Deep Outside SFFH - Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

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Hodder Fodder:

Jason X Racks Up The Body Count

Twenty-two years after the premiere of Sean Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), the machete-wielding serial killer Jason Voorhees is back in theaters for his tenth adventure, Jason X. For those who grew up with these low-budget slasher movies (a poor-man's variation on John Carpenter's Halloween [1978]), that's probably a cause for nostalgia, if not celebration. But those hoping to be introduced to the long-running franchise by this installment may shake their heads in confusion. A strange jumble of futuristic clichés, the movie plays like a Star Trek: The Next Generation and Alien Resurrection hybrid, and never really manages to be particularly scary.

The story itself is weird. In the late Twentieth Century, Jason Voorhees has been captured and incarcerated at the Crystal Lake Research Facility (nudge, nudge). His custodian is a beautiful scientist named Rowan. But, lo and behold, the hockey mask-wearing serial killer escapes his shackles (how, we never find out…) and embarks on his umpteenth killing spree (offing genre director David Cronenberg, in a cameo appearance.) An injured Rowan tricks Jason into a cryogenic chamber, but only ends up freezing herself with the monster.

Flash forward five hundred years, and Earth is a dead planet—environmentally ravaged. But students from Earth II (all attractive, young, and sexy…) visit old Mother Earth on a field trip and land (conveniently…) at the Crystal Lake facility. The students "rescue" Rowan and Jason, returning them to their interstellar school bus, the Grendel, for a thawing process. Before long, Jason is awake, killing comely young students as Rowan warns everybody in vain about the monster from Earth's past.

Jason X is dumb in the way that all Friday the 13th movies are dumb (hence the nostalgia factor.) Characters wander off on their own—to be picked off by Jason, when they should stick together. Adults and authority figures (such as this movie's field trip supervisor, and Cronenberg's smug scientist) are played as utterly stupid. And, pre-marital sex is the stimulus—naturally—that leads to Jason's nastiest murders.

And, as usual, the screenwriters and director have given no apparent thought to how Jason might actually move from place to place. In the (better…) Halloween movies, Michael Myers actually stalks his victims, observing them from the shadows for a time. This generates suspense: you never know when that white mask will emerge from the darkness. Jason isn't so subtle an executioner. He just pops up suddenly and kills people—ever in the right place at the right time to take advantage of his next victim. There's no suspense in Jason X because the answer to the question "where is Jason?" is obvious. He's always in the very next scene, regardless of logic, physics, or plausibility, so as to kill the one character that has wandered off by himself or been left behind.

Making the movie a somewhat confusing viewing experience, three of the lead actresses—all sexy young brunettes—could be genetic triplets. Since they essentially have no distinguishable personalities or characters, it's difficult to keep track of which one is which. Who is the bitch? Which one is the crybaby? Which one is Rowan (and why is a woman five hundred years behind the times leading the other characters through their own ship?!) The casting for this film has to be the worst in recent history, not because the acting is bad (it's fine for this material), but because the lead actresses all seem cloned from the same stable.

Jason X is a stupid movie, and it isn't scary in the least. But to give the devil his due, it is enormously entertaining. It's a viewer participation picture (like all the Friday the 13th movies), and the group I saw the movie with had a great time. When Rowan pops up in the cryogenic chamber to blast Jason with a shotgun (a useless gesture), one audience member shouted, delightfully: "You Stupid!" (Not you're stupid; just You stupid!") Later in the film—during the best scene—Jason is tricked into a holographic decoy of Camp Crystal Lake, and one character notes that Jason is "buying" the trick. Another audience member shouted: "not for long, he ain't buying it!"

The film isn't merely stupid, it is deliberately stupid—provoking audience delight—and that's pretty cool, in a way.

In fact, there seems to be plenty of evidence that the film was never intended to be anything but a gory comedy. Characters fire off one-liners before they got killed, and the futuristic context is totally incidental to Jason. He wakes up on a spaceship after five centuries and doesn't even notice, let alone care. Without a sigh, an askew glance, or a moment of hesitation, he starts killing people. Apparently, the more things change, the more things stay the same for poor old Jason. Just more people to kill. That's really amusing in a nihilistic kind of way. I also got a laugh out of the opening scene, in which an incarcerated Jason is still wearing his grungy overalls and hockey mask. Don't you think that scientists studying this "unique" creature would at least remove his mask?

Basically, Jason X makes mincemeat of theFriday the 13th saga (which, honestly, never made a whole lot of sense anyway…). Instead this movie plays as a parody of outer space horror films like Alien. Nobody tries to explain why Jason is indestructible, and there is never really much history given about him (except that he's killed some 200 people). We get to meet a female android that acts exactly like Brent Spiner's Data for half the movie, then Lara Croft in the other. And, of course, there are the holodecks, the airlocks, the doomed military "grunts" (seemingly out of Aliens), and other trappings we've become overly familiar with. None of it is original, or even really explained. It's just backdrop for some inventive murders (always the bread-and-butter of this particular franchise.) My personal favorite is an impaling on a giant corkscrew…

Jason X is a particularly silly movie with lots of bloody gore and nubile young titties. On that basis, it's rather enjoyable. My ultimate message to this ridiculous movie?

"You stupid!"


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