Welcome to Friday Nightmare Reviews! Wherein I give you ideas of what you could be watching instead of wasting time on the internet.
As this is the first time I’m doing this, I figured that this would be as good a place as any to give background on what I’m doing here. Since Hello Dolly is about someone who loves and reviews horror films, I thought it would be fun to get in on the fangirling too. I grew up watching and loving all things horror and one of my favorite memories from when I was a kid was something called the Friday Night Frightmare. Occasionally the program might have gotten the rights to play something half way decent but I do seem to recall that most of these films were hovering somewhere around Birdemic or Troll 2 level of awful or possibly worse. I spent many a Frightmare in my teen years both horrified and inspired by the potential and sometimes the great moments of these often terrible movies. I would sit through the double features for hours, all while eating the kind of junk food that now leaves me in a state of agony that can last for a week. (Doesn’t mean I don’t still partake in both the movies and the food when I’m feeling bold and nostalgic. The movies are fun, the food not so much.) So in the spirit of enjoying the exploits of Dead Eye Dolly and her crew of misfits, I’m partaking in my own reviews too. These won’t all be movies that I think are bad but all of them will be either cheesy or dated or low budget, for the most part. You won’t be finding classics on here like The Exorcist and any bigger horror franchises will only be featured as late in series sequels, which the follow review is. I love all horror but for my reviews, mostly I want to give some love to the forgotten, the direct to DVD, the budget conscious and the all round bad ideas that got put on film. They won’t all be movies that I like and some of them are going to be films that I thought were garbage but if they were memorable enough that I could get a review out of them, they are fair game. And who knows, maybe what was my horror flop will be your next big hit among you and your friends. In the end, I hope these reviews help you find something that will entertain you in the same way the awful Frightmare movies did for me by making my teenaged Friday nights something special.
Because it’s the first one, I’m kicking things off by going for a dive into the infamous waters of a lake that could only have a higher body count if it had a killer shark swimming in it. We’re going to summer camp where the lakes are made of crystal and the cabins are filled with machete holding shadows. Then I think I’ll find my way to the nearest nightmare boiler room to relax with a steam. A few razors in the back while you’re napping is great for relieving tension, after all. Unless you’re new to horror icons, this spa day from hell is referencing two titans of the genre and this review is going to take a look into their epic film battle that wasn’t. But of course, I speak of the 2003 attempt at fisticuffs, Freddy vs. Jason! This film is a culmination of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises and this crossover specifically was promised to audiences at the end of the “we swear it’s the last film so we baited it with a sequel” masterpiece, Jason Goes to Hell. It only took a decade for the powers that be to live up to that promise and in the down time, Jason decided to take a detour to space for his killing needs. Not to be left behind, Freddy also continued to delve into several more films until getting his own demise in Freddy’s Dead, wherein he’s actually declared dead with no moment of “but maybe he’s still out there” tagged on the last two minutes. (Before anyone gets upset, yes, he got brought back in New Nightmare but F vs J ignores that entire meta storyline, so we won’t get into that here.) A pairing this iconic in the horror world was already going to be talked about, but to have to wait sixteen years is a hell of a lot of hype to try to live up to. Depending on who you are, Freddy vs Jason either lived up to it in spades or shat the bed so hard, the stain can be seen from Kane Hodder’s cyber Jason in space. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the critics are mostly leaning toward space stain while audiences are split down the middle.
Just in case we’ve missed a few people along the way, here’s the poorly recounted backstories of our two villain heroes. The Nightmare on Elm Street series is about what happens when the world’s most intense PTA meeting ends in the burning death of the friendly neighborhood child murderer. Said murderer treats his own demise as less of a punishment and more of a heartwarming rise tale of how a horror icon in the making managed to overcome a tragic case of 80s practical effects and increasingly goofier storylines. Over the course of seven films, our slasher and his iconic glove confront strange mommy issues and other increasingly weird family dynamics to fulfill his dreams of hitting on and murdering twenty five years old sleeping teenagers, all while transforming himself into a stand up comedian. Meanwhile, over at Camp Crystal Lake, a drowning victim loiters around a forest for long enough to watch his mother lose her head in a fatal game of hide and go seek. With mom no longer able to take care of the family business of punishing campers for the audacity to do anything in the nude, he carries on his wholesome crusade of chopping up anyone on their way to take a piss in the bushes or having sex or showering or generally existing. Eventually he runs out of people to make into corpses at home and decides to go sight seeing around New York for about five to ten minutes before wandering off to hell. Jason was also the ambitious sort, however, and going to hell didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dream to go into outer space before crash landing back at Camp Crystal Lake.
Now that we’re all on the same page (roughly), let’s get into the actual film Freddy vs Jason. We start off by getting a recap of Freddy’s greatest hits as Kruger gets his complain on. Seems dying was the best thing that ever happened to him! That is, until the people of Springwood managed to forget about that guy what killed a shit ton of children back in the day. Despite our killer having a very large scrapbook of children that he’s sent to the farm, no one has put up a sign or a memorial or anything. Good thing no one misses or remembers those kids either because that would just get depressing. No, we don’t have time to think about the implications of how devastating that would be because it’s time to get goofy! The residents of Springwood just forget about their dead kids and commits everyone whose ever seen Kruger in their dreams to a psych ward because just like shoving dirt under a rug, that always fixes everything. In light of such rudeness, Freddy finds that his powers are far too weak to continue on his deadly comedy routines. In a stunning lack of foresight on Kruger’s part, he hatches a plan to use Pamela Vorhees (or a reasonable-ish facsimile) to prompt fellow slasher, Jason, to sign up for his get out of hell card and wander off to Elm Street to kill people, thus making them fear Freddy again.
If you are noticing a rather large glaring hole in this plan, you are apparently alone as Kruger subscribed to the underpants gnome school of logic wherein the link between Jason killing people as a corporeal being and somehow making them afraid of something that no one has seen and are not allowed to hear about was replaced by a big ?????. From here, we might as well introduce the “kids”. We have our damsel in distress, Lori, who oscillates between on the verge of tears and wide eyed fawn expressions and does little else. Then we have her love interest, Will, who’s only personality trait is being present. The rest are all Red Shirts, who are given names but no one could be arsed to write them any personalities. Our incredibly uninteresting future corpses have sleepovers, have sex, partake in drinking and various other teenage activities that have been given the gloss of corporate writers who have never done such things but have watched a show about them once, late at night. No one cares about any of that background shit, though, so let’s get to the blood already. Killing ensues and Kruger now realizes the error in his plan but is clearly too embarrassed to take responsibility for it, so he blames Jason for killing his victims. After about an hour of following our cannon fodder around, we finally get an initial showdown between the two titans, which starts off interesting only to end up really really fucking stupid.
Sixteen years, I’ll remind you, that audiences waited for this match up. Sixteen long years of waiting to see the battle two icons of the genre, one known for his wit and creative kills and the other known for his brutal strength and tenacity, and what do they do? Well, after a quick match that forecasts a fight to come, the action quickly degrades into antics that are on par with Kruger’s power glove promo during his video game kill in Freddy’s Dead. The worst part of this is that you have two undead, immortal killers facing off in Kruger’s world where the possibilities are absolutely endless. Why have it take place in the fucking boiler room? Did the filmmakers even see Dream Warriors? Kruger can create things anywhere he wants! He could create horrible memories for Jason, which would be a great idea because he’s actually in Vorhees’ head! He’s in his dream and he thought to bring him to a small, claustrophobic boiler room meant to scare the shit out of teenagers who are probably going to be disoriented and terrified of him already? How does he expect that to work against a hulking shadow that also kills people? And then during the fight, he does so much winking and mugging, whatever points they got for fighting it out are pretty much gone. But wait. There’s more.
Because the filmmakers hate you, while we could get more interaction between our main icons, we instead cut back to our corpses in training as they hatch a ridiculous plan to bring Jason to Crystal Lake to defeat Freddy. Seems that the filmmakers kind of forgot that in the aforementioned Dream Warriors, Kristen had the power to defeat Kruger due to a trait that she shared with her late father. He actually taught or passed down the ability to share his dreams with his daughter. In this movie, however, Lori can do it too because reasons. And that is pretty much the extent of their horrible plan. Lori is going to go to sleep and when she manages to grab Kruger from the dreamscape and bring him into the real world, they’re going to hope that Jason will kill him and then stay put in Camp Crystal Lake. At this point the audience pops a headache pill and Lori goes through with her plan. After establishing that Jason is in kid form in his dream, the movie loses interest in this plot again to focus on what happened to Lori’s family. Before you can bail on the film completely, however, our bland lead succeeds in pulling Freddy into the real world and finally, we get our promised fisticuffs. The cannon fodder eventually becomes actual dead meat and eventually Lori does he final girl duty and the film ends in predictable sequel baiting. Except there wasn’t a sequel because this movie sucks.
Now this film does have its fans and even if you find yourself in my position (of thinking that it blows goat balls), there are reasons to enjoy this movie that even jaded horror fans can kind of tease out. For one, the action sequence at the end was well choreographed and for the most part, the film does make the fight between the two icons looks pretty epic. Seeing these two major players from two of the most beloved horror franchises battle is pretty awesome when they actually do get to fight and that is a huge draw for anyone. The other thing that makes this a bit of a difficult thing to really get too angry about is that this was the last time that we saw the always creepy and memorable Robert Englund as the dream killer himself. What makes it much easier to hate on is that instead of an epic battle between Englund’s iconic Kruger and the hulking death machine that had been Jason for the previous four films, the director saw fit to replace actor Kane Hodder for another actor who was taller, so says the internet. Even if that’s not true, unfortunately, the criticism doesn’t end there.
Among the biggest issues with the film is the stupidity of the plot and the giant holes that the story decides to introduce. For one, Freddy is strong enough to resurrect Jason but too weak to haunt Elm Street? (Also, didn’t these movies need some major action or event to bring the slashers back into action? Like a dog pissing fire or getting struck by lightning or something?) As mentioned before, it’s kind of stupid to have their battle hinging on Jason robbing Kruger of victims, considering that he brought the bastard back to do exactly that. For as much as Freddy had become a bit more of a parody of himself by the end of the series, he was still more intelligent than this. There was once a sense of him being a particularly cruel and scheming villain rather than just relying on the tired Dad jokes and mugging to get by. This whole storyline robs Kruger of his wit and replaces it with a level of dumb that runs into offensive territory. And speaking of robbing the film of what made it interesting before, you know what’s not scary at all? REALLY SHITTY CGI!!! While bats on strings isn’t going to scare anyone, neither is something that is clearly not there. If you take the shadow effect in this film, where Freddy is trying to slash at someone from a distance, and try to hold it up against Kruger’s introduction in the first film, where his shadow is coming for Tina in her nightmare, it doesn’t even compare. In fact, there is never going to be a reality in which Nancy seeing Tina in the body bag in her nightmare isn’t a million times scarier than seeing a discount Jason Mews pretend to choke on a CGI snot worm.
Speaking of Nancy and Tina, let’s talk about our cast of potential cadavers from this film. You know what was awesome about Nancy? She was interesting and you actually cared about her. Her battle with Kruger felt like it meant something if she lived or died. I will grant that even that film had plenty of characters that were meant to die but let’s take a look at another Freddy victim and compare, shall we? Tina, who plays the initial sacrificial lamb for the first film, had more of an interesting life than any of the characters in this film. We got to know her boyfriend and the dynamics of the town through her interactions and we got a look at her home life too. Likewise, in the fourth installment of Friday the 13th (the first time they tried to pull the whole “it’s the last one, we swear” act) all the people in that film were still interesting and they had personalities that we could get behind and even care about. The adult teenagers in Freddy vs Jason are bland and act like little more than mannequins unless they’re being completely unlikable. Some might argue that in a versus film, that’s the point but it begs the question that, if the only reason these people exist is to be annoying or useless until they’re killed, why bother with them at all? Like why bother giving any of them a backstory at all if we aren’t supposed to give a shit if they survive or not. And why should we be holding out for them when they aren’t characters you would want to spend more than two minutes with in real life? Some of them are such dicks from the first moment they’re on screen, they should have just painted a big ol’ bullseye on their foreheads a la Colin Farrell in Dare Devil for how long we could expect them to live. And we’re supposed to buy that the other characters are totally broken up about these deaths? There’s a nod towards something like grief but it’s not like they dwell on that. It was far too taxing on a storyline that still had to squeeze in this weird plot twist where there’s an experimental dream drug on the market, conspiracies about tossing helpless teens in asylums, someone’s mom got killed and suddenly Jason’s terrified of water.
Right. About that last one. I know I’m last to the table to complain about this but seriously WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!? Kruger is trying to figure out why Jason won’t die (seriously, this is coming from the same guy who has had seven prior sequels himself and hasn’t managed to kick the bucket yet?) and discovers that the one thing to stop the terror of the woods is a fucking sprinkler system. No that’s not a joke, they actually turned on the sprinkler system in the boiler room and it reduces Jason to a shivering little kid that Freddy torments. This might have been a clever plot twist if not for one little tiny detail they kind of overlooked. Jason Vorhees is not afraid of fucking water. Jason Motherfucking Vorhees swam his sorry ass from Crystal Lake to New York City (or a reasonable facsimile of it). This hulking monster was once resurrected from under the lake and does the vast majority of his killing right next to a large body of water. When he isn’t doing the murdering in the actual lake itself. So did he pop some anxiety meds before killing Sam in the raft in part 4, because he had to stay under the lake for a significant amount of time for that to work. It certainly didn’t slow him down when he was stalking Tommy Jarvis in the boat on the water. Was he just silently reciting the mantra that the water couldn’t hurt him throughout everything? Will we ever know?
Like I said, I’m one of many who has complained about this plot thread but it’s a pretty big fuck up in the grand scheme of things. It does little to prove that you want to do justice to these iconic horror villains when you ignore Jason’s entire backstory in favor of a stupid plot element that acts as a slap in the face to not only the character but the fans as well. This massive death machine is reduced to a whimpering little kid by the same thing that scares the shit out of the average house cat? And on that note, Freddy Kruger is too stupid to realize why resurrecting another slasher is a bad idea if he wants to secure his own victims? These are not the characters I ever wanted to see nor is this the battle that I wanted from them. The effects are well done in many places but the CGI takes out all the scare factor and its often replaced with jumpscares galore. It takes the creep factor right out of it and for me, that’s a big no. But before I leave this only at this rant stage of this review, let me share one bright spot that I absolutely fucking loved in this film. It’s not a good part and it doesn’t change how I feel about it, but I’m the same person who also insisted on watching Jason X for the one scene of him killing the girls on the holodeck. Keep this in mind as I reveal to you my favorite part of a movie I hate.
While looking at a picture of his family, one of our side corpses laments the loss older brother, played by Zack Ward, fondly remembered by many as playing Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story. (Not a typo, I’m going by the IMDB spelling.) When our dear Red Shirt enters a bathroom, he notices the lighting is different and after an obligatory jumpscare, he sees his big brother, Bobby, sitting in a tub of bloody water, implying that he committed suicide. In a good movie, they might have treated this with some dignity or given it some weight before this moment, but this is Freddy vs Jason. Instead, Bobby boy is playing the role of Captain Exposition, with Freddy using him to taunt his victim and get a few old man style complaints about being forgotten off his chest while he’s there. It’s like slasher multi-tasking in a way. I dig it. Also, it’s just kind of surreal listening to an undead serial killer moaning about kids these days with their not remembering him at all while you have Bobby bring his arms up out of the water, spraying blood all over the walls jazz hands style. Because we didn’t get to know Bobby or his brother at all, this might have been a potential for a touching story at some point in a previous draft but this is basically erased the second that our poor Red Shirt ends up dead and is forgotten immediately after.
So there you have it. As I said before, this film is polarizing and while I’ve spent entirely too long detailing why I hate it, there are those who don’t care about any of this and are just there for the fight scenes. If this is you or you think this is no big deal, have at it and enjoy. I will happily grant you that there are some scenes that I think are pretty awesome. The fire in the corn field is pretty awesome and the final fight, while leaving much to be desired, does have genuine moments of satisfying fun. The impact of the hits are realistic enough that it is actually a good match in that regard and I recommend just watching that because those fights can be a lot of fun to see. That said, you’ll be waiting through the mind numbingly dull adult teen parts of the film to get there. If that doesn’t appeal to you, I would say that you should skip this one and watch either the first in both of these series or grab a copy of Dream Warriors (my personal favorite) and The Final Friday and watch them back to back. You’ll get more for your money and the characters won’t be annoying.
Until next time, enjoy your Friday Nightmares!