Director: Adam Marcus
Cast: John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Erin Gray, Allison Smith, Steven Culp, Steven Williams, Kane Hodder, Billy Green Bush
Screenplay: Jay Huguely, Dean Lorey
87 mins. Rated R for strong violence and gore, and for sexuality and language.
It’s October once again, so let’s dip back into the world of Jason Voorhees and discuss the most mind-boggling installment of the entire franchise (and no, we aren’t even talking about the space one). Imagine, for a moment, you are an executive at New Line Cinema in the early 1990s. Your studio has just acquired Jason Voorhees as an Intellectual Property, and you have to find the right franchise move to make to get maximum results from a box office and fan perspective. Why is it that the first movie that New Line puts out literally has “The Final Friday” in the title? We all know, of course, that the “Final” installment is rarely the actual finale to a series, especially in horror. In fact, Jason already had a “Final” installment in Part 4, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. He’s not the only one to have gone past the finale. Other franchises that have done this include:
- Saw: The Final Chapter (un-finaled by Jigsaw)
- Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (un-finaled by both New Nightmare and Freddy vs. Jason)
- Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (un-finaled by both Lake Placid vs. Anaconda and Lake Placid: Legacy)
- Omen III: The Final Conflict (un-finaled by Omen IV: The Awakening)
- Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (un-finaled by Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest)
- The Final Destination (un-finaled by Final Destination 5)
- Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter (un-finaled by Curse of the Puppet Master)
All of this is a point to say that we, as horror fans, do not expect a final chapter to be a final chapter, but why would you aim for that with your first installment as a new owner of the property? Oh, we haven’t even started this review yet…
Some time after the events of Jason Takes Manhattan, the notorious Crystal Lake killer has returned home. There, he is beset upon by a trained government tactical team who kill him once and for all, or have they? Little do they know, Jason’s body is just a vessel, and his soul can transfer from person to person. Now, Jason (Kane Hodder, Daredevil, Room 9) could be anywhere as he searches for a way to return to his original form and continue his reign of terror once again.
There were a lot of ways you could continue the Friday the 13th franchise, and were I to guess the eventual direction, I would’ve guessed wrong. I don’t quite get how this idea got past the approval stage, but here we are, and hindsight is 20/20, so we can only really discuss the finished product, and I’m confused as to why this movie exists. From a story perspective, I don’t quite understand the need to add such an extravagant amount of mythology and exposition to the ninth installment of a franchise. Did we need an explanation for Jason’s survival from drowning or how he went from the boy who pulled Alice into the lake in Part I and grew to be gigantic by Part II? There’s a simpler way to deal with the plot holes of this franchise than devoting an entire movie to this ludicrous (even by this franchise’s standards) plot device of having Jason jumping from body to body.
How did Jason return after drowning? Any number of simple reasons ranging from washing ashore and living in the forest all these years to being brought back to life by his mother’s love. All of these reasons vary from okay to stupid, but we as fans have accepted that we don’t have that answer at this point and trying to shoehorn in mythology at this point to fix the error is unneeded. In fact, Freddy vs. Jason later explained Jason’s powers in a single line that fill in practically every one of the killer’s plot hole issues: he regenerates. Okay, good, moving on, right? It’s also interesting that this installment is working so hard to make sense of Jason throughout the entire franchise, and yet, there’s no explanation for how he’s back in Crystal Lake after the boat trip to Manhattan, and we don’t really need an explanation, and we, as fans, move on, so why can’t the team behind this movie?
What’s more frustrating is that this Jason, played by Kane Hodder in his third outing, is maybe my favorite Jason. I love the way Hodder plays Jason with this Jaws shark attitude of hunting his prey. It certainly would’ve matched Creighton Duke (Steven Williams, The Blues Brothers, Birds of Prey) and his very obvious Quint homage. Not only that, but this look of Jason is so disturbing to me that I wish we could’ve gotten him more in this movie. The idea that the mask has been on him for so long that it’s melded into his head, with Jason’s regenerative skin growing back around it, is sickening and grotesque, and I love it. I just wish he were in this movie more. Jason is Jason, and the body hopping just didn’t work because none of those actors felt like Jason.
Okay, so let’s actually talk about the movie, because I feel like I’ve been bashing the hell out of this thing, and it isn’t all terrible, so I would hate to spend all my time just beating a dead horse on the many problems of the movie because, if you’re reading this, you’re probably well aware at this point. Truth be told, though this is easily the worst Friday the 13th movie, I would still rather watch this one over Freddy’s Dead, Halloween: Resurrection, or Seed of Chucky. It’s bad, but like all car crashes, you can’t look away.
As a lead, John D. LeMay (Totally Blonde, Without a Map) is not bad as Steven Freeman, if you don’t include the really odd martial arts jump he performs about midway through the movie. A flawed protagonist with a bit of an edge, Steven is likable enough to lead and interesting enough for me to follow. I would have liked to see more of the dynamic between him and Jessica (Kari Keegan, Mind Games, The Prince of Pennsylvania). I like his dedication to making things right and course-correcting his fractured path in life. I like that he’s presented with an option to be a douchebag and chase some younger tail instead of making good on his promises, and he is rewarded for that (he isn’t horribly slaughtered like the random teens sneaking off to Camp Crystal Lake).
I also like the idea of Creighton Duke, especially with the charismatic and unusual performance from Steven Williams. I think Williams is doing the best he can, and again, I would have liked to see this character mean more in the finished narrative. In a lot of ways, the finished product of Creighton Duke bares little difference with Crazy Ralph. He warns of the death curse, brings the ambiance, and doesn’t stand of the way of Jason at all. Duke, like so much in this film, has the potential but not the deft hands behind the camera to put it all together. Duke’s inclusion is like the Necronomicon’s cameo in the film (can a book have a cameo, or is it a bookeo?). It’s a cool little wink that was apparently supposed to mean so much more, but it doesn’t really mean anything because there’s a disconnect between the creatives and the material, and a fundamental misunderstanding of mythology and story-building.
And that’s perhaps the ultimate sin of Jason Goes to Hell. I get the feeling, from the finished project, like Adam Marcus (Secret Santa, Conspiracy) just didn’t give a shit. Maybe he did, but looking at the movie and researching some of the more bonkers choices made gave me the sense that he wasn’t making a movie to satisfy an audience, and he didn’t understand his audience for this movie. There’s always an appreciation on my part for ambitious ideas in your storytelling, even if they don’t always work, but so much of the “ambitious” ideas in Jason Goes to Hell came about as throwaways. I’ll give another example. The ending stinger [SPOILER ALERT] that this film was most well-known for in the late 90s is that moment when all is good, Jason has gone to Hell, our heroes are walking off into the sunset, and we zoom in that Jason’s mask resting peacefully on the sand, and a very well known knife hand of Freddy Krueger comes flying out of the ground, grabs the Jason mask, and pulls it into the ground, telling us as viewers that Jason may return again (it’s also worth noting that Kane Hodder plays the Freddy hand in that scene, making him the only actor to play Freddy and Jason in the history of horror). That ending stinger seems to be setting up Freddy vs. Jason, an idea New Line had been playing with after finally getting their hands on the Jason character after years of stalled negotiations with Paramount for a crossover to please the audience hunger for it, but here’s the thing: there are multiple interviews where productions members have said that it was more of a fun little joke than anything being set up. Inside jokes like that work in films like Predator 2 (with the Alien Xenomorph skull on the ship), and in that case it actually led to a cinematic crossover, but having that be your ending stinger just because it’s neat is really poor execution as a storyteller.
Sure, part of that falls on the precarious situation that New Line was in with this movie. They couldn’t use the title Friday the 13th, so they had to come up with something catchy. They also couldn’t use Tommy Jarvis, the original lead of the film, because that character was still owned by Paramount Pictures. They had an ambitious 130-minute cut of the film that they felt needed to be trimmed into a more swiftly-moving narrative (an idea that, had Jason Goes to Hell been made today, would not have been as necessary). They also had a cut that was high on gore and needed to skirt the MPAA’s cutting hands. That’s why the Unrated cut of this movie is still the preferred cut here, if only slightly.
There’s a lot of stuff in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday that, ultimately, could have worked, but the finished product is an absolute mess of a film that feels sloggish even in its leaner run time. It’s a movie that mishandles Jason in an effort to give a much-unneeded booster shot to his mythology and narrative, and it fails to do so. There’s a way to examine and challenge established mythology in this franchise (show me Elias Voorhees!), but this isn’t how you do it. The movie’s got a worthy approach to its gore and mayhem, and I respect the more fair display of nudity and focus on returning to morals in slasher films in an updated way for the 90s (they got killed because they didn’t use a condom, get it?) but overall this is the toughest watch of the Friday the 13th series, which makes it all the more disappointing when you see the potential of these ideas had they been more polished.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.
For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.
For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.
For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.
For my review of Joseph Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, click here.
For my review of Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, click here.
For my review of Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, click here.
For my review of Chuck Russell’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, click here.
For my review of Tom McLoughlin’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, click here.
For my review of Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, click here.
For my review of John Carl Buechler’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, click here.
For my review of Stephen Hopkins’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, click here.
For my review of Rob Hedden’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, click here.
For my review of Rachel Talalay’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, click here.