Once again: It was supposed to be Freddy vs. Jason. Once again: It wasn’t. The last Friday the 13th movie, Jason Goes to Hell, had ended with a clear setup for a long-teased crossover horror movie: Freddy Krueger, the ghoulish villain from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, using his spiked glove to drag Jason’s hockey mask down to hell with him.
But Jason Goes to Hell’s twist ending had been planned before anyone had figured out what would actually happen in a Friday the 13th/Nightmare on Elm Street crossover, and since the movie had been released, more than a dozen screenwriters had tried and failed to crack it. With a ticking clock and interest in the Friday the 13th franchise steadily waning, producer Sean Cunningham decided to put out another standalone movie as a kind of stopgap—something to remind horror junkies that Jason Vorhees still had plenty of life left in him.
There was just one problem: If it wasn’t going to be that buzzy Nightmare on Elm Street crossover, what was the next Friday the 13th going to be about? In a version of the same process that led to Jason vs. A Psychic Teenager and Jason Takes Manhattan (But Not Really), the premise for the next Friday the 13th movie, Jason X was handpicked from a long list of pitches designed to make the franchise feel fresh again. Nothing was off the table. "We kicked around different scenarios. Jason in the hood, Jason in the snow, Jason underwater," recalled producer Noel Cunningham in the Friday the 13th series retrospective, Crystal Lake Memories. "We had him fighting gangs in L.A., in the arctic, on safari, in space, the NASCAR circuit—everything. We didn’t want to shut anything down."
But as much as I’d personally love to see Jason Takes the Daytona 500, Jason in Space was always the answer that made the most sense. For one thing, the sci-fi/horror thing had already been tested by several other aging franchises trying to squeeze every last dollar out of an increasingly indifferent audience, including Leprechaun and Hellraiser. Best of all, a Friday the 13th set in the distant future would allow a clever screenwriter to come up with for a series of horrific, technology-based kills that could never have appeared in one of the previous movies, which were all set in the present-day.
And so Jason X—a bizarre, one-off sequel mostly set in the year 2455—was born. Like Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason X was sold on an ambitious concept that the filmmakers earnestly intended to exploit to the fullest—only to have their dreams dashed when they realized they had no time and no budget to do any of it. Jason X is loaded with the dodgiest low-budget CGI you could buy in 2002, and you can feel the filmmakers straining to realize even the most modest of their grander ambitions.
Like all Friday the 13th movies, Jason X is a fascinating, unintentional time capsule of the year in which it was made. How 2002 is Jason X? Just take a look at the trailer, which heavily features Drowning Pool’s inescapable nü-metal hit "Bodies":
Yeah. That’s the good stuff.
The story of Jason X begins in the year 2010, when a greedy scientist —played, of all people, by legendary horror director David Cronenberg—leads a team who wants to study how the recently captured Jason manages to come back to life over and over again. A fellow researcher with the unlikely name Rowan LaFontaine (Lexa Doig) objects. When Jason inevitably gets free and murders everybody, Rowan manages to trick him into stumbling into a cryogenic container, and they both end up getting frozen.
Smash cut to the year 2455. The Earth is an inhospitable wasteland due to the effects of pollution and climate change—topical!—and a group of college kids on a field trip have touched down on the ruined planet’s surface to see what they can find. They unfreeze Rowan, who warns them that they should take Jason’s frozen body to the nearest airlock and blast it off into space immediately. Everyone ignores her, because people are just as dumb in 2455 as they are today.
And so the killing begins again. To borrow a quote from a movie that made a little more money than Jason X, Jason Vorhees is inevitable. Even before he gets unfrozen, his bloodlust is insatiable; his whole limp body, literally frozen in place with his machete raised, still manages to tumble over and lop off a dude’s arm. And once Jason is unfrozen, he doesn’t react the way I suspect basically anybody else would react if they suddenly woke up, hundreds of years into the future, on a spaceship: Whoa! I’m on a spaceship!
Not Jason. His first priority is getting his machete back. His second priority is killing everybody with his machete. Jason X takes Jason’s single-mindedness to a surreal, almost hilarious extreme, implying that there is literally no time or place in the universe where Jason wouldn’t just wake up, shrug, and start slicing up any horny teenagers he could find.
And because horny teenagers are just as predictable as Jason Vorhees, he finds plenty of unwitting targets in the future too. But even as they’re dying off, most of the Jason X cast gets the chance to be at least slightly more memorable than your average group of Friday the 13th victims. The crop this time around include a badass space marine named Sergeant Brodski, a smarmy professor with a fetish for getting his nipples clamped, and a couple of working-class dudes who blow off steam by sniping monsters in a VR video game—unaware, of course, that Jason is the real deal when he stomps in with his machete.
Best and weirdest of all is KM-14, an extremely lifelike cyborg having a torrid love affair with her creator, a nerdy student named Tsunaron. Early in the movie, Tsunaron experiments with adding mechanical nipples to KM-14’s robot breasts. After they both make it through the first round of Jason’s one-man assault on the ship, they impulsively start making out, and KM-14 discovers a new reason to survive. Tsunaron eventually upgrades her programming to make her a gun-toting, karate-kicking killing machine. While Jason ultimately comes out on top, KM-14’s mechanical head survives the brawl intact; at the end of the movie, once Jason has been defeated, Tsunaron cradles her still-functional head in his lap, vowing to build her a new cyborg body as soon as he can.
In case it wasn’t clear enough from the paragraph above: This subplot is extremely weird, and kinky in a way that Friday the 13’s sexual shenanigans have rarely matched. But it’s also kind of… touching? There’s a lot of sex in Friday the 13th, but there’s not a lot of love, and it’s fascinating to watch Jason X even attempt to give two supporting characters a relationship that goes beyond flirt/hook up/die. By the time the credits roll, I’m rooting for those crazy kids.
None of this is to say Jason X skimps on what the Friday the 13th franchise is actually known for: Crazy, bloody murders. You can practically picture screenwriter Todd Farmer making a big list titled “Weird Ways to Die in Space.” There’s a dude who gets impaled on a giant spinning drill, a woman who gets shredded and sucked out of an airlock, and—in the movie’s most horrifying and celebrated kill—a woman who gets her face shoved into a vat of freezing liquid nitrogen, then smashed into little fleshy ice chunks on a desk. (They eventually tested that one on Mythbusters. For the record: Wouldn’t happen in real life.)
Jason X is packed with weird, loving little details. When the unfrozen Rowan says using a gun is "like riding a bike," the future teenagers are puzzled: "What’s a bike?" A grizzled veteran makes a vague reference to a battle he fought in something called the Microsoft Conflict, which got so brutal the soldiers ended up beating each other with their own severed limbs. Another space marine makes sure one of his fellow soldiers is carrying a BFG—a winking reference to the gun of the same name from the video game Doom.
But Jason X saves the biggest easter egg for Friday the 13th fans for the climax of the movie. Using her previous knowledge of Jason, Rowan engineers a distraction so the crew can slip away: A full-blown VR version of Camp Crystal Lake from the orginal Friday the 13th, complete with two cartoonish virtual counselors for Jason to murder. "Hey, you want a beer? Or do you wanna smoke some pot? Or we can have premarital sex!" the VR women say in unison, pulling their shirts off. "We love premarital sex!" Like Jason Lives—for my money, the best Friday the 13th movie ever made—Jason X is at its sharpest when it’s making fun of itself.
None of the aforementioned obstacles stop Jason Vorhees for long, of course. As another Friday the 13th screenwriter once wrote, nothing stops this undead super-killer. But late in the second act, Jason X surprises fans with an elaborate action scene in which KM-14 actually manages to kill Jason—first blasting off one of his arms and one of his legs, and then blowing his head clean off his shoulders, destroying the iconic hockey mask in the process.
And so Jason Vorhees dies… until the futuristic nanomachines on the ship revive his corpse as a super-cyborg called Uber Jason, who is somehow even more indestructible than the old model.
Uber Jason was supposed to be a big, fun surprise. Of course, he’s also the coolest-looking part of the movie. So he appeared in literally every poster and trailer for Jason X, spoiling the movie’s big twist, to the eternal irritation of the people who made it. "It was like putting a penis on the poster of The Crying Game," complained screenwriter Todd Farmer in Crystal Lake Memories.
But for all the fanfare around the introduction of a bigger, badder Jason, here’s something else you might not expect: By the end of the movie, Jason dies again—and doesn’t come back. At the climax of the movie, Sergeant Brodski grabs Uber Jason and careens off into outer space. He drags Jason’s body toward the nearby Earth-2, where they both burn up in the atmosphere. A stargazing couple on Earth-2 mistakes them for a comet; when Jason’s metal mask clunks to the bottom of a nearby lake, bringing the Friday the 13th series full circle, they resolve to go check it out.
By this time, Friday the 13th fans were probably smart enough not to fall for this trick again. Over the course of the franchise, Jason had "died" over and over again, and they’d always found some ridiculous way to bring him back. (In fact, a non-canonical Jason X book series, now long out of print, did just that.)
But here’s the weird thing about this one: Chronologically, Jason X is the last Friday the 13th movie, and it’s set so far in the future that there’s basically no chance we’ll ever see a Friday the 13th that takes place after it. For all practical purposes, Jason X really is the death of Jason Vorhees.
As deaths of iconic characters go, it was a particularly unmourned one. To this day, Jason X is the lowest-grossing Friday the 13th movie ever released. As usual for the franchise, reviews were scathing. Even the people who made Jason X were ultimately disappointed with the final product. "We let the fans down, we let ourselves down. And we cost ourselves a lot of money," Farmer says.
But at the risk of arguing with all of those people: I disagree. Jason X is no masterpiece—but it’s hard not to be charmed by this movie’s ridiculously outsized ambitions, and warts and all, this is easily one of the more memorable outings in the entire Friday the 13th franchise. 17 years after its release, Friday the 13th fans now generally agree that Jason X should be regarded as both a franchise high point and a cult classic in its own right.
But while Jason X can plausibly be regarded as the final killing spree of Jason Vorhees, it’s also not quite the end of the Friday the 13th franchise. Because—after more than 15 years and countless failed attempts—something seemingly impossible finally happened. At long last, it was time for Friday the 13th to rewind the clock a few hundred years so Jason Vorhees could come face-to-face with Freddy Krueger.
Coming next Friday the 13th (December 13, 2019): The Friday the 13th franchise bounces back to mainstream relevance—and delivers its highest-grossing movie ever—with the long-awaited Nightmare on Elm Street crossover Freddy vs. Jason.
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Part VII had lofty ambitions initially—and ended up being the time the franchise ill-advisedly asked, “What if Jason fought Carrie?”
Originally Appeared on GQ