by Paul Deeter
There's nothing tougher than resuscitating a film franchise on life support, especially one as decade spanning as the Friday the 13th franchise. With the multiple successes that would continue not just for Jason, but for Freddy and Michael (of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween movies respectively), the 80s were rife with R-Rated slasher flicks. However the 90s would see a bit of a slow down for Halloween, with the release of 1995's Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers which was poorly received. That being said, 1998 turned it around with Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, which is way better than the title implies, and was one of the series most successful and critically received sequels. Meanwhile, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare would take the Nightmare series to new lows in 1991, until 1994's Wes Craven's New Nightmare would completely reinvent the franchise. During the 80s there were far more sequels out for both franchises, but no killer ruled the 80s quite like Jason, (or first Jason's mother) when Friday the 13th took over in 1980. So what happened in 1993?
In 1993, with Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Jason suffered for multiple reasons, " panned by critics and fans alike, criticizing its supernatural elements and elimination of Jason Voorhees as a physical character.." The film took a complete 180 from the previous Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, which was also corny but at least more respectful of keeping the series limited to the inhuman but down-to-Earth presence of the killer, Jason Voorhees. So the 9th film went so out of its way to try to step into a new direction, it added strange supernatural elements that simply did not work. There's a reason Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge feels so off from the rest of the franchise, and its not just for the film's notorious "gay panic" (look it up). The film chose to make Freddy a tangible fighter, jumping out of a pool in the second act and chasing teenagers like a weird old man. He simply doesn't work outside of the dream state, and even some of the minds behind the scenes felt so in retrospect. So Jason in a spiritual entity is such a strange choice that a lot of people came to the conclusion that the series wasn't just running out of steam, it was out of ideas altogether. Tim Brayton sums it up if a bit harshly by saying:
It is only the raw whoredom of the series - the urge to keep making more and more stories about Jason and his increasingly absurd resistance to death and destruction - that made the films infamous. As a poster boy for the desperate and lame extremes that Hollywood producers will reach in the hopes of finding the perpetual money machine it had to be put out of its misery, and in 1993 the slasher film was dead beyond death. Tim Brayton
Now I don't necessarily agree with the idea that Jason's misadventures are all in pursuit of the financial gain, the series has quite a fandom to this day, far beyond the last entry into the series. With merchandise, comic books and videogame spin-offs, fans couldn't get enough of Jason, even when critics got tired out. Now I'd consider myself a Friday the 13th fan with a slight favoritism to Freddy's franchise. Needless to say, I've covered and own more than one copy of each of Jason's films, some socks and NECA figurines and such. I even proudly have a Camp Crystal Lake flag above my bed. I'm all 'bout the guy. That being said, my return to the series hasn't all been smooth sailing, and while I discovered the deeply underrated Jason Lives just last year, I literally watched Part VII twice in two different sittings not realizing I had already watched it. It's bad. But worse than bad, it's "same-y", with the creative steps of 3D and the notable performances of the campers differentiating the previous titles. So the franchise was running on empty by 1988, before two more sequels led up to the big 90s gap of films. And was anyone holding their breath after 1993 for Jason?
Well with 9 quiet years passing and no new films in the franchise, the powers to be were quietly stewing on the production of the ultimate crossover film, Freddy vs. Jason which would promise to tie the two fanbases together. The film suffered in development hell even while the 9th entry was released, with the concept existing in theory as early as 1987. And after multiple delays, the OG director Sean S. Cunningham urged forward Jason's strangest departure yet, Jason X. And as if the metaphor of being on life support wasn't subtle enough, this film brings Jason back into playing field by resurrecting him from cryo-sleep. The concept is that in the year 2008, after years of the hunter Jason on the prowl to be killed and brought back again, he's finally captured by the government as a science subject. (Perhaps an experiment researching how many lightning strikes it takes to finally keep this bastard down?) In an attempt to flee from his inevitable fight back, the smartest character in the whole goddamn movie suggests freezing Jason, and she ends up stuck in cryogenic sleep too. This scientist, Rowan Fontaine, is woken up at the same time as Jason is, but over 400 years in the future when a group of research scientists and students find their sleeping bodies on what's left of Earth. They live on the ship called Grendel, and when they depart for their homes on the cleverly named Earth Two, the frozen body of Jason is thawed. With Rowan groggily coming to, she hears all too late that they're reviving Jason's corpse, and well, here he goes killing again. Now imagine the film Alien, with a cast of horny teenagers in space instead of intelligent scientists and A.I.s. The concept is silly, but it's also kinda great. This Friday the 13th flick, which knocked away the subtitle in favor of the Roman character X after our villain's name, is a departure in multiple ways including Earth. The 8th film gained its cult classic for taking Jason out of the woods (finally) and despite spending most the film on a cruise en route to Manhattan, there's a lot of fun to be had in both locations. So in entry X, we leave the realm of horror behind for a sci-fi approach, or at least a love-letter to horror sci-fi as a genre.
The space setting adds a level of claustrophobia to the film, much like Alien did in 1979. The Grendel is a large ship, but elements of it being blocked off by space, the elements of zero gravity and its narrow hallways allow for some fun to be had in the victims' peril. On top of that, following a self-serious 9th entry makes Jason X a breath of relief in the fact that it has fun with itself. The dialogue includes an assortment of dumb puns and final words from characters before they die. A character Janessa goes out before saying "this sucks on so many levels!" Ah what a quote. Or a character who loses his arm saying "Hi, hand" to his dismembered limb after picking it up. Or my favorite, after a character dies on a reverse corkscrew mechanism: simply "he's screwed." Holy, Shumacher.
The film's concept is fairly matched with some solid spaceship settings, and more special effects than the series had ever seen before. This is actually the biggest budget Jason has ever had in any of his films, which is unfortunate because it was also the biggest box-office bomb of the series. We're talking 9 years after the flop Jason Goes to Hell, to be fair, so it's an odd time for a resurgence of a series to go to space. (Although, I'm pretty sure Leprechaun went to space at some point, maybe going after he went 2 Da Hood but I literally couldn't care enough to look it up). But this film did have the respect to keep Kane Hodder behind the hockey mask that you got to give it some respect, from a fan or critical standpoint. The film was critically and successfully a disaster, but did it deserve the hate, now twenty years after its release?
Let's talk about what works, which isn't the writing, or the special effects which never age well. The cast of characters is mostly forgettable, despite the fun one-liners you have a bevy of horny teenagers like any other film. And unlike prior entries, you don't get a stand-out camper performance like Kevin Bacon in the first film, or young Corey Feldman's wild role in my favorite entry Part IV: The Final Chapter. Instead you get some solid supporting roles, most notably Peter Mensah, who has some of the best lines in the film. You also get some killer cameos (David Cronenberg! Todd Farmer!) that make up for the no-face teens. But if you did come for the S&M of the series, I regret to tell you, there's barely any sex or nudity in the film, and nay a lake to skinny dip in. Instead we get lots of blood and gore, and not all of it very fun. The best kills rely on environmental weapons, Jason does not have the tools lying around to get crafty with the kills unfortunately. The most inventive moment of the film puts him in a simulation. This scene is a solid 10/10 for the series, with the crew of the ship distracting him with two virtual naked female campers trying to convince him to join in on "premarital sex" in their sleeping bags, until he picks both them up and swings them around like a dog with two chew-toys.
I think this is a good example of the movie having fun, and while it's not entirely drab, the rest of the movie only sort of delivers on its concept. I believe Jason X was an unsuccessful experiment in bringing in old and new audience members into the theater post the start of the new millennium. The film exists now as a precursor to the considered superior Freddy vs. Jason, which ups the ante in scares and thrills. This film would finally be released in 2003, just a year after X. My revisit to Jason X came after initially watching it in my mom's basement on VHS. I remember weirdly enjoying it then, and even now, I had fun with my experience. It exists as an entry to completionists, included in all the Blu-ray sets of the series, but won't be talked about nearly as much as the rest of the series. I'd argue there's fun to be had in this out-of-the-world entry, at least worth another look. Cult status may lie ahead of this film yet, only 445 years will tell.