Twenty years ago todayish (okay, Tuesday), Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday was released in theaters. Immediately and unanimously heralded as “the most ambitious creative endeavor in slasher film history” by scholarly critics with tall hats and last names like Featherbottom, The Final Friday swept the 1993 Academy Awards in every category that mattered: Quickest Nude Scene, Writing, Best DVD Extras, and Sequel of the Year.
…I’m sorry. None of what I just told you is accurate.
Despite its best intentions, Jason Goes to Hell was ridiculed by fans and critics alike as being one of the, if not the worst entry in the Friday the 13th's long history. Considering that the other 9 films in the series (excluding remakes and spin offs) are basically softcore pornos told from the perspective of a retarded zombie with scopophilia and poor impulse control, that’s saying a lot. But as one of the film’s staunchest defenders and a diehard fan of the franchise, I decided to delve further into the ninth entry of the Friday the 13th saga and determine how it could have possibly reeled in less than the $200 million domestic box office dollars it was worth.
We haven't even gotten into my argument yet and already I'm confused. How was the concept of Jason Voorhees -- hydrocephalic killer/banjo savant -- suddenly acquiring supernatural shapeshifter abilities not brilliant enough to warrant 9 more sequels?
The fact that Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan was such a colossal turd that it nearly bankrupted Paramount Pictures should have set the bar low enough for Jason Goes to Hell to deliver ten times over. Yet somehow, American audiences were quick to dismiss the idea of a paranormal serial killer (who had been resurrected by electricity twice and killed by telekinesis in episodes past) as "ridiculous" and "contrived." Once again, our lack of European sensibilities had led us astray.
I can only dream of being a fly on the wall during the pitch meeting that swayed New Line Cinema into choosing this particular concept for their first go at the franchise.
New Line Exec #1: “OK, we've got an infamous, albeit struggling series in need of some fresh ideas. What do you got, people?”
Nameless Writer: “I've got a movie where we kill Jason before the credits even roll. Just blow him right to shit. But then it turns out that Jason has, like, a black heart capable of possessing people via fairy lights. Oh, and that heart eventually turns into a gargoyle baby or something, that is vomited from host to host.””
New Line Exec #2: “How could we possibly explain all this?”
Nameless Writer: “With a bounty hunter. Who explains all this.”
*extremely long pause*
New Line Exec #1: “Could we introduce a mythical dagger of some kind?”
Nameless Writer: “How about we make it so that when the bounty hunter’s knife is touched by another member of the Voorhees bloodline -- who has never even been hinted at in the previous eight films -- it magically turns into a dagger capable of opening BOTH THE HEAVENS AND THE GATES OF HELL THEMSELVES.”
New Line Exec #1 (to Exec #2): “This Shama Milan guy is going places.”
Jason Goes to Hell was the first sequel in the franchise to bring back original director Sean S. Cunningham (pictured above, giving his acceptance speech at the Awesome Shirt Awards), albeit as a Producer. You might recall that in the original Friday the 13th, Cunningham masterfully convinced American audiences that a 50-year-old schizophrenic woman could single-handedly dispatch six college-aged counselors in their sexual and physical primes -- one of whom was Kevin Bacon, a man who in later years would defeat not one but three giant underground worms using only intuition and homemade dynamite. If audiences were willing to accept that scenario, why did they end up feeling so betrayed by the one presented in Jason Goes to Hell?
It couldn't have been the writing, that’s for sure. Did you know that the Jason Goes to Hell IMDB page has over *eleven* memorable quotes? That has to be some kind of record. Lyrical poetry abounds this film from start to finish, with Mamet-esque lines like “Hey f*ck! Hiya doin ya fat-ass maggoty blown-up f*ck! Suck this!” and “Planning on smoking a little dope, having a little premarital sex and getting slaughtered?”
Even the lines that are blatantly ripped off from other movies (“For that you get the mask, the machete, the whole damn thing.”) are delivered with such grace and commitment that it makes me want to dig up Laurence Olivier's grave just to spit on his corpse. Just look at this exchange, which takes place between a reporter (Campbell) and a bounty hunter named CREIGHTON F*CKING DUKE early in the film:
Robert Campbell: I'm going to say a couple of words to you and I want you to say the first thing that comes into your mind.
Creighton Duke: Okay.
Robert Campbell: Jason Voorhees.
Creighton Duke: That makes me think of a little girl in a pink dress sticking a hot dog through a doughnut.
My God, the balls it would take to write that down without ever turning back. When revisiting this film, I can only be reminded of Patton Oswalt's bit about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People while crying myself to sleep knowing that I will never possess the raw talent and persistence necessary to become a screenwriter.
Direction? More like d-erection! From start to finish, Jason Goes to Hell is like a cinematographer's wet dream, composed with a mise en scene rivaling any German expressionist film of the 1920’s. Let’s take a look at a few film stills, shall we?
Newcomer Adam Marcus was undoubtedly a misunderstood auteur years ahead of his time (his work on the 2008 straight-to-DVD Val Kilmer vehicle, Conspiracy, was also the stuff of legends). And don't even get me started on dat final shot.
At the end of the day, a Friday the 13th film is only as good as the death scenes it delivers. Thankfully, Jason Goes to Hell crushes it out of the park in this category, perhaps better than any other entry in the series.
A few examples: Jason is blown to bits in a hail of gunfire and grenades before the title sequence even begins. A coroner eats Jason’s heart, absorbs his powers and mashes his assistant’s face through a grate like a Play Doh Spaghetti Factory. During the most graphic sex scene in Friday the 13th history, a woman is stabbed, then bisected with a tent pole at the exact moment of orgasm (clearly a comment on the fragile, cyclical nature of life and death). A man has his face is dipped in a fryalator (a metaphor of our society’s fast food dependence, perhaps?). Oh, and did I mention that every person whom Jason’s demon baby used as a temporary vessel F*CKING MELTED after it was through with them? That bears mentioning.
Sure, we didn’t get to see the Jason Voorhees perform most of these kills, but the resurrection/final scene, which features the aforementioned magical dagger AND divine intervention more than made up for it:
The music. The slo-mo. The varsity letters jacket. THE (FOAM) HANDS OF SATAN. Good luck crafting a scene as batshit insane as this, Herzog.
Conclusion: After analyzing all the ins and outs of Jason Goes to Hell and confirming that it is an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking from premise to production, I can logically declare that the film’s failure was the result of two things:
1.) Jurassic Park, which was released two months earlier and set an unrealistically high standard in what constitutes entertainment that has not been matched to this day.
2.) The Royal Plaza Hotel collapse in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, which happened on the exact day that Jason Goes to Hell was released. Clearly, American society was so taken aback by such a tragic loss of life that only dinosaurs and Jeff Goldblum could fill the void.
Thankfully, history has already absolved Jason Goes to Hell, as evident by the prime 2:30 a.m. slot it receives on the SyFy channel every Halloween. Aging well is the best revenge.