December 11, 2013

Movie Review: Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

So, with 2002's entertaining bomb of Jason X, one had to wonder when we would next see the hockey masked momma's boy and if it would a worthy addition to the franchise. Since Paramount ended their run with Jason Takes Manhattan we had to wait years between Jason appearances. One would think the character was dead. The same thing could be said for Freddy Krueger, who hadn't been seen on the big screen since 1994's Wes Craven's New Nightmare. While both characters had their fan bases and dreams of a showdown, it did not seem likely to happen. Then 2003 rolled around and Freddy vs. Jason was unleashed on the world. It was like a dream come true, although it was not all that I had hoped it would be.

The match up of two of horror's biggest monsters proved to be just what both franchises needed. People came out in droves, pushing the horror film right to the top of the charts. It opened bigger than any other film in either franchise. It blew right past the likes of S.W.A.T., Open Range, and Freaky Friday to win its August weekend with a take topping $36 million, an opening that was more than all but one of Friday the 13th's prior film's entire runs. As for the Elm Street franchise, it proved to be the biggest opening of any movie in the franchise. There is no denying the movie was a hit, it's just too bad it took so long to arrive and a shame that we never got a sequel.

Freddy vs. Jason was an idea that has played inside the heads of fans since the two characters owned the horror of the 1980s. In fact, there was an attempt to make the film as early as 1988. The problem was that the characters were owned by different studios and New Line (Freddy's house) and Paramount (Jason's family) could not come together on a deal. I am sure it was all about money and who would ultimately hold the rights. I wonder what that movie would have been like? I would be interested in getting a hold of any of the drafts that never came to fruition.

Since the 1988 attempt, there were multiple pushes following the deaths of both characters (Jason in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, and Freddy in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare). It has been said that progress on this project was stop and go for nearly a decade, with dozens of directors interviewed but no one actually getting the job. Apparently the only thing they had going for them was the fact both characters were under New Line control. It also doesn't help that the studio control went through a few different people's hands. Well, eventually it did get made, and while it was fun, I think it only got part of it right.

The man to get the job was Ronny Yu. While I like his work, I think he was a curious choice, especially considering he admitted to not being a fan and being unfamiliar with either character. I guess that could be a good thing. Yu was already a veteran of Hong Kong cinema, having mad The Bride with White Hair, he had also been involved in a drastic reinvention of the Child's Play franchise, having directed Bride of Chucky. On the writer side of the coin was the team of Damian Shannon and Mark Swift. It is the first credit for either and their only credit since was the Friday the 13th remake/reboot from 2009. This movie is fun and seems to have a definite fan influence. They did not play it as straight horror, probably thee right direction, but it has its moments of hack and slash blood play and moments of eerie creepiness strewn throughout.

As the movie opens, we are given some back story to Freddy Krueger. We learn about his child killing and his murder at the hands of the Elm Street parents and his subsequent return as the dream killer. This comes complete with clips from the classic films. Seems like the only way they could have started it, I mean, Jason is not exactly all that talkative. We also learn that Freddy has been forgotten on Elm Street and this has sapped him of his power. It also doesn't hurt that we get the return of the dream inhibiting drug from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, hypnocil. Well, Freddy needs a way back, so he tricks Jason (disguising himself as her mother), and sends him out of hell to wreak some havoc.

The idea is that Jason will start killing kids, sending them into dreamland where Freddy will reap their souls, regain his power, and return to his killing ways. To be honest, I think that is a pretty clever way to get these two together. In a strange way, it sort of makes sense.

After we get our introductions to our two killers, we get to meet a new crop of kids. Some of them I actually like, but this is also the weaker part of the movie. Simply put, the kids are not written in all that interesting a fashion. There is something about them that I couldn't quite put my finger on. The actors were all pretty good, with the likes of Monica Keena, Katherine Isabelle, Jason Ritter, Chris Marquette, and Kyle Labine (even if he is a low rent Jason Mewes type here). I like them, but something just doesn't feel very real about them, like they are in a student play. This is something I am usually able to get past, especially considering the typical acting skills in either of these series (with a few exceptions). I suspect it is because I wanted more Freddy, more Jason, more Freddy and Jason. Another idea could be they were written in a post-Scream, pre-Saw world and they were given some really bad dialogue that tries to cross the lines between Scream and the 80s era slasher. A lot of this bad dialogue was given to Kelly Rowland (butterknives? Really?), seriously one of the worst characters of either franchise.

Well, as the story progresses, Jason is set loose in Springwood to kill all he can, unknowingly helping Freddy power up to return to full killer strength, and Freddy is biding his time, waiting to strike. Meanwhile, the kids, with the help of a couple institution escapees, learn that Freddy is making a bid to come back, but have no idea who the hockey masked dude is. It comes down to the kids trying to run away and not fall asleep. The horror titans go toe to toe when Jason doesn't stop and Freddy wants to take over. Jason learns he is being tricked (something we know he does not like from the conclusion of Friday the 13th Part 2) and the two go to it.

Freddy vs. Jason is exceptionally fun. I quite enjoy how they treat the titular characters. Both of them feel true to their origins and it feels like a logical way for them to be interacting. I particularly liked how they really worked with the fire and water pieces and it made me wish some of those elements showed more in the rest of the series.

I believe there was too many CG elements. When I think of these guys, I think of the greatness of practical effects and when I see Freddy do something with an obviously computer generated result, it just makes me feel a little sad inside. Still, there are some nice practical effects used, again, not all perfect. I am not sure how I feel about the use of Japanese style arterial spray effects. Still overall this is a fun battle and I really like the Jason look. Freddy's look, well, I did not care for the teeth or eyes, but the rest of it seemed all right.

Sadly, I believe this is the last we will ever see Robert Englund in the Freddy makeup. He is simply amazing in the role. It does not seem to matter how good or bad the writing is, the man just kills it all the time. As for the other side, I would have loved to see Englund face off with Kane Hodder, but the studio decided to go another way, bringing in Ken Kirzinger (who had a small part in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, even doubling Hodder in a couple of scenes). He does a fine job that I appreciate more now than I did at the time. He is big, imposing, but there is a sense of emotion in the eyes.

The ending can be debated. Who do you think won? I know who I think did, but it is set in a way that could go either way. Also, how do you feel about this being, essentially, the end of the classic series for both characters? The next time either would hit the screen would be in a remake/reboot.


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Dell said...

You included the one sentence that almost has to be included when reviewing this movie: "Freddy vs. Jason is exceptionally fun." That, it is. I haven't watched it in a while, but I remember thinking Freddy won last I saw it. Maybe it's time for a rewatch. Great job on the entire series!

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