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FREDDY VS JASON (2003)

"Oh, God - two killers! We're not safe awake or asleep!"




  Director:
 
Ronny Yu

  Starring: 
Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger, Monica Keena, Jason Ritter, Kelly Rowland, Christopher George Marquette, Brendan Fletcher, Katharine Isabelle, Lochlyn Munro, Tom Butler, Paula Shaw, Jesse Hatch, David Kopp, Gary Chalk, Alistair Abell

  Screenplay: 
Damian Shannon and Mark Swift

Synopsis:  In the depths of hell, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) bemoans his fate: not just dead, but forgotten; his memory expunged from his favourite terrestrial hunting grounds; the dreams of his potential victims out of his reach. But Freddy has a plan to change all that, to make people remember him.... A girl goes skinny-dipping. Afterwards, hearing sounds nearby, she calls nervously for her boyfriend – but sees instead a hulking figure with a machete. She screams in terror and runs through the woods, but to no avail.... As Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) contemplates his handiwork, he sees dead teen after dead, all of them admitting that they needed to be punished. Then he hears the voice of his mother (Paula Shaw), telling him that he must go to Elm Street, where the children have been very bad. As Jason obeys, his “mother” morphs into a laughing Freddy.... At 1428 Elm Street, Springwood, friends Lori (Monica Keena), Kia (Kelly Rowland) and Gibb (Katharine Isabelle) are joined by Gibb’s boyfriend, Trey (Jesse Hatch), and Blake (David Kopp). When Lori objects to Kia’s attempt to set her up with Blake, Kia tells her impatiently that she has to get over her first boyfriend, who left her without a word, and start seeing other people. Gibb and Trey go upstairs to have sex, while Lori briefly gets rid of Blake by asking him to get them beers. He goes to the kitchen, where he finds the back door wide open.... As Gibb showers, Trey looks up to find Jason standing over him. The machete descends again and again; then Jason seizes and folds shut the bed, folding the body inside also. Gibb finds the body, and the four surviving teens flee the house in terror, screaming for help. As the local police investigate, a panicky Officer Goodman (Alistair Abell) says that it has to be Freddy Krueger. Sheriff Williams (Gary Chalk) turns on him furiously, warning him never to speak that name. The kids are questioned at the police station. Deputy Stubbs (Lochlyn Munro) takes a drink to Lori, who asks him if there is any news – and why she was being questioned about her dreams. Before he can answer, Stubbs is abruptly called away by the sheriff. Left alone, Lori puts her head down to the table and tries to remember the name she heard spoken at the murder scene. She does, and says it aloud: “Freddy....” Lori looks up to find the police station deserted. She walks down a corridor covered in notices of missing children, and finds a little girl whose eyes have been gouged out. As Lori recoils in horror, the girl tells her that his name is Freddy Krueger and that he loves children – especially little girls. Her voice deepening, the girl adds that he is gaining strength, and that soon he will be back; that Lori should be afraid, and that she should warn everyone – everyone.... Lori finds herself in a cemetery outside of a nightmarish version of her own home, where three more little girls jump rope and chant. Suddenly, Freddy himself lunges for her – and Lori wakes in the police station, crying out in fear....

Comments:  From enjoyably pointless mid-eighties arguments to the teaser at the end of Jason Goes To Hell through ten years of development hell, few films have spent as long in theoretical pre-production as Freddy Vs Jason. Even after New Line’s acquisition of the name “Jason Voorhees” put an end to the squabbling over rights between that company and Paramount and made the long-imagined clash of the two franchise titans truly feasible, it was a full twelve years before the project became anything more than a fanboy’s castle in the air. The release of Freddy Vs Jason in 2003 was predictably greeted with widespread critical scorn, much of it directed at the supposed venality and cynicism of the production – as if this kind of crossover were something new in the annals of horror. As any real horror fan would know, it is a practice dating back to 1943, when the floundering Universal Studios tried to cash in on its two horror icons by bringing them together in Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man – and then followed it up with the increasingly desperate, if rather enjoyable, House Of Frankenstein and House Of Dracula. And say what you like about New Line, at least they have – so far, anyway – refrained from turning their stars into stooges by casting them opposite the likes of [*shudder*] Abbott and Costello.

There is an unmistakeable irony about the opening scenes of Freddy Vs Jason, although whether that was intentional on the part of the film-makers is very hard to decide; possibly so, given what comes later. When this long-delayed crossover finally hit screens, it had been a full twelve years since Freddy’s Dead, and nine since a disgusted Wes Craven offered the meta-horror of New Nightmare as a riposte; while Jason Voorhees’ move to New Line had produced only the interesting but franchise-insulting Jason Goes To Hell and – eventually – the idiotic Jason X. The scenes here of Freddy trapped in hell, forgotten, and of Jason mouldering in the woods, disregarded, are a little too symbolic for comfort. In truth, there was no particular reason for anyone to anticipate anything but the worst from this production – but execution here outstripped expectation to an extent that is almost staggering. 

Make no mistake about it: this film is infinitely better than we had any right to expect. The critical factor here is the screenplay by then-newcomers Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, who rose admirably to the various challenges attached to this project. I mean, let’s face it, the task before them was an impossibility: how do you take two distinct horror franchises, each of them operating in its own world and with its own set of rules, and each of them internally contradictory to a degree that makes you want to tear your hair out – and then reconcile them? You can’t....but Swift and Shannon gave it an almighty good try. The soft option would have been to take on one game-plan and ignore the other – or even to ignore both, and make up a whole new set of rules from scratch; but they didn’t do it. Certainly, there are some holes and hiccoughs here and there, but when you consider that the job before the two was something akin to trying to graft wheels onto a duck, the outcome is impressive. The screenplay goes very close to giving equal screen-time to its two “stars”, caters fairly to the fans of each franchise – something, by the way, that Universal Studios never managed in their crossovers (although oddly, they got closer to it in the Abbott and Costello films than in the “serious” horrors) – and, most critically, keeps the promise inherent in the film’s title with a succession of bloody showdowns that take up around a quarter of the running-time.

 

Freddy Vs Jason, then, opens in hell – and a very odd sort of hell, too, one that seems less about punishment than about simple detention....and minimum security, at that. The screenplay makes the first of its correct choices here with a shocking (if inexplicit) scene of a pre-death Freddy with one of his young victims. One of the things I’ve always found disturbing about the whole Freddy Krueger phenomenon is the evolution of a child molester and killer into a wise-cracking anti-hero, a figure of fun. Freddy Vs Jason strips the gloves off here and reminds us just who and what Freddy Krueger really is....and tries, for perhaps the first time since The Dream Warriors, to make him frightening. Freddy then delivers a monolog that lays down the ground-rules for this particular film, including who and how he can attack. All of the Nightmare On Elm Street sequels contradict the first film – and contradict each other, too – so the writers had a certain leeway here. In this film, Freddy is trapped in hell because he has been forgotten. The adults in Springwood have entered into a conspiracy to expunge him from their history, removing all records of his life and death – and undeath – and forbidding all mention of his existence, even of his name. The current crop of kids knows nothing of Freddy, and the ones that might, well, the adults have found a way of dealing with that, too. No knowledge, no fear; no fear, no dreams; no dreams, no Freddy. Simple as that. But Freddy isn’t about to take this situation lying down. He’s got a plan....and someone to help him carry it out.

So we move to the resurrection of Jason Voorhees, where the Friday The 13th crowd is welcomed with an iconic skinny-dipping/pursuit through the woods sequence. (Pardon a digression. The girl in this sequence starts by flashing her boyfriend – she thinks – then swims naked, then runs through the woods with her boobs still showing....and I don’t think they move one inch the whole time. They just....sit there like cannonballs. I mean, good God, what sick bastard ever decided that those things were attractive?) The following sequence, in which Jason encounters his mother (Paula Shaw standing in for Betsy Palmer), in turn sets up his “rules”, first declaring explicitly that his mission is to “punish”, and then that “you cannot die”. The question of when, exactly, Jason became undead is of course one of his franchise’s most enduring mysteries, but here its immediate impact is to raise the question – where is Jason at the beginning of this film? Is he in the real world, as per the endings of The New Blood and Jason Takes Manhattan (kind of) and even Jason X; or is he in hell with Freddy, as per The Final Friday? And if he “can’t die”, why is he decomposing in a wood? And how does Freddy, in the guise of Pamela Voorhees, appear to him? Is Jason dreaming? There is no indication of which, if any, of the previous Friday The 13th entries this one is supposed to be following; and in any case the last four are bewilderingly contradictory; so this film sensibly skates over all of this as quickly as possible, and before we have a chance to say much more than, “Hey....wait a minute....”, a machete-wielding Jason is stalking through the pouring rain down Elm Street, Springwood.

So yes, Freddy Vs Jason is on much shakier ground with Jason’s storyline than it is with Freddy’s; but this sequence does highlight one of the main differences between these two franchises, one that gives hypocrites like me a kind of moral “out”. Unlike Freddy, Jason started out as a victim – and in fact, Freddy Vs Jason expands on that very point in quite a startling way. And Jason is a victim here, too, being used and manipulated to serve Freddy’s ends. Which is why Freddy’s ultimate inability to control him is so damn satisfying....

 

Although they occupy 1428 Elm Street, the kids we are introduced to at the beginning of Freddy Vs Jason are far more of the Friday The 13th universe – and consequently pretty painful. When we meet obvious Final Girl Lori and her two closest friends, Kia and Gibb, they’re studiously being about as slasher-movie-transgressive as they can be: the three of them are playing a charming little verbal game called “Marry, Fuck, Or Kill?” while Gibb drinks and smokes; then Gibb goes upstairs to have sex with her boyfriend, Trey, while Kia tries to push the reluctant Lori at his friend, Blake. This is one of those movie moments that makes you shake your head in bewilderment. Kia encouraging Lori to get over her lost puppy-love is one thing, but Kia trying to push her virginal best friend into a meaningless one-night stand with a complete pig – ?? In what universe, exactly, is this considered normal behaviour!? Well – the Friday The 13th universe, I guess. One place the Nightmare On Elm Street films always had it all over their competition is their kids, who were as close to nice and normal and even likeable as any horror films ever got. Furthermore, and Tina’s bloody death in the original Nightmare notwithstanding, Freddy never had very much interest in the sexual history of his victims. If Kia had done what she just did in a straight Nightmare On Elm Street film, she might have got away with it. Unfortunately for her, however, this is also a Friday The 13th film, which means that Kia is now Marked For Death. And believe me, when the moment comes we won’t be sorry: Kia is – [*groan*] – the obligatory sassy black girl.

In any case, Kia demonstrates here a profound misunderstanding of her best friend’s psychology. While Lori is a fairly typical Nightmare On Elm Street heroine, she makes for an unwontedly complex Friday The 13th Final Girl. The issue here, as we shall learn in time, is that Lori has suffered through two deep emotional traumas in her life, the death of her mother and the disappearance of her boyfriend, Will Rollins, events which occurred within a relatively brief period of one another; and the effect of this crushing double blow is to leave Lori psychologically damaged to the point where she is incapable of moving on in her life even if she wanted to. The accidental consequence of these circumstances is, of course, that Lori has all the qualifications of a classic slasher film Final Girl.

But it isn’t only Lori who has more to her than your usual slasher character. One of the virtues of Freddy Vs Jason is the deftness with which the kids are sketched. In outline, each of them is a cliché; in fact, each of them exhibits character touches that separate them from the herd. This is best exemplified in Gibb, who in any other film would be the standard Slasher Movie Slut. Here, clearly, she is a nice girl with very serious self-esteem issues, who lets herself be used sexually, and drinks too much in order to take the edge off her self-disgust. (It helps tremendously, of course, that Gibb is played by a good actress, Katharine Isabelle: the droop of her lower lip as Gibb obediently follows her pig of a boyfriend upstairs tells us as much about the character as half an hour’s exposition would.) Similarly, here we do not have the usual puzzle of why on earth these kids would be hanging out together. We can see Lori and Kia’s distress at Gibb’s self-destructive behaviour, and their desire to help her – and their inability to do so, except by being there for her. The other kids are not so deeply drawn, perhaps, but even the most clichéd – Kia and Freeburg, Sassy Black Chick and Stoner, respectively – get their moments.

We’ve already seen Jason lurking outside the house – Gibb’s flicked cigarette butt hits him in the mask – and now he makes his presence felt, with the obnoxious Trey getting exactly what he deserves. Curiously, Jason then withdraws without going after Gibb, who’s in the shower (or at least, Katharine Isabelle’s body-double is), allowing the four surviving teens to run screaming into the night and do something startlingly rare in the slasher film pantheon: go to the police. As the kids pour into the street, a squad car pulls up bearing Deputy Stubbs, the new cop in town and on his best behaviour because of it. “Do you kids need some assistance?” he inquires in his best fresh-out-of-the-academy manner – only to have Gibb shove her hands, soaked in her boyfriend’s blood, into his face and shriek, “What the fuck do you think!?

 

And here we switch universes again, as the premise of this film unfolds before our eyes. The kids are taken to the police station and questioned about Trey’s death, but the questioning isn’t the usual kind: the police seem less interested in facts than they are in the recent content of the kids’ dreams.... It transpires that the adults of Springwood have taken extreme action to eradicate the threat of Freddy Krueger. They have removed all mention of him from the local records and newspaper archives, and forbidden so much as the breathing of his name. But above all, they have rounded up all of the kids who had any knowledge of or exposure to Freddy and incarcerated them in a mental institution, where they are forbidden any contact with their families or anyone else in the outside world, and routinely drugged with our old friend, Hypnocil, in order to suppress their dreams. Again, no dreams, no Freddy. This is the conspiracy of silence that has kept Freddy contained for a full four years, and which he has sent Jason to shatter. And here we may have the explanation of Jason’s uncharacteristic restraint: one grotesque murder, in a bed, at 1428 Elm Street, says “Freddy” in a way that a bloodbath would not have done. In any case, the plan works: a panicky local cop mutters that, “It’s gotta be him, right? It’s gotta be Freddy Krueger!” And Lori overhears, and remembers, and later repeats that name out loud. And the barricades of Springwood begin to crumble....

Meanwhile, out at Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, Lori’s lost love, Will Rollins, and his room-mate, Mark Davis, are queuing up for their nightly Hypnocil (“What does this shit do, anyway?”) when there is a TV report on Trey’s murder. The victim isn’t identified, but Will recognises Lori’s house and panics. That night, he and Mark escape with embarrassing ease (you’d think, under the circumstances, that the authorities at Westin Hills would put a few more resources into their security protocols) and head for Springwood, but don’t catch up with Lori until the following day at her school, where she is telling her friends about the terrible dream she had: the eyeless little girl, the cemetery, and that jump-rope chant.... Mark loses it here, telling Lori and everyone else within earshot all about Freddy Krueger....playing, of course, directly into Freddy’s hands, as the kids will realise just a little too late.

The remaining Springwood teenagers respond to the tragedies in their midst (Blake has, by this time, gone the way of Trey) as only characters in a slasher film would: by organising an all-in cornfield rave party. During the party, the perpetually drunk Gibb wanders off and has an encounter with Trey, who turns out to be just as much of an arsehole dead as he was alive. Gibb follows him as ordered, and finds herself in what looks disturbingly like that old boiler room. And she’s not alone.... We’ve seen Freddy on and off during the previous section of the film, trying to kill but finding himself insufficiently powerful. But thanks to the inadvertent cooperation of Lori and her friends, Freddy’s strength is growing every moment, and here he gloats as he anticipates his first kill in four years....

....only to have Gibb buckle, and bleed, and fade away before his eyes, as Freddy howls in rage and disappointment. Out in the real world, you see, Gibb passed out on the edge of the cornfield, where Jason found her and killed her; her, and the glow-stick covered raver just starting to molest her. Nice.

And then he turns his attention to the rest of the party....

In terms of its gore and its body-count, Freddy Vs Jason is a real throwback to The Good Old Days, and here Ronny Yu treats us all to one of those rare Oh-my-God-I-don’t-believe-it jaw-dropping scenes that inspire not merely admiration, but love. It starts with Jason stumbling across two boys deep in the cornfield, smoking pot. Jason kills one of them, and his friend responds by dousing Jason in alcohol – there’s plenty of it around – and setting him on fire. That means nothing to Jason, of course, and here we get a stunning overhead shot of him cutting a fiery swathe through the cornfields in pursuit of the kid who set him alight. He catches up with him just at the edge of the main rave, and throws his still-burning machete.... (The kid’s hysterical gibber of almost-laughter, just before Jason nails him, is another fabulous touch.)

Hey, remember when you were watching Jason Takes Manhattan, and you said to yourself in that frustrated way, “So, why is Jason trying so hard to kill those four people, when he could be slaughtering the entire population of New York!?” Remember how the only reason you watched that film in the first place was that mental image you had of Jason going berserk all up and down Times Square? Don’t bother to deny it! Well, guess what? Mark Swift and Damian Shannon felt just the same way! Freddy Vs Jason gives us a real Scene We’d Like To See here, as Jason descends upon the rave and slaughters everyone within machete reach....

I just adore having my worst instincts pandered to, don’t you? Seriously, I have only one complaint about this sequence: it’s too damn short. But even that is recompensed by the hilarious moment when one of the still-burning Jason’s machete swipes punctures a beer keg, and the spray of beer puts him out.

But this isn’t just about Jason: these are Freddy’s kids, all those lovely juicy teenagers whose souls he promised himself....and Jason is taking them all away from him.

Of course you know, this means war.

The basis of the battle between Freddy and Jason is one of the most satisfying aspects of this film. Freddy has unleashed Jason upon Springwood in order to achieve his own resurrection, without a thought of what would happen beyond that point; and his rage and indignation when Jason simply refuses to be shut down again are something to behold. “I needed Jason to kill for me,” he spits at Mark, appearing to him in the guise of Mark’s dead older brother, “but now he – JUST – WON’T – STOP!!”

(Apart from the immediate delicious irony of this situation, the film here goes very close to summing up the crude, visceral appeal of the whole Friday The 13th franchise.)

Freddy kills Mark here – his only personal kill, remarkably – in a scene that tries very hard to recapture the genuinely nightmarish feel of the early Elm Street films. Lori and Will, survivors of the rave, witness Mark’s bloody demise but are unable to help him – that is, wake him up – because his house has bars on the windows, just like 1428 Elm....and you remember how much use those were.

Meanwhile, Deputy Stubbs thinks he knows who was responsible for the rave slaughter: “I think we have a copycat of the old Jason Voorhees Crystal Lake killer!” (It is interesting how many of the Friday The 13th use that phrase when Jason gets going: I guess it’s their way of acknowledging the passage of time.) The Sheriff, certain he already knows who was responsible, brushes Stubbs aside, and bewilders his Deputy even further by ordering roadblocks put in place, not to catch the killer, but to stop anyone leaving town. When Stubbs, unable to comprehend his boss’s attitude, persists, the Sheriff explodes, warning him that if he doesn’t shut up he will be locked up. The stunned and frustrated Stubbs, certain in his own mind of the danger posed by what he supposes to be a Jason Voorhees copycat, determined to take action, does something quite unexpected: he tracks down Lori and her friends and joins forces with them, sharing with them his information about Jason that the Springwood police have no interest in.

Of course, if the kids are going to survive this, they have to understand both Freddy and Jason. Mark was able to fill them in on the former – to Freddy’s glee, and his own despair, upon realising what he had done – and here Stubbs explains the latter, although he still insists that the local killer is a copycat. The kids, however, have seen Jason in action, and they know he’s the real thing. “Better start thinking outside your little box, dude,” jeers Freeburg, the stoner, when Stubbs asserts that the real Jason is dead, “because someone’s definitely breaking the fucking reality rules.” Pooling all of their information, the kids and Stubbs are able to put together a working theory of just what the hell is going on. In truth, they are rather too preternaturally intuitive here about Freddy and Jason and their relationship – and their weaknesses – given that twenty-four hours earlier they had no idea either one of them existed; but while this is a bit of a cheat, it beats the alternative, which would have been a frustrating period spent in investigating what the audience already knows. Anyway, the outcome of all this is a trip to Westin Hills, in search of Hypnocil with which to protect themselves.

This section of the film and its implications are extraordinary. It has been four years since Freddy Krueger last made his presence felt in Springwood, and the reason is that four years ago the Springwood authorities rounded up everyone who might be vulnerable to Freddy and locked them up at Westin Hills, dosing them with Hypnocil to keep the danger away and forbidding them contact with anyone to whom they could pass on their fatal knowledge. They have, in short, been quarantined. The horror of this desperate action on the part of the Springwood adults is not soft-pedalled. On the contrary, the kids find themselves in a ward full of coma patients, all of whom have overdosed on Hypnocil – and all of whom are under the care of Lori’s father, Dr Campbell. This revelation comes hard on the heels of Will’s earlier explanation of his own incarceration at Westin Hells: that he witnessed Lori’s father murdering her mother.... Will was wrong, as it turns out. What he saw, unknowingly, was Freddy killing Mrs Campbell, and Dr Campbell trying to stop it; but his involvement was enough to ensure his banishment with the rest – hence his sudden disappearance shortly after Mrs Campbell’s “car accident”.

 

Westin Hills and its secret are just a detour here, a subplot; but in fact there’s enough material in this section of Freddy Vs Jason for a whole other movie. The institutionalisation of the teenagers of Springwood must have been carried out with the knowledge and co-operation of their families, a final drastic action taken to keep them – and everyone else – alive. They have sacrificed a cohort of their children in order to save the rest, and also the Springwood children yet to come. When Will and Mark come back to town, we see nothing of Will’s family. Mark goes to his former home, but no-one else is there. We infer that having gone along with the conspiracy, the parents involved then left town, either because they couldn’t live with the guilt, or – more likely – to cover up the “disappearances”, and thus deflect unwanted inquiries. (Mark’s elder brother committed suicide, but whether this was an independent act, or whether he was driven to it by Freddy – or did it to escape Freddy – is uncertain. You can understand, in any case, why after this Mark’s parents might have become willing conspirators.) Most worrisome, however, is the part played in all this by Dr Campbell, who we see after the murders of Trey and Blake trying to slip Lori some Hypnocil. The question arises, has he been doping her all along, or did he only start doing it when it became evident that Freddy was back? Should Lori have been in Westin Hills all along, and did Dr Campbell use his position of power to keep her at home, all the while dosing, and overdosing, her peers?

What is most striking, both immediately and in terms of both franchises operating here, is the role played by parents. The part necessarily played in this conspiracy by the Springwood parents becomes horribly clear over time – but it is not the first conspiracy in which they have been involved. Consider another group of Springwood parents who, some years back, tracked down a certain child killer and burned him alive.... And while we’re contemplating these terrifying demonstrations of parental love, let us not forget Pamela Voorhees, who in quest of vengeance for the death of her beloved child, instigated a mass murder spree that would last for decades and claim dozens upon dozens of innocent lives....

Already reeling from Will’s revelations, Lori is confronted by the coma ward at Westin Hills, her father’s signature upon all of the medical records. Possibly fortunately, she barely has time to take in what she is seeing. Both Freddy and Jason have followed their quarry to Westin Hills. Freddy manages to take over the stoned Freeburg (this film expands very cleverly on the notion of “asleep”, which allows Freddy a lot more room to manoeuvre), and uses him first to get rid of the stores of Hypnocil, and then to fill Jason with enough tranquiliser to take down a bull elephant. We lose Stubbs here, and – once he’s served his purpose – Freeburg. But that hardly matters; as Jason goes under, it’s time for Round One....

I’ve got to be honest: the fights between Freddy and Jason here are bit of a disappointment. Then again, this is a problem that I’ve had with all of the Nightmare On Elm Street films, right from the beginning: the fact that the final showdown with Freddy always devolves into a silly physical slugfest. Freddy Vs Jason is little different in this respect. Ronny Yu does give us a number of beautifully directed scenes in this film, but the fight sequences suffer from his obsession with wire-work, with first Freddy and Jason, and later the kids, flying across the room with monotonous regularity. (Oh, and Ronny? Pinball noises? Please.) Compensating, we do get some hilarious touches, like Jason’s evident bewilderment when, after he has lopped off Freddy’s arms, they simply grow back; and, most critically, Freddy’s growing frustration and even fear, as he finds Jason impervious to all the physical mayhem he commits upon him. “Why won’t you die!?” he eventually howls at him. Here the film serves up its single shakiest idea, as it gives us a Jason Voorhees who turns out to be afraid of water. You might recall that in Jason Lives, that film’s version of Tommy Jarvis suddenly pulled a notion about Jason being “contained” by the waters of Crystal Lake out of his butt. Freddy Vs Jason takes it a step further, with Jason suddenly recoiling from a curtain of water. Freddy, cringing in anticipation of a machete blow, looks up in bewilderment, and then in dawning understanding. “Ohhh....”

Yes, it’s a cheat. This is the same Jason Voorhees, after all, for whom the waters of Crystal Lake were originally just one more killing field. (I wonder what Samantha, who was knifed to death by Jason from underneath her inflatable raft in The Final Chapter, would have to say about all of this?) Anyway, Freddy uses Jason’s “weakness” to attack him, pouring water on him from all points. Jason collapses....and suddenly we see the child Jason, whimpering and quivering as Freddy stands over him, laughing and terrorising him with his mother’s severed head. “Now, there’s a face only a mother could love!” Freddy mocks. “You ugly little shit!” In this we find the real excuse for the writers imposing upon Jason this improbable “fear of water”, because even if they do take extreme liberties with his history, they give us yet another horrifying reminder of the truth about Freddy Krueger.

(You know something else about this sequence? It almost succeeds in making the ending of Jason Takes Manhattan seem a bit less stupid.)

While all this is going on, out in the real world the surviving kids are transporting a trussed-up Jason back to Crystal Lake which turns out to be within easy driving distance of Springwood!!

Lordy, lordy, lordy.... Of course, we never did settle on where Crystal Lake was, exactly, did we? (except that it’s a boat ride from New York); and only the awful Freddy’s Dead insisted that Springwood was in Ohio; so yeah, maybe....but if so, for crying out loud, can you imagine what living in this neck of the woods would have been like in the mid-1980s!? Not that any of us would have been doing much living, I imagine. What’s that line from M*A*S*H? – if we had more kids like them, we’d have less kids like them.

Anyway, the kids have figured out the whole Freddy-started-Jason-but-now-he-can’t-stop-him thing; and, having decided that Freddy is the greater danger, are trying to use Jason as a weapon against him – and returning Jason to Crystal Lake is to give him “home field advantage”, if you please.

As Will drives, Linderman re-doses Jason with the rapidly dwindling supply of tranquiliser, while Lori prepares to do duty as an Elm Street heroine, and to enter a dream in order to drag Freddy out into the real world. Yup, it’s the traditional “Wake me up in fifteen minutes!” scene – in which respect, Lori will have about as much luck as most of her predecessors. Lori takes a dose of the drug herself and sinks into unconsciousness....

....and finds herself at Camp Crystal Lake, circa 1957, where a bald-headed little boy is being bullied and tormented by the other kids – one of whom shoves a sugar bag over his head. The boy is driven off the dock and into the water, where he begins to drown. The dream-Lori rushes to his rescue, and as she reaches down her hand, the boy suddenly erupts from the water – and this is when Lori realises just who the tormented child is.... And then, before Lori can gather her wits, Freddy appears and drags Jason down....

The implication here seems to be that although Jason cannot be killed in his undead adult form, he did drown as a child, and that as his dream-state child-self, can die again. As Freddy pulls him under in his dream, out in the van being driven through the night the real Jason starts to cough and vomit water. He’s drowning too....which, as the kids need Jason alive, leads to one of this film’s dumbest, funniest and grossest moments, as Kia tries to give Jason mouth-to-mouth – ewww!! – only to be saved from this fate worse than death when the tranquiliser wears off, and Jason wakes up and sits up. The shock of this makes Will crash the van, leading to Jason’s escape from the kids in the real world, and the child Jason’s escape from Freddy in the dream world. Freddy roars in anger, then sees Lori. He attacks her, but to his astonishment she fights back and grabs him, crying out to her friends to wake her up. They don’t. They can’t. Lori is no longer just drugged, she’s been knocked unconscious; and her dream-self screams in despair as she finds herself at 1428 Elm Street....

As Will tries unavailingly to bring Lori around, Kia points to a sign for the new “Crystal Lake Resort” that’s being built, right next to the crumbling summer camp. (Boy, those guys just never learn, do they? Your dream awaits you, is the project’s exceedingly ill-chosen motto.) The four kids end up at the remnants of that old camp, in one of the abandoned cabins – and that’s where they are when Jason shows up. In the fight that follows, the cabin is set on fire, Will gets a Hero’s Death Battle Exemption© while defending Lori, and Linderman....doesn’t. (The wire-work also kicks in again. Sigh.) Will tries to pull Lori from the burning cabin, and her hand runs through the fire....

....bringing her to consciousness just in time to save her dream-self from Freddy. And since she’s got a good grip on Freddy at the time, it’s welcome to the Jason-verse, time for Round Two! And here we get one of the supreme moments of this entire film, as Freddy Krueger realises where he is and who he is with; that he is no longer tormenting a helpless child, but confronting a full-grown, full-strength and limitlessly pissed off Jason Voorhees. Never in your lives, my friends, will you ever see a more vividly rendered representation of the expression, “OH, SHIT!!!!”

This fight has all the strengths and all the faults of the preceding one, as the Irresistible Force that is Freddy Krueger tries to find a way of combating horror cinema’s all-time great Immoveable Object. Of course, based on everything we’ve seen in both franchises up to this point, and what we’ve seen in this film, there’s no real hope of either of them actually killing the other....but it sure is fun watching them try.

There is a tendency amongst modern slasher films to give us not a Final Girl, as such – or even a Final Boy – but rather a Final Couple, with two of the characters coming together over the course of their bloody battle. It is, however, noticeable that even when they do this, it still tends to be the girl who takes action at the conclusion of the film, with the boy either passive or incapacitated. (I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer is an obvious recent example.) That happens here, too, with only Lori and Will left standing as the final showdown between Freddy and Jason gets under way. Will wants to take the opportunity to get the hell out of Dodge (sensibly enough; I’m not saying he’s not sensible), but Lori has other ideas, here undergoing the usual late-film morph into a tough-talking hands-on fighter. “He has taken everything from us, and I am not leaving until I see him die!” she declares, pragmatically backing Jason against Freddy, even though Jason has just killed Kia – for which we, if not necessarily Lori, thank him.

Freddy and Jason start out at the remains of Camp Crystal Lake, then stumble into the construction site next door; lots more potential for mayhem there. Jason bleeds – a lot – very watery blood, too – while he really does have an awful lot of trouble taking Freddy out, considering how many Elm Street heroines have managed it over the years. The brawl then spills out onto the dock, where Freddy slices off Jason’s fingers and possesses himself of the machete, doing unto Jason what Jason has done unto so many. Meanwhile, Lori and Will are opening up the propane tanks at the end of the dock....

Well, I’m not going to tell who wins – assuming one or the other of them does “win” – and I’m not going to tell you how it ends – assuming it does “end” – and does anything, these days? I don’t suppose I’m telling you anything you haven’t already figured out for yourselves by now when I say that Freddy Vs Jason took me completely by surprise. I was expecting at best a bit of mindless entertainment; I got instead one of the most thoughtfully constructed horror movies I’ve seen in some considerable time.

I suppose most viewers came here for the smackdown, but although that’s fun, I found it also the least interesting part of the film. What caught my imagination was the tweaking of the back-stories and the interweaving of the two distinct mythologies. I also appreciate the way that they tried to make Freddy scary again, and to recapture the true horror of the dream sequences of the early Elm Street films, particularly in the death of Mark. Some thought also went into unnerving the viewer by disguising the segues between reality and dreaming. (In this respect, I love the moment when Lori’s friends start debating the possibility of just handing her over to Freddy – a virgin sacrifice, you understand....) The writers had less room to move with Jason, of course, so they very sensibly put a machete into his hand and let him loose to do what he does best. But that’s not to say that Jason doesn’t get a few memorable moments of his own, such as the attentive and obedient way he listens to “mother”. (The detail in the Crystal Lake dream sequence also indicates a certain degree of sympathy for Jason on the part of the writers: that sugar bag was a deadly little touch.)

Considering the moribund state of both franchises when this project was undertaken, and the horrible corners that both stories had been written into, Freddy Vs Jason is a breath of fresh air. One of the most pleasing features of this film is its entire freedom from any sense of condescension or contempt, either for the material itself or the fans who may have been anticipating it. This is not to say that the film isn’t aware of its own absurdities, but it’s the old laughing with, not laughing at, distinction; the writers had fun with this, you feel, and they want the viewer to do so also. You can feel the effort that went into trying to make this thing work, and if the cracks were sometimes too big to be papered over, well, that’s not really the writers’ fault. They tried, and that’s what matters. For myself, I can only say that I started out expecting nothing of Freddy Vs Jason, began to smile a few minutes in, still anticipating a let-down, and ended the film with a big dumb grin on my face. My only wish now is for New Line to have the sense to leave well enough alone. This is a far better conclusion than either franchise really deserved, and the worst thing they could do is to go to the well yet again. Lightning struck once; let’s hope that they can rest content with that.

Want a second opinion of Freddy Vs Jason? Visit 1000 Misspent Hours – And Counting.

But wait! There’s more! Another person caught off-guard by Freddy Vs Jason was Ken Begg of Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension. He and Lyz compare notes here.


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----19/01/2008