A standoff between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, those two horror-picture icons of the '80s, was probably as inevitable as the one between King Kong and Godzilla back in the '60s. It occurs in the super-charged extravaganza "Freddy vs. Jason," which has tremendous energy, outrageous humor, dazzling technical finesse — and a numbing amount of violence, brutality, bloodshed and all-out savagery. It is downright depressing to think about all that vigorous cinematic artistry and expertise aimed so low.
As millions of moviegoers will recall, Freddy is the serial killer of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984), a man with a hideously burned face and a prosthetic left hand with scythes in place of fingers who haunts the dreams of children and teens. Meanwhile Jason, introduced in "Friday the 13th" (1980), is a bald 11-year-old harassed by the other kids at Camp Crystal Lake until he drowns; yet he emerges from the watery grave, his face hidden by a hockey mask and wielding a sword in pursuit of revenge. Both films spawned a seemingly endless succession of sequels.
However, it's been a while since Freddy terrorized the community of Springwood, where Freddy's name is never spoken and parents have resorted to administering a dangerous drug to their kids to suppress their ability to dream. But Freddy (Robert Englund, as gleefully nasty as ever) is tired of lying around in hell and decides to slip into the dreams of Jason (Ken Kirzinger), sleeping away in a cemetery. Knowing that he will be in a weakened state when fortuitous circumstances allow him to return to Springwood, Freddy intends to keep the big lug under his control.
Not surprisingly, Freddy zeroes in on the scene of his first crimes, 1428 Elm St., now the home of pretty teenager Lori (Monica Keena) and her widowed doctor father (Tom Butler). Her boyfriend, Will (Jason Ritter), locked up in a mental institution with his pal Mark (Brendan Fletcher) — their knowledge of Freddy is believed to make them dangerous — escape to warn Lori and her girlfriends Kia (Kelly Rowland) and Gibb (Katharine Isabelle) that Freddy is on his way back. Nevertheless. Freddy, abetted by Jason, soon unleashes a horrendous rampage, with the two maniacs finally turning on each other.
The cast is game, writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift are clever and ingenious in reviving and combining the two venerable horror franchises, and special effects makeup designer Bill Terezakis has outdone himself in gruesomeness. Hong Kong-whiz Ronny Yu has directed with consummate authority and verve, but he's a long, long way from his exquisite "The Bride With the White Hair" (1993).
By now doctoral theses may well have been written about how the Freddy and Jason films are cathartic for teens, jolting them out of their youthful sexual insecurities. This might be a genuine effect, but it's impossible not to wonder if these films merely desensitize viewers to real-life violence.
"Freddy vs. Jason" shows that exploitative screen violence escalates unabated. Above all, it raises that occasionally troubling question: For just what kind of film is the MPAA saving its NC-17 rating if not this one?
'Freddy vs. Jason'
MPAA rating: R, for pervasive, strong horror/violence/gore, gruesome images, sexuality, drug use and language
Times guidelines: The savagery is extreme, with emphasis on blood and entrails.
Robert Englund ... Freddy Krueger
Ken Kirzinger ... Jason Voorhees
Monica Keena ... Lori
Jason Ritter ... Will
Kelly Rowland ... Kia
A New Line Cinema presentation. Director Ronny Yu. Producer Sean S. Cunningham. Executive producer Douglas Curtis. Screenplay Damian Shannon. Mark Swift. Based on characters created by Wes Craven and by Victor Miller. Cinematographer Fred Murphy. Editor Mark Stevens. Music Graeme Revell. Special effects makeup designer Bill Terezakis. Visual effects supervisor Ariel Velasco Shaw. Costumes Gregory B. Mah. Production designer John Willett. Art director Ross Dempster. Set decorator Shannon Gottlieb. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
In general release.