Paramount Pictures had run their course with Jason Voorhees, and gladly sold the rights to New Line Cinema for them to do with it as they pleased. What they gave us was something that remains a mixed result for many fans. Personally, I really love Jason Goes To Hell. I believe it to be a great, original storyline that dared to do something drastically different with the franchise. The filmmakers populated it with a very solid and impressive cast, and put together an inventive script.
An FBI sting operation at Crystal Lake succeeds in blowing Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) to pieces, and all believe he is permanently dead, except for bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams). Interviewed on the news program American Case File by Robert Campbell (Steven Culp), Duke claims that Jason is not dead, and that he is the only one who knows how to send him to hell for all time. He sets a bounty of $500,000 to paid for doing so. Meanwhile, Jason’s demonic heart takes possession of person after person on a path of death back to Crystal Lake in the effort to be fully reborn in the body of another Voorhees. Coincidentally, Robert Campbell is dating Jessica Kimble (Kari Keegan), the daughter of the woman Duke seeks out in Crystal Lake, but he doesn’t get far as he is locked up for insulting the town Sheriff. The father of Jessica’s daughter, Steven Freeman (John D. LeMay), eventually encounters Duke after Diana Kimble (Erin Gray) is accidentally killed, and he learns the truth about Jason and what it will take to destroy him forever.
Many fans are content with just leaving all the origins and explanations for Jason being whatever he is unknown. However, at a certain point, a franchise has to look back on itself, and realize that some sense has to be made of its menacing slasher juggernaut that continually comes back from the dead. In this case, I believe Dean Lorey and Jay Huguely succeeded in conjuring a story that takes itself seriously while dealing with some fantastical ideas. This film turned the franchise around from its campy decent into cheap horror, and back into a far gorier and violent direction. It lays several implications upon Jason’s undead origins such as with the Necronomicon from Army of Darkness sitting inside the Voorhees house. Granted, it was likely a prop happenstance due to the same effects company working on both films, but it’s presence alone enhances the occult and supernatural implications of the film. It certainly helped spark the idea for a Freddy vs. Jason sequel, ultimately adapted into a comic book, featuring Ash Williams fighting against both slasher foes.
The addition of the Creighton Duke character was pure brilliance. A hard edged bounty hunter with the secrets to what Jason is, and what became of his family lineage injects that air of mystery and urgency into the plot. I have become a big fan of Steven Williams from 21 Jump Street to The X-Files. He’s an incredibly talented actor capable of a wide range of characterizations. As Duke, he’s got charisma that really grips an audience. He can have an mischievous wit when he offers answers to Steven Freeman in the jail, but also has an intense, captivating energy when finally delivering those answers. Duke’s a man with a dedicated purpose, and a confident, bold attitude backed by his rugged skill set. He doesn’t offer trust easily, thus, reinforcing a sort of loner attitude. He doesn’t back down from anyone, but has the intelligence to remain focused and level headed. He’s not blindly obsessed with destroying Jason. He knows he cannot do it by himself, and must come to trust that others will do what is necessary when the time comes. Creighton Duke is one of my absolute favorite characters of the entire franchise, right up there with Tommy Jarvis. Steven Williams’ performance is immensely entertaining and compelling.
On the opposite side of the hero spectrum is John D. LeMay as Steven Freeman. He’s very much just an average guy with no special skills, but has his motivations. He desires to see and hold the child he helped father with Jessica, and wants to see both of them protected from this murderous evil out stalking them. LeMay starred in the unrelated Friday The 13th: The Series where he solidly played a similar protagonist, but Steven is even more unlikely. He’s not at all a man of action, but when forced into extraordinary circumstances, he rises to the challenge by doing whatever it takes to survive and protect those he cares about. LeMay gives the role plenty of light-hearted charm, and an audience easily feels for him when things go terribly awry.
This is undoubtedly the best cast assembled for a Friday The 13th movie. There is just a wealth of credible talent throughout the ranks, and they are all handled excellently by director Adam Marcus. For the most part, they project a grounded feeling that works towards the very serious dread and horror that is present in this film. The diner owners, Joey B. & Shelby, are kind of comical, but in a way that sells Joey’s heartless exploitative nature and Shelby’s warmer sensibilities. However, Steven Culp is probably the best of the supporting cast giving us a very sleazy, unscrupulous news anchor in Robert Campbell. This is a guy who has deceived Jessica into a romantic relationship only for the chance to exploit her family for his own personal gain. Culp puts in an excellent performance as a character you love to hate, but there’s more to it that I will touch on later.
This is undoubtedly the goriest movie of the entire franchise. The filmmaker made the blood thick and plentiful. The scene of the coroner consuming Jason’s enlarged heart is beautifully disgusting and graphic. The gooey black blood oozes and splatters all over. It’s an amazing effect, yet again provided by the masterful talents at KNB EFX Group. They really went all out for this installment creating very elaborate effects which are seen in all their glory right there on the screen, in the unrated cut, of course. New Line Cinema was the first to officially release an unrated version of a film in this franchise, and this couldn’t have been a better film to do that for. The practical effects work is absolutely spectacular, and the visual effects are also highly impressive. There is nothing at all that is just mediocre or sub-standard in this film. Everyone was fully dedicated to making a high quality feature, and I applaud each and every one of them for that commitment and hard work.
Yet, this isn’t just a mindless splatter flick. There is plenty of classic Friday The 13th style suspense. Adam Marcus shows a talent for crafting solid atmosphere and tension. The film has a dark visual tone creating a gritty feel that tells you this is going to be straight-on horror. Lighting is quite moody with rich, deep blacks that really strengthen that hardened atmosphere. It’s a hell of a great look for this film that really sets it apart from the rest of the series in a very good way.
What many fans count as a negative mark against the film is that Jason himself is barely in it. He spends most of the runtime jumping from one temporary body to another in pursuit of a permanent resurrection. However, this does allow for an unexpectedly menacing and kick ass performance by Steven Culp while possessed by Jason. He tears through the diner massacre sequence savagely. It’s absolutely awesome. Of course, there is no discounting Kane Hodder, but he does appear lethargic in this film. Possibly, this is due to the padding added to his costume to reflected a bloated and malformed Jason. It definitely adds more bulk that works well in contrast to everyone in the film, but Hodder just seemed to have a harder time throwing himself into the end fight scene. Regardless of that, he still delivers a performance up to his established standards for Jason Voorhees.
Now, Harry Manfredini’s score in this film is a split opinion for me. It is quite good, and might be one of his best of the series. Unfortunately, instead of using an orchestra, the entire score is synthesized. He takes what he regularly would have done with an orchestra and apply it to a synthesizer, and it just loses far too much in that transition. While the composition is very good, the sound of shrieking strings on a keyboard sound like the score to some cheap direct-to-video horror flick. There are times it doesn’t sound that bad, but certainly from the opening credits and elsewhere, it has always given me that feeling.
I know I am not the only one who believes there are many places to take the Friday the 13th concept outside of its formulaic comfort zone, and to me, this film shows it can be done with the right ambition and talent. It’s certainly a concept that you will either like or won’t, and it’s understandable if you don’t. Many are happy to revisit the standard formula, and just see Jason killing innocent campers. However, I find that many franchises could use an infusion of new ideas. It’s only unfortunate that most times, those new ideas become bad ones that result in poor movies. Thankfully, the right talents were employed that did love the series, and wanted to do something more supernatural, graphic, and demonic with Jason without betraying the core of his character. Many would argue otherwise, but this is my opinion on Jason Goes To Hell.
I do hardly believe that even New Line Cinema was serious about this being The Final Friday considering they just picked up the rights to the character. The ending of this film blatantly and cleverly sets up Freddy vs. Jason, so, there were obvious plans to keep utilizing Jason however they could. Regardless of that issue, Jason Goes To Hell is one of my top favorite Friday The 13th films, and I feel it is one of the best and most successfully innovative of the series. There’s a first rate cast here that really push the film towards that more serious, convincing tone instead of one of camp, which is refreshing. The make-up effects are off the chart incredible giving us more gore than any other film in the franchise, before or after, but it has no lack of genuine suspense or terror. If you care for a return to more serious horror for this franchise, and don’t mind more fantastical ideas injected into the concept, I strongly recommend giving Jason Goes To Hell an honest chance.