When New Line acquired the rights to the Friday the 13th series, I couldn't have been happier. Paramount never seemed comfortable with the franchise, always looking to distance themselves from it and never quite understanding the following that the films had. New Line, however, was The House That Freddy Built. Their history was all about genre films and franchises and if anyone was going to run with the ball on Friday the 13th, surely it was New Line. That wasn't quite how things panned out, though. At least not initially. Right out of the gate, New Line's first Friday was slated to be the last - The Final Friday.
I doubt if anyone ever believed this would be the real end of the series. After all, we had already been down this road before with The Final Chapter in '84 and here we were, four more films later. Calling this "The Final Friday" was just a way to get audiences to show up after the last few entries in the series had seen waning attendance. New Line definitely had a better handle on how to sell this stuff more than Paramount did. The poster for Jason Goes To Hell is one of my favorites - you just can't beat the sight of that metal hockey mask against a background of flames with the drooling demonic worm wriggling in and out of the eye holes. Right off the bat, the poster signaled that this was going to be a very different from the Friday films of the past.
Written by the young crew of Jay Huguely, Adam Marcus, and Dean Lorey with the twenty-three-year-old Marcus himself assigned first-time directing duties, Jason Goes To Hell reflects - for both good and bad - an entirely new take on the franchise. For the first time, this is a Friday film made by people young enough to have been raised on the series. Marcus was a close friend of Sean Cunningham's son Noel and as a kid, he was present on the set of the original movie. Alone in the series, Jason Goes To Hell feels like a work of fan fiction, an alternate reality take on the character that creates an elaborate new mythology for Jason and the Voorhees clan (a host of random Easter Eggs for the horror crowd are also scattered throughout the film, with the Necronomicon from The Evil Dead and the "Antarctic Expedition" crate from "The Crate" episode of Creepshow making cameo appearances). In some ways, this makes Jason Goes To Hell an interesting film with a sensibility that none of the other films share, in other ways, a maddening one.
At the time, it probably seemed like a great idea to really shake things up with the franchise. The series was dying a protracted death at the box office, and no one really seemed to know what to do with Jason anymore (hence the sale to New Line from Paramount). And maybe at the time, it seemed like the audience might crave some answers as to how Jason is able to survive so much trauma (like, for instance, death) in film after film. In hindsight, however, the new abilities and backstory for Jason that Jason Goes To Hell introduces just points to how far astray from its roots the series had gotten. Jason was now some fantastical creature who not only couldn't die but who's body was just a vessel from which he could transfer his evil essence from one host to the next. Marcus has said that he and his co-writers hadn't seen the 1987 sci-fi thriller The Hidden when they wrote Jason Goes To Hell (which had an alien possessing identical body-hopping abilities to the ones they gave Jason) but whether it was an original idea or a rip-off, it doesn't matter much anyway - history has borne out the fact that this just wasn't the right way to go.
Friday the 13th should stick to telling the same story about a psycho in the woods out to protect his turf. The more you get away from that, the more the series loses itself. What saves Jason Goes To Hell is the enthusiasm behind it and the commitment - no matter how wrongheaded - to taking the series someplace different. There's plenty of weird bits here never seen before or since in the Friday universe - like Jason strapping down a naked prospective male host and shaving him with a straight razor before transferring bodies or the sight of Jason in satantic slug form making his way between Erin Gray's legs. I also liked Steven Williams' character of Creighton Duke - a larger than life bounty hunter who knows everything there is to know about Jason. As a director, Marcus went all out with the visuals in a way that no Friday helmer ever had up to that point and with Jason Goes To Hell featuring more shoot-outs and action-style moments than any other entry in the series, Marcus even offers up some John Woo moments (before Woo's style became trendy in the US - Jason Goes To Hell was in fact released the week before Woo's US debut, Hard Target) with characters firing their guns in slow motion as they dive through the air. Honestly, I'm surprised that Marcus hasn't gone on to do much more in the genre, or with directing in general, as this film showed he had some serious chops.
In the end, I can't help but maintain a fondness for Jason Goes To Hell. It's a nutty entry, to be sure, but I appreciate its audacity. If nothing else, it had the most crowd-pleasing final shot in the series. I don't think I've heard a louder reaction from a theater audience than I did from the opening night audience I saw this with when Freddy's glove bursts from the ground to drag Jason's mask beneath the dirt. Total hysteria. For that moment, at least, a theater full of Friday fans were in horror heaven.