By Wil Forbis
I hate having to pick the "best" of something, but if I had to pick the best horror film of the past 30 years, I'd probably go with the film that introduced Freddy Krueger to the world: "Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street." I can actually remember seeing the movie poster back when the film did its theatre run (back in 1984), and the fucking poster scared the shit out of me! I eventually saw my first Nightmare movie, "Part III: The Dream Warriors," in 1987, and was hooked on the concept. There's this guy, see? And his name's Freddy Krueger, see? And he was this child molester until a bunch of parents burned him to death, and now he haunts the dreams of their children and if he kills you in your dream, you're fucked in real life. What was not to like about that? I mean, the concept was practically high art in a genre where you're lucky to even have a concept. Eventually I made it back to Part I and saw where it all began. The original "Nightmare." was a well told tale - scary, gratuitous, but a great epoch. The young, but canny, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) goes up against the eerie dream master Krueger - and wins (if you ignore the standard horror movie twist ending.)
I was initially less enthused about the "Friday the 13th" films, known for unleashing the unstoppable villain of Jason Voorhees to the world. (Though you gotta give them credit for coming up with a creepy name. Voorhees? WTF is that? It sounds like the last name of the weird kid who transferred into your class midway through the school year and always picked his scabs.) In contrast to Freddy Krueger who cracked jokes and came up with witty one-liners, Jason just kind of stood there like a stoned out Frankenstein. Then he'd start plodding along and somehow manage to hack up the able-bodied teenagers who were running away from him at three times his speed. And while Freddy always had a well-timed quip before he sliced some sniveling teenager to death, Jason didn't even talk! He simply chopped open their neck with his machete and made no attempt to dodge the arterial spray of blood that burst forth. Jason moved about like a sleepwalker, and you half expected him to suddenly wake up and say in a Woody Allen voice, "Oh my God, how'd I get here?"
But in the past few years, I've actually coming around to enjoying the "Friday the 13th" films. I caught a special showing of the 3rd installment, "Friday the 13th in 3D" at L.A.'s Nuart theater awhile back (with none other than scream actress, Honey Lauren) and had to admit, it was a funny AND scary film (which is a difficult combination to pull off.) And despite the lamentation of the critics, I thoroughly enjoyed last year's, high tech, "Jason X," in which our boy Voorhees wakes up in a space station of the future and doesn't miss a beat getting back to work chopping up that era's generation of nubile teens. (Perhaps the best line of the movie occurs when Jason breaks open a window in the space station, prompting a young gal who's clinging to the floor to avoid the vacuum effect to yell, "This sucks on so many levels!") Jason works in the simplicity of his premise. He just kills people... that's it. He doesn't tell jokes, he doesn't have some complex psychological incentive for wanting to rid the world of gibbering adolescents, he just fucking kills people! (I imagine every actor to play Jason has gotten a good laugh on the set by looking over at the director before the filming of a multiple murder scene and saying, "Okay, what's my motivation here?") Jason is an antidote to the Freudian notion that has infected Hollywood since its heyday, that killers need to have some convoluted, subconscious reason for inflicting slaughter upon the innocents.*
* Yeah, I know, the Jason mythology does have some bullshit back-story about Jason drowning at summer camp because the amorous counselors were to busy getting their freak on to save him, but even the recent Friday films give that premise the wink and "fuck you" that it deserves. Jason is simply a heartless automaton of evil. That's why we love him.
Undoubtedly, the "Nightmare" and "Friday" films are the most memorable horror flicks of the past twenty years, and they both have quite a lot in common with each other. Both series featured teenagers as their main protagonists. (However, while I rooted for the teens on Elm Street, Jason couldn't kill the insolent, hyper-sexed morons of the "Friday" movies fast enough for me. Hey - can we get Jason to do a guest spot on "Real World"?) Both had infamous and immensely popular villains. And both made a ton of money. As such, the idea eventually hatched in some studio executives mind to have the two characters go head to head against each other in a duel of slasheriffic proportions. Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees would battle it out in the style of classic monster movies like "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man," "Godzilla versus King King" or "George Bush Battles Al Gore." (If Gore had only chosen the Wolf Man as VP, we'd have seen a whole different turnout in 2000.)
This all leads up, of course, to the current "Freddy Vs. Jason" film that's racking up the dollar bills at the box office. How fares this celluloid extravagance when examined under the unflinching gaze of ForbisVision?. Well. uh, it's about what you'd expect. I mean, I don't think "Citizen Kane" feels any less secure of its place in cinematic history, but "Freddy Vs. Jason" ably delivers an ample amount of blood, gore and titillation while fulfilling its central premise, that of a blood splattering clash of the fright titans. How does this battle come about, you ask? Well, combine one part absurdity with two parts suspension of disbelief, and you come up with a storyline as follows. Freddy, presumably in hell (though the "H" word is never mentioned as a nod to the secularists in the audience) brings Jason back from the dead and sends him plodding towards Elm street. (How he gets there while not attracting police attention is never explained.) Once in town, Jason kills a few brats of the "Friday the 13th" variety (e.g. fornicating, alcoholic sinners) and the flame of fear starts to dwindle in the area's teenagers. Fear is exactly what Freddy feeds on and he begins to grow more powerful. Jason keeps killing and Freddy keeps getting stronger, strong enough, eventually, to break free his Mephistophelian shackles and again stalk the dreams of the children of Elm Street. But it's here Freddy's schemes unravel, as he'd assumed that once Jason had served his purpose, he could be talked into discontinuing his homicidal inclinations, leaving Freddy the sole (or, soul) stalker of Elm Street youth. But as we know, once Mr. Voorhees gets started, he ain't stoppin' and soon Freddy and Jason are in a territorial pissing match that spans from the nightmarish empire of Freddy's dreamworld (where Krueger reins supreme) to the cold, hard realm of "reality" (where Jason has the home field advantage.)
The film is certainly careful not to let the elements from one film series outweigh those of the other, but, well, maybe it should have. Each series, in the years since its individual inception, has developed a subtle "feel" around its characters and world. Forcing these two unique realms to exist within each other, proves unwieldy. Freddy's world, or the sphere within which the events of the "Nightmare." films take place is actually pretty grounded in reality. To some degree, it has to be, since the only way to defeat Freddy is to pull him into our world where he's bound by the same physical and natural laws we all are. The Elm Street films also have some respect for their audience, shown by the fact that the teenagers are reasonably intelligent, the adults are not simply puritanical boobs, and Freddy's desire for carnage is clearly explained. Jason's world, the setting for the "Friday the 13th" films, is much more tongue and cheek and filled with horror clichés. All teenagers are pot smoking, sex addicts, the adults are dim-witted authoritarians, and even if a character jumps into a Porche 911 and takes off down the highway, Jason will eventually catch up to them by lumbering along at his unhurried pace. (In a way, the "Friday" movies can be said to have the same moral of the old turtle and hare fable - "Never give up!")
But what the real difference between the series? Breast size. The female protagonists of the "Friday" films all looked like porn vixens who'd considered the leap into slasher films as the next step in their career. The Elm Street girls, as epitomized by Heather Langenkamp, were attractive but not voluptuous actresses - their sexuality didn't overwhelm the screen. In the case of "Freddy Vs. Jason," the vixens win. Monica Keena, who plays Lori, the current iteration of the damsel that must outfox the monsters, has voluminous assets that are just plain distracting. Call me a dimwitted lout, but I can't be bothered to follow a complex plot about monsters crawling out of the netherworld when boobies like that are bouncing around the screen. But despite her buxom build, Lori is a teen of the Elm Street mold (e.g. intelligent and canny) which is more than you can say for a the majority of the characters, most of whom are archetypical stoners (including a Jason Mewes clone) who are just as likely to kill themselves by lighting their hair as fire as they are to be felled by Jason's machete.
Of course, at the end of the day, the teenagers can be as dorky as they want since we're not paying to see them. We're they're for Freddy and Jason, and they hold up pretty well. Jason is. well, Jason. The current actor to play Jason, Ken Kirzinger, can wear a hockey mask and stomp around as well as the previous ones. And Robert Englund hasn't lost his touch as Freddy Krueger. He's still got the ability to both charm and terrify his audience.
I won't tell you who the wins the battle of the blades, but I will tell you who the real winners in Freddy Vs. Jason. The freaks. The geeks. The weirdos. Zitty, longhaired teenagers with spiked bracelets. Obsessive comic book fans who never got laid. Chicks who shunned Madonna and Debbie Gibson for Diamanda Galas. In a recent Onion interview, Robert Englund talked about the fans that approached after him the first Freddy film was released and he described them as "Ramones, speed-metal, heavy-metal, punk-rock musician types. Girls in black leather with dog collars on." Both the Nightmare and Friday films had a strong appeal to society's rejects when they first appeared in the 1980's. And it was the hope of many people - from right wing televangelists to censorious liberals - that the films would immediately disappear. But they didn't. They produced sequels. And dolls. And television spin-offs. With each severed head and gaping neck wound the power of Freddy and Jason grew. And that perhaps, is the real importance, of "Freddy Vs. Jason." Who cares if it's well acted, or the plot makes any sense? The movie is a ratification of what the freaks were saying in the eighties. That there was more to the world than day-glo colors, Molly Ringwald and the Culture Club. That not everyone wanted be shiny, happy, people. That there was a need to for the dark side. That it was important to be scared.
At best, Freddy and Jason should've shown up, maybe done a couple sequels, and then faded from sight. But they've both become cultural icons, characters that even your parents recognize synonymous with wickedness and evil. So, uh, take a bow, fellahs. You deserve it.
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