OK. Imagine this premise for a horror movie.
It opens exactly like any other traditional 80’s “slasher” movie. A beautiful, voluptuous girl gets settled into a secluded cabin. Just as she’s about to retire to a nice hot bath, a crazed masked maniac shows up and they have a confrontation and chase through the nearby woods. Just as he’s about to get her, an entire SWAT team emerges from hiding and blow the killer to smithereens! That’s the opening.
But alas, this killer is pure evil. An unstoppable entity. A demon straight from hell. He continues to survive by jumping from body to body, wearing his victims as a skin suit as he makes his way back to his home turf in search of the only way he can be reborn, through a blood relative. But it’s also the only way he can be stopped. Only someone of his own bloodline can kill him, once and for all.
This information all comes from an eccentric bounty hunter, famous for having captured several active serial killers and who at one point actually spouts out the following line of dialogue, “That makes me think of a little girl in a pink dress sticking a hot dog through a doughnut.”
What if I then told you that along the way, there are gory kills courtesy of KNB EFX, fun adult characters actually making smart decisions and trying to take responsibility for their previous actions? And then nods and references to everything from EVIL DEAD to THE THING to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET? Sounds awesome, right? Well then, it’s time for you to give JASON GOES TO HELL another chance.
Last week marked yet another Friday the 13th on the calendar, and like most horror fans, I usually celebrate by watching either one or several movies in the long-lasting franchise. But I think this Friday the 13th, myself and my Killer POV co-host Elric Kane were probably the only poor souls that celebrated by watching JASON GOES TO HELL, an entry that I tend to always see get listed last on people’s FRIDAY franchise ratings. (Below JASON TAKES MANHATTAN and the Platinum Dunes remake? Really?) My vague memory of seeing this one in theaters upon its initial release was that it was a tremendous lot of fun and hence gets far too harsh a rap.
Something I’ve really appreciated doing in the last few years in regards to revisiting old films, whether they be sequels or remakes, is to watch them completely out of context from the franchise and judge them solely on their own individual merits. Is this a good, inventive horror movie? Is it original? Most importantly, is it fun? I can completely understand if you’re in the middle of a FRIDAY THE 13TH marathon how this sequel would feel completely off and out of place. Hell, sometimes when a franchise movie goes so far off the rails, fans cry “why did they even call it so-and-so?” (Like HALLOWEEN III for example, which everyone has now rightfully done a 180 on.) Well, for legal reasons, it never had the FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 9 title, so let’s also drop THE FINAL FRIDAY and pretend the movie is actually just called JASON GOES TO HELL.
Before I go any further, I have to strongly suggest not bothering with the R rated cut that’s on the Blu-Ray box set. The only version of this movie worth revisiting is the “unrated director’s cut,” with all of the gore scenes intact. It appears this version has become rather difficult to track down in the last few years, as the DVD or double feature versions that include JASON GOES TO HELL only offer the R rated cut. Screw that! Go to your local used record or video store, or pop onto used Amazon listings and hunt down the unrated cut! The reason I’m emphasizing this is because it really does make a drastic difference to the context and feel of the whole movie seeing what I consider a neutered version of it.
Just to be sure, I popped in the Blu-Ray right after and went to what I thought were some of the key death sequences (truly some of the best in the franchise) to see how differently they played, and it was like setting up a joke, only not to give the audience the punchline. In particular, the “tent sex & death” scene is much longer and one of the most impressive things KNB has ever done on screen. And later when Vicki valiantly fights off the Robert Campbell possessed version of Jason, she meets a glorious, gory end while muttering the words “go to hell” through a mouth full of blood. The impact of all of these mentioned moments is dampened when you see truncated versions of them.
In the lead here is John D. LeMay as Steven Freeman, whom most fans recognize from FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES. With Steven, our focus for the first time in the franchise is with an adult character, and mind you, even as a kid, I always found it fascinating that this was the first franchise horror movie that had a… well, a geek as the lead, front and center. Steven is a kind of a nerd, he made a mistake by abruptly leaving his girlfriend without knowing she was pregnant, and is trying to do the right thing now and make amends. His ex’s mother Diana (Erin Grey) wants to try to get them back together, when she’s murdered by “Jason,” which of course gets pinned on Steven. From there, his sole goal is to protect Jess (Kari Keegan) and his daughter from the evil that is Jason Voorhees.
The other thing I like about the film is at this point in the series, these are all still real characters and relationships rather than the traditional clichés of most genre fare. At one point, Steven is on the run from the police and he’s confronted in the back of the diner by Ward (Adam Cranner), the son of the owners. There’s a brief moment of hesitation and then Ward throws over the keys to his car and tells Steven to take off, no questions asked. This is the first scene with these 2 characters together, and yet we already know their whole history and friendship through this one interaction.
There’s also a scene where 3 friends end up camping out in the woods. The female of the couple asks her friend if she can borrow the tent for a half hour to have a little fun with her boyfriend. “Take it for the whole night, I’m just going to sleep out here under the stars.” This simple interaction, much like a lot of the conversations between the kids of previous entries in the franchise, just plays as very natural and real to me, unlike the stereotypes check listed and met in the 2009 remake. And the thing that struck me about the final confrontation between Steven and Jason is that Steven is essentially the “final girl” of this movie. And Jessica is the one that defeats Jason. Other role reversals? Homoerotic shaving. Yes, this scene is notorious for being weird, but director Adam Marcus’ rationale is that there should be equal amount male nudity as there is female nudity since all the previous FRIDAY’s were exploitative in this way in their depiction of women. Plus, it was so freakin’ weird that it’s one of the first things people mention when they talk about this movie, 22 years later, so mission accomplished!
Also, remember – director Adam Marcus was only 23 years old (!) when he was tapped to helm JASON GOES TO HELL. As a filmmaker, and in particular for this franchise, there’re a lot of bold and interesting choices made in terms of executing certain aspects of this story. For example, the all slow-motion “diner massacre” scene is actually pretty awesome. Now, behind the scenes gossip has always said that series creator Sean Cunningham came in a directed a lot of new sequences to make the movie coherent and finish it properly, but the fact that they came at the end of the filmmaking process with a complete movie that is this darned entertaining feels to me like they were on the right track.
The movie did OK upon initial release, or at least it did better than the previous film FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, which was the lowest grossing of the bunch. And it set the stage for what would be the biggest film for both this and the NIGHTMARE franchise, FREDDY VS JASON. But fans hated that they didn’t have hockey masked Jason stalking teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake for the whole movie. In other words, they hated that it wasn’t exactly like FRIDAYs 1 through 7.
At the end of the day, there are different things we seek out when it comes to our horror entertainment. Some of us just want to be scared. Others want to see a gore spectacle. And at the very least, like with any roller coaster, some of us just want to have fun.
I’ll be damned, JASON GOES TO HELL is a fun horror movie.
*Special thanks to Andrew Kasch