Welcome to my new column, "Misunderstood Monsters", in which I'm taking up the torch for sequels that are trashed, beaten, stabbed, and set on fire by angry mobs, and attempt to defend their bloody honor...
...Once upon a time, in a theater far, far away—in the past—I sat down for my first theatrical experience with Jason Voorhees.
I’d been obsessed with the Friday the 13th franchise and the man behind the mask for years. I’d seen Jason hack his way through over a hundred promiscuous, drug-addled teens, and had cheered at him getting his ass kicked by a handful of badass final girls (namely Ginny. You know Amy Steel is the best). But what I hadn’t seen was Jason and his iconic hockey mask on the big screen.
My very first issue (#212) of the greatest magazine ever put on earth, Fangoria, featured Jason’s new look for director James Isaac and writer Todd Farmer’s Jason X. Uber Jason. The look was new. It was mean. It was even a little bit sexy. And I couldn’t wait. Most people hate on space horror sequels, but I’m one that believes every franchise character should go to space at some point for an extra jolt from the final-not-so-final frontier. Hellriaser: Bloodline, Leprechaun 4: In Space, even Critters 4. I enjoy them all. And you know what? Jason X ended up being the best of them.
Recently, a fellow horror journalist who won’t be named but who you most definitely probably know of, posted his ranking of the Friday films with Jason X at #2. What, how dare you, many of you screamed. B-b-but it’s one of the worst in the franchise, said others, while dragging this poor guy for his unpopular opinion. I can’t explain why so many of you all can’t just let people like what they like, but what I can do is attempt to prove to you why Jason X is actually an excellent Friday sequel, and why it’s time to stop hating on Uber Jason and not just give him his machete back, but give him your respect, as well.
Laugh a Little: Jason X is a Horror Comedy
The thing with Jason X that so often gets looked over is that this is not a straight up horror film; it’s a horror comedy, emphasis on the comedy. When it comes to the Friday the 13th franchise, I tend to look at it as two different periods: Before A New Beginning, and after A New Beginning. During the Before A New Beginning period (B.A.N.B.), Jason and his mother Pamela were figures of terror. Each film had its fun, but for the most part, they took themselves seriously. They were trying to scare you.
And then came A New Beginning, which nearly destroyed the franchise after pissing off legions of fans for not having Jason, forcing Paramount to rethink their approach. Up from the grave rose Jason’s maggot-infested corpse with Jason Lives. Beaten to death both figuratively and literally, Jason needed a fresh take to bring back interest. Writer/director Tom McLoughlin breathed new life into the franchise by presenting a Jason that harkened back to gothic monsters of old, in particular, Frankenstein’s Monster, and injected comedy and self-referential dialogue that poked fun at Jason and his fans. It worked, and it’s why Jason Lives ranks near the top of most lists.
After that, the studio and the fans weren’t scared of Jason anymore. Friday the 13th became more about having fun than it was about scaring teens away from lakes and sex and sex by the lake. Yet of all of the films that came after, Jason X bears the most resemblance to Jason Lives. From the first slash to the last, Jason X is never taking itself seriously, and the audience isn’t supposed to either. I mean for fuck’s sake, Professor Lowe (Jonathan Potts) at one point screams, “it’s okay, he just wanted his machete back!” Are we really treating this film like it’s supposed to scare us?
Jason X Cleverly Brought Jason into a New Age
In the same way that Jason Lives tackled bringing life to the character again, Jason X takes a clever approach in dealing with the fact that Jason had been gone for so long as part of an ongoing theme. Think about it, Jason Goes to Hell came out in 1993. Jason X didn’t land in theaters until 2001, eight years later. During that time period, slashers had become a joke, the Friday the 13th franchise being the butt of many of those jokes. Scream had spawned a whole generation of meta horror, and Jason X was arriving right in the middle of that. How ridiculous would it have been if Jason X had attempted to just do the same thing as always during that climate?
Instead, Farmer took the idea of Jason being in hibernation for so long that he actually made it a part of the film, by throwing the big lug into a cryotube and releasing him thousands of years into the future! In 2001, Jason was coming back to a new realm of horror, and that’s reflected with every moment of the film. Jason finds himself in a new and confusing setting. The characters constantly crack jokes about him instead of being terrified of the legend he had created as in previous films. And Jason himself seems lost, continuously outsmarted by holographs and other elements of the future…until he’s not. Even the franchise itself is frequently poked at, with Jason literally coming back to life when he senses sex in the other room, to a point where you can practically hear abstinence alarm bells going off in his head.
This is all Jason X’s way of admitting Jason had been gone for a while and wasn’t the frightening titan he used to be, while embracing audience’s expectations for slashers at the same time.
It Ignores Jason Goes to Hell
I actually like Jason Goes to Hell (more on that groan-inducing opinion someday), but for many fans, skipping it over is a huge plus. When New Line Cinema acquired the rights to Friday the 13th, they had no idea how the hell to get Jason back to Camp Crystal Lake after drowning in New York in Part VIII, so they came up with a sequel that, despite good-intentions, was a mess. Seeing as how that one ends with Jason being dragged to Hell, Jason X is only the second film in the franchise to completely ignore the entry that came before it. We get a brief opening credit sequence that feels like we’re soaring through Hell (it’s just Jason’s brain, turns out), but that’s it. Many of you were and are more than happy to forget Jason Goes to Hell ever existed, and Jason X was smart to avoid it.
David Cronenberg Ka-bob
Be honest, how many of you lost your shit when David Cronenberg, master director behind Scanners, Videodrome, and other great genre classics, showed up for a brief cameo as a villainous government official wanting to experiment on Jason for ways to fight death (a concept which I’m surprised hasn’t been explored more, BTW)? Seriously, how many other Friday films can lay claim to such a rare and extraordinary appearance from one of the genre’s best? It isn’t enough that Cronenberg is actually damn good at playing bad, as we see with him in Nightbreed, but the way he’s taken out with a javelin through the chest is the stuff of Friday legend. It’s a moment that instantly elevates Jason X to another level.
More Kills than All of the Friday Films Combined, And They're Great
Speaking of Cronenberg’s kill, Jason X contains not one, not two, but at least three of the best kills in the entire franchise, Cronenberg’s included. The freezing of Adrienne’s (Kristi Angus) face before smashing it against the counter? Amazing. Using two promiscuous teens in sleeping bags as bludgeons against each other? Legendary.
Not to mention, Jason X contains more kills than any other Friday film, arguably more than all of them combined. I count at least six-seven deaths in the opening few minutes alone with Jason’s rampage through Cronenberg and his posse of soldiers. Only a few survive of what is a rather large crew made of students and soldiers. And before you say that's not even enough to account for three of the film's combined, let’s not forget that Jason causes the destruction of an entire space station which our heroes attempt to dock at. Friday films are all about the kills, and Jason was working extra hard during Jason X.
Enough One-liners to Make Schwarzenegger Smile
Who doesn’t love a good one liner, am I right? One-liners are the bread and butter of good camp. We remember movies like this because of their dialogue, for better or worse. If you’re an action fan, you have almost every word of Commando memorized. And while Jason X’s one-liners may not be on the same level, they bring the same fun energy. I already mentioned Lowe and his machete line (a classic), but one soldier muttering “he’s screwed” after another does the twist down a large spike jutting through his gut is always good for a laugh. I can’t not be endeared to Janessa (Melyssa Ade) as she groans, “this sucks on so many levels” just before getting sucked through a tiny hole in the hull Alien: Resurrection style. These are all more proof that Jason X doesn’t want you to be scared, it wants you to laugh your ass off. What’s that, you didn’t laugh? Do you not have a soul?
Not one But Two Badass Women
The Friday the 13th franchise isn’t exactly known for its badass final girls. There are a couple. I already mentioned Ginny. I crushed on Jason Lives’ Megan (Jennifer Cooke) and her take no shit attitude for years. Alice (Adrienne King) is forever an icon for chopping off Pamela’s head. But for the most part, Friday is more known for its final boy, Tommy Jarvis, which is why it’s so refreshing to see not one, but two kickass ladies in Jason X.
We don’t get to know a whole lot about Rowan (Lexa Doig) since Jason X has a ton of kills to get to and doesn’t want to waste time with pesky character development. But what we do know is that she’s a badass. Rowan is a government suit, so you know she’s had to stand up to D-bags like Dr. Wimmer (Cronenberg) her whole career. She pumps shotgun blast after shotgun blast into Jason and knocks his ass into the cryogenic freezer like she’s goddamn Rambo (okay, so she still gets stabbed and nearly dies, but hey, she lives!). And she finds herself immediately taking charge aboard a spaceship four thousand years in the future, surrounded by misogynists and military buffs. That’s a woman you respect, or else.
Then there’s Kay-Em 14 (Lisa Ryder). Sure, she’s not a human female, but she is a robo-lady, magnetic nipples and all, and she’s easily the most unstoppable woman in the whole damn franchise. How many other Friday films see a woman not just go hand to hand with Jason, but beat the shit out of him and technically kill him? Zero. Jason X is alone in featuring a woman who is actually tougher than Jason fucking Voorhees, and I can’t watch this film without cheering when she blows his head apart like a ripe melon. Let us not forget either that this fight is technically one between Jason and a robo-chic with ninja skills. Put it on the poster. That’s worth the price of admission alone.
Uber Jason. Uber sexy
Speaking of sexy, how about Uber Jason? Jason X is probably the first and last time you ever found yourself at least a little turned on by Jason. It’s okay. I don’t blame you! Once those asshole nano-bots decide to bring Jason back and he shows up with his new digs for the finale, it’s like those scenes in cheesy romantic comedies where the girl takes off her glasses and suddenly she’s “hot”. Jason’s just standing there, all shiny and muscles practically bursting out of his suit, and it makes you sit back and go, oh yeah, I guess Jason always was kind of buff and hot underneath the rotting skin and graveyard breath. He just wasn’t wearing the right outfit! And that futuristic machete, which is supposed to be a surgical tool I’d never, ever want used on me? Damn, is that thing sleek!
We all have our favorite look for Jason. Part of the success of the franchise is how he evolves with each film and keeps things different. My favorite is the spine poking out of the back in The New Blood. But Jason X is right up there, steaming up my glasses.
Kane Hodder’s Last Hurrah as Jason
Have you ever thought about the fact that fans praise Kane Hodder as being the best Jason, yet they almost universally seem to consider the films he appeared in, parts 7-10, to be the worst in the franchise? I don’t get it, but for me, Kane is a big part of why those sequels all have their charm, and with Jason X being his last performance as the big guy, there’s something automatically special about this one.
Kane absolutely slays this performance as well, pun totally intended. Jason X is where Kane seems at his most fierce as he slams faces into counters, swings bodies into one another, chucks spears through Cronenberg, slices through…ah, you get the point. Kane didn’t know this at the time, but it’s almost as if he could sense Jason X would be his last time behind the mask, and you can see it in his angry performance. Jason is more confused than ever by his surroundings in Jason X, and there’s a whole new rage and frustration in his character because of that.
Screw the producers of Freddy vs. Jason for not hiring Kane.
It Actually Delivers on the Premise
Maybe more important than anything else on this list, Jason X actually delivers on the premise! Jason Takes Manhattan? No, he didn’t take Manhattan, he took a boat to Manhattan! Jason Goes to Hell? While I still say it’s a fun flick, it barely even qualifies as a Friday film! A New Beginning? Talk about a huge slap in the face to fans expecting Jason. Love it or hate it, Jason X says you’re going to get Jason in space, and hell yes do you get Jason in space! And no, not for a few minutes. This isn’t Manhattan all over again, with Jason trouncing around camp before somehow boarding a rocket for the final act. For nearly the entire runtime, Jason is in space. At one point, he’s even floating through space. Maybe Jason X wasn’t scary enough for you. Maybe it was too meta for you. But damnit, it delivers on exactly what it’s selling you.
So, with all that being said, the point is this, my fellow Friday the 13th loving ghouls: Jason X doesn’t have to be your favorite. It doesn’t even have to be in your top five in the franchise. But let’s show a little appreciation for a sequel that set out to bring back Jason at a time in horror that was completely alien to the character, and have fun doing it. Because it did that. And it did it well.
And if you still can’t find room to appreciate this film in your black heart, then at least respect others who do, because they’re not “wrong” for feeling that way. The great thing about the Friday the 13th franchise is that every film is a little different, from killer mommies to terrible 3D to psychics and party boats and body hopping. There’s something for everyone. For some of us, Jason X is exactly the sort of goofy slasher we crave.
So give it another chance. And the next time someone speaks kindly about it, maybe sheathe that machete, or Uber Jason will have to take it away from you. He doesn’t just “want it back,” remember, so I don’t think you want that.
By Matt Konopka