For the last nine days I’ve been watching and reviewing the movies in the Friday the 13th franchise from the very first through Jason X (I’m up in the air about including Freddy vs Jason).
I’ve been counting kills, observing the bad behavior that gets teenagers
killed at Camp Crystal Lake, chronicling the ways Jason and the other
killers in the series bite it at the end, and awarding my favorite kill
of the movie. Needless to say this is going to be heavy on the
spoilers, so if you’re some kind of movie virgin who hasn’t yet bathed
in the spring of Jason Voorhees et al, be wary.
Special thanks to Litmus Configuration for the amazing image above!
Jason X (2001)
Kills: Possibly thousands, but 25 confirmable and 4 virtual reality (offscreen and left hanging in Jason’s place, one machine gunned, one choked, tossed and machine gunned, one face destroyed by pole, one chain choke, one impalement of a famous Canadian, one body used as a ram, one face frozen and then smashed, one surgical machete through torso, one WWF backbreaker, one face versus wall, one chiropractic neck snap, one big ass drill to the chest, one throat slit, one hooking, one bisection with additional crawling away, one chopped to pieces, possibly thousands killed in exploding space station, one decapitation, one electrocution, one brave self-sacrifice by explosion, one stupid accidental shuttle crash, one sluicing through a metal grate into space, one burning up on atmospheric re-entry, one virtual slicing in half, one virtual beheading, two virtual babes smashed to death in sleeping bags)
Best Kill: Jason wakes up grumpy and with knowledge of liquid nitrogen – he shoves a girl’s face into it and then smashes her visage into a thousand chunks.
Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll: Archeological piracy for gain. Kinky, creepy sex for grades. Regular sex. Making out with a robot.
The Comeuppance: Surving the loss of an arm, a leg, most of his head and a massive space ship explosion, Jason has a fiery entry into the atmosphere of Earth 2, where he lands in a lake.
The Movie: The decision to hire Spike Lee was a controversial one for many fans of the moribund Friday the 13th saga, but even they had to admit that his concept of reinventing Jason Voorhees as a crusader for racial equality – by any means necessary, including via machete – was inspired. ‘I didn’t drown in Crystal Lake,’ Jason famously intoned. ‘Crystal Lake drowned in me.’
Okay, so that never happened. But wouldn’t it be cool if it did? While Jason X has a great director on the payroll (sadly not in the director’s seat), Spike Lee would probably never go near this series. Which is probably a good thing, to be honest – a Friday the 13th film wouldn’t be any good if it wasn’t trashy, gory fun. And despite the naysaying of many fans, that’s exactly what Jason X is – big dumb fun.
The truth is that the series never took advantage of what Jason Lives had been able to accomplish and, over the course of just three films had completely shit the bed. The world had changed as well; post-Scream no one could get away with making the kind of straight-ahead slasher films that Jason Voorhees was known for. New Line had unsuccessfully tried doing something new with the franchise with Jason Goes to Hell, and for eight years, the longest break in the series to date, it looked like the subtitle The Final Friday was true. But then someone had a brilliant idea – throw Jason Voorhees into Aliens and see what happens.
What happens is a silly, bloody bit of madness. The film opens in the near future (allowing plenty more pre-Jason X adventures, by the way – he has almost 80 kills to rack up to meet the number we’re later told he’s accumulated) where Jason is held by the government. Found guilty of mass murder, he’s proven impossible to execute (remember, he was blown to pieces in the last film and still came back) and now the plan is to cryogenically freeze him. Until someone invents better killing technology, I guess. But then David Cronenberg shows up and that never bodes well. He wants to keep Jason for research into his remarkable healing powers; during an argument about this, Jason escapes and slaughters a whole bunch of people. He mortally wounds a woman who works at the Crystal Lake Research Facility, where he’s being kept, but not before she manages to cryofreeze them both.
Cut forward 400 years (I know this to be the case because not only are we told the year is 2455, someone says that it’s been four centuries since Jason was frozen and someone else spells out that it was four hundred years. For the people in the cheap seats) and the Earth is dead. Everybody’s moved to Earth 2 (hopefully not the terrible TV show that almost ate Clancy Brown’s career alive), and only archeologists ever come visit the old homestead. One group of them find the frozen bodies and bring them back to their spaceship – the girl is able to be thawed, but data indicates Jason’s dead. Oh well, I guess that’s a short movie!
Except of course not. Jason gets up and begins killing the shit out of everybody he can; not only are there a bunch of students onboard, there’s also a contingent of Space Marines (don’t know why, but it turns out to have been a good idea). Jason X quickly turns into a rip-off of Aliens set inside what looks like a Canadian warehouse. But Jason’s tougher than the Marines, killing them all before moving on to the kids.
Blah blah blah. Jason rampages around for a little while as the Survivor Girl tells everybody just how fucked hey are. The important thing is that there’s a robot on board, and we get to finally see what the outcome of a long debated Jason vs robot fight would be: she shoots off an arm, a leg and finally the vast majority of his head. Oh well, I guess that’s a short movie!
But wait! There’s more, as they say. In the future they have medical nanite technology, and for some reason (there’s a weird hint that this is supernatural – the system decides Jason is too fucked to fix but then it goes overridden) these nanites take an interest in Jason and they rebuild him. They have the technology. They have the capability to build the world’s first bionic mass murderer. Jason Voorhees is that mass murderer. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster. Jason Voorhees is the Six Million Dollar Retard.
I can see why a lot of people don’t like this film. It’s too tongue in cheek, to be sure. And the change of setting is incredibly dopey, but unlike Jason Goes to Hell, which mostly did away with the familiar Jason altogether, this film at least has the sense to take that character and see how he deals with a new situation. I think it’s sort of brilliant, and if they had just called it Jason’s Space Odyssey (it did come out in 2001 after all) I probably would have given this an even higher score. Maybe it’s watching all previous nine over the course of little more than a week, but the formula had lost all potency, and something drastic needed to be done (what really needed to be done was to just drop the whole franchise, but that’s neither here nor there).
There’s a lot to like in this film. I like the opening, and only wish we could have seen the attempts to execute Jason. I like Cronenberg showing up; his presence always makes a movie a little bit better than it should be. I like the design of the future – one guy is running around wearing what appears to be a bath mat. I like the characters, believe it or not – the script isn’t interested in being serious, so the characters get to be a little bit sillier. I like the robot vs Jason scene, which is like a total parody of Kurt Wimmer’s whole directorial career (even though it’s aiming at The Matrix. But any low-budget rip of The Matrix will always look like a real Wimmer film). I even like the look of Cyborg Jason.
There are two things I like most of all: I like Jason’s best foe to date, Sgt. Brodski, a guy who’s almost as much of an unstoppable killing machine as Voorhees is. Brodski seems to be killed off pretty early on, but he shows up alive and comes to save the day a couple of times. He even survives being in the explosion of a whole spaceship! And that explosion comes as Jason and Brodski are meeting for combat – it’s actually a pretty great shot.
Even more than Brodksi, though, I feel like the whole film is worth it for two scenes on the holodeck. First Jason stumbles on two people play a VR game and tries to kill them and is very confused(he manages to kill a monster, though. I wonder if I should have counted that in the kills section), but the real joy is later. Trying to distract Cyborg Jason, the resident nerd programs a holodeck recreation of Crystal Lake circa 1980, and two babes show up offering Jason beer, dope and pre-marital sex. ‘We love pre-marital sex!’ they announce, taking off their tops and climbing into sleeping bags. Jason beats them to death using each other. It’s funny, but it’s also the perfect example of why you can’t make these movies anymore – everyone knows the rules, and if you don’t acknowledge that you look stupid and if you do, you’re Scream IV. Someone needs to reinvent the whole genre, which in a weird way is what Jason X is trying to do.
Of course what it’s really done is kill the series. At the end of the movie, Jason lands on Earth 2 and two teenagers out for some nookie think he’s a meteor and go to check him out. The concept is that this is a reboot of sorts – Jason’s back in a woodsy, lakey environment and even on Earth 2 in 2455 there are dumb, horny teens. But you can’t make another movie with a Cyborg Jason because while it’s fun, the whole idea is so stupid as to be only usable once. By the time Jason X is over a complete reboot or a total remake are the only possible options.
That’s where they’re going. Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes is working on a remake right now, although they don’t know for sure what approach to take, or what elements to use. Here’s the advice of a man who has sat through all of these films in far too rapid succession: don’t overthink it. Friday the 13th didn’t make it to ten films (and one crossover spin-off) because there was a story to be told. They ran out of story in Part 2, for the love of God – the Friday films after that become a game of hot potato storytelling: the previous film ends on a certain note, killing Jason in as final a way as possible, and the next film has to figure out how to bring him back. There are only three areas of creativity in most Fridays: how to bring Jason back (most of them fuck this up so badly that it’s tragic, though), how to kill people, and how to kill Jason. These aren’t holy texts or great works, and even the biggest fans of these films have got to admit that these movies are all –every one of them, even the best in the series – pretty damn stupid. But would we want them any other way? When the three areas of Friday creativity work, the films hit that special spot that can only be tickled by a giant retarded zombie spending his every waking hour mowing down people at random. And is there a drowned homicidal mongoloid inside of us all just yearning to get out?
Jason X scores:
Three Retard Jasons out of four.
Next: Due to popular demand… Freddy vs Jason.