Summer Shocks 1993: Jason Goes to Hell

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New Line’s first Voorhees outing

No one trick or treats on the last day of school, no one carves jack o’ lanterns on July 4th, or goes on haunted hayrides in August.

When it comes to beloved macabre traditions, the fall is the season that gets all the attention. Thanks to the celebration of Halloween, the autumn months have always been indelibly associated with all things frightful. Summer, on the other hand, is ostensibly all that horror isn’t about – a golden time of warm weather, trips to the beach, fireworks, road trips and family picnics.

For those movie buffs that prefer the inside of their neighborhood cinemas (or, for some, the nighttime chill of drive-in theaters) to the blistering heat, however, the summer is the real witching season. Some believe that horror vacations in summer, waiting for fall to arrive, but box office history tells a different story.

Starting in 1975 when Jaws invented the modern blockbuster by teaching a generation to be afraid of the ocean, summer has been the best time of year to be scared. The fall can keep Halloween. It can keep the costumes, the candy, the Great Pumpkin, all of it – because summer has always had the better movies.

The summer of 1993 may have been the summer of Jurassic Park but the titular star of Jason Goes to Hell was something of a dinosaur himself. The ’90s were not kind to the horror franchises of the ’80s, leaving them on the verge of extinction. While it seemed ideal for the House That Freddy Built, New Line Cinema, to be the new home for Crystal Lake’s favorite son after Paramount let the Friday the 13th franchise go, New Line’s first move with Jason Voorhees once he was under their roof was to say goodbye with a grand (guignol) finale.

Horror was changing in the early ’90s and the same-old/same-old wasn’t going to cut it anymore. At least that seemed to be the thinking behind Jason Goes To Hell and maybe it was right for the powers-that-be to feel that way. After all, even by the third Friday the 13th, the series’ producers had already needed the hook of 3-D to lure fans back for more formulaic slaughter after Part 2 hadn’t been the hit that the original had been. Five films after fans had been suckered into buying tickets for The Final Chapter only to have A New Beginning cynically arrive not even a year later, maybe it was time to finish off Jason for real. Shepherding that historic occasion to the screen was Sean Cunningham, gone from the world of Friday the 13th since directing the classic original, now returning to the series as producer.

The problem with Cunningham returning to the Friday fold is that, as many interviews with him over the years have indicated, he never had much of an affinity for the horror empire that he created. This isn’t like Wes Craven being the father of Freddy; this is someone who saw a character that was essentially a footnote in his film unexpectedly blow up into an icon. The subsequent popularity of the character aside, bringing back Jason – a character that only existed in a dream in the first film – was an idea that never made any sense. He supposedly died as a child but came back as an adult so did he die in the first place and if he didn’t, what was he doing in the woods all those years? The series got away with glossing over these types of questions because, well, it was the ’80s and no one cared too much about the logic behind how a drowned boy eventually becomes a full grown adult but I think Cunningham has always been at an understandable loss to explain the popularity of Jason.

Perhaps because of this, in selecting a director for Jason Goes To Hell, Cunningham turned to someone who considered themselves a fan to call the shots, recent film school graduate Adam Marcus. Marcus was a lifelong friend of Cunningham’s son Noel and as a kid had been on the set of the original Friday the 13th. With his close ties to Cunningham and his enthusiasm for the series, Marcus was assigned the honor of doing what Tommy Jarvis couldn’t do – dispatching Jason to Hell once and for all (or, at least until Freddy vs. Jason got through its own development hell). Helping Marcus pen the screenplay was Marcus’ college chum Dean Lorey, who had written the horror comedy Johnny Zombie (which became My Boyfriend’s Back, released to US theaters the week before Jason Goes To Hell). While Jason Goes To Hell was the first time that a director and screenwriter who had grown up on the series would have an opportunity to steer the ship, the results of their efforts proved to be divisive among fans.

If you ask any one who hasn’t seen a Friday the 13th film what the movies are about, chances are they’ll say they’re about teenagers getting slaughtered at a camp. They’ll also more than likely be able to name Jason and describe his trademark hockey mask. What they probably won’t tell you is that the movies are about a parasitic, body-hopping demon that travels by exiting from the mouth of its host and entering the mouth of its next host (as long as that host is clean-shaven). In this regard (and many others) Jason Goes To Hell stands alone in the Friday the 13th franchise. Jason Goes To Hell wasn’t just a tweaking of the formula. It didn’t just introduce a new element to the well-worn Friday mold. Instead, Marcus and Lorey went full-tilt in their own curious direction.

No one would ever say that fast food is fine cuisine but it has its appeal and you wouldn’t want to change someone’s favorite menu item just for the sake of change. When you order a Big Mac, even if it’s for the hundredth time, the expectation is that it’s always going to taste like a Big Mac. Similarly, when you have a film franchise, there’s an audience who wants to have the same experience over and over again. Non-fans might not understand this desire for repetition and replication and even the fans themselves might be at a loss to explain it but it is what it is.

When you’re making a sequel and you go too far off script, you’re running the risk of disappointing – or even enraging – a sizable portion of your audience by not giving them what they came for. At the time of Jason Goes To Hell, the revenues on the Friday films had been falling sharply for years (if they hadn’t, Paramount wouldn’t have handed the property over to New Line) so it’s understandable that a drastic change may have looked like the smart way to go but one could’ve argued that such a move would not only fail to attract a new audience but also alienate the series’ devoted fan base and that’s pretty much exactly how the reaction to Jason Goes To Hell went. All the changes didn’t bring in a wider audience and the radically different approach only left most of the diehard fans pissed off.

Personally, I’m a Friday fan who really digs Jason Goes To Hell as a one-off aberration. Putting aside the fact that it was wrongly conceived, there’s a unique vibe to this movie that the series never had before or since. This is the Halloween III: Season of the Witch of the Friday the 13th series. And like that heavily vilified Michael Myers-less sequel, had Jason Goes To Hell gone out with no ties to Friday the 13th, I suspect it would’ve been more readily appreciated. Had the screenplay been reworked to be the same story but about an all-new, unstoppable, immortal serial killer who wasn’t Jason Voorhees (easy to do as with so much time in this film spent explaining to the audience who Jason is, that screen time could’ve gone towards elaborating on the history of an entirely different character) it might’ve been easier for horror fans to get behind it (and with all the body switching, it fits right in with films of then-recent vintage like The Hidden, Shocker, and The First Power). Because while it does fly in the face of the franchise, Jason Goes To Hell is still a fun ride. It hits the ground running and hardly lets up until the final frame.

For such a convoluted storyline – tied up in a new mythology for Jason involving his family tree, a magic dagger, and the newly learned fact that Jason can only be killed by another member of his cursed bloodline – Jason Goes To Hell doesn’t feel overburdened by exposition. Most of that is likely due to the film being the subject of heavy edits after early screenings. More positively, though, the talented cast has the ability to make even the most laborious dialogue seem natural. In particular, Steven Williams (21 Jump Street, The X-Files) as bounty hunter Creighton Duke manages to give some memorable intensity to his speeches. Kari Keegan was the most engaging heroine the series had seen since Jennifer Cooke in Jason Lives (’86) and John D. LeMay brought the same natural affability that he had shown during his two season stint on Friday the 13th: The Series.

Among the many things that Jason Goes To Hell was that none of the other Fridays were is a shoot ’em up. You’d think this movie was taking place in South Central L.A., not Crystal Lake, as there’s more shots fired in this movie than in Boyz in the Hood (1991) and Menace II Society (1993). Released a week before director John Woo’s American debut with Hard Target, this was the first US film to showcase the influence of Woo’s Hong Kong films, with its diner scene, especially, being full of slo-mo gunplay right out of the Woo style guide. Scenes like this might have belonged anywhere but in a Friday the 13th film but they were exciting to watch and they showed Marcus’ sensibilities as a Gen-X film nerd (as does the cameo appearances of the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis and skull dagger from The Evil Dead and the Horlicks University crate from Creepshow).

Whatever problems Jason Goes To Hell had, whatever ill-advised tangents the film may have gone on, those mistakes were all but obliterated by the film’s final shot. Seeing this film with a full crowd on its opening weekend, I can attest that the sight Freddy’s glove bursting from the earth to drag Jason’s hockey mask to Hell was met with roof-raising applause, the likes of which I’ve seldom heard in a movie theater. For that one moment, at least, the audience who came to celebrate Jason’s Final Friday was in horror heaven.

Other horror films released in the summer of ’93:

Carnosaur (May 21st)

Jurassic Park (June 11th)

Needful Things (August 27th)

SUMMER OF 1979:

The Amityville Horror (Jeff Allard)

Phantasm (Ryan Turek)

SUMMER OF 1980:

Friday the 13th (Jeff Allard)

SUMMER OF 1981:

Deadly Blessing (Jeff Allard)

Wolfen (Ryan Turek)

SUMMER OF 1982:

Poltergeist (Jeff Allard)

Friday the 13th: Part 3 (Ryan Turek)

SUMMER OF 1983:

Psycho II (Jeff Allard)

SUMMER OF 1984:

Dreamscape (Jeff Allard)

SUMMER OF 1985:

Day of the Dead (Jeff Allard)

SUMMER OF 1986:

The Fly (Jeff Allard)

SUMMER OF 1987:

Predator

SUMMER OF 1988:

The Blob

SUMMER OF 1989:

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

SUMMER OF 1990:

Class of 1999

SUMMER OF 1991:

Body Parts

SUMMER OF 1992:

Single White Female






Source: Jeff Allard

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Weekend: Oct. 18, 2018, Oct. 21, 2018

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