Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Big Ol' Mango-Sized Crap

After 1988’s dismal FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, Paramount sold the franchise to New Line, which had done very well with its A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET horror series. In an attempt to juice up FRIDAY, New Line brought back Sean Cunningham, who directed the first FRIDAY THE 13TH, as producer and hired a 23-year-old fan, Adam Marcus, an NYC film school grad with no feature experience, to direct.

The result is one of the series’ strangest films and in many ways its least satisfying. It probably seemed like a good idea to shake up the formula with a new mystical backstory for Jason Voorhees, but JASON GOES TO HELL just doesn’t feel much like a Jason movie. In lifting plot elements from better films like THE HIDDEN and THE EVIL DEAD and introducing a supernatural element where none had been present before, Marcus doesn’t provide enough of what we come to these movies for in the first place—a guy in a hockey mask butchering naked teenagers.

JASON opens sharply with an FBI unit blasting Voorhees (played by stunt coordinator Kane Hodder for the third time) into a thousand gooey pieces. Jason is a nationally known serial killer, landing a segment on tabloid host Robert Campbell’s (Steven Culp) AMERICAN CASELINE show. Obsessed bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams) vows that Voorhees will return from beyond the grave to continue his killing and that, for $500,000, he will guarantee to destroy the madman forever.

Although it was never stated in eight previous films, the body of Jason Voorhees is just a shell for a mystical evil force that can only be destroyed (sent to Hell) by another member of the Voorhees family using a magic dagger. Even though Jason’s mother said in the first film that Jason was an only child, Marcus and co-writer Dean Lorey introduce us to Jason’s sister Diana (Erin Gray), whose daughter Jessica (Kari Keegan) and baby granddaughter are in danger of being slaughtered by Jason.

JASON goes astray in its decision to ditch its “hero” for most of the film. Producer Cunningham laid down a mandate to Marcus to “get rid of that hockey mask,” leading the director to create Jason’s new power of jumping from one body to the next by slithering down his victims’ throats. Setting aside the fact that this isn’t a novel idea, it cheats the audience out of seeing their icon bully his way through the movie, as Jason takes the form of other characters, such as a middle-aged coroner and a fat deputy. Hodder only appears as Jason during the precredits sequence and the cuckoo finale.

The cast does its best to sell the premise, even though John D. LeMay, who starred in the unrelated FRIDAY THE 13TH syndicated TV series, is a weak lead, and Keegan not memorable as the Final Girl. Williams snarls his way through his part as Creighton Duke and is so good that it makes you wonder why Marcus didn’t make a film about him instead. Culp is credible in his difficult part, and it’s always charming to see the fetching Gray (BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY) onscreen. New Line’s unrated version retains all of KNB’s marvelously expressive makeup effects, including a particularly gooey melting man, and the most graphic sex scene in the history of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise.

By the way, all that rot about JASON GOES TO HELL being THE FINAL FRIDAY? It wasn’t. Although it was not well-received critically or at the box office, New Line brought Jason back to the big screen in JASON X and FREDDY VS. JASON.

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