Sunday, May 22, 2016

Freddy vs Jason

It took them a decade, but they finally gave us Freddy vs Jason (2003) after teasing it at the end of Jason Goes to Hell. That was with both series having another entry each, Jason X and Wes Craven's New Nightmare. By now, slashers were old hat, only having a brief resurgence with Scream and other post-modern titles. Looking back, it's hard to gauge just how much hype there was for this.

I guess the real question now is: is it any good? Kind of. It ain't scary. It ain't funny. It's arrived at least 15 years too late, and thus, it feels like it's trying to merge the nostalgia of the old series with modern sensibilities. I can't say it's pulled off entirely successful, but after all these years, it is neat to finally see these two iconic boogeyman lock horns.

Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is angry. He's in Hell, and the adult authorities of Springwood have conspired to make people forget about him. If the children don't know about him, they can't be afraid of him, and if they aren't afraid of him, he can't invade their dreams. Fortunately for Freddy, there's another violent soul in Hell with him: Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger). Posing as Mrs. Voorhees, Freddy orders Jason to Elm Street to kill some teenagers, assured that will get people talking about Freddy again. This little business relationship goes awry when Jason keeps killing the children Freddy has laid claim to.

This setup is actually fairly clever and demonstrates the filmmakers have a firm grasp of who Jason and Freddy are. Jason is a physical force of nature, a blank, emotionless killing machine, devoted to his mother, who kills because he knows nothing else. His background is tragic, and one can't help but feel sorry for him.

Freddy is a remorseless monster, a killer who enjoys instilling fear in his targets and causing pain. Jason goes after promiscuous teens who should know better while Freddy, even before his transformation into the dream demon, terrorizes and murders young children. We can understand to a degree why Jason does what he does, but Freddy is simply a sick, evil man.

The two compliment each other well. Jason is big, brawny, the strong, silent type. He lives in the middle of the woods, away from civilization. Freddy is verbal and talkative, always cracking one-liners; his haunting grounds are in the heart of suburbia. Jason hides his disfigurement behind a mask; Freddy shows off his burn wounds. They have two fights: one in the dream world and one at Camp Crystal Lake. They're wild and over the top, knocking each other all over the places, cutting each other up, and just beating the crap out of each other. It's practically a gorified action movie.

Freddy and Jason both look great. The makeup is top notch, but we see so much of them, they aren't scary anymore. Freddy's not cracking as many jokes, which is admirable, but he doesn't get as much to do, only killing one person, and his dream world effects are computer generated and not as memorable or surreal as in earlier Nightmare entries. When Jason attacks people, he throws them around like rag dolls, and the effect is kind of cartoony.

Freddy vs Jason unfortunately spends too much time away from Freddy and Jason. The human characters are boring, and they spend way too much time explaining everything we in the audience already know. That's what happens when you open your movie by having Freddy explain what he's all about.

Still, this is Englund's swan song as Freddy, and he's as good as ever. It had been a long time since any of us had seen these reliable old slashers slicing up the screen when this came out. It was nice to see them one last time before the inevitable wave of reboots, remakes, and re-imaginings all but diluted the characters of everything we loved about them. The movie is a fun, little reminder of a bygone era of horror cinema, the last hurrah of the slasher genre.

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