Paste’s ABCs of Horror 2 is a 26-day project that highlights some of our favorite horror films from each letter of the alphabet. The only criteria: The films chosen can’t have been used in 2019’s Century of Terror, a 100-day project to choose the best horror film of every year from 1920-2019, nor last year’s first ABCs of Horror project. With many heavy hitters out of the way, which movies will we choose?
It has often been observed that the 1990s were a rough period for the slasher genre, as the last vestiges of the early 1980s slasher boom had long run their course by the end of that decade, resulting in abysmal franchise efforts like Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare or Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers in the first half of the ‘90s. Wes Craven was there to right the ship with Scream in 1996, but despite a handful of entertaining spiritual successors in the years that followed (we still have a soft spot for Urban Legend in particular), the sea change moment of Scream didn’t truly ignite a genuine revival of quality slashers—its meta elements simply weren’t something that could be copied en masse, and to do so would have only further illustrated Scream’s point. By the beginning of the 2000s, the genre was again in a rough place, increasingly the stuff of direct-to-video bargain bins, with most of the iconic slasher franchises effectively running on fumes. This is the landscape that yielded the revolutionary idea of “Jason Voorhees in space.”
Ah yes, the old “IN SPACE!” dodge—where would horror sequels of the ‘90s and 2000s have been without it? Critters 4 saw the furry, titular murderballs running wild on a space station after being cryogenically frozen, while Hellraiser: Bloodline featured 22nd century scientists being hunted by Pinhead aboard … another space station. Dracula 3000 makes the distinction of having its (terrible) action occur aboard a space ship rather than station, a quality also bestowed on the equally awful Leprechaun 4: In Space. For the record: If literally writing “in space” is the best movie subtitle one can conjure up to communicate this exotic setting, you truly know things have gotten bad.
This is all to say that Jason X is not a great film, but it absolutely remains a very genuine example of a Friday the 13th movie, even though it casually discards its own franchise title in favor of the name of the villain who had become its de facto primary character. Like ABC shrugging and acquiescing to TV viewers who demanded more of “that Urkel show” rather than deigning to call the program Family Matters, Jason X dispenses with the notion that anyone in the audience retained a particular attachment to the original holiday tie-in title—a simple acknowledgement that this series had long since become a Jason Voorhees delivery vehicle. Those who still cared enough about this series in a particular period of slasher dormancy to come out to the theater simply expected teens, blood and machetes regardless of any additional plot details, and Jason X was determined to give it to them. What resulted is one of the most casually absurd horror films of the era, one part self-parody and one part low-budget farce.
The year: 2453, and Jason Voorhees is found in the wreckage of “old Earth” preserved in a cryogenic slumber, alongside a nubile female scientist who awakens to find that much has changed. The original Earth has become a polluted wasteland, with humanity having moved to a new home world. Her saviors are a band of … spacefaring, horny teenagers? Why yes, they are—a small college class whizzing through space with their equally horny professor, on a “field trip” to the hazardous remains of humanity’s cradle, where they just so happen to poke around and find Jason’s frozen remains in an old military research facility. Now, all that remains is for futuristic medical technology to result in his resurrection before Jason can stalk the cheap cardboard halls of the starship, hunting for teenage scientists in hilariously revealing lab clothing. Actor Kane Hodder portrays Jason for the fourth and final time, looking bulkier and more hulking than ever as he tangles with the resident female android, who also manages to be scantily clad despite the fact that she’s not even human.
Jason X apologists—an increasingly common species among horror geeks, over the years—will point to the elements of self-parody while making an argument that anything awkward or seemingly scattershot about the film is intentional, intended as satire of the genre itself and its low-budget 1980s roots. And indeed, there are some inspired moments that are absolutely intended as very funny parody of series conventions, most notably in the “holodeck” sequence where Jason is greeted by nude counselors saying things like “want to have some premarital sex?” These moments are the exception rather than the rule, however, and any attempt to embrace the novelty of the setting is undone by the sheer patheticness of the flimsy sets, cobbled-together costuming and atrocious performances from nearly every lead. Nothing at all about the film feels purpose-built—every frame of Jason X looks like it’s taking place on the set of some other low-budget sci-fi movie that the crew was simply able to commandeer for a few weeks.
What the film does do well, aside from generating unintentional laughs, is gorily dispatching its characters, most notably in the instant classic series kill that sees Jason freeze a woman’s face solid in a vat of liquid nitrogen, before shattering it to bits by slamming it into a counter. It’s exactly the kind of gross, silly death an audience member would no doubt have been expecting to see given a “Jason in space” premise, but again it’s an instance of a brief, shining moment that is ultimately outweighed by the more conventional and less creative deaths that surround it. That’s the ultimate tease of Jason X—it offers a prompt for its filmmaker to run wild, but lacks the resources and vision to deliver a truly professional product. Like so many other slashers of the era, it feels stranded between the past and the future.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.