Just as “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” showed some verve a couple years earlier, “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” (1993) starts with fresh energy that’s a welcome change from the utterly tired “Jason Takes Manhattan.” As New Line Cinema takes over the “Friday the 13th” franchise from Paramount, it appears ready to commit to a higher level of quality. Indeed, a good actor, Steven Williams of “The X-Files,” is on board as a successful bounty hunter who sets his sights on Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder).
And then – cue record scratch – the rest of the movie happens. As Creighton Drake, Williams is reduced to an exposition-giving role. He knows that only a Voorhees, using a magic dagger, can kill Jason – who now jumps into different people and possesses them until he achieves his end goal of taking over another Voorhees (something Drake also knows). We’re never told how Drake knows any of this.
And yet writers Jay Huguely and Dean Lorey and director Adam Marcus spend valuable screen time showing that Drake is nuts. He breaks the fingers of Steven (John D. LeMay, who reminds me of Tommy from part six) as “payment” for information about Jason’s mythology. This is character-building, I suppose, but it runs counter to the audience’s need to trust Drake. If the film is aiming to put Drake’s sanity in question, it fails, because there’s simply not enough time left in the 90-minute movie to add a twist of Drake’s knowledge being false when we’ve seen it proven correct so far.
Add in stupidity such as Steven – wrongly arrested after discovering one of Jason’s victims – still wearing the bloodied clothes while in his cell, and “Jason Goes to Hell” is a supremely dumb movie. However, it is for a while more entertaining than any of the previous sequels.
The opening sequence even borders on greatness. A woman (Julie Michaels) enters a cabin at rundown Camp Crystal Lake and goes through the horror paces of a shower and a power outage and is inevitably chased through the woods by Jason. The chase ends with a special ops team lighting up Jason with stadium lights and bullets in the woods, killing him; the woman was actually a special agent. “Jason Goes to Hell” is on the same wavelength as fans who ask: “Why doesn’t the military just use its full firepower take out Jason?”
After that, the quality steadily drops. Drake is sidelined through most of the middle portion in favor of put-upon Steven and his baby mama Jessica (Kari Keegan). The nature of their on-again, off-again relationship, like Drake’s source of knowledge about Jason, is not explained. Also including wonderful character actor Leslie Jordan (“Hidden Palms”) in a too-small role as a diner co-owner, this cast is good for a “Friday the 13th” film, but the screenplay doesn’t serve them well.
It’s weird that “Jason Goes to Hell” is criticized for affirming that Jason is a supernatural creature, since we’ve known that for several entries now; this one simply embraces it. While it’s ridiculous that we don’t know how Drake comes upon his knowledge, it is nice to get a spelled-out backstory for Jason – who now has a sister (Erin Gray’s Diana), as is often the case in slasher sequels — and explanation of his biological nature.
What’s dumber is that the final showdown takes place in a so-called “Voorhees house.” The “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchises have iconic houses; “Friday the 13th” has a campground. That campground does make a cameo earlier in the film for the usual romp of horny young people being slaughtered, but it should’ve been the climactic setting.
Special effects are back in the spotlight here after the cheap eighth entry, and the team including future “Walking Dead” legend Greg Nicotero does impressive work, including a creature that lives inside Jason, allowing for the body-jump. The gore effects are handicapped a bit because this was a particularly censorious time for the MPAA, but it’s clear more money and talent is on display as New Line tries to showcase its newly acquired property.
“Jason Goes to Hell” isn’t outright terrible, but it falls far short of what it should be. A tip of the cap for the final image, though. I wondered: Now that Jason is dead as per all the mythological rules, how can you possibly bring him back? Well, “Nightmare on Elm Street’s” Freddy could do it, so that shot of Freddy’s glove pulling Jason’s mask underground actually gets me interested in the future New Line sequels (although it would take 10 more years for “Freddy vs. Jason” to come out). It must’ve been awesome for theater-goers in 1993.