Freddy vs. Jason
It’s pretty clear who wins this slug fest, if you compare it to even the least inspired previous entries in the Elm Street series. On screen, at least, the franchise makers are compelled to call a draw, so as to avoid the dissatisfaction of either arch villain’s advocates, but who are they trying to kid? Jason brings Freddy down to his thoroughly pedestrian slasher level, in a grudge match that carries a dire lack of imagination. Director Ronny Yu does his best to paper over the cracks by making Freddy vs. Jason look very generically polished, but that only serves to emphasise how out of luck anyone seeking a glimmer of personality or inventiveness in the whole affair will be.
On which score, its effect was much the same as the following year’s team-up cash-in Alien vs. Predator. Tellingly, they were released in the same August weekend slot and made about the same amount of money in the US (AVP did better worldwide). If you want to split hairs, AVP is probably more serviceable, as anonymous as it is under Paul WS Anderson’s strictly competent eye. Freddy vs. Jason contrastingly succeeds at being actively annoying. It’s quite possible it satisfied Jason fans – although possibly not, since man-behind-the-mask Kane Hodder wasn’t involved – used to slim pickings in terms of creative fruit and really only in it for the next gory impalation. But for the Freddy crowd, desirous to smell the glove and expectant of something a little more “refined”, having their hero-villain reduced to a glorified exposition machine for much of the proceedings was surely faintly embarrassing.
Maybe – although, highly unlikely – I’m doing Friday fans a disservice. I can only recall seeing one of the series for certain, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, which had the atypical merit of a sense of humour. Albeit, I always thought Jason Takes Manhattan was a great title, regardless of the movie’s actual quality. I hadn’t realised this vs. had been percolating, or trapped in development hell, since 1987. As is often the case, there was the will (to make bank) but not the idea to make it worthwhile.
Actually, that isn’t entirely true. As a motive force, Freddy utilising Jason’s corporeal status as a means to make his mark on Springwood once again isn’t terrible. And the idea – rather than anything they do with it – of fear as an easily transmittable plague (essentially the plandemic, but with a red and green sweater), by which “They treated him like he was a fucking disease. And they locked up all the kids who made contact with him so he wouldn’t infect the others” is cogently expressed. As such, the authorities are actively giving the kids Hypnocil rather than preventing them from taking it (per Dream Warriors). The contrast being that the town wishes to eliminate fear, while Freddy wants to foster it (I found the timeline of those Freddy-affected in the ward confusing, but I guess he’s supposed to have impacted them at the time of Freddy’s Dead, which is/was set in 1999/2001).
There’s also the occasionally inventive beat. Possessing Freeburg (Kyle Labine doing his best John Lithgow in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension impression) in order to tranquilise Jason (and dispose of the Hypnocil) is a nice touch. It also notably refers back to the unloved Freddy’s Revenge in terms of special Freddy powers. And Gibb (Kathrine Isabelle) being killed by Jason before Freddy can get to her, so enraging him, is a decent moment. Jason cutting a swathe through obnoxious ravers raises a (brief) smile. Less amusing is Yu’s predilection for choppy slow-motion during action scenes.
These brief examples aside, nearly every plot or character beat is hackneyed and uninspired. None of the dream sequences dazzle as they should. About the best idea is Freddy haunting Jason as Jason’s mum (Paula Shaw), with accompanying school-bullying flashbacks (we also see Englund sans makeup in the opening, clunkily bringing us up to date). There’s Will (Jason Ritter, unlike dad, bereft of personality) tries to convince Lori (Monica Keena) he saw her dad kill her mum; that might have been an interesting subplot, except that it turns out to have been Freddy. Of course, it does.
Perhaps surprisingly, we’re also informed “His name is Freddy Krueger, and he loves children. Especially little girls”. Interesting that Freddy vs. Jason should play up the very element of the originals that was soft pedalled; Hitherto, Freddy’s only ever been referred to as a child murderer.
Mostly, Englund is down by the material here, stuck looking not a little silly when striking a battle pose against the lumbering tank that is Jason or muttering “Not strong enough yet…” to telegraph to the audience why it is that he’s failing to reap victims like he usually does. The main “teens” are unmemorable, with Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) given a no-favours part and Chris Marquette (Linderman) rather short changed as the nerd.
The movie opens with nudity, so we know this is going to be preferentially staking out Friday territory (Yu apparently incurred lasting disfavour from Keena and Isabelle through pressuring them to disrobe), and even Jason’s killer moves (slapstick death by folding bed), as basic as they are, are more notable than anything Freddy does (often CGI assisted).
Yu was dabbling in US fare at this point, following the well-received Bride of Chucky (as these things go) and preceding the terribly received The 51st State (as these things don’t). As is often the case with international directors, Hollywood manages to sand down all the edges. Obviously, Freddy vs. Jason was a big hit (the series’ biggest, unadjusted for inflation). For a while, it seemed a Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash was on the cards, but as Bruce Campbell explained, it didn’t happen for the reasons this movie is so dissatisfying (“… we couldn’t control any other character, only control Ash – what these guys said, or what they did and you can’t kill either one. So right from the start, it’s creatively bankrupt. Economically, now you’re splitting the pot with two other partners – nah. We’re good”). That’s Freddy vs. Jason: creatively bankrupt.
First published by Now in Full Color on 10/02/22.