Franchise Killers: Jason X
I grew up in the eighties when slasher movies were going through their heyday. The king of the slashers was Jason, the hockey-masked killer of the Friday the 13th series. It was very common back then to hear that there was a plan to make 13 movies in the series. Even as a kid, I knew that was ridiculous. If the movies were still making money, they wouldn’t stop at 13. If people stopped buying tickets, they wouldn’t make it to 13. That’s just not how things work.
As it turns out, the Friday the 13th series made it pretty dang close to the magic number. They got as far as Jason X.
Before we get into details on the tenth Friday the 13th movie, let’s get a little housekeeping out of the way. Someone will almost certainly argue that Jason X was not a franchise killer because the character has appeared in subsequent movies. In 2003, two years after Jason X, the masked killer squared off against Freddy Kruger in Freddy Vs. Jason. But I’m not counting that as a continuation of the Friday the 13th franchise. It was more like an attempt to start a Freddy/Jason cross-over series. Similarly, I don’t consider the 2009 reboot to be part of the original series. It was a failed attempt to start a new series of movies.
Agree? Disagree? That’s fine. But that’s how I’m keeping score. By that reckoning, Jason X killed the original Friday the 13th series.
The original Friday the 13th was released in 1980. It was a low-budget slasher movie that exceeded low expectations. There had been slasher movies before. Friday the 13th was definitely following in the footsteps of John Carpenter’s Halloween. But whereas Halloween was built around suspense, Friday the 13th delivered the gore. It proved to be a box office bonanza which ushered in a wave of sequels and copycats.
By the end of the eighties, the slasher craze was dying out. Jason had been eclipsed by the more popular Freddy Kruger from the Nightmare on Elm Street series. There were several attempts to make a movie featuring both characters, but while they were owned by different companies no agreement could be reached. In 1989, the seventh Friday the 13th movie, Jason Takes Manhattan, proved to be a box office disappointment. Paramount, which had been distributing the Friday the 13th movies, lost interest in the series.
This paved the way for Sean S. Cunningham, the director of the original Friday the 13th, to return to the series. Cunningham wanted to bring Jason over to New Line Cinema so he would be under the same studio as Freddy. His plan was to move forward with the long-discussed cross-over movie. But that project was stuck in limbo.
New Line was worried about pairing up Freddy and Jason at a time when both series were at a low point. The Nightmare on Elm Street movies seemed to have run out of steam with the 1991 release, Freddy’s Dead. So Wes Craven was courted back to revive the series with New Nightmare in 1994. With Freddy unavailable, Cunningham decided to move forward with a solo Jason movie.
That movie was Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday which was released in 1993. This was actually the second time the series had promised to deliver an ending. Nearly ten years earlier, the fourth movie was subtitled: The Final Chapter. Neither The Final Friday nor The Final Chapter ended up being the final anything.
As it turns out, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was a box office disappointment. So the Freddy/Jason movie was back on the table. But even with Freddy available, getting the crossover off the ground was harder than anyone expected. Cunningham worried that audiences would lose interest if too much time passed between Friday the 13th movies. So he decided to make one more solo Jason movie before the big crossover.
Jim Isaac was a special effects coordinator for David Cronenberg. Isaac had made his directorial debut on The Horror Show which Cunningham had produced. Since then, Isaac hadn’t been able to get any more directing jobs. So he convinced Cunningham to let him make the next Friday the 13th movie. Cunningham’s son, Noel, served as the producer and Todd Farmer was brought on to write the script.
Isaac, Farmer and Noel Cunningham began kicking around ideas for the tenth Jason movie. Most of their ideas involved putting Jason in a new environment. Rejected ideas included Jason in the arctic, in L.A., on safari, in the hood, under water, etc. There was even an idea to have Jason slice his way through NASCAR. Eventually, Farmer suggested “Jason in space” and it stuck.
The space concept had a few advantages. One, it allowed the franchise to skip ahead so it would not be impacted by the crossover whenever that might happen. But also, they thought they could do an Alien-type of movie with Jason instead of the usual creatures.
Unfortunately, the three men had a hard time agreeing on what Jason in Space should be. Isaac wanted the movie to be funny. Farmer was more interested in the sci fi angle. And Noel Cunningham was mostly concerned with the budget. As the executive producer, Sean Cunningham decided to take some action. So he brought in Lewis Abernathy to rewrite the script.
In an effort to improve the overall quality of the acting, Isaac had taken a very unusual step. He had his cast rehearse for about a month before filming. But the script was being rewritten, so most of what was rehearsed didn’t make it into the movie. Originally, the character played by actress Lexa Doig had a male love interest. But four days into rehearsals, they realized that the male character served no purpose. So he was cut from the script and the actor who had been cast was given the bad news.
Filming on Jason X wrapped in spring of 2000. But the movie sat on the shelf for two years. That’s because New Line’s President of Production, Michael De Luca, was fired in 2001 following the failure of the Adam Sandler bomb, Little Nicky. De Luca had been a big supporter of Jason X, but no one else in the studio believed in it. So they waited. While they waited, a copy of the movie leaked on the internet which potentially hurt the movie’s chances at the box office.
Surprising no one, critics were unkind to Jason’s space adventure. But that’s to be expected. Unfortunately, audiences weren’t keen on space Jason either. Jason X opened in third place at the box office and grossed a paltry $13 million dollars making it the lowest-grossing movie in the franchise.
Following the failure of Jason X, Cunningham finally got to make his Freddy Vs. Jason movie which carried on the legacy of both characters. There were talks of sequels, but they never happened. Then six years later, Michael Bay came along and rebooted the entire series in 2009. The reboot was successful enough to warrant sequels, but they never happened either.
Since then, there has been wrangling between Warner Brothers and Paramount over the rights to the series. Currently, Paramount holds the rights and has promised a new Friday the 13th movie in 2016. If it happens, it will be the first one in seven years.
Let’s break this down:
How many movies in the series? 10
How many of them were good? Uhhhh… define good.
Health of the franchise before it died? It went to hell.
Likelihood of a reboot? Already happened. Whether the next movie will be a continuation of the reboot is uncertain. There is also a TV series in development. One thing is certain. There will be more Jason Voorhees.
Any redeeming value? It was the final performance as Jason by series regular, Kane Hodder. That’s gotta count for something, right?