13 Fridays is a 13-week look at the entirety of Friday the 13th series, starting on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, and running through Halloween 2021. It will run parallel to other series we’re running in late summer / early autumn, including another round of No Sleep October essays. Every week features an essay about one of the Friday the 13th films in chronological order, written by new and regular Midwest Film Journal contributors and staff writers. Some have seen the whole franchise. Some are novices and neophytes, jumping into the movies without watching the rest of them to offer unvarnished thoughts.
Here we go. It’s finally time for Jason to jump the shark and soar into space. After all, it only makes sense for him to wind up aboard a spaceship after being dragged into hell by a host of demons, including Freddy Krueger. Jason X isn’t a good movie by any stretch of the imagination nor is it a remotely original one. It’s basically a bad Alien knockoff that swaps the Xenomorph with Jason. But damned if it isn’t fun to watch, especially with an adult beverage in hand.
Instead of its campgrounds, the film opens in Crystal Lake’s Research Facility, where Jason is held captive at the hands of the U.S. government. Dr. Aloysius Wimmer (David Fucking Cronenberg) argues against cryogenically freezing the killer in favor of studying his warm flesh to understand its regenerative properties. (At least this movie tries to make scientific sense of Jason’s seeming immortality!)
To avoid spoilers, let’s just say Dr. Wimmer loses the argument and Jason ends up frozen. In the year 2455, a space crew from Earth II arrives at Crystal Lake Research Facility during a field trip to the over-polluted planet we once called home. They open the cryogenic chamber housing Jason and don’t know what to make of him. Take the following exchange between crew members:
“What the hell is that?”
“Humanoid. Organic composition is unclear.”
“Can someone tell me what’s on his face?”
“Some kind of 20th-century carbon filtration unit?”
“It’s a hockey mask!”
Screenwriter Todd Farmer deserves legitimate credit here for this exchange’s clever commentary on how absurd and arresting Jason’s iconic appearance remains. The hockey mask-wearing, machete-wielding madman stands out as an otherworldly sight no matter when or where you place him, and filmmakers have dipped his toes in many places beyond the waters of Crystal Lake.
It wasn’t until this essay series that I realized one of the appeals of the Friday the 13th franchise. When I was a kid, campground horror didn’t hook me like suburban slasher flicks did. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the suburbs and never went to camp; I never had much interest in going. But something about a masked bogeyman surrounded by houses in the leaf-littered streets of suburbia captured my imagination.
Now I realize I’m short-changing the Friday the 13th franchise by pigeonholing it as summer-camp horror. Part of its fun seems to lie in Jason’s infiltration of different settings — from a lakeside camp to a nearby small town, then on to Times Square, the depths of hell (Satan’s hell, not the seedy streets of New York City), and now the vast reaches of outer space!
OK, back to the future. So, the space crew releases Jason and his frozen body falls on one of the young explorers, tearing the poor spaceboy’s arm off. (Jason does damage even when he’s unconscious!)
They load the icy hulk onto their spaceship, the Grendel, where the sexy, young crew members study him when they’re not doing the deed below deck. You can guess what happens from here. At least Jason picks them off in cool new ways, utilizing liquid nitrogen, a futuristic surgical tool and a cyborg suit (which makes a woefully late appearance).
The characters don’t really matter. They’re just fresh meat for Jason. Oddly enough, the android Kay-Em 14 (Lisa Ryder) is the most interesting and empathetic of the bunch. As Jason, Kane Hodder is, well, Kane Hodder. He effectively lumbers around and looms over the space cadets.
The crew’s most inventive and entertaining line of defense is a holographic simulation of ’80s-era Camp Crystal Lake designed to distract Jason. Two scantily clad holograms seduce him with an offering of beer, pot and premarital sex. “We love premarital sex,” they say in unison. Ah, this crew knows the way to Jason’s heart. Even in a future filled with state-of-the-art technology, he still appreciates life’s simple pleasures.
I barely remember the marketing of this movie beyond the poster of Jason’s head floating in space. Despite my love of horror-video cover art and striking poster concepts, that one only made me cringe with embarrassment. I thought I’d never see the film. I practically vowed to not watch it. Of all people, of course my fellow Midwest Film Journal friends and colleagues would be the ones to change that attitude.
Look, this movie’s stupid. But I had a blast watching it, and I’m having fun writing about it. In its own trashy, dumbass, Tang-drinking, Skinemax-loving way, Jason X showcases what’s great about sci-fi and horror. Both genres allow filmmakers to unabashedly let loose. The sky’s the limit. And the Friday the 13th franchise seems to push the envelope more than its peers. The Halloween series doesn’t tread far beyond suburbia. Even the Nightmare on Elm Street films stay in relatively familiar territory despite the endless possibilities offered by Freddy’s dreamscapes. That’s not to say I don’t love those series, but they don’t have the guts to send their bogeymen into space.