If you grew up in the 1980s, you know that horror was king. In the bookstores, the horror section featured many books with lurid covers that titillated and frightened those of us curious–and brave–enough to venture into the section. Late night TV was creeping with horror. And in the multiplex, a turf war was going on. Every child of the 1980s had a side. The horror wars had two major figures and you were usually fans of one or the other. These figures were Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger. I fell on Freddy’s side, of course. So it’s with great caution that I have decided to leave my nice home on Elm Street and venture into the woods at Camp Crystal Lake.
I knew of Jason just like everyone else, and over time have caught nearly all of the original movies (the Paramount movies, and the first New Line one). Unlike each A Nightmare on Elm Street movie (or as the lamebrains would call ’em, Freddy Movies), I don’t really remember much of watching the Friday the 13th movies (or the Jason Movies). I know I saw most of them on Cinemax in various marathons, but hardly recall much else, or at least not enough to write about. Even as a 10-to-14-year-old, the movies left me uninspired and unimpressed. Still, they are a part of an era so why not take a look at them in my own, special way?
Over the course of a year, I have watched all the Friday the 13th movies. Considering the final Friday the 13th will be in September, I decided this was the appropriate time to begin a series of essays about the movies. I’ve decided that between September 13th and October 31st, I will post these essays right here. Some of these essays will come twice a week.
For fans of the Friday the 13th franchise, please take it easy on me. This will be like a Boston Red Sox fan trying to write about the New York Yankees (or vice versa). Let’s be civil, shall we?
The poll way back in July gave me a winner. However, I never got to the watch winning series of movies when I wanted to so I haven’t written the essays yet. That said, there’d been another set of essays I’d already started and am almost finished with, so that’s what I’m going with, especially considering next week’s significant date.
So the next movie series will be:
That’s right! Beginning next Friday the 13th, I’ll be posting my thoughts on the Friday the 13th movie series, or as some refer to them, the Jason movies.
Which I’ll totally admit that nobody voted for this series, but they came back on Netflix (well, most of them) and I began watching them again. As of right now, I only have one more to watch and write about, so the series is pretty much all set. Unlike my previous movie essays, though, some of these will be posted twice a week so I can get them all in by Halloween.
After this, the next series will be, finally, the winner of the poll. Which is…
You’ll have to wait.
If you’re reading this (especially if you’ve read all the essays I’ve written about Freddy Krueger) then you are probably well schooled on the Nightmare movies. You’re also probably well aware of how New Line Cinema and Sean S. Cunningham wanted to put Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees together since about 1985 or so. First, Paramount Pictures had the rights to Friday the 13th and Jason and was willing to pay to “rent” Freddy Krueger for a team-up. New Line said no. Then, after Freddy’s Dead came and went, New Line got the rights to Jason and was finally ready to do the team-up. They even hinted at the idea in 1993 when Cunningham and New Line Cinema put out Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. The movie ends with Jason’s hockey mask lying on the dirt, the monster having finally been destroyed, when all of a sudden–Boo!–Freddy-fucking-Krueger’s gloved hand erupts from the ground, grabs Jason’s mask, and pulls it underground with a poor attempt at the famous Freddy laugh (upon rewatching this clip on YouTube, it doesn’t appear the filmmakers used a soundclip of Robert Englund’s laugh). This time it was Wes Craven who stopped the project with a better idea: New Nightmare.
Time passed, scripts were written, passed on, written and rewritten, and passed on, et cetera and so on until, somehow, the final script for Freddy Vs. Jason by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift was agreed upon and director Ronny Yu was hired to direct.
For me, 2003 was an interesting year. I made my first professional sale to Borderlands 5 (which features a story by David J. Schow, who wrote one of the early scripts for this movie) along with some smaller press stuff. My first marriage also hit the skids this year. The summer of 2003 was a soul-searching one for me, trying to figure out what to do with the marriage, my heart no longer in it, worrying about my five-year-old daughter, worrying about how I was going to move on. I had gone back to college to finish my degree and life was rapidly moving and I was terrified. On August 15th, nine days before I would turn twenty-six, I went to the local movie theater alone, sat in the middle of the back row, and awaited for one of my childhood “friends” to return after a too-long (and yet not long enough) absence.
There was almost no one in the theater with me when three people came in, two guys and a young woman. Of all the empty seats in the theater, they chose to sit next to me. I pegged the young woman to be in her early-twenties, only a few years younger than me, and the guys in their mid-to-late-teens. My guess was older sister bringing younger brother to the R-rated movie, but I’m probably wrong.
I’m a pretty quiet person when I’m with people I don’t know. I’m extremely shy and suffer from social anxiety (whee!) so I didn’t make any small talk with the young woman or the guys, just moved my legs so they could get by me. The young woman turned to me, though, and said how she loved the “Freddy movies” (a term I hate) and the “Jason movies” (another despised term). I said that I was a Freddy fan (sans “movie” after “Freddy” you should note) as well but had never really gotten into the Friday the 13th movies.
“So,” she said as the lights dimmed for the previews. “Do you think this movie will be a good movie?”
I gave her my best Harrison Ford half-smile and said, “Silence of the Lambs was a good horror movie. I’ll be happy if this is fun.”
She nodded and the previews began, and then the movie. I believe she said goodbye on the way out. I was just happy that the movie was fun.
The movie got bad reviews and good box office, which is no surprise.
Before we go any further, I feel that I should mention my knowledge on the Friday the 13th movies, or rather, my lack of knowledge. I have seen almost all of them, except Jason X and the Platinum Dunes remake from a year or two ago, only one time each. I can remember that Mom is the killer in the first, Jason wears a potato sack in the second, then the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth run together. I know that Corey Feldman is in one of them, and another has an older version of his character played by another actor. I faintly recall watching one called The New Blood, about a psychic girl, and then watching Jason Takes Manhattan (one of them had a girl who wanted to be a writer and her mother or father gave her a nice pen that was once used, they tell her, by Stephen King). I remember watching Jason Goes To Hell because Fangoria had reported the shot of Freddy’s hand grabbing the hockey mask (I also seem to remember enjoying it in the way one enjoys a bad horror flick). As I said, though, I’m more of a Freddy guy. Be warned that before going the rest of the way.¹
Freddy’s back. Robert Englund’s return as Freddy Krueger was, despite the clown he had become in the last few movies before New Nightmare, good. In the opening scenes of Freddy Vs. Jason, you know that Freddy is being brought back a bit to his darker roots. The makeup job is reminiscent of the makeup for The Dream Master. His sweater is darker, the glove looks different, and I daresay this version of Freddy looks the most like Robert Englund, but it’s fun to watch him again. Englund is able to channel Freddy’s darker ways in this movie, while still being able to deliver the one-liners and silliness he had also become known for. Perhaps the nine-year rest was helpful for him. Perhaps the very situation was helpful for this audience member.
Anytime two horror icons meet onscreen, there is a sense that the movie involving them doesn’t need to be serious. The idea of one of them existing is silly but we accept it for the sake of the movie, that whole willing suspension of disbelief thing. The idea of two of them existing in the same world and ready to fight each other is preposterous yet we anxiously pay our money down and go in to watch the fight. Robert Englund–who had made a second career being the burlesque Freddy on talk shows, at conventions, and on MTV–is able to do his shtick while not offending moviegoers expecting the horror movie to be scary.
This movie’s version of pre-burn Freddy is also the best version caught on film. The version shown on the premiere episode of Freddy’s Nightmares–A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series (the episode is called “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and was written by Michael DeLuca, the hack who co-wrote the screenplay for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) and the version shown in Freddy’s Dead are not really that interesting or scary. This time, he is creepy and Englund relishes the role. Also, it seems director Yu seems to know how to use Freddy in an interesting way, though not always greatly.
Ignoring Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was a wise choice. This movie takes place within the continuity of the Nightmare series pre-New Nightmare, even taking into account the THE WORST NIGHTMARE MOVIE Freddy’s Dead. (I suppose it also takes place within the Friday the 13th universe, though I don’t know it well enough to say for sure). It doesn’t make for a better movie, but one that is easier to digest. You know, for a bad horror movie.
Katharine Isabelle. All right, I just like her. She was Ginger in Ginger Snaps, one of the best horror movies of the last decade. I wish she’d been given a better part, but I was happy to see her in this movie.
The Freddy versus Jason fights. There are several fights between the two headliners. The first happens in Jason’s dream and Freddy kicks his ass. It turns silly when Freddy uses the Force to throw Jason all around, yet it’s entertaining enough. I mean, if you’ve paid to see a movie called Freddy Vs. Jason, then you have to expect some silliness. The second–and final–fight happens for most of the end of the movie at Camp Crystal Lake. Lori (Monica Keena) and Will (Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter, one of my favorite actors, who died less than a month after this movie’s opening) have figured out that they can pull Freddy out of the nightmare (sort of like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy’s Dead) and then maybe Freddy and Jason will kill each other. They fight at a construction site, in an old cabin, and on a dock. In other words, they’re fighting for a good portion of the movie and it’s worth every penny of the too-high movie ticket. It is stupid, mindless, andgory cartoon violence…and it is exactly what the audience paid to see.
The teens/victims in this are all right but aren’t very interesting. As a matter of fact, none of the characters in this movie are interesting. While the attempt to give the audience a story that is more than just two monsters beating the shit out of each other is welcome, and the story is okay–a typical slasher movie at best–the actors just aren’t that interesting. Monica Keena, Jason Ritter, Kelly Rowland, Katharine Isabelle, and all the rest do their best with what they’re given (and with what talent they have), but they’re boring. Maybe a better script or a better director could have helped them, but the characters leave a lot to be desired.
The slow-motion in this movie is fucking annoying. I don’t remember either series having many slow-motion shots, but Ronny Yu seems to love them. I didn’t remember there being that many slo-mo shots until watching the movie again a few years ago. It detracted from the movie for me. Slo-mo is a handy effect when used properly but Yu uses the effect like a kid who has just hit puberty and has discovered his dad’s dirty magazines, he can’t stop doing it. One time, okay. Twice? Well… But by the third time (and there are more than three times slow-motion is used in Freddy Vs. Jason), give it a rest or you’ll hurt yourself.
The character of Bill. He’s so bad, that I gave him his own category. Played by Kyle Labine, Bill is a rip-off (homage?) to Jay (Jason Mewes) from Jay and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). It’s a blatant rip-off and stops the movie dead in its tracks. Even the character’s death is lame, which leads us to–
The CGI worm. I’m not against CGI like some people seem to be. Practical effects are great, but CGI is fine when used wisely. While the character Bill (Kyle Labine) gets high in Westin Hills (see Dream Warriors and The Dream Child) Freddy comes to him as some sort of caterpillar monster thing (with red-and-green stripes, of course) with a hookah/bong á la Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The caterpillar takes a toke as Bill is doing the typical “Yeeah, duude,” thing, then blows the smoke in Bill’s face. Now, the merging of Freddy with Alice² and naming a character Bill all in one scene should be a wet dream for me, right?
Wrong. See, there’s one element to the scene that baffles me: the drug use. It baffles me on several levels. One, you and your friends are in mortal danger, you have all broken into this institution to steal an experimental dream suppressant (again, from Dream Warriors…it’s been experimental since 1987…say, wha–?) and, for reasons of plot convenience, have all separated. You are alone and to curb your anxiety, you decide to toke up a spliff. Huh? I mean, I know addiction can be a bitch, but really? Two, I’ve never been high. Or drunk, for that matter. I have no interest in getting high so drug humor sometimes escapes me. Now, I know that I’m the Odd Man Out on that count, but I really have to question the rationale behind having a character getting high in the middle of a covert operation that could land him in jail, not to mention the dude in the hockey mask trying to kill everyone who’s awake and the burned hombre in the Christmas sweater trying to get you in your sleep. But there the character is, getting high, and seeing a poorly animated Freddy caterpillar.
The Freddy caterpillar blows the smoke into Bill’s face which makes Bill see weird shit that makes him throw out the experimental drug. Then he looks up and there’s the Freddy caterpillar on the ceiling. It then drops down onto Bill and pushes itself down his throat. And now Freddy has possessed him. Wow, bad CGI and bad writing! Will wonders ever cease…?
The overall use of CGI in this movie is annoying. There’s just too much for no real reason, and it’s all bad. At least try to make it look as good as a movie by George Lucas or James Cameron.
1428 Elm Street is a totally different house. The first two Nightmare movies as well as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare used the same house in L.A., 1428 North Genesee Avenue. From Dream Warriors through Freddy’s Dead, a set was constructed for the haunted house version. This movie was shot in Canada (mostly British Columbia) and used a house that almost looks like the original, but not quite. It’s a small thing, but….
The Morning After
The filmmakers and the studio put just enough thought into Freddy Vs. Jason to make it sustainable for a 97 minute runtime. Even at just over an hour and a half, it’s too long by about fifteen minutes. This is a modern version of the classic monster duo movies and, like the 1980s movies that inspire it, it’s silly, gory, and devoid of any social merit. It works by combining some of the best elements of the Nightmare films and adding Jason. And that’s the thing with this movie, despite sharing the billing, Freddy is the star, outshining the other monster in this film in every way.
This makes sense. The Nightmare movies, for all their unnecessary killings, at least have imagination. The Friday movies (not the ones with Ice Cube) never did. While the first movie is a mystery filled with gory deaths and no characters that one can truly care about, the movies that followed didn’t even have a mystery element to it. They were all movies about a zombie killing teenagers with a machete and other tools. Freddy is the dominant personality. He’s interesting. He’s imaginative even if the end result isn’t.
Freddy is also more of the villain of the movie. While Jason definitely has some kills and isn’t someone these fresh-faced kids would have over for tea, Jason’s story is far more tragic. Jason is a victim seeking revenge for what happened to him and his mother. Freddy was a perverted murderer who pretty much got what he would’ve received had he not been let out of jail on that technicality. Jason is evil because of his own stupidity. Freddy is evil because it’s fun for him.
Essentially, Freddy Vs. Jason is a waste of time and money. Yes, it is the culmination of many schoolyard arguments over twenty years. Yes, I had fun when I saw it. Yes, I own a copy on DVD. But it’s a waste. The horror story they attempt to tell is only there to justify the movie’s runtime and ultimately fails because you never care about the possible victims thereby subtracting any horror. The reason you don’t care is because you didn’t pay to see Monica Keena or Jason Ritter or the chick from Destiny’s Child (one of the ones who isn’t Beyoncé), you paid to see Freddy and Jason beat the piss out of each other, and on that level, the movie delivers. In the end, though, Freddy Vs. Jason is the bastard of a hundred maniacs. It is a 97-minute essay on why the 1980s horror balloon popped. Too much focus on the dollar, not enough on imagination.
¹ I wrote this paragraph in 2010 and decided to leave it. My experience with the Friday the 13th movies has grown some. Last year, I began to watch them back-to-back. Unfortunately, I only got to the fourth one when Netflix suddenly stopped shipping them. It’s my intention to finish watching them this year and do a series of essays, like this series, either later this year or sometime next year.
² My novella, Alice on the Shelf, was first written in November/December 2003 based on a dream I had September 12, 2003–the day that I learned of John Ritter’s death. After many rewrites over the seven years, Alice on the Shelf was released in 2011. At one time, I would have casted Katharine Isabelle in the role of Miranda/Alice. Weird how it all comes together, huh?