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.
In early 2003, I was a naive 11-year-old who had no idea that one could trace every minute step of an upcoming movie’s development by taking to the Internet and scouring IMDb message boards and sites like Ain’t It Cool News. So imagine when I walked into my local Regal theater one evening and saw one of the most glorious sights I had yet seen in my young life — a poster of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, side-by-side and obscured by fog, with the word “Vs.” emblazoned between the two of them. Reader, as a preteen who spent many an hour watching and obsessing over all things horror, I nearly went into a state of catatonic shock.
I have no idea how I convinced my mother to buy my friend and me tickets to Freddy vs. Jason that summer, but it remains one of my most formative theatrical experiences to this day. The movie itself was amazing because, well, there was no way it couldn’t be amazing. It was statistically impossible for a movie featuring both Freddy and Jason (together for god’s sake!) to be anything but transcendent. It was a flawless work of cinematic craftsmanship from director Ronny Yu and the culmination of two decades of airtight mythology-building in the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series.
Viewing the film now as a wizened and world-weary 29-year-old, it’s possible Freddy vs. Jason may have some barely discernible shortcomings. Sure, I’ve seen this movie roughly 10 times and still have to check Wikipedia to remember the names of any characters who aren’t Freddy or Jason, and yes, this movie trades in a potentially memorable score in favor of early-2000s butt rock to play as our baddies duke it out. This was the brief-but-glorious era where every studio horror movie soundtrack had to feature bands with names like Spineshank or Murderdolls. And I will concede the moment where Kelly Rowland calls Freddy Krueger a “f*ggot” perhaps hasn’t aged well.
Yet against all odds, Freddy vs. Jason succeeds as a fitting swan song for the original Freddy and Jason sagas, keeping the continuity of all previous sequels intact while simultaneously delivering a raucous and ridiculous slasher worthy of its long-awaited title match. The premise is a terrifically simple one that understands the core appeal of our famous twosome: Freddy (played by Robert Englund for his final time) and Jason somehow escape from Hell after being vanquished in their previous showdowns with their respective Final Girls. Freddy — always the wormy manipulator — has grown weak from the children of suburban Springwood no longer believing in him, and he needs the gullible, lovable lug Jason to do some killing for him to inspire the fear that can make him powerful once again.
That’s right: Freddy and Jason existed in the same universe all along. Surprise! It’s hard not to get a little misty-eyed imagining a world where these two could lead a large-budget, shared-universe summer blockbuster instead of Captain America and Iron Man. But by god, such a glorious time did indeed exist, if only for a fleeting moment. And like Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, the screenplay needs to come up with a reason for Freddy and Jason to come to blows by the end of the film, and in this case it’s because that darn Jason just won’t stop killin’.
The Friday movies always had more forgettable teen characters at their center compared to the Nightmare series, and that is only one of several ways in which Freddy vs. Jason is more a Jason film than a Freddy flick. Final girl Lori (Monica Keena) and her friends here are frankly among the more generic in either series, and the movie introduces a mystery about the death of Lori’s mother for which the secret is hilariously obvious from the moment it’s introduced. The cast does have some fitfully amusing moments, though. One police officer’s hair has frosted tips, and there’s even a character clearly meant to be played by Jason Mewes as he’s an exact doppelganger for Mewes’ stoner persona, Jay.
But as with any Friday or Nightmare venture, the most pressing question is whether or not the kills deliver, and boy do they ever! While the number of Freddy kills are sadly paltry compared to sweet boy Jason (again, he really does get the spotlight here), the sheer insanity is delightful: Jason cuts people in half at a rave, Freddy turns into a bong-smoking caterpillar, Jason gets bounced around like a pinball (with actual pinball machine sound effects!) and Freddy calls people “bitch” approximately 300 times.
Most importantly, Freddy vs. Jason legitimately makes good on the promise of its title. Those rascals really do scrap, by golly! And not just a depressing fist fight in an abandoned men’s room like Batman v. Superman, but a gory, over-the-top showdown where limbs are torn off and blood sprays in geysers. Is there a definitive winner? Of course not. Is it still a blast? Undoubtedly, if your taste is as questionable as mine.
At the time of my writing this, it’s been over a decade since either Freddy or Jason has graced the big screen. Take a moment to consider that statement and all its troubling implications. In retrospect, Freddy vs. Jason seems like the last gasp of these two horror superstars having the major cultural significance they carried back in the ‘80s. The subsequent attempts to reboot both characters sadly didn’t stick — the 2010 Nightmare reboot in particular was a complete disaster — and so while it felt like the pair finally teaming up could have been the beginning of a wild new chapter for each of them, it was sadly the end. However, the time may draw nigh for a rebirth. If the massive success of Halloween Kills at the box office last weekend tells us anything, it’s that no slasher icon stays out of the ring for long.