TGIF13 – Day Eleven: Freddy vs Jason

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Here it is, folks. Inarguably the most highly anticipated slasher film of all time. The ultimate modern horror crossover that was rumored and speculated on for years, but I don’t most of us ever really expected it to happen. And yet, here it is. Of course, trying to merge two popular series in a way that satisfies fans of both is quite the challenge. Was this movie up to the task? Read on to find out. And, as always, SPOILERS AHEAD.

FREDDY VS. JASON (2003)

Directed by: Ronny Yu
Written by: Damian Shannon & Mark Swift

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THE PLOT

Following the events of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (in terms of timeline, Jason X takes place after this film), America’s most infamous slashers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, are both stuck in hell. Since his disappearance, the town of Springwood has done everything possible to erase the memory of Krueger from its children, thus leaving him powerless to return.

And so Freddy revives Jason (don’t bother asking how) and, posing as Mrs. Voorhees, convinces him to go to Springwood to start killing teens. Freddy knows this will inevitably lead to “Freddy talk” in the town, thus giving him a way back into the dreams of the local kids. The only problem is, he never considered the fact that Jason is in no mood to share victims. Soon, the two are engaged in the ultimate battle for blood-letting supremacy, with the terrified teens of Springwood caught in the middle.

MY THOUGHTS:

Well, it was about time. It took ten years and numerous scripts by numerous writers, but in 2003 Freddy Vs. Jason finally crawled out of developmental hell and gave everyone the smack-down they had been waiting for ever since the final shot of Jason Goes To Hell (and, really, even before that). But, as one might expect, it didn’t come without controversy…or instant dismissal from some fans who considered the whole idea to be too corny.

Personally, I’ve never understood that opinion. As those involved with the movie are quick to point out, Freddy Vs. Jason simply continues a cinematic tradition that began long ago with films like Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (and yes, like it or not, Freddy and Jason are just as iconic to today’s audience as the classic Universal monsters were back in their day).

I’m sure a lot of the apprehension can be attributed to the fact that horror fans, myself included, often have a tendency to place their favorite movies and characters on way too high of a pedestal. But, c’mon, by this point we had already sat through films like Jason X and The Dream Child. It’s not like Freddy Vs. Jason was in danger of being the first real black eye to two otherwise highly-prestigious franchises.

And so, like the later Friday films in general, this one is probably best enjoyed by horror fans looking for nothing more than cheap thrills and a dumb good time. Thankfully, the film never strives to offer anything more than that. And because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is more-than-willing to revel in its own absurdity, Freddy Vs. Jason arguably ends up being the most flat-out entertaining film in the Friday series (although I still give the slight edge to Jason Lives in terms of my own personal favorite – if only because it has a bit more of a “traditional” Friday vibe to it).

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If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine…but just remember, it could have been a lot worse. During the developmental stages of the project, several writers struggled with a way to bring the two characters together. Most of the proposed ideas were horrible – like one which would saw Jason captured and put on trial for his crimes. Huh? Another popular idea that survived several re-writes was to focus on a cult – known as “Fred-Heads” – trying to revive Freddy by throwing his heart into Crystal Lake. But no doubt the worst idea involved a ret-con of Jason’s origin, which would reveal that Freddy had in fact been a counselor at Crystal Lake, had molested young Jason, and had then thrown him in the water and left him to drown. Ugh.

Thankfully, writers Shannon and Swift eventually stepped in and convinced New Line the best way to go would be to stay true to the already established mythologies of both characters, and to think of a logical reason for why the two would come together. Hey, I know it ain’t Shakespeare, but this was still no easy task. The story had to feel like it seamlessly fit into two separate franchises that are actually quite different stylistically. That they pulled it off as well as they did is quite the accomplishment. Shannon and Swift’s script (including an un-credited polish from David S. Goyer) might not be perfect, but it’s just about as good as this story was probably ever going to be. Not only does it manage to honor the well-recognized rules and back-story of each character, but it does so without ever seeming to favor one franchise’s fans over the other. Sure, it might feel more like a Nightmare film in terms of tone, but it allows Jason to take center stage quite often, and even places the final battle in his stomping grounds of Camp Crystal Lake. It’s a tough balancing act, but the movie pulls it off.

Of course, much of the credit must also go to director Ronny Yu, who was admittedly not overly familiar with either series when he took the job, but quickly did his homework and ended up doing a bang-up job. His focus on eye-popping visuals and over-the-top action was perfect for a film like this (the use of Asian-influenced wire work during the final battle is a particularly nice touch). As already seen in his Bride of Chucky, Yu has an impressive understanding of the proper ratio of “cheesy to scary” in a movie of this kind – most fans, whether they’ll admit it or not, weren’t coming to Freddy Vs. Jason looking for a return to the scary, tension-filled early days of both series. They were looking for the mother of all knock-down, drag-down fights, and Yu delivers with two appropriately over-the-top Jason/Freddy fights that feel like a hybrid of horror and WWE.

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Oh, I almost forgot, there are some human characters running around too, but I think it’s pretty safe to say no-one was really coming to see them. Still, considering they are the “heroes” of the piece, I’ll give credit where credit is due and admit that they’re pretty tolerable, for the most part. Maybe it’s because these are Springwood teens, and the Nightmare series always has offered up slightly less clichéd characters than the Friday films.

Whatever the case, the characters serve their purpose, and thankfully never bog down the film during its non-Freddy-and-Jason moments. Sure, the stoner character Freeburg is such a blatant clone of the Jay character from the Kevin Smith movies that they should’ve just cut to the chase and cast Jason Mewes. But I can put up with Freeburg if I also get to see horror fave Katherine Isabelle, who is always a welcome addition in my eyes. Meanwhile, although a lot of fans rolled their eyes at the idea of casting Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland, she’s actually fine in the movie.

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Now, sure, Jason Ritter and Monica Keena – as the film’s other two main characters – both give less-than-award-worthy performances…particularly Keena, who has to play terrified for like 90% of her screen-time, and often slips into distractingly hilarious overacting (a fact I can easily forgive considering how cute she is…when it comes to these movies, I’m shallow like that). But still, I’d go as far as saying that most of these kids are actually pretty likable, and ultimately serve their purpose of moving the story along to the parts everyone really came to see.

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As for the actors playing the titular characters, it goes without saying that Robert Englund is fantastic as Krueger. It’s a role he could play in his sleep by this point, and Englund brings his A-game here. It’s a testament to his performance that he even comes across well when saddled with clunky expository scenes where Freddy is required to essentially talk directly to the audience and explain to them what is going on. I’m sure some fans are disappointed that Englund plays Krueger as more of the clown he eventually became as opposed to the more traditionally sinister character he was in the original Nightmare on Elm Street. But, really, by this point it was probably too late to turn back the clock on that one; and besides, his exaggerated mannerisms and dark sense of humor is a perfect match for the tone of the movie, not to mention a nice counterpoint to the silent, humorless Jason.

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Speaking of Jason, well, here’s where we get into that controversy I mentioned earlier. Leading up to this project, it was easy to assume that Kane Hodder would once again play the role, having done so four times already and having become pretty synonymous with the character. Surprisingly enough, though, Yu and the producers decided to go in a different direction, instead casting Canadian stuntman Ken Kirzinger in the role. It was a move that upset many fans, not to mention Hodder himself – he has since remained quite outspoken about his disappointment and anger over the decision.

I know I’ll probably lose the love of a lot of Friday fans with what I’m about to say, but here I go anyway – I sort of understand their decision. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Hodder’s work as the character. But the key to his performance was always imbuing Jason’s movements with visible intensity and a sense of urgency. He played up the “scary monster” aspect of Jason, and that certainly fit for the movies he was in. But because Freddy Vs. Jason actually does turn Jason into the de-facto “good guy” of the battle, I’m not sure it would have worked.

Here again, I’m throwing myself into the firing line of die-hard Hodder supporters, but I’m just gonna go ahead and say it – the version of Jason in this movie is actually my favorite in series history. While the Hodder films portrayed Jason as a somewhat cunning killer, Freddy Vs. Jason instead plays-up the naïve, child-like simplicity of the character – he doesn’t really know what he’s doing is wrong, he’s simply doing what his mother wants. It’s an interesting and appropriate take. At the same time, I love his look here, and how he comes across as a towering, physical powerhouse. And I really enjoy what Kirzinger’s does with his performance – keeping Jason slow until he attacks someone, at which point he suddenly bursts with energy.

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Could Hodder have switched gears a little and given the more sympathetic performance they were looking for? Maybe. Did he at least deserve a chance to prove he could, given his history with the series? Most definitely. But it’s a moot point now. And, in the end, Hodder’s belief that getting rid of him was a huge mistake turned out to not hold much water. The movie made $82 million at the box-office, after all. Are we to believe it would have crossed the $100 million mark if Hodder had been in it? Look, I feel bad for the guy, who championed this movie for years only to have to happen without him. But, as a fan of Friday the 13th in an overall sense more than I am a fan of a particular Jason, I choose not to let the situation dampen my enjoyment of the movie.

At the end of the day, all controversy aside, Freddy Vs. Jason delivers precisely the kind of crazy blood-soaked mayhem and dark humor that fans had been waiting for. It seems like it has become fashionable to rag on the movie in the decade since its release, but I just don’t get it. This is about as good as “dumb fun” gets, and can play like gangbusters with the right crowd. Take it from someone who saw it all three days of its opening weekend (yeah…I have problems). So it’s really no surprise it ended up the most financially successful Friday film. In fact, it’s a good thing it wasn’t made until when it was. If this movie had been made during the late ‘80s heyday of the two franchises, when it was first suggested, it probably would have ended up as just another cheapie slasher flick.

Instead, coming ten years after both series had effectively ended (yeah, I know…Jason X…but that one made such little impact that it hardly counts), Freddy Vs. Jason was inspired to both play on its easy nostalgia factor, and work harder to return these two icons back to their rightful place atop the horror genre, even in a more cynical post-Scream age. And speaking of Scream, the massive success of that film, and the resultant horror boom, also meant Freddy Vs. Jason was given the budget it needed – something else that probably wouldn’t have happened in the ‘80s. The movie is a pretty big spectacle, the likes of which the Friday series had never seen. This feels right, and a nice, fitting way to say goodbye to the Jason Voorhees of the original Friday continuity. For now, it looks like Freddy Vs. Jason will indeed be the final chapter in the original run of both original series’, and I can’t think of a more appropriate way for the two horror icons to go out – kicking each other’s asses, and spraying blood all over the place.

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BODY COUNT: 20

Man, not only does he lose the physical confrontation, but Freddy also comes up way short in the body count department, killing only one victim compared to Jason’s nineteen. Maybe that was part of the contract negotiations with Kirzinger. “OK, Ken, we won’t be giving you any billing like Robert is getting…but you will get to kill a shit-ton more people in the movie than he does.”

By the way, another reason I’m thankful this movie was made when it was is that it came along during one of those rare periods when the MPAA was really taking it easy on the horror genre. There’s some splendidly gruesome stuff here…

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…although most of the blood is, appropriately, saved for the final fight between the two villains.

BEST KILL:

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I do love the early moment where Jason folds a bed in half…with its occupant still in it. But, like I said a few days ago, it was even more impressive when he used his bare hands to do the same thing to the sheriff in Jason Lives. So instead, I’ll give the nod here to Jason’s dispatching of the Freddy-possessed stoner Freeburg by slicing him in half with his machete…a wicked moment, shown in all its glory, that can’t help but make you realize what we were missing in the earlier, more-censored days of the franchise.

BOOB COUNT: 7

You gotta hand it to Freddy Vs. Jason, it sure doesn’t waste any time delivering the goods – we’re treated to our very first sight of breasts just three minutes in. And it’s a pretty good pair, at that. Not long after that, there’s a fairly decent glimpse of boobs in a shower scene…only slightly spoiled by clearly being a body double for the actual actress. From that point on, however, we’re in less exciting territory, as the movie’s remaining breasts belong to dead bodies seen in the dream world. Hey, if that’s your bag, it’s cool. But I prefer breasts of the living, non-creepy variety.

CRAZY OLD COOT:

Well, Freddy is kind of a crazy old coot, isn’t he? But, OK, that’s a little too easy. The fact is, this movie never really has time for the usual sort of Friday coot, especially considering the majority of the story actually takes place in Springwood, not Crystal Lake. Interestingly enough, an early draft of the script contained unused material regarding Tommy Jarvis trying to prevent a new housing development from being built on the old Camp Crystal Lake site. Although it was only a throwaway line or two, primarily there just to make fans happy, it still would have somewhat made Tommy a crazy old coot himself, as he would have been the one warning anyone who would listen about the town’s “death curse.” But, alas, it didn’t make it to the final film, and in the end there’s really no genuine crazy old coot to speak of. You just can never have it all.

NITPICK PATROL:

Not too much here. Like with Jason X, this film’s less-serious attitude helps deflect a lot of the potential nitpicks right off the bat. Sill, it is odd that Jason simply walks to Springwood from Crystal Lake at the beginning of the film (believe me, a shot of him getting off a bus would have delighted me). And just what is Jason up to whenever we’re not seeing him in this movie? It seems like he has a lot of down-time. Has he rented a room at the local Springwood Holiday Inn?

It’s also always bothered me a little that the main characters’ plan at the end involves going to Crystal Lake, forcing the two villains to fight, hoping Jason wins, and then just leaving, happy that Jason is back on his home turf. It’s like, “sorry, people of Crystal Lake…not our problem anymore!” I mean, I get it, and I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing. But, damn, that’s cold.

One common nitpick I do not share with many is the notion that the film presents Jason as being “afraid of water.” I can’t believe how many horror fans, many of whom should know better, I still see making this claim. It’s a total misunderstanding of what movie is presenting. The scene in question takes place inside Jason’s own mind, as he and Freddy do battle in Jason’s dreamscape. Like he has done with so many Springwood teens before, Freddy is able to search Jason’s subconscious and discover his ultimate fear. But it’s not water that we are meant to believe he is afraid of…it’s drowning. You know, the thing that happened to him when he was a young boy? That was kind of a big deal, right? In that moment, Freddy is simply able to exploit the fears of the child part of Jason’s mind. At no point in the waking world is Jason depicted as being the slightest bit afraid of water. I really just don’t understand how some people get this so wrong.

Final Score: 4 out of 4 Hockey Masks

4Mask

 

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About Trevor Snyder

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

Posted on November 14, 2014, in Franchise Post-Mortems, Friday the 13th, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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