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FREDDY VS. JASON

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger, Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, Christopher George Marquette, Lochlyn Monro
Director:  Ronny Yu
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Pan & Scan 1.33:1
Studio:  New Line Cinema
Features:  See Review
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  January 13, 2004

“You kids need some assistance?”

“WHAT THE F—K DO YOU THINK?!?”

Film ***1/2 (on the cult and cheese scales)

Once upon a time in the 80s a new horror film icon was born.  Evil, relentless, and unstoppable, he stalked teens with a vicious reign of terror in sequel after sequel, until finally, as with many franchises, he buckled under the weight of his own fame, evolving from a scare giant into just another self-parody as the films got less and less interesting.

Am I talking about Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street?  Or Jason Voorhies from Friday the 13th?  Take your pick.  Both were unique and imaginative serial killers that kept the red flowing on the screen and the green flowing at the box office for better than a decade.  Both helped to revitalize horror in the 80s, but as time passed, both became examples of why horror goes back to being dormant from time to time.  Their fans loved them, but there comes a time in every teen killer’s career where he just has to accept that his magic had dried up and that his movies had gotten very, very bad.  The only thing left for the pair to do was maybe duke it out with one another.

That’s a film that fans have been clamoring for over the past couple of decades.  Like the other great clashes of silver screen icons King Kong vs. Godzilla, Alien vs. Predator…heck, even Kramer vs. Kramer…it seemed like a title fight for the ages.  Some nightmares gleefully come true, though, and at long last, Freddy vs. Jason became a reality.

All that was really needed to make it a reality was two things:  one, the participation of Robert Englund as Freddy; no one had ever played the role but him, and frankly, no one could.  And two, a story…even a bare bones one…to bring these two colossal killers face to face.

In the years that have passed since Freddy’s last appearance on the screen, something terrible happened to him:  he became forgotten.  The master of dreams got his power from kids’ fears, but now that no one speaks his name, he has lost that power.  In order to get back into the business, he has to remind the kids of Elm Street that Freddy is still alive and deadly as ever.

His plan?  Go to Jason Voorhies (Kirzinger), the legendary goalie wannabe from Crystal Lake, and bring him to Elm Street.  As Jason begins his latest killing spree, the gruesomeness of his mayhem gets the town to begin whispering Krueger’s name again…just what Freddy needs to come back!

Freddy’s power begins to grow, and soon the Elm Street kids are having bad dreams again.  But Freddy also has a problem:  Jason.  The hockey mask wearing villain won’t go away; meaning that not only are the Elm Street kids in danger whether awake or asleep, but that Freddy’s sleeping prey keeps getting snatched away from him in their waking state by Jason!

The town ain’t big enough for two immortal teen predators, so that leaves only one option:  Monster’s Brawl.  Freddy and Jason are going to have a showdown to the finish.  For the kids trapped between them, their only hope is that their epic battle won’t leave a survivor!

I may have to turn in my movie critic’s card over this film, but I can’t help it…I loved it.  I loved it from beginning to end.  I’ve rarely had such a good time at the movies, where I loudly shrieked, laughed, and applauded constantly.  Being a long time horror fan, I realize that this picture is no Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby, but who cares?  It was everything I wanted and THEN some from the long awaited clash of the terror titans.

Ronny Yu, who made The Bride With White Hair movies in Hong Kong as well as one of the “Chucky” sequels (Freddy vs. Jason vs. Chucky, anyone?) delivered a non-stop, unapologetic over the top festival of action, gore, and cheese.  The blood flows in gallons, but you may be laughing and cheering too hard to feel the sting.  Yu takes his characters and story and builds them, builds them, and builds them toward an electrifying finale where one amazing bit is constantly topped by the next.  This picture runs more on adrenaline than brainpower, but that’s how it should be.

As in most of these pictures, the kids (read: victims) aren’t all that interesting.  They get to run around, scream, die in increasingly graphic scenes, and spout off cheesy dialogue.  That being said, Monica Keena gets my vote for loveliest damsel in distress in recent memory (narrowly edging out Jessica Biel in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  But they all do pretty good for what their role is worth, which is largely trying to pit Freddy and Jason one another by either getting Jason into Freddy’s realm or Freddy into Jason’s.

The main attraction are the super-villains, of course, and as mentioned, without Robert Englund, there would be no movie in my book.  He brings the quipping, dastardly charming Freddy to inimitable life on the screen, and come to think of it, the strong silent type Jason makes for a perfect companion:  one is always blabbering, the other says nothing.  Ken Kirzinger is the latest to go through the revolving door of actors playing Jason; but he brings a great height advantage to the part, as well as his experience as a top stuntman.  When these guys go at it, anything goes.

I’d watch this movie over and over, any time of day or night.  Sorry if that makes me a less than stellar critic, but hey, it may be high time to remove some of the pomposity from the art of film criticism anyway.  Besides, wouldn’t my appreciation for a film like Freddy vs. Jason make me a more fun guy to sit next to in a theatre than Roger Ebert?

What’s that you say?  I forgot to tell you who wins in the movie?  Well, if you think I’m going to divulge that, you MUST be dreaming.  ;-)

BONUS TRIVIA:  Ken Kirzinger also appeared in the film Jason Takes Manhattan.  But not in the title role…he had a small part as a cook while also serving as the film’s stunt coordinator!

Video ****

Not every special edition moniker guarantees quality, but New Line’s Platinum Series is about as sure a bet as they come.  This is one knockout anamorphic transfer, with plenty of action, lots of color, extreme lighting schemes and more.  Images always look sharp, clean and cool, whether they’re in full sunlight or darkness.  Nothing seems compromised, and detail level is remarkable in shot after shot.  Highest marks.  (A pan & scan version is also included, but skip it.)

Audio **** 

The Dolby Digital EX track is incredible, with wide open stages both front and back.  Sound is crucial in horror, and here, not a tic is wasted.  The action keeps all channels going strong, while the .1 channel adds resonance to Freddy’s voice and gives some of the music extra kick.  Dialogue is clean and clear, and the dynamic range is room-shakingly strong.  This is a total digital immersion experience…awesome!!

Features ****

Platinum Series = incredible features; that’s DVD 101.  This two disc set is loaded, starting with a terrific commentary track on Disc One featuring director Ronny Yu and stars Robert Englund and Ken Kirzinger.  How fun is it to listen to a pair of legendary screen demons watching their latest opus with you?  There is also a “jump to a death” menu option, for those of you who just can’t wait to get it going!

Disc Two contains a total of 18 deleted or alternate scenes, including an alternate opening and ending, plus five production featurettes showing how the idea came into fruition, plus ones on the writing, the art direction, the stunts and make-up.  There is an original trailer and several TV spots, an amusing “press conference” hailing the match-up as though it were a prize fight, a music video, a two part Fangoria magazine article, and some DVD ROM extras.

Summary:

Freddy vs. Jason is not only a riot of a horror fest, but also the first great DVD of 2004.  Unabashedly recommended.