This review contains SPOILERS. Sp…sp…sp…oil…oil…oil…
Jason X is the final chapter in the unofficial “Jason Goes to…” trilogy. He’d previously “taken” Manhattan in the most anticlimactic fashion possible; he was then sent to hell in the series entry that inaugurated New Line’s association with the franchise – and failed to satisfy both die-hard slasher enthusiasts and casual moviegoers.
Fortunately, Jason X has a much more pleasing and consistent tone, starting with its concept – yes, we’re sending Jason Voorhees into outer space – and continuing with its title, which goofily eschews even using the name of the franchise to which it belongs. The film is generally a good time, often quite slapstick in its approach to violence, appropriately gimmicky and rarely boring. I’d equate it to a low-rent variation on many of the ideas that powered Alien: Resurrection: it holds a strange place in its franchise, one that seems unsustainably irreverent, fundamentally at odds with its predecessors and charts a very uncertain course forward. It also occupies a position between low camp and high fanservice.
Franchises now gamely pander to the demands of superfans, which might obscure just how odd the “Jason in space” notion was in 2001: the meager joys of the series had, until that time, been stubbornly grounded in the meat-and-potatoes of titillation and creative slaughter, and social media hadn’t yet filled the ether with hectoring, unsolicited opinions. With that in mind, one has to give Sean Cunningham and the folks at New Line credit – their willingness to launch a semi-valuable property into the realm of the gonzo speaks well for the state of whimsy at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Maybe they were just bored.
The film opens on a CGI hellscape representing the innards of Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) as his long-suffering body is poked and prodded on yet another autopsy table. The diligent professionals of Crystal Lake Research Facility (north of the archery range, next to the outhouse) are preparing for a visit from David Cronenberg, whose appearance is the first clue that this film was made in Toronto. Our man Jason, for all of the chains trussing him up, looks a damn sight less desiccated than he has since, oh, 1984’s The Final Chapter at least: he’s got visible ears, the skin around his eyes is flesh-colored, and even his goalie visage seems to have been restored. It is a bit weird for a viewer to be able to recognize the very human Mr. Hodder* beneath the hockey mask (three films ago he was skeleton-faced pile of walking sludge), and at first blush one might chalk this up to the series’ questionable continuity. Fortunately, a few lines of dialogue assuage this concern: Jason’s value to the facility lies in his ability to physically regenerate himself. So there.
And why not? A mass murderer with supernatural unkillableness wants to look his best before entering cryogenic stasis, let alone entertaining a visit from body horror royalty in the form of Mr. Cronenberg, who might not get a great deal of screentime before being impaled, but he makes it count – witness lines such as, “I’m taking the specimen,” and “I don’t want him frozen; I want him soft.”
The transfer doesn’t go well. In other films of this ilk, the botched transfer is a time-honored tradition – a necessary catalyst for various carnage; here it’s little more than an expository prelude. After a minor skirmish that kills the research team and activates the cryo process, we find ourselves in the year 2455, and some sort of salvage unit is investigating the facility’s ruins. (This is the first of several distractingly emphatic nods to Aliens – moments later, the team leader actually says, “Prepare for dust-off; we’re going to need immediate evac.”)
Frozen Jason’s mask causes some puzzlement among the team, with one of them noting that hockey was outlawed in 2024. Another manages to get his own arm cut off simply by jostling Jason’s frozen corpse, posed as he is in “imminent hack” mode, like some sort of life-sized action figure. But there are no real consequences to any of this: nanotechnology allows the arm to be reattached, Jason and his similarly frozen, final would-be victim are to be reanimated after take-off, and the ship’s crew members speak and act very much like the stupid, horny teens we remember from the twentieth century. (One of the more interesting aspects of Jason X is the way it completely glosses over the fact that the planet is no longer habitable. I guess the year 2455 is distant enough that the issue doesn’t hang in the air.)
The ship seems to only have a crew of about a dozen, which is all the more surprising given how useless so many of them are. Professor Lowe (Jonathan Potts) is exhibit A, seeing in Jason an opportunity for untold fortune given his enduring reputation as a killing machine. The good professor then engages in an S&M tryst with one of his students, who twists his nipples until he cries out, “You pass!” Nipples are likewise on the mind of android Kay-Em 14 (Lisa Ryder) who is being outfitted with artificial ones that won’t stay on. “But Janessa has them!” she complains indignantly. These are not important plot points, but they serve to illustrate the kind of bizarre future that writer Todd Farmer and director Jim Isaac are striving to create, something like a porn parody of Star Trek: The Next Generation with decapitations.
To wit, the shagging of two lab workers awakens Jason, who (as we know by now) has some sort of psychotic and preternatural extrasensory sexual perception that never fails to send him into a towering rage. Fortunately, the immediate consequence of this is one of the most deliriously inventive screen murders of all time, and frankly, one of three or four tangible reasons to watch the movie at all: Jason dunks the hot scientist Adrienne (Kristi Angus) into a vat of supercool liquid nitro stuff; her face seems to freeze in a head-on, underwater shot; she’s pulled from the vat and her head is smashed into a million bloody shards. Not being played by Robert Patrick, she ain’t getting up.
Jason then interrupts a VR gaming session, slicing up the avatars of arm-boy and his buddy, who are only slightly disconcerted by the killer’s appearance on the…let’s just call it a holodeck. “I thought this was an alien simulator,” one muses with unwinking irony. “Pause play,” the other commands. Jason shows traces of irritation at having to dispatch arm-boy yet again, breaking the lad’s spine over his knee. (Hodder always brought a real feeling of exasperation, a weary sense of “we’re doing this again?” to his Jason performances – a lumbering, walk-don’t-run inevitability.) About this time a security team is dispatched, the Professor murmurs, “Everything is under control,” and we’re firmly in ersatz-Aliens territory.
This is certainly the weakest section of the film. The transposed genre clichés run rampant (“Let’s waste this fucker”; “Get them out of there”; and “We’ll be safe here” all make appearances) and the “bright dark” lighting, underwhelming production values and very digital-looking photography eliminate any possibility of atmosphere. The characters are also onion-skin thin, so much so that the first film’s Jack, Marcie, Ned, Alice, Annie et al have the relative nuance of something out of John Cheever. No-nonsense security chief Brodski (Peter Mensah, effectively playing this film’s Apone) does have a nice little moment upon being stabbed: “You’ll have to do better than that!” he snarls, whereupon Jason stabs him again, a little to the left. “That should do it,” he notes without rancor.
Things pick up when Professor Lowe tries to make a deal with Jason. I’ve always loved scenes like this, with hapless dudes trying to reason with a literal manifestation of death (see also: Chad Everett in The Simpsons’ Grasshopperus; the “help yourself, fucker” guy from Freddy’s Revenge). Here, Lowe is positively ecstatic to discover the supposed source of Jason’s animosity: “Guys! It’s okay: he just wanted his machete back!”
While Lowe is being dismembered, android Kay-Em gets some sort of badass upgrade, showing up in leather and wielding two blasters, which she uses to blow Jason apart. For reasons I won’t attempt to decipher or explain, the nanobots then decide to reconstitute Jason’s physical body. Upon completion, Uber-Jason looks like an end-of-level Sith boss from some Star Wars PC game, and seems even more indestructible than the fleshy variation. He punches Kay-Em’s head clean off (that’s bad) but said head retains the ability to voice the occasional “cheeky TV android” witticism (that’s good).
Anyway, a rescue ship arrives, a healed Brodski tries to manually solve the requisite “hatch problem” so that the others can escape, and we come to the real prize of Jason X: a VR simulation of Crystal Lake circa 1980.
Uber-Jason is led into the game room where he finds a pair of nubile young holograms who strip down and entreat him to smoke a joint or engage in some premarital sex. “We love premarital sex!” they exclaim in unison. For his part, Jason digs deep into his greatest hits and reprises part 7’s “sleeping bag kill”. This scene lasts little more than a couple of minutes, but the self-awareness on display can’t help but generate goodwill. It’s the scene people tend to mention when discussing the film – give or take a frozen face or a Cronenberg – and almost singlehandedly makes the entire venture worthwhile. It’s also useful as an index of just how far down the rabbit hole the Friday the 13th movies have managed to go: Jason is now a cyborg, and his victims are simulations.
As someone who grew up watching these movies, I tend to think of Jason X as a sort of wacky hors d’oeuvre to the main course that is Freddy vs. Jason. Two years later that film would come to fruition, and a hundred thousand heated schoolyard arguments would ostensibly be settled. But the conceptual appeal of Jason X is hard to deny, even if budgetary limitations and a tendency to lean heavily on sci-fi/action clichés results in little more than a passably entertaining ninety minutes.
Still: Jason in space!
* Like many young genre fans, I had the pleasure of meeting Kane Hodder at a horror convention in Toronto. He gamely answered my utterly vacuous questions about series entries in which he didn’t star, and was generally a class act. Jason X would be his final turn as Jason.