The next time you're enjoying a bath or a shower, take a moment to examine yourself. What you're looking for is black, jagged, and commonly referred to as a "tribal tattoo" -- accompanying symptoms may include vague memories of a jabbing sensation and near-suicidal depression or rage. Does your body have one? Is it bigger than your hand? Then go see Freddy Vs. Jason right now. Really. There will not be another movie that caters more specifically to your exact demographic this year, unless Rob Zombie somehow manages to complete a House of 1,000 Corpses sequel at breakneck speed.
Not that they'll be checking your skin at the door, but anyone not already a fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street dream-stalker Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) or Friday the 13th's zombiefied redneck, Jason Voorhees (various actors throughout the series, but currently portrayed by Ken Kirzinger), will probably find little to enjoy here -- and much to despise. The acting's wooden, the profanity gratuitous, the fake breasts in-your-face, the gore excessive, and the plot frequently moronic. Once upon a time, these would have been debits. But to the fan of '80s slashers, forced these past few years to make do with bloodless ghost stories like The Others and sexless post-irony like Scream, this return to glorious excess is a beautiful thing. Ronny Yu, who previously resurrected another slasher icon in Bride of Chucky, is the director here and once again knowingly plays on the gleeful absurdity of it all. (Note to Halloween producer Moustapha Akkad: If you must continue with that anemic franchise, Ronny's your man.)
It's been about a decade since New Line purchased the rights to Jason from Paramount and teased a showdown with Freddy at the end of Jason Goes to Hell. Several rejected scripts and directors later, the masked mongoloid finally gets a taste of some tough glove. The new film kicks off with a voiceover from Freddy in hell, who brings us up to speed with a montage of kills from the Nightmare movies. Though not necessarily incorporating the self-referential plot line of Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Freddy Vs. Jason does roll with that installment's notion of Freddy as an intangible fear that can be made manifest in the body of a burnt guy with finger-knives. At the time the movie begins, no one remembers Freddy, and because of that, he's unable to do any damage. Only by reviving people's fear of him can he gain his supernatural strength back, and in order to do that, he resurrects Jason. How he achieves this, given his lack of powers and Jason's confinement in hell (continuity-wise, the sci-fi Jason X has not yet happened), goes unexplained, but little matter. Bottom line is that Jason ends up in Krueger's 'hood of Springwood, where -- despite his totally dissimilar killing methods -- he gets fingered as Freddy.
This proves to be a mixed blessing for the ol' fedora-wearing crispy critter. The good news is that people utter his name again, spreading fear that will ultimately allow him to kill in the dreamworld once more. The bad news is that Jason, being both compulsively homicidal and impossible to stop, just keeps on killing -- and does so much faster and more efficiently than Freddy, who favors elaborately surreal, dream-based traps for one victim at a time. Metaphorically, this becomes the mother of all pissing contests. Onscreen, it plays like a live-action version of MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch, the show in which Claymation renditions of famous stars fight it out in no-holds-barred wrestling matches until one is dead. Since Jason and Freddy both are technically already dead, that sets the challenge level that much higher.
Caught in between are a bunch of stupid "teenagers" (played mostly by actors blatantly in their twenties, among them Monica Keena and Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland), who, between deaths, discuss such subjects as which of the Three Stooges they'd rather have sex with and state the painfully obvious ("One, two, Freddy's coming for you . . . You know why they sing that? 'Cause that's when he's coming for you!"). Also they drink, do drugs, and have sex: Lessons learned from Scream are completely ignored -- save, perhaps, for the cameo given to Kevin Smith's characters Jay and Silent Bob in Scream 3; a ski-cap-wearing stoner (Kyle Labine) and his fat buddy show up here in a fairly obvious tip of the hat. In a good approximation of Jay, Labine gets to deliver perhaps the greatest assessment of Jason ever: "Dude, that goalie was pissed about something!"
Someone who is genuinely pissed is Kane Hodder, previously thought of by fans as the definitive Jason -- the only actor to play Jason more than once, he became so identified with the role that he had the word "kill" tattooed on his inner lip. Hodder, last seen in Jason X, was not invited to play everyone's favorite machete-swinger for this film, and no satisfactory explanation has been offered as to why, though speculation has it that he physically dwarfed Englund by too great a margin. Jason wouldn't seem to be that tough a role to play for anyone with the requisite strength and endurance to be covered in latex all day, yet there's definitely a difference between Hodder and the new guy. Hodder was bulkier and assumed more threatening stances, while Kirzinger mostly lets his arms hang by his sides. You might wonder whether director Yu was looking for more expressive eyes in his Jason, but that's not it either -- Kirzinger's eyes look stoned. Hodder's Jason only had one eye, actually; Freddy must've regenerated the second one for the new body, leaving us to wonder why he didn't bother improving the rest of the corpse as well.
Still, given the range of Jasons over the years, the recast isn't ruinous. This is still a fan-friendly movie, full of audacious kills and two big battles between our villains -- one in the dreamworld and one in "reality." It's all scored to real heavy metal, too (Machine Head, Spineshank, Type O Negative), as opposed to the "nü" stuff. No high art here, but Freddy vs. Jason is definitely the rowdy-drunken-party movie of the year.