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Friday, August 15, 2003

For everything that it tries to achieve, Freddy vs. Jason is nearly perfect. It's a horror film, but it doesn't set out to be frightening as much as it wants to offer cheerful, unserious violence and gore for its core audience. It does this so well that there is something almost joyful about it all. I found more laugh-out-loud moments here than in any other film so far this year except for Bruce Almighty.

At every opportunity, FvJ nods to its genre conventions without trying to be postmodern the way the Scream movies did. It lovingly serves up cliches 100% irony-free, including my favorite, the bit where lumbering Jason somehow overtakes teenagers running away from him at full speed, even when he's on fire. Many male viewers will appreciate another, ahem, notable convention: the lengthy, elaborate, shot-from-multiple-angles shower taken at the most inconvenient possible time by the woman with the best body in the film (Katherine Isabelle), as well as the pneumatically-tight sweaters worn by the virginal heroine (Monica Keena).

The virginal business leads us to the most interesting conventions of slasher films: The rigorous, almost medieval morality plays that the films act out for us. We watch, chastened, as "virtue" is rewarded with continued life, while "vice"--drinking, smoking, drugs, and, especially, pretty much any kind of sexual activity--is grounds for having one's innards ripped out with a machete. At one point, FvJ invites us to empathize with Jason's homicidal rage in the rave scene where two mean, pot-smoking teens cruelly taunt him: It's fiercely satisfying for the audience when Jason does his famous head twist on the one guy. Many critics have remarked on the moralistic subtexts in slasher movies; The contrast between the in-your-face sex and extreme violence in these films and the almost Puritanical messages behind them is as compelling as ever in FvJ.

At the heart of the film are the lengthy, Itchy-vs.-Scratchy battles between Freddy and Jason. And I liked the surprising wit displayed by the script, even the "Freudian Ebonic" scene with Kelly Rowland, even if no one else did.

I found the whole thing captivating and it's very fun if you're in the right mood for it.

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