Today marks the 25th anniversary of the ninth installment in the Friday the 13th slasher franchise, Jason Goes to Hell, a film that saw the iconic maniac looking his very best... which is very relative, of course.
Director Adam Marcus (Texas Chainsaw 3D, Secret Santa) was just 23 years old when he signed on to captain the next chapter of the Jason Voorhees saga following Jason Takes Manhattan. At the time, it made him the youngest director ever hired for a major studio feature film. Series creator Sean Cunningham was a family friend of Marcus, and once he graduated from NYU film school, Cunningham lured him to Hollywood for a glorified internship before offering him a chance to helm an entry in the Friday the 13th universe.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, starring the hulking Kane Hodder, John D. LeMay, Steven Williams, Kari Keegan, and Erin Gray, was released by New Line Cinema on Friday, August 13, 1993. It was shot in 37 days for a relatively cheap $2.5 million and received respectable but polarizing reviews.
The paranormal screenplay, with Jason's damned spirit engaging in body-swapping, and subsequent hard R-rated film have their share of rabid fans as they try to explain Jason’s mysterious supernatural origins and act as a bridge between the more campy and reality-based slasher elements of the previous sequels.
This shift brought the hockey-masked murderer into a more occult-centric horror flick with some truly shocking practical makeup effects by Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger of KNB EFX Group. It was a brash new direction, though the box office receipts did not reflect new enthusiasm for the franchise as it made just $15.9 million at the box office, one of the lowest of the series.
Still, it has its pleasures. Marcus got to pummel Voorhees in a barrage of smoking body parts and hail of bullets, sneaked in the actual Necronomicon from Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, and got New Line founder Bob Shaye to even lend him the original Freddy glove to use in the hellbound finale.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Marcus about the cult movie's milestone anniversary and he reflected on working with Kane Hodder, the deleted scenes of Demon Jason, Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the movie, and how horror has changed in the past 25 years. The amiable and talented director also shared some rare images and stills of the film's production from his personal collection in the gallery below.
What is your creative background and when did the movie bug first strike?
I grew up back East and was raised in Westport, Connecticut where Sean Cunningham was born and lived. My best friend was Sean's son, Noel. Sean knew I was really excited about filmmaking and so he became like a cinematic father to me. I was always there and wanted to know everything about movies. Like so many people of my generation, I was nine years old and the starship goes over my head at the beginning of Star Wars and I was like, "I want to do that for the rest of my life." People forget that Sean started his career with Wes Craven, and everybody called him Uncle Wes. It was a dreamland with all these remarkable horror voices.
How did you get drawn into directing this Friday the 13th sequel at such a young age?
I ended up at NYU and helped finance my way through film school by running my own theatre companies. I won Best Picture and was nominated for the Student Academy Award and the movie did really well for me. Sean called me up and had seen the film. He said to come to Los Angeles and "be my bitch for a year and I'll give you your shot." I came to L.A. with $300 in my pocket, debt-free at twenty years old, and started working for Sean. I had no car so I bought a 1963 canary yellow VW Bug, the exact same car Kevin Bacon drives in Footloose. Again, another connection to Friday the 13th because Kevin Bacon is the star of the first Friday the 13th.
Disney bought an R-rated horror comedy with musical numbers in it I'd workshopped with its screenwriter Dean Lorey called Johnny Zombie and turned it into My Boyfriend's Back. Sean said New Line was buying the rights to Friday the 13th from Paramount and told me, "if you can figure out a way to get that f***ing hockey mask out of the movie, I'll let you write and direct it." Three days later I delivered a treatment for what would become Jason Goes To Hell. What I didn't know at the time was that New Line had not bought the title, Friday the 13th; they had bought Camp Crystal Lake and Jason Voorhees.
How did you approach writing the story for Jason Goes To Hell?
Dean Lorey and I thought everything had to come from a place of logic. In the first movie Jason is a little boy, thirty years dead and trapped at the bottom of a lake. By Part Two it's only two weeks later, and this kid has grown two feet, he's wearing a full outfit of clothes, figured out how to find Alice, drags her back to Crystal Lake with his mom's head to make a shrine while looking like the Elephant Man.
So that's the logic I have to build off of? And there had been over 100 murders in a one-mile radius of this camp. So that's why the opening of the film is the feds doing a sting operation and blowing him the f*** up. We put more squibs on Kane Hodder's body than any other actor, and that includes Sonny in The Godfather. Kane was a madman! But I didn't want it to become Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I thought because Jason is a zombie from Part 6 on, we need a story about the monster he is.
What is the backstory link you crafted to the Evil Dead franchise?
When we were pre-producing the movie, Bob Kurtzman and the guys at KNB said we're gonna do the effects on the movie. So I got to go on Sam Raimi's set for Army of Darkness. I asked Bob if Sam would lend me the Necronomicon for Jason Goes To Hell. I let Bob in on my secret plan and knew I couldn't say Deadite or Evil Dead in the movie because Universal owned the rights. If I just take that prop and put it in the Voorhees house, and use the Kandarian dagger as the thing that kills Jason, what I'm doing is setting up a mythology that Jason's mom wanted her so back so badly that she made a deal with the darkness. So she reads from the Necronomicon and brings about the resurrection of her son, so now the fact he lived at the bottom of the lake and grows two feet makes sense.
The visual effects are inventive and gruesome and look very fresh for 25 years old. What was it like working with a younger Greg Nicotero and the KNB team?
Greg was part of the crew that put the deal together, but it was really Bob Kurtzman and Howard Berger who were the lead guys. Kurtzman has been one of my three best friends for the last 25 years because of our meeting on that movie. Bob and I spent months together pre-producing the effects and it was one of the most collaborative experiences I've ever had. Howard fashioned a belt with two saddlebags on either side for me, with ladles in the belt. One bag was filled with pus and the other bag was filled with blood, so that I could dress things as we were working.
What is your favorite Jason kill in the film?
Michelle Clunie getting split up the middle in that tent is so visceral and so brutal. We made two bodies for Michelle and had to cast her entire body and she's an amazing actor. After we shot the scene Bob told me he could make those two bodies into stereo speakers for my apartment. I laughed and told him to get rid of those bodies, dismantle them. If any girl ever saw them in my apartment I'd never get laid again!
Whatever happened to the full-sized Demon Jason creature and why was it deleted from the film?
It got cut mostly because the test audience was confused by it. They didn’t get that it was Jason and how he became reborn. Once we just made the little demon go into Erin’s dress and Jason burst from the floorboards everyone was able to understand the transition. The performer who was in the makeup was badass. It just didn’t work story-wise.
You shocked audiences at the finale with Freddy's glove coming out of the ground, teasing a Freddy vs. Jason movie. How did that all come about?
Jason Goes To Hell is one of the most referential horror movies ever made. We see the Necronomicon and Kandarian dagger from Evil Dead, The Crate from Creepshow in the basement of the Voorhees house, and you've got Cunningham County. The jungle gym at the end is from The Birds. Universal packed it up and gave it to me and I put a bird at the top of it. I asked if New Line owned the rights to Freddy so I called up my two executives, Mike De Luca, and Mark Ordesky, the guy who brought Lord of the Rings to New Line. I told them I wanted the glove and his laugh for the movie and I gave them the ending I wanted. Freddy just died in Freddy's Dead and he's in Hell.
Who better to drag Jason into Hell than Freddy? These guys went nuts! When Sam Raimi gave me the Necronomicon he handed it to me in a plastic bag. When I asked for the original glove from Freddy's hand, it came in a box handcuffed to a guy who delivered it. It was Kane Hodder's hand inside the glove that pulls Jason's head down, making him the only guy to play Jason Voorhees AND Freddy Krueger.
If you had the keys to the Friday the 13th kingdom and an unlimited budget, what Jason movie would you make?
I'd get Steven Williams back as bounty hunter Creighton Duke to hire the most badass military special forces on planet Earth and I'd make a Predator movie with Jason. That's the movie I would make. I'd love for the franchise to go down and dirty. (laughs).
What advice do you give aspiring horror filmmakers trying to break in?
If you're following a trend, it means it's been around long enough that it's already over. Make short films, write scripts that scare the crap out of you. The great horror writers and directors are great because they tell stories that mean something to them. If all you do is do riffs and references to other people's art, you'll end up with something that feels packaged and that doesn't resonate. This is a period of time when creativity should trump everything else, where your personal voice can be heard so clearly.