Friday 21 July 2006

Friday 21 July 2006
REGION 1. PICTURE: 2.35:1 (WS)/4:3 (FS) AUDIO: DD EX 5.1/2.0
DIRECTOR: Ronny Yu WRITERS: Damian Shannon & Mark Swift
CAST: Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Monica Keena (Lori Campbell), Jason Ritter (Will Rollins), Kelly Rowland (Kia Waterson), Ken Kirzinger (Jason Voorhees), Chris Marquette (Charle Linderman), more...

Director Ronny Yu successfully relaunched demonic doll Chucky on audiences, with Bride Of Chucky (1998); by downplaying the horror and upping the kinetic action, gore, and laughs. It was a smart mix that made the Child's Play character more accessible for newcomers while never alienating fans. Yu continues this trick for Freddy Vs Jason, the long-awaited grudge match between two of the horror genre's most enduring villains –- A Nightmare On Elm Street's Freddy Krueger and Friday 13th's Jason Voorhees.

A prologue (clips of Nightmare movies, mixed with new pre-burns Freddy flashbacks) outlines the birth and modus operandi of Mr Krueger. It transpires that Freddy's reign of nightmare-induced deaths in the all-American town of Springwood has come to an end. The curse of diminishing sequels, huh? Well, no, actually the town's adults have successfully repressed the memory of Krueger so that the town's kids are no longer aware of Freddy and susceptible to his influence. Out of mind, out of sight...

But Freddy has a plan to invoke terror on Springwood/Elm Street once again, by resurrecting fellow psychopath Jason Voorhees to go on a killing spree...

Freddy Vs Jason isn't a scary movie. The violence is playful and sometimes beautiful, the gore is absurdly exaggerated (decapitated dad), and CGI neuters the horror by reminding us of its digital falsity (a nose amputation), yet a great deal of the movie works because it stays true to the characters, has strict internal logic, and offers a plot and level of mayhem that marks a high for both franchises. But it's not scary. It's having far too much fun to really care about orchestrating genuine chills.

Given a sprightly run-time, Yu packs a lot into the movie; barely a scene goes by without violence, or the threat of violence from Freddy/Jason. It's fast, savage, and does exactly what it says on the tin. With 17 movies between them, there really isn't anything fresh or interesting to say about each character individually (Freddy's the paedophile child-killer, victim of vigilante justice, able to continue killing via dreams; Jason's the indestructible bullied mummy's boy who drowned in a lake and returns to slaughter with his machete), but by forcing the two killers together... Freddy Vs Jason actually transcends its roots to provide some intriguing subtext.

The cast (the meat?) of the story are the usual assortment of adolescent clichés; the misogynist boyfriend, the embittered geek, the sexy virgin, the loudmouth slut, a duo of stoners, the handsome ex-lover, etc. It seems pointless to bemoan clichés in the slasher genre, as they're now ingrained in the fabric of these movies, and removing them would upset the apple cart (do you cut kissing from rom-coms, or explosions from action movies?) For what it's worth, the cast give better performances than you'd expect, with one even getting a noble death scene quite at-odds with the genre's "everyone must die gruesomely" mentality.

The most memorable aspect of Freddy Vs Jason is how well-crafted it is. Shannon and Swift's script adheres to genre conventions (dumb teens making dumber decisions), honours the original films (Nightmare 3's dream-preventing drug returns), ensures there are imaginative deaths (folding bed), and culminates in a genuinely exciting monster-et-monster standoff between Krueger and Voorhees. Director Yu is clearly having great fun, and visually gives the movie a glossy sheen absent from the low-budget 80's/90's instalments of all Nightmares and Fridays.

A few scenes are particularly strong: a Freddy shadow in the street, Jason slaughtering party-goers in a crop field with a fiery machete, Freddy leaping out of Crystal Lake onto a pier, Jason being impaled by dozens of razor-sharp steel rods, Freddy using Jason as a human pinball, and (in a brilliant sequence that evokes chills and sympathy) the moment when Freddy discovers Jason's fear of water and creates a shower that shrinks the behemoth down to a whimpering deformed child.

Robert Englund, horror veteran and icon, could probably play Freddy in his sleep by now. The Nightmare On Elm Street sequels reduced Freddy to a humorous anti-hero, and this incarnation of Freddy survives for Yu's movie. Freddy is quick with the one-liners and pithy remarks, but does get a few chances to make the blood run cold. As a character, I find him more interesting than Jason, although his "nightmare killings" usually mean he plays second-fiddle to the effects (a stoned caterpillar!), and his most gruesome killing barely features him (the blood bath/foot veins scene).

Canadian stuntman Ken Kirzinger makes his debut as Jason (four-time Jason Ken Hodder was replaced, much to fan chagrin), but it’s hardly difficult to stomp around with a machete, is it? Still, Kirzinger is taller than Hodder (6'5") and undoubtedly has more presence. Jason's killings all take place in the real world, and as such he gets the most ferocious slayings (usually by penetrating "rape" with his machete/penis). One early killing is even shot as if it were a male rape.

Monica Keena is the obligatory virginal heroine (Lori Campbell), a beautifully cute screen presence familiar to Dawson's Creek viewers, who actually does well in crafting a heroine with morals. The rest of the cast are drawn thinner, falling into archetypes, but nobody really underperforms and everyone seems to be treating the material with the right degree of tongue-in-cheek humour. For Destiny's Child fans, it was surprising to me that singer Kelly Rowland was actually pretty good.

The special effects are a good mix of old-school (blood-spurting dummies), and new-school (CGI shadow), but the emphasis is on good old-fashioned blood-bags and make-up. The climactic battle between the titular titans is essentially an elongated punch-up, with each semi-omnipotent do-badder refusing to die. This is cartoon violence for adults, made clear in a moment Freddy accidentally strings himself up by the foot whilst on the verge of defeating Jason. Wile E. Coyote would be proud.

Overall, fans of either villain will surely love this movie; it's one of the best "sequels" to either franchise, and is even quite accessible to new horror fans, while ensuring you get the urge to revisit those "video nasties" of yesteryear. If you don't have any affinity for Freddy, Jason, or the slasher sub-genre in general, then I have no idea why you'd watch this anyway (unless you thought it was a pop-video face-off between Freddy Mercury and Jason Donovan).

For the rest of us, this is a slick B-movie that provides everything you'd expect from the title and even offers a few nuances and cinematic riffs that neither franchise has experienced for years...


PICTURE: Interestingly, the movie comes in both widescreen 2.35:1 anamorphic and 4:3 full-screen on the same disc. I'm sure most people will opt for the widescreen version, but choice is always nice I suppose. The quality of both transfers is generally very good, with clean blacks and lots of detail. There are some smeary scenes, with the "black light" interior of a fan being particularly blurred, but the majority of the work is very good.

SOUND: There is a fantastic Dolby Digital EX 5.1 track that has plenty of bass and ambience, with some particularly good surround sound effects in a number of scenes (Jason pinball, etc). A stereo track is there and does a reasonable job, but is obviously underwhelming by comparisonn.

EXTRA FEATURES: This 2-disc Platinum Edition edition has extra's on both discs. The bonus features on Disc 1 include...

Commentary track with Ronny Yu, Robert Englund and Ken Kirzinger: A pretty good yakker track, with Englund on fine form with anecdotes and opinions. Director Yu and Kirzinger are somewhat sidelined by veteran Englund, but are both good.

"Jump to a Death" Menu Option: A neat idea for all the gore-hounds watching... who need never listen to all that dialogue stiff again, and get straight to the blood.

The bonus features on Disc 2 include:

Deleted/alternate scenes including the original opening and ending with filmmaker commentary: A huge array of deleted scenes with optional commentary from Yu and executive producer Douglas Curtis. Most interesting is the longer original opening anf the wisely-axed original ending.

Behind the scenes coverage of the film's development -- including screenwriting, set design, make-up, stunts and principle photography:

Articles: two pieces from Fangoria magazine entitled "Freddy & Jason Go To Development Hell" and "Slicing Toward Completion". Interesting for real fans.

Production Featurettes: Some excellent featurettes on the movie, such as "Genesis: Development Hell" (10 min), "On Location: Springwood Revisited" (15 min), "Art Direction: Jason's Decorating Tips" (12 min), "Stunts: When Push Comes To Shove" (22 min) and "Make-Up Effects: Freddy's Beauty Secrets" (6 min).

Visual Effects Exploration: There 12 visual effects featurettes for SFX intensive scenes, all very interesting.

Storyboards and galleries: Want to watch photos of the cast and crew, with some drawings? No? Well, avoid this.

Publicity & Promotion: The original theatrical trailer and 8 TV spots are here for your enjoyment, as is the music video from Ill Nino ("How Can I Live", 3 min), plus a delightfully silly 5-minute pre-fight conference at Bally's Casino in Las Vegas between Freddy and Jason! A rubbish featurettes entitled "My Summer Vacation: A Visit To Camp Hacknslash" (4 min) is also there – basically a one-day summer camp for film geeks awaiting the movie's release.

There is also some goodies for those with a DVD-ROM: A script-to-screen option, enhanced playback mode, etc.

Overall, this is a fantastic DVD release that will certainly please its intended audience and give you a decent insight into how the movie (and others like it) are created. Highly recommended.