The last time we saw Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder), in 1993’s “Jason Goes to Hell,” he is dead and buried at the end of a story centered on the notion of killing him for good, using the requisite magical dagger. So when he’s alive and in government custody in the 2008 of “Jason X” (2002), one might assume an explanation is forthcoming. It isn’t, and that will understandably take many people out of this movie from the get-go.
But viewed as a “What if?” story, “Jason X” has a lot to offer. Before I launch into apologetics, I’ll note that the flaws are myriad, even beyond the question of how Jason is alive. Notably, the special effects are what you’d see on the SyFy Channel at the time, and they must’ve looked much worse on the big screen. The budget here is on the big side for a “Friday the 13th” movie, but it’s cheap by space cinema standards. The sets might even be unfinished, as some scenes look like they’re in a black-box theater.
The action sequences – well, basically any moment where people are moving – are often stiffly choreographed. The editing could stand to be tighter. And “Jason X” doesn’t fully commit to either of its two tones: horror and comedy. I think writer Todd Farmer is going for a comedic romp and director James Isaac and the actors are playing it straighter.
Yet I guiltily enjoyed a lot of “Jason X.” The cast features several attractive and good-enough actresses, led by Lexa Doig (“Andromeda”) as Rowan. She’s the scientist who gets cryo-frozen in the style of “Futurama’s” Fry along with Jason in 2008, then unfrozen in 2455. The two 21st centurians are picked up by a crew looking for salvage on the used-up Earth, led by Professor Lowe (Jonathan Potts).
It’s both a smart and funny conceit that Lowe is leading a class of college-aged students on this mission, as it allows for the usual camp-style romances – and the subsequent offings by Jason — but on a spaceship. Unlike many of the sequels, these people have distinct personalities; the best is Lisa Ryder’s KM-14, a cyborg. When KM-14 – fully outfitted for combat mode by her handler/lover Tsunaron (Chuck Campbell) – happily takes on Jason, it’s a litmus test for whether you’re into this film’s sense of style.
If “Jason X” parodied slashers and “Star Trek”-ian futures more consistently, it could’ve been better. Indeed, there’s a great moment toward the end when Tsunaron and KM-14 fire up a holodeck to distract Jason. They program two 1980 camping coeds who strip off their shirts and profess to Jason their interest in beer, pot and premarital sex. When we cut back to Jason, he’s smashing the girls to death in their sleeping bags. The film also sticks the landing (so to speak) when Jason crashes into a lake on Earth Two.
“Jason X” finds its parodic tone too late, but it does have a much higher percentage of good one-liners than most of the sequels. More than once, a character even delivers a joke as they are being killed by Jason. Farmer is experimenting with the idea that there’s still entertainment to be wrung out of “Friday the 13th” if it makes fun of itself, and Isaac’s direction is competent enough to scrape by, but the material isn’t good enough to deliver a totally diverting 90 minutes.
It has its moments, though, and I’m surprised it’s so widely disliked. Admittedly, compared to the slick horror and space films surrounding it in 2002, the cheapness is obvious. But when compared to other “Friday the 13th” movies, “Jason X” fares well. I’d rather watch a commercialized sequel that shoots for the stars and doesn’t quite get there as opposed to another boring rehash in the woods.