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Freddy Vs. Jason

 

Gen-X-Review-Freddy_vs_JasonHistory is dream no one wakes up from alive, and the new slasher film Freddy Vs. Jason reveals a trail of tears leading through the last three decades of horror films to an original body: My body.


I want to start with a little cultural fable before I begin this week’s review. It’s the sort of Cinderella story they don’t teach children today – The Marquis de Sade version where the evil prince keeps Cinderella locked away as living pornography, relishing her helplessness and his sense of power and dominance.


In this story a child is born to young parents in 1968. Rosemary is thrilled when she gets pregnant, but later comes to believe her son is evil personified, not only dangerous, but intimately polluted, dirty at the core. She attempts to abort the child, but it somehow lives despite her.


Across the world other women were also giving birth to horrid monsters, mutants, and demonic spawns. Some had misshapen heads – a sure sign that they were evil, I guess – while others appeared to be normal little babies only to turn on their innocent parents at the last moment. Possession was as common as the measles, and if the child wasn’t born bad it was certainly too receptive to the demonic takeover.


Rosemary’s Baby survived in Damien from the Omen franchise. He passed his evil on to his cousins in the It’s Alive series and guided Linda Blair in The Exorcist. He had cameos in hundreds of bad horror films, from the Prophecy to The Demon Seed. He was in the prime of his power in the mid- to late 1970s, when his universal scorned was coupled with fear.


His parents couldn’t understand him and the culture didn’t want to support him, but at least everyone respected his power.


Then, abruptly, in 1979-80, the rules changed. Young adults who had secretly feared and loathed children finally became fed up with the ungrateful little brats who just flat out refused to die for them. Damian’s voice changed on his sweet sixteenth birthday and he felt the new thing in the air. He was no longer something to fear and destroy: Now he was something to hunt for sport.


He was slaughtered in funhouses, crushed by demonic automobiles, buried alive. All the creative psychic powers once attributed to him were now used against him and he died elaborately: Axes splitting him in two, shovels ripping through his belly, hooks catching in the hollow of his eye…


This is the story on my generation. Not every age pretends its offspring are rotten to the core, killing them first in the name of public safety and then because it’s good fun to watch teenagers being dismembered. It takes a very special time to produce adults who pay to see children as monsters, victims and deviants.


At the time kids my age welcomed the slasher films, since an occasional adult was killed alongside the scores of teenagers, which seemed refreshing at the time. We’d already accepted ourselves as soiled, maybe even cursed, and we took our cinematic deaths with a healthy dose of irony, often cheering on the killers.


Which brings me to Freddy Vs. Jason. Finally.


The Friday the 13th series set the bar for ’80s horror films. The story followed Jason, an increasingly menacing mass murder, as he swathed his way from one teenaged community to the next. The first film of the series was almost suspenseful, borrowing it’s ending from Psycho, but as the series continued its plot became more or less at the service of its violence.


Jason is not born a villain, like Damien, but learns to become a monster. We are told through the films that he drowned at a lake when two camp councilors were busy in their bedrooms, and Gen-Xers identified with him on many levels. As latchkey kids, abandoned, neglected, and ultimately rendered valueless, we understood what pissed Jason off.


It was just too bad that he was taking his rage out on us and not the adult population that had deserted him.

In 1985 low-budget director Wes Craven released A Nightmare on Elm Street, which introduced Freddy Kruegger, a dream demon who had murdered countless kids, been killed, and yet somehow rewarded with supernatural power. Like Jason, Freddy singled out teenagers, but unlike Jason he murdered to satisfy his sadistic desires, not avenge some wrong. Freddy embodied what we knew from the world: Those in power would turn nasty, making us squirm and run, ultimately absorbing us as easily as a chicken McNugget.


In bringing these two creatures together, Freddy Vs. Jason’s filmmakers needed to bridge their worlds, create a plausible plot line, and contend with their natural chemistry. Would these monsters get along, bonding over the good times of the seventies and eighties and exchanging recipes or would there be friction, awkward silences. Would it be a love connection or something very different?


It has been years since Freddy walked freely in the dreams of the children of Elm Street. Like any god, he has lost his power as people stopped believing in him. In order to create fear in the population he resurrects Jason from the dead, hoping that he will frighten the children back into Freddy’s arms. The plan appears to work, but Freddy becomes greedy when Jason kills too many young people, stealing their souls from the dream demon.

It’s Jason’s moral duty to destroy sinners and force the protection of children, and he performs his tasks with cold efficiency, an unlikely angel of retribution. Attacking a rave, he is doused in pure alcohol and lit on fire. Grabbing a machete he walks into the crowd, striking down the wicked and sending the others scattering back to their homes, where they should be on a school night.


Jason is the classic victim-turned-victimizer, so caught up with an emotional trauma that every action is merely an articulation of the same abuse over and over again. He murders, but his actions are almost forced by an unseen hand and the damage he does is the effects of longstanding psychological damage. Freddy, on the other hand, is just a jerk: He kills because it’s fun, and punishes because he’s in a position to do so. In the end both murder, but is one less evil by virtue of the fact that he’s reenacting primal childhood shock?


The film pushes its moral questions quietly, while Jason impales and dismembers teens and Freddy curses like the Wicked Witch of the West and occasionally burns his name into young flesh. By the time the audience knows it’s cheering for one of these mass murders it’s too late. An improbable Rocky movie presenting the dumbest fight scene seen since Superman II, Freddy Vs. Jason is an unexpected delight.


The film reveals the generational and ethical forces at work in the horror film genre. Jason is a Gen-X anti-hero, destroying evidence of the kind of decadence embodied in a Charlie Manson or Thrill Kill Cult. Freddy clings on to his sadism, remembering the good old days when youngsters were disposable toys for aging boomers, but what he really does is remind us of our own history relative to horror films.


The sadist stepped out of the corner and you saw with horror that it was always just you, watching yourself with a smug sense of moral outrage.

 

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