Jason Voorhees went to hell. This was the ostensible premise of the last installment of the Friday the 13th series, 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Here the Camp Crystal Lake serial killer fought and lost to the Devil himself, and found himself dragged down to the fiery pits. Sounds like closure, no? Hardly. As even the most casual viewer of slasher films can tell you, the killer always comes back.
But how to get Jason back from hell? Screenwriter Todd Farmer’s answer is to relocate the character’s hell within, to make it more personal. So, the film after the “final” film, Jason X, opens with some pretty neat CGI of a fires-a-blazin’ landscape. We quickly realize that we are privy to a microscopic journey through the mind of Jason Voorhees (here, as in the last three installments, played by Kane Hodder), as computer wizardry takes us out one ear, around the famous hockey-masked visage and back inside through the opposite ear. It turns out that Jason never really went to hell at all nine years ago. Instead, he went inside a psychological horrorscape, where he’s since been living every day of his preternaturally long life.
Okay, it’s a pretty lame set up. But what slasher sequel doesn’t go to great lengths to reinvigorate its monster time and again? And to be fair, Jason X does recognize its own history and the savvy of its audience. We know Jason is supposed to be in hell, and at least Farmer and director James Isaac try to find some way out of this bind. This isn’t to say it works.
Still, the film is filled with attempts at self-consciousness, humor, and irony. The best bit comes near the end, when the few remaining youngsters try to confuse Jason by throwing up some Star Trek: TNG holotechnology around him that recreates Camp Crystal Lake, circa 1980. Here, the killer encounters some straight-from-the-’80s holo-girls, sporting naught but T-shirts (which they immediately peel off) and panties. They entreat Jason: “Do you want to have a beer, or smoke some pot? Or have premarital sex? We love premarital sex!” Jason, of course, kills them, even though they are just digital.
Unfortunately this is the only clever bit, it’s hardly reward enough for the 80 minutes of astonishingly bad film that comes before it. There’s no need to bore you with the details of the many ways in which Jason X bites. Even the Jason fans-for-life at the preview I attended couldn’t stomach it. I’ve never seen so many people leaving in the middle of a free movie. And, as one very sensible young man said, loudly, about halfway through: “This film sucks! It should have gone straight to video.”
In case you are interested in the “plot,” Isaac and Farmer try to revitalize the Friday the 13th franchise by relocating the killer some five hundred years into the future. It seems that back in 2010, Jason was captured, but his struggle with sexy scientist Rowan (Lexa Doig) inadvertently left both cryogenically frozen. Jump to 455 years into the future, and both Rowan and Jason are “rescued” by a team of young students (of what is never really explained), led by Professor Lowe (Jonathan Potts). They take the two 21st-century Popsicles back to their space ship — the earth has become inhospitable to human life you see — and reanimate them. Mayhem and murder ensue.
To be sure, the body count in Jason X is way up there. One of the more “creative” killings involves yet another sexy scientist, Adrienne (Kristi Angus). Jason dips her head in a vat of liquid nitrogen, and then shatters her frozen face all over the countertop. Nice. The problem with such cleverness is that it leaves precious little time for things like suspense. The real pleasure of horror films is the visceral response they elicit, which the first few Jason films surely cultivated. There’s no such build-up here. Jason X merely proceeds from one bloody splatter shot to the next, with very little tension, much less story, in between.
The only really scary part of Jason X comes in the killer’s transformation into cyborg juggernaut. In another ST: TNG rip-off, after half of his head is blown away and it appears that Jason in finally and undeniably dead, some (Borgian) nanotechnology reconstructs his body, replacing irretrievably lost flesh with circuitry and metal plating. What’s frightening here is what Cyber Jason signals for the franchise. As he bears a striking resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, one might wonder whether Jason will once again return for Chapter 11, only this time as the messianic savior of the human race, a la Arnie in T2. Let’s hope not.