Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Jason X’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

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, our favorite hockey-masked killer continues to indulge his travel bug while receiving an upgrade in Jason X (2002)!

The Movie

Back in the mid-80s, at the height of the slasher craze, Halloween (1978) co-creator and director John Carpenter was asked if he would ever do another entry in that franchise. Carpenter responded in his usual wry fashion; saying that he would if they let him put The Shape (Michael Myers) in space. The implication of Carpenter’s response, of course, being that such a gimmick would be a ridiculous one. And for better or worse, the history of horror franchises that have been jettisoned into outer space have proven him correct. The two most prominent examples (aside from the movie in review) being Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996) and Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997). None of the futuristic B-plot set in space works in the former’s case, whereas the latter example just took the Leprechaun series to a whole new level of absurdity.

In all fairness, though, space was not the initial setting for this installment of the Jason Voorhees franchise. On the contrary, producers Sean Cunningham and Noel Cunningham, along with screenwriter Todd Farmer (Drive Angry), tossed around a myriad of ideas for Jason X: Los Angeles (again), Jason underwater, Jason on safari, and even Jason at a NASCAR race. While all these settings seem just dumb enough to be interesting, I still wish they’d give us fans what we’ve been asking for for years — put Jason in the snow! (Alas, the closest we have to that for now is the entertaining short fan film, Never Hike Alone in the Snow (2020), which I recommend.) The idea of putting Jason in on these new environments was to simply do something novel enough to keep the franchise alive while Freddy vs. Jason (2003) was slowly clawing its way out of development hell.

Ultimately, outer space was chosen as the setting for the film to create a sci-fi-horror-action hybrid. Thus, it’s no surprise that Farmer structured the screenplay for this movie after two absolute classics — Alien (1979) and its sequel, Aliens (1986). In any event, Jason X completely ignores the events of its immediate predecessor and picks up in the year 2008, where we find Jason (Kane Hodder) has been captured and imprisoned at a research facility on Camp Crystal Lake. Throughout his stay at the camp, the authorities attempt to execute Jason in every way imaginable. But, as we well know, he just keeps coming back!

Finally, with all other options of disposal exhausted, Jason is put in cryofreeze. Decades later, the hockey mask-clad murderer is discovered by a class of high schoolers on a research expedition. Unfortunately for these teens, and the faculty and security staff, they all choose to bring Jason aboard their ship and thaw him out. Before long, Jason is wreaking havoc on the vessel and receiving a space-aged upgrade in the process!

It isn’t the setting or plot described above that creates a problem for the movie. On the contrary, while it pulls fans away from the familial campground setting we all love, Jason X still provides a perfectly serviceable bare-bones story for an entry in this series, even if the majority of the humor in it falls flat. Alas, the problem here is the execution. As much as I hate to criticize the deceased, special effects technician turned director Jim Isaac (Skinwalkers) lacks the most significant skill sets a helmer requires. He manages to frame shots and execute effects and action scenes competently, but he cannot seem to evoke performances from actors or make the most of his production budget.

Jason X was made for $5 million, and it looks like half of that made it to screen at best. Every single solitary set and digital effect in this flick look like they belong in the worst and cheapest SyFy original that might spring into your mind. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good low-budget cheese-fest from SyFy as much as the next viewer, but not when it comes to this franchise. As cheap as they are, the Friday movies have made the most of their budgets and low-brow content the majority of the time. The same cannot be said for this futuristic entry, though. Perhaps that’s because most of the post-production — editing, sound mixing, etc — was handled by the film’s visual effects company; a non-standard choice. It’s worth noting that Jason X is the first entry in the franchise to utilize digital effects. Even still, it should look better than the visually painful finished film does.

The production values, or lack thereof, are sadly are on par with the acting on display here. Except for Hodder, in his final performance as Jason and who could play the character — even Uber Jason — in his sleep, the entire cast here is dreadful. It’s bad enough that they’re all playing altogether unlikeable characters, but what makes it worse is that none of these folks can act their way out of a paper bag! Well, not unless bad student films or blue movies are your standards of acting.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I did not address this film’s other big hook: Uber Jason! According to Farmer, in his original script, Uber Jason was supposed to be a gruesome amalgam of flesh and metal (granted, I’m paraphrasing here.) Unfortunately, though, the finished version of Uber Jason looks more like a Power Rangers villain than anything else. Furthermore, the upgraded and cybernetic version of the character doesn’t show up until the last twenty minutes of the movie despite being littered all over the film’s marketing materials. Admittedly, I thought Uber Jason looked bad-ass when I first saw him in this film’s trailer at age twelve, but that initial novelty doesn’t hold up all these years later.

As much as I wish this movie delivered on its promise of being an entertaining space-age slasher flick, it simply does not. Heck, the only aspect of this movie that works is the kill scenes, a couple of which are quite memorable. Outside of when Jason’s dropping bodies, though Jason X proves to be a sluggishly paced, poorly made Franchise Implosion! For better or worse, audiences did not show up when it finally arrived in theaters. See, Jason X shot from March-May of 2000 but was shelved until April of 2002 due to a change in regime at New Line Cinema. Unfortunately, though, in the interim, a copy of the film was leaked onto file-sharing sites, where it became the number one pirated movie on the Internet for a time. As a result, the last victim of Jason X was its box-office. The film grossed only $17 million worldwide on an $11 million production budget.

The movie did find some new life outside of its theatrical window as Jason X earned three times what it cost to produce in DVD sales alone. Furthermore, some spin-offs were set in the world of Jason X, all of which were published years after the release of the film as it had gained a cult following. These include a series of five young adult novels published between 2005-2006; a 2005 Avatar Press Jason X Special written by Brian Pulido (Lady Death, Evil Ernie), illustrated by Sebastian Fiumara (Lucifer), and colored by Mark Sweeney (Black Summer); and a subsequent Friday the 13th: Jason vs. Jason X (2006) comic from Avatar by Mike Wolfer (Gravel) with colors from Andrew Dalhouse (Mayhem and Magic). Despite these publications, I’m afraid I still have to disagree with Todd Farmer that they could’ve made actual cinematic sequels. Then again, Jason X was clearly not my speed.

The Blu-ray

Jason X looks as good as possible here as this disc sports a brand-new 2K scan of the interpositive. As such, this transfer is nice and clean; but it just can’t make a poorly photographed movie look all that good. When it comes to the audio, I believe we get a track used on a previous release, but it sounds fine.

Extras

(*NEW EXTRAS INDICATED BY *)

  • *Introduction By Kane Hodder* — In this 12-second intro, the actor/stuntman sums up the film’s existence with a good dose of humor.
  • *Outta Space: The Making Of JASON X* — Sporting a 33-minute runtime, this extensive making-of doc features interviews with producers Noel Cunningham and Sean S. Cunningham, actor Kane Hodder, and writer Todd Farmer. As much as I may have criticized Jason X, I can say that this making-of sheds plenty of light on not only the film’s development and production, but its flaws as well. Thus, it’s a very informative piece. Alas, it takes some production values from the movie it’s chronicling. This documentary is overlit as if it’s a YouTube medical video or something. As a result, the interviewees look a bit washed out. Worse yet, Noel Cunningham is seemingly not mic’d up as he’s difficult to hear. Sadly, this lack of production value takes Outta Space a step down compared to the other documentaries I’ve watched thus far in this box set.
  • *In Space No One Can Hear You Scream* —  In this 31-minute interview, Farmer discusses how he landed Friday the 13th, Part X, how it became Jason X, and the making of the movie. As always, Farmer’s charismatic and entertaining. And this interview is all that and informative as well.
  • *Kristi Is A Headbanger* — In this interview with actress Kristi Angus (who plays Adrienne), which runs 11 minutes in length, the actress details her experience in the film. 
  • *Jason Rebooted: Jason Goes to New Line* — This 15-minute interview features producer Sean S. Cunningham discussing the franchise’s history since New Line Cinema acquired it (now a division of Warner Bros.) While everything the producer covers could be found through other sources, it’s a good interview nonetheless. Moreover, Cunningham finally openly admits (for the first time, to my knowledge) that Jason’s the key to the franchise. A fact that he was seemingly resentful of and skirted around in the past.
  • The Many Lives of Jason Voorhees — This half-hour documentary (which I believe was initially included on the DVD release of Jason X) traces the franchise’s history and reception. It features interviews with folks who worked on various Friday movies and a few film critics, including my personal favorite, Joe Bob Briggs (The Last Drive-In). While this histrionic isn’t going to provide much new information for us fans, it’s still an absolute pleasure to watch.
  • By Any Means Necessary: The Making Of Jason X Unlike the making-of mentioned above, a documentary newly created for this set, this 17-minute archival making-of featurette was taken from the original DVD release and delves much deeper into the technical side of the production. Outside of that, we’re treated to the usual promotional fluff you’d expect from such a piece. And, if you think that this featurette’s title makes no sense, that’s because it’s merely lampooning of the title of the Malcolm X (1992) making-of a decade prior.
  • Club Reel — I’m not sure what outlet this promo reel was originally produced for back in ’02, but it’s merely three minutes of kill and action footage cut to a couple of hits of the early-aughts.
  • Vintage Interviews — Nearly an hour’s worth of archival cast and crew interviews produced for the Jason X website back in the day. Unfortunately, all 51 minutes of these interview snippets are nothing but bland fluff.
  • Behind-The-Scenes Footage — Here, we have nearly one hour of behind-the-scenes footage. While it’s a little too lengthy for my taste, it’s still enjoyable if you (like myself) appreciate the filmmaking process.
  • *Electronic Press Kit* — 24 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew interviews from the original EPK.
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • *TV Spots*
  • Still Gallery
  • Posters And Behind-the-Scenes Gallery
  • Commentary with Director Jim Isaac, Producer Noel Cunningham, and Writer Todd Farmer — This commentary track was taken from the film’s initial DVD release and is well worth listening to as it’s both fun and informative. Moreover, it serves as a historical document since Isaac, unfortunately, passed away in 2012. However, I should note that Isaac and Farmer seem to dominate the track, while Cunningham doesn’t say much and seemingly is on a track of his own.
  • *Commentary with Writer Todd Farmer And Crystal Lake Memories Author Peter Bracke* — This new commentary covers much of the same ground that the previous track does. However, there’s still plenty of new information and entertainment value here to make this one worth a listen!

The Friday the 13th Collection is currently available on Blu-ray!

 

Next time, two Slasher icons finally face-off in Freddy vs. Jason (2003)!

 

The Franchise’s Body Count Thus Far-

 

Friday the 13th (1980):

https://www.comicon.com/2020/10/24/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-1980/

 

Friday the 13th: Part II (1981):

https://www.comicon.com/2020/11/07/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-2/

 

Friday The 13th: Part III in 3-D (1982):

https://www.comicon.com/2020/11/21/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-iii/

 

Friday The 13th, Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984):

https://www.comicon.com/2020/12/05/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-iv-the-final-chapter/

 

Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985):

https://www.comicon.com/2020/12/19/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-v-a-new-beginning/

 

Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986):

https://www.comicon.com/2021/01/09/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-vi-jason-lives/

 

Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988):

https://www.comicon.com/2021/01/30/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13-part-vii-the-new-blood/

 

Friday The 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989):

http://www.comicon.com/2021/02/20/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-friday-the-13th-part-viii-jason-takes-manhattan/

 

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993):

http://www.comicon.com/2021/03/06/franchise-expansion-or-implosion-jason-goes-to-hell-the-final-friday/

 

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