In space no-one can hear you scream, and that’s why it’s a perfect setting for a horror movie. The cold, empty vacuum has made for several classics and a few clunkers. Somewhere in between lies Jason X, a Friday the 13th sequel that jumps the shark so high it lands on a second Earth, over 450 years in the future.
The tenth mainline slasher of Jason Voorhees was born out of necessity. Freddy vs Jason was dying on the vine, and producers wanted some sort of stopgap. Screenwriter Todd Farmer pitched a simple concept: put the machete-wielding killer in space. It’s a fresh setting, opens up the opportunity for creative effects, and it leaves a gap for Jason’s fight with A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Freddy Kreuger.
To everyone’s amazement except Farmer’s, it flew, and soon an entire universe was formed around the hair-brained notion. In the mid-2450s, we’ve all packed up shop and gone to Earth Two, since mankind made a mess of the first one. A scientific expedition to our former planet uncovers the Crystal Lake Research Facility, where they find Voorhees frozen in stasis. Too inquisitive for their own good, they bring the body in, start conducting tests, and well you know the rest.
The great strength of Jason X lies in how straightforward it is. Some people unaware of what evil lies within Crystal Lake get curious, and most of them wind up dead. The elaborate backdrop contains some entertaining details, like the android Kay-Em 14 and the holo-deck, but it’s all in service of escalating the film to become the most ludicrous Friday the 13th instalment you could imagine.
Someone’s face is frozen in liquid nitrogen before getting smashed apart; another victim panics while getting in an escape pod and crashes; eventually, Jason himself merges with some nanobots to become Uber Jason (or whatever you want to call it), making him even more unstoppable. The days of watching the hockey-masked murderer take a ferry to New York for some sightseeing seem hundreds of years apart from this efficient, ruthless monstrosity.
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It was directed by James Isaac, who worked on special effects for Star Wars Episode 6: Return of the Jedi, Gremlins, and David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ among many others. His overall direction leaves something to be desired – line deliveries are often stilted, angles and cuts don’t always flow together, and some of the props and sets look like Star Wars knock-offs from the local newsagents.
But, saying all that, he knows how to set up and execute a memorable kill. The holo-deck, where Jason’s tricked into thinking he’s back at Crystal Lake and then murders two campers by beating one to death with the other, is a stroke of camp genius (pun intended). People are chopped in half every which way, their disembowelled torsos crawling along as if they ever had a hope.
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Jason X is fun, and it’s a particularly unpretentious kind of fun that embraces its own schlocky nature. That’s not to imply ill-will toward ‘requels’ and legacy sequels. David Gordon Green and Jamie Lee Curtis yielded powerful results in Halloween (2018) by turning Laurie’s story into an examination of the lifelong effects of trauma. Sally Hardesty staring down Leatherface in Netflix‘s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and getting only apathy is a harsh reminder that we’re often just another in a long line of meaningless victims to our worst abusers.
On the flip side, Sidney Prescott living a normal life before entering Scream 5 shows it’s possible to move on, if still keeping one eye over your shoulder. These are all well and good, but they’re based on diminishing returns. None capture the energy, atmosphere, or raw thrill of the originals they’re invoking, and when their story is done, what’s next? Another reboot?
As our guides to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies and Halloween movies will show you, these series do not need another timeline. Both are running dangerously close to needing two hands to count the number of restarts. Jason X does away with trying to disregard parts of the canon, embraces it all for the absolute shambles it is and launches the whole thing into orbit.
It’s worth acknowledging that in terms of horror icons heading to NASA, Jason X is an outlier. Hellraiser tried it once, and, look, let’s just say John Smithee has only barely made worse films, and Leprechaun certainly didn’t find much gold among the stars. Their issues weren’t in the setting, though. Hellraiser: Bloodline just seems like they made it up as they went along, spending almost as much time in 1790s France for whatever reason, and Leprechaun 4: In Space features possession by gonorrhoea. Pure shite – literally.
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The key is to keep it basic. Boil the thing down to its base elements, then put them into some form of futuristic spacecraft, and see what happens. At worst, it’s another bad instalment, but at best, you get something like Jason X. Everyone has a good time, and we don’t need to worry about where it fits canonically. Perfection.