This article contains Jason X spoilers
Anyone watching a Friday the 13th movie today comes to the classic slasher franchise with more than a few expectations. They want to see Jason Voorhees, of course, complete with his hockey mask and machete. But they likely also want to see some intellectually-challenged teens (played by people in their late 20s and early 30s) get torn apart by a lumbering monster they could never hope to stop.
It may surprise some Friday neophytes to learn that as formulaic as the series may be, not every entry contains all of those expected elements. Not only is Jason not in Part I (save for a closing stinger) and Part V, but he doesn’t get the hockey mask until midway through Part III and isn’t an undead killing machine until Part VI. Simply put, the idea of Jason in the public consciousness is usually pretty different from the Jason on screen.
Those looking to get the whole experience in one film may choose the 2009 remake, but that movie tries to ground the story too much. No, if you want all the Jason goodness in a single outing, you’ll need to look to the stars. Jason X takes Mama Voorhees’s little boy far into the future aboard a deep space mission, but it carries with it all of the fundamentals of the Camp Crystal Lake where Jason lived and died and lived again.
Kills… In… Spaaaaace!
The second Jason movie after New Line Cinema bought the franchise rights from Paramount Pictures, Jason X continues the new studio’s approach of playing with the formula. But where its predecessor Jason Goes to Hell reinvented Jason as a body-hopping worm, X added only one twist to the structure: send Jason to space.
Jason X opens in 2008 when government scientists have captured Jason and are studying his regenerative properties. But when Dr. Aloysius Wimmer (the great David Cronenberg) tries to hijack the study and refocus it on military technologies, Jason gets free, slaughtering all present until Rowan (Lexa Doig) sacrifices herself to lure Jason into a cryogenic chamber. The pair remain frozen for 445 years when they’re found by future teens on a field trip. On their ship The Grendel, the teens defrost Rowan and Jason, allowing the latter to begin his rampage anew.
Look, let’s get this out of the way. Jason X is incredibly cheesy. It features all the hallmarks of early-2000s future stories, including a hot robot lady (Lisa Ryder as Kay-Em 14), clothing made of mesh and leather, and guys who call themselves “Azreal.” Moreover, it has a completely overstuffed cast, filled mostly with people who show up for a couple of minutes to crack jokes and then get killed.
But that’s hardly unusual for a Friday movie. With some notable exceptions, such as Ginny from Part II and Tommy Jarvis from Parts IV-VI, the overwhelming majority of victims are one-note teens, played very broadly. The obvious swipes from other franchises are also deep in the Friday the 13th DNA, as the franchise has its origins in producer Sean S. Cunningham wanted to replicate the success of Halloween, complete with a Carrie rip-off at the end. Even the self-aware humor of Jason X has roots in the franchise, as Part VI made metatextual jokes back in 1986, a full decade before Scream.
The Mythological Monster
When you look at Jason, it’s not first clear why the character resonated with viewers. He doesn’t have the freshness of Michael Myers, the attitude of Freddy Krueger, or Chucky’s love of mayhem. He’s just a big lug in a hockey mask who likes to kill teenagers.
But that’s the appeal of Jason. More than the others, Jason Voorhees feels like he sprung to life from a campfire ghost story, a manifestation of kids’ fears when far from home. The character is riddled with inconsistencies – Why did Pamela think he drowned? Why did Jason just watch as Alice killed his mother? Does he hate water? Does he love water? Can he teleport?
While the 2009 remake tries to answer these questions with a streamlined narrative that introduces things like underground tunnels to explain his ability to cover ground, doing so erases the core appeal of Jason. He doesn’t need reasons because he’s a myth. Jason feels less like the creation of craven Hollywood producers and more like a boogeyman conjured by 11-year-olds trying to freak each other out.
By setting the movie in (the then-future of) 2008 and 2453, Jason X leans into the legend of Jason. When Rowan and Dr. Wimmer describe him, they’re talking about more than the guy we’ve seen on screen. They refer to the Jason of our nightmares, the larger-than-life monster who does not hold to rules. That’s only truer of the movie’s climax, in which (as the tagline puts it) evil gets an upgrade, and nano-bots reconstitute Jason into a futuristic slasher. Sure, he looks ridiculous, but he also looks exactly like what an 11-year-old would draw if you told them to imagine a space slasher.
Twenty-Fifth Century Carnage
All this high-minded blather aside, there’s really only one reason to watch a Friday movie: the kills. Thanks to its overstuffed cast, Jason X sends plenty of bodies to hit the floor. People get impaled and defenestrated, cut in half and pushed through space vents. While the digital effects of a late-90s movie can’t compare with the great Tom Savini effects of Part I and Part IV, they still largely work here, thanks in part to the excellent performances.
Even better, the film has two of the all-time best in the Friday franchise. The first occurs fairly early in the movie when Jason awakens aboard The Grendel. He grabs the student examining him by the back of the head and submerges her face in liquid nitrogen. The camera holds below the surface and we watch as the look of terror literally freezes on her face. Jason pulls her back up, but only to smash the icy visage on the table, lifting the body back up again to reveal gooey red gore.
The second occurs toward the end of the movie when the survivors try to trick Jason by using a futuristic version of Ginny’s gambit from Part II. Using their Star Trek-like Holodeck, the survivors conjure a virtual Camp Crystal Lake, complete with two teens who invite Jason to join them in his least favorite vices, including smoking pot and premarital sex. The camera cuts away, but when we return, we see Jason slamming one girl-stuffed sleeping bag into another, a heightened version of his kill from Part VII.
It’s this second kill that makes Jason X the ideal movie to rewatch. It pays respects to the mythology established by the previous nine films but also recognizes the movie’s inherently craven roots. It pushes the franchise to new territory, without ever abandoning core principles. Most importantly, it never forgets that these movies are about a big guy in a mask slaughtering teens in the most entertaining manner possible.
If you only have time to watch one Friday movie this Friday the 13th, Jason X will guarantee the bloody good time that you want from the franchise.