I’m as surprised as you’re going to be, ISCFC readers, because the last in the “original” run for both Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger is surprisingly decent. It really shouldn’t be – born from idiots on the early internet and “Fangoria” magazine seizing on the idea and running with it, the sort of thing that would be a meme these days instead of a movie. But what it achieves is telling a fairly interesting story using both characters, has honest-no-fooling layers to it, with plenty of fine acting and gore too. But seriously, please read the rest of this review because I know I’ve totally given away my feelings in the first paragraph.
Although never mentioned, it seems like we’re being asked to ignore the last movie in both series. “Freddy’s Dead” finally, no twist at the end, kills Freddy off forever (and leaves Springwood a ghost town where all the kids are dead); and “Jason X” takes place in space 450 years in the future. I don’t think “New Nightmare” counts in this “universe” either, in case you’re already getting annoyed with me. Freddy is in hell, forgotten about, and is itching to get back into the teenager-slaughtering game; but he needs people to start remembering him so he has power, and to that end goes and finds Jason Voorhees and, pretending to be Jason’s mother, persuades him to resurrect himself and go to Springwood. Why Jason can just pop back into existence whenever he wants and Freddy can’t is sadly never explained. Even if, casting your mind back, Freddy didn’t need people to believe in him to start killing people in the first movie? Ah well, there’s worse plot holes in better movies. A few murders from Jason, people start talking Freddy again, and boom! He’s back in business. Or so the theory goes.
Hearing Jason’s music play over a shot of 1428 Elm Street is, even for someone like me who hated most of one series and half the other, a pretty cool moment. Living at the old Elm Street house is Lori (Monica Keena), along with her widowed father; one boring weekend evening, she has her friends over, Kia, Gibb, Trey, and Blake (the women are the better-known of the group – Kia is singer Kelly Rowland and Gibb is Katharine Isabelle, from “Ginger Snaps”). Trey is every super-douchebag boyfriend cliché ever, and gets his first, being folded up the wrong way in a bed by Jason – the first of many excellent effects. There’s also Lori’s old boyfriend and his mate, who’ve been locked up in an asylum for four years, coming back to town to complicate matters.
“Freddy vs Jason” uses the cliché of “authority figures who don’t want to know” and for maybe the first time ever, does something clever with it. I won’t spoil it, because I think this one is worth watching, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The entire story of the non-supernatural-murderer people is solidly done, all round, which means you’re not just waiting round for the next teenager to get hacked to pieces or thrown about in their dreams – although there’s certainly that element to it. There comes a moment where Freddy is doing his thing with Gibb, but Jason kills her out in the real world before he can finish her off, and that brings their conflict to a head. Jason didn’t listen! He was only supposed to kill a few people! If you can’t trust an entirely mute monster of a man whose sole reason to exist is to murder people who enjoy sex, who can you trust?
Director Ronny Yu is much better known for doing epic historical kung-fu movies in the Far East, and this represents the end of his dabbling with Hollywood. But he does get some lovely visuals in there, including the cornfield rave, a genuinely well-shot little moment, and the use of water to “imprison” Jason. For a slasher movie, it’s better than it has any right to be. Jason’s dream is quite clever too.
This was the first movie for writers Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, who’ve since gone on to write the 2009 “Friday The 13th” reboot, and have their names attached to the new “Baywatch” movie (among others). I don’t want to get too excited about this, but I think there are people who just knock together whatever will do for the money, and there are people that realise even a probably terrible slasher movie can be used as a calling card, if it’s decent enough. Putting thought into something doesn’t cost extra – although it would have been nice if they’d watched the previous movies in both series, as there’s the odd thing I noticed, and I’m just some joe off the internet who likes horror.
It’s not all fun and games, though. There’s a thing about Jason dying in water so Freddy traps him with it, as if he’s mortally afraid of it. The problem is, Jason was never really “afraid” of water (he swims most of the way from Crystal Lake to New York in part 8, if you care to cast your mind back) so it smacks of a last-minute decision because they needed to extend the final fight a bit. And even after the attempt to bring Englund’s characterisation in “New Nightmare” back to something more genuinely terrifying, he’s the same old quip-spewing psycho here as he always was. In the age of the internet, the idea that blacking out a few newspaper reports will be enough to make people forget about him is strange – not one teenager ever looked on a “gross local news” website?
But after all that, I liked it! The final fight between the two titans of terror, the Gods of Gore, the super-slashers, the I-have-a-headache-and-can’t-think-of-any-more, is really well done; and Jason’s “characterisation” (from stuntman Ken Kirzinger, not long-time guy Kane Hodder) is deliberate, slow and as frightening as a slasher movie is going to get. Eagle-eyed viewers can also spot future “Lost” star Evangeline Lilly, back when she was a model who just did occasional extra work, as a high school student too.
Freddy’s complaint about being forgotten is a meta-reference and mirrors the vague feeling of embarrassment there’d be at making another straight “Nightmare On Elm Street” movie – and that “New Nightmare” was, relatively speaking, a box office failure. Freddy “needing” Jason plays into this too – much as I love it, the previous year’s “Jason X” performed worst of the lot at the box office, so it was both of them or neither of them.
There’s also the fact that New Line Cinema, home of both franchises, originated Freddy whereas Jason was bought in. And Freddy can talk, which certainly makes him a more interesting character…saying that though, the thing is, this feels much more like a “Friday the 13th” movie with a guest appearance from Freddy than it does the reverse. The thing about Jason is (depending on how much you’ve thought about it, or at all), he’s a force of nature more than a person, so who cares about backstory or anything like that. He can be adapted, whereas Freddy needs dreams, teenagers, parents with secrets, etc. Plus, he loves torturing people before he kills them, whereas Jason definitely doesn’t, which is why Freddy only manages a measly one kill to Jason’s 15 or 16 (I lost count).
I suppose it’s easier to fit Freddy into a Jason movie? Or perhaps it was the on-set influence of producer Sean S Cunningham, aka the biggest hack in the modern history of the movies, who was apparently around more than “Freddy’s producer” Robert Shaye. Have I mentioned how little I like Cunningham? Oh yes, every chance I get. I also just found out that Ronny Yu was allowed to film the final fight (the only real reason anyone paid to watch this, surely) any way he liked, including picking the winner. The coda is the same old (literal) wink-wink, nothing’s-over crap we’ve had in so many slasher movies, but that shouldn’t spoil the rest.
So, a movie that succeeds, with strong acting and a decent sense of humour, despite it’s occasionally hefty roadblocks. If you rank both franchises together, it’s definitely top 5, (along with Nightmares 1, 3 and 4, and Jason X), but if you’re seriously ranking slasher movies, then you might need to go and have a lie down and a nice cup of tea.
Rating: thumbs up
Postscript! I’ve been thinking about the Freddy thing, and continuity. Let’s say the Freddy that we know dies at the end of part 3, with the destruction of his bones. The chap who pops up at the beginning of part 4 is different, a dream demon entity who’s borrowed Freddy’s face and feeds on fear (such as the people of Springwood have for Freddy). Actually, with the opening monologue from Freddy, using clips from the first three movies, this doesn’t work either. DAMMIT