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Freddy vs. Jason Review

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by Chris McEneany Feb 8, 2009

    Freddy vs. Jason Review

    “He may get the blood, but I'll get the glory. And that fear is my ticket home!”

    Well, it just had to happen, didn't it?

    Mind you, the idea to bring two of the 80's most celebrated horror-icons together in a Universal-style monster-mash, had been on the cards for quite some time before the pair actually went finger-claw to machete. The problem had always been just how to go about colliding their two respective “worlds” into one corpse-filled battlefield. With both franchises having sunken to deplorable depths and their last-stab attempts to find something classy, different and of reinvigorating worth - Freddy's New Nightmare and Jason X, respectively - to pump new blood into their cinematic veins not doing as well as hoped, the time finally seemed right to get the Pizza-Face and the Hockey-Mask into the ring for a simple “what-the-hell” brawl. And the ace up New Line's sleeve was realising that the only way to make this concept work, was to send it up with all the pure 80's tack and gore that they could muster. Intelligent script-writing and involving scenarios simply weren't necessary. No audience was going to come and see this expecting something smart and thought-provoking. They would be drawn by the promise of carnage, killer-quips, annoying teens getting decorously diced and the tantalising prospect of the two terror-titans duking it out. Indeed, the guilty-pleasure aspect of the enterprise, that of witnessing the towering hulk of mangled meat, Jason Vorhees, scrapping viciously with the crafty, inventive and egotistical Freddy Krueger, can't be overstated. High art, this was never going to be. But brutally simple, and simply brutal, it just had to be. And big daft fun, to boot. Therein, lies the secret of the movie's success.

    The mistake, in this case, would have been to try to probe the backgrounds of the pair of lunatics, to see what makes them tick, or to take any serious stance at all. So, thankfully, director Ronnie Yu's movie completely and utterly avoids any such contamination with intelligence and sinks its rotted teeth determinedly into the heart of an absurdist, cares-cast-to-the-wind romp. Whilst the original, the third and Wes Craven's New Nightmare were the only ones out of the Elm Street series to audaciously break new ground, thematically and emotionally, Freddy's cycle was primal, but not intellectual. And no-one, not even in their wildest flights of charitable fancy, could ever claim that the Friday 13th series did anything for the grey matter other than shred it. Therefore, FvJ, which was really only a fanboy's wet-dream anyway, could only exist in the realm of nonsensical escapism.

    And, on that score, Yu's film is a clear winner.

    Mucking about with any trace of historical context or continuity, FvJ just takes another bunch of incredibly annoying teens and leaves them at the mercy of Jason's wanton killing machine, whilst Freddy, hampered by that whole dream-state captivity, pulls the strings from the land of nod. Arguably, Freddy had run out of steam long before this film was even conceived, despite him being the more inventive and imaginative character of the two horrific stalwarts, and this endeavour was exactly what he needed. Jason, on the other hand, gets by simply by virtue of his never-ending kill-crazy-rampages. No-one, until the remake of the first Friday The 13th swung around, was even remotely interested in what motivated him. So long as he hacked, sliced and chopped at least a dozen unwitting fools in every instalment, then the punters were happy. He was born of a format that never had any aspirations or hidden agendas - it was merely exploitation. Freddy may have disembowelled and razored almost as many, but he was no mere brute force of supernature - he had a grandeur and an eloquence and, most importantly considering his taboo-rattling credentials, a sense of humour. He was the killer whose franchise actually had legs, and the potential to reinvent itself many times over. Yet, if anything, the Freddy films were the quickest to dissolve into boring juvenile pap, and this is especially ironic as the Jason movies, which never had any pretensions of being anything other than juvenile pap in the first place, could seemingly go on forever, just like their grisly poster-boy.

    So, on paper at least, this was a match made in Hell.

    Even so, Freddy Vs Jason, directed by Bride Of Chucky's Ronnie Yu, and written by Damien Shannon and Mark Swift, had a premise so damningly ridiculous that most horror-aficionados just rolled their eyes in dismay when they heard it. Even Universal's most pell-mell mix 'n' match of Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man from many decades before in the pretty lousy House Of Frankenstein (1944) had more merit in its narrative hook than this. Jeez, even AvP was a credible attempt to bring Fox's notorious xenomorphs together for a grudge match. But the thing is, in this warped limbo-land, such narrative sleight of hand (read contrivance) works perfectly well and is virtually nothing more than a wink at a gagging-for-it audience. Freddy Krueger, residing in the Pit of Hell, is seething that he no longer has the power to scare anybody, rather like those kids that Mr. Wattanoose grumbles about in Monsters Inc. who no longer scream, his old terror-patch of Elm Street, Springwood, has moved on and its teens don't scare that easily owing to regular medication and a sanatorium housing the survivors of his previous reign of terror. His legend is fading. Being trapped in dreams isn't the ballpark it used to be. But, hey, wait a minute - who's this new guy tumbling down the abyss? Why, it's none other than mutant-zombie mountain Jason Vorhees. Hmmm ... the kid ain't the sharpest knife in the cadaver, is he? What say Freddy, ahem, persuades the giant mouldy one to go slay a few in Springwood via his dream-invasion methods and then, perhaps, he could convince the good folk there that he, himself, is back on the loose, thereby bolstering his ailing reputation as the slasher of choice and giving him the strength to carry on his kid-carving crusade. Better light one up, 'cause Freddy loves it when a plan comes together. And, quicker than you can slit a throat, the bodies begin to pile up - a cornfield rave-party allows a jacked-up Jason to amass double-figures but also garners a few witnesses who can categorically cite that the toasted-one wasn't the killer. Oops, Freddy's plan has backfired and now Jason is top of the league. Now, he's going to have to try and turn the tables on his own weapon of mass destruction.

    “It's got to be him right? It's got to be Freddy Kueger ...”

    “Hey - don't even say that sonofabitch's name out loud!”

    There is something of a parable going on here, too. If you take Jason's callously retarded thug and place him in the hands of a manipulative bully, you have the essence of how most criminal gang-leaders probably come to power. Taking this unsavoury ethic to its (unlikely, but fun to discuss) extreme and you have American foreign policy whittled down to its basic formula. A great way of looking at America's frosted, opaque, skewed, biased - tick where appropriate - outlook is by delving into its films, and the ones that most reflect it's standpoints and it's fears are, more often than not, horror films. Thus, when we confront FvJ's immoral and illegal imprisoning of the film's nominal heroes - Jason Ritter's Will (a terrible actor even amongst this crowd) and Brendan Fletcher's Mark in the Western Hills loony-bin, doped-up for months on dream-suppressing drugs - you could actually suppose that this is an unconscious mirroring of the concept of 42-day detentions and the degradations of Abu Grahib. With the law quashing any and all evidence of Freddy's existence - rather naffly blocking out the obituaries of his victims in the records - you also have horror's answer to Watergate and any number of political or military indiscretions that have been conveniently brushed under the carpet. And with Jason's memory being manipulated by a greater power to lead him on a bloody vendetta - Freddy poses as his vengeful mother - and his ultimate rage at being used, you have the seeds of another Jason's plight being sown ... yep, the equally kill-skilled but considerably less messy Jason Bourne. WOW - you didn't think you'd get that from Freddy Vs Jason, did you?

    But, even if your enjoyment of such limb-lopping entertainment does not require such metaphor dissections as these, FvJ offers a great amount to savour on a less cerebral level. Unlike the majority of the Friday The 13th films, which suffered more cutting from the MPAA than Jason ever actually committed, it is literally flooded with blood. The fx, sadly created via CG for the most part, are ambitiously horrific. We have decapitations, impalements, amputations aplenty a la Jason's grue-mired machete, and Freddy's claws, although slightly restrained by comparison, still do the business with less-than-clinical precision. Yu delights in Asian-style arterial sprays that hose across the screen with jet-propelled relish and the scale of the actual violence involved is quite staggering. Bringing his action-flick past to bear, Yu enhances the sheer brutality of each act with gut-punching impacts and bodies literally hurled for miles via wires and CG. Naturally, such elements have the weird side-effect of actually diluting the savagery simply because it becomes more exciting to watch it unfold. The beauty of Freddy's cycle was in the imaginative tricks he played on his victims once he had them in his dimension, and FvJ does offer a crazily hallucinogenic Krueger-slug and some teeth-gritting steel-on-steel scraping in his rusted boiler-room lair, but this is more profoundly set in the real world, in which the violence of Vorhees holds sway.

    “How'd you know we were here?”

    “That Scooby-van parked outside - not very subtle.”

    With the cast a bunch of expectedly deplorable performers - feisty Monica Keena's pneumatic-chested heroine Lori, Destiny's Child Kelly Rowland's Kia teasing Freddy about his titchy manhood, at least, look terrific - the film inevitably comes down to how well the titular stars acquit themselves. Robert Englund, in his eighth outing as Freddy, appears un-scarred during the rather trite prologue, as the dream-invader explains the plot to us along with a teensy bit of his own backstory. Throughout the film he, naturally, dominates. How could he not? He can talk whilst Jason just cuts a dash in his dishevelled, maggot-infested mask and Lake-clobber. But his sick sarcasm rarely hits the mark, his one-liners flat and deflated. His makeup, this time out, is revealed in all its glory frequently, but here, again, he doesn't look quite as good as we've seen him before. With the new, refined sleekness of design, his fried fizzog looks too professional, too elaborate. Gone is the gruesomely moist image of the first film, and gone, too, is the terrifically mean leer from Wes Craven's New Nightmare. The nose is too prominent, the appliance now resembling an elongated Batman-cowl, and the wounds are too precise and patterned, almost as though he has taken fashion tips from the facially tattooed Darth Maul. Strange as it may seem, you can see Englund visibly tired of it all beneath the mask which, despite the physically dynamic challenges of the role - we see Freddy literally fly about the place, kicked to hell-and-back and bounce around like a rubber clown - is not altogether surprising. He loves the character, but by this stage, it must feel like a millstone around his neck. And with stuntman Ken Kirzinger's Jason a smaller-scale maniac when compared to the great machete-regular Kane Hodder's bowel-loosening stature, the other Big Guy of the piece lacks some of that essential intimidation, as well. But the sight of the two knocking seven shades of the icky stuff out of one another is certainly worth the price alone. Of course it's stupid. All of a sudden Freddy can perform Capoiera - Brazilian Ju-jitsu - and his time-honoured menace is reduced to knockabout farce and almost Tom & Jerry inspired levels of blunt-instrument usage. But the spectacle is rewarding enough in its own right. AvP had the awesome sight of a Predator swinging an Alien through pillars of ancient masonry by his tail and FvJ offers the priceless shot of Freddy being hauled all the way through a row of dormitory windows in a Crystal Lake reply to that franchise's opening salvo. The subsequent builder's yard melee is equally eye-popping, especially when Freddy unleashes a barrage of compressed-air cylinders at his slowly advancing nemesis. When Mrs. Vorhees duelled with a bubble-headed co-ed counsellor in the first Friday, you could never have seen this sort of fracas occurring in the site, that's for sure.

    “How sweet ... dark meat!”

    Far more comic-book in its tone and visuals than any of the other entries in either franchise, FvJ wears its hell-for-leather, everything including the kitchen sink attitude proudly on its blood-smeared sleeve. Most disarmingly of all, though, is the crazy idea that it actually softens our opinion of the cult-fave mass murderer, Jason. Instinctively, we side with the underdog, the used and abused even, as in this case, if it is an unstoppable, violently deranged uber-vicious ghoul like him. At least he had a mother who loved him enough to kill, kill and kill again to avenge his tragic death. Freddy was the “bastard son of a hundred maniacs” and a “filthy child-murderer” too. Even before he plots and schemes his psycho-rival's downfall, he's on to a loser as far as we are concerned. All the jokes and one-liners in Heaven or Hell won't change our opinion of who is the prime swine in this unholy set-up. And this makes it doubly satisfying for horror's jaded fan-club because the boy fighting our corner is also the one that does virtually all of the killing. Just a bus-man's holiday for ol' Jason, this trip.

    “And what is it with the butter-knives? You trying to compensate for something?”

    Yu's direction is much more audacious than the usual perfunctory-at-best approach that most “take-a-turn” franchise helmers adopt. You can expect some hyper-stylish flourishes and kinetic battle choreography, as evidenced with his earlier martial arts pictures or even the flashy-trashy 51st State. Jason being mentally flung around a warehouse full of scaffolding is simply wonderful - anarchic and dizzy, sure, but still wonderful. And Yu's eye for gaudy visuals is certainly made use of with some scenes entirely shot in either red, green or blue light. The sight of Jason, as a walking, stalking humanoid inferno pursuing another doomed teen through the cornfield is almost frighteningly beautiful to behold. There's some element of unusual cinematography too - cool overhead shots, a Spielberg reverse-zoom etc - courtesy of DOP Fred Murphy - which helps to elevate the film out of the doldrums that had certainly dogged the Friday series. Shock-scenes, however, are pretty well telegraphed and there is, sadly, little suspense built up. What should have been an incredibly tense sequence when Jason is tranquillised, trussed-up and transported in the back of a van to Camp Crystal Lake is reduced to nothing more than lame comedy shtick when Kelly Rowland almost has to administer the mangled heap the kiss of life.

    “You're in my world now, bitch!

    Composer Graeme Revell has received some less-then-savoury comments from me regarding his work in the past, his scoring best described as cash-on-delivery and effects-ridden. One or two scores have shone, however. His themes and action cues for Daredevil were pretty good and, believe it or not, his score for Freddy vs Jason is actually one of his better efforts too. Whilst he can't help embracing every modern horror movie music cliché in the book, he does supply a generous dollop of exciting action material, as well, which is something new to both franchises. Naturally, he also has to pay homage to both series' respective signature themes and the way in which he manages to meld both Friday's chi-chi-ci - ah-ha-haaa with Freddy's haunted lullaby is quite accomplished and short-changes neither character.

    So, at the end of the day, Freddy Vs Jason is good, grisly fun. It takes a juvenile approach to the material - which is the only route it could have taken - and lashes in heaps of mutilation, wildly cartoonic violence and two of the genre's most barnstorming (literally in Jason's case) multiple murderers into one often risible, but always entertaining pantomimes of pulverising pulp. With a remake of Friday The 13th hitting cinemas, the original series cleaving its way onto Blu-ray, and plans afoot to recharge Freddy's campaign with an upgrade, the horror boom-time is certainly in full axe-swing. So, you could do a lot worse than give this off-the-wall and tongue-in-gouged-cheek skirmish a spin. The story is a stinker, but the mayhem is marvellous.

    I'm tempted to give it a 7 out of 10 simply because it does exactly what it sets out to do, but some of the performances and the preponderance of CG still rankle - thus, Freddy vs Jason earns itself a 6. But fans - like me - know that conventional scoring doesn't apply to such material. And you deviants know who you are.