Jason’s back and Freddy’s got him! Such is the basic hook of this hybrid of the two most successful horror franchises of the ’80s — “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” It’s more marketing concept than aesthetic, and problems inherent in both series — like the fact the villains are indestructible — are only multiplied. Still, the basic formula of iconic supernatural beings slaughtering plucky teenagers continues with even more graphic violence. The film is sure to draw a large initial audience, but its legs may be limited by both its bloody excesses and relative lack of humor.
For the record, back in 1972, writer-director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham collaborated on “The Last House on the Left,” which cleverly swiped the plot of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” and turned it into a horror film. After the two went their own ways, Cunningham produced and directed the surprise hit “Friday the 13th,” which introduced the killer Jason Voorhees and spawned nine sequels between 1981 and 2001. Meanwhile, Craven introduced Freddy Krueger, the razor-fingered haunter of teen dreams, in 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which in turn led to five sequels (1985-1991), as well as 1994’s “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.”
Current film has Freddy (Robert Englund), rotting in hell and unable to insinuate himself back into the dreams of the town’s teens; his access has always depended on his victims’ fear of him, but the town authorities and the kids’ parents have managed to banish him by pretending he doesn’t exist and by using drugs to suppress their children’s abilities to dream. “Being dead was OK,” he tells us, “but being forgotten was a bitch.”
When Freddy discovers Jason (Ken Kirzinger), who, unlike Freddy, can walk in the real world, is in hell with him, he takes on the form of Jason’s mother and orders Jason to go to 1428 Elm St. and murder some kids. Just as Freddy hopes, the adults assume Freddy’s to blame; the kids overhear the parents talking about this Freddy character; and the consequent rumors help reestablish him in the teens’ consciousness.
Later, with Freddy’s return fully enabled, his progress in dispatching the local teens is hampered by Jason’s presence. The result is the big final battle that spans Freddy’s dream world and Jason’s Crystal Lake stomping ground, where they duke it out — while Lori (Monica Keena), who lives at 1428 Elm, and ex-boyfriend Will (Jason Ritter) try to obliterate both of them.
While helmer Ronny Yu’s “The Bride With White Hair” (1993), was one of the best Hong Kong films from that industry’s greatest period, none of Yu’s American films have been up to that level, and “Freddy vs. Jason” isn’t as inventive as the director’s “Bride of Chucky” (1998) or “The 51st State” (2001). Screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift haven’t come up with much that is clever here, beyond working out the mechanism to bring the two characters together. The Freddy series has generally been much better written — one could even say more sophisticated — than the Jason films, which just pile one gruesome death on top of another. The most memorable sequence in “Freddy vs. Jason” involves a stoner (Kyle Labine) having animated hallucinations of a hookah-smoking caterpillar, right out of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Tech credits are excellent. Cinematographer Fred Murphy excels, giving the night scenes the misty, blue glow that Yu employed in his Hong Kong work. The big fight sequence is also a hybrid, effectively combining H.K. wire-work stunts with CGI and traditional Hollywood visual effects. Unfortunately, nothing can really generate suspense when two indestructible characters fight to the (impossible) death. New Line’s marketing is emphasizing the horror-villain smackdown aspect of the confrontation, including the “mystery” of who will come out on top, Freddy or Jason. But it’s hard to imagine even diehard fans of either character really caring, when the outcome is clearly predetermined.