Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Take Two: Jason X

by Patrick Bromley
I once thought Jason X belonged at the bottom of the Friday the 13th barrel. It doesn't.

I remember liking only one scene in Jason X, the tenth (10th!) movie in the Friday the 13th franchise, when I saw the movie opening weekend back in 2001. While trapped on the holodeck of the spaceship he's inhabiting (yes, you read that correctly), masked slasher Jason Voorhees' potential victims attempt to distract and fool him by holographically recreating the Crystal Lake of the 1980s: two attractive young women stand in the woods, scantily clad, and say they want to have unprotected sex. They then climb into sleeping bags so that Jason can recreate the kill from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (incidentally the favorite kill of the whole series of F This Movie!'s own Mike Pomaro) by smashing them into a nearby tree.

This, to me, seemed like the only self-aware sequence in the entire film, and in the age of post-Scream self-reflexivity, I was convinced that Jason X needed more of this. Playing the Friday the 13th formula straight in 2001 was no longer effective. It needed to call more attention to its own tropes and make fun of them.

I was wrong.
Maybe because I've lost my taste for lame irony and self-parody in the decade since Jason X was released, I find myself liking the approach the movie takes in 2012 much more than if it had just been 90 minutes of the holodeck scene. I thought the majority of the movie was humorless back in 2001. I'm not sure which movie I was watching, because Jason X is definitely NOT humorless. It's actually kind of clever without ever being actively jokey, and the tone it adopts is one that's not easy to pull off. No one is more surprised by this than me.

(Note: I have also long believed that Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, which is as-or-more hated as Jason X, achieves this same tone. It might be due for a rewatch to confirm this. I suspect it's because I've listened to the commentary track, and the filmmakers seem very aware of the movie they made. I don't think this translates to the actual film.)

Now, I'm not suggesting that Jason X is a traditionally "good" movie, but it is much better than I remember it being, and probably belongs in the upper half of the Friday the 13th franchise. Originally made as a way of keeping the series afloat while not messing up any potential continuity with Freddy vs. Jason, at that time still in its loooong development stage, Jason X opens in the then-future of 2010 with a team of scientists planning to cryogenically freeze Jason Voorhies after numerous attempts to kill him have failed. Along comes asshole David Cronenberg (just the first of many pleasant surprises in the movie), who insists on taking the body of Jason to study how he's able to regenerate over and over again. That doesn't go well, and before long everyone is dead except for Rowan LaFontaine (Lexa Doig), who is mortally wounded in her efforts to get Jason into the freezing chamber. Unfortunately, there's a leak in the cryonic fluid and Rowan ends up frozen as well.

Cut to the year 2455, as a team of students on the now-desolate Earth (everyone and everything has been relocated to Earth Two) find the Crystal Lake Research Facility and recover the bodies of both Rowan and Jason. They bring them back aboard their ship, the Grendel, and revive/heal Rowan through the use of nanite technology. Professor Lowe, who is leading the field trip expedition, secretly announces his intentions to try and sell the body of Jason Voorhies, which he believes to be incredibly valuable. Of course, Jason (being Jason) doesn't stay frozen or dead for long, and begins killing off both the students and the military on board the ship. It's up to to the surviving members of the team (which includes a female android called KM 14; between her presence and the military presence, writer Todd Farmer is clearly a big fan of Aliens) to defeat He Who Wears the Hockey Mask.

What Jason X will be remembered for -- beyond its ridiculous "Jason in space" premise -- is the appearance of "Uber-Jason," the technologically enhanced cyborg version of the character created by nanites after he's wounded in a fight.
Uber-Jason is outrageously dumb. But, then, so is regular Jason. If you're a die-hard devotee of the Friday the 13th franchise, you probably hate Uber-Jason because it departs from the iconography of the character. But you probably also hate Jason X, because it sends the series into space. As someone who has always tolerated -- even, at times, enjoyed -- these movies without ever feeling any real connection to them, I'm not bothered by the presence of spaceships and Cyborg Voorhies. Farmer (who also appears in the movie; he's the big bald guy who does the battle simulation with Azrael) realized that there was very little blood left (GET IT??) in the series as it was, and between that fact and the constraints placed upon him by the Freddy vs. Jason mess, decided to take things in an extreme direction -- almost as a commentary on the previously ridiculous places to which the series has gone (Jason vs. the telkinetic, Jason Takes Manhattan). The movie has fun with the series without just making fun of the series. If all you want is another version of the same Friday the 13th, just get the 2009 remake. It's not just another Friday the 13th movie -- it's every Friday the 13th movie mashed into one. And it sucks.

Having viewed a number of Friday the 13th movies just prior to rewatching Jason X, one thing I can now appreciate about this installment that improves upon the previous films is that everyone finds out that Jason exists and is on the rampage almost from the outset. There are hardly any scenes of people splitting up, going off on their own, being stalked and subsequently murdered before they even realize what's happening. These people work together. They get help. They fight back. And while the movie isn't outrageously gory, there are some inventive makeup and gore F/X that should please fans of that sort of thing (the girl who gets her face frozen in liquid nitrogen and then has her head shattered like Simon Phoenix is a standout). There's also a lot of bad CGI and generic characterization and weak acting. It may stray from the norm in a lot of ways, but it's still a Friday the 13th movie.
As is always the case with these Take Two columns, it can be tricky to determine what has changed between seeing a movie the first time and seeing it again years later. The movie never changes; I do. But I think there's more to Jason X than just me changing. I think the context of the movie has changed. In 2001, Jason X somehow felt both stiff and silly -- a wrongheaded attempt at restarting a franchise that, like the title character, probably should have stayed dead. But horror movies -- and movies in general -- have changed a lot in the decade since, and now there's almost a kind of sophistication to what Jason X does. It's self-aware without just turning into nonstop parody or camp, and it's smarter than either its stupid premise or the franchise's history of stupidity would suggest. I still don't really think Jason X is a good horror movie, but it's a pretty good Friday the 13th movie.

Maybe some other franchises should take a page from this one and send their characters into space. Freddy in space. Leatherface in space. Leprechaun in space...oh, wait. Never mind.


  1. You sold me, Patrick, I'm actually kinda pumped to watch this again as it's the only one in the series I haven't even seen in its entirety. I think I'm gonna skip the first two and pretend they start at Part 3 (which let's face it, with the introduction of the mask that is where it really starts, right?).

    Partially watching the first one last night, it got me thinking about what a strange character Jason is (I was bored). I mean, he's some sort of supernatural being, but then he can also be a bit of a klutz. He totally bumbles a kill at least once in every movie, which would be fine if he was just a dude (a la Scream say) but is pretty damn weird when you consider the fact he's a monster. Imagine in a serious vampire movie, friggin Dracula tripping over his cape as he goes to bite someone. Supernatural-type vulnerabilities are cool, but an inhuman killing machine with dexterity issues? I guess Jason is one of the more "human" monsters? I've always had trouble reconciling this dual-nature he seems to have which I guess adds to his mystique (for me at least).

    1. Wait, by the First One do you mean the Third One? Because (SPOILER) Jason isn't the killer in Part 1. Unless you're sticking to your theory that it starts at Part 3, in which case you're right. I AM CONFUSED.

      I can't promise anything great. It's just rare that I rewatch one of these dumb horror movies and realize it's better than I thought. And I DEFINITELY didn't expect that from Jason X. Let me know what you think when you get to it.

    2. WHAT?! You just blew the whole damn movie for me!

      Haha, no I see now how what I said was confusing - to clarify, I was thinking about Jason whilst watching the first movie because my bored mind was wandering and not because I thought he was actually in it!

      I think your essay sets expectations to an appropriate level - I caught part of Jason X on a movie channel shortly after it came out, dismissed it as complete garbage and never sought to watch the whole thing. I'm not expecting greatness, just a new-to-me Friday the 13th experience that might be better than some of the lesser entries (where I had assumed it was one of the worst).

      It'll be on AMC Friday or Saturday, I'll let you know then!

  2. "Jason X" is fun (dumb, brainless fun, but fun nevertheless). Most "Friday the 13th" movies are no fun; they have fun moments here and there but, on the whole, are joyless exercises in sitting around with mostly-unpleasant-to-be-around characters until the assembly-line kills arrive. It's no masterpiece, but there hasn't been one time I've seen "Jason X" that I didn't enjoy myself. I can only say that about a handful of "F. the 13th" flicks.

    Listen to the commentary if you can, Patrick. The image of Sean Cunningham locking Todd Farmer in an office and himself in another office next door to keep an eye on Farmer burn the midnight oil to deliver the script on time (which to me explains the movie's lunacy/ pitch-fever) is a fun boss-from-hell image burned permanently into my brain. :-)