“Guys! It’s okay! He just wanted his machete back!”
JASON X came out almost 20 years ago, and I reviewed it here (well, on Geocities) at the time, which means I too am a frozen relic of the distant past awakened by somebody having sex and destined to be upgraded with a cool metal mask and robot body parts. Or at least I hope so. That would be cool.
I was in a minority at the time who loved the movie (“Definitely my favorite in the series although I also enjoyed the 3-D one,” I wrote). I also correctly predicted that HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (which apparently had its trailer playing on JASON X) would not be as good.
It opens with SE7EN-inspired credits over what looks like the Hell from fellow New Line Cinema movie SPAWN (fire and chains and ancient ruins) that transitions into veins and fluids in a bloodshot eye on which is reflected a doctor with a syringe that plunges into the rubbery rotten flesh of Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder, STEEL FRONTIER), before the camera passes into the interior of his brain as the drug enters his bloodstream. I much prefer the title sequences of the earlier films, but this is an elaborate digital age one, and a fun way to set up the premise that Jason has been sedated, strapped and chained in an underground facility. (“Crystal Lake Research”!) We later learn they gave up after electrocution, gas, hanging and other execution methods proved inadequate for ending Jason’s life.
And I guess chaining him in the middle of a stadium and filling it with cement was too risky so they plan to cryo-freeze him. It goes without saying that an asshole doctor (David Cronenberg, THE STUPIDS) named Wormer would rather study Jason’s regenerative powers (“I don’t want him frozen. I want him soft”) and tries to stop them. His timing is impeccable – he shows up right after Jason’s off screen Houdini routine, and gets impaled on a huge hook. Heroically, Dr. Rowan LaFontaine (Lexa Doig, JUNGLEGROUND) successfully freezes Jason, along with herself. (The ol’ John Spartan.) Then we skip ahead 445 years, so the doctor did manage to bring peace to the lives of many generations of Crystal Lake residents. Imagine all the skinnydipping that must’ve happened!
It would be funny if we find out in later chapters that he was unfrozen and refrozen a couple times to have other adventures in the interim. But as far as we know he’s out of commission until a science class on a field trip discovers him in “absolute museum quality” while exploring the wreckage of Earth Prime. (They live on Earth 2.) In one of my favorite touches of the movie Jason manages to cut off the arm of comic relief student Azrael (Dov Tiefenbach, HARRIET THE SPY) when his frozen body tips over. (Don’t worry, it’s no big deal to use nano-tech to reattach the arm.)
They take the frozen Jason and Rowan onto their ship, thinking they can revive “the female,” while Adrienne (Kristi Angus, “Bartender,” HARVARD MAN) dissects the male. Professor Lowe (Jonathan Potts, THE JESSE VENTURA STORY, CRUEL INTENSIONS 2) needs money and hopes people will pay to see the oldest living person, but his fence or whatever (Philip Williams, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER III: UNFINISHED BUSINESS) says that nobody gives a shit since there are hundreds or thousands of reanimated people walking around, even if they’re not as old. However, he knows who Jason Voorhees is (your reputation precedes you, Jason!) and recommends selling him instead.
But that’s not gonna happen, because Jason comes back to life. Not through electricity or even technology, but simply by hearing the moans of students fucking nearby. I’ve always enjoyed this blunt acknowledgment of the history of the series. Revived Jason immediately makes his time in space productive by murdering poor Adrienne in an all-timer of a kill (dipping her head in liquid nitrogen to freeze it, then smashing it to bits on the counter) and absconding with a futuristic surgical knife. After a brief stint of the usual murdering of horny teens, he graduates to battling ALIENS-inspired space marines.
By the way, I really like this look for Jason. He once again has chains on him after escaping from bondage, and his broad shoulders remind me of Frankenstein’s monster. The shape of the mask, clumps of fuzzy hair on his head and visibility of his eyes through the mask add a little personality, I think.
The filmatists try to take advantage of every single thing they could think of that Jason could do in the future that he couldn’t do in the present. He walks into a VR simulation and slices up the virtual people trying to fight a virtual monster. He gets blasted by pulse rifles. He impales a guy on a giant drill (it’s not turned on – the body uses its own weight to spin its way down). When they trap him in a cargo bay and head for the space station Solaris, where “60 highly trained professionals are standing by” to take him out, he causes the ship to ram and destroy Solaris, massively escalating his already historic body count. The android Kay-Em 14 (Lisa Ryder, Forever Knight) does superhuman flips and kung fu kicks on him, knocks him through a hole, shoots off a leg and blows off two-thirds of his head and mask (not even the SWAT team in JASON GOES TO HELL did that).
And I always forget this is only the last 20 minutes of the movie, but the medical computer malfunctions or something, nano-tech-tentacles engulf deader-than-shit-Jason, and they rebuild him into cyborg “UberJason” with metal plating that deflect Kay-Em’s bullets (and then he punches her head off). UberJason was designed by makeup effects supervisor Stephan Dupuis, who had applied appliances for all three ROBOCOP movies, so he had some experience in this area.
And there’s more! Jason gets blown out into space like the original xenomorph. But (being Jason) he punches his way back in through the side of the ship. (No windows to throw a corpse through.) His hole causes a vacuum that sucks one character through a metal grate. They create “a diversion” by luring him into a simulation of a parodic VR Crystal Lake cabin where two babes with regionally inappropriate Valley Girl accents (Kaye Penaflor and Tania Maro) ask “Hey, you want a beer? Or you want to smoke some pot? Or we can have premarital sex!” and take their shirts off and get into sleeping bags. We return briefly to what’s going in inside the ship before cutting back to Jason in the middle of whacking one sleeping bag repeatedly against the other and then (in tribute to that classic THE NEW BLOOD kill) against a tree. I remember this scene getting as much of a laugh as a scene could get in the large, mostly empty theater I saw it in.
And the final “only in a sci-fi movie” touch is the way they dispose of him: Sergeant Brodski (Peter Mensah, BRUISER) tackles him on the outside of the ship and drags him burning through the atmosphere of Earth 2. This colonized planet seems to have its own version of Crystal Lake, where a couple in non-futuristic summer wear (Mika Ward and David Cook) see him as a shooting star in the sky, before the remains of the UberJason mask sink to the bottom of the lake accompanied by ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-mas. (Maybe if the rights hadn’t gotten tangled up we could’ve seen the JASON GOES TO HELL slug transform into UberSlug and battle Earth 2 Clone Creighton Duke.
When I wrote my original review I had heard the movie was one of the first features to be shot digitally. In fact it was shot on 35mm film, and its innovation was being scanned to hi-def video for compositing of all the digital effects, which had not been done for an entire feature before. Though many of the sets and effects look cheap compared to most theatrically released sci-fi of the era, it’s clearly the most expensive and ambitious movie in the series, and I think they did alot with the low budget they had.
Like JASON GOES TO HELL, JASON X happened because Sean Cunningham got fed up with waiting for New Line to greenlight FREDDY VS. JASON. They’d gone through more than a dozen writers and still hadn’t figured out a reasonable answer to the question “How the fuck is that even a movie idea?” So Cunningham authorized his son Noel to start developing another Jason-only movie.
Convinced they needed to try something new, the younger Cunningham brainstormed wild premises with director Jim Isaac and screenwriter Todd Farmer. Isaac was an effects artist who had worked on creatures for RETURN OF THE JEDI, GREMLINS and ENEMY MINE before hooking up with Cunningham as special effects coordinator for HOUSE II and DEEP STAR SIX. He had also done the effects for eXistenZ, which is why Cronenberg was happy to do a cameo. Isaac’s directorial career began when he took over for another director on THE HORROR SHOW, and impressed Cunningham with his work. Farmer, meanwhile, was a young writer who had been introduced to Cunningham through JASON GOES TO HELL screenwriter Dean Lorey. He had been writing and rewriting scripts for the company, though none had been produced.
It’s sad to learn from Crystal Lake Memories that neither Isaac or Farmer were as happy with the JASON X as I was. Isaac felt more passionate about the vague idea of a FRIDAY THE 13TH in the snow, and regretted not pushing harder for it. He also resented many changes forced on him by Sean Cunningham, including the return of Harry Manfredini rather than a more modern techno score. Worse, the senior Cunningham was unhappy with the script and kept bringing in rewrites by himself or Lewis Abernathy (who wrote the great opening of JASON GOES TO HELL) during filming. That messed up Isaac’s smart choice to give the cast weeks of rehearsal, and created awkwardness for Farmer when he was on set as an actor. (He has a nice little role as a soldier whose death is simple but funny – Jason slams his head hard against the wall a couple times, and when he lets go of him his head slides down the wall making a perfect squeegie-type squeeeeeeeeak.)
Farmer says that the finished film was true to his story, “but it’s of a different character and attitude. The jokes came out of the action, not out of the characters’ mouths.” He disavows the line, “He’s screwed” after the guy dies on the giant drill. Personally I don’t mind the handful of knowingly cheesy one-liners – what’s cornier are the quasi-satirical future details like saying that hockey was outlawed in 2024 (huh?) or referencing the carnage of “the Microsoft Conflict.”
During the movie’s long post-production period, New Line head Mike De Luca was ousted by scandal. No longer having an executive to support it, JASON X ended up shelved for two years, during which the bar for digital FX was raised, and the movie leaked as a bootleg. When it finally came out it was destroyed by THE SCORPION KING in its second week and then SPIDER-MAN soon after that.
Most reviewers and (in my experience) fans hated the movie at the time. And though it certainly has shortcomings to pick at, in my view many just flat out didn’t get what it was trying to do. They would say “ha ha, Jason in space” as if it went without saying that cross-pollinating the FRIDAY THE 13TH conventions with another genre would only be done accidentally by desperate hacks, and not by people sincerely excited about the absurd possibilities of such a mash-up. Almost none of the contemporary reviews linked from Rotten Tomatoes are still online (you’re off the hook, Mark Palermo of The Coast), but this one from Mark Dujsik of Mark Reviews Movies says, “I think it’s going for the self-aware horror-comedy… but until its final fifteen or twenty minutes, the movie fails miserably at it. Where it misfires is that it still takes the material seriously.”
No offense to Dujsik (who I’m sure has changed as much as I have in the decades since), but I oppose with every cell in my body that idea that JASON X would be better if it kept checking to make sure you knew it knew it was funny. Many of the reviews complain that it’s not postmodern in the same way as SCREAM (“they present the clichés of the genre without mocking them,” Dusjik complained), though we remember them equally slagging movies because they did try to be like SCREAM. In those days many (including me) found it easy to look down their noses at the more openly commercial horror movies, and at best enjoy them as camp. Some didn’t know how to recognize when one of them knew exactly what it was doing.
I have to give the Washington Post points for the cleverness of their headline (“Deep Space Asinine”), though without it the review would read pretty positive. More than one (including Roger Ebert’s) cynically noted that JASON XI would be along shortly. We fucking wish! I guess that proves not everybody was as savvy about how these things work as they thought they were at the time.
But in the ensuing two decades of Jasonlessness (not counting one crossover and one quasi-remake) I do think that an appreciation and understanding for JASON X has grown among horror fandom. (And the series of spin-off novels have become impossible to obtain collector’s items.) I’ve continued to watch it over the years, and at times its charms seem to have faded a little, but inevitably I watch it again and it hits me just right the next time. At the very least, I think we can say that it’s one of the most audacious and successfully executed high concept gimmick sequels in the genre. I mean honestly I kind of like Alan Smithee’s one with Pinhead in space, but this one is put together more consistently. (I guess its superiors would be NEW NIGHTMARE and BRIDE OF CHUCKY.) I also think that among FRIDAY THE 13TH’s this has the most perfect balance of “let’s do something entirely different” and “let’s do something exactly the same,” which is ideal for this genre. If its look and tonal consistency were on par with the early films I think it would be one of the very best.
Isaac went on to direct SKINWALKERS (2006) and PIG HUNT (2008), but died tragically young of cancer in 2012. Farmer has remained a prominent writer of 21st century horror, with credits on THE MESSENGERS (2007), MY BLOODY VALENTINE (2009), DRIVE ANGRY (2011) and TRICK (2019). He also came very close to making a 3D followup to Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN II.
To his great disappointment, Hodder has not had another chance to play Jason. But hey man, he got to go out like Mufasa, living on as a star in the sky, and letting us imagine the adventures he would have if space electricity or something revived him to start killing on a whole new planet.
And with that, I end my FRIDAY THE 13TH review series. I hope no one is disappointed that I’m not continuing on to a FREDDY VS. JASON review, but I promise one is in the works. You’ll understand why I’m putting it off when I start posting the series it will appear in, hopefully in a few months.
I did rewatch FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009), but my opinion (mostly negative) did not change from my old review, and the only thing I wrote down in my notes is, “Chewie says, ‘Are you kidding? I have a better shot at fucking a penguin than that girl.’ But what does this mean? Are penguins notoriously hard to woo?” So it does not appear I have any new insights to share.
As of today, and subject to change at any time, these are my series rankings:
II, III, I, IV, X, VI, VIII, VII, V, IX.
(I went back and forth on VIII and VII, so those could almost be a tie.)
WORM ON A HOOK NOTES:
I don’t remember consciously thinking of JASON X too much while writing Worm On a Hook, but what I always admired about JASON X – that it crosses the slasher template with another genre and finds where the two overlap – is exactly what I was going for with my slasher/action combo.
JASON WILL RETURN IN 2022
well, not in movies, but in review form, when I finally get to FREDDY VS. JASON in an overly ambitious review series I started writing in 2018