Franchise Friday - Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
While negative critical reception is nothing new for the Friday the 13th franchise, there was enough fan blowback and diminishing returns at the box office from Jason’s little trip to Manhattan to send Paramount a message. Let’s be clear though, the poor reception to Part VIII can also be attributed to the 80s slasher craze winding down by the time we get into the 90s. With Friday, it kinda makes sense. Right off the bat, you’ve had an entry every year (except, oddly, 1983)…and that can make for some fatigue. But as we’ve shown in our reviews so far, the first 6 parts have all had some thematic ties: 1 through 3 being the rise of Jason, 4 through 6 focusing on his nemesis Tommy Jarvis…albeit inconsistently. Part VII was certainly interesting and entertaining with its supernatural face-off, but as I mentioned there, the core idea of ‘Carrie Vs. Jason’ screamed the type of Hollywood unoriginality that we joke about today. Sure, Manhattan tried to do something slightly different, but at the same time the effort felt flat.
Looking at all of this in the context of the time, the early 90s, it perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that Paramount would sell the character of Jason off to New Line Cinema…but, and this is very important to remember, not the title ‘Friday the 13th’ and no other characters…so, no Pamela Voorhees, no Tommy Jarvis, etc. Of course, New Line and Friday producer Sean S. Cunningham were all very much interested in a Freddy Vs. Jason, but New Line had just killed off Freddy back in 91…so they were much more interested in a story that might lead up to that showdown, not the showdown itself. And what was that lead up story? How’s about a synopsis:
After a decade of grisly murders at and around the Crystal Lake area, enough is enough and the FBI springs into action, seemingly killing Jason for good. But his is an evil that won’t stay dead as his malevolence jumps from body to body, slashing a bloody path back to Crystal Lake once more. At the center of it all rests the fate of an estranged couple and their newborn daughter. Only a lone bounty hunter knows the truth: a prophecy that will either kill Jason or cause his bloody reign of terror to last forever. Can he get there in time to make sure this is The Final Friday?
I remember that fan reaction to Jason Goes to Hell was decidedly negative upon its release back in 1993. In some ways, I get it and in others, I don’t. Within the opening minutes of the movie, director Adam Marcus hits all the usual Friday beats but once the FBI blows Jason Proper to smithereens, well, that’s about it. From here on out, we get something very un-Friday: a possession story. That’s not to say that as Jason’s essence jumps from body to body that we don’t get some vicious kills out of it, we do. But the audience (and me too) want to see the guy in the hockey mask doing it, not say a Steven Culp played TV news reporter. This feels like an instance where filmmakers didn’t really understand the importance of the monster, instead opting to put all their chips on the high concept of a Jason-worm leaping from body to body.
As an aside really quick, there is an additional detail regarding the body-jumping…that being where Jason proves so evil as to consume the body housing him. This ends up resulting in some pretty good gore effects as well as the important plot device in that the characters don’t really know who the killer is.
So, why am I going to defend this movie and insist you give it another shot? Because it’s the most fanboy-ish ‘What If…?” ever put up on the big screen. Seriously, I’m AMAZED they let this go through, that no one caught on to it. If I had to guess, I’d say that the powers that be simply shrugged it off as an easter egg…and heck, many audience members probably made that mistake too, hence the negative reaction to the film. But for those of you yet to watch it or for those of you willing to take another look, you’ve got to go into this movie with this as your core concept: What if Jason was a Deadite? What if, so distraught by the death of her young son, Pamela Voorhees sought out the Necronomicon Ex Mortis? What if Jason kept coming back because he wasn’t killed by ‘The Chosen One’, or, failing that…because they weren’t going to cough up the bucks for Bruce Campbell…by a mystical relic, such as a Kandarian Dagger? The thing is, with Pamela being a no-no due to rights issues and Ash being a big no-no because he belongs to another franchise, the only keys we have into this interpretation are the Necronomicon showing up as an easter egg in the old Voorhees house and the mystical dagger coming out of…well…nowhere really. Thus, while kind of a cool concept, we as the audience cannot be outright told nor shown a pivotal point to the proceedings. As such, we’ve kind of committed a huge cinematic sin: we’re expecting our audience to do homework in another franchise and bring that knowledge to our movie. This would be like having a Mother Box from the DCEU show up in Avengers: Endgame and it being the way to finally defeat Thanos.
The biggest issue out of the way, there are some minor gripes here too. I mean, I get it, Friday films have never been particularly good about continuity and world building, but to suddenly have Jason’s sister and niece (and grandniece) enter the story at this point seems like a bit of a reach. Story-wise, I get why they’re needed: Only by a Voorhees can he be killed and only by a Voorhees can he be reborn. Still, between the cut scene from Part VI and the original premise for this entry, the whole Elias Voorhees premise, be it as a father as he was conceived for Part VI or as a brother as he was imagined for the initial treatment for this film, deserves to be explored. Speaking of initial intents, the Steven Freeman role was originally meant to be the aforementioned Tommy Jarvis, which would have certainly given some interesting sequel potential to his infant daughter. Think of it, years down the line when this child becomes a teenager, a child of both Jarvis and Voorhees blood as a camper at Crystal Lake…could be cool. However rights issues would prevent that…and maybe that is for the best because even within the Tommy Jarvis trilogy (Parts 4, 5 and 6) the writers never really knew what to do with the character anyway as the premise of ‘is he Jason’s foe…or successor?’ was never really played in any direction and as such utterly wasted his potential. Lastly, there’s Creighton Duke. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with him exactly, nor his portrayal by Steven Williams (although knowing Tony Todd auditioned for the role…oh, man, how cool would that have been?), but to have a mystery man show up with a beef against Jason? We as an audience need to know why that beef is there…what has driven Creighton to hunt Jason? Sure, a quick Google search will reveal the answer (Jason killed his girlfriend back when he was a teen), but that’s the kind of story we need included in the film, whether it’s told, discovered or shown…and sadly, it’s nowhere to be seen or heard.
Perhaps the flaw in Jason Goes to Hell, The Final Friday is that it asks too much of its audience. Not only is it a film whose style is vastly different from the rest of the series, but a core premise to the film is left up to the audience to figure out from a pair of easter eggs contained within the film itself. Either one of those would be a major ask for any franchises’ audience, but for this film to contain two, it’s easy to see why there’s some negativity toward this entry. On the other hand, given how much Part VIII just did not work at all, well, I can see why a new direction was needed and, even if you remove the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness tie-in, I feel this new direction is fine for a one-off. Of course, as a fanboy, the tie-in with another franchise ups the cool factor here, even though there was really no way to flesh it out more. In spite of its flaws, and going in knowing of the intended crossover, I have to admit that I dig it. It’s not perfect, but Jason Goes to Hell certainly warrants a Happy Cat.