The Horror and the Humor
Whether you're an art-house junkie or a blockbuster fanatic, you can't deny how much Friday the 13th and its many sequels have influenced American movies and popular culture. Jason Voorhees, that hockey-masked knife-wielding maniac, has become a horror icon. And slasher flicks about Jason have helped develop what are now multiple horror movie cliches: the gruesome murders, the teenage victims, the unstoppable stalker, and the endless sequels, each one less inventive than the one before.
The Friday the 13th series bloomed and decayed in the span of one decade -- the '80s – which saw the release of eight of these movies. In the ‘90s, film characters like Jason and Freddy from Nightmare on Elm Street were scarce. However, thanks to movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer in the late '90s, slasher flicks became popular again. In particular, Scream made genre-referencing hipness a successful element in the new breed of scarefests. Even old-schoolers like Michael Myers of Halloween also wanted to take new shots.
Jason X is Jason's new shot, but here’s the dilemma. Everyone knows "Friday the 13th" is the most overdone, over-sequelized horror series of them all, so the idea of a new sequel (especially after the last one called itself The Final Friday) seemed like a joke. But what if it was a joke everyone was in on? That seemed to be the strategy producers of the movie decided to go with, and I thought it was a good idea at first. After all, Jason is too familiar to be frightening anymore, so an attempt at pure horror would have been ineffective. At the same time, turning the entire movie into a joke could have upset some dedicated fans.
Thus, Jason X ends up being half-funny and half-serious. On the humorous side, it has many pluses. For starters, the movie begins at "Crystal Lake Research Facilities," a long way from its inauspicious beginnings at that famous campground. Next thing you know, Jason (Kane Hodder, who out-acts the rest of the cast with just one eye) and the heroine (Lexa Doig) are frozen for 400 years when a space crew of teenagers, dressed in clothes that are either too tight or ready to fall off, brings them aboard their spaceship. After Jason thaws out, he starts amassing a body count -- and nothing can stop him. Goofy lines, a silly fight sequence, and one hilarious gag involving an environment simulation keep up the movie’s light-hearted end of the bargain.
Unfortunately, the film’s serious side suffers from gross unoriginality. It uses the same plot as Alien: Resurrection -- an invincible killing force chases an armed crew led by a woman who knows too well the pursuer’s dangerous nature. Trapped on a ship, the hapless characters try to find a way to escape. One by one, several members of the group are killed. Ho hum. The prey/hunter formula, executed in such a routine fashion, failed to hold my interest. After watching long sequences filled with this type of action, I longed to see more of the flick’s humorous elements.
Although trying to balance self-referential humor and a normal ol' slasher plot seemed like a decent endeavor, the result here doesn’t fully satisfy either the die-hard Jason fans or those who can take a good joke. That combination worked in Scream, but Scream's in-jokes were subtle, keeping the horror as the primary element. Jason X's jokes are too obvious, so the movie suffers conspicuously from a split personality. I now believe if filmmakers had committed to one approach or the other, Jason X would have been a better movie. In fact, I’m convinced this film displayed enough nonsensical spirit to show it had the potential for a successful full-time spoof. After surviving over 20 years, nine sequels, and lifelong status as a cultural icon, Jason deserves a hearty laugh at his own expense.
(Released by New Line Cinema and rated "R" for horror violence, language and some sexuality.)