Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Retrospect can bring clarity. You see, back in 2003, I had never been more excited for the release of a movie than Freddy vs. Jason. I could barely get to sleep the night before its opening. I saw it twice on opening day and a third time later that weekend. It was a massive experience for me, and I was even in contact with an executive at New Line Cinema while running Forever Horror at the time. Posters, soundtracks, magazines, and the novelization quickly came into my possession because I was so enthusiastic and in love with this movie. It was a monumental moment in time. That was a long time ago, and even a few years after the film’s release I realized what this film truly was – a major disappointment. The hype is dead and buried, the anticipation is a vague memory. What I see and know now is that Freddy vs. Jason was a monument of missed opportunities due to a poor script “clean up” by David Goyer and the over-the-top comic book stylings of director Ronny Yu. This film was barely what it should have been, and did not portray Jason to his fullest potential.
Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is in hell, and can’t get out. Everyone has forgotten about him, he has no power over anyone in the dream world. He’s searched throughout hell for someone that could help him reignite people’s fear of Freddy, and he has in Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger). Freddy, posing as Jason’s mother Pamela Voorhees (Paula Shaw), manipulates Jason into reawakening and doing Freddy’s dirty work for a time. Jason goes to Elm Street in Springwood, Ohio to lay the seeds of fear that will re-empower Freddy, but when Jason becomes uncontrollable and continues to take Freddy’s thunder and victims – the two immediately come at odds and the battle for 80s horror icon supremacy begins.
To be plainly straight forward, Ronny Yu does nothing with this film to make it remotely resemble anything horror-related. While we have monsters and gore and murder, he doesn’t even try to make anything scary. He just turns this entire concept into a comic book adventure with larger than life action like a Michael Bay film. It’s all ridiculously overblown action with absolutely no attempt at building tension or suspense. Ronny Yu didn’t care to take these characters back to their truly horror-driven roots. In fact, he demonstrates very little to zero knowledge of the characters at all. Ken Kirzinger’s performance is forced by Yu to be a slow lumbering Frankenstein’s Monster at times, and then, as an animalistic enraged killer. Kirzinger does the best he can, but Yu forced him into a very specific, narrow portrayal of Jason that does not display the character at his best. Ken was Kane Hodder’s stunt double in Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and so, he knows how to do Jason justice (even if it is Kane Hodder’s version). Ronny Yu simply knew nothing about the best aspects of Jason’s character, about what worked best in previous interpretations – let alone display Jason’s creative diversity with different weapons. He may look like Jason Voorhees, but there is little here that resembles the character fans have come to enjoy. I also severely hate the comical context Jason is thrown into repeatedly throughout the film.
Robert Englund, on the other hand, is allowed to put in possibly the best performance as Freddy Krueger since the original A Nightmare On Elm Street. Freddy is sick, sadistic, and just totally vile here. Unfortunately, the wisecracks and one-liners still do pop up to form some very cringe inducing moments. It seems as if the lame humor aspects of the character will never die, but compared to the portrayal in Freddy’s Dead – this is evil incarnate. When Englund’s in the moment of the most terrible acts, he delivers something we’ve hungered for way too long – pure, serious villainy. Freddy may have been given only one kill in this film, but it truly is memorable. The entire sequence is vintage Elm Street. The slur in Krueger’s voice is new, but it also adds a touch of sickening evil. Overall, Freddy is given a far better treatment here than Jason. I believe that’s mainly because New Line was still the ‘House That Freddy Built,’ and he was their icon. There’s nobody on board this production that was just as devoted to Jason as others were to Freddy. I can surely hear the cries for “Kane Hodder,” but he had some ego issues with the role that did not serve him well in the aftermath of his departure. He certainly had great reason to be upset for being canned from the film, but at some point, you have to be a professional and let it go.
The weakness of this film lies with Ronny Yu and the script. Screenwriters Mark Shannon & Damian Swift reportedly had a lot more Jason-centric elements in the story, but David Goyer came in, eliminated many good things about it, cheesed up the dialogue, and ultimately made it a worse script overall. When I saw Blade: Trinity, I saw how bad Goyer’s screenwriting could be when there’s no one to fine-tune it. The guy isn’t as great of a scriptwriter as we’ve been led to believe. The level of cheesy, horribly poor dialogue is out-right obscene. It is cringe inducing to sit through it. Still, a really good actor can make bad dialogue workable, even tolerable, but the cast we have here was a long way off from winning any awards beyond a Razzie. Jason Ritter is stiff, boring, and shallow. Monica Keena has a very ample upper body that’s used to laughable ends, but she displays no decent acting skills whatsoever. Also, don’t get me start on Kelly Rowland – terrible, horrible, a pure crime against cinema. It’s acting like this that could make great and proud B-movie actors like Bruce Campbell or Jeffrey Combs ashamed to be associated with the genre. Although, there are some good efforts here, but unfortunately, they’re gone all too early. These performances come from Brendan Fletcher as Mark Davis and Zack Ward as Mark’s long-dead brother Bobby. Freddy uses Bobby to haunt and torture Mark to creepy effect, and Ward does a fine job mimicking Englund’s mannerisms. Fletcher does very well despite having the burden of tackling most of the exposition in the film. His character is smarter than all the other teenagers combined, as is Fletcher’s acting talent. Too bad he’s disposed of once all his exposition dialogue has been delivered. Lochlyn Munro clocks in as Officer Stubbs, and while his character seems to have some bit of potential, at least in story development, it’s dashed halfway through the film when he’s made into another statistic on the body count list. That’s the failing of the characters in this film – if you have exposition dialogue in this film, you’re going to die right after you’ve served that purpose. If you have nothing at all to contribute to the film in character, story, or acting talent, you’ll survive to the final act.
The effects in this movie are decent, but there’s way too much CGI employed. Visual effects have always been a major element in the Nightmare films, but this is more than enough and too cheesy. The volume of blood here makes everything very silly and hardly scary. Also, the fact that Freddy has always had green blood in all previous film entries, and he now has regular red blood shows how little anyone cared for continuity. Plus, Jason is undead – he has no blood pumping through his veins, yet it all spurts out like geysers. Ever since undead Jason debuted in Jason Lives, his blood has been a black, gooey substance that oozes out of his wounds, when he did bleed. The design of Jason is different, and while I like the hockey mask, it becomes too battered by the end ruining the visualization of Jason’s moral blankness that it’s meant to symbolize. The raggedy clothing he’s draped in makes him look like a homeless derelict. Why they couldn’t stick with the coveralls or the classic green shirt and tan khakis is beyond me. He really does look like Frankenstein’s Monster in this film, minus the neck bolts.
Also, the level of comedy here is just wrong. Even when Freddy is beating down on Jason in the dream world boiler room, it’s all done comically. Jason’s just hurled around like in a pinball machine complete with sound effects and wisecracks. I just hate that they couldn’t keep Freddy as a sick, detestable bastard, but instead were so tempted to make a wisecracking “fun” villain. Freddy Krueger is setup from the very first moment of this movie as a child killer and possibly something even more sickening, but not long after, he’s being played up as a jokey villain. This doesn’t jibe with me. Certainly, nothing should be taken too seriously with a film that pits a wisecracking dream demon against an undead killer wearing a hockey mask, but there are certain character traits that should be weighed in when dealing with the character overall. As a human being, Freddy Krueger kidnapped, violated, and killed children – not a laughing matter at all. Of course, if anyone had made any attempt to make the majority of the teenage characters in this film any bit real, let alone sympathetic, Freddy would seem more villainous by attempting to kill them all. Beyond just the portrayal of Freddy, the quality of the comedy is horribly cheap and childish. It’s just badly written puns that add to the pile of garbage dialogue that this film dumps upon us. The fact that they blatantly ripped-off the character of Jay from Jay & Silent Bob in the form of Freeberg just shows the laziness of the writing and casting. While stoners have been a slasher mainstay, I cannot condone them carbon copying a character from a comedy franchise for a few weak, cheap laughs. It’s a blatant sign of being creatively bankrupt or simply lazy.
The score created by Graeme Revell is grossly disappointing. It sounds like he composed the thing during a ten minute coffee break in between films. The same weak musical cues are used a dozen times over, and no real thought out themes exist here. There was only one Jason “vocal effect” produced for the film, and any bit of Charles Bernstein’s Elm Street theme that appears in the soundtrack was injected in the aftermath of Revell’s scoring. Knowing that Revell did the brilliant, beautiful, and very gothic score for The Crow made me hopeful that he’d deliver something equally as epic, but sadly, he phones this work in. I would’ve preferred someone along the lines of Christopher Young scoring this as he did amazing work on the first two Hellraiser films and subsequent motion picture scores. Regardless, whatever I had hoped for, this score is the most disappointing of either series. Revell wasn’t even trying here.
The only good part of the film is the end when Freddy and Jason finally battle in the real world, but I’m only speaking of when they get hands-on. Only when the two are chopping and tearing away at each other – ripping chunks of flesh from their bodies – does it get really damn good. Everything previous to that is either a ridiculous WWE style brawl with flying elbows and such, or Freddy hurling heavy objects at Jason. The real meat of the entire encounter is Freddy and Jason dropping the bullshit creativity, and just ripping each other apart! This doesn’t last long enough, though, and it takes a third party to really allow for a winner of any kind to prevail, despite no one actually winning at all.
Again, another failing of this film is abandoning any sense of horror or suspense. It’s just a monster movie meant to splatter blood across the screen, and that just doesn’t hold my interest. There are a few frightening moments and a slew of excellent kills, but a little less time spent over indulging in comical farce and more time spent building up atmosphere and tension could’ve gone an exceptionally long way. There are also numerous missed opportunities. There could’ve been a great story with characters from both franchises coming together to deal with Freddy and Jason. Shannon and Swift had mentions of Tommy Jarvis in the script, but he did not appear. I think bringing together Tommy and maybe Alice from Dream Master and The Dream Child could’ve made a blockbuster combination. In the least, we would’ve had a lead cast that could actually act.
On my horror movie website Forever Horror, I had an ever-growing article on the history of Freddy vs. Jason from the beginning of both franchises past the point of this film’s theatrical release. It’s an insanely long article due to how long the film was in development. It had been trying to get made since 1987, and for all the stacks of scripts, screenwriters, and directors that were attached to this film over those many long years, I cannot believe this is the best script New Line Cinema could come up with. I cannot believe that Ronny Yu was the best director they could find to helm this. There must’ve been a half dozen or more horror filmmakers out there craving to do this project that would’ve done an extremely better job with it. Again, Yu essentially knew next to nothing about either character or franchise, and it just shocks me that New Line Cinema would hand this film over to someone like that. I can understand wanting to avoid hiring someone with a bias towards Freddy or Jason, but the film still turned out more like A Nightmare on Elm Street sequel guest starring Jason.
I will admit that Friday The 13th is my favorite slasher film series, but even from an objective point of view, it’s easy to see the lack of Jason-centric elements here. Crystal Lake doesn’t show up until the third act, and there’s a gross lack of creativity in Jason’s weapons and most of his kills. Practically having that machete glued to his hand the whole film again displays the shallow knowledge the filmmakers had for Jason. Also, claiming that Jason has some subconscious fear of water is preposterous. We’ve seen Jason submerged in water numerous times in multiple films without so much as hesitating to do so. He walked underwater halfway from Crystal Lake to Manhattan without a problem. Also, regardless of the tone of the Friday The 13th movie, Jason was always portrayed as entirely serious and lethal, but this film pokes too much fun at him. It puts him into comical moments that could’ve been reworked to be suspenseful. It’s horrible direction and campy screenwriting like this which also turned Alien vs. Predator into such an abomination. Both of these films could’ve had so much potential to be absolutely grisly, frightening, and intense films, but bad directors and screenwriters with no sense of respect for the material destroyed those hopes. While AVP is undeniably the worst of the two, Freddy vs. Jason demonstrated you could get away with showing only little to no respect for the source material, and still be greatly successful at the box office.
What more can I even say about this in a summation? The movie hit like a wild fire, but all that excitement and praise was just hype. Today, I don’t buy into hype. Either the film looks good or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t deliver on my more matured tastes, no amount of hype is going to overshadow that. There are films I can admit are bad, but still gain some degree of enjoyment from it. While Freddy vs. Jason is a more tolerable film than Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare or Jason X, I have not had the genuine urge to watch it in many years. This is not a film to vehemently avoid, but it is one where your expectations need to be drastically lowered to avoid severe disappointment. If for nothing else, the horrible, vacuous acting is something you need to brace yourself for because it will make you cringe. Overall, this movie was a gimmick, plain and simple. It wasn’t about being faithful to the characters, fans, continuity, or franchises. It wasn’t about good acting, directing, scoring, or scriptwriting either. It’s strange that a film built out of the idea of fan service really has little to offer the fans that know the franchises the best. It’s even worse that after this film was such a huge success, New Line Cinema decided to inflict the curse of the remake upon both Freddy and Jason. So sad.