Halloween Endurance Test: Jason X (2001)
Poor little Jason Voorhees has had quite the storied movie life. Or movie lives as the case may be. And truthfully, most of his features have been rather dull. Just a bunch of poorly lit close-ups of people screaming, then a limb getting chopped off. Or, as the series progressed, the dreadful (certainly not dreaded) novelty deaths; like getting an ignited flare stuffed into your mouth (hello Friday the 13th: A New Beginning!)
So I was certainly shocked to discover that I have a fondness for Jason X, a/k/a Jason Goes to Space. Most horror fans I’ve come across look down on it as absurd. As if the narrative threads tying these loosely connected stories was irreparably broken by moving the action into orbit and into the future!
Now Jason had already left Crystal Lake on numerous occasions. Jason’s trip to Manhattan, for instance, was so horrible that it killed off the series for years. Part of the problem might have been the misleading title, since Friday the 13th, Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan kind of makes one assume that it’ll actually take place in Manhattan. Yet only the last twenty minutes occur in the city, the rest playing out on a cruise ship. Fans and non-dorks alike were disgusted by this.
People still went to see it though, so fans’ objections couldn’t have been solely derived from the distance implied in the title.
The objections arose from the tampering with the series’ basic constituent parts. Sex and violence are the two main ingredients in a slasher flick. It’s what puts asses in the seats in the first place. Yet once success takes hold, the studio starts fiddling with the parts to see how many more seats can be filled.
Wider audiences means watered down thrills. The hint of skin; the studios started selling the sizzle instead of the steak. Speaking of stakes, hatchets and machetes; they all get replaced too. The already mentioned humorous deaths come out in force: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning‘s flare in the mouth being an absurd, and thus, prime example.
These changes drive the fans who enjoyed the film’s original formula out of the theaters. Which is amusing since the studios bring these changes about in order to attract larger audiences. Smaller crowds equal increased attempts at watering the franchise down in order to attract new people. Until those people realize that they’re spending their time and money watching an immortal killer ride a cruise ship to New York City.
Which played out as crappy as it sounds.
Years after the entire genre had been killed off this way, Noel Cunnignham (son of Sean Cunningham, producer of the first Friday the 13th) had a brilliant idea. Buy the (now degraded) rights to the character and series, and revive the franchise. Revive it by focusing your efforts on its aforementioned strengths; and marketing it straight to the genre fans that had made it a success in the first place. Jason Goes to Hell was the first to make waves; playing with all the genre’s cliches in an intelligent, not cloying (I’m talking about you here, Scream), way. Horror fans ate that shit up.
Cunningham’s biggest coup though, was his abandonment of any sort of continuity between the films. Fans already know that there’s no way to explain how these things keep getting made. Like the goo inside a Twinkie, no one knows what it is, and no one cares to find out. (Apologies to William Poundstone.)
Jason Goes to Hell ends with Freddy’s claw grabbing Jason’s mask. This long awaited showdown, while it was advertised (teased at) in Jason Goes to Hell, didn’t actually happen until after Jason X.
Tossing continuity out the window allowed Cunningham to piss even the hardcore genre fans off by placing Jason in space, and still getting them in the seats. ‘Cuz let’s face it, a Friday the 13th film had never sounded this fun. Outer space! Using pretty much the entire running casts of the Sci-Fi Network to try to attract the attention of a whole new set of dorks! Brilliant!
My friend Gabe was a huge fan of the Sci-Fi Network in college. This cross traffic attempt totally didn’t work. He refused to watch it on principle. Like he had any taste(s) worth bragging about.
My best friend and I started watching the series in high school. So when Jason X premiered, naturally we were going to be there. Not even the might of Gainesville’s police department could keep us away!
My friend had a busted tail light. So the cops just had to pull us over as we were racing to the theater.
Now the cops in question were extremely nice, even offering to let us off with a warning. But, and their offer was still, as far we knew, up in the air, would we mind taking a survey for them?
Of course we wanted to comply, keep them happy, and avoid the (possible) ticket. But we also didn’t want to be late(r) to the theater. Really, who knew how long this film would be playing?
The best course in such cases, as tough as it is to do, is to make an ass of yourself by telling the truth. So we told them that we’d love to do the survey, but we didn’t want to be late to the movies.
‘Oh, what movie are you guys going to see?’
Dead silence. Neither of us was willing to out the other or ourselves. Yes, Sir, we’re both honor students attending a state university and we’re excited to be going to see Jason X.
‘Uh, well uh, we’re going to see… Jason X.
‘Ha, ha! Hey Paul, these guys are going to see the new Jason movie! I remember watching them back in the day!’
Officer Friendly, and partner Paul, did let us off. Which enabled us to avoid making the Alligator’s front page the next day. ‘Gallivanting Nerds Still Love Jason!’
(This ended up being all for naught for one of us, since said friend went on to immortalize himself on MTV by showing Tom Green his balls. So all our see-sawing here ended up being for nothing.)