The eighth sequel. The second time we’ve been promised Jason’s “final” outing. And he’s barely even in the damn movie. Jason Goes to Hell, which performed poorly at the box office and was similarly dismissed by most Friday fans, seems to have a lot going against it, and it always did – from the very beginning, when Sean Cunningham called for a new Jason film that would ignore previous sequels and get rid of “that damn hockey mask”. Dean Lorey was brought in to operate on Jay Huguely’s Part IX script, which featured Jason’s brother Elias as the killer. In keeping with the tradition of other slasher sagas (see Halloween/Scream/NOES), Lorey retained the long-lost relative – only now it was a sister, and she was the unwilling key to Jason’s resurrection after being blown to bits by the FBI.
And that’s right where the movie starts – a classic stalk-and-slash sequence erupts into chaos as Jason finds himself caught in a trap and slaughtered by the feds. Voorhees, by now one of America’s most notorious murderers, has been vanquished, right? Hell, they get as far as an autopsy before his still-beating heart entices the coroner to eat it – and Jason’s back, only without the mask, and without the nuanced performance of Kane Hodder, who had played him since Part VII.
The gripes start here. Sure, Jason’s still murdering nubile campers (and delivers some of the series’ most gruesome kills), but it’s not really Jason, is it? It’s some kind of demon passing from body to body. Wrong – it is Jason. As bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Lorey’s greatest contribution to the script, played to eccentric perfection by Steven Williams) tells TV journalist Robert Campbell, Jason wears bodies like suits. The real Voorhees is something that neither his victims nor fans have ever seen – until now.
Never before has Jason’s will to survive been more evident. With the destruction of his body, he retreats into his malformed black heart and transforms it into a body-hopping vessel. First, he has to massage the coroner’s mind until the guy’s crazy enough to eat the damn thing. From there it’s a simple matter of passing from one gullet to another in the form of a writhing “soul maggot”. And if you’ve seen the JGTH workprint, you know the transformation didn’t stop there – the “hellbaby” that emerges from the dead deputy in the finale grows into a massive horned beast and grapples with the Duke. It’s a shame that bit didn’t make it onto the uncut DVD when so much other material did (including one of the best commentaries ever from Marcus and Lorey).
After escaping the federal morgue and making a brief stop at the defunct Camp Crystal Lake, Jason sets his sights on the town itself, and his sister Diana. Unfortunately for him, the awkward Steven Freeman (John D. LeMay) has also come back to town, and becomes Voorhees’ reluctant nemesis after witnessing Diana’s death. See, Steven is the ex-boyfriend of Diana’s daughter, who is next on the masked one’s hit list. He’s also the father of her baby. And Jason needs the body of a blood relative in order to reclaim his original form…
Jessica Kimble (Kari Keegan) has moved on, though, with Steven the last thing on her mind. She’s now dating Robert Campbell, smarmy host of American Casefile, a tabloid newsmagazine that profits as much from Jason as do the minds behind the “Voorhees Burger” at Crystal Lake’s greasy spoon. JGTH is full of little things like that; things that not only address Jason’s status as a legendary figure, but that show the way the town lives in his shadow. And the protagonists in this film are all adults, with relationships and backstories far more developed than those of the long-suffering horny teens of killing sprees past.
Despite all that pesky character development, however, JGTH racks up an impressive bodycount. It also benefits from gags like Kane Hodder as a doomed FBI agent, Dean Lorey as a nebbish coroner’s assistant, and the appearance of The Evil Dead’s Necronomicon in the ancient Voorhees house – an in-joke that would mystify fans for years and which nearly led to the epic horror mash-up Freddy vs Jason vs Ash. Most of all, it benefits from having Marcus at the helm and Lorey mapping Jason’s swath of destruction. These two guys are dedicated Friday fans, and they were trying to do something fresh and fun with the umpteenth sequel.
Some of the new elements in this film include a Terminator-inspired massacre at a police station, a magical dagger with the power to send Jason to the netherworld, and the best of all – a down and dirty hand-to-hand brawl between average joe Steven and the reborn Jason Voorhees, whose explosive return to the film in his original glory elicited cheers from the audiences who’d been waiting eighty minutes to see the mask again.
It is great to see Kane come back for the last hurrah, but it’s also interesting to see how other actors portray Jason when their characters are possessed by his spirit. From the grunting, animalistic coroner to the sadistically grinning Robert Campbell, we see different aspects of Jason through the years amplified. We also witness his cruel intellect, as he possesses one last victim and talks (!) to trick Steven and Jessica.
Jason Goes to Hell lacks many qualities of previous Fridays. It’s not a stereotypical slasher. It’s not a stereotypical Jason movie. And I understand that many fans aren’t into it for those reasons. Jason Goes to Hell is an unconventional sequel that expands the mythology of Friday the 13th and – like it or not – set the stage for the blockbuster Freddy vs Jason. But I’m not saying that if you don’t like it, you don’t “get it”. It ain’t philosophy. It’s just a gory-as-hell thrill ride with lots of titties and a classic villain. If that sounds like your thing, Buy it!