Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Freddy vs. Jason may have been released in August 2003, but the idea for the film was more than a decade and a half in the making. Paramount and New Line, the respective owners of the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, along with the director of the original Friday Sean Cunningham, had been talking about a crossover since 1987, but arguments over which studio would produce it (and thus have creative control and sequel rights) trapped the project in development hell. The fact that both series went into recession in the '90s also made the appeal of such a project look dubious. For a long time, the only indication that this crossover battle, the slasher movie version of the Enterprise vs. the Death Star, would ever happen was a tease at the end of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday in 1993. Eventually, New Line managed to acquire the Friday rights and make the movie by itself after a number of false starts. So how is it, after so many years in the making? Well... it's decent. It's far from the best film in either franchise, but the title characters both electrify the screen when they do show up, helping to make up for the dubious acting and the gaping plot holes.

Robert Englund is in top form here as Freddy Krueger, despite a nine-year leave of absence between this film and Wes Craven's New Nightmare in 1994. He plays the character with elements of both his comic joker persona from the later films and his more menacing portrayal from the original and New Nightmare, successfully blending the two sides and bringing back to life one of the sickest villains in horror movie history. Ken Kirzinger was also suitably vicious and imposing as Jason, snapping necks and bringing down his giant machete with the best of them. Outside of them, though, most of the cast was flat-out terrible. The only ones I could stand were Katharine Isabelle and R&B singer Kelly Rowland, and with the latter, it was more because I was entertained by her "tough sistah" persona than impressed by her acting. In particular, the lead actress, Monica Keena, wasn't the least bit believable as the virginal "final girl" who is guaranteed victory in the end, ironically looking and coming off more like a bimbo than Isabelle's "bad girl". She looked as though she'd been cast more for her gigantic breasts than for her acting ability. I believe that, had Keena and Isabelle switched roles, this film would've been better off.

(Update: Apparently, according to her IMDb biography, Katharine Isabelle did originally audition to play the final girl Lori, but she was convinced to play the "bad girl" Gibb instead for reasons that can only be described as sleazy. The director, Ronny Yu, didn't tell her that the role would include nude scenes, which she refuses to do, and he spent most of the production trying to pressure her into giving up the goods. They eventually settled on a body double for her, but still, this film could've had a lead actress far better suited to the role had the director not been a perv.)

Likewise, this film has to find a way to get Freddy and Jason to fight one another. It starts off with Freddy bringing Jason back from the dead and sending him to Springwood in order to instill fear and get the locals to believe that Freddy is back, thus restoring his power so he can make his triumphant return. Aside from the question of how Jason got from New Jersey (the location of Camp Crystal Lake) to Ohio so fast, this is a pretty solid setup, as is the idea of Freddy getting angry at Jason for stealing some of his kills. Where it falters, however, is in how it creates a weakness for Jason so that Freddy can stand a fighting chance against him. Here, Jason is afraid of water because of how he had drowned as a child. Not only is this contradicted within the film in a number of scenes, but it makes even less sense to anybody who's seen any Friday movies. Jason loves to go into the lake and lay the smackdown on any young, horny couple dumb enough to go skinny-dipping at night. It's one of his damn trademarks. Knowing how many rewrites the script went through, I wouldn't be surprised if this is a case of laziness mixed with too many cooks spoiling the soup. At least they dropped the wretched "place your bets!" line that showed up in the trailer, though a lot of the dialogue that stayed isn't that much better.

On the other hand, when this film got down to the job of Freddy and Jason killing people, my enjoyment went up quickly. Both franchises have had gorier kills, but I enjoyed some of the creativity here, such as the folding bed death, the scene where Jason first steals one of Freddy's kills, and an opening that was deliberately cliched to the point of homage. The gore wasn't abundant, but it was effective. I was also having a ton of fun once Freddy and Jason started fighting each other. The third act was set up less like a horror film and more like an action movie, with some surprisingly well-shot fight scenes between the two slashers both in the dream world and back in the real world. It felt corny at times, like a live-action Mortal Kombat, but this film had been relishing in cheese from beginning to end, and that made it all the more entertaining.

Score: 3 out of 5

It has poor acting and a wretched script, but most of the films in both the Friday and Nightmare series had the same problem. This movie works as an entertaining slasher flick and as a showdown between two horror icons. It's far from the best film in either franchise, but it's also far from the worst. If you're a slasher fan, then you'll probably find something to enjoy out of this.

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