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Freddy vs. Jason
Tonight's Feature Presentation

FREDDY VS. JASON (2003)

Starring: Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger, Monica Keena, Jason Ritter, Kelly Rowland, Chris Marquette, Katharine Isabelle

Written By: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift Directed By: Ronny Yu

The Short Version

This was easily the most highly anticipated slasher movie ever made.

You know what they say about “wanting” vs. “having”?

Freddy vs. Jason is way more about Freddy than it is about Jason, and Jason isn’t quite himself.

There’s such a thing as too much polish; Freddy vs. Jason has it.

If you love Freddy and/or Jason, you’re watching this anyway, but you’ll notice they didn’t make another one.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

STALE CHEETOHS.

These would probably have been awesome if you’d found the bag hidden behind the chair before the expiration date.  In theory, they’re still edible, and let’s face it, you’re going to test the theory instead of tossing them out.


Pairs Well With...

PABST BLUE RIBBON LIGHT.

The whole PBR retro thing… watered down.  Now it’s just cheap beer that’s on the weak side.

“Who cares about some fucking dream guy, okay?  That psycho in the hockey mask was real!”

“Dude, that goalie was pissed about something.”


I am not exaggerating one bit when I tell you that Freddy vs. Jason was and remains the single most highly anticipated slasher movie ever made.  There had been whispers amongst fans since the late 1980s, and when Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday ended with Freddy’s glove reaching for Jason’s mask in 1993, genre critics were willing to call it the most epic slasher ending ever despite the fact that most of the rest of the movie stunk.  The previous hour and a half didn’t matter, you see; all that mattered was that the whispers now had something real behind them.  New Line – Freddy’s house studio – had bought the rights to make the Friday the 13th franchise from Paramount, and here in their first new Jason movie, they’d bridged the gap with that amazingly awesome five second moment.  Surely, the much anticipated and indeed much demanded mash-up couldn’t be far behind.

Oops.

Freddy vs. Jason had already been in minor league Development Hell before that little hint was officially dropped in 1993; it would then go on to spend ten more years in major league Development Hell before finally seeing the silver screen in 2003.  Unfortunately, the end result is less on the order of “we spent a lot of time because we wanted to make sure we got it right” and much more on the order of “oh, shit, we’d better make this thing before no one gives a damn anymore.”

So how did they decide to bring the two bad boys together?

As our story begins, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, Wishmaster) is languishing in what we assume is Hell.  He immediately breaks the fourth wall and starts talking directly to the audience, reminiscing and complaining as follows while footage from his previous films plays in the background:

“My children...  From the very beginning, it was the children who gave me my power.  The Springwood Slasher: that's what they called me.  My reign of terror was legendary.  Dozens of children would fall by my blades.  Then the parents of Springwood came for me, taking justice into their own hands.  When I was alive, I might have been a little naughty; but after they killed me, I became something much, much worse: the stuff nightmares are made of.  The children still feared me, and their fear gave me the power to invade their dreams, and that's when the fun really began.  Until they figured out a way to forget about me!  To erase me completely!  Being dead wasn't a problem, but being forgotten – now that's a bitch!  I can't come back if nobody remembers me!  I can't come back if nobody's afraid!  I had to search the bowels of Hell, but I found someone: someone who'll make 'em remember.  He may get the blood, but I'll get the glory, and that fear is my ticket home.”

That someone, of course, is Jason Voorhees, whom Freddy cons into stalking Elm Street by pretending to be his mother.  Jason does indeed hit Elm Street, but who thinks Freddy’s actually going to be able to control Jason once he starts killing again?  Anyone?  Yeah, thought so…

On the one hand, Freddy vs. Jason was a commercial success by any sane person’s definition.  On the other, you’ll notice that the only way that it was ever followed up was in the form of a comic that most people have never heard of.  For all real world purposes, this movie marked the end of the Golden Age slasher franchises.  (Well past the Golden Age, of course.)

Whether or not it was a fitting or an awesome ending to the Age will largely depend on depth of sentiment and specific fan ideology.  (Why yes, slasher fans can have them about their favorite franchises.)  If you’re not an established fan of Freddy or Jason – which even at the time this film was made was entirely possible, since they’d decided to wait so long – then frankly, this isn’t about you.  You’ll be able to watch the movie and follow it well enough, but it’s not got to have the same depth of meaning for you as it did and does for those of us who’d been following the original franchises from the beginning.  For fresh starters, honestly, Freddy vs. Jason is going to be just another slasher that’s mediocre at best.  While the end result may be the same for some established fans, as well, if it is, the reasons for coming to that conclusion are much deeper.

We’ll start on the neutral ground.  Thanks to the decade-long wait, Freddy vs. Jason had the great misfortune to be made during an a period when the slashers of old had been replaced by more sanitized fare that can almost be described as “corporate,” and while the magnificently realized Jason X managed to blast through with most of its integrity intact two years earlier, Freddy vs. Jason doesn’t have the same luck.  While it does indeed have more blood and gore than most stuff of the period, it’s just doesn’t have that visceral feel of old.  The blood is a prop that’s almost no different from the furniture (as are the brief flashes of nudity, for that matter), and frankly, the violence doesn’t have much real intensity to it in most scenes.  While there are some moments that escape the curse of the era, there’s just no getting past the fact that compared to what came before, this is slasher lite.

It doesn’t help that the look of Freddy vs. Jason is almost spotlessly clean.  There’s nothing raw about this flick; even Freddy’s scar tissue looks like it came fresh from the dry cleaners.  Everything’s polished, right down to the dirt at Camp Crystal Lake.  Hell, the stoner van is pristine.  Was anybody thinking here?  It’s all processed, as if the production designers had their own orders to wring as much fun out of things as they possibly could.  When I call flicks like this “corporate,” this is a lot of what I’m talking about.

Moving on to our slasher bait (which I kept wanting to think of as the cast of “Friends” under the assumption that it got a token black cast member), I can’t help but start off by saying that suspension of disbelief regarding who can pass for a high school student can only be stretched so far.  Monica Keena (The Devil’s Advocate) realistically looks like she could be teaching, folks.  Was there some reason we couldn’t change the setting to a junior college or something and call it a day?  Regardless of anyone’s age, however, the cast is largely forgettable save for one person, and that’s Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps), who was looking like she might be the next big thing in slasher/horror before suddenly she wasn’t.  Her performance is excellent, though she gets negative points for insisting on a nudity double for her shower scene.  (I have little respect for that; either play your part or don’t.  If the director really wants you for the part anyway, there are plenty of ways to cheat while shooting a scene without resorting to the cheap body double.  I accept the idea of stunt doubles for safety reasons, but vanity?  Sorry.)  As for the rest, they don’t actively stink, but they’ve got no real presence, either.  Not that it matters, of course; the “kids” are just filler – and fodder – anyway until our two headliners show up. 

Speaking of, though we will return to the common ground before we finish, let’s move on to those headliners now, shall we?

We’ll begin with how they’re set up, and here, the script gets kudos for making sense.  Freddy is the villain, Jason is our unlikely hero.  This makes complete sense: from the very start, Freddy was always a malevolent psycho, whereas Jason started out as a poor little kid who got picked on a lot.  I don’t know of a single fan of either franchise who had any disagreement with this arrangement, so we do start off on a decent footing.

Looking specifically at Freddy, the best news of all is that Robert Englund is back, as he should be.  He had always been Freddy, and realistically, Freddy just isn’t Freddy without him.  What’s more, the powers that be have made it abundantly clear that Freddy vs. Jason got billed in that order for a reason, because this is very, very obviously Freddy’s movie to dominate.  The first two acts take place solidly in his world, and really up until the very last duel, he’s the one who controls the action.  If you’re a Freddy fan, you’re loving this.  And hey, for those fans who enjoy seeing what Freddy’s going to morph into next during dream sequences, his “Alice in Wonderland” inspired hookah smoking caterpillar is a scream.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Freddy just isn’t scary anymore.  He started off being the pure evil that no victim could escape, then halfway through the run of his franchise, he switched over to being Hell’s Own Game Show Host, looking more like a Torture MC (go ahead and try to picture him in shades and gold chains; I know I can) than a killer in his own right.  Englund plays the role perfectly, but he can’t escape the writing.  Look at that opening monologue again.  When he cries “I can’t come back if nobody’s afraid!”, it sounds like something you’d expect to hear from a washed-up host of Schlock Theatre.  For fans, he’s still fun enough, and he’s got some decent moments, but he is not the same terrifying Freddy who first scared the hell out of Elm Street in 1984.

Turning our eyes to Jason, franchise fans were immediately up in arms when Ken Kirzinger (Stan Helsing) got the part instead of fan favorite Kane Hodder (who’d worn the world’s most famous hockey mask for the last four Friday the 13th movies), who wasn’t even asked.  To call discussions on that score “heated” is an understatement, and frankly, as a proud Friday the 13th fan, I’ve got to say that I’m in the Kane Hodder camp.  Kirzinger may not be the worst Jason that’s ever been (I’d call that a dead heat between Friday the 13: Part 2 and Friday the 13th: Part III), but after four rounds with the purposeful, hulking Hodder, what shows up on the screen for Freddy vs. Jason just doesn’t cut it anymore.  The generally accepted line is that because Jason was the hero, he needed to seem a little softer and more approachable, but that’s just not what fans were or are after at all.   (After seeing the movie, Kane Hodder himself said “I guess they wanted Jason to look like a skinny little bitch this time.”)  To be fair, Kirzinger isn’t exactly a teddy bear in the role, but he’s not exactly menacing, either, and most importantly, he’s not quite Jason.  In some ways, he bears more resemblance to Michael Myers in the way he plays the part, and while again there have been worse, it just isn’t quite right.

It doesn’t help that while the studio was happy to give major props to Freddy and his world, they really gave Jason and his the short end of the stick, to the point where huge chunks of the intended script – pretty much all centered around Crystal Lake – were sent to the shredder.  What’s more, they take some pretty major liberties with the character, most notably in his suddenly developed fear of water.  Anyone who’s seen a Friday the 13th movie knows better.  He’s come out of water, fought in pouring rain, gone after bathers; I mean, seriously, what gives, here?  If you’re going to take ten years developing things, do it properly.

Now let’s bring it all back to the ground where the two come together.  (And how the drive from Ohio to New Jersey got so short is a miracle of geography we’ll just pass on by.)

Returning to our slasher bait, one could almost call them some of the best informed “kids” since Scream, save that instead of being informed, they just have everything fall into their laps.  I know that one generally doesn’t walk into a slasher looking for integrity of story (especially a flick that involves these guys), but really, the convenience factor is so blatant here that it’s really hard to avoid tripping over it.  Indeed, when the Extremely Convenient Cop comments on the “Scooby-Doo” van, he kinda hits it on the head, because in some ways, the story element here does flow like a “Scooby-Doo” episode.

However, for all of the issues there are to be found with Freddy vs. Jason, there is still good stuff to be had.  Specifically, there’s that last fifteen minutes where Freddy and Jason finally get to duke it out in the real world.  Regardless of what came before, this is what fans of both franchises had been waiting forever to see.  I won’t give away the details for those who have yet to experience it, but I will say this: regardless of the disappointment you’ve noticed me expressing about the movie up to this point, it’s the stuff at the end that made me buy the movie anyway and why I seem to find the time to watch it at least once a year.  Would it have played better if Kane Hodder had been cast as Jason?  Yeah, I’m absolutely positive that it would have.  Does it still rock anyway?  Yes.  Yes, it does.

(And speaking of rock, fans of both franchises will be happy to hear cues from the themes of both into the score; anything new that’s added is frankly forgettable, and the rock add-ons actually suck.)

At the end of the day, the simple fact that Freddy vs. Jason got made at all is enough to satisfy at least half of its potential viewing audience, especially since there is a fun enough payoff in the form of the final act.  As a rule, slasher fans tend to be forgiving, and though this movie certainly could have been a lot better, it could also have been a lot worse.  It’s certainly nowhere near being the worst entry in either franchise, and manages to be a fair amount of fun in spite what the studio did to it, especially if your primary allegiance was to Freddy anyway.

On the flip side, Jason fans do get the short end of the stick for the first two thirds of the film, and some just don’t want to let go of the fact that Kane Hodder wasn’t asked to come back.  That the guy they got instead really does do a much less menacing take on Jason  certainly doesn’t make that pill go down any easier.  For these folks, “having” doesn’t live up to the anticipation of “wanting,” and the idea that New Line couldn’t get it right after ten years of development was and is something of a low blow.

As for me, I end up somewhere in the middle.  I’m glad that they finally got together, and I know that if it hadn’t happened in 2003, it probably wasn’t going to happen at all.  I was disappointed in the final result – especially coming from the perspective of a Friday the 13th fan – but I still managed to have just enough fun that I keep coming back to watch it again anyway.  It may be a backhanded recommendation, but there you have it.

When all was said and done, I think the studio came to a similar conclusion.  Even though Freddy vs. Jason was a commercial success, New Line decided to let their two most famous franchises – the one that literally made the studio to begin with, and the one they’d fought for years to acquire – fall by the wayside. 

I hate to say it, but I think that Freddy vs. Jason is the concrete evidence that it was time to let them go.  (At least until the rights ended up in the hands of Platinum Dunes a few years later, who would in turn take them for a ride on the remake bandwagon.  Even at that, I wish they’d have lost Freddy’s paperwork.)

Bottom line, from an objective standpoint, Freddy vs. Jason really doesn’t live up to all of the anticipation that was afforded it by a decade-plus wait, but franchise fandom has precious little to do with objectivity.  Looking at it from that perspective, it’s something of a miracle that these two finally got together at all, and even if the first two thirds of the result could have been a lot better, what happens at the end is good enough to have been worth watching.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, January, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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