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This Week in Genre History: 'Jason X' sent the Friday the 13th series to space because what else was there?
Welcome to This Week in Genre History, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, take turns looking back at the world's greatest, craziest, most infamous genre movies on the week that they were first released.
When you are out of ideas for your franchise — and there's no shame in running out of ideas; ideas are really hard to come up with! — there is always one last place to go: Space. Space! SPAAAACE!
James Bond went to space, The Simpsons went to space, even The Fast and the Furious franchise is going to space. So, of course, Friday the 13th, one of the most improbably enduring franchises in movie history, had to go to space at some point. Where else could he go? He'd already taken Manhattan, after all. Thus, 19 years ago, on April 26, 2002, the Friday the 13th franchise sent Jason Voorhees some 455 years into the future with Jason X. I mean, why not, right? As the poster put it: "Evil gets an upgrade."
Why was it a big deal at the time? Once New Line Cinema bought the franchise in the late '90s, its thought was that Jason Voorhees had to end up in space because, seriously, there was nothing left to do with him. The company had been working on a Freddy vs. Jason crossover, but it had been delayed, and the creators wanted to make sure the Jason name remained relevant and in the public consciousness but did not intersect with the timeline for that "crossover event." So off to 2455 he went! There's definitely no Freddy Kruger there! (Unless they needed him for a sequel of his own.)
The conceit of Jason X, the tenth Friday the 13th film, was that Jason Voorhees had been captured by the government but, rather than kill him (which you can't anyway), they decided to try to figure out why he can't die despite obviously fatal wounds. For this, they trusted the scientists of the future, cryogenically freezing him (the scientist who freezes him is played by... David Cronenberg! He is almost immediately killed by Jason with a spear) so they could do further research. When Jason, along with a scientist stuck with him, is woken up more than four centuries later, he, conveniently, has many, many teenagers all set up for him to kill.
And you know what? Kill, he does.
What was the impact? You'll never believe this, but critics were not fond of Jason X. While the creators had long since gotten used to that, they weren't used to the complete and total indifference to the film at the box office, with the film opening to just $13.1 million its first weekend, one of the worst marks of the entire series.
The film ended up being the lowest-grossing Friday the 13th movie, adjusted for inflation, and, in many ways, ended the franchise as we all knew it. That Freddy vs. Jason movie ended up being made the next year (and doing a lot better), and then the franchise got a (failed) reboot in 2009, and that has been it for Jason Voorhees. We haven't seen him in a movie since. He did show up in a Radio Shack commercial, at least.
One place Jason has lived on, though, is in comic books. It's here where Jason X has its most lasting legacy. The Jason X version of Jason, with metal mask and, you know, computer powers, has become a regular character in comic versions of Friday the 13th, and he was even slated to be a playable character in the (not very good, alas) Friday the 13th video game. After all, Jason really does get an upgrade.
Has it held up? OK, so Jason X is not good. It totally isn't! It's silly and poorly acted and cheaply made (though it's actually one of the most expensive films in the franchise) and, uh, features Jason Voorhees in space. It's very dumb!
But it is also very aware that it is dumb, and thus benefits from that self-awareness. The movie's highlight, other than Jason's upgrade (which is followed immediately by Jason punching someone's head off, a Voorhees special), is when two horny teenagers sneak off to have sex, just like they have in every Friday the 13th movie ever. The minute they start, uh, enjoying each other's company, Jason, for the first time, shoots up, alert, awakened, ready to kill. The scene is a great in-joke between it and its audience, and that goodwill lasts for much of the movie.
Jason X is a Friday the 13th movie that knows it's a Friday the 13th movie, and that, right there, is better than most Friday the 13th movies. It's no wonder the movie has hung around the public consciousness more than even its makers might have suspected. (Director Adam Wingard even put a Jason X reference in the new Godzilla vs. Kong movie.) Putting Jason Voorhees in space is utterly ridiculous. That ultimately was the best reason to do it.
Will Leitch is the co-host of The Grierson & Leitch Podcast, where he and Tim Grierson review films old and new. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.