Years after the ghostly dream killer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) first cut a swathe through the teenagers of Springwood, Ohio, the people of the town have worked to bury his memory – and with it his ability to haunt their children’s dreams. To regain his power Freddy unleashes the undead serial killer Jason Voorhees (Jen Kirzinger) from hell to scare Springwood into speaking his name. When Jason starts killing victims Freddy intended for himself, the two monsters turn on each other in a head-to-head conflict.
The slasher movie was one of the poster children of 1980s American cinema, and within the genre there were two franchises that dominated the decade: Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. As early as 1987 there were movements between Paramount Pictures and New Line Cinema to mash the series together, but it took until 2003 for Freddy and Jason to finally go toe-to-toe. The result is a hugely entertaining mash-up for horror fans, one that wisely adopts a comedic approach over anything remotely approaching a straight face.
In many respects the film has an unwinnable task ahead of it: it needs to combine both franchises in such a way that balances the two villains equally and hits all of the respective touchstones of each property. That the film manages this feat at all is impressive. That it manages it as effectively and as cleverly as it does is damn near miraculous.
Everything that a Friday the 13th fan could want is openly on display. Jason is rescued from hell by Freddy Krueger, and immediately starts cutting his way through the wayward teenagers of Springwood. New actor Ken Kirzinger does an excellent job of following up on Kane Hodder’s earlier performances, and the character gets plenty of darkly funny moments and inventively gory murders. At the same time Robert Englund slips back into his signature role of Freddy with grace and style. The two characters balance each other out wonderfully, in large part because they are so different.
When the two horror giants finally face one another in the climactic battle, it is performed less like a horror movie and more like a live-action cartoon. Director Ronny Yu started his career in the Hong Kong film industry, and gained plenty of experience in over-the-top action and fighting through such films as The Bride with White Hair (still by far my favourite of his films). Freddy vs Jason benefits from a Hong Kong touch: it pushes the ludicrous nature of the plot and characters in a very watchable fashion.
A big difference this time around compared to earlier Friday films is just how sympathetic and likeable the human characters are. They are generally very well performed as well, particularly in comparison to some of their earlier counterparts. Monica Keena seems particularly engaging as ‘final girl’ Lori, but many of the supporting players are just as enjoyable to watch. It is perhaps a sign of a changing Hollywood: the token characters murdered in the original films simply would not engage a post-2000 audience any more. On a similar level, the blood and gore of this film is greatly exaggerated compared to the 1980s Friday movies: changing times have led to a more graphic depiction of violence.
Freddy vs Jason was ultimately the swansong for both the original Elm Street and Friday series. Both would subsequently be rebooted with fresh casts and origins. As a grand finale it is appropriately affectionate: it definitely mocks itself, but warmly so. It is a hell of a lot of fun.