Directed by Ronny Yu. USA.  2004.

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After the post-modern post-mortem of Wes Cravenís New Nightmare (1994) and the outer space rejuvenation of Jason X (2001), we now have the celebrity death match of the new millennium!  Itís hard to believe that the characters of Jason Voorhees and  Freddy Kruger have been around since the early 1980s, and this long awaited confrontation seems like an acknowledgement and celebration of this fact.  The Friday 13th series stuck to the template that was laid down by the hugely successful horror/slasher flick Halloween in 1978, but when Wes Craven directed A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, he shook up these familiar thrills by introducing us to Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund), a wise cracking prankster that wasnít confined to the real world or bound by the laws of physics.  Donít worry if youíre unfamiliar with either of these long running franchises as the back-story of both these iconic figures is laid out clearly for any newcomers.

As soon as the film begins (with the musical themes of both seriesí competing over the introductory New Line Cinema logo), weíre thrust into the action.  Freddy is stuck in hell, yearning to escape so that he can continue his murderous spree.  Unfortunately for him, he is weakened because the inhabitants of Springfield (where Freddy went on his previous killing sprees) have managed to remove all record and any mention of him, effectively erasing him from existence.  However, Freddy has a plan to claw his way back into the dreams of the teenagers from Springfield.  He revives Jason and tricks him into killing the teens that live on Elm Street.  The residents of Springfield think that Freddy has returned, which threatens to give Freddy enough power to kill again.  But Freddyís plan backfires when Jason starts to kill the teenagers that Freddy wants to kill!  Thereís only one way to settle this, and so a fight to the death between Freddy and Jason begins, with the unfortunate teens caught in the crossfire.  

This kind of cross over between different charactersí universes has already been done before in comic books and movies, a classic example from the horror film genre being Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).  Ronny Yu previously revitalised a well-known horror series with Bride of Chucky (1998), and seems like the ideal director to resurrect Freddy and Jason for a 21st century audience.  Although Yu gives fans of both these seriesí the requisite over the top murders and elaborate set pieces that theyíve come to expect from the genre, the film is essentially just an extended punch up between two horror icons.  This may satisfy some people, but do we honestly care about the fate of these two killers, when we should be more concerned about the teens that are slaughtered during the film?  Freddy and Jason are undeniably interesting characters (as their longevity demonstrates) but at the end of the day, can we really root for characters who are murderous antagonists? (Iím sure many people will yell ĎYes!í)  A film like the upcoming Alien Vs Predator (2004) is also eagerly awaited, but may be equally problematic; after all, how do you make a confrontation between two antagonists - and in this instance, two creatures who donít talk - into an interesting film?  

In Freddy Vs Jason, this problem is half solved by Englundís return as Freddy.  After an absence from the screen of nearly ten years, Englund has a blast in the role that made him a movie icon.  Unlike the virtually somnambulant stalkers like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, Freddy has always been the joker in the horror icon pack, an impish figure who, like Hannibal Lector, gleefully despatches his victims with a well-chosen witticism.  Also, thanks to his command over the dream world, Freddy can warp the visions in peopleís minds and appear to his victims in surreal guises (as a giant shadow in the middle of a street, a horny camp counsellor at Crystal Lake, or even Jasonís mother).  In fact, Englund appears to be enjoying himself too much.  A common complaint about Freddy is that the character has been watered down over the years, becoming a clownish figure and a caricature of his former horrifying self, which is certainly the case here.  Although heís a memorable presence in the film, Freddy is more Court Jester than killer, a mugging comedy partner to Jasonís straight man. 

As Jason, Ken Kirzinger doesnít have any lines, but his sheer physical presence (like those who have played the role before him), ensures that heís an imposing figure on screen.  In fact, although he doesnít have the showier role, Jason comes off better than Freddy here, a much more believable (well, almost!) and sympathetic figure.  The best part of the film is when Freddy digs into the mind of a weakened Jason and invades his traumatic memories, a genuinely unsettling moment in a film thatís chiefly played for laughs.  The rest of the cast does what it can in the supporting roles, with Kelly Rowland perhaps coming off best of all as one of the Springfield teens.  However, none of the teenagers is as strong Neve Campbellís lead character from the Scream series, who was essential to those films.  Interestingly, the film closely resembles the first Scream (1996) movie, with certain moments almost quoted verbatim from that film (the heroine questioned at the police station, the town curfew, the party in the middle of nowhere).  Of course, Scream referenced both the early Freddy and Jason movies, so I suppose itís only fitting that this repeats motifs from the recent spate of post-modern movies that first referenced them.  Where Freddy and Jason go from here is anyoneís guess, but Iíll be surprised if they donít return in some form, be it in separate films, or back together again, locked in combat with each other again.  Until the next round thenÖ    

Martyn Bamber
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