Ah, another summer at Camp Crystal Lake, and another clueless victim to add to Jason Voorhees' nearly triple-digit kill tally. Jason Goes To Hell, New Line's first stab at the long-running Paramount series, begins as an expectedly nubile young lass finds her shower disturbed by cinema's favorite mass-murdering zombie son. Like the scores of victims before her, our nameless heroine frantically darts into the woods as Jason slowly stalks from a comfortable distance. Just as it seems to be time for the first helping of splatter, she leaps out of harm's way as the heavy artillery moves in. This was all a setup, and Cunningham County's finest uses every assault rifle, automatic weapon, and explosive in the tri-state area to blow the undead serial killer into an assortment of bite-size chunks. Jason's smoldering remains are gathered for study, and since we're only seven minutes and change in, it's pretty safe to assume that someone is going to seize the rampaging reins. Exposition-rattling bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams) claims that Jason's body is just an oversized suit o' meat and that his essence can easily pass from person to person. He goes on to state that only he knows how to put Jason down for good, and opportunistic trash TV host Robert Campbell (Steven Culp; nope, no relation) takes the Duke up on his half-million offer to bring in the mask...the machete...the whole damned thing. As Jason hops from body to body, he takes a cue from fellow slasher star Michael Myers, determined to slaughter everyone in his bloodline. You know the drill -- a small plucky band of heroes, a failed romance in need of rekindling, a spectacular body count, a sentence trailing off with an ellipsis...
Sean Cunningham, who had helmed the original Friday the 13th some thirteen years earlier, produced Jason Goes To Hell, and his first order of business was to "get rid of that damn hockey mask". Though it's hard to think of Jason without the trademark hockey mask that helped propel him into pop-culture stardom, that particular element wasn't introduced until the Steve Miner-manned third installment rolled around. The Jason Voorhees we've come to know and love is in the movie for all of a few minutes, and without "our" Jason, this doesn't seem much like a Friday the 13th movie at all. The shooting drafts of the script didn't even include any scenes with the obligatory naughty, nekkid campers, though thankfully test audience complained enough that a lengthy segment and one of the entire series' best kills were inserted into the final cut.
The body switching angle was a welcomed stab at something other than ninety minutes of stalking kids stupid enough to stay at a camp with the blood-drenched reputation of Crystal Lake, even if that attempt rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way. I'm one of the few who will admit to enjoying Jason Goes To Hell. As intensely negative as much of the criticism was upon its release in 1993, I believe that it would've been considerably better received if those surface Friday elements had been stripped out and the movie could've been evaluated on its own. The 'by fans, ostensibly for fans' Jason Goes To Hell pokes fun at several slasher conventions several years before Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson were acclaimed for doing the same in Scream. References to numerous other genre efforts, including The Hidden, Halloween (particularly its first sequel), Nightmare on Elm Street, "The Crate" segment in Creepshow, and Evil Dead II, managed to sneak in. The effects by KNB, fresh off of Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness are predictably top-notch, belying the film's $2.5 million budget and scant 37 shooting schedule.
The Voorhees mythology is goofy fun, even if it doesn't mesh particularly well with established continuity. "Only a Voorhees can kill a Voorhees". Well, there hasn't been much indication of the Voorhees family's immortality to date, and I'm pretty sure Alice didn't bear that surname when she lopped off Mama Voorhees' head with a machete twenty-someodd years back. If Jason's the first undead Voorhees, how much established mythical backstory is there for Creighton to unearth? When Jason makes his inevitable return in the movie's final moments, how is he able to automatically generate his tattered Movie Maniacs-friendly garb? Jason even talks at one point. No, it doesn't make much sense, but hammering out a cohesive, continuity-friendly tale isn't really the point.
Practically every entry in the Friday the 13th series had fallen victim to a juggernaut far more insidious than the undead Jason Voorhees. That's right, kids -- I'm referring to the MPAA. Paramount, perhaps to bow to their puritanical corporate sibling Blockbuster Video, has been reluctant to provide fans with anything other than the severely butchered versions screened theatrically. New Line, on the other hand, had encouraged the filmmakers to push the envelope, saving the most visceral moments for an unrated release on video and Laserdisc. This DVD release includes both the R-rated and unrated versions of Jason Goes To Hell, providing fans with more sex, more gore, and more love and understanding for their fellow man. Adam Marcus and Dean Lorey state (a few times too many, actually) on the disc's commentary that the R-rated version is superior in some respects, arguing that what's not explicitly shown on-screen can often be more frightening than an unobscured glance at the face of evil. Even though most viewers presumably won't bother with the trimmed version of Jason Goes To Hell, it's commendable that New Line opted to at least give the audience a choice. Also, Paramount went through eight DVDs without providing anything more than a theatrical trailer, and they didn't even bother to go to that minimal effort for their final two entries. New Line, however, went down the special edition route with their very first release. Though not given nearly as impressive a release as the Platinum Series Jason X, New Line has assembled a first-rate DVD with Jason Goes To Hell.
Video: Though not quite as eye-popping as Paramount's DVD release of Jason Takes Manhattan, there are no real flaws of note in Jason Goes To Hell's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Detail in some of the more dimly lit portions is difficult to fully discern, though it's generally decent enough throughout. The source print itself appears to be in respectable shape, free of any nicks or tears, and the presence of dust and assorted flecks is minimal. An attractive presentation of a fairly low-budget movie.
Audio: In a word, loud. The six channel remix of Jason Goes To Hell, provided in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, was supervised by director Adam Marcus. The disc's credits further note that the mix is optimized for DVD and that no equalization is required. Like many of you, I'm sure, I have my meticulously determined ideal settings, and I tend to bitch incessantly whenever a disc requires me to fiddle with the receiver. A slammed door shortly into the movie had me leaping several feet off my couch towards my stack of A/V equipment, spinning various knobs farther to the left than I'm generally accustomed. Why I didn't use a remote, I have no idea. In the space of a couple of minutes, I'd lowered the overall volume twice and eased the subwoofer back considerably. So, to reiterate, loud.
Even with these diminished settings, the DTS track still boasted the loudest surrounds of any DVD I can think of straight off the top of my head. The rears are almost always chirping away with activity of some sort, and yes, that includes the series' trademark 'ki-ki-ki' vocal effects. The mix is accompanied by a substantial amount of bass, destined to threaten the foundation of many viewers' homes. The audio has enough headroom that the louder moments don't suffer from the telltale signs of peak limiting. Jason Goes To Hell is without a doubt the most dynamic sounding of the DVD releases to date, and despite my admitted distaste for adjusting my settings by the slightest amount, this disc sounds excellent by most any conceivable standard. For those yet to dip their toes into the cool, relaxing waters of six-channel sound, a stereo surround track has also been provided alongside English subtitles.
Supplements: The best aspect of this disc -- easily surpassing even the movie itself -- is the audio commentary with screenwriter Dean Lorey and director/screenwriter Adam Marcus. Their comments play over the unrated cut, and it's unquestionably one of the most infectiously fun commentaries I've listened to in far too long a time. The non-stop discussion is both informative and hilarious, and it's rare for more than a couple of seconds to go by without one of them making some sort of quip or tossing out assorted nuggets of information. Among the topics tackled are the Friday formula (fresh breasts every 7 minutes and a kill every 7 minutes), the evolution of the script over time (early drafts revolved around Jason's evil twin), Lonesome Dove chili parties, and signing boobs at horror conventions. Much like the underrated Idle Hands, the discussion is so entertaining that I'd be tempted to recommend this DVD on its commentary alone.
There isn't an outright deleted scenes section on this disc, but the trimmed footage that crept in as filler for the television version has been provided. These nine alternate full-frame scenes run twelve and a half minutes in total, and as you could probably guess from the fact that these were inserted into a TBS-friendly cut of the movie, the gore and nudity quotient is pretty much nil. It's all character development and occasionally just extended versions of scenes in the movie proper, such as more of Steve and Randy rollin' on the ground and additional insight into Diana and Sheriff Landis' relationship. My favorite of the bunch is a prank call scene where Steven offers to whore out a waitress. It's made funnier still by the presence of bizarre Repo Man-style cable TV profanity. "Frig me? Frig you!" Flippin' melon farmers.
The "Jump to a Death" feature allows viewers to, as the name suggests, skip directly to any of the eight batches o' kills in Jason Goes To Hell or even select one at random. An anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer makes the movie look a lot more straightforward than it really is, and finally, credits for the disc are accessible by selecting the New Line logo on the title menu.
Conclusion: Despite getting a thoroughly respectable treatment on DVD, Jason Goes To Hell is a tough one to enthusiastically recommend, at least as a sight-unseen purchase. The movie isn't "Friday" enough for quite a number of fans, and it's a terrible starting place for the uninitiated or those who haven't caught one of the other flicks in a decade. Its $19.98 list price makes a blind purchase more palatable, but I'd recommend that new viewers hold out for a rental unless that empty shelf space between Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason X is just too much to bear. Those who have already caught Jason Goes To Hell in some form or another and enjoyed it ought to find a purchase to be a no-brainer.