Friday the 13th might not be a franchise that many people give much respect, it’s a schlocky, silly, overly gory series of films about a killer that won’t die, so it’s not exactly going to win any awards. However, it was still a smash hit when the first film came out, and quickly established itself as one of the biggest franchises in horror cinema. As such, the single film gained a sequel, then became a trilogy, then a series that seemed as un-killable as its star, Jason Vorhees. However, it’s also fair to say that the series, like many long running horror franchises, had a shaky time, and seemed to not know what to do with itself.
When the time came to make the tenth movie in the series, in part to keep the character fresh in people’s minds whilst Freddy vs Jason was stuck in development hell, the producers knew that they would have to do something noteworthy to make them stand out. After having sent the immortal killer to both New York and Hell, where else could he go? Perhaps the one place that hasn’t been corrupted by capitalism? That’s right, Jason gets to go to space!
Pitched by writer Todd Farmer, the bold idea to send Jason into space in the far future was seen by most at the time to be a wild idea, perhaps too silly to be believable. Both Critters 4 and Hellraiser: Bloodline had made the leap to send their monsters into space (strangely enough, both in their fourth outing), and this had failed to do much for either franchise. However, thanks to a pretty tight script, some cool concepts, and seemingly everyone on the film knowing not to take things too seriously, Jason X actually worked.
The story of Jason X began in the year 2010, where the US government had finally managed to capture Jason Vorhees (Kane Hodder). Held at the Crystal Lake Research Facility, the government attempt to kill Jason repeatedly, over two years, but failed to execute the mass murderer. Whilst one of the scientists, Rowan LaFontain (Lexa Doig) argues that they should freeze Jason, preventing him from performing any more crimes, the military arrive to take him away, wanting to research into his regenerative abilities. During the commotion, Jason breaks out and proceeds to kill everyone in the facility. When he stabs Rowan he pierces the cryogenics pod, and the two of them are frozen.
From here we jump forward 455 years to an Earth that has long since been abandoned due to over-pollution and severe climate change (probably a pretty safe prediction for the future we’re currently looking at). A spaceship from Earth II arrives, carrying a history professor and his students on a field trip. The students discover the buried Crystal Lake facility, and find the frozen Rowan and Jason. Using their technology, they revive Rowan and heal her wounds, whilst keeping Jason frozen in storage. Whilst Rowan is shocked to learn that she has awoken in the future, her warnings about Jason come too late, as the killer thaws out and begins a murderous rampage aboard the ship as it makes its way through the emptiness of space towards humanity’s new home.
The pitch for Jason X is pretty absurd on a surface level; sending the killer to space is kind of silly. However, when you begin to look at the ways that this can create new story opportunities it kind of makes sense. By this point everything new and interesting that could have been done with Jason had, and making more movies would have just been new takes on the same formula. Changing things up was needed. And space presented a unique opportunity.
Once aboard the ship the characters were essentially stuck in one location. Yes, it could be large, with multiple levels and rooms through which to run and hide from the killer, but you’re still ultimately stuck with him. You can’t just get away and know he’s not going to find you when there’s nowhere to go. And the film uses this conceit quite well. The change in location also opens the door for interesting ideas. For example, the ship has hologram technology, giving the victims a chance to try and trick Jason. There’s an android, which allows for the opportunity for someone to actually be able to fight Jason with an actual chance of surviving. And most iconic of all, it allows Jason the opportunity to evolve.
Touted on the posters, and shown briefly in the trailers, Jason X was probably best known as the entry in the series where Jason becomes a cyborg. Blown to pieces by the ship’s android crew-member, it seems like Jason is stopped once and for all. However, thanks to the pesky medical nanites established earlier in the film, he’s repaired and becomes ‘Uber Jason’, a silver masked, cybernetic killer. Yes, it’s silly and over-the-top, but kind of delightfully so. It’s the kind of ridiculous you want from a film where someone’s smashing heads frozen in liquid nitrogen, or the killer is beating up holographic bimbos.
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Unfortunately, not everyone at the studio had faith in the film, and thanks to little advertisement and a strangely staggered release, the movie performed poorly in the cinema, only making $16.9 million, becoming one of the worst performing films in the series. However, upon hitting home release it found a wider audience, and ended up making more than triple its budget in video, DVD, and merchandise sales, making it one of the most successful films in the franchise.
Despite the silly concept, and despite the poor box office, Jason X has become one of the more popular entries in the Friday the 13th series. It’s the film that folks who haven’t seen scoff at upon hearing about it, but that those that have watched it will defend. It’s not the best film ever made, it’ll never be called art, but if you’re looking for some ridiculous fun it certainly ticks a lot of boxes.
Jason X was released in the UK on 19th July 2002.