“Ten Years in the Making!” Well, they could have said that about this meeting of the slashers. After all, someone told me, “I’ve been waiting 10 years for this.” And while this claim made me question the speaker’s aesthetic sense — not to mention bringing to mind the phrase “get a life” — it has indeed been a decade since the premise for this grudge match was set up at the end of Jason Goes to Hell.
In the meantime, our boy Freddy got a kind of makeover in New Nightmare, Wes Craven’s pseudo-cerebral ego fest (“Wes Craven presents A Film by Wes Craven, written and directed by Wes Craven based on characters created by Wes Craven”). By contrast, Jason — following the dictates of Abbott and Costello, the Three Stooges, and the little monster from the Leprechaun movies — went into orbit in Jason X. None of this matters in the world of the engagingly goofy Freddy Vs. Jason, which is nothing more or less than a modern-day variant on what Universal did back in the 1940s when their Frankenstein series ran out of gas and they cooked up Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. That was kitschy 1940s pop-culture junk, and this is really no different. It’s just served up a little more blood-red … well, a lot more blood-red.
Even some of the reservations expressed by fans haven’t changed a whole lot in 60 years. Just as folks carped (and continue to carp to this day) about the casting of Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein Monster in 1943, a certain contingent has their knickers in a twist over Freddy Vs. Jason not casting Kane Hodder as hockey-masked maniac killer and professional puritan Jason Voorhees (Hodder played him in parts seven, eight, nine and ten of the Friday the 13th saga). The role is taken over here by another stuntman, Ken Kirzinger, who had a bit part in Jason Takes Manhattan. The idiotic thing, of course, is that it hardly matters who dons those janitorial duds and that hockey mask. The character is such a faceless blank that it could just as easily be Reese Witherspoon and no one would be any the wiser.
Freddy, on the other hand, truly does belong to Robert Englund; and, thankfully, he is on board. Englund helped create his signature role with writer/director Wes Craven in 1984, and the Freddy character is considerably more complex than Jason, who’s more like the horror-movie version of a Veg-o-Matic on legs.
The original A Nightmare on Elm Street is a classic modern-horror feast, while the Friday the 13th pictures have always been irredeemable cheese spread. As with Craven’s other serious claim to genre immortality, the anti-Reagan-and-Bush (No. 1) horror satire The People Under the Stairs, the original Nightmare was actually (God forbid!) about something, with Freddy being the spawn of the evil of vigilante justice.
Now, six movies, multiple directors and several increasingly less-horrific makeup jobs later, that hardly matters, though Freddy is still slightly more cerebral than Jason. Or at least he still has a personality and a bit more of a thought process than Jason’s nonstop Beni-Hana chef in pursuit of horny, overage, meat-on-the-hoof “teenagers.” In fact, that’s the crux of their tandem outing — Freddy has been consigned to serial-killer oblivion because the residents of his old slashing ground have forgotten all about him (a neat comment on the character’s lack of recent movie adventures). So ol’ Fred hits upon a scheme only a maniac could love: He’ll turn himself into Mama Voorhees (here played by Paula Shaw rather than former Today show reporter Betsy Palmer, who apparently gave a resounding Dr. Evil style “How about no?” when asked to reprise her role) and convince Jason to regenerate himself and go on an Elm Street rampage. Why? Because people will think Freddy’s back and revive his power to invade their dreams. The fact that the two have nothing in common except a tendency to slice ‘n’ dice teenagers never occurs to Freddy, nor really to anyone else. This ridiculous idea works all too well, and faster than you can go “Ch-ch-ch ha-ha-ha,” Freddy realizes he’s unleashed the Energizer Bunny from Hell, hence the titular grudge match (well, sorta — there’s a pointless convolution, but we won’t worry about that).
There’s really not much more to it than that, but director Ronny Yu serves it all up rather nicely. The film is savvy enough to employ variants on some of the more famous moments in both series. Seasoned viewers will recognize the climax from Friday the 13th, the major plot device of pulling Freddy out of a dream, the very concept of bringing a tangible object out of a dream from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and so on. And it’s all done without that post-modern smugness associated with Craven’s Scream franchise, which is a decided blessing.
Yu, however, brings something very new to the films by employing the type of silly squirting blood found in Paul Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula and Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones’ Monty Python and the Holy Grail — only here it’s decked out with grossly amusing squirting sounds for ultimate bloodletting satisfaction. I can’t imagine anyone being either scared or grossed-out by this over-the-top nonsense. Good Lord, the film’s climax seems to be a deliberate salute to the end of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein with the slapstick — or in this case, splatstick — quotient goosed. But for those with a low tolerance for gruel, I’ll admit it’s extremely gory.
The nice thing about Freddy Vs. Jason is that it’s very much a movie for the fans. I saw it once in a small group and then saw pieces of it with a packed house — and if that second audience was any barometer, Yu and company got it right. In other words, if you like this sort of thing, this is just the sort of thing you’ll like — even if it’s finally a lot less terrifying than Dakota Fanning in Uptown Girls.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke