In 1991, New Line Cinema decided to kill Freddy Krueger with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Around this time, they acquired the rights to Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th and wanted to bring the two monsters together. However, when they asked Wes Craven if he wanted to be involved, he said no, but said he had an idea for a possible seventh installment. New Line jumped at the chance to have Craven back to helm a Nightmare film. Friday the 13th co-creator Sean S. Cunningham thought it would be a good idea to do with Jason what had been done with Freddy and officially kill him off, while also hinting at the long-desired team-up movie. New Line agreed and 1993 saw the release of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. You know this because I wrote about it in the last essay.
Jason Goes to Hell did all right at the box office but not as well as they’d hoped. New Line was eager to see what Wes Craven’s return to the dreamscape would do to revitalize interest in Freddy Krueger. Unfortunately, when Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was released in October 1994, it failed to live up to expectations. Interest in making the long-awaited team-up were put on the back-burner. At least until a different Wes Craven film, Scream, was a huge hit. Suddenly, New Line wanted a Freddy vs. Jason movie and even promised one for 1998. There was a major problem with that promise: They didn’t have a script.
Time passed and script after script was written, director after director was attached, and it kept falling apart. It seems that every year between 1994 and 2003, Robert Englund would tell an interviewer that they had a new script and there should be a movie within the following year. And each year would pass and nothing would happen.
Sean S. Cunningham didn’t like this. He was afraid that people would forget about Jason Voorhees. So he went to New Line head Michael De Luca and asked about a tenth Jason movie. Writer Todd Farmer pitched the idea that Jason goes to space and De Luca, he who co-penned the cinematic masterpiece Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, greenlit it.
Jason. In. Space.
Though the film was supposed to be released in 2000 or 2001, it was eventually released in April 2002. I didn’t see it then. Seeing now for this essay was one too many times.
David Cronenberg appears in cameo role. Until Jason (once again, Kane Hodder) kills him. It’s always a surprise to see a director that is considered very good make a cameo in a less-than-stellar movie, and here it’s downright shocking. To think that the man who directed one of the best horror films of the 1980s, The Fly, would appear in this horror (I use the term loosely) movie is shocking. But it’s fun for the What the FUCK?! factor.
The escape ship explosion was another nice touch. The set-up is typical horror movie stuff. A girl who is freaking out locks her friends out of their safehaven, in this case, the spaceship that will allow them to escape. Despite them banging on the door (or whathaveyou), she decides to leave the main spaceship without them. Typically, this is where Jason would suddenly appear to kill her. In this case, her own stupidity does her in and it actually surprised me. So did the spaceship’s crash into another safehaven, a space station, earlier in the movie.
The special effects are surprisingly good. I’ll give them credit. For a movie with a fairly small budget, the effects mostly came off.
Jason looks funny in this movie. His head isn’t malformed enough and he had a strange buzz-cut thing going on. His hockey mask is different. His clothes are different. And that’s before the Uber-Jason at the end. Uber-Jason is one of the worst monsters I’ve ever seen. The costume looks like something from a bad SyFy Channel movie. I understand that Jason has looked different in each movie, and there’s certainly a Who Gives a Shit? attitude about that, but this Jason just didn’t do it for me. I think there was too much of Kane Hodder present.
The acting is some of the worst in the series. But I can only blame them so much, because–
The story is ridiculous and full of clichés. I’ve read or heard somewhere that the movie was better before the studio watered down the script. Who knows? The very idea of putting Jason in space is stupid. At best it can only be a low-rent version of Alien. Add to that the most obvious one-liners and scripted dialogue, and we’re talking a disaster of a movie.
The Saturday After
Look, these have been some of the most negative essays I’ve written, and I know fans of the series are used to that sort of thing from non-fans. I almost feel bad about these essays, but I have to call it like I see it. Whether they made money or not, these movies just keep getting worse. The box office for Jason X was also lackluster.
But that was okay, because in 2002, news broke that horror nerds had been hearing for a looonnng time. And this time, it looked like it might actually happen….
With the lackluster performance of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan in 1989, and with the urging of series co-creator Sean S. Cunningham, Paramount Pictures sold the franchise to New Line Cinema, whom they’d attempted to “rent” the Freddy Krueger character and situations from a few years prior. This would prove a major coup for New Line because now they could finally set up the Battle of the Ages: Freddy Krueger versus Jason Voorhees. The sale in the early 1990s came at just the right time because 1989 wasn’t a good year for Freddy, either. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, released a year after the highest-grossing Nightmare, earned the lowest amount for the franchise at that time. Hoping to cash in one last time, New Line released the final Nightmare movie, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, in 1991, and it made a good amount of money. The purchase of the Jason Voorhees character and Friday the 13th meant they now had the two most popular monsters of the 1980s and could finally put them together.
Robert Shaye knew Sean S. Cunningham would be on board since he’d been trying to get the Jason/Freddy project off the ground for years, but decided to ask Wes Craven if he had any ideas. As it turned out, Craven did have ideas…only not for a monster mash-up. Excited by any Craven involvement in a new Nightmare film, New Line Cinema went ahead with his idea for a seventh movie. This gave Cunningham and the studio the chance to do what the eighth Friday the 13th movie couldn’t do: Put an “end” to Jason and set up the eventual Freddy/Jason movie.
With a screenplay by Dean Lorey and Jay Huguley, from a story by Huguley and director Adam Marcus, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday was released on August 13th, 1993. I remember watching it when it came on Cinemax about a year later, when I was either a junior or senior in high school. I was interested in watching it in and of itself but the real reason I wanted to see it was because, by that point, Fangoria had reported the surprise ending….
The acting is slightly better in this movie than in the previous Friday movies. The script gives the actors a little more to work with. That said, the stand-out performance for me was Erin Gray’s. Now, it could just be the nerdboy in me talking, except that I never saw her in Buck Rogers (because I never saw the show, not because I couldn’t see her, that’s weird of you to think), I only knew her from Silver Spoons. But she brings real pathos to her role. John D. LeMay as Steve Freeman is also pretty good. He also starred in Friday the 13th: The Television Series, only he played a different character.
I know I write this often in these essays, but I feel like I’m often grasping at straws, so my apologies for repeating myself, but the fact that the screenwriters tried to move into a totally different direction with Jason (Kane Hodder) and the series needs to be applauded. They truly leave the idea of Jason terrorizing teenagers/young adults behind and take the movie into a new direction. Jason is now a known enemy to the United States and a task force has been employed to destroy him. Playing with horror as a genre, they reference the Evil Dead films and give a reason for Jason’s supernatural ability, as well as a way to destroy him. They also give him a larger family that changes the way he can be viewed.
If you’re into these movies for the gore, then you’re in luck. Whatever shenanigans that kept gore out of the eighth movie seems to have gone away for this one. It’s ridiculously gory. So if you’re into that, that would be a plus.
Freddy! Yeah, you must’ve known I was going there. At the end Jason is dragged into hell by monsters. There’s a close-up of his hockey mask. He’s dead. And then Freddy’s gloved arm shoots up, grabs the mask, and drags it into hell, with Freddy’s signature laugh. Of course, the arm looks strangely muscular (Kane Hodder provided the arm) and the blades of the glove bend when they hit the dirt, but it’s Freddy.
While the overall acting is slightly better in this movie, there are still some horrible performances. For me, the most surprising of these bad performances was given by Steven Williams as he played bounty hunter Creighton Duke. Williams has had a long, good career. I first knew him as the boss on Fox’s hit 21 Jump Street, which starred A Nightmare on Elm Street alum Johnny Depp. Williams was also a nerd favorite on The X Files as Mr. X. He’s a pretty good actor who is terrible in this movie. Maybe it’s not the right role for him. I don’t know, but it’s bad.
The story is real bad. That’s the problem with the Friday the 13th movies (or the Jason movies, as I guess they should be called for the next few essays), even if it’s the best written one, chances are likely that the movie is still shitty. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is no exception. It begins with Jason stalking a young woman who turns out to be part of that federal task force I mentioned earlier and ends with him being dragged to hell by some of the silliest monsters I’ve ever seen (though less silly than the Dream Demons from Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, I’ll give Jason the point for that). And then a young family walks into the sunrise. What? Yeah, you read that correctly. There’s a baby in this movie, and family issues, and a love story, and stereotypical foul-mouthed fat ladies, and more plot holes than I have time to list. And, the biggest problem by far is–
Where’s Jason?! New Line Cinema acquires their biggest horror competitor. They want to do a Freddy vs. Jason movie. They’ve already killed off Freddy (and it won’t be an issue that he returns for Wes Craven’s new Nightmare movie, which will be released the following year). And here we go with killing off Jason and…we’re going to keep Jason out of most of the movie.
Jason appears at the beginning, as I mentioned, until the U.S. government blows him up. Then his remains spout some creature that then goes around possessing people. We’re told by the bounty hunter that Jason the person has long been dead, but the evil entity in him takes his evil essence and finds new hosts for him. The idea is that Jason has been different people all the time. Forget the fact that almost every Friday the 13th movie showed him return from the prior movie’s resting place. The only other time we see Jason until the very end when he finally returns (plot hole alert), is in the mirror whenever his hosts stand in front of one. Instead of seeing Jason kill, which is all his fans pay to see anyway, we’re given a variety of characters committing Jason-style violent deaths.
Which only highlights what I’ve been saying throughout these movies: the true reason for the horror of a horror movie isn’t even being attempted, not even for laughs. The movies have devolved into a slaughterfest meant to do nothing but make powerless adolescents laugh at gruesome, horrible deaths. The fact that this is the ninth movie of this is a horrific happening unto itself.
Oh, and let’s talk about Jason himself in this movie. He looks stupid. His head has somehow inflated to twice the normal size, he’s regrown hair, and he’s not even close to wearing what he wore in the last few movies. If this is because he’s in a new body, how did the head come to look like a watermelon-sized meatball? He’s lame.
The Saturday After
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is a new day for Jason. New Line was able to make it more supernatural than the character (and story) had been but ultimately failed to do anything interesting with the movie. It’s essentially a 90-minute prologue to Freddy vs. Jason, which they hoped to make after the new Wes Craven Nightmare was released. As a teenager, I thought the movie was okay. As an adult, I’m shocked by how bad it is compared to my memory of it.
The movie did okay and it certainly promised fans what they’d been hoping for for nearly a decade. With all the pieces in place, what could possibly go wrong?
The story goes that Sean S. Cunningham, producer of low budget movies (mostly horror, including Wes Craven’s first movie, The Last House on the Left) had an idea for a movie called Friday the 13th. He had no story, no characters, nothing else in mind except for the title. So he went to a graphic designer and had an ad designed with the title smashing through glass. The kicker was the tagline: The most terrifying film ever made. Then he placed the ad in Variety. The feedback was immediate. People–teenagers and young adults, mostly–wanted to see this movie.
Victor Miller wrote the story and Cunningham took on directing as well as producing. You know the story already: After being closed for 20 years because of murders, Camp Crystal Lake is being reopened as a place for inner-city youth to experience nature. A group of young people join Steve Christy in preparing for the reopening. Someone attacks and murders them one-by-one until the lone survivor, Alice, wins. There is a shock ending and an implication that a sequel could be made.
There is a gradual build-up to this first film. Miller and Cunningham start off with a young couple being murdered in 1958, but then allow some time for the characters to arrive at Crystal Lake and hang out before the killings really start up. There is the sense that they actually want the audience to know the characters.
Peter Brouwer as Steve Christy is pretty good, though he is hardly in the movie. He’s the “old man” of the group, in his mid-to-late-twenties, yet is young enough to have a thing for Alice (Adrienne King). There’s an implied romance there that is never developed.
Betsy Palmer is priceless as Mrs. Pamela Voorhees. Her arrival at the end of the movie is sudden but you instantly like her, and then fear her when she goes nutty. Her revelation that she’s the killer and her motive, the drowning death of her son Jason, is well done for a melodramatic scene. It looks as though she’s having a blast playing the crazed killer.
Tom Savini’s makeup is another thing that’s always fun to watch. His makeup never really feels polished yet is always believable. His strength as a makeup/special effects guy is in the roughness of the final product and helps the movie achieve a shock-value that the other early slasher movies lacked.
The music by Harry Manfredini is also really good. It’s very Psycho-meets-Jaws in its execution and sound. When the famous Friday music begins, you know to hang on to your armrest.
The overall feel of the movie isn’t serious. Sean S. Cunningham wasn’t trying to create a horror masterpiece, but rather was trying to make a fun, scary movie. Obviously inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween, he moves away from his work with Wes Craven to something meant to sell a shitload of tickets, barrels of popcorn, and make kids scream and laugh. And it does. More than 30 years later it’s like opening a time capsule, but it’s fun.
And the last good thing about this movie is Kevin Bacon. He does a good job in this movie. Hell, all of the “kids” do a good job in this movie, but it’s Kevin fuckin’ Bacon! And this is where the passage of 33 years really counts. To see someone who has become more than just a really good actor but an icon in an early role like this is fun. It’s like seeing Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street, however, there’s a major difference between the two. I’ll get to that later.
The characterization is crap. With the exception of Mrs. Voorhees, none of the other characters have a history. The only “kid” who seems to have lived at all before this is Annie (Robbi Morgan) whom we first meet hiking into a small town on her way to Crystal Lake. She is thumbing her way there and gives a little insight into her life. There is an attempt at giving Steve Christy and Alice a little bit of characterization but it never really gets off the ground. Whether it was Victor Miller’s writing or Sean Cunningham’s lack of caring is for the individual viewer to decide. I think it’s a combination of both. Considering the slower build-up to the killer’s spree, this is a shame.
Because of weak characterization, the acting never really gets off the ground. As I said before, all the “kids” do a decent job, and I’ve already acknowledged Brouwer and Palmer (and Bacon) but for the most part the kids are given very little to do. They are caricatures more than people. Alice is the nice, smart one who Steve wants but may want Bill (Harry Crosby) instead. Jack (Bacon) and Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) are boyfriend and girlfriend and go to the camp with their friend Ned (Mark Nelson), who is a bit of a jokester who takes things too far. Brenda (Laurie Bartram) is a little risqué but…not…? And to try to go any further is impossible, because that’s all these people are. They’re played adequately enough, but there’s no meat. They’re given nothing to really do but go through the movie and, well, die.
This is the biggest problem of the movie. Because we’re never really invested in the characters, we never really give a damn about who lives and who dies. One of the strengths of Halloween, the thing that made it a classic, is that John Carpenter and Debra Hill crafted teenagers who one could relate to and care about, so when the faceless killer goes after them, you give a damn.
The revelation of the killer at the end is also a misstep. Yes, Betsy Palmer plays Mrs. Voorhees with gusto and has fun in the role, but because she shows up out of nowhere, she’s meaningless to the audience. Miller gives her a throwaway line (“I’m a friend of Steve Christy”) to throw the audience off and make them think she’s safe, but considering they’ve never seen her before it doesn’t matter much. Perhaps if she’d been around throughout, it might have more surprising. Even if she’d been in the town at the beginning, trying to warn Annie off, it would’ve worked. Instead, here’s this nice lady from out of nowhere who must be the killer. (Let’s not go into the question of how she can lift some of these dead bodies and throw them through windows even though they’re larger than she).
Saturday the 14th
Overall, Friday the 13th is a fun movie with no pretensions. Cunningham wanted to make a movie that would sell tickets and popcorn and he did. The film has been picked apart by critics and naysayers since its debut in 1980 (which, being three years old, I wasn’t really aware of). It is not, and never should be, mistaken for a work of art, or even a good movie.
The biggest problem from an adult point-of-view is that it exists only to watch people die in various ways. It’s surprisingly tame considering the later movies and its reputation. There are gory scenes, but the gore is minimal and is cut away from quickly. And there is, surprisingly for a slasher movie, an innocence that comes through. Despite the depravities, it’s somehow a very innocent movie and worth watching now if, for no other reason, only to see it as a popular classic movie, bad as it may be. I had fun.
With the template set, and box office being huge, there was no wonder Paramount wanted a sequel.