Between them, the “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” series have produced 17 movies — and “Freddy vs. Jason” is better than all of them.
I say that as a person who has viewed each of those 17 films and found little to admire. They are, most of them, bad movies. They are seldom suspenseful, the acting and dialogue are uniformly bad, and there is little regard for continuity. (Jason gets cremated in one film, then has his un-cremated body dug up in the next, etc.) I suspect most of the people who enjoy them do so ironically — they like how bad they are, giggling at the predictability and audacious bloodletting while knowing, in the back of their minds, that it’s all a pretty sorry excuse for a movie.
Personally, I enjoy watching bad horror movies, but I do so knowing they’re bad. I like to make fun of them. I like to laugh at the hare-brained ideas some filmmakers have come up with and thought were good. Culturally, I’m interested in examining how these two merciless personifications of pure evil, Freddy and Jason, have become something like heroes, the demons we love to hate.
And so along comes “Freddy vs. Jason,” fulfilling many dreams of many fan-boys, and probably not disappointing them. Make no mistake, this will not win an Oscar, nor will it convince those who are not fans of the slasher genre to broaden their interests. On the contrary, it wisely seeks only to entertain those who are already interested in a movie about two supernaturally powered serial killers who fight each other. It sticks to its source material, remains loyal to its fan base, and thus succeeds. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when adding a few bells and whistles is enough to make the wheel seem new.
Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), you will recall, is the pederast who was burned alive years ago by angry parents and who subsequently returned to murder their children in their dreams. Whatever Freddy does to you in a dream, it happens to you for real, which means maybe you wake up with slash marks, or maybe you don’t wake up at all.
At present, the town of Springwood (heh heh) has not been afflicted with Freddy for a while. The grownups have succeeded in getting their children to forget about him, and if no one’s afraid of Freddy, Freddy has no power. (It is the same way with Sean Hannity.) So he resurrects Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger), the silent, hockey-masked killer of the “Friday the 13th” series, and sends him to Springwood to do a little slashy-slashy. Some grisly, unexplained murders will surely get people talking about Freddy again, and that will start the fear a-pumpin’ in the veins of the local teens.
The manner in which Freddy resurrects Jason is amusing. Mr. Krueger appears in Jason’s dream as his mom, telling her boy that he can’t be killed, and that he therefore should stop being dead, arise from hell, and get back to work. We knew Jason was stupid; apparently, he is SO stupid, he got killed only because he forgot getting killed was impossible. A man this dumb, immortal or not, ought to be easy to escape from.
Jason shows up on Elm Street, at the very house where the troubles began in 1984. A ribald, liquor-fueled teen gathering is afoot, featuring the sort of loathsome teens the “Friday” films are known for, the kind who make you glad when Jason shows up and murders them. Among our cast: Lori (Monica Keena), whose boyfriend mysteriously disappeared four years ago, right around the time her mom was killed, possibly by her dad; Kia (Kelly Rowland), who, despite being named after a Korean automobile, is African-American and SASSY!; Gibb (Katharine Isabelle), a budding alcoholic whose primary goal is to have sex with her boyfriend a lot; her boyfriend, Trey (Jesse Hutch), a Neanderthal who yells at Gibb a lot and will therefore be first to die; and Blake, Trey’s friend, sort of a nice guy and interested in Lori.
Some of these people get killed fairly early on, and so later, we have to deal with a whole different set of teens, including Lori’s long-lost boyfriend Will (Jason Ritter), who busts out of the mental institution he’s been in to warn everyone that Freddy might be back — which of course is just the sort of panic-inspiring word-of-mouth Freddy was hoping for. Nice work, Will.
“Friday the 13th” (1980) F
“Friday the 13th Part 2” (1981) D+
“Friday the 13th Part III” (1982) F
“Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (1984) C
“Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” (1985) F
“Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI” (1986) D
“Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (1988) D
“Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” (1989) D-
“Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” (1993) C-
“Jason X” (2002) C
“Freddy vs. Jason” (2003) B
“Friday the 13th” (2009) C
Freddy’s plan works, and he regains power. The problem? Now Jason won’t leave. He’s an unstoppable killing machine (someone actually uses that phrase), and there’s no way he can stop after just one murder. (It’s the same way with Sean Hannity.)
In one deliciously morbid moment, Freddy is about to kill a girl in her dream, only to have her disappear on him. Why? Because Jason has killed her first, in the real world, while she slept.
First-time writers Mark Swift and Damian Shannon deftly weave the two franchises’ mythologies together; “Freddy vs. Jason” works as a “Nightmare” AND as a “Friday.” Freddy turns dreams into dark, foggy nightmares and makes wicked post-kill quips, and Jason is as fond as ever of crashing parties and finding bold new ways of murdering teens who have just had sex.
There’s a highly entertaining sequence in a cornfield rave party, in which Jason is doused in Everclear then set ablaze. People on fire = funny.
The film’s major fault is in having too much plot, which I suspect is overcompensation for the other 17 installments, which had almost none. Subplots involving Lori’s dead mother and a conspiracy at the local asylum are irrelevant and unhelpful.
But it all builds up to a fever pitch of wicked, macabre action that, directed by Ronny Yu (“Bride of Chucky”), is as ghoulishly funny as it is exciting. The impressive special effects add to the thrill of seeing two horror icons battle it out.
If this isn’t your thing, don’t bother with it. But if you ever saw and enjoyed a Freddy or Jason film, this should be a bloody, grotesque delight.
B (1 hr., 32 min.; )