Cast and Crew: Sean S. Cunningham (Producer); Harry Manfredini; Steven Williams, Erin Gray
What It’s About: Law enforcement finally gets serious about stopping mass murderer Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) and take him down with a trap that includes a shower, a naked woman, Crystal Lake, and a S.W.A.T. whose arsenal includes a rocket launcher/mortar. Voorhees’ body is literally blown to hell, and thus Jason’s reign of terror is ended….or is it? We all know that the only thing that kills (or at least reboots) a horror series is bad box office….so just how will the film makers bring Jason back to life?
Why Watch it Today?: Today is Friday the 13th, and we’ve already selected Friday the 13th , Friday the 13th Part 2 and Jason Lives. We’re far past the days where Friday the 13th movies were local, low-budget productions that got lucky with just the right amount of stolen Italian Giallo kills, Halloween derived structure and flipped Psycho mother/son relationship dynamic and soundtrack. The producers tried to break out of the series’ strait-jacket of a simplistic plot with a series of increasingly lame-brained ideas. They shot in 3D, killed Jason (IV); gave us a new killer (Friday the 13th V: A New Beginning); indulged in meta comedy (Lives), borrowed from other horror genres (VII‘s “Carrie vs. Jason); and tried a new location (Jason Takes Manhattan). Declining quality and new trends in horror (not to mention the terrible films) left the series moribund after worst-in-the-series Manhattan. Paramount eventually sold the rights to New Line Cinema, and, four years after the last wretched entry, they released today’s movie.
How’s that for an unpromising lead in? It’s possible that my lingering affection for this film comes from the fact that, 20 years and one month ago I saw it in a crowded theater full of enthusiastic Friday the 13th fans. I believe I’d seen, at this point, parts but probably not all of four or five of the films. I was still in high school and I’d never seen a film with an audience that alternately heckled, booed, cheered and applauded as much as the mega-fans in this theater . When Jason makes his dramatic reappearance towards the end of the film, the crowd roared. I was a little creeped out by the audience cheering the killer, and I thought the movie was pretty terrible, but I enjoyed the crowds reaction and the fun of watching what amounts to a monster movie under those conditions. Still, many in the audience, and many fans of the series, disliked Jason Goes to Hell abandons the continuity and “mythos” of the series for what amounts to a marriage of the body-jumping killer plot of The Hidden and very 1980s Satanic supernatural horror films with just enough Friday the 13th slasher film to not cause a total revolt at the theater. I was in agreement at the time; why go make such big changes to an established brand?
When I revisited the film just under ten years ago, it was the week after Halloween, and my roommate and I had just watched the first 8 films in order, which gives one a very different perspective on what makes for a good Friday film. Let’s face it, the series stopped making sense when the first sequel postulated a six-foot six, mentally deficient man with a bag on his head (with one eye-hole), who grew up unsupervised in the woods of the summer camp he appeared to drown at but didn’t drown at (somehow never running into his mother who made forays there to stop the camp from reopening until he finally found her the night a counselor killed her) would be able to track his mother’s killer to another town and murder her without anyone noticing him. Clearly this is a well thought out mythos worth preserving! Even if it were worth preserving, the series’ previous entries did all the damage long before New Line decided to do something completely different; let’s not forget the series features toxic waste that reverts Jason to childhood! Measured up to this less that stellar yardstick, Jason Goes to Hell actually manages to do a lot right: at least some of its jokes are funny; the meta references to other horror films are relatively low-key but fun (and the idea was less played out than it would become in the face of ever increasing “synergy” and ever fewer owners of intellectual property rights); the effects and production values are good; established TV actors dot the cast (including John D. LeMay from Friday the 13th: The Series in the lead); and there are fun moments, such as the opening Jason trap, a reasonable response from the authorities to a madman who lives in a single location murdering groups of 10-20 young people with a reasonably high degree of regularity. To be fair it’s still a Friday movie, so it’s still kind of idiotic, but at least this time around it’s entertaining and, probably more importantly, trying something different with actual care taken in the attempt. Which is more than the previous entry, “What if Jason went on a cruise and did the same thing he does at home”, can say.