Control Nathan Rabin: Freddy vs. Jason
For the latest Halloween entry in Control Nathan Rabin, the column where I give the living saints who pledge to this site’s Patreon page an opportunity to choose between which of two atrocious-looking films I must see, then write about, I gave readers a choice between two crossover movies pitting legendary monsters against each other: Alien vs. Predator and the docudrama Freddy vs. Jason. Y’all chose Freddy vs. Jason.
Why? Why? Why? What horrible crime did I commit in a past life to deserve this?
2003’s Ronny Yu-directed Freddy Versus Jason somewhat unwisely opens by establishing that Freddy Krueger, legendary boogeyman and cinematic terror, is so lame and pathetic and forgettable that nobody finds him scary anymore. And since he derives his malevolent power specifically from children’s fear, that renders him powerless.
To really drive home what a nebbishy little nobody, what a grade-A putz, what a complete loser this Freddy Krueger jerk-off is, the filmmakers even include a montage sequence of interchangeable teens conclusively and definitively destroying Freddy Krueger. Until the next sequel comes around, of course.
I’m not sure whether the movie is going for horror or pity with this revisionist depiction of Freddy as a sad has-been. As if that weren’t sad enough, during his opening orgy of narration and exposition/info dump, we see a pre-burnt Freddy Krueger lovingly adding pictures of his child victims into a scrapbook.
That’s right: not only is Freddy so non-frightening that no one’s scared of him, but he's also a dedicated scrapbooker. Has scrapbooking ever been scary?
In Freddy vs. Jason , Freddy Krueger is feeling very sad because he used to be King Shit of Fuck Mountain, fright-wise, but now no one finds him even moderately spooky. They've all forgotten him, and that makes him sad.
To put things in John Green terms, Freddy vs. Jason opens with Emo Freddy feeling all the feels. He’s totally bummed about losing his power so he ropes in a lumbering ox of a big, dead, dumb animal you might be familiar with named Jason Voorhees to do his dirty work and travel to his old haunting grounds over at Elm Street to help him get his old mojo back by spreading fear and paranoia through hacking motherfuckers in half with a giant-ass machete.
That’s right: before Freddy vs. Jason can live up to its title and pit Freddy against Jason, it’s first Jason—Brought to you by Freddy, which is the horror franchise equivalent of Coca-Cola sponsoring Pepsi: it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Aren’t these killers rivals? Why would they work together? Then again, “Super villain team” is totally a thing, so it’s not entirely unprecedented for evil villains with sharply contrasting agendas and ideologies to work together, as Donald Trump and Paul Ryan sometimes do.
But in order for Freddy vs. Jason to insult even the intelligence of undiscriminating horror buffs for the sorriest team-up this side of Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong, Freddy first needs to spend the first few minutes of the films straight-up reintroducing himself and everything that has happened to him over the course of the previous sixty-seven Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
This is no mere narration. No, Freddy looks at the camera on some Zack Morris Saved by the Bell freezing time cartoon sitcom bullshit. The filmmakers could not conceive of a way to bring these antithetical icons together that did not involve Freddy Krueger chatting away with the audiences for minutes at a time like they’re old pals catching up after years apart, yet that somehow did not keep the film from getting made.
In keeping with Freddy vs. Jason's unrelenting emphasis on how weak and feeble Freddy is, he can’t kill kids in their dreams, as he loves to do, because no one remembers him, and he needs to be remembered to come back. So Freddy pretends to be Jason’s mom and dispatches him to Elm Street to hack up some weed-smoking, liquor-swilling, casual-sex having boilerplate teen slasher bait degenerates.
The idea is that people will think it’s the work of Freddy Krueger, and then they’ll start saying his name out loud, and by doing so, bring him back. And also bring Candyman and Beetlejuice back, confusingly. It's a slippery slope.
I should probably note at this point that Freddy vs. Jason is somehow even stupider and more contrived than you would imagine a movie with that title and premise might be. For example, Freddy needs to be talked about a certain amount to get his powers back, which leads to multiple scenes where our old friend Freddy Krueger, once again getting his Zack Morris on, informs us at what power level he’s at, and what he needs to do to become more powerful and deadly.
Eventually Freddy gets his groove back and begins the tedious business of slaughtering children in their dreams through dime store Freudianism and dumb-ass surrealistic Grand Guignol. In one particularly moronic set-piece, a stoner comic relief character smokes out an evil snake monster who totally turns out to be Freddy Krueger!
In case you’re keeping track at home, that marks the second consecutive Control Nathan Rabin entry with a scene where a bumbling stoner smokes weed with an evil monster, after last week’s Peabody-winning Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood. You certainly can’t accuse me of not having a type with these torments.
Like the shark in Jaws, Freddy Krueger is scariest in small, concentrated doses. The more time he spends onscreen the less scary and more ridiculous he seems. Freddy Vs. Jason sure feels like a goddamn one man show, like Secret Honor, only instead of Nixon complaining that people don't respect him, whiny little baby Emo Freddy is crying about how no one thinks he's scary anymore.
At this point, Freddy is pretty much a figure of pure comedy. Watching him square off against Jason in an endless series of interchangeable skirmishes on dark, cavernous sets I thought less of Dracula and Frankenstein than Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam, with the endlessly quipping and sass-mouthed Freddy Krueger serving as its monstrous Bugs Bunny, and the lurching, towering but oafish Jason as a zombie-like Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam hybrid.
Freddy vs. Jason arrived at the very end of the post-modern horror boom kicked off by Scream and, like other examples of this curious breed, revels in its artifice. The characters are unashamedly stock horror movie archetypes in sets so clearly fake that it might as well have been filmed at Universal’s Horror Horror Nights.
Freddy Vs. Jason knows it’s a movie, and that the audience knows it’s a movie but unlike Scream, there’s nothing sly or satirical about it. It’s just as artificial and cognizant of its status as a piece of horror mythology as Cabin in the Woods but there’s no end game beyond using the lazy and ubiquitous cliches of the genre to give audiences what they think audiences want.
This ridiculous piece of product lives for the many scenes of Freddy fighting Jason. This is the bloody red meat fans crave, the money shots that give horror geeks what they’ve been dreaming about. I’m not sure that I ever devoted even a single solitary moment to thinking about what a battle between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees might look like, and as readers of my memoirs are well aware, I was both a very strange and a very unpopular child, but if I had, it would have looked about a million times better than the horse shit here.
Part of the problem comes from the mismatch: Englund was an average-sized man in his mid-50s when Freddy vs. Jason was filmed. The actor playing Jason was nine inches taller and much younger. He consequently throws full-grown adults around like rag dolls and seems to possess an Incredible Hulk level of strength, whereas Freddy Krueger is just a sassy insult comic with a homemade murder glove. It’s not really a fair fight. Or an interesting one.
The fights between Freddy versus Jason, which are the only reason for the film to exist, are so ineptly choreographed and cartoonish that I felt like I was watching a live-action version of the old MTV Claymation cartoon Celebrity Death Match.
Here’s my question: wouldn’t it have been a fun change of pace for Freddy and Jason to solve their conflict without resorting to violence? Maybe through arbitration or group therapy? How About Some Kind of Monster II: Freddy vs. Jason?
My brain would not allow me to care about any of these characters. Because whether Jason wins or Freddy wins, Donald Trump is still President, and the world is cruel and strange and we need to love each other and be kind to each other just to get through this never-ending madness and never-ending darkness.
What of the non-Freddy and Jason characters? The quick answer is that they’re all abysmal, just like Freddy and Jason, but none is as bad, or as embarrassing as lesser Destiny Child member Kelly Rowland as the film’s African-American character, who is introduced being asked to play “Fuck, Marry, Kill” with the Three Stooges. In case you’re wondering, she’d fuck Curly.
I like to imagine that Rowland was hanging around her agent’s office, thumbing through scripts when she asked him if he had anything where she’d do a solid minute of insult comedy to a visibly unimpressed Freddy Krueger before getting slashed in half with a machete by Jason Vorhees, and he grinned big and assured her, “Crazily enough, I’ve got just the project! They’ll be saying Boring-once Who? after they see your big star-making turn.”
Pretty much every character in Freddy Versus Jason is terrible. But Rowland comes on strong in her feverish quest to be the worst of the bunch when she climactically decides to deal with Freddy Krueger, the Don Rickles of mutilating sleeping teenagers (at one point he even refers to Jason as a “Hockey Puck”, one of Rickles' favored insults) by zinging the murderous roast master general right back.
I don't know what she's thinking: just from looking at him, you can tell that Freddy is pretty damn used to being roasted. He's used to burns of the literal, if not necessarily the comic variety.
With the crack comic timing you expect from one of the other members of Destiny’s Child, Rowland’s would-be cut up who’s actually about to be cut up starts off with some good old homophobia, taunting the supernaturally powerful mass murderer, “What kind of faggot runs around in a Christmas sweater?”
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Time out. I don’t care if you’re taunting a serial killer or not: you can’t just throw around hateful slurs like that. Yet, like her hero Don Rickles, the rules of decorum and propriety clearly don’t exist for this funny lady, this zinger-flinger. Next up on the agenda is another irreverent takedown of another classic part of his mythology and look, the razor claws. Taking the piss out of Freddy with Lisa Lampanelli-like panache, she next inquires impishly, “And let’s talk about the butter knives! What is up with the butter knives? You trying to compensate for something? Maybe coming up a little short there, between the legs, Mr. Krueger?”
Oh shit! She went there! Why stop going? I wish she'd continue, "And what is the deal with child murder? It’s like, this guy can’t get enough of killing kids, this other guy see child murder as the ultimate transgression. I mean, how wacky is that? This guy knows what I’m talking about! This guy knows what I’m talking about! This guy definitely knows what I’m talking about! Do we have college students in the audience? Anybody at a Bachelorette party? Where my strong, independent ladies at?"
Krueger is giving her a look all, “Hey, I’M the one with the outrageous one-liners! I mean, I’m all about killing, but I’m also about killing, if you get my drift! Like at the Shriner’s Club, bitch!” Rowland’s slasher-based insult comedy is so painful that I must admit I was a little relieved that Jason then hacked her in two with a huge blade. Like Jason and Freddy, her shtick was getting old very quickly. It’s one thing to murder a bunch of teens in their sleep. It’s another to make outrageous insults about what a dude may, or may not be packing, trouser salami-wise. When you cross a line like that the consequences are swift and severe, and generally involve being vivisected with a giant machete.
At that point, I suspect that Rowland was just happy to be put out of her misery. I know I would be.
Freddy Vs. Jason opens with an irritatingly chatty Freddy Krueger telling us that nobody finds him scary anymore, then devotes the next ninety-seven minutes to illustrating exactly why that is.
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