I should note early on that is part of my Elm Street Retrospective series so will lean slightly more in that direction than the Friday the 13th films. Prepare for a sprinkle of bias I guess….. (Spoilers abound)
About a year ago or so, I joined a horror fandom group online. I thought that it would be a nice way to engage with like-minded fans of the genre, discuss our favourite movies and, maybe, get some recommendations for films I’d yet to see. Though there was a little of that, the majority of posts seemed to be “Who would win in a fight between X & Y?”. In fact, this dominated the forum so much that I left to never return. The final one that did for me was, I believe, “Who would win in a fight between Chucky & Pinhead?” Apart from the answer being, obviously Pinhead, this was just a little silly and a lot uninspiring. Ultimately I figured “Who cares!!” and promptly left the group.
This kind of question has been asked by horror fans for decades but, in 2003, director Ronny Yu sought to answer this question by taking a look at what might happen when two of modern horrors favourite icons, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, squared off against each other on the big screen. Freddy vs Jason was one hell of an exciting concept for me and I was curious to see, having not watched it for a while, how it held up.
It had been nearly a decade since we’d last seen an “Elm Street” film with the unique “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” in 1994 but only two years since the tenth entry in the “Friday the 13th” series with “Jason X” doing well at the box office in 2001.
I was intrigued by how they would work these two iconic characters into the same story and the way that they did so is one of the films greater conceits.
Robert Englund gratefully returns as Freddy Krueger and his opening narration informs us that Freddy is in Hell after his defeat at the end of Freddy’s Dead. (It’s interesting to note that the Elm Street Films are considered canon in this movie as clips from previous entries are shown but the Friday’s less so as this could as easily be the Jason that we saw at the end of “Jason Goes To Hell” or the Jason defeated in “The Final Chapter“)
Either way, Freddy laments how he has been forgotten and that people no longer speak his name or fear him. To remedy this he scours the pits of Hell for a being of absolute evil to send to Springwood and kill in his name. He opts for Jason Vorhees who is, seemingly, spending his eternal torment stalking and killing teenagers. Freddy believes the kills that Jason performs will get attributed to him and when people start to mention Freddy Krueger, that will give him strength enough to return and carry on his dark business.
An early shot of a recently resurrected Jason strolling down Elm Street is quite a moment and allowed me to nerd out quite excitedly. Indeed, the film has a few moments that instil that feeling in me which is a shame as, sadly, I realised once the credits rolled at the end.
We’ve seen Jason walking up Elm Street which is a cool image and he heads to the famous no: 1428 where we are introduced to some of the main characters. Lori (Monica Keena) is the main female protagonist and “final girl” and is, I’m sorry to say, just not very good here. Though she shows some pep at the end of the film, her character never comes across as strong or resourceful as Nancy or Alice from the earlier Elm Street films or most of the female leads from the Friday the 13th’s. Most of the cast fall into this category unfortunately. Despite the decent visuals the film presents, the script isn’t great and when there’s a succession of bad lines and clunky exposition I was struggling to find good performances here.
Katharine Isabelle plays Gibb and she is a good actress. I’ve seen her in a number of horror films, including the Ginger Snaps series and American Mary and she’s great in them. Her time in this film is all to brief regrettably but, like most of the characters in this film, we don’t find out enough about them to care when they meet their end.
The other cast members, which include Destiny’s Childs singer Kelly Rowland (Kia) and John Ritter’s son Jason Ritter (Will) are average here and it’s hard to say whether that’s totally attributable to the script or their acting chops.
When we first meet Ritter’s character Will, he is residing within the Westin Hills Psychiatric establishment most prominently featured in “Dream Warriors” along with a whole bunch of teens including his friend Mark (Brendan Fletcher) and is being given dream supressing drugs to keep Freddy at bay.
The only other characters of note are Deputy Stubbs (Lochlyn Munro) who is the first to attribute the murders to Jason opposed to Freddy, Linderman (Chris Marquette) a nerd with a crush on Lori and Freeburg (Kyle Labine) a stoner who wanders into the principal cast seemingly by accident.
It’s Gibbs’ deeply unpleasant boyfriend that is first to be despatched by Jason and, if you’re into the kills primarily over anything else, this is one of the better ones in the movie as Jason stabs through his body with a machete then folds him in half along with the bed he’s laying on.
All it takes is Lori overhearing the name “Krueger” spoken by one of the attending police officers for Freddy to be able to begin getting into the dreams of the teens.
The crux here, however, and reason for the “Vs” part of the title is that Jason keeps robbing Freddy of his victims. On more than one occasion, a character will find themselves in a dream being toyed with by Freddy before Jason appears at the last moment and kills their physical body.
A decent scene in the film occurs after Jason has killed Gibb at a party amidst the local cornfields and his burning body chases a couple of stoners through the field in a great overhead wide shot before Jason gatecrashes the party and shows the main characters that he is there to double their problems.
When I was watching this film I did feel a little like Freddy inasmuch as, to me, it came across as an Elm Street film invaded by Friday the 13th opposed to the other way round. Freddy only really claims one victim in the movie (Will’s friend Mark) which does explain his growing ire towards the monster he unleashed.
About an hour into the film we get some of the most ham fisted exposition I’ve seen as the remaining “victims” discuss how they’re going to deal with their problem. Seemingly seconds after finding out the identity and back story of Jason they detail what Freddy’s intention was in unleashing him before Lori suddenly states that they could maybe use the fact that Freddy died by fire and Jason by water against them. This introduces a “Jason is afraid of water” concept that is completely ridiculous.
Freddy and fire I get. We’ve seen him burnt to death as a human and momentarily put on hold by fire but Jason has never shown a fear of water. There are even times in the Friday the 13th films where Jason actively hides in the water so he can leap out and kill someone. This just seems to exist to give Freddy something to use against Jason which he barely does.
I’ll skip over the decision the characters make to lure Freddy by offering Lori as a virgin sacrifice (which she consents to!!) as this writing choice makes so little sense it’s offensive to both Freddy, who couldn’t care less if you’ve had sex, and the characters for coming up with this idea.
The teens go to Westin Hills to get the dream suppressant and are attacked by Jason. We, once again, get to see that marijuana is as effective as acid when Freeburg dream hallucinates an Alice in Wonderland inspired Freddy caterpillar and then, for the first time since Freddy’s Revenge, Krueger possesses someone and Freddy Freeburg incapacitates Jason.
This leads to what we’ve been waiting for. The remaining 4 teens (Lori, Will, Kia and Linderman) are taking Jason’s unconscious body to Crystal Lake (he’s a zombie effectively so unsure why an overdose of any medication would affect him but….plot convenience so…) and Jason is in the dream world now so we get to have our first slice of Freddy vs Jason pie.
This is Freddy’s turf so he has the upper hand no matter how many limbs Jason attempts to lop off and Freddy wins this round but Jason will soon awake and rob him of his advantage.
The next few sequences are some of the best in the film as we head into the final third and it’s a shame that much of the preceding story was okay at best.
The sequence which takes us all the way to the end begins with a sleeping Lori attempting to bring Freddy into the real world so that Jason can take him out. The teens figure that Jason can kill Freddy and then, because he’s home will leave them alone as they escape. The fact that, if this works, they’re sentencing many people to machete based fates isn’t really a moral dilemma for them.
Lori begins her dream in Crystal Lake where she sees Jason drown, ignored by sex-crazed camp workers and she attempts to save the drowning boy as the sky turns red and, in the single coolest shot of the film, Freddy leaps out of the water to about 20 feet in the air in slow motion and it just looks really damn cool. From there we transition to Elm Street to wrap up a needless sub-plot involving Lori’s dead mother who was killed by Freddy.
Lori’s sleeping body has been taken to a cabin at the lake as they try to wake her. Jason bursts in and the cabin ends up aflame. This leads to Lori waking and she has managed to bring Freddy with her. The teens run though Linderman has been fatally injured and soon dies as we get round 2 of this epic battle.
They beat the crap out of each other to be fair though the fight takes a brief break so that Jason can kill Kia after a tasteless line from Freddy that, again, makes no sense from the character.
The fight continues but I won’t call it as it is worth a rewatch as is the whole last 30 minutes of the film which is, as I’ve said, pretty damn good.
The two horror behemoths really do knock seven shades out of each other with slashes and stabs and kicks and punches etc. The blood flies as does Freddy’s arm (the gloved one importantly) but it’s unable to grow back as we’re in the real world now.
The two bodies end up in Crystal Lake with a little assistance from Lori who finally shows the passion that has been lacking from her character for most of the movie.
He hugs her boyfriend as fire burns around them before the inevitable “Of course it’s not over yet” moment. The way this is done however is pretty good. A machete wielding figure steps into shot which we assume is Jason but it’s actually a one-armed Freddy who raises the blade for a killing blow when, suddenly, his gloved arms burst through his chest. With that, his last move in the fight, Jason falls back into the lake and sinks to the depths.
Freddy falls to his knees and Lori welcomes him to our world with a decapitation and sending Freddy back to Hell along with his hired muscle.
One final scene shows Jason emerging from the lake (maybe in Hell, it’s inconclusive) holding Freddy’s severed head which winks at the camera as the credits roll.
Though I didn’t enjoy the film overall from start to finish there’s enough stuff going on in the first two thirds if you can ignore some questionable acting and bad scripting to justify sitting through it for the final third which is entertaining and does deliver on the films title.
Ken Kirzinger does a fine job under the hockey mask. Many fans were unhappy that Jason wasn’t played by Kane Hodder who had played the character for the previous four Friday films but any personality that Jason Vorhees has is nuanced to the nth degree and Kirzinger doesn’t deviate from this and is suitably imposing.
Robert Englund is playing Freddy Krueger on the big screen for the final time here and is, again, the best thing in the film. You would probably expect this as he’d been playing Freddy for virtually twenty years and knew the character inside out. The Freddy we get here is more menacing than later versions; you could maybe place him between parts 2 & 3 but Englund is great and, as it seems, more and more likely that he’ll never doff the costume again we can look back at the legacy of Freddy Krueger and know that without Robert Englund there’d be no Freddy.
To wrap up….
Who won Freddy vs Jason?
Have to call it a close three way tie I guess. Both Freddy and Jason are back in Hell so neither of them can be considered winners and we got a film that was not as good throughout as I recalled but makes up for it with a banger of a final third and a great Robert Englund curtain call.
Only one film left to go in this series now. The remake/reboot beckons and of all the nightmares I’ve had, this may be the one I’m dreading the most.