FREDDY VS. JASON is a film that I have been anticipating and dreading in equal measures. Anybody who was a fan of the - and let's not forget this - almost universally loathed sub-genre back when SCREAM came out in 1996 will remember the thrill of a very private obsession becoming the media darling quickly pale when said media quickly tired of it and moved onto the next big thing.
Also, I have a confession: I was never that big a fan of Freddy anyway. Sure, the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) will always have a special place in my affections (it was the first horror film I saw on the big screen), and it was certainly better than anything that followed, but once the one-liners started coming thick and fast I soon lost interest. The latter NIGHTMARE films just summed up everything that went wrong with the genre in the late 80's; gone was the edgy, anything-could-happen vibe of the 70's and early 80's, only to be replaced with bigger hair, neon and dry ice and the cancer of self-reflexive comedy. I just could never forgive the fact that the bastard son of a thousand maniacs had been the father of a thousand increasingly banal wise crackin' psycho sons who sunk films like PSYCHO COP (1988), NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1995) etc (ad nauseam) ....
Give me Jason any day. At least the sultan of slaughter has the good grace to keep his mouth shut. The FRIDAY THE 13TH films are the ultimate in comfort horror: you know pretty much to expect, and they usually deliver (well, as much as the combined evil powers of the MPAA and the BBFC would allow anyway!). Nobody is pretending they are high art, but they satisfy when boobs, blood and blades are the order of the day. There is also something delicious in knowing that they are universally reviled by critics the World over. As far as guilty pleasures go they are pretty hard to beat.
My hopes for the battle of the psycho's had risen from being mildly piqued to a nagging need to check this out once the trailers started to appear on the net. I'd enjoyed Ronny Lu's earlier franchise refresher, BRIDE OF CHUCKY (1998), and I thought this veteran of Hong Kong action cinema could do the business if anybody could.
The anticipation was palpable as the house lights went down when I saw this at my local multiplex last night. The darkness was awash with little neon screens as the young 'uns around me (75% of the audience I'd say) finished what I imagine must have been oh-so-important text messaging (a sad sign of the times). And, in anticipation of the zany surrealism that was to follow the three spare seats next to us (the showing very nearly sold out by the look of it) were taken by three kids who couldn't have been more than eight years old, who had presumably snuck in under the not so eagle-eyed teenage ushers.
I'm not going to regurgitate the whole plot - it's one convoluted Mother for a start - you probably know the bare bones of the story: the children of Freddy's home town have forgotten him and he has subsequently lost his power; what he needs is an earthly evil to scare them again so he can feed off their fear. What he does is resurrect Jason and send him on a killing spree; the downside of which is that Jason just won't stop killing and Freddy finds he just can't get a sharp implement in (oh, if only it were words, too!). Hence, we're on course for a bloody showdown where the surviving teens just have to dodge these horror behemoths as they beat seven shades of shit out of each other.
The film starts well with little snatches of both the NIGHTMARE and FRIDAY theme tunes, and Freddy (Robert Englund) recounting his 'glory days' as the 'Springfield slasher' (there's a flashback of him terrorizing a little girl in his subterranean boiler room which is interestingly at odds with the cartoonish feel of much of the picture); we also see him burnt alive by the vengeful parents of the children he has killed and then subsequently resurrected as the crispy bogeymen we know today. Then we move onto a nicely reconstructed FRIDAY scene: a lone girl at night at a deserted and misty Camp Crystal Lake; she flashes her boobs, strips off and goes for a skinny-dip (I think you've probably guess what happens to her!). A nice touch is her bloody and lifeless face change and tell the towering Mr Voorhees (the sounds of his thunderous footfall through the forest gave me serious but enjoyable goose bumps) that she deserved her fate; quickly the face morphs into another teen saying the same thing, and then again. Jason is then approached by his long departed Mom (sadly not Betsy Palmer. Mrs Voorhees should be played by a woman who is 90% teeth!), who in 'reality' is really Freddy, who tells him he has been asleep enough and instructs him to to go out and rampage afresh.
I don't know if it's because I'm getting older - and I expect it probably is - but the teen characters in this seemed even more alien and dumb than I remember them being in any of either franchises' earlier entries. Admittedly, some of the acting isn't up to much but to their credit they manage to keep a straight face whilst propelling the increasingly daft storyline and explaining the relevant back stories for the benefit of the dumber patrons in the audience (the script is mercifully free of post-modern quips). In this respect it's fortunate that there is barely enough room to catch your breath with FREDDY VS. JASON. Some films are described as roller coaster rides, well, this is one that just doesn't quit. The audience doesn't have time to scrutinize the sillier bits of dialogue or the increasingly loony plot developments (it was the mental ward filled with only good looking, pouting teens that had my head reeling with cheesy abandon!). Of course, the film having so few quiet moments means that it increasingly seems like one 90 minute long cartoon; there really isn't any time allotted to setting up scares apart from at the beginning, meaning that there really aren't many (perhaps the 40 odd minutes that hit the cutting room floor will go some way to evening the balance when the DVD comes out). Having said that we were watching FREDDY VS. JASON not THE OTHERS. This monster mash had definitely been through the blender with a few old re-runs of TOM & JERRY (or, perhaps, ITCHY & SCRATCHY might be more appropriate).
The worry that Freddy was the old boy at New Line and might get all the glory is pretty much unfounded. Certainly, he gets all the one liners but it's Jason that gets to satisfy his blood lust the most. Perhaps the best scene in the movie is when Jason gate-crashes a rave in a corn field. Having been set on fire (even his trusty machete is ablaze) he is a sight to behold as he sends slack-jawed teens reeling like eviscerated bowling pins. CGI blood spurts in fountains as the blade comes down again and again. Seemingly films like the FINAL DESTINATION movies have paved the way for the mega-violence on display (at least in-so-much as getting through the MPAA); also, the cartoonish nature of the film (and the violence itself) probably helped. There's severed limbs aplenty; blood splattering in every direction but there's not one gore scene really with the power to shock as say the demises of Kevin Bacon's or Jeannine Taylor's character's axe to the face in the first FRIDAY THE 13TH. There's also a great scene when the lead girl, Lori (Monica Keener), finds herself back at a lovingly recreated Camp Crystal Lake in 1957 where a group of kids are bullying the young Jason whilst the camp counselors make out. They put a burlap sack over his head (in a nice nod to the second installment), and he falls into the water to his eventual doom.
Ultimately, watching FREDDY VS JASON is like being hit over the head repeatedly with a soggy severed limb for 90 minutes. Everything happens so fast; there's no time to catch your breath. It's a fun ride for sure but not without its problems. The FRIDAY THE 13TH films are more-or-less based in reality (give or take the odd resurrection or psychic teenager!), whereas the NIGHTMARE films were increasingly cartoonish (even when we weren't in Freddy's surreal dream world the 'reality' was exaggerated). The Friday films are made up of bare bones, grindhouse thrills whereas the NIGHTMARE films have always been much more flamboyant and showy, which means that this just feels more like a NIGHTMARE film - especially with Freddy being such a strong character. Nitpicking, I'd also had liked to see a few extended chase scenes - and no unmasking of Jason at the end? Sacrilege!
Having said that this could have been so much worse; it comes at just the
right time, with the whole 80's revival in full swing (you have to wonder what
would have happened if FRIDAY VII really did turn out to be
the pairing of the psychos as was suggested at the time). As it is FREDDY
VS. JASON is breathlessly entertaining; a whirling dervish of a movie.
The cataclysmic punch ups may owe more to the WWF than to the Grand Guginol
but it's difficult not to be caught up in the moment. And, finally, it's good
to see these previously reviled horror icons joining forces and flipping the
bird at the critics (it can come as no great surprise that the majority of reviews
have been scathing), especially as the film scared up a mammoth $36 million
in it's opening weekend at the US Box Office. Once again critic proof monsters
roam the land - just like the good old days!
female:? / male:?