Line films carry the FRIDAY THE 13TH moniker until the remake which was co-distributed by Paramount. This wouldn’t be the only change. Sean S. Cunningham would come back into the fold, but he had some very different plans for Hockey Mask.

If you’ve missed either of the first two installments of the series, be sure to check them out. Part 1 covers the first five films of the series and part 2 begins at Jason’s resurrection, covering parts 6-8.

Now get ready, because this is the biggest installment yet.

RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA

  • What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals? 
  • In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?

The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.

JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993). Director: Adam Marcus. Cinematographer: Bill Dill.
JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993). Director: Adam Marcus. Cinematographer: Bill Dill.

JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993) – A young woman ventures into the abandoned cabins of Camp Crystal Lake. She strips down and showers (Have you ever noticed that the camp always has running water and the artifacts of previous horrors, as if someone were still paying the bills and the police never bothered to collect evidence?). She even goes outside to fix the power and investigates a strange noise. That’s when Jason, sensing the freshly showered flesh of a new tenant, decides to give her a welcome in the manner he has grown accustomed to for the last decade or more. The woman flees, leading Jason into an open field. But psych! This was no ordinary girl, she was an FBI agent serving as bait. Dozens of other agents pop out of the foliage and shoot the hell out of Jason, finally blowing him up with a grenade. That should get the job done, right?

Of course not. Jason’s body is sent to the morgue where the coroner discovers an enlarged heart filled with a black, viscous liquid. Something seems to call to him and the coroner graphically devours the heart on screen. A small light show ensues and now the coroner is an unstoppable killing machine. How does that happen exactly?

Well, a few years prior, New Line stated they were wrapping up their NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series (lie) and they did so by explaining how Freddy came back from the dead. In a story most fans like to pretend was never told, Freddy was filled with demonic parasites that allowed him to live on and continue killing. JASON GOES TO HELL goes a different route and explains that Jason can live on because he’s filled with a single demonic parasite that allows him to live on and continue killing. See? Completely different.

The coroner kills everyone around him and makes his way towards Crystal Lake. It is revealed that Jason can be reborn for good once he enters the body of a relative. And yes, he does have a previously unmentioned sister played by BUCK ROGERS’ Erin Gray (who does a fine job here, incidentally and has recently popped up in some awesome stuff like the Geek & Sundry collection of web series). Jason catches up with his clan and soon the focus is on Jason’s niece Jessica (Kari Keegan), her estranged ex (John D. LeMay, playing a different role from the one he played on FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES) and their baby. Jason needs to get to one of them in order to become Hockey Mask once again. In the meantime, he jumps from body to body and brutally murders anyone who gets in his way.

As you can tell, JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL (cough) FRIDAY has a surprisingly complicated story and ventures in areas the series wouldn’t have dreamed of before. This works both in the film’s favor and to its detriment. I appreciate returning producer Sean S. Cunningham wanting to do something new. The storyline takes the over the top brutish gore of FRIDAY THE 13TH and melds it with a storyline similar to THE HIDDEN (which the filmmakers insist they had never seen until after the film was completed). It mixes things up and the film has several entertaining spots.

But other spots seem like they have been dumbed down from what was initially intended. Take the character of Creighton Duke. He’s a badass bounty hunter played by Steven Williams (then recognizable from 21 JUMP STREET). There seems to be a lot more to his character than what we see, hints of something really interesting. But what we end up with is a Keith David clone. It turns out this was a major change with several plot elements being cut from the film. Estimates of the film’s original length range from ten to 45 minutes more than what we have now. While a two hours plus FRIDAY seems a bit unwieldy, surely they could have cut the film down some without sacrificing important plot points.

Another big problem in the film is that it’s a film about Jason in which Jason barely has any screen time. There’s the awesome beginning and an unsatisfying last ten minutes. But for the rest of the time, Jason is not played by series best Kane Hodder but by a succession of townies with makeup that makes them look like they’ve been up for three days straight. And how the hell can you have a movie called JASON GOES TO HELL and sideline Jason for the bulk of the running time? Had they not done this, we might have had a good little film here.

Oddly enough, the blame for this can be rested squarely on Cunningham, who it is said left strict instructions to get the hockey mask out of the film. It has also been stated in the CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES documentary (a lot of my information comes from there) that Cunningham had not seen any of the sequels after leaving the series. So, what you really have is the reign of Sean S. Cunningham and Frank Mancuso, Jr. And nobody expected that Mancuso was the person trying to keep some of Jason’s dignity.

One more thing before we move on. Who’s bright idea was it to add grunts and groans on Jason in post-production? Next to his mask, the most notable thing about Jason is that he doesn’t make any noise at all. The guy has been shot, stabbed, beaten and set on fire. He sure as hell isn’t going to get chatty if he has to jog a little. Just something that rubbed me the wrong way and a sign that we might be in real trouble when it came to future installments.

And yes, of course we knew there would be future installments. They pulled this “final” stuff before and the fans weren’t buying it. Of course, the wait period until the next entry would be the longest fans had ever experienced. Disappointing.

JASON X (2001). Director: Jim Issac. Cinematographer: Derick V. Underschultz.
JASON X (2002). Director: Jim Issac. Cinematographer: Derick V. Underschultz.

JASON X (2002) – JASON X is of course the story of what happens to Jason Voorhees once he joins the Nation of Islam. It really puts his killing spree into a new light as he acts as a puritanical enforcer against unclean women, lustful men and teens up to all sorts of immorality. The name change to Jason X is appropriate. Voorhees is Jason’s slave name.

I’m kidding of course. You know which film JASON X is and that’s Jaaaaasooon Iiiiiin Spaaaaace…..

We open at the Crystal Lake Research Facility in the near future. Nobody has been able to kill Jason of course. They have been able to capture him, however. The plan is to put Jason in cryogenic storage but an unethical doctor (David Freaking Cronenberg!) thinks he’s too valuable and wants to move him instead. Big mistake as Cronenberg and everybody around him is slaughtered. Rown (Lexa Doig – now a veteran of such sci-fi series as V, ANDROMEDA and CONTINUUM) is the scientist who knows that there is no stopping Jason. So, she goes with the original plan and freezes him but not before getting caught in cryogenic stasis herself.

Flash forward 455 years, a group of med students are on an expedition to the now-abandoned Earth and discover both Jason and Rowan. Traveling back to their spaceship, they are able to bring Rowan back to life and she immediately warns them to get rid of Jason. Too late. Jason is up and walking around their spaceship and continuing his killing spree.

We never really figure out what they’re doing, incidentally. Using basic logic, this should not be a haphazard group of young people on this spaceship. If they are med students, why the focus on archeological finds? Add to that the fact that everyone has a different area of expertise – one person knows biology and another robotics, etc. – and others seem to have no skill set whatsoever and you get the feeling that nobody really thought about this when prepping the final draft of the script.

But of course that’s just one of the problems with JASON X. Sending a horror franchise into space was nothing new by the time this one came around, but it was already seen as a desperate grasp at relevancy. The Krites went into space (though to be fair, they started out there) in CRITTERS 4. Then Warwick Davis went into space for LEPRECHAUN, er 4. And most notably, Pinhead lurked around dark sci-fi corridors in Alan Smithee’s HELLRAISER…. 4?!? What the hell, that can’t be right. Why haven’t more people commented on this? Not only does it make me happy CANDYMAN 4 never happened, it makes me think that if FRIDAY THE 13TH went to this well back in 1984, it wouldn’t have seemed so underwhelming.

A bigger problem is that this is the first FRIDAY film to be released in the post-SCREAM era. Thankfully, many of our younger readers won’t fully comprehend what this means since the tendency to ape that film has died down considerably. Wes Craven’s SCREAM was a fun, self-referential film that benefitted from also having a number of well-shot sequences, sort of if John Hughes did a slasher. Unfortunately, everyone took the wrong lesson from that film’s success and suddenly every horror script had to get a Kevin Williamson-like rewrite. The characters needed to all spout hip one-liners and self-consciously reference the ridiculousness of the films. This works when the chemistry is right. But JASON X was just one of many instances where it didn’t work at all. Now, the sci-fi premise was less ALIEN and more I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID 455 SUMMERS IN THE FUTURE.

This film was actually completed in 2000. But New Line, seemingly aware they had a stinker on their hands, kept delaying its release. Finally, Rue Morgue magazine tired of New Line’s shifting release dates. Genre critics had already gotten a peek at the film but were embargoed from commenting until the film’s release, a common practice. They ran a cover story on JASON X and it wasn’t pretty. New Line finally released the film in April 2002 and by then, everyone knew is was a letdown, too hip for its own good.  Awful.

FREDDY VS. JASON (2003). Director: Ronny Yu. Cinematographer: Fred Murphy.
FREDDY VS. JASON (2003). Director: Ronny Yu. Cinematographer: Fred Murphy.

FREDDY VS. JASON (2003) – Picking up from the events in JASON GOES TO HELL, both Freddy and Jason have been dragged down into Hell. Freddy is really pissed off because his old town of Springwood had gone to great lengths in order to forget about him and conceal his existence from the town’s younger populace. We know he’s mad because his opening narration is less explanation and more unintentionally funny spaz attack. Calm down, Krueger, you’re embarrassing yourself.

Posing as his mother, Freddy convinces Jason to return to Earth (I guess he could have just done that whenever he wanted?) and continue his killing spree on Elm Street (Doesn’t the town have any other streets?). The idea is that the town will be scared of boogeymen again and eventually, their fear will allow Freddy to kill the kids in their dreams once again. But eventually, Jason’s blunt tactics become too much for Freddy and the two go to war against each other.

When FREDDY VS. JASON came out twelve years ago, I believe I gave it a positive review at Horror Express. I’m afraid to look, so I’m just going to guess. Because as I watched FREDDY VS. JASON for only the second time, all I could think was, “What the hell was I thinking?!?”

This is a film that deserves a much worse reputation than the one it’s been given. Looking at the film now is a revelation. FREDDY VS. JASON isn’t merely underwhelming, it’s an absolute disaster. There wasn’t one thing in this film that was handled right. From the laughable beginning to the ridiculous premise, it was already off to a bad start. And then we get the main characters. This also fell into the same post-SCREAM trap as JASON X. The screenwriters feel the need to write the main characters with some sort of traumatic backstory, which should be a plus, but not when every single note rings false. The rest of the cast is then able to just be the hipster doofuses we’ve seen in a million other films. In fact, many of them seem to be plucked from other films. Even actor Kyle Labine has stated that yes, of course his character was supposed to be a knockoff of Jay of “Jay and Silent Bob” fame, even as producers unconvincingly have denied it. So, we get lots of self-referential one-liners, but no real characters to rally behind. It’s like an entire cast made up of Twitter feeds instead of actual people. And then there’s the horrendous casting. No one is worse than Kelly Rowland, who was then famous for her stint in Destiny’s Child and has since gone onto a respectable solo career. In music, she may be a force to be reckoned with, but as an actress, Rowland is a dead fish and the whole thing reeks of stunt casting. I can’t even rally behind Katherine Isabelle, an actress I love (check her out in AMERICAN MARY, or GINGER SNAPS, or SEE NO EVIL 2, anything else really), because while she handles herself well, the brainless script casts her in a thankless role as an easily pushed around slut.

And how could this happen? Much of the blame must be placed on director Ronny Yu. This is a man who directed a number of fine films in Hong Kong, most notably the two BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR films. In America, studios seemed unable to handle him correctly and his style didn’t translate to what they wanted. He did direct one successful film however, BRIDE OF CHUCKY, a film that served as a continuation and spoof of the CHILD’S PLAY series. Unfortunately, Yu has brought the same sensibility to FREDDY VS. JASON in a manner that suggests he approached the film with a “one size fits all” strategy that could never really pan out.

Yu freely admits that he had never seen any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films before, which begs the question – why, out of dozens of directors in the running for the job, did they settle on him? My only guess is the success of BRIDE OF CHUCKY. But it becomes immediately clear that Yu needed to have a clearer understanding of not just the characters, but the elements that had made these two of the longest running franchises in horror history. Like many Hong Kong directors who tried their hand in Hollywood, Yu returned to his native land where he made far superior films, including the excellent Jet Li vehicle FEARLESS. Ronny Yu isn’t a bad director, but he was most certainly the wrong director.

Hence, we have poor facsimiles of the horror icons and it’s actually kind of sad to see Englund reprise his Freddy role in such a travesty. There are plenty of head-scratching moments to be had here. Most controversially is the reveal that Jason is suddenly afraid of water. Never mind that he has spent the better part of the last few decades underwater, or that in the previous films, he can be glimpsed continually stalking his prey in Crystal Lake and can also hang out there for an indefinite amount of time since he can hardly be drowned again. Then you have the pathetic attempts to add depth to the story – usually a good idea, but only if handled by writers and actors up to the task. By the time the heroine asked, “Freddy was killed with fire, Jason with water. How could we use that,” I feared that my eyes had rolled so far back in my head that they would never emerge again.

Naturally, any film with a “vs.” in a title should be a little corny. But this film manages to be incredibly mean-spirited (dig some of the gratuitous racist and homophobic dialogue), not terribly smart or creative and yet as cheesy as one of Schumacher’s BATMAN films. The all-digital effects are terrible, by the way. Proof that more is not always better, this $25 million film sports effects not even a fraction as satisfying as those that originated in the $1 million original from 23 years before.

Should they ever continue the original FRIDAY THE 13TH series, I propose something akin to WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE. Jason emerges from the screen and enters the real world, slaughtering everyone at New Line involved in the making of FREDDY VS. JASON. I’m sure the fans would approve.  The Worst.

FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009). Director: Marcus Nispel. Cinematographer: Daniel Pearl.
FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009). Director: Marcus Nispel. Cinematographer: Daniel Pearl.

FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009) – But we didn’t get another sequel. We got a remake. And what a terrible remake we got. Rather than simply remaking the original FRIDAY THE 13TH – or God forbid, trying something new since they were starting from scratch – we get this weird mashup of the first few FRIDAY films.

Clay (Jared Padalecki – SUPERNATURAL, GILMORE GIRLS) rides around Crystal Lake on his motorcycle, looking for his missing sister. But as an old-timer tells him, she isn’t missing, she’s dead. Sure enough, we have seen her murdered along with her friends in a lengthy and sort of satisfying opening. Jason killed them, just as he kills anyone who treads on his turf.

And here’s where I can’t bring myself to go on and talk about how terrible this film is. Aside from that opening, it’s just bad all the way through (It is written by the same team who penned FREDDY VS. JASON, after all. And thankfully, they haven’t written anything since.). Listen to one of the first episodes of Film Geek Central. My opinion didn’t change on this second viewing. Instead here is where I will talk about my theories of the origin of Jason Voorhees, and how this film doesn’t get this simple concept.

A suspense-free credits sequence unsatisfactorily reenacts the conclusion of 1980’s FRIDAY and then shows Jason looking on, witnessing the murder of his mother. Now, the idea that Jason was always alive and saw this happen has been tossed around, even in my favorite entry of the series, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2. But it was always speculation, and indeed the ever-shifting continuity in the series has suggested a number of other scenarios. And no scenario is dumber than the idea that in all the decades while Jason’s mother was killing people and mourning the loss of her son, Jason was alive and well, hanging out in the woods surviving on God knows what (remember that he required constant supervision as a child), without ever trying to contact anyone and apparently bulking up and developing a huge bloodlust. My theory – and it is just my theory – was that Jason was indeed dead all along. When we first see him, it’s a dream. Jason emerges as a child, decaying at the bottom of Crystal Lake. Of course, this wasn’t where he was in actuality. His body would have been fished out and properly buried, otherwise how would they have even known he drowned? This was purely a nightmare experienced by Alice Hardy. However, there is something strange about Crystal Lake. Pamela Voorhees herself didn’t start out as a monster and after that first double homicide, most of her attempts to keep Crystal Lake closed were non-violent – poisoning the water, setting fire to the vacated cabins, etc. But decades of rage and loneliness can have quite an effect on someone. The spirits of the forest, the people who have died, coalesce once Mrs. Voorhees is killed. Her sadness combines with the leftover psychokinetic energy to create a being of pure rage. Jason isn’t a kid who likes to kill. He’s a force of nature, a mindless assassin born out of the energies of these people and something unspoken in those woods. He wasn’t at the bottom of the lake, he comes into being, first as a vision in Alice’s mind and then a few months later, as the grown embodiment of all that tragedy. He was always supernatural in a sense, which is why he won’t stay down, even long before his official reanimation in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI. That’s my opinion of the character.

Of course, the people behind this one don’t do anything that interesting. The writers are content to give us the worst characters we’ve seen in years, again with hints of racism (The black character brings up his race every few minutes, the nerdy character is the Asian, etc.). Director Marcus Nispel apes his previous success by mindlessly going through the paces, openly admitting that he took the job as an attempt to repeat the success he experienced immediately after helming the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake. Not one of the people involved in this film seems to know or care what makes this series so interesting. Even the worst films of Paramount’s FRIDAY THE 13TH series showed promise. These last few films have revealed none of that.  Awful.

CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH (2013). Director: Daniel Ferrands. Cinematographer: Buz Wallick.
CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH (2013). Director: Daniel Ferrands. Cinematographer: Buz Wallick.

CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH (2013) – Daniel Ferrands had already made a documentary on the FRIDAY THE 13TH series with 2009’s HIS NAME WAS JASON. It wasn’t bad, but seemed to jump around, starting at a breathless pace and then staying there for ninety minutes. Ferrands is given the opportunity to do things better with CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH.

“Complete” is a good word to describe this documentary, based on the great nonfiction book of the same name. Through dozens of interviews and lots of old pictures and footage, we are taken through the beginnings of the FRIDAY films, all the way through every single sequel and even with segways that discuss FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES and the notoriously wonderfulawful Nintendo game. And how do they make sure nothing gets short-changed? Because CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES is nearly seven hours long!

Initially, my intention was to watch this in spurts of a half hour to an hour. But honestly, I got wrapped up in this film, which talks about the creative and technical aspirations, successes and failures of the films, while giving plenty of interesting anecdotes. Hence, I watched the whole thing in two sittings. They grabbed everyone they could conceivably get their hands on in order to give as complete a picture as possible.

The coverage given to the Paramount films is quite interesting, even when discussing the ones that didn’t work. This doc was firmly in the “highly recommended” territory there. But honestly, once Frank Mancuso, Jr. leaves the story and the films go over to New Line, there is an unfortunate turn. Hence, the last two hours of the film are frequently dull because of the lack of inspiration and frustrating when you sense the wasted potential of the productions. In short, it’s like the Mancuso-less FRIDAYs in itself.

Still, a very well done doc on an interesting yet erratic franchise.  Recommended.

And that’s it. Once Jason went over to New Line, it seemed people didn’t know what to do with him. It would seem like such a simple premise. They tried turning him into a demonic parasite, throwing him into the future and turning him into a cyrbog and pitting him against another horror icon. They even tried to go back to basics but showed a complete lack of understanding even in that simple model.

Since then, New Line has tried several times to get FRIDAY THE 13TH up and running again. We’ve heard about a prequel, a found footage film and even a television series that would focus on the townspeople of Crystal Lake. More than twenty years after gaining the property, New Line is still throwing darts at a board trying to figure out what sticks.

It’s impossible to imagine we’ve seen the last of Jason Voorhees however. And whatever gets released, there will be fans eager to devour it, hoping that this time the filmmakers will finally get it right. Until then, Jason is waiting, as are we all.

This article was revised from an earlier version that appeared on Film Geek Central.

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