Tony vs. “Freddy vs. Jason”

Posted on: November/1/2003 12:01 AM

By Anthony Timpone

Published in Fangoria #228.

What a year it’s been for nostalgia. Horror fans have seen retro ’70s/’80s throwbacks (House of 1000 Corpses, Wrong Turn, Cabin Fever and this month’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake), a zombie comeback (28 Days Later, House of the Dead) and the long-awaited matchup of the two terror icons who ruled the ’80s, Freddy and Jason. Many older Fango readers were so tickled to see their childhood anti-heroes back on the silver screen that they deluged Postal Zone and our bulletin boards with their opinions on the monster smash ($80 million and counting).

With everyone on-line these days, it’s rare that Fango gets hit with so much mail. Then again, buffs have been waiting for New Line Cinema’s Freddy vs. Jason for a long time. As you will see from this month’s Postal Zone, you folks were split right down the middle on the film: you either loved it or hated it. So while Hollywood geniuses try to devise the next titanic team-up, allow me to offer my thoughts on the bloody blockbuster.

First off, I must credit fledgling screenwriters Mark Swift and Damian Shannon with coming up with a convincing scenario for bringing Freddy and Jason together. Some of the discarded plotlines that several better-known scribes discussed in Fango #226-7 were pretty ridiculous and unbelievable, and the way Swift and Shannon integrate the two disparate characters into one movie with a simple storyline is so basic and obvious (Freddy needing Jason to do his evil bidding) that it’s hard to believe no one thought of it before. But it works. The scenario is plausible enough, and the ultimate battle between the two supernatural killers is exciting, wild and totally satisfying in a WWF kind of way. It’s a treat seeing Englund back in his familiar costume, and I like how he modulates his performance, going from a weakened/beaten old maniac to cackling action star at the end. As Jason, Ken Kirzinger fares just fine as Kane Hodder’s replacement, with subtle body language conveying a confused child trapped in a hulking monster’s body.

Freddy vs. Jason began to lose me from its opening moments, though, as soon as that chick strips naked on the dock. Though I realize we are in Jason’s dream/fantasy, with that one shot the filmmakers announce that their movie is aiming for the lowest common denominator. If this gratuitous moment is just an attempt to satirize the Friday the 13th series, then I must point to Jason Goes to Hell’s similar prologue or Jason X’s “holodeck” scene as much more successful examples of self-reflexive humor. As far as Freddy vs. Jason’s copious amounts of blood and grue (has the MPAA become horror’s new friend, as Quentin Tarantino recently suggested in these pages), the movie certainly delivers for the gorehounds. But like the same studio’s Final Destination 2, Freddy vs. Jason treats the audience as if that’s all they want.

Moreover, the movie really falls short whenever Freddy and Jason are offscreen. The young actors (clueless Monica Keena and bland Jason Ritter) never command our attention, and their clunky, exposition-heavy dialogue elicits inappropriate chuckles. Ditto the mediocre supporting cast, especially the colorless Elm Street parents and authority figures. Even Vancouver did a bad job subbing for Springwood, never capturing the festering evil in suburbia of past LA-lensed Nightmares.

With Freddy vs. Jason, I expected more from director Ronny Yu. I loved his wonderful, operatic and sumptuous Hong Kong movies (Bride with White Hair, The Phantom Lover) and even Bride of Chucky was more fun, inventive and closer to his kinetic style. Again, it seems a “dumbing down” process went on to make Freddy vs. Jason little more than a splatter fan’s wet dream. So is there something wrong with that? Scores of moviegoers dug the flick in its initial month of release anyway, with inevitable sequel talks (prepare for Round Two) beginning the first weekend. Personally, I would have liked Freddy vs. Jason more if it had a smidgen of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’s subversiveness and ambition or a bit of Bride of Chucky’s droll sense of humor and visual flair.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of Freddy vs. Jason’s success is that it blows away the notion that R-rated horror can’t draw audiences anymore. If you remember (see Elegy in Fango #220) many Hollywood suits felt that, with the PG-13 popularity of The Ring, horror films should be geared to 12-year-old girls and the grislier stuff be avoided. Several genre filmmakers told me that they were shown the door when they pitched more extreme fright fare to the studios. After three straight weekends of Freddy vs. Jason and fellow R Jeepers Creepers II claiming the #1 box-office slot and the MPAA looking the other way, expect more gruesome fun in the year ahead. And hopefully we’ll get some brains to go along with the bloodshed.