***/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras A+
starring Robert Englund, Monica Keena, Ken Kirzinger, Kelly Rowland
screenplay by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift
directed by Ronny Yu
by Walter Chaw Though it doesn't work at all as a scary movie (with even its jump scares curiously tepid), there is the possibility with Freddy Vs. Jason to engage in an anagogical discussion as rich and fascinating as any offered before by the already meaty respective franchises, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Pitting Freddy Krueger--razor-fingered child murderer, victim of vigilante justice, and avatar of the sins of the literal fathers--against Jason Voorhees, hockey-masked victim of the cruelty of adolescence and the fear of sensuality, is amazingly fertile ground and handled herein with a seriousness that understands the death that post-modern cleverness represents for horror's slasher subgenre. This is not to say that the film doesn't make nods to Signs and 2001: A Space Odyssey, just to suggest that its story proper is firmly grounded in its own hermetic mythology, the curiously heady equation of its titular bogeys to some sort of modern holy pantheon.
Freddy (Robert Englund) has been defeated by forgetfulness, that god-killer, his omnipotence neutered as it were by his prey's ability to suppress his memory. To get the gears churning again, Freddy visits Jason (Ken Kirzinger) in Hell (which looks suspiciously like Jason's stomping ground Camp Crystal Lake and, therefore, heaven for Jason, right?) disguised as Jason's dead mother and "frees" the flesh golem with the idea that a spate of murders on Elm Street will resurrect the fear of him and restore his power. His plan working too well, Freddy has his attempts to harvest his flock repeatedly thwarted by Jason's unslakeable bloodlust, leading to the realization that Freddy, in order to properly collect his measure of obeisance from his acolytes, must destroy the monster he has created. Freddy Vs. Jason is a Prometheus mythology in that respect, the titan releasing a scourge upon the earth for his own ends only to find himself made impotent and in agony for that transgression. Yet Freddy Vs. Jason is also a retelling of the walk of 6th century Catholic saints St. Maurus (who saves a boy from drowning) and St. Faustus, the latter of whom, like Jason in this film, was pierced by arrows and, in his way, the chronicler of his companion's legacy. No kidding.
The gaggle of meat puppets assembled to be variously skewered (raped) and decapitated (castrated) include Destiny's Child diva Kelly Rowland (as Kia) and Brittany Murphy look-alike Monica Keena (as Lori) as the requisite reluctant virgin. Freddy punishes Kia for her desire to improve her perfect features in a deeply subversive scene that equates plastic surgery with butchery--a strange lesson, indeed, from such a teacher, and one that implies an aesthete's ascription to beauty as truth. For Lori, the death of her own mother and that requirement for a young girl to assume the role of female of the household is dissected by Freddy's sadistic masquerade as Lori's father. More, Freddy frames Lori's father for the murder of Lori's mother (by stabbing, of course), while Lori's father compounds the tension by offering nepenthe, Suspicion-style: "At least drink your juice!"
At its root, Freddy Vs. Jason is a deeply moral film that takes its cue from those tent poles of teen anxiety pictures: fear of sexuality; fear of responsibility; fear of bullies; suspicion of parents. Consider a central geek character (Chris Marquette) who is given not only a level of nobility and a martyr's death, but also a speech to vain Kia delivered with seriousness and allowed to stand unchallenged. The possible transference, then, of the Jason persona to the prototypical Geek--unloved, unlovable, horny--becomes one of many suggestions that Jason is not so much the hero of the piece as the projection of frustrated heroism: the elevation of manhood arrested as Greek tragedy (and, after all, didn't early Greek theatre revolve around the wearing of masks?), with a school bullying subplot--a throwaway line about Columbine, a school banner that says "Harassment and Violence: Not At Our School"--illustrating how we all as a collective create the shape of our monsters.
I think it's overly simplistic to say that inexorable hockey-masked killer Jason punishes the camp counsellor archetypes responsible for his drowning death for having sex, smoking pot, and partying; closer to the truth that the Jason mythopoeia revolves around a certain Keatsian "consumption sublime," poised at that exact moment of sexual awakening in the young male and its Freudian Oedipal complexities. Consider that Jason, for the most part, targets the males while Freddy tortures the women, their roles defined in this picture along strict lines of Oedipal dysfunction and paternal transgression. The phallic devices of mayhem employed by Jason distract from the idea (offered by critic Alex Jackson) that Jason himself may be the manifestation of a penis, tumescent and ramrod straight: the murders--particularly the penetration murders (and here the film resembles most Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter)--are the kind of frustrated sexual performance circumscribed in Keats's "The Eve of St. Agnes" (itself a description of a rape, a dream, and a disappointing reality--not so much "afterglow" as "after-disgust"), with Jason, unsated and indeed unsate-able, forever re-enacting the moment of his mother's death and his resultant inability to ever make appropriate mate choices (proper release)--robbed, as he is, of the mother at the moment of the all-important split. A scene where Jason repeatedly jackhammers a stud with a giant machete is filmed in such a way as to suggest a homosexual rape, while an extremely loaded sequence in which a young woman is about to be "saved" by a rape (in the midst of Keats's Ruth's alien corn, no less) is interrupted by Jason pricking her attacker with a jagged pipe, appearing to "save" her from a successful rape with an unsuccessful rape.
The picture is too thorny to deconstruct in just a few lines. Sufficed to say that there's something alive in this film, and it's not necessarily the undead fiends enjoying their second coming, nor the awful dialogue their victims are forced to spew. Freddy Vs. Jason speaks of Freddy as a contagion to be contained, furthering the idea of blood contamination in a thaumaturgical sense--the transformation of sin into a physical stain while recognizing that Freddy's power has always been more impishly magical at its essence than truly demonic. The centre of the film isn't the duel that takes up its last twenty minutes or so, but two images: the first an unbelievably clever effect of Freddy as a hookah-smoking caterpillar, the second Freddy's discovery that Jason is afraid of water and subsequent delivery of a "cold shower" that "shrinks" Jason from his priapic height to a limp, flaccid, more manageable size. Freddy Vs. Jason is fascinating stuff that works its campy measure of gratuitous gore and nudity to adequate effect while offering the sort of cohesive rule structure that allows for a deeper analysis. Arguably the best entry in either series (with the possible exception the first A Nightmare on Elm Street), Freddy Vs. Jason, which even has the audacity to offer a princess's kiss to wake a sleeping paladin, is a B-movie that understands the freedom that the slasher subgenre offers the devoted to indulge in psychosexual opera. A minor shame that the film's pleasures are more of the mind than the trip-hammer heart. Originally published: August 15, 2003.
by Bill Chambers It took me all of five seconds to figure out that David Prior was behind New Line's Platinum Series release of Freddy Vs. Jason, so illuminating is its supplementary material. But the four-course meal that is the second platter of this set self-condemningly leads with a section of deleted scenes (twenty in all, with commentary from director Ronny Yu and Ken "Jason" Kirzinger, it sounds like), wherein we discover that test audiences stole a little of the film's soul in pressuring the studio to remove a boundaries-shattering goodbye kiss between Kia and Charlie (the aforementioned central geek character), the revelation of which--SPOILER--makes the smile on Charlie's face as he departs from this world all the more heartbreaking. So near and yet sofa, as they say. Also included on this portion of the disc is an alternate ending (the only one, apparently, despite rumours to the contrary) that lacks the class of the theatrical version's denouement, although it does flaunt Monica Keena in a bustier likely to give her fans the very opposite of nightmares.
The remaining extras fall under the headings "The Production" or "Publicity and Promotions." Let's take a look at the former:
"Freddy and Jason Go to Development Hell" - The full text of a FANGORIA article on the film's backstory, presented in two parts on multiple screens.
"Genesis: Development Hell" (10 mins.)
My guilty pleasure Stokely Chaffin is back as an interviewee in what I believe is her first DVD appearance since the I Know What You Did Last Summer SE. She's as understatedly sexy and ditzy as ever, bizarrely correlating American Beauty with films of epic length while retracing her involvement in the production all the way back to the time she recklessly opened the floodgates by agreeing to meet with anyone interested in directing the project. At any rate, it either makes perfect sense or none at all that it took about seventy writers to crack the riddle that was how to pit the two titans of slasher cinema against one another--Robert Englund even remembers encountering a "King of the Hill" staffer on an airplane who'd written a draft, an apparent tour of Hollywood duty for the better part of the Nineties.
Location: Springwood Revisited" (15 mins.)
Prior-san and his ironic library cues. Here, to the strains of pretty much the entire Fantasia soundtrack, Stokely has her own horror story to tell in recalling the time Yu impersonated Jason Voorhees for New Line's CEO Robert Shaye by stepping on Shaye's foot and attempting to unscrew his head. She still seems shaken, but Shaye lived to film a cameo in Freddy Vs. Jason that was subsequently cut out of the picture. (Hoisted on his own petard, as they say.) The highlight, though, is the excitable Yu informing us that he's "so like a samurai!"
Direction: Jason's Decorating Tips" (12 mins.)
Though production designer John Willett doesn't seem all that versed in the lore of either of the combined franchises, his dissertation on the Chinese architecture that inspired his embellishments to Freddy's boiler room is most intriguing. The behind-the-scenes clips start to get a little indulgent from hereon in, but they reward the watchful eye of a fan.
When Push Comes to Shove" (22 mins.)
Devoted mostly to the immolation of Jason, this overlong segment features one of Prior's trademark on-screen factoids (regarding the under-wraps ingredients of Nomex) and an amusing botched take of Kirzinger as Jason storming the castle, as it were.
Effects: Freddy's Beauty Secrets" (6 mins.)
The group photo of WCT Make-Up Effects Team is a highlight--it's like the class picture from Hell. The procedure for Englund's prosthetic application is dutifully explained; as an aside, I actually find Freddy's make-up too explicitly demonic this go-round.
And now, a 35-minute master class in the art of visual effects, hosted by Ariel Velasco-Shaw and Kevin Elam (men, both). Right away, these guys illuminate the problem with most CGI tutorials by wasting next to no breath discussing software, instead focusing on the philosophy behind--and problems encountered while executing--the major FX shots. Candidly lamenting the ignorance of the above-the-line players who'd throw their lives into a tailspin through improvisational thinking on set, Velasco-Shaw and Elam also show remorse for digitally removing the orbs of a cute little girl ("We're going straight to Hell"), express reverence for the "Freddypillar" (a creation they farmed out to another effects house), and reference This is Spinal Tap in a way that avoids gratuitousness--no mean feat.
Six storyboard galleries (browse 'em, there are interesting discrepancies) and five production galleries (behind-the-scenes stills and such).
"Pre-Fight Conference - Bally's Casino, Las Vegas, NV, July 15, 2003" (4 mins.)
Hilarious highlights from the Don King-style pre-release press conference. It's worth noting that Jason (Kirzinger himself) receives louder cheers than Freddy (Englund himself).
Summer Vacation - A Trip to Camp Hacknslash" (4 mins.)
The events leading up to the Alamo Drafthouse premiere of Freddy Vs. Jason in montage. Harry Knowles shows up, and it's a shame he didn't enter the wet T-shirt contest--his bust size makes a mockery of the women who do.
Eight TV spots for Freddy Vs. Jason plus trailers for Freddy Vs. Jason, The Butterfly Effect, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, and Freddy's Dead: The Nightmare and the video for Ill Nino's "How Can I Live" finish out this portion of the disc. Disc 2 is also a showcase for innovative ROM content: amateur editors can cut their teeth on the raw footage of the "Cutting Room Floor", an editing workshop that debugs Prior's earlier attempt at a makeshift AVID with the Die Hard DVD, while the "Freddy Vs. Jason soundboard" allows you to manipulate soundbites from the film. An ever-vital "script-to-screen" interface caps things off.
|Freddy Vs. Jason: widescreen vs. fullscreen|
Freddy Vs. Jason occupies Disc 1 in adjacent 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and fullscreen versions. Composition varies dramatically between the two thanks to the film's Super35 lensing, the former often plainly giving off the impression of a bigger budget than the latter. Shadow detail is good for the most part, though van interiors, bathed in James Cameron blue, look somewhat smeary; much of the picture was shot day-for-night, and with this in mind, the image has superior clarity. The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix is simply phenomenal and never dull, the 'Pinball Jason' and "damn the torpedoes" set-pieces particularly ingratiating for their wizardly marriage of the split-surrounds and LFE channel. Yu, Englund, and Kirzinger pitch in a chummy group commentary from which Englund emerges the star. As the veteran among them, he shares memories from the past twenty years of playing Freddy (and even a "V" story or two) and observes the Nightmare on Elm Street saga's contribution to the punk movement in America. Kirzinger barely says a peep, all of them deeply admire Rowland, and the question of whether Katharine Isabelle was body-doubled remains unanswered. Originally published: January 14, 2004.