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Photograph by James Dittiger

You Are Getting Very Sleepy: Freddy's shiny knife fingers are the key to his successful new career as a hypnotherapist.

Two by Gore

There's populism, postmodern politics and lots of pointy things in 'Freddy vs. Jason'

By Steve Palopoli

If you're one of those fans that have been waiting nearly a decade for this movie, I have three things to say to you. First: get a life. Second: pick me up one while you're at it, so that I too can stop doing things like reading Cinescape.com to get the real story on why longtime hockey-masked thespian Kane Hodder was replaced as Jason by Ken Kerzinger.

Third: I can't believe they actually did this right.

I have always been fascinated by the idea of a Jason vs. Freddy movie, but honestly never thought it would really happen. What actual premise, I reasoned, could you use to pit these two horror bad guys--both of whom are supposedly pure evil and far more suited to be allies than enemies--against each other? Freddy cuts Jason off in traffic? Jason builds an illegal retaining wall over 48 inches high abutting Freddy's property? I mean, a joint teen-stalking-spree is just far more likely than a grudge match with these two.

If you don't think about it too much, though, the premise deployed in Freddy vs. Jason works pretty well. Our favorite Nightmare on Elm Street cut-up Freddy Kreuger (Robert Englund) is pissed off that he's been forgotten by the children of Elm Street, since it means he no longer has the power to go into their dreams and kill them. So he tricks Jason--who despite wielding axes, pitchforks and various gardening implements was never the sharpest tool in the shed--into going there to put some fear back into the kids. The problem is that the plan works all too well, with Jason nearly tapping Freddy's supply of teen "resources" before the Gloved One has to step in and stake his own claim.

Yeah, OK, it's a little wack. Perhaps even wackity wack. But it's a lot of fun for fans, with Freddy actually narrating the damn thing right out of the gate, plus references to every one of the Nightmare films and an over-the-top smackdown vibe that makes this feel more like a wrestling movie than a horror movie. The scare factor is nearly nil, with the emphasis completely on monster fights and the body count of kids who get in the way.

And speaking of body count--whoa, have we suddenly been transported back to a time before conservatives killed the horror genre, or what? Freddy vs. Jason is dazzlingly old-school in the way it pours on the same gore and T&A that fueled the early-'80s stalker-film cycle, but then dried up when jerk-ass parents across America started complaining that all films should be suitable for their jerk-ass kids. Ah, the wonderful infantilization of America ... but that's another story, isn't it? The point is that Freddy vs. Jason is strong stuff, with director Ronny Yu--who made striking Hong Kong films like The Ghost With White Hair before coming to this country for the fairly idiotic Bride of Chucky--adding some (dare I say) elegance to otherwise extremely lowbrow horror scenes.

This movie has its problems: many have already pointed out that watching two supposedly indestructible creepies fight to the "death" has a certain air of pointlessness about it. I think this was a completely avoidable problem, since Freddy should be able to kick Jason's ass in dreams, with the opposite true in the real world. Freddy vs. Jason gets the former right, but its logic regarding the latter is hard to follow, as Freddy turns out to be just as powerful when pulled out of the dream world, leading to said pointlessly well-matched battling.

What I especially like about this movie, though, is that it takes the most reactionary of the horror franchises (Friday the 13th, in which Jason has always been a fascist killing machine that hunts down teenagers who transgress old-fashioned values) and places it in the context of the most progressive of the horror series (Nightmare on Elm Street, in which the evil that a previous generation has attempted to cover up comes back to threaten its innocent offspring, who must shed their naiveté and uncover the truth--post-Watergate zeitgeist, anyone?). The result is that we get some weird stuff, like a conspiracy among Elm Street parents to drug their kids into dreamlessness, and former-child-trauma-case Jason being compared to one of kid-killer Freddy's young victims. In a previous version of the script, it turned out that the young Jason actually was Freddy's first victim, but this is far less of a stretch. Still, this is a film that relies on our knowledge of horror mythology, and rewards it with a ton of in-jokes, a heaping helping of the main characters' shticks and a light tone that suggests the filmmakers always have their icky Freddy tongue in cheek.


Freddy vs. Jason (R), directed by Ronny Yu, written by David S. Goyer, Victor Miller, Damian Shannon and Mark Smith, photographed by Fred Murphy and starring Robert Englund and Ken Kirzinger, plays at Cinema 9, 41st Avenue Cinemas, Skyview Drive-In and Green Valley Cinemas.

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From the August 27-September 3, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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