Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Franchises: Friday the 13th. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

After Paramount gave up the Friday the 13th franchise following the dismal box-office performance of Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, for a while it seemed like that would be the last outing for Jason Voorhees. Then, New Line Cinema scooped up the rights and the hope was now that the often talked about Freddy vs. Jason would finally come about since both characters were now owned by the same studio. But, as that film languished in production hell, Sean Cunningham, who had returned as producer after not being associated with the series since he directed the original film, decided that another movie needed to be made to keep the series in the public eye. And that film was this... thing: Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. (Remember my rule about movies that say they're the last in a franchise?), which is by far one of the most bizarre franchise entries since Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Right off the bat, I must say that if you've never seen this, you'd best have the same mindset that you should when going into that film: do NOT expect to get another typical sequel because this is definitely not it.

The film starts out like a typical Friday the 13th: a sexy woman drives up to Crystal Lake and prepares to spend the night when she's attacked by Jason Voorhees. He chases her out to a large field and just as he's about to do her in, he's ambushed by a large squad of FBI officers. As it turns out, the woman was an undercover agent and the whole thing was an elaborate trap. After being shot hundreds of times, they launch an explosive from the air that literally blows Jason to pieces and his remains are then taken to a nearby morgue. However, Jason's evil spirit takes control of the coroner and makes him eat his heart, allowing him to possess the man's body. Now back on his feet, Jason journeys back to Crystal Lake, jumping from one person to another along the way, in order to find his last living blood relatives so he can be reborn again.

Where do I even start with this? I guess I should start with the thinking behind it: director Adam Marcus said that he and his writing partner Dean Lorey didn't want to do another movie that was just about Jason killing people and, for better or for worse, they definitely succeeded on that score. Now, let me make this clear: I don't mind directors and writers doing something different. As I said, the reason I like Jason Takes Manhattan is because I thought it was a nice change of pace for the series. However, just because something is different and fresh doesn't mean it's automatically good, and that certainly applies to this movie. They're right when they say that this doesn't feel like Friday the 13th : as others have noted, it feels more like a rip-off of The Hidden, which alien creatures constantly possesses different people's bodies, much like the spirit of Jason does here. I'm not saying that Marcus and Lorey intentionally copied that movie but the point is that this concept isn't as new as they thought it was. They're also right when they say that this isn't a typical Jason movie. While it technically still is Jason going around killing people, whenever he possesses a person's body, no matter how much these actors try to act like him, it's not Jason to me: it's a bunch of not so good actors trying to mimic Kane Hodder's mannerisms and that doesn't work for me.

Besides a new type of story, Marcus and Lorey said they also wanted to create a mythology for Jason that hadn't existed before, and I can't say I like that much better. This concept of Jason needing to be reborn through another Voorhees is just all kinds of "what the hell?" to me. I always liked the idea that Mrs. Voorhees was a normal, loving mother who had a disfigured son who was accidentally drowned and that she went crazy as a result. Add to that the idea that Jason apparently didn't drown but was really living in the woods, became a homicidal maniac, got killed, and was later brought back to life through some supernatural means, and that leads to something else I always liked about the series, which is that Jason started out as an ordinary boy and eventually, through both normal and then supernatural twists of fate, became the monster he now is. But this mythology makes it seem like the Voorhees were some sort of evil family from the start, that they had ties to voodoo and the occult. And as for that dagger being the only thing that can kill Jason? Who carved that, gave it its power, and, above everything else, why? Was it someone who knew that the Voorhees family was evil or something? Speaking of which, the Voorhees family apparently has connections to the Deadites because the freaking Necronomicon is in the Voorhees house (let's not even attempt to figure out a way that connects The Evil Dead to this mess). It also amazes me that that house is still standing, considering all the scorn Crystal Lake must now suffer from the rest of the country due to Mrs. Voorhees and Jason's killing sprees. You'd think they would have torched that place years ago, as happened to Ed Gein's house shortly after he was arrested (of course, if we're going by that logic, I might as well ask why they never burned down the Myers House in Haddonfield).

Exactly when this movie takes place in the series' timeline is a mystery as well because it ignores the ending of Jason Takes Manhattan and doesn't explain at all how Jason changed back into the hulking, hockey-masked monster that he is. I understand why they ignored that since that ending was crap but this movie seems to also ignore that film completely and Marcus has even said that it does. So, if that's the case, when exactly does this one take place? Who knows? Oh, and just in case they weren't flying into the face of enough of the series' established backstory and lore, Jason now suddenly has a sister. Yeah. I don't know about you but I've always felt that part of the reason Mrs. Voorhees went insane was because Jason was her only child, which she even mentioned in the original film. If she had another child, I'm sure she would have still been heartbroken but would have been able to move on. And when was this daughter born anyway? After Jason's drowning? You'd think Mrs. Voorhees would have stopped holding a grudge and tried to raise this second child right, making sure that tragedy didn't repeat itself. This also damages Mrs. Voorhees' character because, as I said, even though she was insane, she was a great mother who would both kill and die for her child; if she neglected another child and only focused on Jason, that makes her, and, as a result, Jason, less sympathetic.

I've always had major mixed feelings about Adam Marcus, both as a filmmaker and as a fan in general. On the one hand, he seems like a fun, energetic guy and he freely admits that Jason Goes to Hell isn't perfect, which I'm glad of. But, while he also acknowledges that many fans still hate him and the movie to this day, I don't think he understands exactly why they do. His impression is that everybody was angry because it wasn't another typical Friday the 13th with Jason just walking around and killing people, and that could be true for many people, but for me, I think it has more to do with all of the crap he and Dean Lorey introduced. In Crystal Lake Memories, he says that people got onto him for ruining the mystique of Jason and he defended himself by saying that what made Norman Bates scary to him was his demented relationship with his mother and that what made Michael Myers scary to him was the fact that he killed his sister when he was a little kid. To that, I respond, "Yes, and those backstories for those particular characters were established from the beginning. What you did was make up a bunch of bullshit that flies in the face of everything we've known about Jason and his mother, effectively screwing up what was already established. This is not the first Friday the 13th. There had been eight movies before this one that already established stuff." Also, he mentions Quint's speech in Jaws about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and describes that as backstory for the shark. That was backstory for Quint, you moron! The only thing you got about the shark is that he's either really smart or really dumb but that was it. Remember how dumb it got when they gave the shark an actual backstory and motivation in Jaws: The Revenge? I rest my case. (Oh, and they completely ripped off one of Quint's lines and put it in here. Spielberg ought to sue Marcus for that.)

Okay, after all that ranting, let's get to the characters. Our lead here is Steven Williams, played by John D. LeMay, who, ironically, was the original star of the unrelated Friday the 13th TV show. He had a relationship with the lead woman, Jessica, that didn't work out but did lead to a baby daughter. He also ends up accused of murdering Jessica's mother due to circumstance and spends the majority of the movie trying to clear his name. All in all, he seems like a nice enough guy who just got dealt some bad hands by fate. He's really loving and sweet when he first sees his little girl and steps up to the plate to save Jessica even after she's made it clear that she still thinks he killed her mother, which makes him someone to root for. He's a decent enough lead and it is nice to have an actual leading man in one of these films, which is very rare.

Jessica Kimble, played by Kari Keegan, is another decent enough character, although the fact that she thinks her old lover killed her mother and refuses to let him help her even after he saves her from Robert, who was clearly trying to kill her, is very frustrating since we know the truth. (It also doesn't make her look good when it takes her a few seconds to get the gumption to save Steven from getting pulled into hell with Jason at the end.) At the same time, though, her attitude is understandable and what saves her for me is that she's a mother who will fight for her child, even if it means having to go up against a supernatural boogeyman like Jason. I especially love when she's trying to get her child from Joey B., the foul-mouthed owner of a diner, and ultimately clocks her right in the face with a big mug, knocking her out. That was just awesome.

The stupidest character by far is Creighton Duke, played by Steven Williams, a bounty hunter who's apparently been tracking Jason for a long time and is the only one who knows how to truly kill him. He's the one who spews out all of the stupid mythology in this film and has the dagger that can permanently kill Jason. I just can't help but wonder how he knows this stuff. How long has he been following Jason and how does he know that he can jump into different bodies if his is destroyed? During the final battle with Jason after he's reborn, he says to him, "Remember me?" Remember you from when?! Have you actually fought Jason before? Again, if so, when? Plus, he's just weird. At one point when a TV interviewer asks him what he thinks of when he hears the name Jason Voorhees, he says, "That makes me think of a girl in a ballerina outfit sticking a hot dog in a doughnut." WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN?! Also, when he and Steven are in jail, he forces Steven to allow him to break his fingers (after caressing in a potentially homoerotic way) just so he can tell him how to kill Jason. What the hell did that accomplish? This character is just so stupid.

Erin Gray plays Diana Kimble, Jason's sister (ugh). Not much to say about her other than she seems like a nice enough lady who would like to see things be made right between Steven and Jessica. (Ultimately, Jason is reborn through her body.) Steven Culp plays Robert Campbell, the host of an America's Most Wanted-type show who is dating Jessica and later turns out to be a complete scumbag because he steals Diana's body from the morgue and hides it in the Voorhees house in order to use it to spice his show up. It's right after that when he becomes possessed by Jason. Rusty Schwimmer plays Joey B., the foul-mouthed owner of a diner. I must confess that I do kind of like her because she's an over the top stereotype like Ethel in Part V but, other than that, she's not as likable or memorable. I have nothing at all to say about Leslie Jordan as Joey's boyfriend Shelby or Adam Cranner as her son Ward (I think that was his name). Billy Green Bush has a small role as the sheriff who has feelings for Diana and Kipp Marcus plays Randy, a cop who's friends
with Steven and tries to help him but gets beaten up multiple times for his trouble. He also ends up being the last person Jason possesses before his rebirth and Jason actually talks when he's inside his body! I actually kind of liked him since he was such a decent guy and was bummed when he got possessed. There are other nothing characters like Allison Smith as Vicki, a waiter at the diner, veteran actor Richard Gant as Phil, the coroner whom Jason possesses first, and Andrew Bloch as Josh, the second person he possesses. The latter is the focus of the most bizarre scene because Jason kidnaps him, takes him to the Voorhees house, straps him to a table completely naked, and shaves his beard before possessing him. Um, does Jason secretly have some obsessions we didn't previously know about?

Maybe it's a good thing that Jason himself is only really in this movie for the first and final scenes (you also see his reflection whenever a possessed person is near a mirror) because the design they went with this time is pretty bad in my opinion. For some reason, Jason's skin is all lumpy and his head is like a swollen goiter with a hockey mask on the front. Not only that but it now looks like the mask is his face
because the skin is starting to grow around it. His wardrobe looks more like the jumpsuit that Michael Myers wears and he makes way too much noise as well, grunting and yelling a lot during his brief appearances and actually roaring when he's being shot to pieces by the FBI. Kane Hodder once again plays Jason and does the best he can given his limited screentime but it goes almost unnoticed. When his body is destroyed, we find out that his heart is larger than a normal heart, is filled with a black viscus fluid, and apparently is where his evil soul is housed. The thing seems to hypnotize the
coroner into eating a bit of it, leading to him becoming possessed (Jason roars like a lion when he's possessing this guy) and later on when he tries to transfer his soul into someone else, his heart becomes a black, wriggling worm-like thing. The weirdest part, though, comes when Steven slices off Randy's neck after he's become possessed, revealing that the heart has apparently grown into this bizarre creature with two front legs and a long tail that crawls out of the neck, skitters around the room while squealing, and eventually goes into Diana's dead body (through her vagina, no less), leading to Jason's rebirth. Interestingly, his jumpsuit and hockey mask suddenly reappear along with his body. Is that just part of the package?

Where I will give this movie props is when it comes to its gore and makeup effects because they're just spectacular. This movie really benefited from being made in the era of laserdisc, where it ended up being the first Friday the 13th that you could see uncut, because KNB's effects are so amazing that they deserve to be able to be seen in all their glory. Given the nature of the story, they're far more than just typical stabbings. After chewing up the heart, the possessed coroner smashes this other coroner's (writer Dean Lorey) face on a table and then stabs his head with a probe. He kills two security guards (one of which is played by Kane Hodder) off-camera but you get to see the bloody aftermath. There is a typical Friday the 13th camp scene where Jason kills three horny teenagers who are dumb enough to camp near what was once Camp Crystal Lake. He slices one girl up with the probe
and then, in one of the best kills in the series, skewers one girl and slices her in half while she and her boyfriend are having sex. He kills the boyfriend off-camera (In the uncut version, the lead up to that kill looks like a damn porno.) He smashes the head of Josh's girlfriend with a car door (no blood), and after he possesses Josh, eventually kills Diana with a stab to the back. The most horrific makeup effect happens after Jason jumps into Robert's body. Josh regains consciousness but his body
literally melts in an absolutely disgusting but amazing effect, particularly when his jaw is ripped off by sticking to the floor. Jason then goes on a rampage at the police station, killing two cops by bashing their heads together. He later kills Ward by snapping an arm off, throws Shelby into a deep-fryer, smashes Joey in the face so hard that her jawbone is forced back into her head, and squeezes Vicki's head until her brain flies out. Duke is eventually killed by being impaled and the sheriff actually got killed by Jessica by accident.

I also must admit that Jason's final descent into hell is a memorable one. After a drawn-out fight with Steven (I have no idea why he didn't just the kill guy since he easily could have), Jason gets stabbed in the chest with the dagger by Jessica. A bunch of lights shoot out of his body up into the sky and gigantic hands burst out of the ground and grab him. Jason tries to drag Steven along with him but Jessica saves him (again, after actually having to think about it, though) and the two of them kick the dagger all the way into Jason's body, permanently sealing his fate. He's pulled down into Hell, leaving behind only his hockey mask, and Steven and Jessica walk off into the sunrise with their baby. And finally, to let audiences know that Freddy vs. Jason was coming, Freddy's hand bursts out of the ground and drags the mask down while he laughs evilly. (I don't think that was Robert Englund laughing, though.) I do think that was a good teaser for that movie, even if it didn't come out until a decade later. So, all the problems I have with the film aside, I have to admit that, if nothing else, this climatic battle was exciting.

After having been absent from the previous two films, with Jason Takes Manhattan totally lacking any compositions from him old or new, Harry Manfredini returns to do the score. Unfortunately, he might as well have not done it because I don't really like this film's score (I'd say it and Jason X are the two Friday the 13th scores I don't care for). The main theme has never struck me as being that good and just sounds uninspired and repetitive, as does the majority of the score. There are some cues here and there that are okay, and the, "ki, ki, ma, ma," is used in a nicely done way where it sometimes almost sounds like part of the environment, but it's ultimately a very ho-hum score. The title itself is interesting, with the fire within Jason Goes to Hell and The Final Friday dripping with blood, and the credits do come up in an interesting way between shots, but that's about all I can say on that score.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is definitely the most unique Friday the 13th movie but, as I've said, "unique," isn't always a good thing and it certainly isn't in this case. Granted, the gore and makeup effects are impressive, there are some very good kill scenes in the unrated version (some of the best in the entire series, in fact), and it's definitely not a dull movie, but the story and mythology are stupid, the characters are nice but mostly bland, and it doesn't feel like a Friday the 13th movie 95% of the time because it's not really Jason killing people. However, I will say that, even though this is definitely my least favorite movie in the franchise, I don't absolutely despise it (at this point, there's not one Friday the 13th movie that I can truly say I hate) and I would actually take it over other bad franchise entries like Halloween 5, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, and Seed of Chucky. But, all in all, I don't know if this is one I can recommend to fans. I'd say see it if you aim to experience the entire franchise at least once but be prepared for a nonsensical film that's unlike any of the other movies.

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