TGIF13 – Day Ten: Jason X
Boldly going where…well, quite honestly, where a few other horror series had already gone, Jason X nonetheless sent our masked killer in a surprising new direction. One that I doubt many fans expected to see, to say the least. To this day, it remains one of the most controversial entries of the entire series. Did the new setting and sci-fi setting do the franchise any favors? Read on to find out. And, as always, SPOILERS AHEAD.
JASON X (2002)
Directed by: Jim Isaac
Written by: Todd Farmer
The future. The year 2008 (hey, give me a break…it was the future when this movie was made). Jason, having been captured by the U.S. government, is being held prisoner and experimented on in a research facility in Crystal Lake. Following a near-successful escape attempt, both Jason and lead researcher Rowan are cryogenically frozen in the building’s lower level.
Over 400 years later, in 2455, pollution has rendered Earth uninhabitable. Humanity has since moved on to a new planet known as Earth Two. A group of students on a field trip to the original Earth discover the frozen bodies of both Jason and Rowan, and bring them onboard their ship before taking back off into space to head home.
Once Rowan is “thawed-out” and filled-in on her situation, she quickly warns everyone that they have made a great mistake bringing Jason’s body along. But it’s too late…Jason has already awoken and is now tearing his way through the students and the space-Marines assigned to escort them. And things get even worse after Jason is unexpectedly “upgraded” by the ship’s computer, creating an even-tougher cyborg Uber-Jason.
Alright, so Jason Goes to Hell was neither a critical nor financial success (at least during its theatrical run), but it did have one thing going for it – that awesome final shot teasing the long-awaited Freddy/Jason confrontation. Fans ate it up – this was the first official confirmation that these two horror titans would soon be clashing on the big-screen. Except “soon” didn’t really end up being the case. Instead, the crossover film would spend an entire decade stuck in development hell (no pun intended).
Sean Cunningham eventually grew frustrated with the lack of progress and, as had been the case with Jason Goes to Hell, finally decided it didn’t make sense to just sit on the property any longer – especially not if a new Jason movie might actually help whet the appetite for the crossover. The only question was, what kind of Friday movie to make this time around?
Originally, director Jim Isaac pitched an idea to set the film in a snow-covered Crystal Lake during a blizzard, with Jason going after a bunch of kids from a skiing trip that are stuck in the area. Personally, I think that’s a fantastic idea – imagine all the cool stuff you could do with Jason and a frozen-over Crystal Lake. But, for whatever reason, Isaac’s collaborators just weren’t into the concept. After numerous other ideas were pitched and rejected (including Jason taking on gang members in L.A.), writer Todd Farmer eventually suggested sending Jason into outer space.
And…holy crap…that’s the idea they actually decided to go with.
Now, of course, just about anybody would hear the idea of “Jason in space” and respond with a roll of the eyes or maybe just flat out laughter. But, by all accounts, those involved with Jason X really believed in the idea, and honestly set out to fuse the worlds of horror and sci-fi and create a serious, scary action film the likes of which the Friday series had never seen.
Well, they certainly got their wish on that last part – Jason X is certainly unlike any other movie in the series. But as for it being truly scary or serious? Eh, not so much. Instead, what they ended up with is something more akin to a comedic masterpiece. The question is, is that really a bad thing? Many fans and even some of those involved with the film seem to believe so. Todd Farmer, in particular, has stated in the years following the movie’s release that he wishes they had stayed true to his original vision and gone for more horror than humor. The disastrous box-office performance of the film might seem to validate his theory, but I’m not sure I agree.
Frankly, I think it’s a little ridiculous to assume that this movie could have ever been as prestigious as Farmer believed it should be. Oh, I’m sure they could have filmed it with a more serious and tension-filled tone in mind, but it’s still always going to be the tenth film in a long-running slasher series, and set in outer space, at that. I freely admit to being one of those fans who didn’t “get it” at first (I hated this one on first viewing, and it took me a couple years to warm up to it), but I now realize that goofy self-parody was almost definitely the right way to go. And the good news is, the movie completely works on that level. Sure, it’s stupid as hell, but if you just accept that going in, it’s actually one of the more entertaining entries in the whole series.
And let’s face it – the film’s budget pretty much crushed any chance it had of being anything but a silly good time. The first thing you’ll notice when watching Jason X is how incredibly cheap it looks. Sure, it’s pretty extravagant compared to the other Friday films, but when compared to other high-profile sci-fi movies, the visuals are pretty underwhelming.
It makes one wonder how the filmmakers could have ever realistically expected to bring their much more epic vision to the screen. After all, this is a series that could barely afford to send its main character to New York, let alone outer space. So no surprise that at times this film makes even the cheapest Sci-Fi Channel original movie look like a Bruckheimer-produced summer blockbuster. Have you ever seen those Star Trek fan films that dedicated obsessives with too much time and money on their hands have made? The ones that look surprisingly well-made considering what they are, but are still, at the end of the day, clearly fan films? Jason X kinda looks like one of those, if that makes any sense.
The “fan film” vibe even extends to Jason’s appearance. Compared to the elaborate make-up work done in the last few installments, it looks like Kane Hodder is simply wearing a quickly-thrown-together Jason Halloween costume for most of this movie. This is somewhat explainable, since the film suggests Jason has the ability to actually regenerate and recover from wounds (an odd thing to bring up now, but then again it’s a hell of a lot better than telling us he can transfer his soul to other bodies). But still, following his increasingly decayed appearance in the previous four films, it’s sort of weird to see Jason here just look like a regular guy with bad hair wearing a hockey mask. And is it just me, or does Jason have his pants hiked up to belly-button level like a senior citizen?
Of course, some of the standard Friday the 13th complaints still exist, as well. A change in time period and location does not mean other areas will magically improve, so we are once again saddled with the usual uninspired performances from actors playing lame characters – although, to be fair, at least a couple of them seem to realize what kind of movie they are in, and ham it up accordingly. Lisa Ryder, especially, is clearly having a great time as android Kay-Em 14, and her over-the-top clash with Jason is easily one of the film’s highlights.
But Kay-Em is really the only memorable character outside of Jason. Oh, no, wait…I forgot about the brief cameo from David Cronenberg, taking time out from being one of our finest living directors to get killed by Jason. And that, my friends, is yet another reason David Cronenberg is awesome.
So we have cheap-looking sets, mostly disposable characters and, oh yeah, a pretty terrible and horribly-out-of-place score from series veteran Harry Manfredini. Like I said, this movie has very little going for it other than its whimsical tone. But on that end, it is truly amusing…sometimes in a “so cheesy it’s funny” kind of way, but just as often the film actually scores with intentional, poking-fun-at-itself type jokes. You gotta love moments like “guys, it’s OK…he just wanted his machete back!” Or, even better, the scene in which the characters attempt to distract Jason with a holographic recreation of a 1980 Crystal Lake, complete with naked girls looking to drink beer, smoke pot, and have premarital sex (“We love premarital sex!”). Not only is the concept of this scene tremendous, but it even gives Jason a chance to bust out a new variation on the classic sleeping-bag kill.
And speaking of the masked-man himself, let’s give the devil his due: Uber-Jason is pretty damn cool. You might groan the first time you see Jason turned into a hulking cyborg…heck, you might groan the hundredth time you see it. But it’s a great visual design; and really, I’ll take turning him into a cyborg over turning him into a little boy, any day.
All in all, Jason X is a film that probably should have been the worst in the series, but actually manages to succeed, simply by living up to the sheer ridiculousness of its concept. On a certain level, I understand the viewpoint of those fans that see this entry as an embarrassment, but I also feel bad for them in that they are apparently unable to just let go and have fun with the series by this point (maybe, like me, they just need time to let the movie’s charm soak into their system). It’s a movie that fully understands what it is and what it’s trying to accomplish, and just goes for it with admirable gusto. If anything, it might have actually been just a tad ahead of its time. In an era where movies like Sharknado become big mainstream sensations, something tells me there would be a much more receptive audience for Jason X‘s cheesy charms today.
If you really can’t get into the spirit of it, though, you could always just choose to disregard this film as a part of the official continuity. It almost works better that way, anyway…as a kinda self-referential parody of the franchise. But, to tell the truth, there’s definitely nothing in Freddy vs. Jason (which takes place before this movie) that contradicts the events shown here. With that in mind, and the fact that the 2009 remake seemed to signal the official closing of the book on the original series, I guess that means the original Friday the 13th film timeline ends with Uber-Jason somewhere out there in the universe, stalking the forests of Earth Two. I can live with that.
BODY COUNT: 24
You’ll often hear about this entry having the highest body count of them all…which may be true, but it’s only two more than Jason Goes to Hell. Then again, this number doesn’t include the assumed hundreds of people who must have died in the explosion of space station Solaris (indirectly caused, of course, by Jason). When you factor that in, it’s possible Jason X might just have a higher body count than all the other films put together.
You would expect a futuristic outer-space setting to result in all kinds of unique, imaginative deaths – and I’m sure that was the filmmakers’ original intention. But, in fact, most of the deaths are just your average Jason kills…you know, a stabbing here, a neck-snapping there. One of the few exceptions, however, is the kind of distinctive slaughter you would hope for, as Jason freezes a young girl’s head in liquid nitrogen and then smashes her face to pieces on a countertop. The movie really could have used more moments like that.
BOOB COUNT: 4
Don’t worry…gratuitous nudity will apparently survive far into the future. Although, actually, the film’s only nudity comes from the holographic simulation of early ‘80s Crystal Lake. Unless, of course, you count Kay-Em’s breasts…which I don’t, since they are obviously fake. And no, I don’t mean they’re “enlarged.” I mean the freakin’ nipples pop off!
CRAZY OLD COOT:
You could call Cronenberg’s character “crazy” for his blasé attitude regarding Jason, but really it’s more stupidity than craziness. I suppose the only other character that comes close to fitting the bill is the ship’s financial backer, Dieter Perez, who somehow knows Jason’s story centuries after you would assume it was forgotten. He’s not a very good “crazy old coot,” though – not only does he not warn the professor that he’s doomed, but he even convinces him to try to make money off of Jason’s body. Nice job, Perez…we all see how that turned out.
Surprisingly enough, a film that sends Jason both into the future and outer space is one that I don’t really have any major nitpicks about. In an odd way, this movie has a somewhat built-in invulnerability to nitpicking. Oh, sure, there are things you could poke holes in if you really wanted to, but it’s kind of beside the point when the movie is so unabashedly ridiculous from the get-go.
So instead I’ll just go ahead and happily accept the idea of a Government research facilty suddenly being located in Crystal Lake, or that nano-technology meant to read DNA and repair damaged organic material would also for some reason build Uber-Jason a shiny new steel hockey mask. Things like these don’t really any make sense, but – more so than any other time in the series – when you’re attacking the logic of a movie like Jason X, you feel like you’re the one with the problem.
FINAL SCORE: 3 out of 4 Hockey Masks
Posted on November 13, 2014, in Franchise Post-Mortems, Friday the 13th, Reviews and tagged David Cronenberg, Friday the 13th, Horror Movies, Jason Voorhees, Kane Hodder, Slashers, Space Movies. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.