Friday, April 26th 2002. A couple friends and I sat in an almost empty theater. It was the opening night of JASON X, the tenth installment in the infamous Friday The 13th saga. I couldn’t have been more excited. I was a huge fan of the Friday series, and since I was born after its heyday, this was my first chance to see one in the theater!
Trust me, it was a big deal.
And get this—after nine films, they had a new concept: Jason Voorhees… in space. The hockey mask-wearing slasher had only left his comfort zone of Camp Crystal Lake once before, to hack his way through a cruise ship on its way to New York City (or to be more specific, Toronto standing in for New York City) and the possibilities of this scenario were limitless. Would horny teenagers played by actors in their late twenties still be punished for exploring their new found hormones in the future? Would Jason find new and inventive ways to use home gardening tools and kitchen utensils in zero gravity? In space, would anyone hear… you know the rest.
To be honest, aside from the climactic scenes involving an upgraded cyborg Jason and a rather brilliant kill involving liquid nitrogen, twelve years later I hardly remember the film. Jason had been the antihero of the series since at least Part 3, and by JASON LIVES (Part 6 for the uninitiated) the filmmakers were veering towards outright comedy in the films. So it’s not like the filmmakers behind JASON X were approaching the film attempting to examine deep questions about our future or the human condition. Their idea was to put Jason on a spaceship and let him do his thing. On that merit, they succeeded.
Why outer space? Let’s be honest, it’s a great pitch. Jason is such an iconic figure that even if you’ve never seen or enjoyed a Friday film, you still know who he is. So if someone says “Jason in space,” you immediately get it. Shockingly, the behind the scenes story is one of commerce, not burning artistic passion. New Line Cinema had been attempting to get FREDDY VS. JASON off the ground since at least 1988 with little luck (dozens and dozens of scripts, some by surprisingly prominent writers, had been turned down.) Not wanting their intellectual property to gather dust, they went ahead with another Friday entry. To ensure that they wouldn’t mess with the chronology of either the Friday or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, it was decided that it would be set in the future, in outer space. The movie sat on the shelf for nearly two years before it was finally released to little fanfare or box office success.
Despite being a great/hilarious pitch, is JASON X really that original? In 1996, Mad TV featured a skit entitled Friday The 13th: Jason Takes NASA. It’s about the level of writing quality that you would expect from a television institution like Mad TV, but it shows just how lowly regarded the Friday series was at that point. Perhaps New Line executives happened to be watching Fox the night it aired. Of course, Ridley Scott beat the Friday auteurs to the punch in 1979. ALIEN, brilliant and horrifying as it is, at its core is a very high concept slasher film set in space. From the terrible place of the Nostradamus right down to the scantily clad final girl Ripley fighting off the creature, it hits all the necessary beats. The film undoubtedly hits higher artistic aims than JASON X (or any of the Fridays, for that matter) but the two are not worlds apart in their basic concept.
Aside from the Jason and the Alien, there has been a disturbing lack of “(insert slasher) in space” films on our screens. It took the Leprechaun series until its fourth entry to put its title character on a space station in a 1997 direct to video entry. That particular series, revolving around an ancient foul mouthed leprechaun hunting those who stole his gold, was intentionally comedic from the start. It’s safe to assume that the creators behind that entry weren’t even aiming to reach JASON X standards, let alone those of ALIEN. The incomprehensible HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE featured a futuristic setting for its fourth chapter, opening and concluding on a space station. The Hellraiser series was always known for its disturbing special effects and otherworldly visuals and firmly took place in a fantasy realm, so the leap from Earth to the stars isn’t a huge one. Leatherface of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE never made it space, which is surprising simply because it’s easy to imagine some marketing executive becoming ecstatic that they could use “Leatherspace” in the marketing campaign.
What about Freddy Krueger (who would go on to fight Jason to a draw a year after JASON X)? The Nightmare on Elm Street series, always more slick and inventive than the Friday saga, had its particular sets of rules that allowed Freddy to bend reality in the dreams of his victims. From a creative standpoint, it’s arguable that the series would have nothing to gain from putting its wisecracking dream stalker out of our atmosphere. Maybe it’s a missed opportunity that Freddy never had a victim dream of being in space. Chucky? With the recent direct to DVD resurrection of the killer doll, it’s not hard to picture him stowing away on a space shuttle, given the purely comedic vibe of the series after the well made, creepy original film.
And then there’s Michael Myers. John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN is an indisputable classic, still terrifying to this day. Naturally it spawned multiple sequels, wildly varying in quality (2 and 4 are surprisingly well done, 3 doesn’t even feature Michael, 5 is bad, 6 is fascinating in its behind the scenes drama if nothing else, 7 has its moments. We don’t talk about part 8 or the Rob Zombie “remakes.”) The Halloween series always drew a bit more respect than its counterparts, perhaps owing to the widespread appreciation of the first film. So between seven direct sequels and two remakes nobody, not even Rob Zombie himself, thought to put Michael in space, right? Actually, John Carpenter did. The man behind the original film had walked away after the second entry, which he only begrudgingly co-wrote. When the box office receipts for Part 5 came in, the powers that be behind the series knew they needed to do something to restore their fortunes. Legend goes that they approached Carpenter to return to the series, and his concept was to put Michael in space. In interviews Carpenter has always displayed an incredibly dry sense of humor, so in all likelihood he was just screwing with the producers and had no intention to ever revisit the series. That said… Carpenter had worked in the SciFi genre before, and post Halloween he had directed The Thing and Starman, among others. So there is a very slight possibility that Carpenter may have been genuine in his pitch. Certainly the rumored particulars of the plot, where the general populace is fed up with Michael Myers seeming immortality and decides that shooting him into space is the most reasonable solution, seem in line with Carpenter’s humor. Perhaps tragically, we’ll never know.
With a lack of horror “stars” in modern cinema, the future of the “slasher in space” subgenre seems dubious, at best. I don’t know who or what Annabelle is, but I seriously doubt she’ll be stalking teenagers on a space station anytime soon. There were the remakes of Friday, Nightmare, and Halloween, each one more soulless and missing the point than the last, and none of them were able to successfully launch a new series. So Jason’s voyage to the stars remains an anomaly, a high concept attempt to revive a famously low concept series. And maybe that’s the problem. In the final scene of JASON X, an exploding space station sends him back down to our planet, serendipitously right into Camp Crystal Lake. Jason Voorhees is the ultimate static character, always right back where he needs to be for his next adventure.
Now, time to get back to work on my latest spec, LEATHERSPACE.