TGIF13 – Day Nine: Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

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With the ninth film, the Friday the 13th series entered a new era – housed at a new studio, and back under the guidance of its original creator. But what did this mean for the series? There’s no doubt New Line’s primary interest in acquiring Jason was to finally square him off against their trademark star, Freddy Krueger – but that would have to wait, and, in the mean time, New Line would make a lot of interesting decisions to keep the franchise chugging along. The New Line era, for better or worse, starts here. Read on to find out how the series tried to re-invent itself, and whether or not it pulled it off. And, as always, SPOILERS AHEAD.

JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993)

Directed by: Adam Marcus
Screenplay by: Dean Lorey & Jay Huguely
Story by: Jay Huguely & Adam Marcus

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THE PLOT

Remember how the last movie ended with toxic waste or lightning or magic or something turning Jason into a dead little boy? Yeah, well, forget all that crap! As this movie begins, Jason is back to his old hockey mask-wearing self, and once again stalking the forests of Crystal Lake. Unfortunately for him, his latest target is actually an undercover FBI agent sent to trap him, and Jason is blown to a hundred pieces in the resultant ambush.

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Despite the celebration of both the FBI and the town of Crystal Lake, at least one person isn’t convinced Jason is truly dead – bounty hunter Creighton Duke, the only man who somehow knows that Jason’s soul actually lives on, and is now actually “hopping” from body-to-body (with the aid of a strange, demon-worm thing…don’t ask).

Turns out Jason can only truly be killed by another Voorhees. Not only that, but he must also be “reborn” through a fellow Voorhees, since these regular human bodies he’s inhabiting don’t last very long. Well, wouldn’t you know it, Jason’s half-sister Diana just happens to still live in Crystal Lake, and even has her own daughter, Jessica, and granddaughter, baby Stephanie…giving Jason not one but three relatives to go after.

Eventually, it’s up to Jessica, her former boyfriend Steven, and Creighton Duke to take on Jason, and finally send him to hell for good…or at least a decade or so.

MY THOUGHTS:

First, a confession: as much as it pains me to admit, I thought this movie was really cool when I first saw it. In my defense, I was only 12 at the time, and getting to see an R-rated movie in the theater by myself (thanks, cool parents). And, besides, how developed is anybody’s taste in movies at that age, anyway? Now, over 20 years later, and armed with an improved bullshit-detector, I see Jason Goes to Hell for what it really is – an ambitious but seriously-flawed attempt to re-invent a dying series.

And dying, it was. Following the box-office failure of Jason Takes Manhattan, and Paramount’s subsequent decision to end their long association with the series, there seemed little reason to be hopeful of any immediate future for Friday the 13th. And yet, oddly enough, the same poor fortunes that seemed ready to kill the franchise actually opened the door to its biggest opportunity yet. Because, as far as most people were concerned, there was really only one more legitimately exciting avenue for the series to explore – the long rumored battle between Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger.

One person who agreed with this theory was Sean Cunningham. Originally afraid of being pigeonholed as “the Friday the 13th guy,” Cunningham had walked away from the series after the third film. But in the subsequent years, he had not seen his career take off the way he had hoped, and was growing more and more comfortable with the idea of returning to the world he had created. Cunningham’s only real interest, however, was a Freddy/Jason cross-over…not only did he know this was what fans wanted to see, but – more importantly – he knew what a boon it would be to his wallet. So, after buying back the rights to the series, Cunningham took them right over to Freddy’s home base of New Line Cinema, and it looked like the biggest smack-down in horror history was finally going to become a reality.

Except for one small problem. Wes Craven chose that very moment to make his own return to the series that made his name, and so a team-up project was indefinitely put on hold in favor of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (a bummer at the time, but considering how great New Nightmare turned out, I guess it worked out in the end). Cunningham, meanwhile, knew it was important to at least get the Friday name back out there, in order to keep it relevant for the eventual meet-up with Freddy. Enter director Adam Marcus, a protégé of Cunningham’s (which is actually just a fancy way of saying he was friends with Cunningham’s son).

By that point, it had become pretty much de rigueur for any new Friday filmmaker to insist their film be different than the others…or, as ended up being the case with Marcus, very different. Perhaps looking to retroactively justify the more mystical direction the series had been taking (and no doubt to further help set the stage for the Nightmare crossover), Marcus – together with writers Jay Huguely and Dean Lorey – consciously sought to go for an even more supernatural feeling this time around, including the whole “body-hopping” concept that would end up being the film’s most controversial element.

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Now, it should be said, the basic idea of a killer passing his soul from body to body isn’t necessarily a bad one. It certainly has potential…but would probably work better if you’re starting a franchise with it. But to get nine films into a series and suddenly go, “hey, did you know our bad guy can do this, too?” Well, let’s just say that was a little too much for even many Friday fans to accept.

The worst part of it is, when fans go to see a Friday the 13th movie, and especially one with the word “Jason” in the title, they want to see Jason! And I don’t mean Jason’s “soul” in somebody else’s body…I mean the Jason we know and love, in all his hockey-mask wearing glory. Instead, the body-hopping notion relegated Kane Hodder’s Jason to only the beginning and end of the movie. The rest of the time is spent with various characters “possessed” by Jason’s soul…lame enough, but further hindered by the fact that none of the actors seem to know how to “play” Jason. In Peter Bracke’s excellent book Crystal Lake Memories, Hodder remembers how he tried to coach the actors on replicating his movements – advice most of them simply ignored.

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Not MY Jason…

The filmmakers have come out after the fact to insist the positive of keeping the Jason we know off-screen for so much of the film’s running time is that we are much more excited to see him when he finally makes his big return at the end. That sounds good in theory, but doesn’t really pay off in the execution. Not only because Jason’s puffy head appearance in this one is a little hard to get used to, but also because he doesn’t do much once he’s back, other than fist-fight our rather unimpressive hero, Steven, for a few minutes.

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I’m also no big fan of the whole “it takes a Voorhees to kill a Voorhees” plot element (and for the sake of my own mental well-being, I’m not even gonna get into the whole “magic dagger” nonsense). I can appreciate the desire to establish a mythological back-story for Jason, one that helps explain how he keeps managing to come back from the dead. But the notion that only a relative can kill him is completely unnecessary. And yet, it was apparently a pretty popular story device back then – a similar concept was also used in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. If I had to guess, I’d say it all goes back to the revelation of Laurie Strode being Michael Myers’ sister in the Halloween series. Suddenly, every series wanted to have the baddie fighting a relative. Well, I’m actually quite happy with the good-old-fashioned Tommy Jarvis’ of the world, thank you very much (although, who knows, maybe Tommy and Jason are distant cousins).

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It’s not all bad, I suppose. I like a challenge, so I’ll find some nice things to say. For one, I’m pleased as punch that the movie ignores the “Jason turns into a little boy” ending of the last movie, and instead just begins with him inexplicably fully grown and back in Crystal Lake. You would think that would piss off someone who bitches about the inconsistent continuity of these movies as much as I do, right? Well, after seeing the evidence on hand, I can only imagine that whatever explanation for Jason’s return that Marcus and company could have come up with would have probably been even stupider than what is already on the screen. So it was probably best to just ignore it and get on with the damn thing. Kudos to them for realizing this.

And I will give it up for the opening sequence, depicting Jason’s apparent demise at the hands of the FBI. Not just for how cool a visual it is to see the task force blowing him to smithereens (but, let’s face it, it’s pretty awesome), but also because it’s the first time the series has ever acknowledged that the rest of the country must be aware of what’s going on in Crystal Lake. You figure a town that small can only have so many murder sprees before it gets at least a few minutes of national airtime (I will say this, though – I hate the over-exaggerated grunts Jason makes while being shot. Living Jason can grunt all you want, but zombie Jason should be silent, dammit).

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Oh, I’ll also admit to enjoying the sight of the Evil Dead‘s Necronomicon inside the Voorhees house. Sure, it was just a throw-away gag meant to elicit giggles of recognition from horror fans, but it actually makes a weird sort of sense when you think about it. If you can actually believe that Mrs. Voorhees was in fact practicing black magic with a copy of the book, then you can retroactively go back and explain away quite a few of the more “questionable” story concerns from the previous movies. And, of course, it helped set up Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, which might not have made it to the big screen, but did manage to eventually see the light of day in comic-book form.

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And as long as I’m throwing out faint compliments, I might as well acknowledge the infamous final shot of Freddy’s glove pulling Jason’s mask down to hell – a crowd-pleasing moment, to be sure, even if it would take a full decade to get the pay-off.

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But don’t let any of this minor praise fool you – the movie is a mess. A kinda fun mess, at times, but still a mess. I still put it above Part V: A New Beginning, in terms of the series’ worst entries, if only because it’s at least somewhat admirable they were attempting something so different. But at what cost? There were probably about a hundred other ways you could have gone about bringing a more supernatural tone to the series, if that’s what you so desired…and almost all of them would have probably been superior to what we have here. In trying to reinvigorate and re-create the series, Marcus and company simply went too far, and ended up with a final product that just doesn’t feel enough like a Friday the 13th movie. There’s got to be a happy middle ground between a completely radical reinvention and still giving the fans what they came to see. Jason Goes to Hell, unfortunately, just can’t seem to find it.

But, hey, if you ever wanted to see Jason strap a naked man to a table and then shave him, this is the movie for you!

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I don’t know, man…I just don’t know.

BODY COUNT: 22

The later Friday films tended to have pretty high body counts, and this one is no exception. I should point out this number includes all those that are possessed by Jason, since it is a fatal condition. Once Jason “leaves” their body, they proceed to melt-down in – on at least one occasion – spectacularly gruesome fashion.

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Speaking of which, I guess this is a good time to mention that Jason Goes to Hell was the first Friday film to be made with an eventual director’s cut in mind, and, as such, the home video version of the film is, if nothing else, a welcome return to gore, following a string of MPAA-neutered entries. If there’s one main thing that keeps the movie fairly watchable despite its numerous issues, it’s this.

BEST KILL:

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Censored for you sensitive types…

No contest here. In a much-improved variation of the “spear through two teens having sex” moment from the second film, Jason this time rams the spear only through the girl, but then proceeds to literally split her in half with it! It’s without a doubt one of the most graphic kills in the series’ history, and the fact that it comes right at the end of a decent sex scene only makes it that much better. And, yes, I say that knowing full well statements like those are the reason some people think horror fans are sick in the head.

BOOB COUNT: 5

Thank heaven for re-shoots. The kill scene mentioned above was only added in after test-screening audiences demanded some more “traditional” Friday the 13th-type scenes, which also led to the nudity from the poor split-in-half girl and her friend. Before that, the only nudity would have been a quick glimpse of a sole boob in the opening sequence. In all honesty, I’d usually bemoan filmmakers bending to the whims of test audiences who just want to see more blood and breasts. But, then, it’s not like this film had a whole lot else going for it, and it is a Friday the 13th movie, after all. So in this case, I’m all for it.

CRAZY OLD COOT:

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Let’s give the devil its due. For all of the film’s problems, bounty hunter Creighton Duke is a pretty great, memorable character. Maybe he’s not as old as guys like Crazy Ralph or Abel, but Duke is the one character in the movie with the most knowledge of Jason, and he does spend a lot of his time warning others about what he knows. In that sense, he kind of fulfills the Crazy Old Coot role – it’s just a different kind of crazy with him. You know, more of a “bad-ass” crazy.

NITPICK PATROL:

So, as if the whole body-hopping thing wasn’t stupid enough, the movie can’t even be bothered to stay consistent with its own rules. Near the film’s climax, a character possessed by Jason actually speaks in his normal voice and tries to fool the heroes into believing he’s fine. But that’s the only time this happens! If Jason can do that, why the hell isn’t he doing it during the entire movie?? Sure seems like it would have made things easier for him.

I also can’t help but wonder why Jason has waited till now to go after his sister? The movie insinuates that she has lived in Crystal Lake for some time, and it kinda seems like Jason is actually aware of the whole “only a Voorhees can kill him” thing, so wouldn’t it have made sense to take care of her before? Or did he always suspect that he would someday be blown-to-pieces, and would need to use either her or her offspring to be reborn? That’s actually pretty good planning on his part. In fact, now that I think about it, she’s the stupid one! She’s obviously aware that she is Jason’s sister, and thus a potential target, and yet she has continued to stay in Crystal Lake all these years. When you think about it that way, it’s sorta tough to feel bad about her eventual fate.

But there is no bigger moment of idiocy in the entire movie than when Jason is finally “reborn” in the final act. Can anyone explain to me how exactly is it that after his “evil worm” form crawls into his dead sister’s womb (and yes, you did read that right), he is somehow reborn wearing clothes and the hockey mask?!? I’m sorry, I don’t care what kind of black magic, supernatural, Necronomicon bull-crap you use to defend this…I’m calling shenanigans here.

I mean, jeez, if the movie is going to be that stupid, you might as well just go ahead and shoot Jason up into space or something.

Hey…wait a minute…..

FINAL SCORE: 1.5 out of 4 Hockey Masks

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About Trevor Snyder

Give me zombies or give me death. Wait...that doesn't make sense.

Posted on November 12, 2014, in Franchise Post-Mortems, Friday the 13th, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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