After years of development, it's finally here: "Freddy vs. Jason" (IMDb listing) has arrived on the big screen. But after the failure, both artistically and commercially, of last year's "Jason X," along with the nine-year absence of a "Nightmare on Elm Street" film, does anybody care anymore?
It is a dark time for Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, having the time of his life). Due to the passing years, and a special drug, the children of Elm Street don't dream anymore. Without dreams, Freddy is powerless, so he attempts the unthinkable to start raining hell again: he resurrects Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) from the grave. As Freddy's clueless puppet, Jason is set loose upon the residents of Elm Street for a little of the old hack-and-slash, thus bringing back the nightmares that have been withheld from the commonwealth for so long. Having witnessed both monsters' wrath, a group of teenagers, led by Lori (an appropriately frenzied Monica Keena, TV's "Undeclared"), sets out to find a way to get rid of these two psychopaths without losing their own lives in the process.
Thankfully for New Line Cinema, horror fans don't hold grudges. In fact, as proven with these two franchises and with the never-ending "Halloween" saga, the fans (myself included) will continue to show up no matter what plate of steaming garbage is placed in front of them. "Freddy vs. Jason" isn't rocket science, as the title alone tells you, and frankly, it's pretty much clown shoes as a scary movie as well. But there is something different about this waltz down Elm Street that makes it a memorable journey. Could it be the desperation of the studio to breathe life into both franchises? Just a little bit.
The screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift is an inventive little ditty that successfully brings the characters together without much brain strain. Of course, the trade off for the fluent continuity is having all the human characters spend each moment of dialog explaining what's going on, but I'll take it. It could've been a lot worse. The writers have fun playing in both the "Nightmare" dream world, and the machete-up-the-tail-pipe reality of Jason. They excavate the franchises for inside gags, visual and aural cues, and general moodiness that neither series has featured in decades. All too often though, the script plays up the comic aspects to Freddy's personality, which effectively kills any suspense. This isn't the Freddy Krueger of "Elm Street 1" who was an authentic scare; this is more the Freddy of "Elm Street 6," who cracks wise at all opportunities and uses the word "bitch" as if there were a coinciding drinking game. In my heart, I need Freddy to be the nightmare of the "Elm Street" title. "Freddy Vs. Jason" just needs him for comic relief. Heartbreaking, but after seven installments, I saw it coming.
Bringing in director Ronny Yu was an inspired choice. Having already recharged the "Child's Play" series with his demented oddity, "Bride of Chucky," Yu is the right fit for the "vs." job. Yu is an outsider to this world, and his inexperience with the titans enhances the proceedings immensely. Yu piles on the dark corners, throwing gallons of rich, decidedly R-rated red blood on the screen. He also isn't saddled with two franchises' worth of nuance, bringing a fresh take on things such as Jason's decrepit, massive body or Freddy's maniacal modus operandi. Yu is a terrific ringmaster for the bigger set pieces in the film, including Jason's bloody rampage at a cornfield rave full of teens, and the climax, which pits the two monsters against each other in fights that resemble WWE matches, but still holds a giddy glee of wacky horror delight. It's depressing to see Yu spend so much time on the untalented cast, their hideously imagined characters, and their endlessly expository dialog, but then he makes up for it with shots such as Freddy using Jason as a pinball, bouncing off the pipes of Krueger's boiler room. Now that's fun.
I wouldn't dare give away who wins this battle, but suffice it to say, the climax leaves a bit to be desired. New Line is way too paranoid of a studio to allow any kind of finality to this enterprise, so the audience is left holding the bag in the end. "Freddy vs. Jason" is probably more fun than it should be, yet it does provide a nice genre ride that doesn't come around much anymore. Even if the sum is more than its parts, this is a refreshingly winning entry into two franchises that have been dry for far too long.
Filmfodder Grade: B