I don’t know when my father decided I was going to become a cinephile. I’m relatively confident it was a conscious decision, just based on the scientific way he got me into the Bond series (reasoning, correctly, that Connery wasn’t really going to grab a seven year old’s interest, he started me on Roger Moore, which is why to this day, Moore is the original James Bond in my mind). Because he loved horror more than all other genres put together, I saw a great many horror classics when I was far too young to have reasonably seen them. I plan to repeat this mistake with any future children, because this early trauma inspired me to write a couple horror novels that I’m pretty darn proud of, and if the worst consequences of an action are a couple sleepless nights and some books? Take it. Every time.
I was also raised as a little bit of a snob. Growing up in the ‘80s, you were expected to have a favorite slasher on the schoolyard. Failure to embrace a fictional supernatural maniac who punished the venal with bladed phalluses would expose you to the kind of ridicule usually reserved for anyone whose favorite GI Joe wasn’t Snake Eyes. (Seriously, what the fuck are up with those non-Snake Eyes loving pricks? Assholes. Every one.)
Back then, Freddy Krueger was my guy. In retrospect, it’s a little weird for a kid to embrace Freddy. After all, he is highly implied to be a child molester (the remake makes this text), and his clawed hand is both the most distinctive weapon a slasher ever wielded and a clever bit of symbolism referencing Freddy’s hinted crimes. It doesn’t matter — the first Nightmare movie is a legitimate classic that still holds up today, mixing glorious practical effects, a resourceful heroine, and a little black comedy for the kind of gem that made the ‘80s such a boomtime for the genre. The sequels vary strongly in quality, and while I’ll happily defend the third, fourth, and fifth, enjoy the miscalculation of the second and the lunatic ambition of the seventh. The less said about the sixth, though, the better. Freddy was gradually Flanderized from a terrifying boogeyman who offered the occasional Bond one-liner to a hacky standup comic who seemed to kill only to get a chance to deliver a punchline.
Like the other Freddy partisans, I looked down on Jason. Friday the 13th movies were juvenile, stupid, borderline pornographic excuses to off a bunch of interchangeable characters in mildly inventive ways. We didn’t have the term “torture porn,” but that’s what the Jason movies were back in the day. Yet, anyone who knows me in meatspace knows that I have limitless affection for Jason Voorhees. I own two 12” figures (from parts 6 and 7), the Jason Funko, and on any given day there’s roughly a 40% chance I’m wearing a Jason/Camp Crystal Lake t-shirt. Hell, the image on my business card is of someone in a hockey mask. So what gives?
In my adulthood, I’ve come to embrace the Jason movies. Oh, they’re terrible. Not a single one of them could be considered good by any sane standard of the medium. What I love is the character of Jason himself, specifically how he has become a modern icon of horror. He has grown beyond the series that spawned him into a monster as recognizable as any of the Universal classics. The hockey mask — though it changes with each film — is instantly recognizable as a symbol of Jason Voorhees, and of death on the misty shores of Crystal Lake. The same goes for Freddy, from the glove and the burn scars to the fedora and sweater. These two have transcended cinema to become modern folklore.
So of course they had to fight. I love Freddy vs. Jason, but truth be told, it’s barely a movie. It’s also the best incarnation we could have hoped for, with a solid backstory, some good fights, all the while staying true to both icons. The movie was trapped in development hell for years, as Jason belonged to Paramount while the massive success of A Nightmare on Elm Street saved New Line (in some circles, the studio is still known as “the house that Freddy built”). Friday the 13th Part VII was the original attempt to make the movie, though Paramount couldn’t get the rights to Freddy, and so went with a telekinetic girl instead. The film’s nickname, “Jason vs. Carrie” bears this out. They teased it again as a stinger in series-worst Jason Goes to Hell, with the clawed glove dragging the hockey mask down to hell.
From the word go, Freddy vs. Jason is blatant fanservice. It opens with the Elm Street theme, and finishes up with the “ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” from the Friday movies. Then it moves into a “previously on” just in case anyone who hadn’t seen the movies wandered into the wrong theater or something. Basically, Freddy has been forgotten, and without fear, he has no power. So impersonates Jason’s mom and gets the big guy out of his grave to go kill folks on Elm Street, where local legend will kick in and build Freddy back up to size. The problem is, Jason Voorhees is a bit like the Joker in Dark Knight, once you let him out, it’s impossible to put him back. He starts hacking people up in the real world, while an increasingly desperate Freddy tries to fight back in the dreams of the victims.
It’s a bad meets evil kind of situation, and the kids caught in the middle realize they’re basically fucked. They decide that they have no chance at all against Freddy, since he actively hates the kids of Elm Street and can track them in their dreams. Jason, on the other hand, is a mama’s boy and a homebody who will happily stick around at Camp Crystal Lake, and only hack people up if they come to him for some premarital sex or drug use. Or Manhattan, but the series wisely forgets that part. The desperate plan is to engineer a showdown between the killers and hope to god Jason comes out on top. The best part is that, even in the climactic battle, Jason isn’t above hacking one of the kids apart if they get close. He’s the hero, but only compared to a psychotic child molester. He’s still fucking Jason, and he’ll gut you like a fish.
The movie is sure to visit the most iconic locations, going from Nancy’s house in the original Elm Street, to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, the setting of (series second best installment) Dream Warriors and where Freddy was conceived, to finish out on Jason’s home turf at the rotting corpse of Camp Crystal Lake. Weirdly, it leans heavily on Freddy’s ability to possess people, the crux of the wildly misguided Freddy’s Revenge. In a modern bit of meta-casting, the movie features scream queen Katharine Isabelle in a role that’s too small for her.
The movie does its best to paint them as opposites. Freddy is a predator, and at heart, Jason is still the disabled boy who kind of drowned but not really (it never made much sense). Additionally, Freddy was burned to death, his place of power is the boiler room where he took his victims, and his scenes tend to be tinted red. Jason drowned (again, kinda), his place of power is a lake, and his scenes are a swampy green. Fire is a destructive, masculine element, while water is a softer, more feminine one that can symbolize both rebirth and motherhood. Appropriate for a guy who really loves his mom. Additionally, both elements cross over at times, with Jason being set on fire and leaving a trail of flames, to show both Freddy’s influence and lack of control, while Jason first arrives on Freddy’s stomping grounds in a torrential rainstorm.
Maybe the best part for me was that the movie fundamentally hinged on the same debate I had a million times on the schoolyard. In dreams, Freddy wins easily, but in the real world, it’s all Jason. I couldn’t have foreseen Freddy’s affinity for wire work, but they made the movie I wanted to see at eight years old.