When John Woo, Tsui
Hark, and Ringo Lam made their Hollywood debuts, they
all had to endure a peculiar trial of fire: working
with Jean-Claude Van Damme. For whatever reason, Ronny
Yu avoided that pitfall, but eventually stepped into
what could have been worse: working with a puppet.
After helming the children's movie Warriors of
Virtue, Yu went on to directof all thingsBride
of Chucky, the fourth installment of the Child's
Play series, starring everyone's favorite homicidal
doll, Chucky. Many likely thought that the film would
be a turning point in Yu's American film career, but
probably only a few guessed that it would become a
turn for the better.
Bride of Chucky
garnered mixed critical and fan reaction, but Ronny
Yu did okay for himself. Apparently his take on the
long-running horror franchise and the film's respectable
box office haul gave New Line Cinema enough confidence
to think Yu was just the man to resurrect two other
slasher movie icons: Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.
So what happens when the director of The Bride
with White Hair gets a decent budget, big studio
backing, and the freedom to play around with the Nightmare
on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises?
A surprisingly entertaining slasher flick, that's
Back on the Elm Street
of an unnamed city, the townsfolk have made Freddy
Krueger (Robert Englund) a taboo subject. No one mentions
him, his name is expunged from the public record,
and any kid who had even the slightest bit of knowledge
about the gruesome killer was drugged and institutionalized.
Consequently, Freddy Krueger has lost his power, because
as the film explains, he lives on fear. With no teenagers
who even know his name, Freddy grows weak because
he cannot inspire fear.
To solve his problem,
Freddy delves into the subconscious of Jason Voorhees
(Ken Kirzinger), the indestructible mass murderer
who occupies Camp Crystal Lake, carving up campers
when a sequel demands it. Jason is in a state of hibernation,
presumably due to the events of Jason Goes to Hell
(Jason X could take place AFTER Freddy vs.
Jason, but try not to think too hard about it,
okay?). Pretending to be Jason's dead mother, Freddy
convinces the hockey-masked freak to rise from the
grave and pay a visit to Elm Street. If Jason does
some killing, Freddy reasons, then perhaps someone
will let slip the Krueger name, and then the nightmares
on Elm Street can resume once more. True to form,
Jason does his killing, but to Freddy's dismay, the
masked man doesn't stop. And from then on it's a frenetic,
balls-to-the-wall, battle to end all battles between
the gruesome twosome. Oh, and somewhere in all that
mayhem some teenagers help move the plot along. But
who really cares about them? Nobody goes to see Freddy
vs. Jason for character development.
With the benefit of
hindsight, one has to wonder why this film floundered
in limbo for so long. Freddy vs. Jason is a
project that has been in the works ever since New
Line Cinema acquired the rights to the Jason Voorhees
character from Paramount Pictures. In 1993 further
fuel was added to the speculation fire when Freddy
Krueger's gloved hand made a surprise cameo appearance
in the ninth Friday the 13th movie, Jason
Goes to Hell. From that point onward, horror film
aficionados were chomping at the bit for a film that
would finally pit the two homicidal legends in a bout
of immortal combat, but year after year, the project
never materialized. In 2003, after one additional
Freddy movie, four more Jason movies,
numerous script rewrites and several false starts,
the long overdue team-up flick finally came to pass
with Ronny Yu in the director's chair.
Now, if I were in a
bad mood, I could really tear this movie a new one.
I could say that the movie contains entirely too much
exposition with way too many scenes of characters
over-explaining the plot for the viewer's "benefit"
(even Freddy does this once!). And if I wanted to
be really mean I could rip on the laughably bad acting
of nearly all the main players with Destiny's Child
bandmate Kelly Rowland being the main offender.
But I'm not in a bad mood,
so I won't do that. Instead I will say that Freddy
vs. Jason delivers on the promise of its title.
Whoever came up with the idea of crafting Freddy and
Jason as elemental opposites of fire and waterFreddy
was burned, Jason drowneddeserves a pat on the
back. It's a nice touch that's simple, effective,
but not belabored like so many of the other plot points
in the film. While Ken Kirzinger does a fine job with
Jason (there's not much to critique with a mute killing
machine), Robert Englund steals the show. Englund
turns in a fantastic performance as Freddy, and is
able to remain scary while still eliciting chuckles,
even from some of the occasionally weak one-liners.
The final conflict works like a WWE heavyweight title
match crossed with the high flying action of any wuxia-style
Hong Kong flick, and thankfully it's done in a way
that won't make you roll your eyes in disgust (Romeo
Must Die, anyone?). Really, this review could
have been limited to one sentence: the final fight
itself is worth the price of admission that
is, if you care for that sort of thing.
Sadly, the success of Freddy
vs. Jason comes at a price. On the positive side,
it's good to see a horror film featuring Freddy and
Jason that is actually entertaining, unlike so many
of the weaker sequels, and it's a nice bonus that
Ronny Yu scored a major box office hit. Unfortunately,
that all but assures that we'll see a Freddy vs.
Jason 2, which despite my enthusiasm for this
picture, is not a prospect I'm savoring. But, as we
all know, neither Freddy nor Jason will truly die.
Well, at least not until the grosses go down. (Calvin McMillin,