Friday, May 13, 2011

Franchises: Friday the 13th. Jason X (2002)

Jason in space. It was inevitable, I suppose. If Pinhead and the Leprechaun could end up in space in one way or another, why not Jason Voorhees? For that matter, I'm actually amazed that Michael Myers never made it to space. In any case, as any horror fan worth his or her salt knows, space may be the final frontier but when a franchise character like Jason ends up there, it's a sign that the creators have reached the final frontier of their imagination. In my case, though, at the time of the film's release I was so unfamiliar with this notion that when I first heard about this movie, I thought it was a joke. But when I saw it on DVD in stores, I figured, "Huh. I guess it is real." My cousins said that they rented the film not too long after it hit DVD and immediately returned it to the shop because it was so bad. I don't even know if they made it through the whole film. But, when I started getting into the franchise, I decided, "What the heck?" and went and watched it. I had no idea what to expect but needless to say, my expectations were low. After I got through with it, I thought to myself, "Well, that... sucked." I honestly thought it was one of the worst movies I'd ever seen and I held that opinion for a good long while. But, while I still think it's really bad and one of the series' lowest points, it has grown on me upon subsequent viewings as being enjoyable due to its sheer stupidity and cheese factor, unlike Jason Goes to Hell, which is so idiotic at times that it's almost unbearable.

Like its predecessor, Jason X was merely meant to fill the void when, after six to seven years in development hell and another thousand script ideas, Freddy vs. Jason was still nowhere close to being ready to go. Frustrated, Sean Cunningham decided that another Friday the 13th needed to be put out there to keep it in the public eye and he and Todd Farmer bounced around a bunch of different scenarios (Jason in the Arctic, Jason in Africa, etc.) until someone came up with, "Jason in space." I don't know if they were desperate or what but I can guess their reaction was the same as mine when I first decided to check the flick out: why not? So that's how this thing came to be, and they also decided to set it very far in the future so it wouldn't cause any continuity problems with Freddy vs. Jason.

By the year 2008, Jason Voorhees has finally been captured and is being held at the Crystal Lake Research Facility (yes, a research facility at Crystal Lake) but, as he's about to be transferred somewhere else for more research, Jason breaks free and kills all but one scientist. Said scientist eventually manages to trap him in the cryogenic freezing chamber but Jason ruptures the chamber with his machete, causing the place to go into lock-down mode and leave the scientist, Rowan, frozen with him. Centuries later in the year 2455, a team of students and their teacher discover the facility and the frozen specimens while on a field trip to the now uninhabitable Earth. They take them aboard their ship where Rowan is quickly thawed out and regains consciousness. Unfortunately, Jason is also unintentionally revived and goes on a killing spree throughout the ship, eventually whittling the crew down to a small group of survivors who try to figure out a way to make it to Earth 2 before they're slaughtered as well.

The thing that immediately struck me about this movie the first time I saw it was the look. This was one of the first movies to be shot completely in digital and, man, does it look it. It comes across as just so cheap and generic-looking. Some may equate it to a Sci-Fi Channel original movie but it reminds me more of those dated live-action sci-fi/fantasy shows I used to see on Saturday mornings. The way the scenes looked in the trailer was much better. There's also a lot of really, really bad CGI here, with the most egregious example being
the part where two guys are playing a virtual reality game and this alien creature attacks them. God, that looked pathetic, especially when Jason kills their in-game, hologram caricatures. Okay, maybe I should go easy on that given it was meant to be a game but I can't let really bad-looking CGI spaceships here slide. I know some of them were models, whose use I always encourage, but the computer work involving was just sloppy. This film is a testament to why you shouldn't use CGI unless you have the money and time to make it look good.

Since we're now centuries in the future, you'd think the characters here would be much smarter than your typical Friday the 13th cannon fodder... but nope. The characters in this film, especially the teens, are as stupid and throwaway as ever, with still having not learned anything about the dangers of unsafe sex. Also, much of the stuff we take for granted today has apparently been forgotten by this point. For instance, when Tsunaron recognizes that Jason is wearing a hockey mask when they first find him, Janessa doesn't even know what a hockey mask is (or a bike, for that matter, as we learn later). DVDs are also so passe by now and, I must confess, I actually like when Prof. Lowe says he's found a gold-mine and he's told, "A box of DVDs isn't a gold mine." Okay, some of it is funny.

The characters here are as basic and generic as you can get. Lexa Doig as Rowan, the lead, is the tough scientist who knows all about Jason and tries to warn everyone about what they're dealing with but, naturally, no one listens. Two points I have to make about her: one, I don't ever remember her screaming, and two, I do like that she was concerned about innocent civilians when the government wanted to move Jason through civilized areas to another lab to conduct more research on him. Other than that, not much to say about her. There's Lisa Ryder as Kay-Em, the android, who I think did a decent job of playing a robot as well as wondering why she can't be completely human. Plus, you have to love it when she's given an upgrade and gets a new, snarkier, more badass attitude. I thought she was so cool there, and she does manage to actually kill Jason, albeit temporarily. I wish she weren't reduced to just a head for the last quarter of the film but, at the same time, I'm glad that she did live. Then there's Chuck Campbell as Tsunaron, the young guy who built Kay-Em. Again, not much to say other than he's fairly likable and funny and I'm glad he lived as well. Jonathan Potts plays Prof. Lowe, who seems nice and reasonable at first but, in reality, is a greedy scumbag who's willing to put his students in danger just so he can make a lot of money off of having an infamous killer in a frozen state. He's also a total perv, as you can see from that disturbing scene where he lets Janessa squeeze his nipple with ice tongs while he's wearing what looks like a blouse. As for Janessa (Melyssa Ade), she's definitely the sex-obsessed girl of the film but she's also pretty funny, with some great lines like, "What, are you high?!", "Oh, you think?" and my favorite, "This sucks on so many levels!", which, as she said in the Crystal Lake Memories documentary, is an apt description of this film.

There's Peter Mensah as Sgt. Brodski, the tough head of the grunts who attempt to hunt Jason down. I can't help but like macho, badass characters like this guy who just come and in take charge. I liked how he was good enough to refuse Lowe's offer to take Jason alive, how furious he seemed when Jason killed some of his men, and that he was tough enough to survive being skewered through the torso. He also sacrificed himself to save everyone else, which is another reason to like him. Melody
Johnson's role of Kinsa was probably the one that annoyed the most. I don't mind a frightened character but when they're so hysterical and whiny to the point that they're irritating, as is the case with Kinsa, it makes me hope that they die as soon as possible. The worst thing about her, though, is that she ends up ruining their escape plan because she gets scared. Again, I don't care if she died in the process. I was glad that the stupid slut was dead. Philip Williams as Crutch, the engineer, is a typical
jaded, lazy smartass and I didn't really care much for him. He was pretty forgettable. Derwin Jordan as Waylander has nothing special about him other than he's one of the few black guys in the film but, like Brodski at the end, he does sacrifice himself to give the others a chance to escape. Dov Tiefenbach as Azrael is kind of likable as the stoned sort of guy who gets a cup frozen to his hand, ends up getting
his arm cut off by Jason before he's even revived, and is dumb enough to forget his arm when he gets off the ship but other than that, nothing to him. Boyd Banks was kind of funny as Lou, the pilot, and I did wish he hadn't died. Other than being the victim of the coolest kill in the film, Kristi Angus as Adrienne was forgettable. (I did like her line when she removed Jason's mask and upon seeing his hideous face remarked, "Oh, poor baby. No wonder you wore this thing.") The only other noteworthy character is David Cronenberg as Dr. Wimmer, the greedy scientist who wanted to move Jason somewhere else for further research. The director having been a longtime friend and former assistant to him was the only reason he's in this but he's worth mentioning simply because of who he is.

The late James Isaac was the director of this film but, to be brutally honest, I don't have much to say about him. He seemed like a nice guy and it's cool that he learned from a true master like David Cronenberg, but it just didn't seem like he knew what he was doing as director of this film. I do commend him and Todd Farmer for taking Jason to a new environment and, as I said, I do think this movie is enjoyable for how bad it is, although I doubt that was their intent. In fact, I've heard that Jason X was originally supposed to be a much darker film and not as silly but the script was tampered with throughout filming, which I do think is clear when you watch it. Isaac said himself that it took a few years for him to finally come to terms with what the movie eventually became and then, he could finally talk about it with a smile on his face. I guess we all learn from our mistakes but at the same time, it wasn't too surprising that Isaac didn't direct that many films after Jason X. In any case, RIP Mr. Isaac.

It's a good thing that Kane Hodder once again plays Jason here or this movie would have really been screwed. As usual, his presence, menace, and charisma keep the character consistent so, if nothing else, we can still enjoy him. I find it funny that he seems to sense when Kinsa and her boyfriend are having sex and that's what spurs him to life. I'm not sure about Jason's initial look in this movie, though. For one, I don't understand why the hockey mask looks nothing like the way it always has. It's not terrible but it just feels weird not seeing the traditional one we all know and love. His outfit is a real clusterfuck, as well. It looks like a bunch of different clothes thrown together and I think there was a chain in it somewhere as well. You don't get a good look at Jason's face in the brief moment where he's unmasked due to all the slime and goo that's on it. He also loses his machete after he's frozen and until he gets it back from Lowe, he uses this big, curved surgical knife that he picks up in the medical bay. As for Uber Jason, I honestly thought that was beyond ridiculous-looking. I know what they're trying to do: make him look cool and comic book-like but it looks over-the-top and silly with the silver metallic parts, the black ones with veins and sinews on the edges, the exaggerated redesign of the mask, and the blood red eyes. Also, his machete becomes an exaggerated, curved blade that looks strange.

Some of the kills in this movie are interesting and creative but a lot of them are rather lackluster. Jason actually goes into a killing frenzy in the first five minutes of the movie, stabbing people, choking them with chains, and throwing a spear that impales Dr. Wimmer. As I said, he actually manages to cut off Azrael's arm when he's still frozen: Azrael bumps the chamber and Jason's body falls forward, with the machete slicing the arm off (it looks fake, by the
way). Jason's first kill upon being revived is his awesome one with Adrienne. He shoves her face into liquid nitrogen, freezing it solid, and then smashes it on the counter, making for a whopper of an effect. He simply slices out the stomach of Stoney, Kinsa's boyfriend, which is nothing special. As bad as the effects are, I do like the virtual reality scene for how Jason seemingly kills Azrael and a grunt named Dallas (writer Todd Farmer in a cameo) by slicing one in half and cutting the other's head off.
That proves to be part of the game but when they turn it off, the real killing starts. Jason bangs Dallas' head against a stone pillar (not very bloody, though) and snaps Azrael's spine over his knee, which looks and sounds like it did hurt. Jason kills various grunts by snapping one's neck (the sound effects just make you cringe), slicing one in half from the waist down, pushing one onto a sharp, screw shaped structure, impaling one on another sharp object, and slitting one's throat. As I mentioned earlier, he seems to kill Brodski by shoving some spears through him but that proves to not be enough to him down. Lowe gets killed off-camera as well as Lou, although we do see Lou's mangled remains and Lowe's head later on. As I've described, Kinsa, Waylander and Brodski aren't directly killed by Jason and the same goes for Janessa, who gets sucked through a hole he tears in the ship.

One memorable scene is when they try to buy themselves some time by using the VR equipment to create a virtual Camp Crystal Lake around Jason. I've always enjoyed this scene, mainly because Harry Manfredini brings back some of his classic music from the original Friday the 13th, giving it a nice feeling of nostalgia. Also memorable are the virtual woman campers they put in to distract Jason. They blatantly ask him if he wants to partake in the three big no-no's in slasher films (drinking beer, smoking pot, or having premarital sex) and Jason, apparently understanding what they're talking about, becomes enraged and proceeds to attack them. While the pointing of the finger at the rules of the genre there is a little bit too on-the-nose for me, even more so than what many people complain about in the Scream movies, at the same time I can't help but smirk at how the filmmakers knew exactly what type of movie they were making and decided to just have fun with it. I also liked seeing Jason smacking one sleeping bag with another, an obvious extension of that kill in Part VII, but I kind of wished they'd done a bit more with it, like make it go on a little longer, put some more blood in, and whatnot.

The ever-loyal Harry Manfredini once again does the score for what, at this point, is his final composition for the series; unfortunately, the end result is not good. I think I may have said that Jason Goes to Hell was his worst score but, the more I think about it, I think that this is even more generic and uninspired. I can at least remember some of his cues from the previous film off the top of my head even if I didn't particularly like them, like the main theme, but here there are very few pieces that stick out to me. In fact, some of this music does sound like stuff I would hear on those low-budget Saturday morning shows I said that this film reminds me of, which I guess makes it mesh well with the visuals, but that's not a good thing. I do like the music he composed for the scene where Jason is resurrected after being killed by Kay-Em, which also plays over the opening credits, but aside from that, the only other piece of music that's memorable to me is what plays over the ending credits, X Is The Loneliest Number. It's a pretty cool, catchy techno theme, even though it doesn't sound at all like music you'd expect to hear in a Friday the 13th movie.

Jason X is certainly not one of the franchise's proudest moments. While it may be the best "horror franchise character in space" film, it's still very cheesy, with bad effects, mostly likable but very bland characters, mostly standard kills mixed in with some nicely inventive ones, average makeup effects, and some very uninspired music. I also think it's a shame that this had to be Kane Hodder's final performance as Jason because he deserved a better film to go out on (like Freddy vs. Jason but we'll discuss that whenever we talk about that film). And this movie tanked big time at the box-office, mainly because it sat on the shelf for several years and a bootleg copied of it was downloaded on the internet. I don't remember seeing a single TV spot for it and when I first saw the DVD, I thought it had ended up being a straight-to-video film. But, as I've said, I can enjoy this film as an enjoyably bad movie, although at the same time, I'm glad that there weren't any sequels to this. This storyline didn't need to be pushed any farther. In fact, the way I put this flick into context with the rest of the series is that I pretend it's one of those situations in Hell that Jason was going through at the beginning of Freddy vs. Jason; that's just me, though. In closing, if you want to see it, I'd advise going into it with the lowest of expectations and with the mindset of simply wanting to see an enjoyably bad movie, because I think that's the only way this movie works.

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