Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jason Goes to Hell (1993) dir. Adam Marcus

Logline: Jason Voorhees is dead. Unfortunately, his double-sized demon heart (almost at nice-Grinch levels!) lives on and is possessing random strangers, making them carry out the normal shenanigans.

Jason Goes to Hell presents certain problems to any fans and admirers of the Friday the 13th franchise, foremost among these being that in no way does it resemble a Friday the 13th film. Gone are the summer camps, teenagers, camp counselors, and creative machete techniques of yore, replaced by body-hopping demon slugs and jokes like the one plastered on a banner in front of Crystal Lake’s most popular diner: “JASON IS DEAD 2 FOR 1 BURGER SALE!” We can note this fundamental shift away from the series’ typical focus as early the film’s first scene: zombified Jason falls victim to the old defenseless-showering-woman-is-in-actuality-a-military-operative-leading-you-into-an-ambush-ploy, and is promptly exploded to bits. This is an unexpected and intentionally humorous turn*, but one that sets us up for what will play as a tonally irresolute slasher. And that’s a problem, too: we can’t even call Jason Goes to Hell a proper slasher. Instead, it’s a comedy horror with fantasy overtones (and we’re talking Masters of the Universe level fantasy here)—it’s an uninspired knockoff of The Hidden with Jason Voorhees bookends.

Reconsidering, perhaps it’s unfair to call the film uninspired; Jason Goes to Hell’s whole M.O. is to introduce new elements into the series. Unfortunately, these sparkly features display little understanding of the appeal of a Friday film and, perhaps more importantly, no sense of where horror films were in the early 90s. Parts of this thing feel so much like a corny magical, supernatural action-adventure from the mid-80s. We’re presented with a sketchy quasi-mythological background for the Voorhees family and Jason’s revivifying powers that doesn’t make a lick of sense (for instance, why does a normal knife turn into a ceremonial dagger upon the moment Jason’s cousin grasps it in order to slay him?). We see things like cheap, orange CG-orbs circling Jason’s body and a cadre of giant sand arms pulling him to hell. Most ludicrous of all: Jason is fully reanimated into his pre-exploded form at the film’s climax by way of the demon slug carrying his soul crawling into the womb of his dead half-sister. One moment we’re watching the demon slug’s frantic P.O.V. journey back to the womb and the next we cut to a fully-grown (and, strangely, burned and zombified) Jason bursting out through the door of a house to attack the survivors. Director Adam Marcus and company not only understand biology, but they incorporate it with class.

Jason Goes to Hell also attempts a bit of ham-fisted satire of early 90s media culture and its eponymous killer’s entrance into the popular canon (after all—and regardless of the rights snafu that left this unbranded as a Friday—the film was marketed on Jason’s name alone). The former is tackled through a rather superfluous side-story concerning the host of an exploitation television news program entitled American Casefile, who plans to stage a story about Jason’s return by stealing a body from the morgue, stashing it in the old Voorhees stead, and catching its reveal on tape. This storyline goes nowhere (the TV host is possessed by Jason-slug immediately after revealing the plan), so it would be a stretch to make much out of it other than “gee, what won’t those media hounds do for ratings?” Slightly more interesting is the latter issue of Jason’s status as a pop culture icon, but even this seems to be only cursorily addressed. That Crystal Lake diner sells hockey mask-shaped Voorhees Burgers and Jason Fingers on the menu, and everyone in the region seems to be (finally) aware of Jason’s mounting body count, but this is by no means a clever critique/rejuvenation of the popular character à la New Nightmare (again, Jason is barely even in this thing). No, what it truly is becomes clear in the film’s final shot, when Freddy Krueger’s glove shoots from the dirt to pull Jason’s abandoned mask underground: a teaser trailer of sorts for another lousy movie to be released ten years hence.

*and it’s not as if humor fits the series poorly—Parts III-V have their own goofily charming moments, while Part VI—the series’ first thoroughbred comedy—in not entirely unsuccessful in that aim.

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