Dir: Ronny Yu. US. 2003. 97mins.
Hoping to squeeze fresh revenue out of a pair of ageing horror franchises, New Line pits two of the genre's most recognizable icons - Nightmare On Elm Street's Freddy Krueger and Friday The 13th's Jason - against one another in Freddy Vs Jason, a firmly tongue-in-cheek slashfest that produces a few chuckles but not many chills. The novelty of the title match-up should result in a better box office showing than either of the individual franchises' most recent instalments (last year's Jason X managed only $12.6m in the US and Wes Craven's New Nightmare did $18m domestically in 1994). But with no big cast or plot surprises to offer and no significant upgrading of production values it's unlikely that Freddy Vs Jason will do more than middling theatrical business, either for New Line in the US or for independent distributors in other territories. In fact, the new film may be of most value as a freshener for DVD repackages of earlier franchise entries.
In a total of 17 previous instalments, both franchises have already gone through back-from-the-dead revivals and gimmicky variations on their original themes. Freddy vs Jason, scripted by first time feature writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift and directed by Hong Kong veteran Ronny Yu (Bride Of Chucky), ignores the most recent twists and gets back to franchise basics.
A prologue recaps how Freddy became a disfigured nightmare weaver with a knife-blade claw and Jason a hockey-masked, machete-wielding monster. Now Freddy, having been banished to hell by the parents of his original victims, resurrects Jason and plans to use him to get back into the dreams of the kids of Elm Street.
The film's first half plays very much like one of the early episodes from either franchise, though this time there are two homicidal villains on the loose. Freddy (played again by franchise veteran Englund) invades the dreams of the local youth, gaining strength as fear spreads through town. Meanwhile Jason (stunt man/actor Kirzinger) brutally dispatches anyone within reach, showing his usual preference for party animals and horny young couples.
The potential victims come from a group of teenage friends led by the wholesome Lori (Keena, from TV's Dawson's Creek) and the earnest Will (Ritter, from Swimfan). The script spins out a couple of convoluted subplots involving the kids, but the teen characters are mostly used for comic effect, making the film feel at times almost like a Scooby Doo parody. Among the youthful performers, Rowland, from pop group Destiny's Child, makes a good impression in her first feature film role.
Only in its second half does the film really live up to its title, as Freddy and Jason begin, with the kids' encouragement, to turn against each other. The rivalry leads to a climactic showdown at Crystal Lake campground, the setting for the original Friday The 13th.
The battle is nicely set up by a script that is careful to adhere to the mythologies of the Freddy and Jason characters. There are even a couple of touching moments that reveal what made Jason the slasher he is today. Eventually, however, the battle turns into a slugging match between the brutish, apparently indestructible Jason and the sneaky, manipulative Freddy. The action is effectively staged by Yu and the gory effects go enjoyably over the top. With a closing moment that leaves the door open for yet another episode in the saga, the sequence plays like a cheesy TV wrestling bout - only with less spandex and a lot more blood.
Prod cos: New Line Cinema
US dist/int'l sales: New Line
Exec prods: Douglas Curtis, Robert Shaye, Stokely Chaffin, Renee Witt
Prod: Sean S Cunningham
Scr: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift
Cinematography: Fred Murphy
Prod des: John Willett
Music: Graeme Revell
Main cast: Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger, Monica Keena, Jason Ritter, Kelly Rowland, Katharine Isabelle, Brendan Fletcher, Christopher George Marquette, Lochlyn Munro