"Freddy vs. Jason": Clash of the Terror Titans
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Starring: Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger, Jason Ritter, Monica Keene, and Kelly Rowland
Directed by Ronny Yu.
In 1993, I sat hunched in a movie theater seat at an opening night screening of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, the ninth and supposedly "last" installment of the long running Friday the 13th series. The F13 franchise had recently moved from Paramount Studios, who'd released the first eight installments, to New Line Cinema - the home of Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street saga, and rumors had been flying that Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger would finally come face to face in Jason Goes to Hell, since both characters now "lived" under the same corporate roof.
As it turned out, I absolutely hated Jason Goes to Hell - and I wasn't the only one (it's widely considered to be the worst film in the series). In an ill advised attempt to "shake up" the Friday mythology, Jason Goes to Hell suddenly endowed everyone's favorite hockey masked maniac with supernatural abilities that he'd never had before, like the power to "jump" in and out of people's bodies (a trick borrowed from an earlier and much better New Line release,The Hidden) and shoehorned in more Voorhees family history and backstory than there had been in the previous eight Friday films combined.
However, the fanboys who bought a ticket hoping for a meeting between Jason and Freddy were thrown a bone in the film's climactic scene, which made sitting through the prior 90+ minutes of nonsense totally worth it.
(SPOILER ALERT if you've never seen 'Jason Goes to Hell') After Jason was defeated by the film's heroes, the camera zoomed in on his hockey mask as it was slowly covered by blowing sand... and just before the end credits rolled, Freddy Krueger's claw reached out of the ground, grabbed the mask, and pulled it under. Fade to black! (END SPOILER ALERT)
Naturally, the theater went completely INSANE. Everyone seemed sure the scene indicated that a Freddy/Jason crossover film was in the works. Thus, horror fandom waited...and waited... and waited...
It took nearly ten years and countless rewrites before finally rising out of Development Hell, but in 2003 Jason and Freddy finally went toe-to-toe in the title bout that everybody had been screaming to see. Hong Kong action filmmaker Ronny Yu seemed like the perfect choice to direct this clash of the titans, because he'd already breathed new life into one out-of-gas horror franchise—Bride of Chucky, the fourth film in the Child's Play saga, had been an unexpected hit in 1997.
Freddy vs. Jason does a pretty decent job of meshing the "universes" of the Nightmare and Friday series. It seems that the parents of Springwood have finally found a controversial way to keep Freddy Krueger from returning to Elm Street - by locking up any teens who've come into contact with him at the infamous Westin Hills Asylum, and dosing them regularly with the dream suppressing drug "Hypnocil." There are no more nightmares in Springwood, and Freddy's reign of terror has been all but forgotten by the current crop of local teens.
Naturally this development does not sit well with Mr. Krueger, who is nearly powerless and trapped in the dream world without the children's fear to sustain him. Using the last of his strength, Freddy manages to wake up the slumbering Jason Voorhees and sends him over to Elm Street to start chopping up the locals. Freddy hopes that starting a new reign of terror will get people scared enough to restore his powers and allow him to return to the "real" world. Sounds like a solid enough plan, but unfortunately Jason turns out to be a workaholic whose killing spree is more extensive than Freddy anticipated. Not wanting to be replaced as Elm Street's #1 boogeyman, Freddy eventually has to teach The Big J who's the boss, with predictably carnage filled results.
Caught in the middle of all this supernatural nonsense, of course, is the usual assortment of attractive twenty-somethings, headlined by Jason Ritter (son of the late John Ritter) and Monica Keena. Former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland is also on board as Keena's sassy best friend for some reason; why she chose this particular vehicle as her big time Hollywood debut remains a mystery. (I guess the better scripts were all going to her pal Beyonce.) The script tries to give Keena and Ritter's characters some doomed-romance back story, but let's be honest, nobody is watching this movie to see these two work through their issues and get back together. They, and the rest of the cast, are merely there to provide cannon fodder for the two terror titans. Freddy and Jason are the stars of the show and when the two finally go at it amidst the fiery ruins of Camp Crystal Lake in the film's last quarter, I doubt that even the most hardened gorehound would be disappointed with the mayhem that follows.
Spineshank - "The Beginning Of The End"
When it was released in August of 2003, Friday and Nightmare fans flocked to the multiplex in record numbers to see their favorite anti-heroes mix it up. Its box office take of $113 million (against a $30 million budget) made it the highest grossing film in either series to date.
In spite of its box office success, it seemed like a lot of people were apparently disappointed in Freddy vs. Jason, though I honestly have no idea why. It certainly delivered everything I expected to see... non-stop, hyper-violent slasher-movie carnage, with Jason and Freddy carving the livin' crap out of each other and anybody unlucky enough to get caught in between them. I've seen the movie several times over the years and I spend the entire film with a big, silly fanboy smile on my face every time.
Since the release of FvJ, the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises have been "rebooted," though reactions to both remakes (2009 for F13 and 2010 for NOES) was lukewarm (at best).
Therefore, Freddy vs. Jason could also be seen as the end of an era in horror cinema ...which is probably a good thing. As much as I love both film series, even I had to admit that they had been run completely into the ground by their seemingly endless parades of bad sequels. Freddy vs. Jason wrapped them both up on an action packed, gory-as-hell high note.
Don't let the haters dissuade you from checking out Freddy vs. Jason. It's tons of fun for everyone who came of age during the glory days of the '80s slasher film, and it puts a cap on the "classic" era of both franchises quite nicely.
© 2017 Keith Abt