It seemed like Jason was finally dead. That ill fated trip to the Big Apple has succeeded where countless cops and final girls had failed and everybody’s favourite psychopathic slaphead was finally resting in pieces. After Friday 13th Part VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan garnered dismal box office returns and a poor reception from even the fans of the series, Paramount had decided enough was enough, and plugged the plug on the ailing saga. It looked like Jason had his room booked in the Famous Monsters Retirement Home, destined to swap stories of the glory days with the Gill Man and other movie creatures whose franchises were long dead.
Years rolled by and just when it seemed like Jason was forever condemned to playing Scrabble with Dr X and giving the similarly recently retired Michael Myers evil looks, rescue came from an unlikely source. New Line Cinema (RIP), the home of Jason’s arch rival, Mr Frederick Krueger, acquired the rights to his character and promptly arranged a reunion with his long lost stepfather Sean S. Cunningham. And needless to say Mrs Voorhees’ little boy was delighted to be heading back to the silver screen.
But there was an air of apprehension surrounding the project. While it was good that Daddy Cunningham was back in the executive producers’ chair overseeing this long overdue resurrection, Jason was a little perplexed by the title. Due to legal wrangles, that he certainly could have sorted out quickly with his trusty machete if they’d only bothered to ask, New Line didn’t actually have the rights to the title ‘Friday 13th’ and so his 1993 return would be titled Jason Goes To Hell – The Final Friday. But that date was his birthday dammit! And what was this ‘final Friday’ business? Was he to be freed only briefly?
Well at the time New Line was keen to acquire the rights to other iconic horror characters; they’d also bagged Leatherface in this period, seemingly keen to set up shop as a modern day house of horrors studio. But the real motivation for getting the rights to Jason was that at long last they could pit him against their boy Freddy. If you recall previous editions in this series of reviews, Friday 13th Part VII – The New Blood was originally planned realise the fanboy dream of seeing Jason and Freddy go head to head. However back then, New Line and Paramount failed to reach an agreement both studios were happy with.
But the dream lived on, and so when the rights to Jason appeared on the market, New Line was quick to snap them up in order to proceed with their plan to stage this epic clash of the terror titans. However as four years had passed since his last slaying spree, it made sense to turn Jason loose again in a solo venture first and hopefully reignite his popularity with the movie going public.
However, while the movie that writer/director Adam Marcus delivered certainly kept the Voorhees name alive, the project somehow ended up missing its target. Aside from the somewhat short sighted aim to finish off the Friday saga, quite why they chose to give us a film that actually delivered very little Jason is something of a mystery.
Recall if you will the general reaction to Friday 13th Part 5 – The New Beginning - despite lots of Jason action, the revelation that the slayings were being perpetrated by a fake still incenses fans to this day. Even though we have a hulk in a hockey mask dishing out the carnage, many still feel it’s a cheat it’s not Jason himself behind the battered face piece.
So then, if you are looking to relaunch Jason’s career the decision to make a movie that only has our deformed antihero at briefly at the beginning and end is a puzzling one. Considering the loud and vociferous fan damnation The New Beginning provoked, it’s surprising no one at New Line said “hang on guys, this making Jason a demonic body hopping slug... Are we sure this is what the fans want?”
Yes, you did read that right. Demonic body hopping slug... But we’ll get to that in a moment.
The movie opens well enough. A pretty college age girl – i.e. typical Jason fodder - is faffing about in a cabin in the woods, with the camera stalking her as she goes about her ablutions. Its classic Friday 13th shenanigans, with the cinematography making it clear to the audience that at some point Jason is going to pop up and dispatch her horribly. It’s very reminiscent of the opening of Friday 13th Part 2 and like that pre-credits sequence even features a spring loaded cat fake out scare. So far, so good.
However when Jason finally does lurch into shot and sets about terrorising his prey, the film throws us the first of many curve-balls. Our favourite masked killer pursues the girl out of the cabin into the woods and then is spectacularly ambushed by the FBI. Jason steps into a clearing and is riddled with a barrage of bullets and finally taken down with high explosives. Legally speaking, I believe this is what they refer to as 'terminated with extreme prejudice'...
Now it’s a fabulous sequence but by the time the credit roll our villain is literally in pieces. No doubt some of the original patrons of the movie would have been sat in the dark of the theatre wondering if the projectionist had had the ultimate visit from Mr Cock-up and shown the final reel first. So far Jason had risen from the dead at least twice and recovered from seemingly fatal wounds many times, but literally pulling himself together from a bin liner full of bloody kibble was a lot to expect, even given the notorious physical resilience of slasher killers.
How were Adam Marcus and co. going to get out of this plot corner? Well in a scene that is both creepy and downright bizarre, the coroner conducting the autopsy on Jason’s remains sees his blackened heart begin beating and then promptly is drawn to devour the reanimated organ. And subsequently he becomes possessed by our undead killer and the killings begin again.
However Jason’s new body quickly begins to degenerate and so throughout the movie we have him hopping from host to host, appearing as a slimy devil worm slithering from mouth to mouth. And until the finale, all we see of ‘proper’ Jason is when his hosts pass a reflective surface and we see his hockey masked figure in place of them.
Now the reason for all of this turns out to be that apparently Mr and Mrs Voorhees were devotees of the dark arts and somehow Jason is the product of their dabbling in black magic. I say ‘somehow’ as the script never really elaborates on this new origin story – it’s unclear whether Jason was the result of an attempt to create a demonic ‘moon child’ (a human sired by mystical forces for those of you who don’t have a head stuffed full of occult flotsam and jetsam), a family curse akin to the Myers’ druid heritage, or just plain old diabolic possession.
What we do learn though is that Jason can only be properly reborn through the flesh of another Voorhees, hence his host bodies short shelf lives. And the plot of the movie follows the various good guys trying to prevent the undying Jason from body hopping to his remaining kin.
Now a body hijacking psychopath is an intriguing premise for a movie, but that movie was 1987’s The Hidden, a very fun sci-fi horror thriller hybrid, also made by New Line and widely seen as director Jack Sholder’s apology for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 - Freddy’s Revenge. And sadly it’s just not a good premise for a Friday 13th flick; while I will always applaud an attempt to do something new with an old character, there are limits of what you can do without breaking the core concept that makes said character appealing in the first place.
So while the idea that anyone can become the killer might seem like a decent premise for making a scary movie, when the killer in question is an iconic slasher like Jason, you are effectively removing the main thing the audiences have coughed up their hard earned cash to see. I can understand that at the time Jason and hulking slashers in general had been done to death and so naturally the good people at New Line thought that giving the character a new supernatural twist, and moving the franchise more in line with new horror favourites like Pinhead, the Deadites or Freddy would look like a sound plan on paper at least. And I can even understand that the whole business with the evil devil slug meant they could also mine the body horror seam - Jason Goes to Hell as well as trading on The Hidden also borrows from Cronenberg’s Shivers and The Fly.
However once again you have to wonder why they expected a Jason-less film to play well to an audience who were ponying up cash just to see him. Considering how fleeting the appearance of the ‘real’ Jason actually are you could be forgiven for thinking that New Line were pulling a similar stunt to Dimension Films approach to the later entries in the Hellraiser franchise i.e. taking a script that wasn’t originally penned as a Friday 13th movie and shoe-horning Jason into it. Regrettable this was not the case; it was a brave but ultimately utterly wrong headed approach to revitalize a character mired in his own cliches.
Now we’ll get back to Jason and the muddled mythos this flick introduces a little later, but giving the film a provisional pass as an experimental entry in the saga and looking at the movie in its own right what does Jason Goes To Hell actually deliver?
Well on the plus side, we get some fantastic effects work – there’s bloody kills galore – indeed the most explicit we seen in a while as you can get this one uncut on DVD - and lots of oozy body horror degenerations so there’s at least something for the gorehounds out there to enjoy. There’s also some cheeky references to other famous horror movies thrown into the mix – look out for visual references to Creepshow, The Birds and The Evil Dead*. And as a director Marcus is competent enough, setting up some nice scenes and bringing far more flair to the proceeding than the last two outings. But unfortunately, as is so often the case, the script is just a mess.
While the movie tries its hand at building up some proper characters, unfortunately the script is quite unfocused on which characters we are actually meant to be following. You are never sure whether the lead is supposed be bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), hapless everyman Steven Freeman (John D. LeMay) or TV journalist Robert Campbell (Steven Culp) – too many Steves all round and that’s just the male leads!
Furthermore the characters themselves don’t all seem to fit either. The afore mentioned Creighton Duke in particular seems to have wandered in form an entirely different film and the script doesn’t flirts the idea of satirising true crime television but Campbell and his subplot is never really developed enough. And this lack of a proper dramatic focus or clear plot line leaves the film lurching about between scenes rather than flowing as a good story should.
All in all, even if you can forgive the lack of proper Jason action, Jason Goes To Hell is still a misfire. While it delivers the mayhem is pleasing amounts and if you are of a kindly disposition you may forgive or even enjoy the new additions to the Crystal Lake lore, at the end of the day the script is simply too uneven. There are just too many characters cluttering up the narrative and all the switching between leads wrecks the pace of the movie. And that’s not to mention the plot holes – aside from lack of details on the implied origins of Jason himself, the FBI sting and Creighton Duke leave you wondering where the hell they’ve been for the past eight movies. Duke in particular, although marvellous fun, really needed some kind of back story explaining his history with Jason.
On one hand, there’s enough action and inventiveness to save the movie from being an utter train wreck. Spotting the references to other horror flicks is fun and even when the plot lurches into utter nonsense it’s still a lot of fun. But lacking a solid backbone for its story, the movie ends up drifting from one set piece to another like some gore obsessed jellyfish.
And that’s an assessment based on giving the movie a pass for what it has done to the Jason mythos - which as you may well have gathered, I don’t! Firstly the actual details of all these new occult origins are fudged and the rules are never quite clear. If Jason can be reborn through the flesh of his kin folk, why does he return in the same somewhat battered shape we saw at the beginning? Surely a fresh new body, not bearing the scars of seven other films would be more appropriate. Furthermore it’s never explained why only a Voorhees can kill a Voorhees, or how come Jason has absorbed the souls of those he has slain which see released in the form of optical visual effects? The movie seems to think that just showing the dagger and Necronomicon from The Evil Dead is enough. But if you are going to so radically rewrite the origins of your villain, this just won’t do. I suspect they left the background murky so as not to contradict the first eight films but really having set up Jason’s parents as meddlers in the dark arts, they’d already done that.
Also you have to wonder why having decided to make Jason a hell-born slug thingamajig, they’d didn’t go the whole hog and reveal that this demonic beastie inhabiting our favourite deformed slaphead is one of the same wormy little buggers that Fred Krueger did a deal with in Freddy’s Dead. After all at the very end we get Freddy’s gloved hand dragging Jason’s hockey mask down to Hell, a deliberate set up for the planned Freddy Vs. Jason, so it would make sense to tie this new black magic origin for Jason to the Krueger mythology.
But even when we do get Jason onscreen creating carnage, I wasn’t particularly happy. Basically I just don’t like the look he sports in this film; much like the treatment of the mythos as a whole Jason Goes To Hell just gets it wrong. In general this incarnation is easily my least favourite Jason, and yes that includes Roy! Only the melting monkey mask version seen in Part 8 tops it for sheer awfulness. Now it’s not that the make-up job is bad per se, it’s just that for my tastes he’s just far too lumpy and bumpy to the point where his deformities seems to be swallowing the sides of the his mask. And therein lies the problem: the sides of his bonce are overwhelming the iconic hockey mask. Now you could argue that this new exaggeratedly malformations are due to the toxic waste bath that did him in the last movie but when the script makes no mention of the events of Part 8 or explains how come he’s up and about again, you have to wonder why they bothered keeping in with continuity in the make-up.
But also, aside from him having little to do in this film, I really didn’t like the fact that this Jason grunts and wheezes. Previously Jason has been pretty much mute and part of his effectiveness as a screen monster is that he is the silent implacable killer; however this Jason with his wordless vocalisations loses the eerie silence of the character. Plus there’s a lot more running and lumbering about, which in conjunction with his new found voice, make me wonder whether at some stage the script was intended as a sequel to the earliest films; as the portrayal is saying ‘human deformed maniac’ louder than ‘undead killing machine’ you wonder whether perhaps they initially were planning on ignoring the later sequels much like Halloween H20 did.
Yes, just when you thought the question of whether Jason is alive or dead would never come back, this movie manages to resurrect it! Aside from the questions the performance raises, the fudged mythos leaves us some awkward questions. If Jason can only be truly killed by some one sharing his blood line, how then did he drown in the first place? We’ve never had a satisfactory explanation of whether he did originally die as child or not and like the previous entry you can’t help feeling they missed a chance to consolidate all the mythos once and for all.
And while this new addition to the lore that he will rise again if slain by a non-Voorhees covers his revivals in Part 3 and Part 4, it doesn't sit well next to the ghostly nonsense of Part 8... Oh alright, NOTHING sits well against Part 8 but it still doesn’t jib with the ‘return him to original resting place’ hokum of Part 6.
And so, a disappointing Jason coupled with an unsteady script leaves us with a poor entry in the series. On the plus side though, there is plenty of action and it is a real treat to be able to view this one completely uncut for a change. I’d say there is enough good stuff in it to save it from being a truly terrible film; for all its faults at least it isn’t dull. But it doesn’t really work properly as either as a Friday 13th flick or a horror movie in its own right. It fails on many levels, but it’s an interesting failure; it’s an oddity in the franchise rather than another stinker.
However as any casual movie fan could have told them, the experiment to do a Friday 13th largely sans machete wielding slaphead was doomed to fail. In the box office stakes, Jason Goes To Hell did slightly better than its predecessor but not that much better. Hence the poor ticket sales and generally negative reaction meant it was back to the quiet halls of the Famous Monsters Rest Home for young Jason. It did indeed look like this was to be the Final Friday...
* - The crate in the cellar is the same one Fluffy lives in, the jungle gym is the same model as the one in Hitch’s classic.
JIM MOON, 6th September 2010