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.
Forty-five minutes into Jason Goes to Hell’s 97-minute runtime, we learn that Jason Voorhees isn’t really a man named Jason, but instead is a body-hopping ancient evil that can only be killed by one with Voorhees blood while sporting a mystical dagger. Or so says Jason’s infamous bounty hunter nemesis Creighton Duke (Stephen Williams).
Of course, you, reader, follower of frightening film releases and fan of the Friday the 13th franchise, recognize not only the name Creighton Duke, but the supernatural origins of one of New Jersey’s more storied residents: Jason Voorhees.
You, reader, recall how the B-Plot of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter included a duster-clad bounty hunter stalking Jason’s every move. Surely one could not forget the deep lore established by Pamela Voorhees during the final showdown in the original Friday the 13th where she attacks Alice with the single mystical dagger which could destroy the ancient evil we know as Jason. And who could forget when, as Jason melts from a murder monster into a young boy deep in the bowels of the
Toronto New York City sewer system, the evil demon worm crawling out of Jason’s body to stow away back to Crystal Lake and one day rise again?
Of course, no one remembers these scenes. These scenes do not exist, have never existed, have never been part of Friday canon. Yes, it is difficult for a filmmaker to create a new and interesting story, especially working within existing lore (see Joss Whedon’s complete meltdown due to Disney interference during Age of Ultron). There isn’t a movie in existence that has pleased 100% of the people 100% of the time. The same issues that ring true for most video game-based cinema underline every absurd, misguided, batshit choice within Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday – let’s take an existing IP you know and enjoy and remove every aspect of the IP you know and enjoy.
Friday the 13th has always been a deeply cynical series of films – slightly mean-spirited, made for a quick buck, a half-step above the kind of movies Max Renn would air on Channel 83. The plots of the previous eight flicks are thinner than the blade on sharpened machete, while more motivation has been ascribed to bidets than to the needs, hopes, and dreams of the core casts. The constant draw of these flicks, was, is, and will be Jason Voorhees eviscerating Crystal Lake trespassers in gruesome, creative, shocking ways. It’s hard to imagine an audience attending the ninth installment of a franchise truly seeking a bold new vision.
The first instinct would be to lay the majority of blame at the feet of 23-year-old director and co-writer, Adam Marcus. A close family friend of producer Sean S. Cunningham, Marcus has the self-assured obliviousness of the youngest director ever hired by New Line Cinema and a Connecticut-born close family friend of a Hollywood movie producer. While Marcus may be sincere when speaking of his love of the franchise, in the film he allows Voorhees to be misspelled on a mailbox and moves Crystal Lake from New Jersey to Connecticut.
Let’s take an existing IP you know and enjoy and remove every aspect of the IP you know and enjoy.
Marcus’s project was not without limitations. New Line Cinema was only able to secure the rights to the name Jason Voorhees, the town of Crystal Lake, and not much else. While there were grand plans to bring in returning characters like Tommy Jarvis, Marcus and the creative team were left holding the skeleton of the Voorhees saga.
As it would happen, Marcus was, perhaps, further instructed to “get rid of that damn mask.” Young Marcus was feeling pressure to change up the formula of not only key story elements, but the films themselves. After looking at the reception of the previous entry, one can be forgiven for thinking that audiences wanted something more out of their teenage serial-killing series entry.
Where this film fails, and fails spectacularly, are the ways in which Jason Goes to Hell attempts to subvert audience expectations. Marcus is on record saying that Jason’s presence in the film should be a prize for the audience. This prize, however, is not at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jack, but rather in a box of broken glass, salt, and lemon juice. Every convoluted, contrived, unbelievable step towards the finish line is one coated in strains of credulity marred in disappointment.
Why, for instance, must the coroner (Richard Grant) possessed with the soul of the ancient evil formerly known as Jason strap a nude cop to a Reanimator-style table before first shaving the cop and then vomiting a demon worm into the cop’s mouth? Why does Creighton Duke give Steve Freeman (John D. LeMay) vital information used to defeat Jason as a trade for breaking Steve’s fingers which Steve will ostensibly need to defeat Jason? Why does Kane Hodder have a mullet? While that last one makes complete sense it must again be asked, why is this movie?
Halloween III: The Season of the Witch was able to break free from the franchise that birthed it to become a cult classic in its own right, and where the Michael Myers-less entry exists and thrives without its masked protagonist, Jason Goes to Hell constantly reminds the audience of everything they’re missing. Yes, someone gets thrown through a large window, and yes, Hodder dons the hockey mask for an entire six minutes, but where’s the heart?
Jason Goes to Hell is a return to form for Friday films only in that it suffers from the cash-grab mentality born from the creator of the franchise itself. It may be the naivete of the horror-hound to assume any notice or care would be paid to over twenty years of established canon before sitting down to write a script, or that Jason would appear for the bulk of the run time of a film which bears his name. While some core ideas of Jason Goes to Hell are refreshing, they are so at the expense of over two decades of history.
And, yet, that ending still rocks.