Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion) — ‘Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday’
by Ben Martin
Once in a blood moon, a franchise will come along that redefines a subgenre and takes it to the next level. Such is the case with the Friday the 13th franchise, which essentially created the horror subgenre of slasher flicks as we know them to this day. While it’s unlikely that we’ll get a new installment in the series any time soon, now’s still the perfect time to review this franchise as it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. To commemorate the occasion, the fine folks over at Scream Factory have released The Friday the 13th Collection on Blu-ray! As such, I’ll be reviewing not only the movies in this franchise but these new Blu-ray releases as well. This time around at the second false finale to this franchise- Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)!
By the early-mid 1990s, the horror genre was all but dead and in desperate need of resurrection. Audiences had worn weary of the slasher flicks which had ruled the previous decade. At this time, New Line Cinema was still known as “The house that Freddy (Krueger) built.” Alas, as with all bread-and-butter, the Nightmare on Elm Street series also had gone stale. As a result, the studio prematurely laid the franchise to rest in 1991 with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.
Still, this didn’t stop New Line and Friday the 13th producer Sean S. Cunningham from pursuing the cinematic potential of what would eventually become Freddy vs. Jason (2003). Luckily, the timing was in their favor as Paramount Pictures finally wanted to wash their hands of Jason Voorhees following the disappointing box-office returns for Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989). Frankly, I’m surprised this offload took so long considering Paramount openly loathed the horror genre and always treated the Friday films the way the camp counselors treated Jason. In any event, Paramount sold the characters of Jason and Pamela Voorhees, as well as Camp Crystal Lake, to New Line. Paramount would retain exclusive use of Friday the 13th as a title, however, and the majority of characters from the previous eight movies.
New Line and Cunningham were set on cashing in on their newly procured rights by making Jason and Freddy go mano-y-mano on the silver screen as soon as possible. But, much to the chagrin of the new rightsholders and fans alike, Freddy vs. Jason would spend over a decade in development hell before it finally came to fruition in 2003. Thus, while the slash of the titans was put in a holding pattern, the studio still had to do something with Jason. So, they just kept to the trend of having the hockey-masked killer continue his travels. Despite the disappointment of Jason Takes Manhattan, the initial idea for this sequel was to make “Jason Takes L.A.” Thankfully, though, the coast-to-coast journey of Jason did not come to pass — an outcome we should be grateful for if Escape to L.A. (1997) is any indication of how such a sequel pans out.
While L.A. didn’t seem like a fitting destination for Jason, Hell certainly did. And though Cunningham wanted to ignore the sequels that his original film spawned, the producer maintained one tradition of the franchise: offering the director’s chair to new talent. This time, he handed the reins to Adam Marcus, a 22-year-old fresh out of film school. Even though he’d not been on the scene long, Marcus already served as a producer on a horror-comedy entitled Johnny Zombie, which had just successfully sold to Disney for distribution under their Buena Vista Pictures label. Although, The House of Mouse ultimately changed the title to My Boyfriend’s Back (1993). Nevertheless, Marcus proved to have a sellable talent. However, as with all businesses, nepotism admittedly played a considerable role in Marcus getting The Final Friday.
See, the producer-writer-director was a longtime family friend of the family and worked as a gofer on the previous Fridays with which Cunningham was involved. Therefore, when Marcus approached Cunningham with an idea for the ninth movie, Cunningham decided to give him a shot in a screenwriter’s capacity. But Cunningham dictated two absolute edicts: first, Jason Takes Manhattan had to be ignored. Second, and seemingly more important to Cunningham, though, was that Marcus “get rid of that damn hockey mask.” With these requirements in mind, Marcus and TV writer Jay Huguley set to work with Marcus’ usual screenwriting partner Dean Lorrey (Harley Quinn) to crank out a screenplay that would give Cunningham what he wanted.
Once the script was written, action movie director John McTiernan was offered the chance to helm Hell, but declined in favor of re-teaming with Arnold Schwarzenegger to make Last Action Hero (1993). Following that, the gig was extended to Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), who also turned it down. In the end, Marcus himself hit the jackpot as he was given a chance to direct the screenplay he’d co-conceived. What eventually became Jason Goes to Hell initially had an ever-so-pretentious (and punny) title of “Friday the 13th: Heart of Darkness.” It tells the following story:
After piling up more bodies than a morgue over the years, Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) finally catches the attention of law enforcement. A federal task force is designated to take down the hockey-masked killer, and that they do. But once his still-beating black heart is exhumed from his corpse — hence the film’s original title — Jason’s damned spirit manages to jump from his now eviscerated corporeal form into other people’s bodies and possesses them. Now, the undead slasher’s only living relative, Jessica Kimble (Kari Keegan); her estranged boyfriend, Steven (John D. LeMay); and a bounty hunter named Creighton Duke (Steven Williams) are the only folks who can stop Jason from hopscotching from body-to-body and send him straight to Hell!
Does that read like the simplistic and fun plot of a Friday the 13th flick to you? Yeah, me either. But, I’ll give Marcus and his co-writers this — they did the job with which they were tasked. They wrote a movie that chucked the hockey mask quicker than a hockey puck glides across the ice. Granted, it’s pretty easy to achieve such a goal when the movie barely features the titular slasher everyone wants to see. In any event, I think the filmmakers ultimately forgot or did not care to make a Friday the 13th movie. Instead, it’s clear they became more interested in doing their own thing by making a body snatcher picture.
Which might not be so bad if it weren’t as dull as watching paint dry while being stuck inside on a rainy day. Don’t get me wrong; the opening sequence is fantastic. Moreover, the beginning of the movie encapsulates a proper Friday movie in a mere eight minutes. In addition to that, every kill scene in this Final Friday is fantastic; never skimping on the gore. Particularly in the Unrated Cut, which is now the widely accepted version of the movie.
Alas, the problem is that every other scene lacking a kill and/or Creighton Duke is a total loss (except for the ending stinger, of course). Yes, I agree that it’s ridiculous that we’ve never heard of this bounty hunter character who purports to be a lifelong hunter of Jason Voorhees. But at least Duke is a fun and over-the-top character. Actor Steven Williams plays his character in a way that makes it feel like the bounty hunter belongs in some weird Blaxploitation-Western hybrid from the 70s that I’d about kill to see. He’s certainly a lot more entertaining than the other characters in this movie, all of whom feel like they belong in a bad soap opera played actors who can’t seemingly act their way out of a brown paper bag. The worst of them being John D. LeMay, who also starred in Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1989) and plays every scene in this movie like he’s reading his lines off a cue card.
In the end, I believe Marcus probably wanted to give Jason a deeper mythology, as he claims. But I also think he ultimately got caught up in his hype (as evidenced from the multiple interviews with him on the Blu-ray) and ended up making a movie that doesn’t feel a part of this franchise at all. As such, Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday is a Franchise Implosion. This sequel feels more like poorly devised fan fiction than being an entry fitting of the series, much less one that serves as its conclusion, premature or otherwise.
Despite the all-around bad reception, Jason Goes to Hell still went to the bank as it grossed $15.9 million worldwide on a $3 million production budget. Furthermore, the movie received the 90s blockbuster movie treatment you’d expect concerning ancillary merchandise. Topps Comics published a three-issue comic book adaptation of the film written by Andy Mangels (Wonder Woman ’77), illustrated by Cynthia Martin (Marvel Comics‘ Star Wars), and inked by Allen Nunes. The company also released a line of trading cards. More than anything, though, while The Final Friday disappointed audiences, it whetted their appetite for Freddy vs. Jason!
As with many of the sequels in this box set, Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday sports a 2K transfer. In the case of this film, that’s perfectly acceptable as the cinematography by Bill Dill (Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, M.A.N.T.I.S.) is so very flat. But fittingly so, as I would expect a Friday from the 90s to look just like this one does. On a related note, I really hate that we didn’t get more entries in the 1990s, as it would’ve been fun to see Jason slash his way through flannel-clad victims. The Blu-ray release also offers sound crisper than ever, so you don’t miss Duke’s dialogue, which is always a high-point of this picture!
Disc 1: Theatrical Version Extras
(*NEW EXTRAS INDICATED BY *)
- *Introduction By Director Adam Marcus* — This 12-second intro shows that Marcus is a guy with a good sense of humor, but adds nothing to the proceedings.
- Theatrical Trailer
- *TV Spots*
- Movie Stills Gallery
- Poster And Behind-The-Scenes Photos
- A Look At The Friday The 13th Prop Museum Book
Disc 2: Unrated Cut Version Extras
(*NEW EXTRAS INDICATED BY *)
- *Introduction By Director Adam Marcus* — The introduction mentioned above is merely recycled here.
- *The Gates of Hell* — In this extensive, 36-minute interview, director and co-writer Adam Marcus details how Jason Goes to Hell came to be; the intentions that paved the road to Hell; and his thoughts on the inclusiveness and importance of the horror genre. Frankly, I feel a lot of what Marcus had to say here were the kinds of feelings someone comes to express after years of revisionist self-history. At the same time, I enjoyed listening to Marcus’ anecdotes as I find him to be quite enthusiastic and entertaining even if The Final Friday is anything but.
- *Über-Jason* — I was happy to see all the focus center on the actor and stuntman Kane Hodder for this 28-minute featurette, in which he talks about his career behind the mask in four Friday flicks.
- *Jason vs. Terminator* — In this 11-minute interview, Marcus discusses his personal and professional relationship with the Cunninghams and how he received the opportunity to take Jason to Hell. As with every other interview with Marcus on this disc, it offers great behind-the-scenes insights.
- *Commentary with Director Adam Marcus & Crystal Lake Memories Author Peter Bracke* — As with most of the commentaries in this set, Marcus covers much of the same ground featured in the aforementioned Gates of Hell interview, but in greater detail. The director/co-writer also dispenses plenty of other interesting anecdotes regarding the production. I hate to admit it, but despite Jason Goes to Hell being as unsatisfactory as it, I could still listen to Marcus rattle on about The Final Friday all day.
- *Additional T.V. Footage with Optional Commentary with Director Adam Marcus & author Peter Bracke* — Here, we’re treated to 26 minutes of scenes chopped out of the film’s final cut, but later utilized to fill the time slots for edited-for-TV versions of the movie. Unsurprisingly, none of these cutscenes add anything to the proceedings. As a result, the new optional commentary track doesn’t provide much of interest either.
- Commentary with Director Adam Marcus & Screenwriter Dean Lorrey — This commentary is as fun as it is informative. Listening to this track, you can feel the camaraderie between Marcus and Lorrey.
The Friday the 13th Collection is currently available on Blu-ray!
Just because Jason gets dragged to Hell doesn’t mean he can’t make it to space, as we’ll see in the next installment of this column with Jason X (2001)!
The Franchise’s Body Count Thus Far-
Friday the 13th (1980):
Friday the 13th: Part II (1981):
Friday The 13th: Part III in 3-D (1982):
Friday The 13th, Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984):
Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985):
Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986):
Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988):
Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989):