Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Houston, We Have A Sequel

Year: 2001
Director: James Isaac
Cast: Kane Hodder, Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

So here we are, the end of Jason Voorhees. No, not the last film in the franchise. That cash cow's udder might be drawing blood, but Hollywood will keep squeezing it until it snaps off. The tenth Friday the 13th sequel, Jason X, is the final film in the continuity of the original series. 

Granted, that's not saying much.

Consider this fun fact, which I read on a F13 trivia post last week: Jason has died in 6 Friday the 13th films. He has been resurrected in 3 of them. And that's all you need to know about the franchise. Narrative consistency is the redheaded stepchild of Crystal Lake. Nevertheless, Jason X is the tenth and final film of a series dimly recognizable as a whole. The 2003 followup Freddy vs. Jason was a crossover picking up loosely after part nine, and the 2009 remake scraps everything and fills in the cracks with pretty people.

They might as well have renamed Crystal Lake to "Michael Bay."

Now that we're revisiting the de facto swan song for Friday the 13th, let's take a moment to reflect on the franchise as a whole. After young zombie/ghost boy Jason was introduced in Sean S. Cunningham's indie fright flick Friday the 13th, he was taken on by Paramount, who gave him human form in Friday the 13th Part 2 and his iconic hockey mask in Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D. He was summarily offed in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, palely imitated in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, and desperately resurrected in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives at the behest of axe-sharpening fans.

In Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, Kane Hodder donned the hockey mask to battle a bargain basement Carrie, then took a cruise to Vancouver, briefly stopped over in Times Square, and was destroyed by toxic waste in the Day-Glo nightmare sewers of the Big Apple in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. For some inexplicable reason, audiences didn't respond well to that classic entry, so Paramount upped sticks and sold off their cash cow for some magic beans. 

New Line took on the burden, stripping the franchise of its name and putting the villain front and center, at least in the title. They then burned the whole affair at the stake in an attempt to Nightmare it up with the Lovecraftian body-hopping demon worm fiasco Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. When that film also inexplicably failed to resurrect a cult following, the franchise lay dormant in the New Line basement for over half a decade. While the planned Freddy vs. Jason crossover was being turned over hot coals in Production Hell, New Line decided to renew audience interest with a new installment to the long defunct Jason saga by sending him to space and tossing an acid-trippingly massive $14,000,000 budget at him.

Really, it's a miracle that Jason X even made it into theaters, let alone with that kind of money at its disposal. Naturally, the filmmakers, acknowledging the massive respect involved in being trusted with such a (relatively) gargantuan coffer, made the worst film in the franchise. Seriously, Jason X is the butts.

Not even the good kind.

Jason X begins by immediately retconning JGTH, which isn't the worst decision. It opens with Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder for the fourth and final time) totally alive and evidently fished out of Hell, restrained in the futuristically chrome Crystal Lake Research Facility, which is the worst decision. Sexy researcher Rowan (Lexa Doig of Andromeda) is the leader of a team that has tried executing the mass murderer via every method under the sun, including firing squad, which seems like more of a formality than anything. However, his psycho/zombie/plot device body keeps regenerating itself to full health like the world's least adorable Pokémon.

Her team wants to put Jason into cryogenic sleep until they can figure out what the hell to do with him, but some Evil Capitalists, led by David Cronenberg, want to exploit his regenerative abilities for monetary gain. When they enter Jason's holding cell, obviously their team is eviscerated within seconds, and Rowan uses herself as bait to lure Jason into the freezing chamber. After Jason punctures the chamber with the sturdiest machete in the known universe, they are both frozen until they are discovered by an exploratory team of students four and a half centuries later in the arbitrarily chosen year of 2455.

The crew brings the two bodies onto their spaceship, where they resurrect Rowan and leave Jason to thaw, believing him to be dead like so many Paramount executives back in the day. As the Space Teens scatter to get it on in their bunks, the filthy magic of premarital sex goes to work and Jason rises from his stasis, good as new. He grabs a standard-issue Space Machete off the doctor's table and goes to work.

This sounds like the setup to an awesomely cheesy "psycho killer in space" movie. Don't be fooled, my child. Once upon a time, putting Vanilla Ice in a movie sounded like a great idea too, and look where that got us.

Although I think we can agree that necking next to a serial killer's corpse is NEVER a good plan.

There's far too many useless characters floating around the movie to provide for its record-breaking body count, but let's Meet a selection of the Meat, shall we?

Joining us today is the crew of the good ship Grendel, including Azrael (Dov Tiefenbach), the annoying Space Stoner who proves that history is doomed to repeat itself; Janessa (Melyssa Ade), who is apparently a skilled recombinant DNA researcher, but is more important to the story as a Space Slut - the patriarchy will never die; Professor Lowe (Jonathan Potts), who will sacrifice any number of his young students for his own financial gain; Sgt. Brodski (Peter Mensah), who is the leader of the ship's security squadron and Jason's biggest opponent; Tsunaron (Chuck Campbell of Stargate: Atlantis), who is an expert robotics designer and whom I called "Matt" in my notes because not only are these future names confusing, they are also mumbled; and Kay-Em 14 (Lisa Ryder), Tsunaron's female android/love interest with a Corey Feldman haircut.

It's like Her, but with more gratuitous nudity.

There's about 8,000 more characters bouncing around the Grendel, but these are the only ones who make any sort of impression. The rest are mere fodder for the gore sequences, which are generally quick, fumbled, and in the dark, like all of James Franco's sexual encounters. The one thing I can say about Jason X is that, what with all the faces, places, and kills whirling past the screen, it's over before you know it. Its episodic scene structure pushes and shoves you through what would have otherwise been a supremely boring slasher flick.

There is no aspect of the film that isn't riddled with leaden incompetence. Sometimes a moment or a line of dialogue will shine through the gloom like a beam of sunlight in the eye of a storm, but then the maelstrom sweeps everything away again.

Perhaps the most waterlogged area of Jason X is its special effects. Although three of the kill sequences are instantly memorable classics, the rest are indistinct and brief, relying on state-of-the-art  early 2000's CGI technology that has aged about as well as The Baha Men. The computer imagery (and the astoundingly varied sets) sucked the budget dry, so the moments that are practical hit with all the force of a wet tissue. A spaceship crash looks more like the opening theme song to Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the bionically enhanced Über-Jason of the third act (which, yes, is a thing that exists) wouldn't look out of place in a Mattel catalogue.

Jason Voorhees, now with triple-action kung fu grip.

And before that atrocity is unveiled, Jason's costume is the laziest bit of design in a series for which the high-water mark is denim short-shorts. Honestly, it looks like they literally just jammed a hockey mask on Kane Hodder's face with no touch-up work at all, not even attempting to disguise his terrible late-90's mullet.

In those eyes, you can see the forlorn weariness of a man who has been on the set of Jason Goes to Hell and lived to tell the tale.

Typically Hodder is the best actor on any Friday the 13th set, but he is sleepwalking here, surrounded by the worst cast in a series made famous by poor acting. Perhaps it's the expectation created by the distinctly sci-fi setting that causes the performances to seem so hyperbolically shrill and unbalanced, but the Teen Meat has never been more aggravating. The fact that very few of them seem to die at all is even more frustrating.

Only Jonathan Potts' obsequious professor and Lisa Ryder's cheerfully badass android rise above the muck. And considering the fact that Ryder brings a human warmth and nuance to a role intended to be robotic, maybe it doesn't even count after all.

The Final Girl is vaguely badass but empty, the frequent attempts at comedy fall flat save for one scene set in a virtual reality Camp Crystal Lake, and the action sequences mostly comprise the floor shaking and knocking the cast down like bowling pins over and over and over. It'd be a great pinball game, but it doesn't make for a memorable film.

At least Harry Manfredini's music isn't too self-indulgently spacey. It's nowhere near the frenetic charm of his best franchise work and it scarcely includes the iconic CH-CH-CH motif, but it doesn't sound like Space Mountain, and I'm going to have to put that in the plus column.

At the end of the day, it's still Jason and he's still killing horny teens so it's not the worst horror flick ever invented, but sometimes that just isn't enough. Jason X is without a doubt the nadir of the franchise, and one I would only recommend to the most hardcore Jason fanatics. 

I've seen it three times.

Pray for me.

Killer: Jason Voorhees/Über-Jason (Kane Hodder)
Final Girl: Rowan (Lexa Doig)
Best Kill: Adrienne has her face frozen by liquid nitrogen and slammed on the counter. It shatters into a million bloody pieces and is the only truly memorable gore effect in the film. But it's still one of Jason's career best kills.


Sign of the Times: Apparently in the future, the hot new retro fashion is to dress like you're about to be kicked out of Lollapalooza.



Maybe I should start including fashion victims in the body count.

Scariest Moment: As the crew investigates a rattling door, Jason bursts through a glass window behind them.
Weirdest Moment: Janessa sleeps with Professor Lowe to improve her midterm grades. Future Sex apparently involves having your steel nipple rings twisted by a comically giant clamp. "You pass!"


Champion Dialogue: "I couldn't be with a girl whose balls are bigger than mine."
Body Count: 25; not including the entire population of the space station Solaris, three virtual reality aliens, or Über Jason, who, let's face it, is probably fine.
  1. Private Johnson is choked with a chain.
  2. Guard #1 is smashed in the head with a machine gun.
  3. Guard #2 choked and tossed into gunfire.
  4. Guard #3 has his face bashed in with a noose pole. 
  5. Guard #4 is choked with a chain.
  6. Dr. Wimmer is impaled by a noose pole.
  7. Sgt. Marcus is thrown through a steel door.
  8. Adrienne has her face frozen in liquid nitrogen and smashed on the counter.
  9. Stoney is stabbed in the gut.
  10. Azrael is snapped in half.
  11. Dallas has his head crushed against a wall.
  12. Sven has his neck broken.
  13. Condor is impaled on a mining drill.
  14. Geko has her throat slit.
  15. Briggs is impaled on a large hook.
  16. Kicker is sliced in half.
  17. Fat Lou is dismembered offscreen.
  18. Professor Lowe is decapitated offscreen.
  19. Kinsa dies in a shuttle explosion.
  20. Crutch is smashed into a control box and electrocuted.
  21. Waylander dies in an explosion.
  22. Janessa is sucked through a metal grate.
  23. Virtual Camper and
  24. Virtual Camper #2 are smashed together in their sleeping bags.
  25. Sgt. Brodski dies falling into Earth 2's atmosphere. 
TL;DR: Jason X is a tiring, shallow mess unworthy of the Friday the 13th name.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 2085
Reviews In This Series
Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (Miner, 1981)
Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D (Miner, 1982)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Zito, 1984)
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985)
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (McLouglin, 1986)
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (Buechler, 1988)
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Hedden, 1989)
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Marcus, 1993)
Jason X (Isaac, 2001)
Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003)
Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009)

2 comments:

  1. You finally did it! Every single entry in the franchise minus the remake. Congrats! Now I highly anticipate an eventual dive into the entire Halloween franchise! I'm a tad more familiar with that series than the Freddys or Jasons, as I have always loved Michael Myers. So I'm curious if your scores will line up with mine.

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    1. Yeah I'm interested in revisiting them too! I've only ever seen the entire franchise once, several years ago. Michael Myers never appealed to me at quite the same level as Freddy or Jason, so I don't have a super thorough memory of them and I'm ready to fix that. I'm thinking of marathoning them this October, like I did with Texas Chainsaw last year.

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