Today’s topic: Defending Universally-Panned Horror
You know that film that everyone hates, the one that killed off the franchise or the subgenre or someone’s career? Why is it genuinely awesome, and why has nobody noticed? Russell Hillman has assembled some of HorrorMovie.Net’s best and brightest – Drew Edwards, Jason Henderson and Hayley Alice Roberts – and asked them to explain why all those one-star reviews were way off.
RUSSELL HILLMAN: The topic for this roundtable is defending a universally-panned horror movie, so I’m going to go with a film I genuinely love: JASON X
DREW EDWARDS: I also really dig this movie. I was more stoked about Jason X than Spider-Man if you can believe.
RH: Coming from you? Yes, that seems likely.
JASON HENDERSON: I have to say this movie is one of my favorite Friday the 13th films– I love the first film because it’s played straight and it has a real, grungy 1970s look. This is not that. This is a slick, aware-of-itself film and it’s fun to watch. Here’s the thing: everyone complains about the cliché of sending a sequel into space, but the result is a movie that has rediscovered a sense of energy. It’s a very odd “episode” in a series.
Now to the extent that you think of Friday the 13th as a series that essentially equal campfire tales, woods-death skits, then this movie might feel too far removed. But it has a reverence for the other Jason films, so I think it’s fair to take it in the context of the series.
DE: I mean, I’d be upset if this was the direction the entire franchise went, but as a one-off it suits me just fine. I know a lot of hardcore fans felt like the series never fared well outside of its native 1980s. Indeed, as arguably the quintessential movie monster of the Reagan Era, I can see why some folks feel a little left out in the cold by Jason X. In many ways, it looks like it was filmed on leftover Star Trek sets.
That being said, a lot of those same fans embraced the Michael Bay-produced reboot and it’s far more slick, far more Hollywood. Jason X is a tried and true b-movie. In that way, it’s a lot closer to the roots of the franchise.
HAYLEY ALICE ROBERTS: I rented Jason X on VHS when it first came out and initially I hated it. It didn’t feel like a Friday the 13th film and everything about it was just bad. Even though I wasn’t a fan, I loved the poster design and still displayed it on my wall. A few years later I decided to re-watch it back to back with Freddy Vs. Jason and now I can appreciate it for what it is. It’s campy, gory and fun. Their vision of the future is so dated and screams early 00’s but that’s just part of its charm. When Jason’s revealed in all his new armour it’s pretty cool. Jason goes turbo!
RH: Exactly. Is it the best movie in the series? No, that’s Part 2. Is it the most fun movie in the series? No, that’s Jason Lives. But it’s far from being as awful as it’s been presented. The opening scene with Jason as a captive of the US Government under DAVID-BLOODY-CRONENBERG! is full of great Jason moments on its own. It’s Kane Hodder’s final bow as Jason, and he always shines no matter how bad the film (thankfully, given the point in the series at which he took on the role). The liquid nitrogen kill is one of the best of the series, and the Crystal Lake holodeck scene is a wonderful, knowingly-silly and self-aware take on the clichés of the series.
DE: Part 2? That’s crazy talk Hillman! The best Friday is either Final Chapter or Jason Lives, but I digress…
HAR: No matter how panned Jason X is, it’s still significant being Kane Hodder’s final performance like you said, Russell. He was robbed with Freddy Vs. Jason and hands down should have played him. I have to agree on the Crystal Lake scene, it’s such a laugh out loud moment basically parodying itself.
RH: Anyway, like a great many studio-released popcorn horror movies, what you see isn’t representative of the film the writer intended, and a lot of the humour he was instructed to add falls flat. But I’m not here to say that it should have been better, I have to work with the cards I’ve been dealt. As fun spectacle, it works a lot better than it’s usually given credit for, and that’s why I will always defend it.
DE: The only reason, I can figure for the hate is the space setting. Because most of the other elements present here, are also in other Fridays. There’s even comedy in various other Friday entries. The space setting is a bit strange, but it does give them some fun toys to play with. And Uber-Jason is really cool looking, I have a toy of him hanging out with all of my other Jason Voorhees toys. Personally, I think it’s perfectly acceptable monster movie and a nicely oddball addition to the Legend of Camp Blood.
I also think I just have a soft spot for Todd Farmer’s scripts, because I also really enjoy My Bloody Valentine (2009) and Drive Angry. Both of which were also panned, but are really fun flicks.
RH: MBV 09 isn’t as good as the original, but it is a lot of fun.
HAR: MBV 09 isn’t terrible. I’m a massive fan of the TV show Supernatural (more so the earlier seasons) so I basically watched it for Jensen Ackles (not ashamed at all!). In an episode he directed of Supernatural he poked fun at MBV 3D with his character Dean switching off the TV when the announcer says it’s playing that evening. Speaking of actors from Supernatural doing really unappreciated horror films, I have a soft spot for the 2005 House of Wax that starred Jared Padalecki. It has some tense moments, and the gore effects are inventive. I only watched it originally to see Paris Hilton impaled through the head with a pole – however, it was surprisingly entertaining. I think you have to take it for what it is as with most of these movies and it can easily be separated from the Vincent Price 1953 version as it’s not an all-out copycat. They have different stories.
DE: I recently watched the House of Wax remake and I also found it to be decent, if silly, fun. Not a “good” movie in the traditional sense, but very watchable.
HAR: There’s definitely a lot worse out there than House of Wax 2005. I know a lot of fans would crucify me for this, but I even liked the remakes of The Last House on the Left and The Amityville Horror. The Last House remake is clearly a more polished, Hollywood gore horror but most remakes of grimy, low budget 70’s/80’s slashers/grindhouse films are. It didn’t capture the sleazy, harrowing tone of the original but it was entertaining enough for what it was. With the Amityville remake, I watched it when I was a teenager so I think it’s nostalgia more than anything. I haven’t revisited it in years.
JH: Here’s a good rule of thumb. Let’s say you like something, and someone else says “well yeah, but it’s [insert cliché].” The next question needs to be: “yeah but so what? Does a movie lose its legitimacy as entertainment because you can recognize patterns in it? How does that make sense? Writing off a film because it fits into a trope is just lazy. Does it work, that’s the question. And I think Jason X works. Just to pick an example, the android KM-14 is one of the coolest entries into the series. You want a character who’s neither a Final Girl nor a Mary Sue? How about KM-damn-14. This is a cool character.
DE: KM-14 is pretty cool. Plus, it gives Jason someone who can actually fight back, which is in the best tradition of New Blood
RH: I would pick this over New Blood any day.
DE: I don’t know if I like this better than New Blood, but it’s a heck of a lot better than Jason Goes to Hell. And even though I like Freddy vs. Jason quite a bit, the fact it’s a grudge match between the two title characters means Jason gets side-lined some for Freddy. Since I’m more of a Team Voorhees guy, this flick delivers more of what I want. So in the end, I’d say I like Jason X a bit more. No disrespect to Robert Englund, but this movie has Jason fighting an android, plus whole slew of space marines. How can that not hit your happy spot?
HAR: I think a big part of people dismissing sequels in long running franchises is because most of the time they know what they’re getting, thus it becomes predictable and maybe boring for some. I think the Friday series never reinvented itself and gradually got worse – Jason Goes to Hell was the one I never got on with. However, The Nightmare and Child’s Play franchises managed to adapt to the decades the films were made in, and Curse of Chucky was absolutely brilliant. Fans keep returning to these films every time a new one comes out because it’s nostalgic and interesting to see how the next one will progress even if it turns out to be samey.
Let’s talk films that were initially universally panned yet as time has gone on they’ve grown a loyal fanbase and gained appreciation. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 for example didn’t get favourable reviews when it was released but is since looked on fondly especially with all the hidden undertones of homosexuality in the main character. Having a final boy instead of a final girl was interesting and different and in a lot of ways the film was ahead of its time. It’s not as good as the first one or the third installment Dream Warriors but it’s a decent entry into the franchise and one that I can’t understand why people weren’t on board with it.
RH: I rewatched it a week or two ago, and… well. It’s a pretty good eighties supernatural slasher, but it’s a terrible Elm Street movie. Freddy kills people in their dreams. That’s how the first one worked, that’s what the character does. This is a film about a monster who possesses people and has poltergeisty-telekinesis powers, but dresses like (and calls himself) Freddy. It feels to me like an original script that was rewritten into an Elm Street sequel. You could strip out the minimal connections to the first film and remake it as a stand-alone without too much work.
HAR: Russell, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case; that the storyline was intended for a completely different film and they just piggybacked on the popularity of the first Elm Street Movie. I recall from the Never Sleep Again Documentary that Wes Craven wasn’t impressed that a sequel was being made so it makes sense that it’s essentially the black sheep of the franchise caught between the masterpiece original and the fan favorite third installment.
DE: I know a lot of people who like Nightmare 2. Or at least a lot of people who seem to think it’s underrated. I think Nightmare 2 gets overshadowed because it’s sandwiched in between the original classic and the cult classic Dream Warriors. But it’s certain a prime cut of gonzo 80’s horror.
So, there you have it. Jason X is officially a fun movie, far better than anyone gives it credit for. Watch it again. DO IT NOW!
Another topic next time.