Dir. Jim Isaac
In the near future a team of government scientists finally succeed in capturing and containing the seemingly indestructible killer Jason Voorhees. They plan to cryogenically freeze him, but not before he breaks free and slaughters all but one of them. Sole survivor Rowan lures him into the chamber but is frozen in time with him. Flash forward to the year 2455; earth is an uninhabitable wasteland, devoid of life. Jason and Rowan are discovered by a team of interplanetary explorers and taken back to their ship to be thawed out. Newly revived, Jason does what he does best. Murderlises people. In space (!).
The final shot of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday AKA Friday the 13th Part IX promised us a confrontation between Jason and Freddy Krueger. Indeed, with that ‘final’ instalment of the series and with Krueger’s own franchise coming full circle with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the time to bring both villains together in one diabolical showdown was perfect. Except, no one could quite figure out how to do that satisfactorily. Numerous scripts were commissioned by various writers but the whole project was doomed to languish in development hell for nearly a decade more. Meanwhile, an increasingly frustrated Sean Cunningham thought it best to produce another Jason film to keep fans sated while they waited for the vs. film. A number of concepts were played around with, including Jason in gangland LA, Jason underwater, Jason in the desert, Jason in a winter wonderland (blood on snow!) etc, before they finally decided on the outlandish idea of sticking him in space. Hey, Hellraiser and Leprechaun both did the same thing to inject new life into their burgeoning franchises and it didn’t do them any harm. No, wait…
Chronologically Jason X appears to come way after the events depicted in Freddy vs. Jason. Writer Todd Farmer and director Jim Isaac went all out with the humour in this one, though apparently the original script was very dark and gritty, with Cunningham’s influence eventually diluting it. The overt humour evident in Jason X is basically splat-stick. Well, it is the tenth instalment – for it to take itself seriously may have been slightly preposterous. And it is set in space. The tongue in cheek vibe is actually one of the film’s saving graces – it knows it is the umpteenth sequel and it just has fun with that. Being the tenth in the series doesn’t mean it doesn’t scrimp on the inventive kills though – or indeed the amount of kills! If you thought you’d seen every way to kill a bunch of teens, think again. As well as revisiting the popular ‘sleeping bag’ death in a bravura virtual-reality flashback sequence, we also witness the spectacle of a character’s head being shoved into a vat of liquid-nitrogen and freezing instantly before being smashed to smithereens, and another unfortunate character being sucked out into space through a hole Jason has punched in the hull of the ship.
Of course for old school aficionados who like their deaths a little more ‘vintage’ there are the usual impalements, decapitations, breaking of necks, slashing of throats, pulverising of heads and Jason hacking/dismembering/cutting people the fuck up with his trusty machete. As Jason is the strong silent type, he never was one for puns a la Freddy Krueger, but that doesn’t stop this film being pun-tastic. The punch lines are usually delivered by other characters, for example the exclamation “He’s screwed!” comes when one victim is found impaled and spinning on a giant screw, or Janessa (Melyssa Ade) screaming “This sucks on so many levels!” as she is, well, sucked out of a hole in the hull. Indeed, deliciously cheesy one-liners positively pepper the film, perfectly exemplified when Kay-Em 14 (Lisa Ryder) declares to Jason, while tottin’ a pair of big guns “I’m gonna have to hurt ya now!”
The film is made up of strong characters a far cry from their often airheaded Eighties counterparts – though they are still various recognisable types and many still end up making the same fatal errors of judgement – and Jason of course still pops up behind them to stab them with big pointy things. At times it resembles a lower budget Aliens, with a team of military types also out to snare Jason onboard the spaceship. And being made in the oh-so-ironic early 2000s – hot on the heels of Scream and that slasher revival – it featured the usual plethora of sassy characters and camp sensibility. Few of the cast play it straight – with the exception of Lexa Doig (Rowan) and Peter Mensah (Brodski), most go for the knowing laughs - but it still works. A brilliant cameo by David Cronenberg (director Jim Isaac had worked with him on a number of his films as an assistant director and special effects creator) as the eviiiiiil Dr Wimmer – “I don’t want him frozen, Rowan; I want him soft” – helps set the knowing tone. The cast know as much as we do that the reason why these films are so popular is because people watch them for one thing – to see characters get killed off in gruesome ways.
Even though they’ve stuck Jason in space and given his movie a sense of humour – most of this film still plays out like a straight slasher flick, with characters stalked and slain one by one. When Kay-Em 14 manages to mess Jason up good and proper and it looks like he’s had his chips; his remains are resurrected by futuristic Nano-technologies, creating the film’s biggest coup – Uber-Jason. Decked out in futuristic armour and boasting an all new mask, he comes back bigger and stronger than ever.
Visually speaking the film looks quite interesting and manages to look way more expensive than it actually was. While the special effects pale in comparison to most of the time, they were still effectively enough realised for their budget. The virtual reality sequence towards the end, when the survivors create a holographic version of Camp Crystal Lake circa 1980, complete with pot tokin’, beer swillin’, premarital sex lovin’ camp counsellors who take their tops off – provides a wry commentary on the conventions of the series, revealing its status as an ironic pastiche more than a dated anachronism.
Jason X has amassed a cult following and a slew of comic book spin-offs followed, exploring the titular character’s exploits in space and on other worlds. While certainly not the strongest entry in the series, Jason X is far from the weakest; it’s winning sense of humour and genuine adoration of Jason (and his fans) give it a much needed jolt of originality and devilish playfulness.