Freddy vs. Jason is a blood-soaked mess.

Freddy vs. Jason is a blood-soaked mess.

Freddy vs. Jason is a blood-soaked mess.

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Aug. 15 2003 1:01 PM

Blood Brothers

The titans of horror go mano a mano in Freddy vs. Jason.

Freddy and Jason come face to face with death
Freddy and Jason come face to face with death

I don't know this to be true—I hope some noble soul will do the research—but I think that Freddy vs. Jason (New Line) boasts the most arterial spray of any movie in history. I'm not talking about the actual quantity of blood: That record is pretty firmly held by Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (1992), for which the stagehands stood off camera hurling buckets of gore onto the hero as he dismembered scores of zombies with a lawn mower. * I'm talking about the kind of blood that spurts in small jets or fat geysers, or that sometimes just spritzes merrily from some minor artery. The behind-the-scenes blood guys do yeoman work in the movie's first hour, but they surpass themselves in the climax, when the two lead ghouls have at each other with machetes and razor blades. With Freddy and Jason, there's almost no such thing as a mortal wound, so they keep skewering each other and lopping off each other's body parts. There's more spray, more jets, more blood leaking from every orifice … watching that scene was when it hit me: I coulda had a V-8.

The script for Freddy vs. Jason was 10 years in the making, with team after team of screenwriters throwing in the towel and going off to more manageable projects, like Finnegan's Wake. I can't imagine what the unsuccessful adaptations were like, because this one, by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, is a real Band-Aid and styptic pencil job. It's not a natural matchup. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) was born in Wes Craven's 1984 horror picture A Nightmare on Elm Street, an uneven but often stunning film held together by an original and chilling idea: that the bad dreams of troubled children could actually kill them. The concept is what made Craven's movie: The ghoul—Freddy—an incinerated child-molester who delighted in scaring kids by slicing off his own fingers, was the icing on the cake. But after Craven decamped, Freddy transformed into a stand-up comic, making bad puns as he serially executed children. (Craven came back for Wes Craven's New Nightmare [1994], a nice-try effort that owed something—maybe a little too much—to Jonathan Carroll's twisty supernatural metafiction.) Jason of the Friday the 13th series, here essayed by Ken Kirzinger, has a far less interesting provenance: He's just an anonymous, apparently indestructible hulk in a goalie mask who kills randomly, relentlessly, and impassively—a Terminator with no mission.

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What's the basis for conflict between these two terror titans? The high concept in Freddyvs. Jason is that Freddy is languishing in the bowels of hell, gradually losing his power now that children have no knowledge—and therefore no fear—of him. (The source of Freddy's energy would be news to the poor kids in the first Nightmare picture, who'd never heard of Freddy but got cut to ribbons anyway.) Freddy decides to resurrect Jason—Michael Myers and Leatherface apparently had prior engagements—to slaughter kids on Elm Street and thereby create an atmosphere of hysteria that will allow him to return to his full strength. The catch is that Jason, that naughty boy, won't do the gentlemanly thing and step aside. Somehow the astonishingly bad actors playing the teenage protagonists figure all this out and contrive a way to bring these monsters—and their industrial-size blood bladders—together for a face-off. And I mean a face-off.

The Hong Kong vet director, Ronny Yu, did a bang-up job in 1998 with Bride of Chucky, but he can't do much for this one except keep it moving, light it scarily, and pump that plasma. There is one good line, from a stoner who recalls Jay from the Jay and Silent Bob movies: "Dude, that goalie was pissed about something." At some point, Jason—who has the way higher body count—evolves into a sort-of good guy, insofar as he appears to have the mind of a psychotic 2-year-old, whereas Freddy is more postdoctorally evil. After they each reduce the other to hunks of flesh that recall the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), one of them emerges the clear victor. I couldn't spoil it if I wanted to: New Line withheld the last 60 seconds of Freddy vs. Jason from the press to keep the outcome a big surprise. As you read this, the victor is emerging in multiplexes across the country. Lemme know how it turns out; I've met my quotient of splatter for the decade.

Correction, Aug. 22, 2003: This original version of this article incorrectly stated that Dead Alive was Peter Jackson's debut feature; Jackson had actually made several prior films (1987's Bad Taste and 1989's Meet the Feebles among them). It also stated that the hero of Dead Alive uses a chainsaw to dismember zombies, when in fact he uses a lawn mower, and that the hero's mother is among the zombies, when she is not. (Return to corrected sentence.)

David Edelstein is the chief film critic for New York magazine and a film critic for NPR’s Fresh Air.