Friday the 13th franchise has gone through quite a few changes since its inception almost 40 years ago. Jason Voorhees has been to
Vancouver Manhattan, fought Freddy Krueger, fought a psychic teenager, died multiple times and been resurrected multiple times, but his most outlandish outing was undoubtedly 1993’s atrocious Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, which had Jason’s physical body absent for most of the film as his spirit jumped from body to body (it’s even dumber than it sounds). While the effort was somewhat commendable, the film betrayed everything that fans loved about the series (with the exception of that rather impressive opening sequence). That betrayal was met with poor critical reception and even an worse box office performance. It grossed a mere $15.9 million and earned some of the worst reviews of any film in the franchise. The next plan was to bring Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger together in Freddy Vs. Jason. While that film suffered in development hell in the late ’90s, series creator Sean S. Cunningham wanted to release another Friday the 13th installment to make sure that Jason Voorhees didn’t leave the public eye. Screenwriter and actor Todd Farmer (The Messengers, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Drive Angry) was then brought on and he pitched one idea: send Jason to space. New Line Cinema was sold and Jason X, which celebrates(?) it’s 15th anniversary today, was born.
You really have to wonder how desperate New Line Cinema was to accept the whole “Jason in space” idea so quickly. They didn’t want to hear any other ideas? Not a single one? Hell, even Kane Hodder hesitated when he read the script for the film. Who could blame him? The last horror franchises to go to space (Critters, Leprechaun, Hellraiser) were all duds. Jason X is the kind of movie that ends up on the How Did This Get Made? podcast. Nevertheless, it was made and we’re stuck with it forever. Even knowing that space is known to kill horror franchises, New Line moved forward with Jason X because they needed to make another Friday the 13th film but they had to make it different enough so that it wouldn’t interfere with any potential Freddy Vs. Jason storyline (and there were a lot of potential Freddy Vs. Jason storylines).
To stand out from earlier installments, a significant amount of self-referential humor and camp was injected into Jason X. This was, of course, influenced by the massive success of Scream back in 1996. The original script for the film was darker than the final product would turn out to be, but the studio kept insisting that the film be more like Scream. What the studio didn’t realize was that Jason X would be released at the tail end of Scream’s success. In fact, it came out two years after Scream 3 was released to a tepid critical response, and by that point that meta well had dried up. When Jason X was released on April 26, 2002, no one cared. To say the film was late to the party would be an understatement.
It is important to note that while Jason X was released in 2002, the movie was actually filmed in 2000. This doesn’t completely excuse its dated attempts at meta humor, but it does somewhat explain it’s “late to the party” feel. During filming Michael De Luca, the President of Production of New Line Cinema, left the company. Unfortunately for Jason X all support for the film left with him. You see, De Luca was one of the main reasons Jason X even got the greenlight. After he left the film was shelved for roughly 18 months before finally being released in April 2002 (though it did get released in Germany in July 2001). That delay didn’t help the film, as a copy of it leaked online, making it one of the most pirated movies of that year. Upon its American release it received even worse reviews than Jason Goes to Hell and earned its place as the lowest grossing film in the franchise. Ouch.
I’m not writing this article to tell you that Jason X is a good movie. It’s not. It’s actually a laughably bad movie. That being said, I can’t help but sort of love it. I actually rank it 5th in the franchise. I started writing this article as a defense of Jason X and about halfway through realized that I can’t really defend it. I can explain my admiration for it though, and it really all boils down to the lack of pretension in the film. Jason X is never particularly scary, and the jokes miss more than they hit, but it still feels very much like a Friday the 13th film.
Director James Isaac doesn’t really have a signature style, choosing to film the movie in as straightforward a way as possible. Isaac, who died from multiple myeloma back in 2012, has even stated that he wishes he could have filmed the script that the initially read before all of the tweaks, but the film we have is still a solid effort from the director. This isn’t to say that Isaac made a gem of a movie of course. Let’s be honest, even with its $13 million(?!) budget, Jason X looks like a SyFy movie. Would you believe that there were 800 special effects shots in the film?
The cast, which includes a pre-Lizzie McGuire Movie Yani Gellman, Peter Mensah and a cameo be David Cronenberg, is mostly made up of unknowns. They do their best with the material, but they can’t help the fact that (at the time) they were just a bunch of C-level actors trying to make a quick buck off of a dying horror franchise. Still, a handful of them really look like they are having fun, particularly Andromeda’s Lisa Ryder as the android Kay-Em 14. That’s all you can really ask from the cast of a Friday the 13th film, isn’t it? If the cast isn’t having fun, the audience isn’t either. As dumb as Jason X is, at least it’s fun and entertaining. On top of that, it knows exactly what it’s trying to be. That may not be as big a deal to some of you, but I have a great deal of respect for films that know what they are. That trait makes a film more likable, and Jason X is infinitely more likable because it doesn’t take itself seriously.
As mentioned above, the jokes are hit or miss in the film, but the one joke that really lands is the now-famous virtual reality sequence in which Jason is transported back to Camp Crystal Lake via virtual reality, in a meta sequence that comments on the more ridiculous aspects of the franchise while paying its respects at the same time. Hell, it even recreates one of the best kills of the franchise with a pair of sleeping bags.
Take 92 minutes today to rewatch Jason X. Maybe it’s not as bad as you remember. Or maybe it’s worse than you remember. Either way, try to go in with an open mind and just have fun with it. That’s the way Jason X was meant to be seen. It’s neither the best nor the worst entry in the Friday the 13th series, but it has its charms.
All facts referenced in this article were sourced from Daniel Farrands’s 2013 documentary Crystal Lake Memories.