*. Fun fact: Jason Goes to Hell was the only instalment in the Friday the 13th franchise released in the 1990s. Now is that just trivia, or does it mean something?
*. Well, the ’90s were the decade of Scream (1996) and the whole turn toward a more self-reflexive or postmodern take on the genre. Could they do that with Jason? They certainly tried their best with this movie.
*. What they got was a film that divided audiences (critics were pretty much bound to hate it at this point). For the most part, however, fans hated it too because it wasn’t really a Jason movie. In fact, it wasn’t even have Friday the 13th in the title (because New Line Cinema didn’t have rights to the name).
*. What I mean by it not being a Jason movie is that Jason, or “Jason,” is killed at the beginning and spends the rest of the movie jumping from body to body by way of mouth-to-mouth transfer. It’s sort of like the way the bug body hops around in The Hidden, though director Adam Marcus says he hadn’t seen that movie.
*. In addition to this change-up there is a whole new mythology and back story (including a sister) introduced for Jason. The upshot is that he’s now a truly demonic figure (“hell’s assassin” in Marcus’s phrase) and not just some deformed kid with super strength pursuing his revenge on horny teens. To be fair, this is a direction the franchise had been heading in for a while, but in Jason Goes to Hell they really dive off the deep end.
*. It’s a huge mess, in part because the original script (described as “ten kinds of awful” and “impossible to understand”) was a disaster. Then there were cuts that made things even harder to follow, and just a whole attitude of goofiness that doesn’t help at all.
*. The goofiness may have had some relation to Erin Gray’s impression that the entire cast and crew were under the age of 25. This was Marcus’s first feature and he seems to have been feeling the spirit of experimentation that comes with early work. He really wanted to do something new with the franchise. Sean Cunningham knew that wouldn’t work. You just had to look at what had happened with Halloween III: Season of the Witch ten years earlier, a cardinal lesson in not messing with a commercial formula.
*. Well, despite this being Cunningham County, Marcus was given enough rope and ended up with this monstrosity. Now some of it, I have to say, I found to be fun. The gore, including a total body meltdown, is imaginative. Steven Williams is great as the celebrity bounty hunter, and I thought the body-hopping business made things fresh. It’s scenes like the murder of the campers, added later to make it more of a Jason movie, that drag the most.
*. I also didn’t mind all the in-jokes. There’s the Neconomicon from Evil Dead. A crate borrowed from Creepshow. Something that looks like the Alien critter. And of course a nonsensical appearance by Freddy Krueger, hinting at the battle of the horror icons that the studios were trying so hard to make happen but which was still ten years away.
*. I can’t say it’s a good movie, but given how bad the Friday the 13th movies are in general, and how formulaic they had become, I can’t say I disliked it. Put another way, I can see why fans would hate it, but since I’m not a fan I didn’t share their sense of betrayal. Indeed my feelings were more akin to relief. Perhaps it’s not a real Jason movie, but I don’t think we needed another one of those. I’m not sure we needed this either, but I’d rather have it than a Part IX.