Not since Frankenstein’s monster met the Wolfman has a monster match-up been more anticipated than the one between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, but the problem facing the filmmakers could be summed up by one simple question “When your dealing with two evil antagonists who is the audience supposed to root for?”
For a decade the idea of a Freddy vs. Jason movie had been stuck in development, ever since the teaser at the end of Jason Goes to Hell, but in 2003 that ultimate horror smackdown finally did happen. The basic premise of Freddy vs. Jason is that the people of Springwood somehow managed to figure a way to make everyone forget about Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) and it’s from the opening narration by Freddy himself that we learn “I can’t come back if nobody remembers me. I can’t come back if nobody’s afraid” which leads everyone’s favourite murderous pedophile to search the bowels of Hell for someone he can let loose and who will bring fear back into their lives.
Question: Did Freddy post an ad on Hell’s bulletin board, “Looking for a monstrous killing machine, time wasters need not apply.”
Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) arrives in springwood, don’t ask me how, and after killing a few teenage suburbanites – in a manner that feels more like Michael Myers than either Jason or Freddy – the authorities, led by Sheriff Williams (Garry Chalk), are worried that Freddy Krueger is back to his old tricks, despite the community working so hard to erase the very memory of that serial killer. Unfortunately, Lori Campbell (Monica Keena), whose house was the site of the first murders, overhears Krueger’s name and that is enough to get Freddy a bus ticket out of Hell.
Plot-wise there really isn’t much here beyond a collection of vastly contrived moments that will eventually lead up to the title fight, and any time spent with our cast of teen idiots is pretty much a waste. There is a whole subplot about the town’s conspiracy to lock up all the teens who had witnessed Freddy Krueger, keeping them drugged and imprisoned in a psychiatric ward and out of touch with the world, and though this was an interesting idea and could have worked well in its own Nightmare on Elm Street movie, here it seems like time filler.
We also get this bizarre exposition dump from Lori’s boyfriend Will (Jason Ritter), who was one of the teens locked up in the psychiatric ward, which basically outlines the film’s exact premise to the rest of the Scooby gang, “It makes sense in a way. I mean, what if Freddy brought Jason back because he was too weak to go after us on his own so he used Jason. He knew we’d think it was him, that we’d spread the fear again.” The only way Will could have come up with that conclusion is if he’d watched the opening prologue where Freddy spelled it all out for us the viewer. That has to be one of the greatest examples of lazy screenwriting to date.
• The character of Gibb, the girl with the ball cap, was clearly modelled after the P.J. Soles character from the original Halloween.
• The hulking figure of Jason Voorhees stealthily wandering the suburbs is fairly ridiculous. Unlike Michael Myers, he doesn’t even have the Halloween holiday as a cover for looking like a monster.
• How could Freddy get Jason to target a particular address on Elm Street? It’s one thing for Freddy to free Jason from Hell and send him on a killing spree, that’s kind of Jason’s thing, but did he send him topside with google maps and a checklist?
• How can the authorities completely wipe out knowledge of Freddy Krueger? Will and his friend find all the news articles in the archives have been redacted, blacking out all information on the previous murders, but we later see them looking up Hypnocil on the internet and there is no way a Podunk town like Springwood has the capability to censor Google.
• Jason is suddenly given hydrophobia as a weakness despite the fact that he has had no problem attacking characters from underneath the water in the past.
• Lori claims that Freddy killed her mother and that her dad covered it up, but that doesn’t explain how Will saw her dad commit the murder.
• Both of these horror icons have been defeated by teenage girls in the past, so it’s nice to see them having such a hard time killing each other here.
What elevated the script above these collections of contrived moments was director Ronnie Yu and his wonderful visual flair, not only did we get amazing dream battles between Jason and Freddy, that look quite spectacular to watch, but we also got wonderful recreations of Crystal Lake and Freddy’s lair and they are the most cinematic looking they’ve ever been. This was Robert Englund’s last outing as Freddy Krueger and he was clearly having the time of his life with his part in this, and Ronnie Yu wisely gave him free rein with a character that he knew so well, and when Freddy’s steel claws and Jason’s massive machete finally clashed fans of either Freddy or Jason couldn’t help but smile at the end result.
Note: That Freddy shows actual fear at facing off against Jason was a really nice touch, as was his being pissed off that Jason kept stealing his kills.
Is Freddy vs. Jason a perfect movie? Of course not, the manufactured plot is beyond ludicrous and the actions of the teens veer between sheer stupidity and utterly moronic – at one point a girl is told to give mouth-to-mouth to Jason, who is an undead monster – but I guess that’s what’s expected from teenagers in this genre. I just wish Ronnie Yu had been given a better script, like the one he got with Bride of Chucky. If you want to watch an incredibly fun fight, one between two amazing pop culture icons, you can’t go too wrong with Freddy vs. Jason, it’s just a shame the script didn’t quite live up to the visuals.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Movie Rank - 6/10
It took ten years and 17 drafts of the script before this film reached theaters and such turmoil clearly took its toll and as a result the end product was not much more than the sum of its parts. We get the talented Ronny Yu bringing an artistic look that the series, something it hasn’t seen before now, and the final fight is as good as one could have hoped for.