Friday, 24 December 2010

Freddy vs. Jason

2003
Dir. Ronny Yu

With the memory of Freddy Krueger suppressed and vanquished from the youth of Springwood – rendering him powerless and incapable of claiming any more victims - the dream-dwelling killer resurrects the brutish Crystal Lake marauder Jason Voorhees and manipulates him into going to Springwood to carve up a few teens and strike fear and chaos into the community once again. Only problem is, once Jason starts a-killin’, there’s just no a-stoppin’ him. There’s eventually a big show down between the pair and some sassy, sexy teens get stuck in the middle of it all… Shocker.

Since the initial idea of filming a face off between Freddy and Jason way back when Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was being developed, there had been numerous screenplays by a plethora of writers over the course of a decade that tried to flesh it out and make it a reality. The show-down between two of horror cinemas most iconic antagonists was stuck in development hell as soon as it was conceived. As an idea it was awesome. As an actual movie, it proved more problematic. The basic problem came from deciding how best to entwine the mythologies of both characters in a way that wouldn’t do a disservice to their respective film series’. How would this encounter come about? Freddy Krueger is a demonic manifestation of his victims’ dreams. Jason is essentially a demented backwoods hick with severe mental/physical deformities who eventually exhibited supernatural attributes when writers needed to resurrect him countless times and explain his immortality. Why would they even be involved in a face off? Who would the audience root for - neither are particularly sympathetic - both are sadistic, cold-blooded killers. These were but a few of the many problems various writers tackling the project were faced with. The production of Scream and the evolution of the post-modern, self-reflexive horror movie also upped the ante for those tackling the creation of Freddy vs. Jason.



When writers Damien Shannon and Mark Swift came to the project, the bones for the story were already there and many of the drafts already submitted picked up where Jason Goes to Hell left off - with the gruesome twosome now in hell. By going back to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street and readdressing the idea that fear is what gives Freddy his strength, and reinvestigating the generation gap and the idea of the deadly consequences of parents doing dubious things to protect their children (sins of the fathers etc), the writers came up with the idea that the youth of Springfield were being drugged and having their dreams suppressed in order to stop Freddy’s killing spree. The community has become a quiet, bloodless place to live now. Those teens who began to show signs of remembering Freddy were whisked off to the local loony-bin and locked away from the rest of the world. The sense of helplessness evoked in the original film when the teens realise what their parents have done - and that it is their parents very attempts to keep it secret and protect them that actually imperil the lives of the younger generation - is nicely recreated here, too. The idea of a drug that can suppress dreams was introduced in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part III: Dream Warriors. Freddy therefore needs to strike fear into the heart of the community again and he does this by resurrecting Jason’s slumbering corpse and sending him to Elm Street. This is a clever twist and a mainly convincing way to bring the two slasher villains together. Freddy must confront Jason when he won’t stop killing. Hey presto - let the fun begin!



The main problem with Freddy vs. Jason is, cartoonish tone aside, practically every scene that doesn’t feature someone getting hacked the fuck up, is loaded with exposition. Everything is explained and served up to us on a steaming plate of expository dialogue. The writers assume their audience is stupid and completely neglect the fact that most horror fans will know who this pair are and don’t need a re-cap or explanation as to what’s going on. Its not exactly rocket science - though after watching this many Friday the 13th movies in such quick succession, I’m surprised my brain still functions at all.
Yu’s direction ensures events whip along at breakneck speed and a rudimentary plot is spiced up with various death scenes that rank amongst the most bland and unimaginative either series has produced. What he does bring to the film is a great sense of style - at times, things look like they’ve been lifted wholesale from a comic book. This approach is evident in the violence too - which while pretty bloody, is also too outlandish to make any sort of impact other than ‘whoa, dude. That was like, um, totally gnarly!’ A most unwelcome aspect of the numerous fight scenes between Freddy and Jason towards the end of the film is the inclusion of pinball machine sound effects and cartoon wrestling bells. Dreadful. In all the wrong ways.


The various dream worlds depicted in the film - particularly Jason’s skewed memories of Crystal Lake - are effectively realised and look pretty stunning. Another successful aspect of the film is the look of both villains. The continuity of the Friday the 13th sequels was rather inconsistent to say the least, and this entry is no different in terms of reinventing Jason’s look again. Here he is presented as a lean, though no less hulking, giant. The re-casting of Ken Kirzinger as Jason, instead of Kane Hodder (who'd portrayed him in the last four movies), caused quite a stir in the horror world, with many fans expressing outrage. Kirzinger - I guess like most of the actors who have played the role over the years - provides a slight variation on a familiar portrayal. He moves slowly, and the fight scenes are blunt, brutal and kind of like watching two aging, haggard wrestlers thud the shit out of each other. Freddy, when tussling with Jason, resembles a little terrier dog - all snappy and snarly and completely dwarfed by the brutish hockey-masked one. The sight is a little ridiculous, but it fits perfectly with the tone of the film.



Much attempts seem to have been made to make Jason the ‘good guy.’ I guess to an extent he is a victim and this has been addressed throughout the Friday the 13th series a number of times. He was always an outsider; he was thought drowned when neglectful camp counsellors weren’t watching him; his mother was beheaded after she attempted to avenge his ‘death.’ He grew up in the backwoods alone. This ‘back-story’ and sympathetic slant strips the character of his menace. He has become a lumbering behemoth, and something of a pathetic creature we begin to feel sorry for. Never mind all the sadistic carnage he was responsible for in previous films. At one point he is even depicted as a shivering, cowering little boy in a hockey mask, whom Freddy refers to as 'an ugly little shit!' How undignified! The treatment of Freddy isn’t much better, but then again we have come to expect this and can thank the consistent dilution of the Elm Street sequels for that. Krueger was progressively elevated to the status of ‘lovable rogue’ as the sequels dragged on, a far cry from Wes Craven’s initially feverish and clammy depiction of him as a child killer. An opening scene depicting Krueger stalking a little girl through his filthy boiler room (while he tells us who he is and what his deal is, of course) hints that this film will return him to the shadowy, loathsome form he was in the original - when he was still scary. Then someone remembered that Freddy vs. Jason was a late summer blockbuster and that those sorts of issues don’t wash with the multiplex crowd.



Freddy vs. Jason is peopled by a hip, cool cast who do exactly what they’re supposed to, and look good while doing it. As Lori, Monica Keena is a fine final girl - starting off as a waifish wet blanket who pines for her childhood sweetheart and misses her dead mother, before morphing into a buxom, kick-ass babe who screams stuff like 'Welcome to my world, BITCH!' while wielding flaming torches and kicking ass. Her friends - sassy, tells-it-like-it-is Kia (Kelly Rowland), chain smoking emotional wreak Gibb (a wonderfully glib Katherine Isabelle), sensitive Linderman (Christopher Marquette), stoner Freeburg (Kyle Labine) and troubled boyfriend Will (Jason Ritter) - soon realise that something sinister is afoot when their friends and school mates start dying in fiendishly violent ways and the grown-ups begin to act strangely. They eventually work things out while they sit around explaining stuff, you know, just in case we don’t quite get what’s going on. Which is impossible since every little fucking thing is explained in bite-sized, easily digestible chunks. Not only is everything dumbed down, its made worse by the fact that it is STILL explained to us.

As it is, Freddy vs. Jason is a disappointing though still fairly enjoyable romp that perfectly encapsulates how far both film series’ have come since their initial instalments back in the early 80s - one, a cheap exploitative shocker boasting a murderous matriarch, the other, a seminal, genuinely nasty and terrifying fright flick that exploited primal fears. Many years and sequels later, and both are box office blockbusters that seem as at home in your local family multiplex as slush puppy machines and popcorn.

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