Jason X (2002) 0
In 1984, Paramount Pictures made a big to-do about putting an end to the Friday the 13th series after five years and four movies. They lied. Later, after disappointing returns on Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan convinced Paramount to sell the rights to produce further sequels to New Line Cinema, the latter studio made the same promise, releasing Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday in 1993. They also lied. The moment audiences got a look at the stupid sight-gag that ends Jason Goes to Hell (Fred Krueger’s knife-gloved hand reaches out of the ground to pull Jason’s discarded mask down into Hell with the rest of him), speculation began that New Line would soon be cross-fertilizing (emphasis on the “fertilizer”) their two slasher franchises, as if either one of those dead horses hadn’t yet been well and thoroughly flogged. Nevertheless, the years went by with nary a peep from either Jason or Freddy, and I, for one, came to believe that the Friday the 13th saga really was over. Then the summer of 2002 rolled around, and I started seeing commercials for Jason X.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the first tip-off that Jason X was going to be far and away the worst film in the series came with the title; I’m not even sure I can really explain why. Let’s just say my crap movie instincts told me that if New Line had had the tiniest modicum of self-respect— or respect for the series— they would have called this movie Friday the 13th, Part X: [Jason Does Something or Other]. Of course then I found out that Jason X would be moving the series in a sci-fi direction, and I knew there wasn’t even the most infinitesimally minute chance for the film. Why? Remember Hellraiser: Bloodline? What about Leprechaun 4: In Space? Taking an established horror franchise and re-setting it in the far-flung future is tantamount to an admission that the idea well has dried up completely, and that the time for quitting while one is ahead has long since come and gone.
We begin in the relatively near future— a bit after 2010, or so it would seem. Evidently nothing we saw in either of the last two movies happened, because Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder once again) is alive and well. The authorities have finally caught up to him, though, and now that repeated attempts to execute him have failed just as miserably as the efforts of Tommy Jarvis and several movies’ worth of Final Girls, the killer has been transferred to the Crystal Lake Research Center for study. As far as the whitecoats can tell, Voorhees is pretty much indestructible, but not a one of them has any clue as to why. So with a conventional execution out of the question, the decision has been made to freeze Jason cryogenically and keep him in storage until such time as anybody comes up with a better idea. But while a scientist named Rowan (Tek War’s Lexa Doig) is preparing to do just that, her boss comes along and announces that Jason is to be moved to another facility for more in-depth research— presumably it finally occurred to somebody that a condemned man who is physically incapable of being killed is a biotech goldmine just waiting to be exploited. Yeah, well evidently none of these boobs has ever seen a horror movie, because they’ve got the nerve to be surprised when Jason gets loose and starts killing just about everybody in the building. His rampage is cut short, however, when Rowan forces him into the cryogenic freezer and turns it on. Even so, Jason gets the last laugh when he punches his trusty machete (oh, and by the way... where the hell did he get that in a medical research laboratory?!?!) through the wall of the machine, causing everything in the lab to freeze along with him— Rowan included.
Fast-forward to the year 2455. The Earth is a dead planet, abandoned centuries ago by spacefaring humans. Every once in a while, an expedition back to the old homeworld is organized, though, and it is just such an expedition that will concern us for the remainder of this agonizing film. I can’t say I have even the slightest idea what the real point of this mission is. Its two leaders are a space marine named Sergeant Brodski (Peter Mensah, from Bruiser and Bless the Child) and a civilian called Professor Lowe (Jonathan Potts). Lowe is clearly a teacher of some sort, as he will spend much of the next few scenes half-heartedly instructing a pack of remarkably undisciplined teenagers on an array of medical and biological topics. Brodski has along about ten of his fellow marines, most of whom are little or no older than Lowe’s students; maybe the mission is a training exercise for them, too. In any case, the starship Grendel deploys its shuttle to the surface of “Earth Prime,” right in the vicinity of the ruined Crystal Lake Research Center. Inside, a mixed team of students and soldiers find the room in which Rowan and Jason were frozen four and a half centuries ago, and take it upon themselves to haul both preserved corpses back to the ship. This endeavor takes on an added degree of urgency when it is discovered by KM-14 (Lisa Ryder, of “Andromeda” and “Forever Knight”), the sentient android who’s been brought along essentially because the Nostromo and Sulaco crews both had one in the Alien movies, that Rowan is so well preserved that it should still be possible to revive her.
You know what’s coming. Rowan gets revived, but so does Jason Voorhees, and the killer goes on his usual head-squashing and dismemberment spree. The Expendable Meat in the Grendel’s biology lab is the first to get it, followed by Brodski’s space marines. Then Jason works his way through the rest of the civilians until only Rowan, KM-14, the wounded Brodski, and a couple of kids named Tsunaron (Chuck Campbell, who had previously played bit-parts in Urban Legends: Final Cut and In the Mouth of Madness) and Janessa (Melyssa Ade) remain. Meanwhile a series of Jason-derived mechanical failures turn the Grendel into a spacegoing Irwin Allen movie— out of control, seemingly inescapable, and ready to explode at any minute. And even after Tsunaron reprograms KM-14 into a combat droid capable of defeating the killer, the Grendel crew’s problems still aren’t over. The same hyper-advanced medical technology that allows the men and women of the 25th century to live to the age of 200 and to recover from nearly any injury if treated promptly accidentally gets turned on Jason, transforming him into a cyborg even more resistant to damage than he was to begin with.
The most striking thing about Jason X is how widely the rip-off net is cast this time around. Not content to be a suck-ass slasher movie, it’s also a suck-ass Alien/Aliens clone, a suck-ass Terminator retread, and a suck-ass Matrix-wannabe. I suppose we can say that at least all that cross-genre dabbling is novel for a Friday the 13th movie, but it’s scarcely original in absolute terms, and I frankly liked the series much better when all it was ripping off was itself, Halloween, and Twitch of the Death Nerve. The sci-fi trappings in Jason X serve as little more than an excuse to make the story even dumber and even less plausible than it would have been if confined to Earth in the present day. No good explanation is ever offered for the trip to Earth Prime, for example, and if these dim bulbs are what passes for college students and military cadets in the 25th century, then the people of Earth II had better be thankful that New Line doesn’t own the sequel rights to Independence Day too! The character design for the cyborg Mecha-Jason is a sorry piece of work, as well, looking like it was left over from an uncompleted sequel to Cybertracker or Digital Man.
The movie’s worst feature is something else altogether, though. What really sucks about the current vogue for ironic, self-aware horror movies is the ease with which that irony becomes a cover for plain old shitty filmmaking. Ever since Scream, writers and directors working in the horror field have been taking the position that they don’t need to do their jobs worth a fuck provided that they toss in a couple of inside jokes here and there, or poke fun at the shortcomings of their own movie when they should be taking steps to eliminate those shortcomings instead. Jason X is positioned squarely within this lamentable new tradition. For example, consider that the space station to which the Grendel crew hopes to flee for safety is called “Solaris,” while the designation of the squad heavy weapon used by the space marines is “BFG.” (Anybody but me remember the original Doom?) Or how about the first clash between Jason and Brodski, in which the sergeant— having just told Jason that “it’s going to take more than a little poke in the ribs” to finish him off (Brodski had already been stabbed once)— sinks to the floor after being dealt a second injury while muttering, “Now that ought to do it…” Or, for that matter, the way KM-14’s subsequent showdown against the killer is played as one long riff on The Matrix and all the Hong Kong gunplay movies that did so much to inspire it. None of these gags is nearly as clever as screenwriter Todd Farmer and director Jim Isaac apparently think, nor are they nearly enough in aggregate to legitimize a story that asks us to believe such idiocies as a podunk camp town in New Jersey hosting a world-class medical research laboratory. Then there’s the hologram scene— the notorious “We love premarital sex!” scene. As Jason closes in on the last surviving characters, they attempt to divert his attention with a computer simulation of his natural habitat. This Virtual Crystal Lake comes complete with a pair of teenage girls who court the killer’s wrath with all the behaviors that have long been known to lead to death in cheap horror movies: drinking, drugs, nudity, sexual ardor. Was it not obvious to producer Sean Cunningham and his followers that the very temptation to slip a scene like this into Jason X is the surest sign of all that the time for making Friday the 13th sequels is over?!?!