For most of his life, Evan Dossey has generally avoided horror films. The genre makes him profoundly uncomfortable. This means he has enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Each year, he asks friends and family which essential horror movies he needs to see in order to fill those gaps and spends the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. Once again, he’s sharing the month with those friends and family — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.
As a kid in the late ’90s and early aughts, two movie genres dominated my life — the slasher and the superhero flick. The latter, in an almost Monkey’s Paw twist of fate, eventually became inescapable at my local multiplex (remember those?). The former, on the other hand, well … no slasher series has managed to quite maintain the cultural relevance of the big three: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween and, of course, Friday the 13th. (Sorry, Saw franchise).
When a series starts spinning its wheels and feeling stale, things can get a little weird. 1995’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers tried to retcon Michael’s backstory by making him a member of an absurd cult while Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare chalked up Freddy Krueger’s homicidal tendencies to … daddy issues? But 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday might just top all those ill-advised entries in sheer WTF-ery. Director Adam Marcus’s movie creates a hilariously jumbled mythos around everyone’s favorite hockey-mask-adorned, machete-wielding zombie Jason Voorhees. It’s a mythology that required Jason to only have about 10 minutes of actual screen time and was so widely reviled that it was completely abandoned by the subsequent film Jason X, which came out an entire eight years later and gave Jason his obligatory space-set sequel.
But folks, what if I were to tell you that Jason Goes to Hell ain’t that bad? In fact, I’m here to say that the ninth, and perhaps least-loved, Friday entry is Quite Good Actually. As with my beloved comic-book movies, I can’t help but admire the misunderstood outcasts of a genre. Jason Goes to Hell, in its own way, is sort of like the Batman Returns of its respective series (minus all the actual filmmaking and storytelling skills of Tim Burton at his peak). It feels completely at odds with everything that came both before and afterwards yet has plenty of gruesome pleasures for those willing to embrace its outlier status.
The opening of Jason Goes to Hell is a perverse bait-and-switch, as it begins exactly the way that one would expect of a Friday film and then immediately heads straight into bonkers town. A woman arrives at an abandoned Camp Crystal Lake in the middle of the night, heads into a dingy cabin, strips down (obviously) and takes a shower for no apparent reason when our boy Jason — his zombified face appearing a bit more … bubbly than usual — goes in for the kill. Their chase leads them to an empty field where it’s all revealed to be a trap! That’s right: The FBI has finally found this mass-murdering ghoul who’s been slaughtering camp counselors by the dozens in the same location for well over a decade. How did they do this? Well, just sending in a female agent to wander around the campgrounds for a few minutes.
Jason is then literally blown to bits by machine-gun fire and grenade launchers, and the camera lingers on his still-beating heart. Right before the title card, we get a shot of a mysterious man crouched amongst the trees, watching the action beneath a shroud of darkness. “I don’t think so,” he says in a gravelly tone that would make Clint Eastwood shit his pants. Who is he? None other than that cigarillo-smoking, trench-coat-wearing, cowboy-hat-sporting son of a gun Creighton motherfuckin’ Duke!
Played by Steven Williams, the supernatural bounty hunter Creighton Duke might be the most gleefully absurd ingredient of a movie chock full of ‘em. He’s essentially what would happen if Walker: Texas Ranger strolled right into the Friday the 13th universe and came gunning for Jason. Everything this character says is either an incredible one-liner (“The only reason she’s still your lady is because she ain’t had a taste of the Duke yet,” “Tonight, my friend … you will DIE!”) or introducing bizarre new rules to Jason Voorhees’ lore that this movie makes up at the drop of a wide-brim cowboy hat (“Through a Voorhees was he born … through a Voorhees may he be reborn … and only by the hands of a Voorhees will he die”).
Apparently, the Duke man has been hunting down Jason for years. He knows everything about the Voorhees legend (including plenty of stuff we didn’t know) and has apparently even survived a skirmish with Jason himself. Why we haven’t met this character before now is never explained, but I imagine it’s simply because he was hard at work murdering Cenobites or something.
Regarding the Voorhees legend, Jason is barely in this movie, at least in the hockey-masked form in which we’re used to seeing him. No, in this movie, it’s established that Jason is actually a slimy, demon-slug that can slither down people’s throats (or up a dead woman’s crotch in one instance … a phrase I can’t believe I’m typing) and hop from body to body, possessing everyone from the local coroner to a town deputy.
Plenty of the world’s most respected film historians have shrewdly pointed out that Jason Goes to Hell bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1987 movie The Hidden. Admittedly, there are some similarities one might be able to find if they squint hard enough, but does that movie contain a scene where a person is stabbed with a fire poker and then split right down the middle? Or how about a scene where a cop’s jaw melts off his face and onto the floor in a goopy mess?
You see, what the ninth Friday installment lacks in hockey-mask shenanigans, it more than makes up for with the single most gruesome kills in the whole series. And honestly, what the hell else do you want from these movies? Sure, the director and screenwriters Jay Huguely and Dean Lorey completely missed the fact that audiences go to see one of these movies to see the title character in his trademark get-up. I mean, you wouldn’t make a Batman movie and have him run around in lederhosen the entire time (then again, that could just work…). Jason Goes to Hell straight up brings it in the gore and practical effects department. No joke, the climactic sequence of this movie features:
- A demonic slug scampering around the floor like a lil’ chestburster from Alien
- A magical sword that looks straight out of Excalibur, and
- Freddy goddamn Krueger reaching his gloved hand out of the ground to drag Jason’s mask down to hell.
Nearly every horror franchise that’s gone on for as long as this one has is bound to have some derisible lows. In fact, giving a quick browse at the Tomatometer scores for each entry, you’d get the impression it’s mostly lows. Well, these movies are simply too ingrained into my DNA for me not to enjoy them. However, when a series has already completely disgraced itself, it’s easy to look at the more ambitious misfires like this one and appreciate their intentions as opposed to something like the 2009 Friday the 13th remake, which simply dropped the cast of The O.C. or some nonsense into a generic Friday film. Still, it’s not too late for New Line Cinema to learn a lesson from Jason Goes to Hell … by giving us all the Creighton Duke spinoff we so desperately need.