Every month, we at The Spool select a filmmaker to explore in greater depth — their themes, their deeper concerns, how their works chart the history of cinema and the filmmaker’s own biography. 40 years after Camp Crystal Lake appeared on the silver screen, we look back at Friday the 13th and how the perennial slasher series mutated across the years. Read the rest of our Friday coverage here.
The “X goes to space” gimmick is certainly a cute idea for horror franchises — Leprechaun did it, Critters did it, even Hellraiser got in on the fun. But in the case of Jason Voorhees, it took a goodly long time to send everyone’s favorite hockey mask-wearing slasher to the stars. Still, after you send your slasher to Manhattan, and hell, where else to go but the final frontier?
It’s the one (and only) pitch idea screenwriter Todd Farmer gave to New Line Cinema, who was looking for a new Friday the 13th entry to tide people over until they could get the abortive Freddy vs. Jason crossover going; they accepted it on the spot. Given how Jason X turned out, they might have wanted to weigh their options a bit more.
How do you get Jason to space? Why, unthaw him in the future, of course! After a brief stint at the “Crystal Lake Research Facility,” where the captured Jason (Kane Hodder, his last time donning the mask) is set to be cryogenically frozen because they just can’t manage to kill him. Comely government scientist Rowan LaFontaine (Lexa Doig) protests Dr. Wimmer’s (David Cronenberg, in a fascinating cameo) bid to take him for study. They don’t have long to argue, though, before Jason gets loose, and Rowan just barely contains him in cryofreeze — her right along with him.
Cut to the year *counts fingers* 2455, where a ragtag group of scientists, researchers, and Space Marines (because every space horror movie just has to do Aliens) dig up Jason and Rowan from a devastated Earth and bring them back on board their ship, the Grendel, for transport to Earth-Two. They unfreeze Rowan, who warns the crew of the dangers of unfreezing Jason, but naturally, there’s a Sleazy Government Guy (a simpering Jonathan Potts) who wants to sell him for lots o’ money. Naturally, Jason escapes, the body count rises, yadda yadda yadda, and so it goes.
An $11 million budget does not Aliens make, and Jason X hums with the cardboard pluckiness of a Syfy Original Movie. It’s got all the hallmarks: sparsely-dressed sets, patched together space gun props, and a cast of Vancouver’s finest day players (if you’ve spent any amount of time watching Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda or Stargate Atlantis — like I have — you’ll recognize more than a few faces). Director Jim Isaac captures the proceedings with frustrating flatness, making the whole thing feel like a Kickstarted student film.
But it’s the future fashions that most catch the eye, a coterie of midriff tops and backward-facing corsets so garish they would make Zenon of the 21st Century retch. Apparently, 25th-century trends demand that women dress like they’re auditioning for a Eurotrash house music video.
Jason X hums with the cardboard pluckiness of a Syfy Original Movie.
Friday the 13th films are hardly blessed with complicated characters, but this bunch may be the most bloated, useless band of all. There’s nearly two dozen characters to keep track of on the Grendel, from the horny scientist teens to the pilot with a cowboy hat (because of course) to the squad of space Marines who only exist to get knocked off one by one in one of the film’s most plodding, obligatory kill sequences.
There’s the unfortunately-named Tsunaron (Chuck Campbell), a hopeless nerd simp for his fembot obsession Kay-Em (Lisa Ryder), whom he turns into a Terminatrix-type badass late in the film, complete with gratuitous sped-up karate flips and dual-wielding gun stances. And there’s the deeply useless Janessa (Melyssa Ade), who screams this piece’s very headline before being julienned through a grate into outer space.
And there we come to what may be the most obnoxious thing about Jason X: it thinks it’s funny. Post-Scream, every big horror franchise had to throw in buckets of self-aware humor to pander to horror nerds who wouldn’t accept their favorite genre fare unless it could be crystal (lake) clear that the movie knew that it wasn’t Shakespeare. As such, Jason X is peppered with groan-worthy tips of the hat to the formulaic nature of slasher films: Think Potts’ Lowe sighing in relief, “It’s okay! He just wants his machete back!” or Peter Mensah‘s space marine daring Jason to kill him, only to get stabbed and groan, “Yup, that oughta do it.” (He doesn’t even die — he comes back five minutes later and is totally fine! Commit to your joke, movie!)
Granted, some of the bits work — the late-film sojourn to a simulation of Camp Crystal Lake, complete with two buxom babes inviting Jason to drink beer, smoke pot and “have premarital sex”, is a killer gag, complete with Jason beating them to death in their own sleeping bags. But otherwise, the characters generally have a sneering, wooden simplicity to them, practically winking at the camera at their own lack of effort.
At least a few of the kills have an inventive sense of whimsy to them. One of the film’s first casualties comes courtesy of a dunk of the head in a sink full of liquid nitrogen, which Jason then bashes against the counter to glorious effect. One of the space marines gets helpfully impaled on a corkscrew-like blade (God knows what it’s even doing in that room, or what the room even does), his body spinning down to the bottom. Hodder lumbers nicely enough in his last turn as Jason, but it’s hard not to feel a little cheated by the promise of a half-cyborg Jason that only shows up in the last twenty minutes.
Is 2002’s Jason X a self-aware camp classic, or one of the worst entries in the franchise? The answer, surprisingly, is both and neither. There’s just enough goofy low-budget sci-fi dreck to delight fans of chintzy Vancouver-based production design, and a few select kills and gags work like gangbusters. Unfortunately, it’s all in service to one of the most formulaic jaunts in franchise history, which is a special shame considering the novelty of the setting. There are glimmers of charm (just gawk at the clothes, if nothing else), but you’ll have to wade through a lot of space-age tedium to get there.