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I finally got to see it for the first time when I was on spring break in 2004. The Sunday of the first weekend during the break (my high school let out for two weeks), my dad and I, who were on our own since Mom was out of town, went to Wal-Mart one night and I picked up the two-disc DVD, along with the new special edition of The Howling that had been released the previous year as well. I watched it the following day, with my attention being immediately caught when I put the disc in and the first thing I heard was those kids singing the Freddy nursery rhyme, accompanied by images of Jason on fire, Freddy sharpening one of his knives, and such. And when I finally did see the movie, I liked what I saw. Despite being rather flawed, I found the movie to be entertaining, with the setpieces, unbelievable gore effects, and the fights between Freddy and Jason making for a very memorable and fun flick. I liked that the movie didn't mess with the continuity of either franchise, which I had heard might end up being the case when I read up on some of the proposed plot ideas for it, and I thought that it went at a really good pace and had a lot of energy to it. I maintained that opinion for a long time and now, even though the flaws feel more pronounced than they used to, I can still say that I find it to be an entertaining sit. It may be far from a perfect movie, and there's a lot of crap that you have to sit through before you get to what you really want to see, but at the end of the day, it delivers the goods.
Freddy Krueger is trapped in his own private purgatory, unable to enter the dreams of the kids in Springwood, Ohio because he's been completely forgotten, with the adults making sure that the kids never learn of him and, therefore, have no way to fear him and give him power to continue killing. However, after searching the bowels of hell, Freddy finds Jason Voorhees and, disguising himself as his mother, convinces him to rise from the dead and go on a killing spree in Springwood, hoping that the mass fear induced will allow him to begin murdering again. One stormy night, Lori Campbell, who now lives at 1428 Elm Street, is having a sleepover with her friends Kia and Gibb, when Gibb's boyfriend Trey and his friend Blake come over as well. Jason brutally murders Trey and when the police are called, speculation about it being the work of Freddy comes up. As the police attempt to isolate the kids to make sure they know nothing, one of the cops says Freddy's name out loud, which Lori overhears, allowing Freddy to enter her dreams, although he doesn't kill her. Freddy also enters Blake's dreams but is unable to kill him because he's not strong enough yet, prompting him to decide to let Jason claim more victims, which he does with Blake and his father. At Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, Lori's ex-boyfriend Will has been institutionalized along with his friend, Mark, and any other kids who have had any sort of contact with Freddy. When the two of them overhear a news report about the murder, Will, who believes he saw Lori's father murder her mother, is desperate to make sure if she's okay and Mark sees to it that they're able to escape back to Springwood. The two of them arrive at Springwood High the next day, where Mark tells Lori and her friends about Freddy, although they're forced to flee from the cops. Later, Mark learns of the town's plan to keep Freddy from killing and realizes that, after what he said at the school, he may have messed it all up. Will goes to a rave at a cornfield to meet up with Lori, while Gibb falls into a drunken sleep and is attacked by Freddy. However, before he can kill her, Jason beats him to the punch in the real world, infuriating Freddy. Jason then massacres many of the partygoers, although Will, Lori, Kia and two other teens manage to escape. Lori soon learns that her father is the one who had Will committed to Westin Hills and that he's been lying about the circumstances surrounding her mother's death. After Freddy kills Mark, the teens meet up with a deputy who tells them of Jason Voorhees and from that, they're able to piece together Freddy's plan. They break into Westin Hills to try to steal some Hypnocil, an experimental drug used for suppression of dreams, but when Freddy ruins their plan, and with Jason still after them as well, they decide that the only way to be free of the two monsters is to pull Freddy into the real world and let him and Jason battle to the death.
When I looked up information on Freddy vs. Jason on IMDB maybe a year or two before its release, the plot synopsis was a rather vague one, mentioning something about the centuries-long war between good and evil and how Freddy and Jason were caught up in it. So, imagine my surprise when the movie finally came out and I read a much simpler and to the point plot for it, which was my first insight into how many different concepts this movie went through over the years (given that the movie began filming in 2002, I wonder if they hadn't released what the official plot was and that IMDB thought an old script idea they'd heard of was the one being used). An entire documentary could be made about the nearly 20 different script ideas for the film, which ranged from interesting, like the idea of a cult devoted to Freddy called Fred Heads, to downright stupid, like making the film into a courtroom drama (can you imagine how angry fans would have been if they had gone with that concept?) That's why I find it amusing when people complain about the plot for the finished film because they obviously must not know about what the movie could have been. The script that Damian Shannon and Mark Swift ultimately came up with may not be 100% perfect but I think that their basic idea for bringing Freddy and Jason together, which had always been the biggest stumbling block, was one that was simple, straightforward, and didn't mess with the continuity of the past movies like a lot of the other scripts would have, which I appreciate. So, in retrospect, while the ultimate screenplay for Freddy vs. Jason may not win any writing awards, I think fans should be happy with what they ended up with.
One thing I don't quite get about Freddy in this film is how he operates. I understand that people's fear of him gives him his power since that was established all the way back in the original Nightmare on Elm Street but I don't quite get why people suddenly need to know of him in order for him to invade their dreams. Many of the kids in the past films had never heard of him before but he was able to show up in their dreams just fine, so why is it necessary for them to suddenly know of him? At first, I thought maybe it was because Nancy and her friends remembered that nursery rhyme about him but Jesse had definitely never heard it before and neither had the kids in Nightmare 3, not to mention that after Freddy killed all of the kids of the people who burned him alive, he needed someone like Alice and her child to provide him with new victims, so that idea doesn't hold water. And what's more, how does simply knowing of the name Freddy allow him to get into people's dreams? That's a pretty common name, so I don't know how that makes much of a difference. Maybe it's because they overheard the one cop specifically say Freddy Krueger (although Lori and Blake seemed to only hear the Freddy part, so...) Once again, I'm thinking about this much harder than I should and I still think the basic concept was a decent and simple enough way to bring Freddy and Jason together, but when you really think about it, it quickly falls apart.
The movie is only 97 minutes long and it goes by at a rapid pace, which is nice since there's always something happening to hold your attention. However, there's a downside to the film's pace as well: the story feels very rushed and underdeveloped, coming across as less of an actual plot than just a bunch of scenes and setpieces thrown together to lead up to the fights between Freddy and Jason. It feels rather choppy, with how quickly we go from the first murder at Lori's house to the authorities attempting to keep Freddy from killing again, being introduced to Will and Mark, their escape from Westin Hills, their showing up at Springwood High and then finding out about the town's plan, Mark telling Will about how Freddy operates, the massacre at the rave, the attempt to steal Hypnocil from Westin Hills, and the plan to have Freddy and Jason battle at Camp Crystal Lake. In addition, the various plot-points, like Will's belief that Lori's father killed her mother, the father acting sinister towards Lori and showing that he can't be trusted, his involvement with what's been going on at Westin Hills, their hitting upon Hypnocil and deciding that they need it, Freddy discovering that Jason has a fear of water, and so on are brought up and then dropped so quickly that you almost forget that they were even an issue. For instance, Lori mentioning how Freddy died by fire and Jason by water? Doesn't go anywhere, making you wondering why they even brought it up. I know that with this type of movie, the story and characters would be secondary to giving the audience what they want, which it does deliver on, but still, there's so little depth to the film, not only in comparison to the two films that Wes Craven directed but also Nightmare 2-4, that it ultimately comes off as entertaining but also rather shallow.
Like New Nightmare, there are a number of references to past films, mainly A Nightmare on Elm Street but there are some nods to the past Friday the 13th movies as well. The most blatant one is the Hypnocil, the dream suppressing drug that was mentioned in Nightmare 3 and is being used to keep the kids at Westin Hills from dreaming about Freddy. It becomes something of a macguffin in the middle of the movie when the kids break into Westin Hills to get ahold of it but it's tossed aside when Freddy sees to it that they can't use it. Westin Hills was also the setting of Nightmare 3, and apparently it was converted from a rundown, old-looking asylum like it was in Nightmare 5 to a modern, working facility in the years since that film (which would have been ample time to do it, in this instance). In addition, Freddy pushing his head through the wall behind Gibb in the nightmare scene leading up to her death is a call-back to when he did that above Nancy's bed in the original Nightmare, the TV station covering the film's first murder is KRGR, which was the radio station Glen was listening to before Freddy sucked him down through his bed in the first film, "How sweet, dark meat," is like, "How sweet, fresh meat," from Nightmare 4, Jason's resurrection is sort of akin to Freddy's in Nightmare 4, and Jason stabbing Freddy with his own glove at the end is akin to when Maggie did that to him at the end of Freddy's Dead. The references to past Friday the 13th movies aren't quite as obvious and I honestly didn't catch onto them until I read up about them. Jason impaling both Gibb and that raver who was trying to get it on with her while she was unconscious is a nod to the shishcabob kill from Part 2, the bag that Lori sees those mean kids put on the young Jason's head in her dream is apparently meant to be a reference to the one he wore in Part 2, the roof of the main cabin falling on him is like something similar that happened in Part VII: The New Blood, and the moment during the final battle where Freddy cuts off his fingers and he stops and looks at them is meant to be a nod to a similar moment during the climax of The Final Chapter. And the part where he throws Stubbs' body through the glass window of the door at Westin Hills is like any of the many times somebody has gotten thrown through a window in the past Friday the 13th movies.
While Freddy's Dead and Wes Craven's New Nightmare dabbled in it, this is the first Nightmare movie to make very extensive use of CGI, with mixed results: some of it holds up well, while some of it is pretty dated. The morphing effects that they use for some shots, like when the girl that Jason kills at the beginning turns into some of his past victims, Mrs. Voorhees turns into Freddy, and when the wall of the police station turns into the front door of 1428 Elm Street when Lori backs up against it, look really good, and the same goes for some of the uses of green screen, like the combination with a practical makeup effect when Kia's nose gets ripped off (Freddy appearing in the magazine she's looking at and his hand coming out of it also looks good) and the shot behind Lori as she approaches the girls jumping rope in that latter scene. I would have never guessed that was a green screen shot but it was, and a very well-done one too. Other digital effects that still look pretty good are when Lori sees drops of blood forming in mid-air and dripping to the floor in the police station, when they used digital effects to make the little girl's gouged eyes look deep and black, when people disappear out of the dream world, like Gibb when Jason kills her in reality, when Freddy regrows his arms after Jason cuts them off in their dream world battle, the shot in Jason's dream of bodies floating in water inside the closet in his house, and the way they got Robert Englund's head to look severed in the last shot when Jason is carrying his head and he winks at the camera (I wish more movies did combinations of digital and practical elements like that instead of relying solely on CGI). I have more mixed feelings about some of the other effects that are completely CGI. The Freddy shadow that comes after Blake isn't the most realistic but I can deal with it, and the same goes for when Freddy flings Jason around like a pinball and when you get a digital shot of the inside of Jason's brain when Freddy penetrates his skull with his claw before going into his dream world. Those latter two shots are very cartoonish but given that they're in the dream world, I let them slide. The effects that I can honestly say don't hold up that well are the CGI tubes that attach themselves to Mark's feet during his nightmare in the bathroom (that didn't even look good back then), when Freddy's ear dissolves into maggots after Lori pulls it out of her dream, and the Freddy caterpillar that shows up to Freeburg and pulls out a hookah. I do love that latter sequence (I think I'm one of the few that does) but I can't pretend that caterpillar looks realistic because he doesn't. So, there are some bad digital effects here but you have to give them credit: they knew that effect of Trey's corpse walking towards Gibb while breaking apart didn't look good, even for something in a dream, and they ultimately cut it from the film altogether.
You see Jason's shadow on the road as he walks down Elm Street in a rainstorm, and after being introduced to Lori and her friends at 1428 Elm, you see that he's stalking the house when Gibb throws a cigarette out the window and unknowingly hits him in the face with it. The power in the house soon goes out from the storm and shortly after Trey and Blake arrive, the former pretty much forces Gibb to go upstairs to have sex with him. A few minutes later, Blake goes into the kitchen to get some more beers and, noticing a draft, walks around the corner to see that the back door is open. It then appears to slam shut by itself, and after a quick look upstairs, possibly from Jason's POV, to see that Trey and Gibb are going at it in the bedroom, you see Lori and Kia walk into the kitchen, holding candles, to see what that noise was. They're surprised when Blake comes around the corner and tells them that he closed the back door. Upstairs, Gibb goes to take a shower, leaving Trey in the bed by himself. As she showers, Trey grabs a beer can by the bed and takes a sip, when he sees Jason standing over the bed to his right. He tries to scramble off the bed but Jason plunges the machete through his back and stabs him repeatedly all the way through the bottom of the mattress. As Trey's body convulses, Jason grabs both ends of the bed and folds it, and Trey, up into a V-shape, finishing him off. Having heard the ruckus in the bathroom, Gibb asks Trey what's going on when she steps right into a pool of blood oozing underneath the door. Opening it, she screams when she sees the grisly aftermath of the murder and in the next shot, she and the others run out of the house, screaming for help. They flag down a passing police car, driven by Deputy Stubbs, and Gibb shows him her bloody hands when he asks if they need help. In the next scene where the police are investigating the scene, the sheriff tells one of his deputies that they need to lock this down and keep it contained but the deputy says Freddy's name out loud, which Lori overhears from nearby. The sheriff admonishes him for his slip of the tongue and tells him to take the kids down to the station and to keep them separated.
The least memorable aspect of the film is the score by Graeme Revell, who's another composer whose musical talents are a bit mixed. While you do hear the original Nightmare melody at the beginning and end of the movie, plenty of Jason's, "Ki, ki, ma, ma," and the Freddy nursery rhyme sounds really good to me here, better than it ever has, but the music score for the most part is pretty generic and so-so. The bits I kind of remember are this atmospheric theme that you first hear when Blake is in the kitchen by himself at the beginning, this "Dun-dun, dun-dun," piece that you hear after Freddy reveals himself to have been impersonating Mrs. Voorhees, the techno music during the rave, the hard rock music you hear during some parts of the final battle, and the piece that plays when Freddy and Jason are massacring each other at the end; otherwise, I don't have much to say about the music because it's pretty forgettable. And I don't have much better things to say about the soundtrack because these songs are the type of music that I can't stand. I hate that metal stuff where the person isn't singing so much as he's screaming, sounding like a severely autistic member of my family when he throws a fit (I'm not even trying to be funny when I say that). If I had to pick one that I don't really mind, it would probably be How Can I Live by Ill Nino. That's not a bad tune at all. I can also live with Beginning of the End by Spineshank, even though you only hear one little bit of it when the title comes up. However, Army of Me by Chimaira I don't like at all (either sing normally or just scream; make up your damn mind) and while I like some parts of Darkness Falls by Killswitch Engage, namely, "When darkness falls, we are reborn," and such, again the screaming just kills it for me and makes me want to blow my brains out.