Sticking a Hot Dog Through a Doughnut.
About ten minutes into Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, after being set-up by a Camp Crystal Lake sting operation involving a showering female FBI agent (is there any other kind?), Jason Voorhees is riddled with bullets and blown-up. Apparently after a decade the government has finally determined that a supernatural killing machine is worth putting on their most wanted list. Well here’s a spoiler alert for a movie that’s over 21 years old: Jason’s not really dead but you’ll only see him in mirrors for the majority of the movie. And he’s apparently a weird demon thing that kind of looks like a cross between a ghoulie and a turd, but seeing as how ghoulies live in the toilet anyway, I’m just going to go with a demonic turd.
And so begins a listless stroll through early 1990’s mainstream horror. I picked Jason Goes to Hell as my Friday the 13th week column because I honestly hadn’t watched it since it was released on video. I remembered it as being kind of funny but not very scary. It turns out that the funny parts only really consist of a couple of scenes, there really and truly are no scary parts, and the movie is just kind of bland.
Let me clarify something before we get into the nitty gritty of why Jason Goes to Hell doesn’t work. None of the Friday the 13th movies are “good” when compared to great horror movies. They never held a candle to the original Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even when comparing their respective sequels they don’t hold up, although baghead Jason in Part 2 cuts a pretty mean figure.
The thing that set the Friday movies apart is that they seemed to be in on the joke from the third one on. Jason is imposing but he is always positioned as the most interesting person/thing/inhuman force of nature in the movies. The fornicating teenagers were just cannon fodder for Jason. Not to mention that Jason’s origin is that, before becoming a supernatural killing machine, he was a mentally handicapped kid that was left to drown by counselors who were too busy playing hide the salami to care. The audience is meant to feel sympathy for Jason even if they don’t agree with what he’s doing. That’s the thing that made the Friday movies so fun, and that’s a major component that’s missing from Jason Goes to Hell: fun.
A Taste of the Duke.
In the first half hour of Jason Goes to Hell, it’s almost as if the filmmakers want to make a straight ahead comedy. Jason’s remains get sent to the morgue where the examiner, after noticing that Jason’s heart is twice the size it should be, proceeds to become possessed by Jason’s spirit. After this he obviously has to eat Jason’s heart (it would be rude not to if you think about it), so now that guy’s Jason. Follow the logic? Good, because I don’t either.
After this, anytime Jason possesses a new body he is only visible in mirrors. This takes away virtually any menace the character has because for a good portion of the movie he’s just some yuppie guy in khakis, or a cop, or the aforementioned medical examiner. Good old hockey mask wearing Jason returns at the end just in time to get sent to hell, but by then any amount of tension has already dissipated. It’s too little too late.
The scenes in the morgue are kind of comical but the next segment is where it really gets “funny.” In the aforementioned Jason gets blown up sequence, there is a man watching the goings on from afar. While the feds are celebrating their apparent win this man is shaking his head and saying “I don’t think so.” The man is a bounty hunter named Creighton Duke. He has apparently been tracking Jason Voorhees for a long time and has a Waco type compound where he trains other bounty hunters. This is mentioned in a bizarre TV report that introduces the character but after that his commando band of bounty hunters is never referenced again. It would seem that the filmmakers would have wanted to utilize the idea of a bounty hunting team, but instead the audience is stuck with the Duke.
When the reporter interviewing him asks him what comes to mind when he hears the name Jason Voorhees, he says “a little girl in a pink dress, sticking a hot dog through a doughnut.” The line is actually funny, particularly in the way it is delivered, and the Duke continues to be amusing for the next ten minutes or so. And then he just kind of goes away. He comes back here and there but is really only used as a plot device as the movie progresses instead of a living, breathing character. Not that this is unusual for a Friday the 13th movie but it is a let-down. In the character of the Duke the main flaw of Jason Goes to Hell comes to the forefront: it can’t decide what it wants to be. Is it a comedy? Is it a slasher movie? Is it both? I would say the answer is that it doesn’t have a clue.
This movie came out in 1993. Pop culture was still in transition from the excesses of the 1980’s to the self-reflective and cynical 90’s. The same kind of tonal problems that plague Jason Goes to Hell had affected Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare the previous year, and would really permeate the horror business until Scream came out in 1996. By then it was perfectly acceptable to skewer the slasher genre as a whole while also obeying the rules set forth by the movies that came before. Irony was a hot commodity by then and Scream cashed in on it with a quick wit and some surprisingly scary sequences.
It would be nice to think that this is what Jason Goes to Hell had in mind, but I kind of doubt that. It’s too jumbled to have had such lofty goals. The plot goes on to have Jason enter into several other bodies, it is revealed by the Duke that Jason can only be permanently killed by another Voorhees (of which there are two left apparently), there’s a mystical dagger, and then Jason reveals himself to be a turd demon. There’s a bit more plot than that but it’s really kind of inconsequential in comparison to what everyone remembers about the movie, and why it seems to resonate with fans more than Jason X (which is 100 percent worth watching) or the incredibly boring 2009 remake.
At the very end of the movie, after Jason has been pulled down to hell and the souls of his victims have ascended to heaven, the protagonists are walking away from the scene of the crimes. Unbeknownst to them a dog unearths Jason’s hockey mask. The hockey mask sits there for a beat until Freddy Krueger’s clawed hand reaches up and drags the mask back underground with a laugh, thus setting up a movie that would come out a decade later.
Freddy vs. Jason wound up being quite a bit more memorable than this one, even though the filmmakers had to give Jason a weakness not present in any other Friday movie; he’s afraid of water. He swam to Manhattan in Part 8. Even for this franchise that pushes the boundaries of believability, but I digress.
We’re Going to Camp Crystal Lake!
Adam Marcus, the co-writer and director of Jason Goes to Hell, was only 25 when the movie came out so I cut him a lot of slack. He was probably trying to make a different kind of Friday and that is admirable. It was a success at the box office and on video as well so I might be in the minority on not liking this one. It just doesn’t do it for me.
Unlike the Duke, I don’t think of a little girl in a pink dress, sticking a hot dog through a doughnut when someone brings up Jason Voorhees. I think of sneaking in and watching Friday the 13th Part 3 with my brother when I was five, I think of being incredibly scared looking at the poster for Part 6: Jason Lives, and I think of laughing my butt off at Jason X (once again, go watch Jason X). What I don’t think of though is finality, and that is what Jason Goes to Hell is meant to represent, or at least what the filmmakers were claiming it represented at the time.
On some things, audiences want closure. They want to know that Darth Vader is going to redeem himself, they want to know that the Joker isn’t going to get away with it, they want to know that Marty McFly is going to make it back in time. I don’t however think that anyone really needed a final chapter to the saga of Jason Voorhees any more than they needed it for Freddy Krueger. They are boogeymen, and like Tommy Doyle says in Halloween, “you can’t kill the boogeyman.” A fact made clear by all the sequels and reboots since this one.
Also, for a movie called Jason Goes to Hell, wouldn’t it make more sense if a good portion of it took place in hell? Now that would have been an interesting story. What would Jason’s status in hell be? Would there be other turd demon’s there? Would Jason be able to reunite with mama Voorhees? Maybe all these plot points are touched on in the novelization of Freddy vs. Jason. That’s right, there’s a novelization of Freddy vs. Jason, so if you’re thinking about what to get me for Christmas go ahead and put that on your list. Seriously, get on that. I’ll wait.