Rob Dean: Mike, as we celebrate this wicked day, many people (including myself) will spend it revisiting some of their favorite FRIDAY THE 13th films. It’s my favorite franchise in horror and I have love for most of the entries…in their own way. The one part of the Voorhees legend that I find hardest to enjoy and defend is JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY. The ninth installment of the seminal slasher series, released on Friday, August 13, 1993, it purported to be the end of the line of everyone’s favorite undead momma’s boy from New Jersey. Directed by Adam Marcus, from a screenplay by Dean Lorey and Jay Huguely (based on a story by Marcus and Huguely), this is a pretty controversial chapter. Mostly because…Jason isn’t really in it and there’s a definite shift in tone and approach to the film.
My issue with JASON GOES TO HELL isn’t that it’s a bad film—it’s actually a lot of fun and very inventive with great gore and a killer opening—but that it doesn’t fit in well with the other FRIDAY THE 13th movies. The film isn’t set in one (or two) main locations, but instead is a sprawling tale that has a bunch of different settings with characters that are less than paper thin. It has a last minute introduction of lore that makes no sense whatsoever and is never properly explained. And it joins HALLOWEEN 6 and FREDDY’S DEAD in that all three (which were the end of their franchises for a while) suddenly involved long lost relatives being ensnared in the machinations of an evil that’s spiraled into becoming more than just a human maniac with a bloodlust. (Why was this a thing for all three slasher franchises?)
I think that mash up between overcomplicated backstory, weird “body horror”-type gore, and lack of either a mystery or an evil protagonist makes it feel completely unlike the rest of the series—in a bad way. I know you’re a big proponent of JASON GOES TO HELL. So, while we both agree that it’s fun, why do you think it works well within the context of the other FRIDAY THE 13th movies?
Mike Vanderbilt: I was there, Friday August 13th, 1993. My dad carted myself and a bunch of the neighborhood kids to a sold out matinee showing of JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY at Ford City 14 on Chicago’s south side. While I was reading Fangoria in 1989, I was just a little young to be excited for JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (possibly my least favorite of the series), but I could not wait for JASON GOES TO HELL. I had pored over every Fango and Gorezone article, as well as the JASON GOES TO HELL OFFICIAL MOVIE MAGAZINE. I was aware of the HIDDEN-esque body swapping aspect of the plot as well as Adam Marcus’ explanation that JASON GOES TO HELL takes place in a world where Jason is real and the previous FRIDAY THE 13th films were merely based on his exploits. I was a little apprehensive about that even at 13, but at that age, you’re just excited to be going to the show on opening day. I took in a few of the classic films Thursday night on USA Network and looked forward to the following afternoon.
Admittedly, some of my love of JASON GOES TO HELL is nostalgia for that Friday afternoon screening. The theater was packed and the raucous crowd would have sent a modern Alamo audience into a tizzy. People were screaming, laughing, shouting back at the screen (For one reason or another “damn, that’s a double barrel” always sticks out in my mind) and when that glove popped out of the ground at the end, a chant of “Fre-ddy, Fre-ddy” echoed throughout the theater. That was some of the most fun I ever had at the movies.
Having watched it umpteenth times since then, I still call it one of my favorite FRIDAY THE 13th entries. Nine films into a series, I appreciate the bonkers, swing for the fences, everything and the kitchen sink approach to the script. Audiences had seen Jason take on a psychic teenager and take a Love Boat to the Big Apple; in a way, this was the best step forward for the series.
RD: Nostalgia and unique moments with audiences are powerful influences in our memories and opinions of films. It’s why I’ll always have a soft spot for SNAKES ON A PLANE because the theater was THERE for that movie.
I agree that it’s mostly a fun and bonkers entry, but it doesn’t feel bonkers in an earned way. For example, with FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE, director Rachel Talalay recognized that Freddy Krueger had become a joke and so made the film within the tonal constraints of that franchise (teens vs undead nightmare monster), but heightened the world in it so it was clearly cartoonish. JASON GOES TO HELL is definitely insane, but it doesn’t feel like it’s of the same cloth as the other movies. It’s like if FREAKS was suddenly spliced together with FREAKED; while there are similarities in subject matter, tonally it’s wildly different and would feel like cinematic whiplash to have them in the same universe. Or, put another way, is there any FRIDAY THE 13th film you can pair this one with that doesn’t feel like a giant switch up? All of the other films can be watched in whatever order, but they work well together (for the most part) due to similar sense of atmosphere, Manfredini’s score, and a lot of the same shots and character types. This doesn’t look or feel like a FRIDAY THE 13th movie as it doesn’t use any of those elements, and so breaks that franchise mold and makes it an outlier at best.
Another factor that I think makes this one stand out was articulated best by Andrew Jupin on the WE HATE MOVIES podcast episode on JASON GOES TO HELL. On that show, he points out that FRIDAY THE 13th works best in the ’80s. This is first movie that exists outside of that decade, and as such, for whatever reason, feels off due to shifting sensibilities and filmmaking tics. Do you think that FRIDAY THE 13th shines best in those Reagan years? Can a reboot/sequel happen now that doesn’t take place in the ’80s?
MV: The previous FRIDAY THE 13th films all feeling the same, hitting the same marks, utilizing the same tropes isn’t necessarily a good thing. Every fan can pick and choose their favorite entries (and admittedly, the same ones generally appear in the average Top 5) but they can all sort of run together to the average viewer. When I was a kid, I’d be hard pressed to tell any of the films apart. Most fans and critics lauded STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI for not simply giving audiences more of the same, but it’s still very much a STAR WARS film. Why can’t we appreciate that in the FRIDAY THE 13th films? Eight movies in, the series needed something different. The previous three films attempted some high concept stuff: the meta comedy of JASON LIVES, the “Jason Vs. Carrie” matchup of THE NEW BLOOD, and having Jason take Manhattan, but with the exception of PART VI, they didn’t really work. Admittedly, MANHATTAN failed due to budget constrictions and BLOOD featured cheap-looking production design and weak direction by John Carl Buechler, but they both swung for the fences.
JASON GOES TO HELL was the exact right step that the series needed to take. The franchise had a new home at New Line and the time was right to change things up. It was almost like a Cannon film with a bigger budget blending action, adventure, comedy, sci-fi and horror. To your point, it was very much a Jason movie for the ’90s, and that’s exactly what it needed to be. I don’t think, even at 13, I would have been excited to see another boilerplate FRIDAY THE 13th film. Sequels too often are carbon copies of the original—JASON GOES TO HELL certainly is not. Outside of the first 15 minutes of 2009’s FRIDAY reboot, that film is forgettable, basically giving fans a greatest hits of FRIDAY THE 13th lore and that end scare is completely obvious and unearned. There’s nothing new at all to that one.
I’ve read Nick Antosca’s unused script for FRIDAY THE 13th 3D and I’m befuddled that so many fans think that this would have been some sort of return to form for the series. It’s a collection of on the nose ‘80s references, needle drops that Paramount wouldn’t shell out the dough for, and really lame stoner jokes, and dated humor. I’m all for throwback horror, but try and do something interesting with it. Most fans just want Jason hacking up people in the snow. Is that all it takes? Again, like the films that preceded HELL, JASON X doesn’t work for me at all, but I can at least appreciate that it’s not more of the same. After listening to an episode of SATURDAY NIGHT MOVIE SLEEPOVERS discussing JASON LIVES where Dion Baia asked why they don’t simply level the camp and build some condos, I thought “well that’s a great pitch!” Some condos are built on Crystal Lake, Jason’s watery grave is disturbed, and he takes out some sex-crazed, druggie, yuppies. Set it in the ‘80s if you have to, but I don’t think it needs it.
RD: I agree, it is very much a pre-SCREAM ’90s FRIDAY THE 13th film. And I think it’s good to subvert expectations and swing for the fences. I don’t begrudge JASON GOES TO HELL for its ambition, I just think it’s an inorganic outgrowth that is never earned and is clearly a mistake. To keep going with the STAR WARS analogies, JASON GOES TO HELL isn’t LAST JEDI but THE PHANTOM MENACE in one key manner: Midichlorians.
Midichlorians is a “science-y” explanation for The Force, a previously unexplained but generally understood element within the STAR WARS universe. It does nothing to help explain anything, instead robbing the mystical elements of any wonder by now simply being a genetic predisposition. It’s a way of breaking with the fantasy aspect to try to “ground” those parts in another sci-fi camp. Similarly, JASON GOES TO HELL ventures into a neighboring part of the horror genre (demonic prophecy/HIDDEN-style body jumping) to try to switch up what the audience expects from the Jason mythos and give an explanation that no one asked for or needed. Just like those weird blood creatures were a mistake as you heard them spoken, fans felt that disturbance in the force when suddenly there’s an ancient ceremonial dagger that can kill the demon puppet that lives inside of Kane Hodder.
LAST JEDI, to continue with the example, was built on a deep understanding of lore and love for what came before it with Rian Johnson seeing the need to mature and change. JASON GOES TO HELL simply switches tracks. I believe Marcus’ end goal was the same as Johnson—that is both recognized the need for change—but Marcus didn’t put in any leg work or real thought needed to have the movie make sense. Why did the local camp cook own a mansion? Why was it still standing after being abandoned for about 20+ years (in the timeline of the movies due to the jumps in NEW BEGINNING and NEW BLOOD)? Why was the Necronomicon hanging out in this woman’s house? Why did Mrs. Voorhees not care about her daughter, who was never mentioned in eight prior films? These are nitpicky details, but they reveal a lack of care on the part of the filmmaker to actually locate it in the world that’s been established. There is no attempt to weave in other elements from the previous films or build on what’s come before, but simply a switching of sub-genre tropes that is bookended by the staple that people came to see. NEW BLOOD tried to merge two gimmicks—CARRIE and slasher films—and were more successful at it than JASON GOES TO HELL because at least half the film felt of the same cloth.
To use another franchise example—HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. The horror sequel that was once reviled, then back in good graces of horrorhounds, and now over-defended when most people are pretty cool with it. HALLOWEEN III is a complete change of pace from what came before, subverted all expectations, had tenuous connections to what came before (mostly Carpenter style, Dean Cundey cinematography, Carpenter and Howarth music, and taking place on the titular holiday), but didn’t try to have it both ways by bookending the film with Michael Myers pursuing Tom Atkins or something. If you’re going to change it up and be ambitious, have the courage to go all the way; this middle of the road stuff just muddies the water.
Also, he doesn’t go to hell until the final 5 minutes or so. Following JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, that’s a double case of lying in the title. Just set the damn movie in hell, have Jason bludgeon his way up to Paradise in a horrible rendition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, or finally be reunited with his mom, or thwarted by an undead Tommy Jarvis. That’s a minor issue, but it’s still pretty flagrant misdirection.
MV: Not only does JASON GOES TO HELL have ambition, it makes good on it. Whereas NEW BLOOD, MANHATTAN, and JASON X whiff, HELL knocks it out of the park. As far as mythology and lore, I appreciate that JASON GOES TO HELL comes from a time when continuity and building a universe weren’t a focus. Sure, we all would have loved another Tommy Jarvis entry or for FREDDY’S DEAD to continue Alice’s adventures, but there wasn’t as much preciousness about that as there is now.
As far as JASON GOES TO HELL and its new additions to the lore being unearned, we’re talking about a series of films that assumed a 10-year-old boy grew up in the woods on his own, featured a dead mother with a detachable head, always played loosey-goosey with the time line, and killed Jason off “for good” once before. The mumbo jumbo about the Voorhees family is completely far-fetched, but by the ninth entry in the series, why the hell not? While JASON GOES TO HELL may not have taken place at a campsite or featured a cast of teenagers, it did give audiences some the gangbusters kills (the girl split in two during coitus is a stand out) that fans REALLY expect from the series. On top of that, there was an attempt to bring a certain maturity (for a Jason movie) to the series with likeable, adult characters who had more concerns than getting high and getting laid.
RD: Therein lies where we differ, I suppose. We both admire the ambitions of JASON GOES TO HELL and are glad that the filmmakers attempted something different. We both find lots to enjoy within the movie – the opening, the bonkers aspects, and the excellent kills.
But our paths diverge where it comes to seeing how well Marcus and company make good on their ambitious attempt. You think it does well by its own merits of being insane and switching up the series in its late stage that is a fun time and delivers the goods. I think it’s a sloppy approach that never earns its weirdness by going too far astray without much to tether it to what came before.
We’ll let the readers comment below with their thoughts on this entry in the FRIDAY THE 13th saga. But in the end, I think we can all agree that it is beyond time for Jason to return to the silver screen in some spectacular fashion.
…I would just prefer it with less ceremonial daggers from 21 JUMP STREET‘s Captain Fuller.
—ROB DEAN & MIKE VANDERBILT