It's fun. That's the word. It's rollicking good-humoured fun with energy to spare and obvious affection for its source material. That's what I used to think of this film, but this time I liked it even better.
My problem had been that the last time I watched this, I'd never seen a Friday the 13th movie before. This hadn't helped. Freddy Krueger's a great character, but with Jason there's hardly anything to him in the first place. He's a mindless lump who kills people. Nevertheless this time I found myself enjoying his appearances and in particular having a whale of a time with the Jason vs. Freddy battles, despite the fact that I'd previously found those battles a bit boring. He's indestructible, yes, but there's more to it than that. Jason's not just hard to kill, but he's got the brains of an over-boiled cabbage and has been taken down by twelve-year-olds. Yes, it's everyone's favourite poster boy for Deformed Inbred Retards in the Community! I was laughing myself silly as Freddy let rip on him. These showdowns are awesome. "Let me handle this, bitch." Oooooooooh, yes.
All things considered, it's a pretty fair fight. Jason can take more damage than a small planetoid, but Freddy is clever and can manipulate reality and control people's minds. Even the ending of this film isn't as clear-cut as it looks, except that we know that this turned out to be Robert Englund's last outing as Freddy, whereas we'd already seen a far-future Jason in space in Jason X.
By Nightmare on Elm Street standards, this is merely an arse-kicking fun flick that also understands the mythology and cares about what made the series work. It's not my favourite of the series, but I realise that not everyone's going to love the slower, more thoughtful ones with themes and subtext. However by Friday the 13th standards, it's from another planet. You mean... movies can have a PLOT? And CHARACTERS? And, yes, STORYTELLING? There is nothing in the rest of that franchise that even comes close to what we have here. It's a proper movie made by people who know what they're doing. Argument closed. I'm not going to throw stones at anyone who loves Part IV for being the good one, Part VI for its comedy or Part IX because they've never seen The Hidden, but I'm afraid it's simply against the law to call those well-rounded films.
It doesn't feel much like a Jason flick, mind you. Producer Robert Shaye was pushing it more towards being another Nightmare on Elm Street and they ended up losing quite a bit of Jason/Crystal Lake stuff from the script. Needless to say, this is a good thing. With all due respect to Jason (i.e. none), Freddy's personality and mythology is more interesting. Freddy's the guy in control here. He's the man with the plan and he's the one who resurrects Jason to come to his town, not the other way around. Jason gets most of the kills, but only occasionally did I actually think this felt like a Jason film rather than a Freddy film that happened to have some big lunk wandering around in it. Curiously enough, he's best when he's getting the shit kicked out of him. I loved seeing him get set on fire in the cornfield and then later get shredded by Freddy, since it's kinda cool to see him not even apparently noticing these minor inconveniences and getting busy with his machete anyway. The more damage he sustains, the more impressive he becomes.
I might even suggest that he has more iconic scenes here than in most of his regular films. His first kill is nice and brutal, especially the bed-folding, but his cornfield rampage feels particularly Jason-y. You wouldn't get that from Michael Myers.
To be honest, I can't think of anything I thought this film got wrong. It has blood! Rather a lot of it, in fact. It has nudity! Mind you, that first girl has the most plastic-looking pair I've ever seen and Ginger Snaps fans can cool down since that was a body double. Katherine Isabelle fell out with Ronny Yu because he hadn't mentioned her nude scenes and she refused to do them. It has an evil Alice in Wonderland caterpillar for the "Jay & Silent Bob" stoner dude! It even has characters, whom I liked a lot and enjoyed watching despite the movie's obvious "let's kill in order of moral probity" attitude to them. The first victim in particular is one serious dickhead. I suppose maybe we lose points for too many CGI morphs and for not being scary, but this film was always going to be fun rather than actual horror. It's King Kong vs. Godzilla, for crying out loud.
There's also plenty of backstory for both monsters. We meet Jason's mum and see a flashback of him drowning as a child, while Freddy's past as a child killer hasn't been forgotten. The iconography is strong, with Freddy looking better and meaner than he had in quite a while, while I found myself getting almost nostalgic about his dream sequences. They're comparatively low-key, nowhere near the more deranged flights of Elm Street surrealism, but they're also old-school in a way I hadn't realised I'd been missing. If you're watching this at the end of a Nightmare on Elm Street marathon, you might even feel they've almost overplayed their homages. Meanwhile the identification of Freddy and Jason with the elements of fire and water is pleasingly neat and Jason's fear of water makes more sense than it looks because he's in Freddy's nightmare realm at the time.
To put this film in perspective, consider the Aliens vs. Predator movies. In contrast, this movie feels like the work of people who genuinely like the original films and want to build on them. Ronny Yu also directed Bride of Chucky, another sequel to a 1980s slasher franchise that's turning it into a comedy and yet never losing respect for the material. I think that's probably the better film, but this one had to cope with far higher expectations and it's still pretty good. I laughed out loud at Pinball Jason, for instance. It's like Tom and Jerry. Hurting the big guy's just funny. If you look at the expectations everyone must have had of those two movies and compare them with how they turned out, there's a pretty good case to be made that Ronny Yu's one of the biggest successes Hollywood's had in bringing over a Hong Kong director.
They'd been trying to make this film for nearly two decades, by the way. Freddy was going to be in Friday the 13th Part VII (1987), then it was promised at the end of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). Ten years later and not before Jason X, it finally happened. Footnote: I just realised that Part IX is the only Jason film they made in the 1990s! Compare that with eight in the eighties and three in the 2000s...