Monday, 13 December 2010

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

1993
Dir. Adam Marcus

Jason is blown to smithereens by the FBI while up to his old tricks at Crystal Lake. During the autopsy however, his demonic spirit possesses the coroner who sets off on a killing spree, in search of Jason’s hitherto unmentioned niece, Jessica: the only person who can stop him once and for all. With his spirit jumping from person to person by way of a parasitic demon rendering those it possesses indestructible, it won’t be an easy task for Jessica to defeat him…

Through a Voorhees was he born... Through a Voorhees may he be reborn... And only by the hands of a Voorhees will he die.”

Another year, another Friday the 13th movie which claimed to be the last in the series. Wasn’t that supposed to be The Final Chapter back in ’84? My brain hurts. New Line Cinema now owned the rights to the series (well, to the name of 'Jason Voorhees', anyway), and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday was also the first film in the series since the original to feature the involvement of Sean Cunningham. While it may have been part nine in a seemingly never-to-end franchise, it also stands as one of the most fiercely original and innovative Friday the 13th films to date. Moving away from the tired formula of teens menaced in the woods by Jason, this one begins with a scene that defies all expectations and unfurls with a narrative more akin to The Hidden, in which Jason’s soul moves from host to host, turning whoever he possesses into an indestructible killing machine.


Beginning with a seemingly typical prologue in which a young woman arrives at a cabin at Crystal Lake, strips naked to have a shower and then finds herself chased around the woods by machete-wielding Jason, it’s soon obvious this film won’t be like all the others. The young woman is an FBI agent involved in a sting to lure Jason out and blow him up. So with the main antagonist dead within the first ten minutes, where does the story go from here? Yes, I know: it never stopped them before! But this one is different! His body is in pieces so there’s no chance of him simply being resurrected to begin where he left off. It’s revealed his heart is a parasitic demon that can pass from host to host, and that’s exactly what it does, beginning with the coroner examining the remains.

The main strength of Jason Goes to Hell lies in its willingness to push boundaries and take a fresh approach to the series. The overt fantasy trimmings (including some business involving a mystical dagger, a book on demonology bound in human flesh and a grotesque demon that ‘enters’ poor Diana as she lies dead on the basement floor) lend themselves well to the film and a whole mythology is fleshed out through the script. Turns out that Jason can only be killed by a member of his family. He can also be reborn if he takes possession of a member of his family. Enter Jessica (Kari Keegan), his niece, who was never mentioned in the series until now. Turns out Jason’s father Elias Voorhees was a bit of a player. Continuity has never been this series’ strong point. Mrs Voorhees explicitly stated in Part I that Jason was her only child. Much like Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Jason Goes to Hell also features previously unmentioned family members for the convenience of the plot. Jason apparently had a sister, Diana (Erin Gray). It seems that in long-running slasher series, the only way to truly kill off a villain is to have a member of their family do it. Figures. Reinforce those conservative, All-American family values why-don’t-ya?! That a fractured family under threat features at the root of this film, it exhibits more of an emotional core than any of its predecessors.



That thing is in the basement with Jessica's dead mother!

In place of the usual teens we have a collection of interesting characters and much more is done to try and flesh them out a bit – don’t worry though, for purists there are the early scenes featuring sexed-up teens who plan to camp out at the lake to “smoke a little dope, have a little premarital sex, and not worry about getting slaughtered.” These scenes are more of a loving homage to the earlier films than anything else, and they serve to highlight the daring direction the rest of the film heads in. Protagonists Steven (John D. LeMay) and Jessica are an estranged couple who have a child together. He desperately wants to patch things up with her, while she seems more intent on moving on and marrying news anchorman Robert Campbell (Steven Culp). Jessica’s mother Diana hides a dark family secret, while the other quirky townsfolk are drawn with more colour than the usual Friday the 13th fodder, particularly the staff of the local diner. A certain amount of pathos is conjured after some of their deaths, too – unusual for a Friday the 13th movie. The film also features the character of Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), a bounty hunter hired by tabloid show American Case File, when he claims that Jason isn’t really dead and that only he knows how to finish him off for good. Boasting more sass than Shaft, Duke had the potential to be a worthy adversary of the hulking Voorhees.



The violence on display is perhaps the most graphic from the whole series, particularly when viewed after the likes of the relatively bloodless Jason Takes Manhattan. This film features some of the most gruesome kills, including the sight of one unfortunate girl being ripped in two while she climaxes during (unprotected!) sex in a tent. Jason’s main method of causing death in this one usually consists of some form of trauma to the head – heads are banged together, bashed in, crushed, pulverised and busted open by car doors. The violence is blunt, gritty and grim. One of the most astoundingly brutal set pieces takes place in the diner when most of the secondary cast members are offed in spectacular style when the possessed Robert enters in hot pursuit of Jessica who is trying to retrieve her baby. A shoot out and some improvisational violence depletes the cast. There are also a couple of scenes featuring some pretty outlandlish and stomach-churning 'body-melt' effects. The look of the film is different to the previous instalments, too. While most of the films had their own distinct look and feel (the first two entries being the ones with most continuity), Jason Goes to Hell is much darker, and much more stylised than anything that came before. Well and truly gone from the series at this stage however, is any semblance of suspense. Jason, while in different forms here, is still the same ubiquitous killer who pops up wherever and whenever you most expect him to.





Jason Goes to Hell benefits from a knowingly dark sense of humour and showcases a surprising amount of self-awareness and intertextual reflexivity than any of the prior movies – or indeed any of the horror movies of this time (three years before Scream, too). References to other horror films (including The Evil Dead series) come thick and fast and characters take pot-shots at the conventions of the genre; a wonderful case in point is when Steven picks up a couple of teenage hitchhikers who tell him they’re heading to Camp Crystal Lake. He responds with: “Oh yeah? Planning on smoking a little dope, having a little premarital sex, and getting slaughtered?”

This entry divided fans – on one side are the ones who missed the usual formula of sexed-up teens getting cut the fuck up at Crystal Lake and the distinct lack of ‘Jason’; and on the other, those who praised director Marcus’ efforts to do something genuinely daring and different with a series long devoid of imagination or flair. The revelation that Voorhees is one of America’s most wanted killers also enriches the Mythos and references his weighty back catalogue of kills, as well as adding a touch of credibility. The film also provides a barbed commentary on America’s fascination, nay, obsession with true crime, violence and serial killers, and the tabloid TV shows which exploit their antics.

I'll have a Voorhees burger and a side of Jason fingers.”



The film’s last shot of Freddy Krueger’s razor-gloved hand bursting out of the dirt to snatch Jason’s discarded hockey mask down to hell, caused all kinds of masturbatory exaltations from fans who had been clamouring for a showdown between the two slasher titans since The New Blood.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday may have lied to us about being the last one, but it still succeeds as a real fan-boy movie that has a genuine affection for the series, and indeed the genre, and attempted to bring something new to the blood-soaked table.

6 comments:

A. said...

Great write-up on an unfairly maligned film. I dont know if you call them purists or what, but a change of pace and wicked sense of humor were most definitely welcome in this, the 9th film of the series, at least by me...

Aaron said...

This is it, James... my least favorite in the series. I hate this movie! I saw it in theaters back when it first came out and have watched it a handful of times since, and it hasn't grown on me at all. The only thing I enjoy about it is the crazy bounty hunter dude, but I am one of those people you talk about in your review who doesn't like the direction that the series goes with this film. Great review, though. Looking forward to what you have to say about Jason X.

James said...

I understand why 'people like you' don't like this one, Aaron ;)
As much as I enjoyed the prior formula, you have to admit - after nine movies it was about time something fresh was added to the mix - and I don't just mean a new cabin!

It's not without its flaws, obviously, but as a Friday sequel, I think the new ground it breaks is daring and innovative and I really enjoy it! I'm also a huge fan of The Hidden, so maybe my love for this, partially stems from that.

I'm looking forward to checking out Jason X again! Haven't seen it in a while - I look forward to hearing YOUR thoughts on that one. :)

Wings said...

I enjoy it, sometimes, but I am never to sure why. So much is "not a Jason movie" that it seems almost like only a Jason-hybrid flick. But hey, that opening scene is awesome!

Carl Manes said...

I honestly do appreciate the attempt at originality, but it is a failed attempt in my opinion due to the dreadful plotting and ridiculous characters. Wes Craven released a much more accomplished film with A NEW NIGHTMARE that did the same thing with much more intelligence IMO. And I hate Freddy. He sucks. Jason rules lol..

James said...

I think Wes Craven's New Nightmare doesn't get nearly enough praise - it is the perfect post-modern slasher/horror movie for me, Carl. With the ninth instalment of this series I think there was a deliberate move into overtly supernatural/fantasy orientated territory in anticipation of Freddy vs. Jason.