15 years ago, evil got an upgrade…IN SPACE!
Eight years after Jason Voorhees went to the hell of middling box office returns, New Line Cinema (who snatched up the rights to the character after Paramount squandered the Friday the 13th property into a tired series of faceless slasher sequels) launched their psychotic goalie into that far, far away galaxy where franchises like Critters and Leprechaun had already gone to die – IN SPACE!!! The last-second climax of Jason Goes To Hell promised an ultimate fighting showdown between New Line’s other favorite son, Freddy Krueger, but the studio had to put that dream on hold while Wes Craven completed his final statement with New Nightmare. Desperate to keep his franchise alive while the promise of Freddy Vs. Jason tried to free itself from the muck of development hell, original creator Sean S. Cunningham passed the producing credits down to his son Noel, and the decision to fling Jason into the far off future of 2455 was made to avoid any narrative confusion for the inevitable TBD grudge match.
Jason X was never meant to be anything more than a placeholder for something better, or at least, more interesting…and it sure looks it. Shot by television journeyman Derick Underschultz, and directed by one of David Cronenberg’s creature technician’s Jim Isaac, the far flung tenth onslaught for the most feared resident at Camp Crystal Lake appears like it belongs on the Syfy Channel. The sets are empty, the cg is flat, and most of the performances are desperate to please. It’s an ugly looking movie, made on the cheap, barely acknowledged by its financiers, and regularly mocked by the fan community. Jason X is also a damn weird movie, and as such, it at least succeeds in standing apart from the monotony of the rest.
Sending your franchise to space may seem like the last resort of an exhausted/bankrupt creative machine, but what worked for Abbott & Costello, James Bond, Hellraiser, Air Bud, and Ice Age should work damn well for Jason Voorhees. And probably The Fast and The Furious flicks after Dom obliterates his way through the rest of our world’s landmarks. Seriously, Toretto needs to plant that #FX flag on the moon! Screenwriter Todd Farmer (My Bloody Valentine 3D, Drive Angry) takes the opportunity to cram in the usual Aliens references, and maybe a Star Trek nod here or there, but Jason X triumphs when it just shrugs its shoulders and gets silly.
When Paramount pledged to have Jason take Manhattan in Friday the 13th Part VIII, the result was a brief rampage through the subway while the majority of the film meandered through a dull sea cruise full of interchangeable Lakeview High students. At least Jason X delivers on its whacky science fiction wish fulfillment. Cryogenic freezing chamber? Check. Lunar real estate? Check. VR paintball? Check. Nanotech med bay? Check. Earth 2 environmental preaching? Check. Cyborg sex commando with magnetic nipples? Um…check? Jason X may have very few new ideas, but Farmer packs his story with all the expected tropes.
Lexa Doig as Dr. Rowan LaFontaine is the Ripley of this mission. A woman out of time who is frozen in carbonite (or whatever) after a governmental science experiment falls under the machete of Jason. Trapped together by some pseudo science gasses, Rowan and Jason are resurrected four hundred years later when a group of students visit Earth 1 on a field trip. Don’t worry, time may have passed, but the teenagers of the future are just as dumb and oversexed as the classical variety. In another constant, the name Voorhees retains its infamy, and when their teacher eagerly sells the rights to Jason’s corpse to a collector on the outer rim, his get-rich-quick scheme perpetuates the never-ending cycle of bloodshed.
As a walking slab of beef, Kane Hodder will always be my Jason. He is not a titan of height, but he is the thick, lumbering hulk that fills the width of any doorframe he deems worthy. The manner in which he grips his machete, the mechanized tightness of his knuckles grinding around the hilt, is the only glimpse of pleasure this beast seems capable of emoting. Hodder’s Jason enjoys his work; he’s a mannered murderer that slows his kills into a humble brag showcase. Jason’s first order of business after awakening from the deep sleep is to grab his wannabe mortician by the face, and plunge her screaming skull into a vat of liquid nitrogen. Possibly one of the most entertaining kills of the franchise, Krista Angus’ frozen face of fear is brought into camera in a brief moment for Jason and the audience to admire before he smashes her visage on the table. Blood cubes scatter in practical delight.
Meanwhile, Todd Farmer’s favorite space marines are quick work for Jason. They’re a rather lame collection of goofballs that barely register more than stand-ins for Hicks and Hudson, but their fodder is necessary, and a few of them even get some good lines in before their impalement: “It’s gonna take more than a poke in the ribs to put down this old dog.” *STAB* “Yep, that will do it.” Did I say they were “good” lines? Well, eye-rollingly silly and utterly essential to this sort of horror hogwash.
With the marketing around Jason X relying on the tagline that for this “Perfect Ten in Terror…Evil Gets an Upgrade,” similar to Friday the 13th Part VIII’s Manhattan tease, the audience spends the majority of the film waiting for The Uber-Jason to arise. Lisa Ryder’s Kay-Em 14 robo dominatrix cheeses her way through some iffy wire-fu gladiatorial combat, but she eventually pops Jason’s dome with a confident blast from her future shotgun (you can tell it’s from the future because it’s got a giant honking flashlight built into its barrel – Fancy!). In the med bay, Harry Manfredini’s Frankenstein score erupts as nanobots piece the ultimate mama’s boy back together again. Polished like a Cenobite fresh from the carwash, The Uber-Jason strikes a memorable pose. Besides trading droopy eyes for rad blood shot contacts, and a traditional machete for a futuristic hunk of scimitar, The Uber-Jason does not appear to come with any particular enhancements. He’s still a lumbering oaf, and a slow prideful stalker. Yet, so shiny, so chrome.
Jason X is not the type of movie we often celebrate. It’s a nail in the coffin kinda flick, and the lowest earner in the series. Released a year later, Freddy Vs. Jason racked in more money worldwide than any of the previous Friday or Nightmare films. The epic wait we endured for this clash paid off more often than not; the executives were right to salivate.
I know there are some fellow Jason X die-hards out there. After all, the film spawned four spin-off novels, a line of comic books, and a McFarlane Toys action figure. We’d follow Kane Hodder into space, the hood, or the NASCAR circuit (BTW, that was an actual idea that was floating around the studio at one point – I’m sure Jason would drive for Mellow Yellow). 22 years is a long time for a silent maniac to stalk around the same lake, at some point he had to fly to coop. Jason X may have overreached, but I’d rather watch a film commit to insanity than remake itself into the grave. That’s a true death that Jason Voorhees seems condemned to in the very present day of 2017.