From Sept. 18-Oct. 16, we’re looking back at the nine films of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. Next up is the eighth movie, “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003):
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.
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).
Paramount held the rights to “Friday the 13th” for the first eight films before handing them off to New Line Cinema, and it closes the era with a whimper in “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” (1989). The idea of taking Jason (Kane Hodder) out of Crystal Lake, N.J. (even serial killers need a vacation now and then), is refreshing and filled with potential. But the execution is atrocious.
I’ve complained that most of the “Friday the 13th” sequels tentatively try something new but don’t commit to it, so I admire “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (1988) for committing to a supernaturally inclined protagonist. And even though these films are made on the cheap, always casting soap-opera-level actors, they get a good one to play Tina Shepard, Lar Park-Lincoln. It helps tremendously that she’s not merely a random Final Girl, but instead gets a complete hero’s origin story under the pen of Daryl Haney and Manuel Fidello.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” (1986) wraps up the “Tommy Trilogy” in blandly competent fashion. This entry, written by directed by saga newcomer Tom McLoughlan, doesn’t descend into utter absurdity like some of its predecessors. In fact, it checks some boxes of things the “F13” saga should have done before this: One, the sheriff (David Kagen as Garris) and his deputies actually pursue Jason in the wake of his killings. Two, there are actually kids at the camp.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” was released in 1984, and then the franchise went into a long hibernation. Just kidding. It returned less than a year later with “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” (1985). Refreshingly (and it’s just about the only refreshing thing in the movie), it skips the long “previously on” montage and gives us a decent nightmare sequence of a worm-covered Jason climbing out of his grave. Then we jump to the previous film’s Tommy as an adult.
Well, I give “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (1984) credit for trying a few new things, at least. Unfortunately, this debut entry from director Joseph Zito and writers Barney Cohen and Bruce Hidemi Sakow pulls back from all of its slightly new ideas and ends up being the weakest of the first four entries.
With “Friday the 13th: Part III” (1982), Jason (played by Richard Brooker this time) enters iconic status as he acquires his trademark hockey mask; from this point forward until they start adopting full helmets, goalies will look particularly sinister. It’s also the point where a viewer starts to realize this saga either doesn’t have continuity editors or simply does not care.
The first “Friday the 13th” (1980) is a trope codifier for the lake-cabin slasher flick, and by definition, trope codifiers lead to a lot of imitators, which have the reputation of being lesser films. “Friday the 13th: Part 2” (1981) lives up (or down, as it were) to that bad reputation. The slasher stuff is fine in this directorial debut from Steve Miner, who would go on to a steady career, mostly in TV. But there are so many missed opportunities in the screenplay by Ron Kurz.