Freddy vs. Jason was, for horror fans, one of the most anticipated movies of all time. I’ve written quite a bit about the long, arduous journey it had to finally make it to the big screen. Naturally, it’s hard to live up to fan expectation after that long of a wait. Everyone is coming into it with years of preconceived notions about what they want it to be. For many of the diehard fans, several scripts had leaked online in the wait for this movie, so there were people who literally had other versions of the film in their heads.
But it was still hard not to be excited. Yes, there were and still are the people complaining that it was nothing more than a cash grab—but that’s how every sequel begins life, like it or not. New Line spent over a decade trying to make Freddy vs. Jason a reality because they knew it was what the fans wanted to see. It gets called a cash grab more than any of the other entries, even though it’s probably the most fan-conscious movie in either franchise.
Looking back on it fourteen years after its release, there are other things that make it even more special. It was Robert Englund’s last performance as Freddy Krueger. Hell, it was the last entry for both franchises before they both got remade a few years later.
People really tend to criticize the character work in the feature, as well as the acting, both of which are fair. But I think, in a weird way, that kind of works. It’s a pulpier, campier flick than a few others in the franchises and if anything should go in that direction, it should be the versus movie. It’s a little campier than the early entries in either franchise, a little more cartoonish—but not in a Loony Tunes way, like Freddy’s Dead—it feels like a comic book.
Ronny Yu’s very distinctive visual palate really aided the movie in that regard. Freddy vs. Jason is gorgeous and that’s probably the last thing people were expecting it to be. There are sequences in the film that are exceptionally well shot.
But even though people criticize it quite a bit, Freddy vs. Jason ultimately succeeds at the story level. It succeeds at the basic concept. There are several, often glaring flaws in the feature but it always manages to deliver on the promise of its title. At the end of the day, that’s what really counts.
Most crossovers between horror franchises lean heavily in one direction or the other. The fight between the characters is usually lacking. Even the classic early mash-up Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is guilty of this. It’s a Wolf Man sequel for most of its running time and the fight is just a blissful few minutes at the end. Freddy vs. Jason takes an interesting approach by centering the bulk of the plot on Freddy. Plot-wise, it’s pretty much a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, but this is balanced out by giving most of the kills to Jason. In terms of body count, it’s a Friday the 13th.
It is tough to come up with ways to combine franchises, especially ones as stylistically different as these two. Having read most of the other scripts written for the film, there are worse ways to go about it than having one manipulate the other into doing their dirty work. It actually makes sense for both characters. The idea that Freddy gains power by spreading fear, by making himself known, that stems from concepts present in the original movie. Jason has fallen for people pretending to be his mother in the past, he’d absolutely believe an actual shapeshifter coming to him in the form of Pamela Voorhees.
Freddy’s arrogance would certainly dictate that as soon as enough fear had been spread, he’d be able to come back and handle this Voorhees situation because he’s the best there is at what he does. The reasons behind the fight make sense, and even though there are huge gaps of logic in the feature, that’s something that should be commended because it is so hard to get right.
Englund’s final performance really harkens back to classic era Freddy. It feels like the Freddy of The Dream Master was pulled from 1988 and flung into the future to go toe-to-toe with Jason Voorhees. A lot of people had problems with the recasting of Kane Hodder in the role of Jason. He’d played the character four times over a fourteen year period. Fans loved him, but outside the genre nobody really knew who he was, and the studio ultimately didn’t care who was behind the mask. Having said that, I think Ken Kirzinger did a pretty decent job. The whole situation was way above him, it wasn’t his decision not to bring Kane back. He was hired to do a job and he did it to the best of his ability.
I’ll admit it, I love the redesign of Jason in this movie. The iconic mask is still in place, but the rest of the body is in tatters. The tall, dark silhouette, the burlap jacket… he’s like a living scarecrow and it works. Especially as a fan of scarecrow horror in general. Really, Jason feels like an extension of the great, stylized production design.
Yes, Freddy vs. Jason has more than its share of problems. The script was cut way down and rewritten by Dark Knight Rises and Demonic Toys scribe David Goyer so that Freddy had to stop to explain the plot at regular intervals because he thought the audience would be too stupid to understand what was happening unless they had it explained to them roughly every ten minutes. While it gets so much right in the continuity of both series—the Elm Street house, Westin Hills, Jason’s flashbacks—it also makes nonsensical contradictions. Things like Jason being afraid of water—also a David Goyer contribution.
That doesn’t change the fact that it’s an immensely enjoyable popcorn horror movie, and that’s really all it was ever designed to be. It’s an overly stylized, visually endearing, wacky, funny, messy good time. It’s still the clash of the titans that won over my fourteen year-old heart. Over a decade later, I’m still amazed it ever happened. Sure, we all wanted a follow-up, wanted New Line to run with the reignited box office of these properties, but they didn’t. That time never came. But we can still be grateful for this modern monster mash-up in the old school tradition. If it has to be the end, it’s a proper sendoff to both franchises and—in some ways—an entire era of horror.