Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 30, 2015)
When released in 1993, did anyone actually believe that Jason Goes to Hell would fulfill its subtitle as “The Final Friday”? After all, the series already attempted that ruse with 1984’s Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Friday, so it seems unlikely many thought Hell would come as the series’ finale.
And that skepticism proved correct, though it took awhile; we didn’t get another entry until 2001’s Jason X. Since then, we received 2003’s Freddy Vs. Jason and a 2009 franchise reboot.
Those films are the subjects of separate discussions, so here we’ll stick with 1993’s Hell. When last seen in Jason Takes Manhattan, our lead ended up in a sewer covered with toxic waste. Of course, that doesn’t stop him.
A comely lass goes to decrepit Camp Crystal Lake and attempts a shower but gets interrupted by crazed serial killer Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder). He chases her out of the cabin and into a trap.
It turns out the woman – FBI Agent Elizabeth Marcus (Julie Michaels) – acted as bait to draw out Jason. A well-armed team opens fire on Jason and seems to nail him, decapitated head and all.
And that ends the movie after eight minutes, right? Uh, no. Jason’s remains go to a federal morgue in Ohio where a coroner (Richard Gant) examines them.
In the middle of this, Jason’s heart starts to beat. Overwhelmed by an uncontrollable urge, the coroner eats it. This launches a supernatural transformation during which Jason overtakes the coroner’s body and sends the physician on a killing spree.
This opens up the possibility that Jason remains out and about and leads us to Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), an elite bounty hunter who believes Jason can take over others’ bodies – and that for the sum of $500,000, he can end the nightmare once and for all. American Case File TV host Robert Campbell (Steven Culp) will pay that sum if Duke can prove that he really did the deed.
Duke heads to Crystal Lake and encounters Diana Kimble (Erin Gray), a woman with a mysterious past connected to Jason. We follow the pursuit of Jason and the connection to Diana as well as the inevitable mayhem the seemingly unkillable body-changing monster brings along the way.
Because I’ve not seen the first eight Friday flicks in a while, I don’t recall how much effort they invested in explanations of their existence. Virtually every Friday ends with the apparent demise of Jason, so the next one needs to tell us how he returned; I just can’t remember how much info those follow-ups offered to tell us how Jason came back from the dead.
Like I mentioned at the start of my synopsis, Manhattan finished with Jason covered in a sewer covered with toxic waste. (Actually, we saw a child version of Jason; fans appear to debate whether we were meant to take this as literal or figurative imagery. I opt for “figurative”.)
So what the heck happened between films? Does Hell just expect us to forget that Jason was pretty melted at the finish of Manhattan? Do this one’s producers want to pretend it never existed? Should we just accept that Jason came back to life and not worry about how this happened?
I guess we’re forced into the latter position, but it feels lazy that the filmmakers don’t even bother with the slightest connection to Manhattan. Sure, four years elapsed between movies, but that doesn’t mean that fans forgot Manhattan and wouldn’t wonder what led to Jason’s umpteenth resurrection.
Even with a clear connection to Manhattan, I doubt it would’ve made much of a difference in this tired, overwrought gore-fest. I will give Hell some credit for its attempt to grow the franchise, as the “body-shifting” conceit adds some intrigue. Granted, it can feel like a cheap tactic but after so many films that stick with a lumbering big guy, it’s vaguely exciting to see different-looking baddies for once, even if they all act like the same old Jason.
Unfortunately, this narrative innovation usually feels like little more than an excuse to save on the film’s hockey mask budget. The body-shifting concept adds next to nothing to the story other than to make it feel less like Friday the 13th and more like some sci-fi escapade. Like it or not, Friday equals Jason, so a movie without his iconic look becomes a flawed Friday.
The body-shifting idea seems especially pointless because Hell’s main gimmick revolves around its claim that only a Voorhees can kill Jason, so we focus on attempts to keep his relative Jessica Kimble (Kari Keegan) alive until she can accomplish this deed. Could this not occur with “traditional Jason” as the target? I see no reason we need “body-shifting Jason” other than as a cheap tease; that concept doesn’t contribute to the drama.
This leaves Hell as little more than the same-old blood and gore. Maybe fans feel differently, but I think Hell provides fairly uncreative kills. As the series progressed, some of the “fun” came from the kooky ways Jason would off his targets, but that side of things flops here. Nothing especially impressive or memorable occurs, so the deaths feel perfunctory and dull.
Maybe it was too much to expect anything creative from the ninth entry in the Friday the 13th series, but I had some hopes for it. After all, I kind of liked the eighth film, so I saw no reason number nine couldn’t provide at least minor pleasures. Unfortunately, it seems mostly uninspired and forgettable.