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JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY (1993)
“What you think of as ‘Jason’ is not Jason. That body he’s wearing – that’s just meat. He wears other people’s bodies like folks wear a suit.”
Director: Adam Marcus
Starring: John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Kane Hodder, Steven Williams, Erin Gray, Steven Culp, Richard Gant, Allison Smith, Kipp Marcus, Andrew Bloch, Billy Green Bush, Julie Michaels
Screenplay: Dean Lorey and Jay Huguely, based upon a story by Adam Marcus and Jay Huguely
Synopsis: A young woman (Julie Michaels) makes her way to a deserted cottage by the shores of Crystal Lake. She is preparing to take a bath when suddenly, the lights go out. The woman is investigating when she hears a strange noise. The next instant she is fleeing from her life from Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder). The desperate chase leads through the surrounding woods – and into a clearing ringed by light towers. As the lights come on, the woman dives for cover; and a team of FBI agents breaks cover and opens fire upon Jason, before launching a mortar attack that blows him literally to pieces. The agents celebrate, the young woman – FBI Agent Marcus – is congratulated; but the bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), watching secretly from a distance, shakes his head sceptically.... What is left of Jason is shipped to a Federal morgue in Ohio for autopsy. As the coroner (Richard Gant) examines Jason’s heart, it begins to beat. Overcome by an uncontrollable compulsion, the coroner picks up the heart – and devours it. Strange glowing lights fly out from Jason’s remains, and into the body of the coroner.... The TV program “American Case File” does a profile on Jason. The host, Robert Campbell (Steven Culp), goes on to play an interview with Creighton Duke, who insists that what we think of as Jason is nothing of the kind, but rather an entity capable of borrowing bodies and wearing them “like a suit”. Duke then offers to kill Jason once and for all for $500,000; an offer that Campbell takes up. One of the viewers of “American Case File” is a resident of the town of Crystal Lake called Diana Kimble (Erin Gray). As Diana returns to her job at the local diner, she finds that her first customer is Creighton Duke himself. Duke tells Diana that the supposedly dead Jason is on his way to Crystal Lake and that he will be looking for her, adding, “I know who you are.” Diana approaches Steven Freeman (John D. LeMay), who is the ex-boyfriend of Diana’s daughter, Jessica (Kari Keegan), and the father of her baby. Diana tells Steven that there is something about Jessica that he doesn’t know, and begs him to meet her at her house that night so that they can talk. On his way to Diana’s, Steven picks up three hitch-hikers who are celebrating Jason’s supposed death by camping out at Crystal Lake. One of the three, an attractive young girl, propositions Steven, but he – not unregretfully – declines. After swimming in the lake, the three settle down for the night, the couple in the tent and the single girl outside by the fire – but they are not alone.... In the diner car park, the deputy sheriff, Josh (Andrew Bloch), and his girlfriend are suddenly confronted by the coroner from the morgue in Ohio.... At home, Diana gets a phone-call from Jessica, who tells her excitedly that she is coming for a visit and bringing her new boyfriend – Robert Campbell. Suddenly, Diana is grabbed by Josh. As they struggle, Diana catches a glimpse of the two of them in a mirror, staring in horror not at Josh’s reflection – but at that of Jason Voorhees....
Comments: There is a certain perversity in the belated return of Sean S. Cunningham to the Friday The 13th fold following the comparative failure of Jason Takes Manhattan – as indeed there is in the ninth film’s tagline: “The creator of the first returns to bring you the last!” When Cunningham re-claimed the franchise rights from Paramount Studios, what he bought and subsequently sold to New Line Cinema was not, in fact, the title “Friday The 13th” – Paramount held onto that – but the rights to the character of Jason Voorhees. The irony here, of course, is that Cunningham’s only previous direct involvement in the long-running series was as producer-director of the original Friday The 13th: a film that has less of Jason Voorhees in it than anything except A New Beginning – and if we accept Tommy Jarvis’s hallucinations there as being of the “real” Jason, possibly not even than that. Cunningham’s lack of connection with the horror icon who had unexpectedly hijacked his creation should, perhaps, have been seen by the hard-core fans as a cause, not for celebration, but for apprehension. By the time that Jason Goes To Hell was finally released in August of 1993, the public had already been promised (or warned of) a shake-up of the by-then venerable franchise. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that anyone could really have anticipated the extent of that shake-up, or the form that it would take. In fact, so drastically different is Jason Goes To Hell from its predecessors that for the first time in my lengthy consideration of the life and times of Jason Voorhees, I am compelled to respond to one of these films with a formal review and not merely a recapitulation.
In doing so, I might as well cut to the chase: in Jason Goes To Hell we learn that Jason Voorhees doesn’t actually exist; that the “Jason” with whom we have lived and died and suffered throughout the previous seven movies is a dead body animated by a supernatural, slug-like entity capable of continued survival by moving from body to body as the fate of its latest host requires it, the transmission being accomplished by mouth-to-mouth contact between host and victim.
I should, I think, pause here for a moment to explain clearly my own feelings towards the Friday The 13th series. Although my journey from Friday The 13th to Jason Takes Manhattan has been a long and often arduous one, on the whole I’ve enjoyed it – or at least, not been sorry to have made it. I have, at various times, been amused, grossed out, exasperated, bored, mystified, angered and, yes, even entertained by these films. For all that, I cannot in all honesty say that I have any true emotional involvement with them. There are plenty of people who do, however; who have loved and supported this franchise from its inception; and for them, Jason Goes To Hell must have been like a slap in the face with a hunk of rotting meat. Make no mistake: that this film is a shameless rip-off of The Hidden is the least of its sins. There is not a single aspect of the pre-existing Jason mythos that this film does not re-write, re-invent, contradict, or simply ignore. As a Friday The 13th film, Jason Goes To Hell is a disgrace.
However – you just knew there was going to be a “however”, didn’t you? – however, if Jason Goes To Hell is judged, not as a Friday The 13th film, but simply as a horror film, it is a work with a surprising number of virtues. For example---- Well, imagine if you can my astonishment when all of a sudden I realised that I was watching a Friday The 13th film – for the story and characters....!
(Before I go any further, I should explain which version of this film it is that I’m discussing. I’ve seen a number of reviews of Jason Goes To Hell that, while despising the film on the whole, forgive it, or at least give it points, for the quality of its gore and its sex scene. As it happens, however, the print released here was the cut version, which is missing most of both – in particular, the moment in which the sex scene turns into a gore scene. So unfortunately, I am unable to judge the film on that basis, either pro or con. [And to add insult to injury, the print is pan and scan – grr!])
The opening of Jason Goes To Hell is – certainly with hindsight – extremely clever. A young woman drives to Crystal Lake and takes up residence in a solitary cabin. After some false scares involving lights going out and doors slamming, the woman strips off to take a bath. Ah! we think appreciatively. Gratuitous nudity in the opening sequence! This is more like it! Better yet, the woman hears a strange noise, wraps herself in a towel – one of that magical Nev-R-Budge variety always to be found in motion pictures – and goes to investigate. The next instant, that gallant towel clinging to her tenaciously, she is fleeing for her life through the woods, Jason Voorhees and his machete in hot pursuit. So far, it is all the F13 movies distilled to their very essence.
The film then proceeds to throw us its first curveball: the chase leads through a clearing ringed with light towers; the woman dives for cover; Jason freezes in bewilderment as the lights come on; and from all around him FBI agents open fire. This barrage culminates in a mortar attack (!!), and Jason is blown to pieces.
The presence here of the FBI task-force acts as a segue into what I personally think is the strongest and most enjoyable aspect of Jason Goes To Hell. In a move that was perhaps the contribution of Sean Cunningham, this is the first film in the franchise since Friday The 13th itself to posit a Crystal Lake that is not merely a lake, but a town; a community; a community that has lived and suffered with the reality of Jason Voorhees for “almost twenty years”. I’ve long argued that supernatural horror must be given a real-world grounding to be truly effective, and in delineating the various responses of the local population to the existence of Jason Voorhees and to his supposed destruction, the screenplay has a substance that its forerunners were entirely lacking. This change in direction is particularly welcome when you contrast the ridiculous opening to Jason Takes Manhattan, where a girl – who lives near Crystal Lake – still has to be told about “the legend of Jason Voorhees”! Here, conversely, we are given a Jason whose existence is a very grim reality – and one, moreover, whose modus operandi and personal obsessions are so well known, the FBI can use one of their own to bait an irresistible trap for him.
Another thing that Jason Goes To Hell has in its favour is its rather black sense of humour. Thus, while some of the residents of Crystal Lake react to Jason’s supposed death with relief tinged with the dread of being offered – again – false hope, others see the occasion as an opportunity to make a little money. The sign over the entrance to the diner where we will spend a fair portion of the film advertises a “JASON IS DEAD 2-FOR-1 BURGER DEAL”. (The meat removed to make one hockey mask-shaped patty, explains diner owner Joey B to her admiring family, makes up the “free” second patty.) “People are going to come to see Jason’s home town,” insists Joey B when her employees protest this crass exploitation of the local tragedy, and of course she’s right. The first to do so is Creighton Duke himself who, after studying the menu, orders, “A Voorhees burger and a side of Jason fingers.” More visitors arrive in the shape of the three hitch-hikers, who plan to celebrate Jason’s demise by camping out by Crystal Lake in new-found safety. Hearing of their destination, Steven, who picks them up, responds cheerfully, “Planning on smoking a little dope, having a little pre-marital sex, and getting slaughtered?” – apologising, when he sees the kids’ dismayed expressions, for his “Crystal Lake levity.” This range of reaction – hope, fear, opportunism and sick jokes – is entirely credible.
The biggest surprise of Jason Goes To Hell, however, is how well it works as the story of Steven Freeman. At first glance we hardly recognise Steven as our central character, still less as someone who can justly be described as the hero. Rather, he strikes us as a bit of a jerk, whose immaturity and irresponsibility have led him to walk out on Jessica Kimble during, perhaps because of, her pregnancy. (The fact that Steven’s misdemeanours are all off-camera, and his good actions on, helps retain audience sympathy.) But time and reflection have brought regret; and the film tips its hand with regard to Steven when, having dropped the hitch-hikers at Camp Crystal Lake, he declines an offer of casual sex. Oh, he’s tempted; but he’s also on his way towards what he hopes is a reconciliation with Jessica, and that keeps him on track. (Of course, we know, even if Steven doesn’t, that if he’d succumbed here he would have lost a great deal more than his chance to patch things up with his ex.) Arriving at Diana’s house, where he is to hear “something important” about Jessica, Steven sees Diana being murdered by Jason in his Deputy Josh incarnation – and after the shot, impaled and pushed through a window Josh has up and run away, Steven is caught with Diana’s body and promptly arrested. His cell happens to be that next to Creighton Duke’s (we never do find out what he was arrested for), and in this way he learns – after proving his physical courage in a sequence painful even to watch – that Jason has come back to Crystal Lake in murderous quest of Jessica and her daughter. This prompts Steven to stage a jailbreak and to risk his life in a desperate bid to save the girl he dumped and the baby he has never seen, ultimately being rewarded with the re-won trust and love of Jessica. The “estranged couple reuniting during a crisis” trope is, broadly speaking, one of the most annoyingly overused conventions of the modern horror film, but here it actually works, with Steven and Jessica joining forces to take on Jason and to protect their child.
The screenplay of Jason Goes To Hell scores major points with its recognition that this is a small town where everyone knows everyone, and knows them well. Thus, despite the strength of the circumstantial evidence against him, hardly anyone really believes that Steven has murdered Diana Kimble. (The exceptions are Sheriff Landis, who was Diana’s boyfriend and is too grief-stricken to be objective, and Jessica, whose mind is made up when she witnesses Steven “killing” her new boyfriend – Jason’s latest hiding-place, unbeknownst to her.) When Steven is arrested, it is one of his best friends, Officer Randy Parker, who has to escort him to his cell, but who does so all the while declaring his belief in Steven’s innocence and his determination to prove it. It is Parker, too, who eventually re-arrests Steven, after a fight during which the two men threaten each other with guns that each knows very well the other would never dream of using against him. Before this, however, Steven is found in the back of the diner by Joey B’s son, Wade, making tentative contact with his infant daughter. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been able to touch my baby,” Steven says helplessly. Wade’s response is not to call the police, but to facilitate Steven’s escape by handing over his car-keys. Jason Goes To Hell is absolutely unique in the franchise for giving us well-drawn supporting characters that we can like – and whose ultimate fates, consequently, actually mean something. The performances of Allison Smith as Vicki the waitress and Kipp Marcus (the director’s brother, a rare instance of positive nepotism) as Randy Parker are particularly good.
(Kipp Marcus is not the only example of “inside” casting here: director Adam Marcus plays an FBI agent; co-writer Dean Lorey is the assistant coroner who becomes the first victim of the newly resurrected Jason/coroner; and, most amusingly of all, Kane Hodder plays a security guard who says something that hurts Jason’s feelings – and regrets it.)
So far, so good. However---- It’s just like the rhyme says: when Jason Goes To Hell is good, it is good; but when it’s bad----oh, my friends, it’s horrid.
Now, I’m not saying I don’t understand and even sympathise with what the film-makers were trying to do here. The problem is, they went much too far. It’s one thing to add a few new twists to a stale formula; it’s another to demolish everything that a film series has ever had to say about its premise, while serving up in its place a stream of gobbledygook that doesn’t even make sense on its own terms.
Creighton Duke is the source of all our re-worked information about the resurrected Jason and his motives. “In a Voorhees was he born. Through a Voorhees may he be re-born. And only by the hands of a Voorhees will he die,” intones the wild-eyed Duke to Steven, further revealing that – are you ready for this? – Diana Kimble is Jason’s long-lost sister, Jessica his niece, and the baby Stephanie his great-niece.
It’s like something out of Dickens, isn’t it? Or Melrose Place.
Steven makes his way to a huge creepy mansion on the edge of town that you just know is referred to locally as “the Voorhees place” (and where the family name is misspelled “Vorhees” on the letterbox – classy), finding inside a collection of vaguely occult-ish paraphernalia that is supposed to “explain” the connection between the Voorhees clan and the parasitic entity that is the “real” Jason. (Amongst the items found in the house are the book from The Evil Dead and the expedition crate from Creepshow, while outside is the jungle gym from The Birds. Best we can tell, the Voorhees family gained its mystical powers through its devotion to collecting movie props.) Of course, it actually explains precisely nothing. What is this thing, and how did it become entwined with this family? How was it (he, Duke calls it, curiously) “born” in a Voorhees? Why should only a Voorhees be able to kill it? And why should that process require – wait for it – a magic dagger? Why is Creighton Duke the only one who knows any of this? And how on earth did he find it out? And what about Diana, the secret Voorhees? How could she have lived her whole life in Crystal Lake without everyone knowing she was a Voorhees? Or if that secret was somehow kept, how did Creighton Duke know about it?
(And why, come to think of it, should a supernatural slug-creature be so devoted to the slaughter of sexually active young adults?)
I suppose you could argue that the volte-face that Jason Goes To Hell pulls here is no more drastic than the one that took place between the original Friday The 13th and its first sequel. Still---- There is a difference, I think, between what you can forgive from a bunch of writers forced to invent a way of coming up with a sequel to a film never intended to have one – and whose ending hardly allowed for one – and what you’re prepared to take from people working with eight films and thirteen years’ perspective. Besides, F13:2 handles the shift in focus from Pamela to Jason fairly cleverly, negotiating a path between Jason as real-world killer and Jason as boogeyman by emphasising what they say about him (“They say he saw his mother decapitated....”). Jason Goes To Hell, in contrast, courtesy of Creighton Duke, simply piles bullshit on top of bullshit until (rather like Lou Diamond Phillips in Bats) we are up to out armpits in guano. It’s insulting.
What disappoints most about all this is that by going so far and so ridiculously over the top with their plot twists, the writers, far from revitalising the franchise, only succeeded in dealing it another death blow – when by reining it in and simply tweaking the existing story a bit, they might indeed have given it some new life. Suppose, for instance, that instead of cooking up this idiotic slug story, they had made Jason’s hitherto unmentioned father, Elias Voorhees, their focus? Suppose that after the deaths of both his wife and his child, Elias turned to the occult to resurrect his drowned son, only to find, monkey’s paw-like, that he got rather more than he expected? (A move, it occurs to me, that would have resolved the contradiction between the first two films!) Similarly, the long-lost sibling shtick would have been a bit easier to swallow if they had made Diana Jason’s half-sister – that is, Elias’s child but not Pamela’s.
Still – what we’ve got is what we’ve got, with “Jason” moving from temporary body to temporary body as he seeks a permanent resting place in a Voorhees (once abandoned, Jason’s hosts undergo a spectacular meltdown), his quest highlighted by two incredibly violent mass slaughters staged at the police station and at the diner. The climax of the film, in contrast, is a let-down, with Steven supposedly fighting for his life as Jessica struggles to possess herself of the – sigh – magic dagger that she needs to kill Jason once and for all. In trying to build suspense here, the film-makers grant Steven a ridiculous Hero’s Death Battle Exemption©, as, having been re-born via the dead body of Diana Kimble, the Jason Voorhees we all know and love, he who has casually crushed, ripped, snapped and otherwise dismantled scores of human beings throughout this series, suddenly proves incapable of doing anything worse to Steven than slapping him around. Now, don’t get me wrong: far more than most alleged “heroes”, Steven has earned a HDBE; but the staging of his miraculous survival is terribly weak. (Not that I wanted to see him dead, but dramatically it would have made a far stronger ending if Steven had given his life for Jessica and his baby.) Jessica does finally possess herself of the dagger, and between them she and Steven make good the promise of the film’s title, with Jason banished to the nether-regions of the world, and only his hockey-mask left behind to tell its tale....
So, in the end, am I giving Jason Goes To Hell a positive review or a negative review? I don’t know. I honestly don’t. The bits of it I like, I really like; the bits of it I despise, I really despise. As Stephen Blackpool would say, ‘tis aw a muddle.
"Free in every box of Stabby-Oh's!"
As we are only too aware by now, Jason Goes To Hell was the second film in the franchise with the word “final” in its subtitle that turned out to be nothing of the kind....and this, perhaps, we can blame upon the film-makers’ sense of humour. At any rate, they swear it was only a joke, not a set-up, when in the film’s very last moments, a certain clawed glove reached up out of the bowels of the earth and made a grab for Jason’s hockey-mask. However---- As any B-movie fan could tell you, you should never – never – NEVER – joke where a Hollywood producer might hear you: from the moment that the credits rolled on Jason Goes To Hell, a Jason Voorhees/Freddy Krueger cross-over was inevitable. Nevertheless, it was a full ten years before Freddy Vs Jason saw the light of day, being in the meantime stuck in a production hell to compare with the one we just witnessed Jason Voorhees being cast into. In the interim, an impatient Sean Cunningham teamed up with the original Friday The 13th screenwriter, Victor Miller, to create the tenth film in the series, Jason X; a project doomed from the moment that the film-makers decided to set their newest sequel not just in the future, but – in space.
As any B-movie fan could also tell you....that’s never a good idea....