At the end of 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, horror fans saw the sight of Friday the 13th slasher Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask lying in the dirt, after its wearer had been vanquished. It seemed as though the story of this villain had finally come to the end. At least until A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger’s blade-gloved hand popped out of the dirt and dragged the mask to Hell.
The scene seemed to tease an oncoming battle between Krueger and Voorhees, which fans had wanted. Horror geeks had debated who would win in such a fight, but for a very long time, it seemed like it would only exist in people’s fantasies and never in an actual movie. Until, of course, Ronny Yu’s Freddy vs. Jason came to fruition.
The slasher team up was released in the summer of 2003 and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. At the time, I remember horror fans in my circles being quite pleased with the film. But how has it aged since then? Before we get into that, though, let’s review the plot. (And yes, unlike what some cynics might think, there was an actual plot.)
To be fair, though, the plot of Freddy vs. Jason is rather nifty. The film begins with Freddy (Robert Englund) himself addressing the audience and even breaking the fourth wall to explain his current plight. After terrifying and murdering the children of Springwood for years, the adults finally managed to make the teens forget him and stop fearing him.
But this lack of fear has drained the murderous Krueger of his power, making him unable to enter their dreams. Eager to get back in action, Freddy explains that he searched “the bowels of Hell” for hockey-masked slasher Jason (Ken Kirizinger). After disguising himself as Jason’s mother, Freddy convinces Jason that the children of Elm Street need to be punished.
This gives Jason the drive to rise from the dead, head to Springfield, and start taking lives. This campaign of mayhem, Freddy explains, will make people think that he is back and start making the teens afraid of him again, so he can start going back into their dreams. It’s a plan that works great for Freddy — until it doesn’t.
When it appears Jason is “stealing” his victims, it leads to a struggle for power between the two that takes them all the way from Springwood to Jason’s stalking grounds of Camp Crystal Lake. And in the center of it all is troubled teen Lori (Monica Keena), who lives in the infamous Elm Street home of the previous Nightmare movies. Together with her friends, they try to survive and pit the monsters against each other.
These days, options on Freddy vs. Jason seem to vary. You either buy into its silly fun or you just don’t. Personally, I think it’s a hell of a good time, succeeding as a traditional slasher movie in the post-Scream era, when movies like these had become incredibly self-referential. By this time, even long-running franchises had become more started planting their tongue firmly in their cheek, with Bride of Chucky (which Yu directed) in the Child’s Play series and Jason X in the Friday the 13th series.
Although there is a lot of humor in Freddy vs. Jason, the laughs feel more like the kind you would find in a Nightmare or Friday film from the 1980s. Freddy vs. Jason also feels like it’s happily embracing the over-the-top nature of the material and just having fun, without any sense of irony whatsoever.
Thankfully, a lot of it still works 20 years later including Jason’s attack on a rave in a cornfield, a hilarious moment where Freddy disguises himself as a caterpillar with a hookah to get the drop on a Jason Mewes-esque stoner, and Lori’s nightmarish visit to Camp Crystal Lake where she encounters young Jason and counselor Freddy!
Freddy vs. Jason also avoids the big mistake that many monster team-up movies make: they barely give us any time with their monsters together on screen. Instead, Yu and writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift seemed to know exactly what horror fans wanted to see: these two having plenty of scenes together, including their final battle to the death in the film’s blood-drenched, limb-ripping finale at Camp Crystal Lake.
Performance-wise, the acting in Freddy vs. Jason is mostly decent, but overall, this is Englund’s show. Constantly, he proved himself to be the MVP of the Nightmare films — as well as other genre pictures he appeared in — and Freddy vs. Jason is no different. The film marked his final cinematic appearance as Freddy, and he definitely made the most of it. Englund makes the slasher darkly hilarious and as slimier than ever.
Many were understandably upset at Freddy vs. Jason for not bringing back Kane Hodder as Jason, but I think Kirzinger did well under the circumstances. He played the silent Jason effectively, as he executed his blunt and brutal kills.
Of course, there are flaws in Freddy vs. Jason, including a infamously homophobic line of dialogue that its writers denied having anything to do with and even asked for it to be removed. The film also unsuccessfully tries to work in a new Achilles’ heel for Jason by making him afraid of water, which would work if we hadn’t seen him in the water in so many Friday the 13th entries.
But overall, the movie fantastically succeeds at its main goal: to just be pure fun. Although Freddy vs. Jason was a box office hit, it was sadly not followed by a rematch. There were others that have since paired monsters against each other, including the Alien vs. Predator films, Sadako vs. Kayako, and even Lake Placid vs. Anaconda, which featured Englund!
However, none could match the pure fun and entertainment value Freddy vs. Jason delivers. It’s been too long since either Freddy or Jason made their way in a new entry. If you’re looking to see them again — as well as scratch the itch of watching two monsters fight it out — I highly recommend revisiting it. It’s a bloody good time.