Demented demons offer tasty showdown


Freddy (Robert Englund, left) discusses his finer points with Jason (Ken Kirzinger) in the ultimate showdown, "Freddy vs. Jason." The movie is now available on VHS and DVD.

NEW LINE CINEMA
Published: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 9:31 p.m.
Every generation, the major Big Bads have to throw down to see who is the king of the wild things. Frankenstein and Dracula had several confrontations, usually with the Wolf-Man thrown in for the triple-threat factor. King Kong and Godzilla had an epic battle with mixed results (Godzilla won in the Japanese release, Kong in the U.S. of A.).
And now there is "Freddy vs. Jason," the violent showdown between the two most prolific slashers in horror history.
To truly appreciate this fight, and the inherent style clash that makes it unique, you need a little movie history.
The "Friday the 13th" movie franchise is the home of Jason Voorhees. Jason was a deformed boy, tormented by his summer camp peers. He fell into Crystal Lake and drowned while the camp counselors were busy fooling around. This prompts his loony-tunes mother to go on a murderous rampage in the original "Friday the 13th" (1980).
But Jason didn't really drown. He was living like an animal in the woods. He sees his mother beheaded, goes even crazier than before (no small feat) and goes on a legendary camp-counselor killing spree that spanned nine more films. In "Friday ... Part 2" (1981), he wore a bag on his head, later adopting the hockey mask in "Part 3" (1983).
"Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter" is the high point of Jason's career - and of the entire slasher movie genre. A high body count, lots of nudity and a hulking monster of a villain. At this point, Jason is the killer who won't die. You can chop him, hang him, pronounce him dead and stick him in the morgue, and he'll get back up and find the nearest machete.
Why can't he die? Because he's Jason, man! "Part 5" featured a fake Jason. "Part 6" had a bolt of lightning dragging the J-man from his grave in a surprisingly funny black comedy. In "Part 7," he battled a telekinetic girl in a makeshift Jason vs. "Carrie" match-up. In "Part 8" Jason took Manhattan. In "Jason Goes to Hell," things got a bit silly as Jason had an alien living in his chest. And, of course, "Jason X" had a deep-frozen Jason resurrected in the future, where he went on a rampage in a spaceship.
Jason is silent, hasn't never spoken a word on screen. He's content to walk softly and carry a big knife, axe, spear, corkscrew or pitchfork.
Freddy Kruger, the cackling antagonist of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series, is the exact opposite. Freddy was born in 1984 in the classic original. He is a bogeyman, a child murderer who was burned to death by his victims' angry parents. Even though he died, Freddy remained a spirit, haunting the dreams of the Elm Street children.
With his dirty sweater, rumpled fedora and special glove lined with knives, Freddy is a dream demon. He was plagued, unfortunately, by a series of bad sequels. In part 2, Freddy tries to possess a teenager's body. This is one of the worst horror movies ever made and should be avoided at all costs.
Freddy slashed his way through several more movies, up through "Part 6: Freddy's Dead," and was briefly revived in "New Nightmare."
Freddy cracks jokes. He teases and taunts. He is Ali to Jason's Foreman.
"Freddy vs. Jason" gives us a much longer, more detailed story to set up the fight. Dead Freddy recruits undead Jason to kill some kids on Elm Street, thus bringing the fear back to town and opening the metaphysical door for Freddy to start haunting dreams again.
Once the story is all wrapped up, we get down to business with a classic confrontation between two storied bad guys. Let's not speak falsely here: However nice the story is, no one is really that interested in it. It's all about the melee, the brouhaha, the blood-spattering, paint-the-cabin-red battle for the slasher generation.
And let me tell you, folks, it delivers big time.
Claws fly. Blades chop. Limbs hit the ground at a dizzying pace (you won't believe how many arms get lopped off in the span of 10 minutes). Freddy has better footwork, but Jason has him on reach and upper-body strength. And neither guy minds getting his hands dirty, even if that means reaching inside the opponent's chest to mix-and-match some vital organs.
Director Ronnie Yu does a masterful job of keeping the original flavor of the characters and infusing them with a touch of the over-the-top, Hong Kong-horror style. Instead of relying too much on flashy special effects, he lets the two serial killers stand toe-to-toe and trade shots like Rocky and Apollo Creed.
"Freddy vs. Jason" is not for everyone, but for me it was a breath of fresh air. Like Martha Stewart says, when a monstrous zombie with two machetes chops a possessed stoner into thirds, "It's a good thing."
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