Sunday, February 15, 2015

This Franchise Has Gone Straight To Hell

WARNING: This film is batsh*t insane and this review contains spoilers for many key WTF moments. If you are the one person in the world who has genuine interest in watching the ninth Friday the 13th film sight unseen, leave now or forever hold your peace.

Year: 1993
Director: Adam Marcus
Cast: John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Kane Hodder
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

It's the early 90's. You are a New Line Entertainment executive. After Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan flopped miserably in 1989, Paramount decided to up sticks and sell you the rights to the franchise. The Friday the 13th title has been sucked dry by one too many trips to the well, but you think you can squeeze one last droplet of box office gold out of the Voorhees name. What do you do?

Was your answer "stick a stake in the franchise by turning Jason into a Lovecraftian hell demon, keeping Kane Hodder offscreen for as long as possible, claiming it's the final film, then sending Jason to space a decade later"? If not, congratulations. You are not a New Line Entertainment executive in the early 90's. Though maybe you should have been.

In this scenario, Jason represents the F13 series and the other guy represents what New Line did to it.

Wanting to bring a little bit of that New Line charm by injecting some Nightmare into a cut-and-dry franchise, they completely lost sight of why anybody wanted to watch the damn things in the first place. Jason Goes to Hell is insane enough to be worth spending some time with, but it's about as far away from a Friday the 13th film that a flick with a double digit body count can be.

The film opens reasonably enough. A young woman drives up to a cabin on the edge of Crystal Lake, fixes a broken light bulb, then steps into the shower. Considering when last we left our dear Jason (Kane Hodder), he was a nuclear waste-infected dead child in the Manhattan sewer system, one might reasonably expect some incredibly bizarre Rube Goldbergian chain of events to bring him back to life. One is about to experience the first of many disappointments as Jason shows up alive and well for no apparent reason, other than the fact that he really really hates it when a woman commits the cardinal sin of owning breasts.

He chases her through a laundry list of slasher clichés, teleports in front of her in the woods, and... she dives into the bushes, whereupon the hockey-masked behemoth is promptly blown up by the FBI.

This is but a taste test of the weirdness yet to come.

I think it's interesting that the FBI realizes the only way to lure Jason is to send a lithe female agent to a cabin to open and close a medicine cabinet a couple times, but the rest of the film ignores this kind of genre-savvy quality. Anyway, during Jason's autopsy his heart begins beating again, possibly because he finally learned the true meaning of Christmas. Falling into an age-old slasher trope, the coroner picks up the heart and takes a huge bite out of it - wait what? I think that violates the Hippocratic oath.

What all this boils down to is that Jason is a body-hopping demon worm who needs to find a member of the Voorhees bloodline to be reborn, temporarily occupying other bodies on his quest for resurrection. If he gets to slice up some horny campers along the way, all the better. Life is about little detours. 

All of this insane exposition is handily explained to us by Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), a bounty hunter with an open mind who has been following Jason for years. A sleazy TV shock jock named Robert Campbell (Steven Culp) offers Duke a hefty sum to bring down Voorhees once and for all. Or at least until the sequel gets greenlit.

Action converges onto the town of Crystal Lake, where "Jason Is Dead" celebrations are ramping up at the local diner, courtesy of local business owner Joey (Rusty Schwimmer) and her totally straight husband Shelby (Leslie Jordan, who is basically the gay equivalent of Danny DeVito). When Jason (in the body of the sheriff, his hockey-masked self only revealed in reflections) murders a waitress named Diana (Erin Gray), her daughter Jessica (Kari Keegan) rushes to town, bringing her boyfriend Robert and new baby in tow. 

When will my reflection show who I am inside?

Jessica's baby daddy Steven (John D. LeMay, the only person to appear in the Friday the 13th TV show and one of the films, ring a ding ding) is accused of Diana's murder, but I'm more concerned with his sense of style. His glasses, voice, chin, and hair paint him as a stereotypical high school nerd, but he seems to be about 30 and wears a letterman jacket so I honestly have no clue what's going on with him. I know I shouldn't be concerned with Steven's hypothetical archetype when the townspeople are being murdered by a Lovecraftian worm demon, but just look at this.

Nerd.

Jock.

Nerd.

Jock.

Muppet Baby Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It's like all the male characters of The Breakfast Club were in a horrific automobile accident and the doctors combined all the surviving parts into one dead-eyed monstrosity.

Regardless of Steven's classification, the film lumbers along its loopy way, weaving through three entirely separate genres: along with the Clive Barker-esque supernatural shenanigans, the writers also see fit to toss in a traditional Friday the 13th replete with naked campers (and ample male ass - progressive!), as well as a small town family soap drama. This is not a storytelling format the ceaselessly formulaic franchise is equipped to handle. Jason Goes to Hell is hardly good enough to tackle one of these genres with full steam, but with so many disparate threads to keep track of, it lolls drunkenly back and forth with a plodding monotony.

There is a large cast to provide a suitable body count, but most of the deaths are cheap and general (if I see one more body smeared with blood but lacking a discernible slash wound, I might just grab a machete myself), and the film can't even keep track of its protagonists, let alone the minor characters. The baby subplot is an enormous waste of time with no impact on the narrative in any way (in fact, the central couple walks away from the rubble after the climactic showdown, having apparently forgotten that there was a small human accompanying them before), and random characters fulfill requirements of the plot with absolutely no motivation or agency. This occurs most execrably in a scene where Joey's teen son provides Steven with a getaway car out of the blue, a moment so unfounded that it accidentally shoots the script off into the avant-garde. 

And I'm beyond questioning why Jason performs his killing on the people he does, but way too many victims are outside of his range of focus. It's just distracting.

There are only two genuinely good moments in the entire film. The first operates on a cinematic level, in which Jason is lit by a car's blinker lights. The second operates with humor, during an exchange between Steven and his cop friend on the side of the road. Other than that, Jason Goes to Hell is a downright mess at a fundamental level.

Did you think I'd let you escape without seeing the gross demon worm?

The film is only saved (and slightly, at that) by its pure commitment to the inexplicable. Some gore gags surrounding Jason's body-swapping are truly unbelievable moments that need to be seen to be believed. And every new plot point, homoerotic shaving scene, diner shootout, or musical kazoo sting slathered onto the complicated screenplay like too much barbecue sauce furthers the tremendous, indecent weirdness of the entire thing. It's not quite bizarre enough to reach a truly bad-good register, and it inexcusably wastes Kane Hodder, who is the best thing to ever happen to the godforsaken franchise. But it's at the very least watchable, and for a film this unequivocally broken, that's a very very good thing.

Killer: Jason Voorhees, the Body Hopping Demon Worm (Kane Hodder)
Final Girl: Jessica Kimble (Kari Keegan)
Best Kill: As Deborah has sex with her boyfriend, she is impaled with a spike and split in half. That's what you get for not using a condom.
Sign of the Times: The wordless, copyright-free "rock" music that Steven listens to in the car uses actual guitars.
Scariest Moment: After Jason abandons Josh's body, it disintegrates into a gooey puddle of nightmares.
Weirdest Moment: A police officer checks someone's wrist pulse and announces "He's breathing!"
Champion Dialogue: "That makes me think of a little girl in a pink dress sticking a hot dog through a donut."
Body Count: 23; not including five more Jason-style murders that were reported on American Case File.
  1. Coroner is possessed and disposed of.
  2. Coroner's Assistant is pushed into a metal grate and stabbed with a probe. 
  3. Security Guard is killed offscreen.
  4. Mullet Security Guard is killed offscreen.
  5. Alexis is slashed with a straight razor.
  6. Deborah is stabbed in the back with a barbed wire spike and ripped in half.
  7. Luke is killed offscreen.
  8. Edna gets her head slammed in a car door.
  9. Josh is possessed by Jason and messily disposed of.
  10. Diana has a knife thrown into her back.
  11. Robert is possessed and impaled on a barbecue skewer.
  12. Officer Ryan has her head bashed against a locker.
  13. Officer Mark and
  14. Officer Brian have their heads smashed together.
  15. Ward's arm is broken and he dies because he's a loser.
  16. Diner Patron #1 is crushed against the counter.
  17. Diner Patron #2 is shot with a shotgun.
  18.  Shelby has his face cooked in a deep fryer.
  19. Joey gets her face bashed in.
  20. Vicki is impaled on a barbecue skewer and has her head crushed.
  21. Randy is possessed, then gets his neck sliced with a machete.
  22. Creighton Duke is hugged to death.
  23. Jason Voorhees is stabbed with a ceremonial dagger and finally dragged to Hell. 
TL;DR: Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is tremendously weird, which is the irrevocably broken film's saving grace.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1719
Reviews In This Series
Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (Miner, 1981)
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Marcus, 1993)
Jason X (Isaac, 2001)
Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003)
Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009)

1 comment:

  1. What a crazy sequel/finale, what were they thinking? Also can't wait for your Jason X and Friday the 13th Remake reviews so that you can say you finally covered the entire franchise!

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