Freddy Vs. Jason

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FREDDY VS. JASON is not a remake, but it has been saddled with many of the same criticisms. The obvious cash-in of pitting two horror icons against each other has not been lost on the more suspicious viewers. Likewise, there are still some people who deem the latter entries of the FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films as garbage, which helped kill off the genre for a few years. The fact that SCREAM, while being interesting and inventive, spawned numerous sequels and rip-offs that were actually worse than many of the bottom-feeding slasher films of the eighties didn't help. After that saturation, we didn't want to get burned again. I'm sure a search through the alt.horror archives will undoubtedly show how cynical I was towards the prospect of this film. Horror films get enough abuse on a daily basis without being turned into glorified video games.

Then, I looked at my video shelf. Over here, we have a few Paul Naschy films. Naschy, who throws just about everything into his films but the kitchen sink - vampires, werewolves, mad scientists, you name it. Who claims as one of his main inspirations FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN and the other latter day Universal films. Furthermore, I see from a glance on eBay that I would be fuming at being outbid, yet again, on the Something Weird DVD for MAD MONSTER PARTY. A man looks into the abyss. There is nothing looking back him. It is at that moment where he finds his character. My most lamentable characteristic, I can be a two-faced fool.

So, I did something I was unwilling or unable to do before. I put all my cynicism aside and went into FREDDY VS. JASON with a perfectly open mind. Chances are, Jason couldn't look much dumber than he did schlepping across Manhattan and Freddy couldn't be more clownish than his Nintendo killing spree in FREDDY'S DEAD. Okay, boys. Let's see what you've got.

The result is a mixed bag - the film succeeds better than I would have imagined in some areas. In others, it fails so completely, I found myself throwing my arms up baffled.

Give the screenplay credit for making most of the film so intriguing. It's a daring mirror of our own society, with its emphasis on exploiting and medicating our fear of very real things. Freddy has never had to deal with the teens of a post-Columbine, post-9/11 society. Although teens in the earlier NIGHTMAREs dealt with mental illness, sexual confusion, REVIVING OPHELIA-like beauty issues and most of all, ineffectual parents, they did not have the same kind of global pendulum hanging over their heads (A banner in the school hallway reads: "Violence and Harassment? NOT AT OUR SCHOOL!"). Scared of a guy with a skin condition while there are metal detectors in the schools and the parents are buying duct tape? No, thank you.

Freddy discovers that being forgotten is the greatest burn of all. The parents remember him, partaking in a silent conspiracy where all records of his past deeds have been expunged and the Springwood Slasher is never mentioned. Children are secretly drugged by their parents in an effort to keep them from dreaming, a side effect of which is the apathy permeating through the young people in the film. Those who continued to dream (read: refused to conform) and asked too many questions (read: free thought) are neatly packed away to the local mental institution where they are kept imprisoned and sedated. Perverse as it sounds, it seems to be working. Freddy's power has always depended on people's belief and fear in him. Freddy now finds himself powerless in a world that has manufactured itself to be free of boogeymen. In this sense, the film actually speaks to the importance as horror as a genre and as a genuine emotion.

Fortunately, Hell is riddled with other monstrosities, some of which love to slice and dice teenagers just as much as Freddy does. Jason Vorhees (Kevin Kirzinger) ignorantly plods along killing virtual teens in a fantasy realm mock-up of his Crystal Lake stomping grounds. He kills the children over and over again and likely doesn't question it too much when their corpses start to cheer him on.

We never see Hell is an actual place in the film, which may be a good idea. After all, what could they do with 20 million dollars that would satisfy us? A believable Hell that would house Freddy, Jason, Stalin and Hitler? It's a tall order. It allows us to think of the place as an abstract. And what an abstract it is. Freddy is still conscious but restless and surely being able to go about his usual business of killing can't be the ultimate pain and suffering for Jason, can it? It suggests that Hell is not there so much to punish, as it is to keep the truly evil occupied so they can't plague the earth from beyond the grave. Clearly, it doesn't always work out.

Freddy could always find people's Achilles heel. For Jason, just like Elvis, it's his momma (played by Betsy Palmer in olden days but Paula Shaw here). She reminds him of his mission, saying she gave him the power to rid the world of teenagers and not be killed (It's a new one on me. Maybe we'll find out how she did this in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART XI: STUFF WE FORGOT TO MENTION FOR THE PAST 23 YEARS.). She tells Jason that the children of Springwood have been very bad and that he needs to venture from the bowels of Hell back into the real world in order to teach them a lesson. Of course, this motherly advice is a smokescreen. It's actually Freddy with an ingenious plan. Springwood is still afraid, even if they don't know what of. By dispatching this inhuman killing machine to get rid of a few kids, the blame will likely fall on Freddy, the fear will be renewed and thus, he will get his power back. Clever, huh?

It is here where we meet our human pieces of meat and some of the film's stumbling blocks. Lori (Monica Keena) is studying with her friends, alcoholic Gibb (Katharine Isabelle) and falsely confident Kia (Kelly Rowland). As the mischievous friends they are, they invite a couple of boys over. Lori is upset since she is still pining for her boyfriend back when she was 14. This is the first stupid point of the film. On one hand, we want to tell her to get over it and on another, it's no wonder she hasn't wanted anyone else if these two dolts are her choices.

Jason breaks into the house and really gives his knife a workout on one of the group. According to plan, the blame lies squarely on Freddy, although no one will say it. Lori's old flame, Will (Jason Ritter) has been locked up in the local mental institution for the last few years for seeing something he shouldn?t have involving the death of Lori's mother. When he finds out Lori's house (which is the same house from the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) was the site of a brutal murder, he escapes from the institution and races to the rescue, even though he doesn't really do anything truly heroic in the film.

A few more killings and Freddy has his power back, but it doesn't do him much good. He should have read the fine print, because the main problem with Jason is he will not stay down. So, while Freddy wets his lips in preparation for his killing spree, Jason is always beating him to the kill. Funny Alanis Morissette never sang about this.

So, now it's a battle on numerous fronts. Freddy Vs. Kids. Jason Vs. Kids. Freddy Vs. Jason. Let's get ready to rumble.

The kids who serve as Freddy and Jason's human pincushions are a mixed lot. Monica Keener does an adequate job as the protagonist and thankfully her groan-worthy line from the trailer, "Place your bets!" is not present in the final cut. It's amazing to me that Katharine Isabelle has not been named an official horror chanteuse. She showed amazing dramatic talent as the title character in GINGER SNAPS (a role she reprises in the upcoming sequels), the greatest werewolf film in decades. She held her own in horror films as varied as INSOMNIA and BONES to the lamentable DISTURBING BEHAVIOR and CARRIE TV movie. She shows more personality than any of the other teens in the film and is the most intriguing character of the lot (I'm also sure she will also make her way to various adult celeb sites even though her nude shots are done by a body double).

On the flipside of this, Jason Ritter (SWIMFAN) is one of the biggest no-talents to come by in a long time. He really needs to ask his dad, John Ritter, to show him some old HOOPERMAN tapes to find out how to emote properly. He has a one-note delivery that never ceases to annoy. Although part of the problem lies within the character as written, the problems in his approach are all Ritter. He smiles and giggles at inappropriate times, including one scene where he tells Lori about the night he saw her mother die. Throughout the film, he isn't acting, he's posing, as if each shot can be used as a publicity still to further a lucrative modeling career.

Kelly Rowland is a lesser member of Destiny's Child. While Beyonce Knowles co-stars with Mike Myers in a 200 million-dollar comedy smash, Rowland is stuck sucking face with a dead guy. Here, Rowland shows tons of promise, that she could actually carry a dramatic film of her own. But here, she's just irritating. Some of the lines she's saddled with are of a jaw-dropping poor quality. The requisite scene where she trash talks Freddy is only satisfying in its final moments.

Hollywood has often been criticized for being out of touch with reality and it's hard to argue. When it comes to writing material for two supernatural monsters that are bigger than life, screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift do an incredible job. But when it comes to writing convincing material for their human characters, they stumble and can't be bothered to put things right. People come to conclusions that are dead-on without anything to support their claim. At one point, they literally state exactly how Freddy and Jason are walking around with no clue as to how they came to that far-fetched conclusion.

Also hurting the film is the subplot with the death of Lori's mother, one too many balls to juggle. And while I find it interesting that there is a conspiracy to keep the children from dreaming (see above), I find it equally hard to believe that everyone would go along with it without there being a controlling entity to it all. Hey, what can I say? I need my boogeymen.

But contrary to reports, the first hour leading up to the showdown between Freddy and Jason is not a washout, even if it does contain some of the film's less desirable elements. Much of Shannon and Swift's writing is very good. Jason does better work here than he has ever done before (admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films after PART 2). If you miss the first hour, you'll miss out on most of the bloodletting and all of the heavy petting. And where's the fun in that?

Give director Ronny Yu credit for knowing what the fans want. For those who have lamented the loss of good old-fashioned sex and violence at the movie theatre, your prayers have been answered. FREDDY VS. JASON delivers on loads of gore and even some gratuitous nudity, both of which make their first appearances before the opening credits.

The film does not pull too many punches. It begins with the detail that Freddy's victims in life were often much younger than the victims in his teeny-chasing post mortem existence. This and some of the images in the dreamscapes, as well as the mental institution recall Yu's work in Hong Kong, including THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR and THE PHANTOM LOVER. Most of the film, with it's tongue firmly in cheek recalls Yu's work in the U.S., like the surprisingly entertaining BRIDE OF CHUCKY. Thankfully, the influence of WARRIORS OF VIRTUE is not evident.

Yu's direction is wild and original. But it's not over-the-top like say, the American work of Tsui Hark, which while entertaining, would have been inappropriate here. He also creates some interesting landscapes with loads of atmosphere, bringing a true sense of nightmarish beauty combined with camp iconography to the beautiful widescreen. Even the CGI is not bad. It is handled well, and there isn't an over-abundance to distract us from the film's juicier bits.

Yu's only sore spot is in the editing techniques, if not the ones he employed himself then the ones he allowed to slip by. Some scenes seem to begin in the middle of the action. We often meet people halfway through a scene, without any knowledge as to how they got there. Also, there is an over-reliance on the slow motion strobe effect. In the late seventies through the early nineties, the strobe effect looked okay, even flashy. Now, it just looks like they're trying to cover up something that doesn't look right.

It's often said that the idea for FREDDY VS. JASON came in the final stinger from JASON GOES TO HELL. But actually, it started a long time ago. Just as kids from past generations wondered who would win in a fight against Superman and Batman, we always wondered who would come out on top in a horror villain grudge match.

So, after all of this, how does the battle royale stack up? Very well, actually. It's filled with enough action, humor and horror to make it consistently entertaining. Some have lamented that the entire film was not made up of the title bout. I submit that this would have been extremely boring, especially after the first hour. And Jason is not known for holding our interest as a dramatic character, you know. Horror films of previous years would have been content to have a five minute battle that was overhyped in the trailers, but this battle is very exciting and worth the wait. Far better than the bait and switch fans are used to. The ending winds up being very satisfying, which surprises me more than anything else.

Despite it's flaws, FREDDY VS. JASON succeeds in pumping new life into both franchises, at least for now. With all its problems, it was still better than I expected and more fun than it had any right to be. It's a film that offers thrills, chills and a plot that isn't as paper-thin as you'd expect. More than anything, it's a fun time at the movies. Speculation is already circulating over whether they'll bring anyone else into the inevitable sequel. I don't know who you've got your money on, but New Line does have a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake coming out...

No one ever said horror films couldn't be fun. Sometimes, we forget that. Horror fans can be snobs it?s true, myself included. In this case, I gladly eat my words. That said, I'm still upset that a remake to SUSPIRIA is even being discussed. Hey, I haven't been cured of my suspicions yet.

Reviewed by Scott W. Davis