Formula for the perfect Friday The 13th Movie:
Step 1: Get a dozen or so of the most annoying beat brats in Central Casting and give them a sad excuse to hang out at Camp Crystal Lake, like an All You Care to Eat weenie roast or the Special Olympics.
Step 2: Make them all engage in wanton acts of sexual perversity and nudity-oriented lasciviousness with some recreational pharmaceuticals on the side.
Step 3: Have a creepy old prospector type show up, scare the wine coolers out of everyone, and claim they are all doomed.
Step 4: Get that locomotive mound of man meat Jason Voorhees to make an appearance, weed whacker in hand, and frappe the fornicating fools into gelatinous balls of gory goo.
Step 5: Have the mighty thrill killer faux finished in a manner that guarantees a few dozen sequels.
Sounds like a winning combination right? You can just count the box office returns and read the fan fiction freak outs after this one hits the screen. So why on God's green jeans would New Line take a well-worn old shoe like Friday The 13th, throw the trademark in the pig trough, and concoct this mediocre mythological mess? Why oh why was Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday created? Was it gambling debts?
Facts of the Case
Jason Terwilliger Underdunk Voorhees, Esquire has just returned from a prolonged holiday in the Big Apple where, even though he was doused in toxic radioactive pickle brine and left for dead, he still managed to catch Les Miz. While stalking Camp Crystal Lake for a little post-vacation vivisection, he is plunged into the middle of an all out FBI SWAT team sting and blown into several, easy to handle, hunk chunks. During the autopsy of the no longer tender vittles, J-Vo's evil black heart come back to beating life, and hypnotizes a forensic pathologist into having a little chest muscle tartare. Before you can say "multi-state killing spree," Dr. Quincy Jason is hitting the terror trail, ready to carve himself a little teenage tenderloin.
Meanwhile, a bounty hunter named Creighton Duke, who looks like the Village People's long lost production coordinator, makes a deal with a tabloid talking head to stalk and silence Mr. V once and for all. Seems the cow poked kook knows that "only through a Voorhees can he be reborn, and only by the hand of a Voorhees can he be killed." What that has to do with the price of leather chaps is anyone's guess. Still, a waitress in a diner, who has a daughter who dates the television tattler, and a grandbaby that's in desperate need of a diaper change, may have something to do with ending the reign of Jason. So might the long-suffering baby's daddy ex-boyfriend. So might several members of the Detroit Lions.
Well, some teens get killed after skinny-dipping, drinking, and peeing in the woods. The disgruntled disembodied spirit of Jason does a lot of human hopping, looking for a fresh flesh suit with beefy arms and some room in the rump. All the while cast members get killed and sometimes blood flows. In the end, it turns out that Jason had a sister, she grew up in this really Elm Street-esque house with its own Gideon version of the Necronomicon, and it's there where a final battle between who and cares occurs before our beloved mass murdered takes a Satanic dirt nap.
When Jason Voorhees left Manhattan, and returned home to his unfurnished shotgun shack at the edge of the no longer campy Crystal Lake, Paramount Pictures offered him a version of the Home Game and told him to hitch his hockey mask to a U-Haul and beat feet out of dodge. Long a staple in the Mountained motion pictures production pool, executives felt that, in these modern times of cultural sensitivity and grunge rock, the homicidal rage of a near drowned hellspawn Deliverance child was no longer job number one. So they sold the rights to New Line Cinema, who was looking for a longtime companion to dream demon Freddy Krueger. And before you could consider same-sex serial killer marriage, original producer Sean Cunningham was brought back on board to breathe new life into the invalid Voorhees storyline. But Sean, that cunning pork shoulder, must have cashed the check and headed to the Dry Tortugas before production on this hopelessly hokey Hidden rip-off was completed. There is no way that the man who loped off Betsy Palmer's melon, or stabbed Nathaniel Crosby before his father got the chance, could have consciously approved this drivel.
See, the first few Fridays knew that the cash was in the corpses. The coin was in the killing. The money was in the maniac. The hook for any fan of the slasher genre, per se, is not the well crafted characterization, or rich plot detail. It's the slashing! Without massive bloodletting or head axing, there was no reason to spend the baby's milk allowance on a trip to the local cineplex. Jason is all about nubile young girls in various states of topless repose having their eyes, ears, nose, and throats ripped out. Friday the 13th is a testament to the power of the pierce, the horror of the hack, and the satisfaction of the slice. Let's face it, we go to a formulaic gore fest like Part 2 or 3-D to see a stunt man in a hockey mask rip open skulls, unspool bowels, and spread Karo syrup and red dye all around the rosy. No one cares if he had a sister. No one wants to hear anyone ho-ha about a magic dagger or the seventh layer of Trimalgafor. The audience for a 13th flick wants to see sin vanquished and morality modeled in the chest chopping chassis of their favorite fright fiend.
So what does New Line do with Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday? Do they turn Tom Savini loose like a kid in a carnage store and let him wildly imagine all manner of maimings and mutilations? Do they reward those who stuck with the series for dull sequel after implausible set up with a ripe batch of butchery? Heck, do they even give the J-man his due? No sirree. They provide our automaton murder machine the horror flick cinematic kiss of doom: a backstory. That's right, the little saga of Jason the wonder buoy who was just too weak and mentally challenged to stay above the waterline has been blown up into a saga of birthrights, bulrushes, and evil fireflies. One of the sly pleasures in the old Paramount pastiche was the uncomfortable idea that, while he seemed invincible, Jason was still a human entity seeking revenge for seeing his mom go headless. But even toward the end, they messed with that sensibility, turning our oversized toddler on a torture tantrum into a supernatural boogieman after a machete facial. Like New Coke of Pepsi Clear, New Line could have gone back to the "classic" formula and satisfied the core audience of gore hounds. But instead they took out 80% of the breasts, almost 90% of the beast, and left us with a roundabout roundelay of relationships, siblings, and the occasional over-the-top killing. Not the Friday most fans are looking for.
Frankly, Jason Goes to Hell would make a good 30-minute short. Start with the bazooka blasting of our angry anti-hero, cut to a sequence or two of heart munching, fast forward to the camper carve-ups, and end with the Hard Boiled at Mel's Diner slaughter set-piece that comes at the end, and you'd have 30 or 35 minutes of non-stop lip smacking, brain pleasing havoc. But instead, we get gratuitous shots of diner patrons, jail cells, and road shoulders. As hinted at before, the film starts off promisingly enough. Jason meets a rather grisly demise and his coroner takes one look at that oversized cow's valentine and chows down, spewing black bile and other gnarly bits of goodness all over. And when the newly body-suited killer takes out the majority of the cast in the coffee shop blood bath, the effects and rapid fire pace enliven the spooky slaying spirit. But aside from a rather tasty bit of body piercing and quartering during the campfire frolics, the middle 45 minutes of the film is just a bunch of dead dull detailing. In Halloween, we got the picture in a simple phrase: "Michael Meyers is the closet thing to pure evil there is." 'Nuff said. But not for the boy Jason. Our Mister Voorhees has more minutes of archaic origin conceptualization and step by step death descriptions than Fred Krueger, Pinhead, and the cast of American Idol put together.
And that's the scripts biggest blunder. Anytime you link a murderer to his family, biologically, you start to beg a lot of questions. If Jason is such a god-awful devil dude, why wasn't mom a psychotic…oh, wait. Okay, let's start again. If mayhem runs deep in the gene pool of the clan Voorhees, shouldn't sis, niece, and little baby Voorhees be carving up co-eds and drinking the blood of Baal? Oh wait…there's apparently a Satanic sewer rat swimming around inside the always-about-to-ooze-into-putrescence skin sack that makes up Jason. So apparently, the other members of the lineage are safe as long as they don't let pissed off mice crawl up their nightclothes. Frankly, the writing is the real problem here. The acting is fine, and the effects are effective. But the notion of having to have a family member off the evil cleaver doer cements the narrative into a goal oriented, will-they-or-won't-they-realize-their-heinous-heritage hallmark that marks most of the characters for instant death, and others as heroic wannabes. It would have been much easier and cooler to simply have Jason kill a dozen or so people and then semi-die for the umpteenth time. Cut out the goofball bounty hunter. Excise the ex-boyfriend. And send Maury Povich's talentless twin back to Extra where he belongs.
But no, New Line made this mess, and they are sticking by it. And while we may not forgive what they did to Jason and his blood and bones jones, one cannot fault New Line for how they treat their DVD product. The company polishes Jason Goes to Hell like a premier title and offers some very fine extras and image work. There are actually three versions of the film to view here. First, there is the standard R cut, which excises most of the gratuitous gore and pup tent acrobatics by the nude campers. The image is widescreen anamorphic, in a 1.85:1 ratio that looks good, if not great. Since we are dealing with two complete versions of the film on one side of a disc, compression does play a factor, and on occasion, shows up to bleach out the transfer. A film that takes place mostly at night should have sharper and richer blacks than this. Still, for a low budget genre film made almost a decade ago, the picture looks good. Next, if you have the stomach, you can wade through the unrated cut. Reinserting many of the more graphic moments (both violent and sexual), this version is more cartoonish, less suspenseful than the rated variety. Finally, you can look over several deleted scenes that are included and called "television inserts" since they contain no violence, and have all the swear words looped out. It's a hoot to hear the diner crew scream at each other to "frig" or "freak" themselves.
The soundtrack, presented here in various Dolby Digital surrounds, is great. There is good use of the back channels in the killer/stalking scenes, and the final fight takes advantage of the multiple speaker set up. The subwoofer will also get a workout, as Jason's heart thumps harder than a Dr. Dre backbeat. Undoubtedly though, the absolute best thing about this DVD from New Line is the commentary track. Featuring first time director Adam Marcus and screenwriter Dean Lorey, this is an all out grin and bear it breakdown about how two twentysomething geek horror fans got a chance to reinvent (no matter how successfully or unsuccessfully) the Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th franchise. This is one of the best commentary tracks ever. It is funny, insightful, honest, and most importantly, detailed. Almost every question one could ever have about what is happening on screen is answered by the talkative duo (except why the naked sheriff's deputy got a free shave by the usually more "stabby" with the razor Jason before he possessed him). Even if one does not enjoy the movie, this commentary track is a must-own for the lifelong fan of the series and Voorhees completists. It explains a great deal in a very entertaining fashion.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's time to give credit where criticism is not due. So what if Jason doesn't slaughter a group of fake breasted bimbos? Who cares if there is more backstory here than in your average episode of Behind the Music? Cut the filmmakers some fanboy slack and acknowledge their attempt at doing something new with the series. They didn't rely on stale shock scares or over the top gross-outs. They tried to cement Jason and his thirst for blood into some manner of dichotomy, giving his before now penchant for mindless murder a basis in some sort of reality, even if it is otherworldly and ethereal. At least his supernatural strength and staying alive power has a paranormal reason, not some trumped up "brain on endorphins" or body by Jake justification. Director Adam Marcus and writer Dean Lorey should be proud of the fact that, of all the other chapters in the Friday saga, theirs is the first to tackle the menace modus behind the onus operandi. Sure, we can argue that seeing his mom murdered sent him over the edge, or a moral mandate from an unspoken entity requires him to slaughter those who would indulge in vice for the sake of physical pleasure, but when it comes right down to it, isn't the notion of Jason as God's twisted assassin a lot more believable? And totally awesome?
The one thought that constantly careens around a reviewer's brain when they sit down to watch something like Friday the 13th or Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, is what would a $50 million version of the story look like? Would Anthony Hopkins turn Jason into a Hannibal Lecter style sous-chef with a penchant for prime white meat, delivering his lines from behind the hockey masks mouth holes with Old Vic venom? What if Martin Scorsese helmed a look at the Voorman's desire to slice and dice? Would he turn it into a veiled Catholic character and chaos study, transforming the human hacksaw into Travis Bickle with a sickle, or an f-bomb dropping goodfella who handles the family business with bloodletting glee? Maybe the rumors that Quentin Tarantino would like a shot at the Friday films will finally come to fruition, and our eternally dead death dealer will spout witty pop culture references while time traveling through a complicated, self referencing story arc filled with Sonny Chiba fisticuffs and John Woo showdowns. Unfortunately, no matter what the permutation, Jason Goes to Hell proves that when you mess with success and fudge up the formula for a little background foundation laying, the result is as half-baked as any Michael Bay action epic. Just imagine what he would do with Jason and his hard to kill heroics. On second thought, let's not.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is found guilty of turning its back on the tried and true Friday the 13th formula, and is sentenced to 10 years of re-watching the first eight films in the series. New Line is placed on probation for allowing this aberration, but leniency is awarded for the fine Special Edition DVD material.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
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