You all know the story, right? Friday the 13th Part VIII was both the most expensive and least profitable film of the franchise. Gee, I wonder if those two facts are connected somehow? Even if they aren’t, Paramount spent the late-80s and early-90s “restructuring” itself after a string of flops (like Friday the 13th Part VIII) drove newly hired managers to do what managers love to anyway and sell everything that wasn’t nailed down. Including Jason Voorhees.
So New Line Cinema bought Jason up for cheap and promptly sat on him until Freddy died his “last” death in 1991. While Final Nightmare had the highest opening of its series, there was no getting around the sad fact that it sucked. So New Line spent 1992 proving they hadn’t learned a damn thing, making a Final Friday film that sucks even more…in a completely different way.
We begin with a woman whose name we never know and whom we’ll never see again driving to a cabin in the Crystal Lake Woods. She futzes around, changes a light bulb, has a few jump scares, and decides to take a shower…in this dark, secluded, spooky-ass house. In the Crystal Lake Woods. As soon as she’s given the audience its Obligatory Tit (and ass) Shots (before the five minute mark, of course) the power goes out for realz. ‘Cuz Jason Voorhees in da HOOOUUUUSE!!!
How did he get back to Crystal Lake after his New York City sewer bath? The movie doesn’t say. I hear a comic book miniseries bridges the gap between the two films, but who cares? The thing’s way out of print by now. Even if we were one of the lucky few who got ’em for free at the theater on opening night, how were we supposed to read the damn thing before the movie began?
Kane Hodder returns for the third time in a row, playing what I swear is the ugliest goddamn Jason in the entire franchise. And I don’t mean that as a compliment. We don’t even get to see what’s behind his mask in this adventure but, for the first time in the series, I don’t really want to. Unlike Part VII‘s slimy, mud-colored zombie or Part VI‘s dry, Frankenstein’s monster, Goes To Hell‘s Jason is a knobby pick-n-mix of his eight previous incarnation. His head’s from Part 2, and his back’s from Part VII, but what’s with the hamburger hands? They look fleshier than Dr. Peyton Westlake‘s, and Dr. Westlake’s still alive! Jason’s a walking corpse! Why’s he suddenly bulkier than he’s been since forever? Why’s his head trying to consume his hockey mask? And is that…his original mask? It bears Chris’ signature from the end of Part 3-D, and there’s a chunk missing from when Tommy Jarvis hit Jason with that boat propeller...but…
Okay, this is a twenty yard-penalty, right here. Bullshit flag on the play. The love of my life, Tina Shepherd, destroyed that mask with her mind bullets. That’s telekinesis, Kyle. We saw the damn thing carried away by some EMT (who, incidentally, has to be the only person in Crystal Lake with any real job security…assuming the mask didn’t possess him) and we saw Jason steal a new mask from some random asshole at the start of the last film, so…
So they didn’t bother to film the one aspect of this movie their target audience hoped to see even more than tits: Jason’s resurrection. It’s been a tradition since Part 2‘s ten-minute pre-credit sequence, but they cut it out of this story because…um…yeah…they were morons. Over-literal morons who wanted to start their movie off with “a bang.” They just picked the wrong one, signaling they didn’t give a crap about this series any more than Paramount’s shareholders.
I’m sorry…Jason’s stalking Random Girl through the woods while she’s clad only in a towel. I’m supposed to care about that, I guess. Good thing I checked back in, since Jason Goes to Hell‘s about to pull its one and only good trick: having the Designated Victim lead Jason into an ambush. A squad of SWAT cops with your basic anti-Hulk field artillery kit blow Our Villain to bits and…
Okay. That’s still awesome. In a visceral sense, it’s a great big explosion with lots of flying, flaming body parts, and what’s not to like about that? It’s a real cathartic moment, because I’ve decided I fucking hate these movies. I hate Jason. I’d say I want him to die, but that would be a little redundant at this point, so I’ll have to settle for watching commando teams kill him “deader than shit,” to quote the coroner’s report.
Cutting away, we find a black man in a cool hat’s also watching this historic spectacle, looking way too self-assured for a brother in a horror movie. “I don’t think so,” Cool Hat Luke says to the camera. To which I reply, “Homey don’t play that, does he, Mr. X?”
As our generic credits play over scenes of Jason’s autopsy, we notice a final version of Henry Manfredini’s Friday the 13th score playing over everything. In a tragic misstep for this supposedly-final Friday, Henry’s stripped his score of all its obvious “homages” to Jaws. Then again, the original Friday is a faster-paced, better movie, a straightforward rip-off of several Italian movies I could name (just don’t ask me to pronounce their names correctly) in dire need of a driving, Jaws riff to help energize it.
Hell, comparing the two is like comparing severed heads to disembodied hearts, so let’s focus on Jason’s for the moment. Like our unfortunate coroner. As he pokes the heart with a scalpel it begins to beat all on its own. Die-hard Friday fans better plug their ears because I’m about to compliment this film’s sound-design. A creepy, buzzing reverb crawls its way underneath Jason’s heart beats, the sound of insects dying inside someone’s ear canal. This drives the coroner to chow down on Jason’s heart, allowing Jason’s…um…spirit…?…access to a new body.
It’s another effectively constructed scene, bravely defying the expectations of its genre and its genre’s fans…by making no sense whatsoever! Since when can Jason possess people? Why can’t his body just stitch itself back together, like Swamp Thing, Nimrod (from the X-Men comics), the T-1000, or any number of other indestructible, badass mo-fos? Did Kane Hodder just go soft in the four years it took them to make this flick? Or did he finally wise up and realize what a shit role Jason Voorhees really is?
Either way, he shows up here as some random cop who makes the mistake of badmouthing Jason to the possessed coroner. But not before one of the screenwriters, Dean Lorey, shows up as an Assistant Coroner who badmouths Jason’s body, unaware Jason’s already possessed his boss. He gets a probe to the skull, and it’s too good for him, I say. For all the references to other, better horror movie splattered about this one, Lorey missed a perfectly good opportunity to call Jason “a dead fuck.” For that, I can never forgive him.
Cut to…the Plot Specific News Network, currently airing American
‘s Most Wanted Casefile, with Robert Campbell (Steven Culp). Given what just happened in the movie, American Casefile’s running a Jason special, including an interview with apparently-famous bounty hunter and self-proclaimed Jason expert, Crayton Duke (Steven Williams), Mr. “I Don’t Think So” from the prologue.
“You’ll remember Mr. Duke,” Robert Campbell says, “as the bounty hunter previously responsible for the capture of six of this country’s most reviled killers.” Except no, we won’t, because he’s a completely new character you’re introducing with clunky exposition and informed attributes. Like his “expertise.” Duke somehow knows about Jason’s sudden possession power. He also claims to know how to kill Jason once and for all. (How? We’ll get to that.) With the great eye of sensationalist, bullshit TV trained on him, Duke offers America a deal: pay five thousand dollars and “You get the hockey mask, the machete, the whole damn thing.”
“Quite a character,” Campbell tells us, but that’s all lies. Duke ain’t nothin’ but a black Quint from Jaws. That’s why that line exists, right? So we can all go, “Hey – he’s like Quint from Jaws” and the movie won’t have to waste time exploring his character or giving him a backstory. He just shows up and knows things because it’s convenient. Like the Keymaker, it is his purpose. We don’t even get the token “oh, yeah, Jason killed my relative” thing. And Duke contributes so much to the rest of the movie, too. Like exposition, vague threats, getting himself put in prison, breaking the Designated Hero’s fingers for no reason…other than the sheer thrill of being a complete asshole…and bullshit retcons to series mythology that make no sense whatsoever. (Sensing a theme?) It’s like they stopped halfway through making a complete series remake, chickened out, and ordered Kane Hodder into makeup.
“Well be back on American Casefile in a moment.” No, you won’t, silly newsman. You’re just here to add to the bodycount. Somebody change the channel. I’m almost sure Hard Core’s on, and I never miss Tony Pope. It’s like COPS but with more swearing…and sometimes the cops punch Tony right in his smug, fucking face.
So after all that exposition we finally meet the first of several people who could be, but aren’t, our main character. Diana Kimble (Erin Gray) just so happens to be a waitress at a diner in Crystal Lake, and she just so happens to be watching the Jason episode of American Casefile. As soon as the segment ends, she’s turns the TV off and exits the breakroom…only to find, of all the diners in all the accursed small towns in all the world, Creighton Duke had to walk right into her’s.
He claims he knows something shady about Diana’s past, somehow, making this claim in as freakish and threatening a manner as possible. Diana’s former beau, Sheriff Ed Landis (Billy Green Bush), takes exception to this and arrests Duke for being a creepy douche. Say goodbye to the one capable character in the film, everybody. For a guy who knows everything about the plot, he has a bad habit of acting stupid.
See, we’re still meeting the New Meat, so Creighton has to get out of the way before his inherent coolness distracts from the main cast. Like this film’s Nerd Spice, Steven (veteran of the Friday the 13th TV series John D. LaMay), who’s been sitting at the counter this whole time. Diana asks him to come to her house later that night for a pow-wow and Steven says yes, because he’s also Diana’s daughter’s ex-husband and the father of Diana’s granddaughter.
Got all that? Good. Days of Our Lives will continue after these messages…and after Steven deposits three hitchhikers at Camp Crystal Lake.
“Planning on smokin’ a little dope, having a little pre-marital sex and getting slaughtered?”
“It’s a joke…a little…Crystal Lake levity…”
One of them even asks Steven to join them in skinny dipping. He declines, citing a previous engagement. “Girlfriend?” this film’s Horny Blond Spice asks him. I would’ve come out and said, Ex-girlfriend’s mom, actually. She played Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and she’s got that whole MILF thing going for her these days. Works out well. Real well, if ya know what I mean. It is truly a sad day when I turn out to have more game than the Designated Hero.
In any case, its Designated Villain slaughters the three Red Shirts we just met and don’t care about…but only after the longest, most gratuitous sex scene in the entire franchise. After which The Girl is skewered and horizontally bisected by a fence post Coroner Jason just happened to find on the ground. Did I used to find this…graphic? Or even interesting? God, we were all so pathetic before the internet made porn and ultraviolence readily available. Look at the crappy movies we put up with, just for thirty seconds of boobs. Wait, no…don’t look at them. That’s the entire point. I look at this crap so you don’t have to, and so you can get off on watching me suffer through it. Perverts.
Back in town, Diana has some more jump scares, including one from Deputy Josh (Andrew Bloch) who tells her stuff that won’t be important since neither is long for this world. Deputy Josh reveals this by immediately making kissy-face with some random floozy who pulls up in the parking lot. Coroner Jason, having Off-screen Teleported all the way into town, observes this, kills Josh’s booty-call, and kidnaps the deputy, seeking to possess a new body that can (presumably) get close to Diana. For some reason, this requires Coroner Jason to strap Josh to a table and carefully shave his face with a straight raiser.
Why would Jason even bother picking and choosing his victims like this, something he’s never done before? In the past, Jason’s prided himself on being an equally opportunity murderer. This time, he acts more like the Terminator who so closely resembled him and whose existence should’ve reduced Jason (and his ilk) to irrelevance by serving as the perfect Stealth Parody of their entire genre (a reading of Terminator I don’t see often enough – stop letting me down, internet. You’re only forcing me to write more crap as I find niches that need fillin’).
Diana goes home and – forty minutes into the fucking film – calls our actual main character, her daughter, Jessica (Kari Keegan) – who apparently has a thing going on with Robert Campbell, the host of America Casefile. Bet Rob’s not long for this world, either. Diana’s call gets interrupted by the possessed former-deputy. Despite getting shot in the head, Deputy Jason attempts to puke some stiff-looking, animatronic appliance into Diana’s mouth. Only the arrival of Steven, The Action Nerd, breaks up this fun, sending Deputy Jason through a window. But not before (dun-dun-dun) Diana dies. Our Hero, ladies and gentlemen: failing to kill the Bad Guy, or rescue the Damsel. Who, despite being in Distress, handled herself quite well for a second there, and all by her lonesome, too. People who still think Scream‘s so original for allowing its victims to fight back need to watch this bit again. Diana pulls a gun from a dresser and puts one right through Deputy Jason’s skull, only hesitating long enough to deliver an Action Movie One-liner. Because she’s that bad-ass.
I would’ve put a few more into him, or just gotten the hell out of there as fast as my work shoes could carry me. I mean, shit, girl, he bleeds black. Good instincts, going straight for the head…but he’s probably still alive. For stupidly standing there, shivering, waiting around until he woke up from that headshot, you really do earn your death, Diana. I’m sorry. I almost gave a crap about you, though. Good try.
With both our Designated Heroes in jail, Steven can learn everything he needs to know to be an actual hero from Creighton Duke. Here’s as good a place as any to discus what about Jason Goes to Hell really burns my balls. It’s not just the fanboy problems everybody mentions. Sure, Jason’s only in seven minutes of the movie. Sure, the entire plot is teetering tower of retcons, cliches, and bullshit references to other, better movies. Below that we find the beating, black heart of this movie is…just lazy. And that’s just boring.
See, this plot has more convenience than the twenty-four porn store with the no-fee ATM down the street from my community college. Jason just happens to be a body-snatching demon, allowing him to survive the pointless, exploitative opening. He also just happens to have not one, not two, but now (thanks to Steven and Jessica) three living relatives, All of whom still live in Crystal Lake, even after all this time. Oh yeah, and they just happen to be key components of his resurrection. Or, as Duke puts it (after breaking two of Steven’s fingers as “payment” for the information)
“Through a Voorhees was he born. Only through a Voorhees can he be reborn. And only by the hand of a Voorhees can he die.”
Excuse me. I have to yell at Creighton for a moment…(deep breath)…
HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS?! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN THIS WHOLE TIME, EH!? WHO THE HELL ARE YOU, ANYWAY? WHY, GOD, WHY?!!!
Sorry. Laziness makes me angry. Maybe Duke read all this in that copy of the Necronomicon Steven finds in the ruins of Stately Voorhees Manor after he escapes jail. Having caught Idiot’s Disease from physical contact with Duke, Steven makes no move to free the man in the next cell, or take him along, despite the fact he obviously knows everything there is to know about what’s going on. Sure, the guy’s a crazy bounty hunter…but that just makes him cool. In fact, for me, it makes him terabytes more interesting than Nerd Spice v. 9.0 or Jessica the “final” Final Girl.
At “the old Voorhees place” (a gigantic mansion, set way back in the woods, that we’ve never seen nor heard of in the series) Steven discovers…the Necronomicon Ex Mortis. No, really. It’s sitting right there on the kitchen table, where any idiot could just waltz it, pick it up, and start reading it. Steven’s not that much of an idiot, thank God. Instead, that idiocy’s bequeathed to whomever dreamed up the idea of sticking the Necornomicon in a Jason movie. Is it supposed to explain how all this supernatural shit keeps happening around town? Because it doesn’t.
Robert Campbell interrupts Steven’s snooping and my ruminations, forcing Our Nerdy Hero to hide in a closet. Robert’s yakking on his cell phone so he can tell us (and thus Steven) about the stunt he plans to stage for American Casefile‘s next episode. Seems that, after securing permission to film in Stately Voorhees Manor from Jessica (wait – so she owns the place? After all this time? WHY? HOW? It’s “the old Voorhees house!” Wouldn’t you off-load it on the first out-of-state asshole you could find?), Robert stole Diana’s body out of Crystal Lake’s morgue (perhaps that very same morgue we saw in the beginning of Part The Final Chapter) and stashed it in the closet…that Steven’s hiding in. “And then,” Robert adds, “I went home and fucked her daughter.” Stay classy, Jason Goes to Hell.
Nice of Robert to tell us all this instead of showing it, eh? It’s neither the first nor the last plot point this movie talks about instead of showing. There’s so many, in fact, that I’ve got the sneaking suspicion New Line Cinema (either on its own or at the behest of those bluehaired censors at the MPAA) cut this film to the quick.
As it stands, with credits, my version’s exactly ninety minutes long, and that kind of exactitude doesn’t just happen. Studios, anxious to cram in as many showings per day as possible, order directors to cut quiet moments and other “boring” scenes where we might actually learn something, maybe figure out what the hell’s going on. The MPAA, offended at the very idea of a “horror” movie (to say nothing of a popular and successful “horror” franchise) orders directors to trim down everything else, resulting in a confused, cut-to-shit mishmash that pleases no one, financially flops, and insures Slasher Movies continue to be the running gag they already were in 1983…and especially in 1993.
Speaking of which, Deputy Jason teleports in to possess Robert Campbell…for some reason. From his hiding place in the closet, Steven observes the possession ritual. Through him, we find out Jason’s victims more-or-less melt into bubbling flesh puddles once the Big J’s spirit’s moves on, like they caught a quick shower in Brundlefly’s Vomitdrop™.
It’s meant to be the big-ass, gory set piece for this, the middle of the middle of the movie. And my Critic Sense tells me a lot of it got left on the cutting room floor to avoid the MPAA’s Kiss of Death: an NC-17 rating. Most theaters, motivated by cowardice, laziness and greed, refuse to show NC-17s to this day, and they were especially afraid of them during the early-to-mid-90s, when America’s Moral Guardians officially declared their Culture War.
Personally, I count Jason Goes to Hell‘s (and Jason Takes Manhattan‘s) death scenes as casualties in that great conflict, which rages to this day. The cuts might as well announce themselves with a title card that read “Scene Missing.” For a true Horror fan, trained to follow smooth Death Scene Geometry, where cause and effect are easily discerned, it’s even more obvious. I can’t be “scared” or even “grossed out” if I’m wondering, “How and why the fuck did that just happen?”
For example, why does Deputy Dead melt into a puddle? Diana blew his brains out and Steven ran him through with a poker. He’s already “deader than shit.” Absent Jason’s influence, dude should just keel right over and boom, next scene. Robert Jason sits up, looks around, goes to work chasing down Jessica…with Our Nerd Hero chasing after him.
So, it’s another Jason movie that does not technically feature Jason, save for two scenes at the beginning and the end. Half of the first 40 minutes are a B-grade, 80s Slasher film, complete with gratuitous sex scene and the one decent set-piece death in the entire film. It’s last hour is a Terminator rip-off.
And not that bad of a Terminator rip-off, either, as these things go. Steven the Nerd proves to be quite the capable Final Boy, once he gets his act together. He’s like a sane Tommy Jarvis, Jessica’s Kyle Reese, and the sight of him blasting Robert Jason through the face with a stolen service pistol put a totally unironic grin on my face. By the hour mark, he’s actually doing heroic stuff.
Steven’s also the most developed character in the story. Sure, this Final Girl gets a mom and a baby, but that only proves she came out of, and possesses, a vagina. Steven gets friends and past relationships, because he’s played by the star of Friday the 13th: The [TV] Series. He gets to grow up through taking courageous action to protect his baby-momma. They even end the film as a nice, nuclear unit after Jessica sends Jason to hell by stabbing him through the heart the mystic dagger Creighton Duke pulls out of thin air. Literally. Spoiler alert.
There’s this one scene where our Final Boy has a fistfight with this best friend, Randy (Kipp Marcus) who’s now a Sheriff’s Deputy. The two wind up exhausting themselves, leaning against the car, before both remember they have guns. Then Deputy Dog tells Steven Jessica’s “safe” at the station and Steven voluntarily surrenders, earning actual Hero cred. It’s an authentic character moment in the middle of a shitty horror film so, of course, it’s my favorite non-Duke-related bit of the movie.
Everything else about this film is wrong, except Steven Williams performance. He kicks ass. Too bad he’s barely in the film so, even there, it fails. We get one quiet character scene with our Final Girl and what does she do? Strip. And climb into a shower. But at least she puts on a shirt before she investigates the Mysterious Power Outage. Parallelism’s nice and all but Jesus Christ, Jason Goes to Hell. You only scared me when, for an instant there, I thought you’d rewound yourself.
That’s what this film doesn’t do. It doesn’t cap off the Friday the 13th series because New Line had no intention of doing so. They hired a first-time director (Adam Marcus, who went on to do absolutely nothing) and the screenwriters of Major Payne, My Boyfriend’s Back and Magnum P.I. to churn out a quick one-off as fast as possible. They’d call it “The ‘Final’ Friday and hope no one minded too terribly much when Jason returned the next year.
It’s obvious New Line had no real interest in making a Friday the 13th film. So why did they? It’s not like the rights were going to revert back to Sean Cunningham. Anyone who suffers through the anti-climactic ending will learn the answer once Freddy’s glove drags Jason’s mask underground with a knowing cackle.
New Line may make shit films but they do, on occasional, actually listen to their fanbase. And for years fans cried out for the crossover to end all crossovers: Jason vs. Freddy. Always in that order, too, implying a “Champion-Challenger” arrangement certain Freddy fans (like the people at New Line, who own him to this day) always bristled at. How dare that hockey masked pseudo-zombie upstage our hometown hero, they thought, the highest-grossing Slasher villain of all time? I know! We’ll buy up the rights to Jason, make two films bridging the gaps between the series, and have the biggest monster mash since Frankenstein met the Wolf Man by Summer, 1993! We’ll cast that dude from the TV series to lure the lazy people in, and get Kane Hodder back in makeup to keep the gore-hounds happy.
Wrong. With no on-screen Jason, this so-called-Jason movie drove the Jason fans away in droves. Premiere Friday the 13th websites that host literally dozens of hardcore fans regularly proclaim it one of the worst entries in the franchise. Below Jason Takes Manhattan. Even below A New Beginning. Think about that for a moment. There are Friday the 13th fans out there that hate this film (the first with “Jason” in its title) more than the one without Jason in it at all.
And thank Creighton Duke this film bombed like the U.S. Air Force, because the next two “Jason” films sucked even harder…something none of us thought possible in those dark, dim days. What fools we were.