October 18, 2014

Freddy vs Jason (2004)

Two lumbering, past their prime hangovers from the 1980s make a final heaving stagger into cinemas for one last cynical attempt to squeeze money from the hands of nostalgic twentysomethings around the world. Or so it would seem.

In truth, Freddy vs Jason hits the perfect note: it's a nostalgia trip to be sure, but one produced with a love and care that not only effectively reminds us of why we watched these characters in the first place. It makes us keen to see them return as well. In the red corner stands Freddy Kruger, seven-times star of the Nightmare On Elm Street saga. Played with delicious malice and deliberately tacky humour by Robert Englund, he's a perpetual guilty pleasure to behold. In the blue corner stands Jason Voorhees, ten-times star of the progressively silly Friday the 13th franchise. (How silly? His last installment was set in space.) Previously played by Kane Hodder, tonight he's being played by stuntman Ken Kirzinger. Not that this matters: as a character whose appeal lies in his personality, Freddy Kruger needs Englund to work. Jason is a silent, lumbering psychopath in a mask. Arnold Schwarzenegger could be under there and you wouldn't know the difference.

In between these two slasher icons is a group of fearful teenagers, holed up in pretty much the worst position I think characters in these sorts of films have been in. When they're awake, Jason will hack them to death. When they're asleep, Freddy will slice them to pieces. All of these characters are utterly banal, highly stereotypical and vaguely annoying. You will not remember their names. I get the feeling that this was deliberate. On the other hand I may be trying to defend the production team instead. Either way, they provide a sort of Brechtian satisfaction in objectively viewing them get hacked down one at a time.

The climax is, predictably enough, the payoff. When Freddy and Jason finally meet face to face, the results are less visceral horror and more like an evil Looney Tunes. It's hilarious stuff. Hell, it's an all-over hilarious movie. Ronnie Yu (The Bride With White Hair) directs competently, and with a respect for the source material, but viewers expecting visual imagery akin to his Hong Kong fantasies may come away disappointed.

This is one of those obvious love-it-or-hate-it movies. If you grew up watching Elm Street and Friday movies, you're going to get a lot out of this. If you didn't, this movie's probably going to leave you cold. While I watched it sober, I strongly suspect this is a great movie to get drunk to. Check it out. Laugh yourself stupid. It's pretty much the last time either franchise was enjoyable - subsequent remakes of both titles were soulless and unnecessarily bleak.

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