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reviews Freddy Vs. Jason
Dir. Ronny Yu, US, New Line Cinema
Sitting down to watch Freddy Vs. Jason, Ronny Yu’s new multi-million dollar fan fiction orgy and future McFarlane toys goldmine, will for many be the realization of a long-deferred dream; among playground cinephiles of a certain generation, the rumor of an upcoming Kruger-Vorhees grudge match was spoken of in the same hushed “What if?” tones usually reserved for rumors about the legendary X-Men movie starring Glenn Danzig as Wolverine. But before moony recollection renders any of the words to follow critically inadmissible on grounds of the same judgment-inhibiting nostalgia that facilitates George Lucas’ retirement plan, I should state that I understand that the post- Part III Nightmare on Elm Street series and possibly all of the Friday the 13th films are flat-out garbage, twin sad signposts of the 1980’s blockbuster ethos infiltrating and officially ending the mangy horror Renaissance of the 1970’s. Both series have long relied more on reputation than craftsmanship to turn a profit, cash cows constructed and maintained with the canny show biz hucksterism that’s always at its most lurid and charmingly explicit around the horror genre. A forbidding MPAA ratings system and prohibitive parents gave these flicks the perfect hook, a perpetually renewable audience, transforming a lackluster litany of well-spaced sequels into a rite of passage. Finally getting to see Jason’s latest plodding rampage after being kept sleepless by an older sibling’s second-hand descriptions is an experience that transcends what proves to be pretty thin material when viewed in the sober light of post-adolescence. Ironic then, that the beginning of Freddy Vs. Jason should find Kruger powerless on the basis of being forgotten by the medicated or quarantined youth of Springwood, when the Nightmare and Friday the 13th movies have always relied so much on our lapsed memory in the face of diminishing returns. I mean, Jesus, The Dream Child anyone?
This said, could Freddy Vs. Jason have asked for a better director than Ronny Yu (The Bride with White Hair, Bride of Chucky), who approaches the material with all the reverence of a Hong Kong toddler mashing together Godzilla and King Ghidorah toys to make them fight? Sagely recognizing that the titular titans lost their capacity to deliver real scares since the end of the Reagan administration, and that any sense of continuity or tradition was pretty much abandoned when Jason became a 26th-century cosmonaut, Yu takes the valuable properties that he’s been entrusted with and proceeds to start a dazzling franchise bonfire, visualizing this grudge-match as recklessly as if it really was the end of the line (it won’t be), teaching Freddy Jeet Kune Do, shooting reel-upon-reel of unnecessary overhead coverage, keeping the red, red kroovy coming in shushing compressed-air geysers, cramming the series’ mismatched atmospheres together whenever they won’t fit, and sending the icons of terror off with a jes’ plain stoopid Three Stooges au revoir.
It was only a matter of time, and a twenty-plus year parade of sequels has given these slasher staples nothing but, that the link between unkillable serial-slaying juggernauts and the similarly resilient Wile E. Coyote would be made explicit. The one-upping trajectory of these films, where each sequel proved its villain more invincible than ever thought before, combined with a recoil from the halcyon days of 70’s and 80’s cinema more prone to blithely depicted acts of mass murder, made for a steady progress toward Merrie Melodies territory, until the scales of abuse were inverted, and Michael Myers was absorbing more damage than any of the kids he was allegedly terrorizing come Halloween: H20. Freddy Vs. Jason, then, is the logical terminus of this tendency, with a final face-off of your inner Playstation 2 playing, WWF-addled, Mountain Dew-soaked 15-year-old’s wildest wet dreams, in which our dynamic duo wade about in a slow-mo cloud of swirling gore, each taking enough damage to put a sizable Senior class out of commission. I would almost suggest that Freddy Vs. Jason heralds the emergence of an as-yet-unnamed sub-genre; its latter chapters resemble a one-on-one arcade fighting game far more closely than, say, Nosferatu.
Certainly a cherished memory of the series’ forebears is more a handicap in watching Yu’s film than anything; provided one brings a healthy appetite for absurdity to the multiplex, Freddy Vs. Jason should be possessed of the same or greater gonzo élan for a first time visitor to Camp Crystal Lake. Sure, the original Nightmare may have included a randomly placed sheep in an affectionate Buñuel crib, but this episode of the saga is a kook-out beyond even the outer limits of Dream Warriors surrealism. I’m almost tempted to watch Freddy Vs. Jason again, and not for excessive fondness (oh, who am I kidding?), but because I just can’t believe that half of what I remember seeing actually happened. Did Fred Kruger actually turn into a third-degree burned hookah-puffing caterpillar straight from some diseased Wonderland and blow a shotgun hit to a comic-relief stoner whose sock hat, weed scorched voice, and plug nose precisely evoke Jason Mewes’ Jay from Kevin Smith’s movies? Did Kruger actually just send Jason Vorhees pinballing off the walls of a cavernous dreamworld boiler room with the power of a pelvic thrust? Did Kelley Rowland of Destiny’s Child fame just mockingly ask Freddy “What kind of faggot runs around in a Christmas sweater?” Did Freddie, immediately prior to that, call Rowlands “Dark meat”? Is that really John Ritter of ‘Three’s Company’ fame’s son?
The answer, at least to that last question, is yes; marble-mouthed Ritter the Younger joins Monica Keener of the dearly departed ‘Undeclared’ and a gaggle of other eager young things with dirigible-like breasts snugly encased in American Eagle polos, together making up the requisite Group of Teenagers. The only real familiar face to the series here, hockey mask excepted, is Robert Englund as Kruger, whose always suspect, sub-Cryptkeeper wit has now devolved to repeatedly calling all the ladies “Bitch” and performing random hardy-har acts of necrophilia, though it should be noted that he still manages to look like he’s having a capital time. As the obtuse, shambling plot lurches into motion (it’s actually not half as complex as the movie manages to make it seem), the fresh-faced ensemble commences on a quick tumble into the slasher genre meat-grinder, all the while recapping the story so far with high school drama-grade histrionic conviction; it’s hard to tell if the actors are constantly reviewing the convoluted wreck of a narrative aloud for the benefit of theater latecomers (“Look around you—we’re institutionalized!”) or if they’re just trying to straighten out among themselves what’s supposed to be happening. (“I do miss my family; I mean, it’s been years since I’ve seen them”).
All said it’s probably be a moot point, not to mention a grotesque exercise in precious pop cult studies (e.g. “Janet Jackson’s ‘Black Cat’ is the Le Sacre du Printemps of 1989,” and a million other lovingly tailored, off-beat “opinions”), to try to put across an argument for the artistic merits of Freddy Vs. Jason. It has none; hell, it doesn’t even have the sheen of Lord of the Flies-cribbed amateur sociology and Canadian epic rock soundtrack to help one along like the superficially smart 28 Days Later. No, what Ron Yu has made is an earnestly reptilian-brained Nü metal-scored dumb-fest that guns right for and nails the lowest common denominator, a film that’ll probably merit ‘Four Blunts’ in a future Stoner’s Guide to the Movies, a cinematic demolition derby that leaves you with the suspicious aftertaste of Doritos and a slight head buzz. Those who are comfortable with that sort of thing will love it, those who aren’t won’t, and those of us who should know better can always wash our eyes out with Bresson in penitence after the fact.