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Remembrance of screams past 

Many students and fans of the horror film, I am sure, will welcome the new movie Freddy vs. Jason with expressions of gratitude and relief, and possibly even a few resounding cheers. Surely, after so many years of shock and fright, so many buckets of gore and gobbets of flesh, so many scores of dead teenagers, it's about time that two of the giants of contemporary horror meet on the common ground of celluloid. After such classic cinema antagonisms as Frankenstein vs. Dracula, Godzilla vs. Mothra, Batman vs. the Joker, Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Gary Coleman, the confrontation between Freddy Krueger, dweller in bad dreams, and Jason, champion goaltender of Camp Crystal Lake, seems absolutely inevitable.

            For anyone familiar with that long block of Elm Street, with so many young residents plagued by so many Nightmares, along with any of the unhappy campers at Crystal Lake on that month of Fridays, the movie will recall a thousand screams from the haunted past. It begins with a recapitulation of some of the historical high points of the Nightmare on Elm Street and the Friday the 13thseries, introduced in a voiceover by Freddie Krueger himself. (That narration by the principal menace constitutes a daring innovation in the form, one of the few groundbreaking moments for both series.)

            After reintroducing both villains and providing a brief biography of each, the picture mostly settles into the familiar patterns of just about all the dead teenager flicks. It shows a group of unsupervised high school kids at a friend's house conducting themselves in a manner that the form regards as punishable by a violent visitation from a villain --- swearing, smoking, drinking, and copulating. One couple repairs to a bedroom for the usual reasons, Jason shows up in his hockey mask, swings his machete, the blood spurts, and the real fun begins.

            At one time, both the Nightmare and the Friday series displayed a number of pioneering images and effects. The notion of a monster who invades one's dreams allowed for some startling moments that followed the insane logic of hallucination --- Freddy walking down an alley, elongating his arms and scraping his razored fingers against the wall, his tongue thrusting up out of a telephone mouthpiece in a grotesque parody of a kiss, the green and red stripes of his ratty sweater popping up ominously in other places, like the top of a convertible. The awful need of exhausted teenagers to stay awake in order to ward off their dreams provided a peculiar quality of desperation to the films.

            Jason's depredations in the endless Friday the 13th series, on the other hand, created their terror mostly through some skilled manipulation of both film and audience. The various writers and directors usually managed to escalate suspense through a number of false alarms that kept the viewers off-balance and uneasy, then exploded the tension in some genuine shock, then started the sequence all over again. The only really startling contribution of the series otherwise lies in the really gruesome nature of Jason's killings, which, with a few other films, profoundly influence contemporary horror.

            Although the smirking, chortling Freddy Krueger dominates the movie as a character, the masked, taciturn Jason controls most of the methodology. The killing proceeds in a typically ghastly manner, with just about every imaginable technique of violating the body --- bisection, dismemberment, impalement, evisceration, and especially, decapitation (heads, as they say, will roll in Freddy vs. Jason). For reasons difficult to comprehend, somehow the silent, blank-faced, inexorable Jason actually appears more frightening than the hideous, loquacious Freddy.

            At some point in the film, Freddy reacts angrily to Jason's hogging the action and trying to kill the children Freddy regards as his own special prey, which in the picture's logic causes the great confrontation of the title. By the time their battle occurs, almost every identifiable character has met a horrible death, so there's barely anyone left for these monsters to kill, except each other. Since the distributors, no doubt in the interest of artistic integrity, request reviewers not to reveal the result of that final battle, I will maintain a grave silence about the outcome. Be assured, however, that the ending is quite as predictable as the events that precede it.

            Aside from the film's bold connection of two separate series --- why not try to work in the closely related Halloween group next? --- and its addition to the contemporary form of high-school horror, Freddy vs. Jason stakes out little in the way of new territory. It continues the exploitation of adolescent guilt as a source of horror and continues as well the form's appeal to exactly the people who populate and suffer in the film. Not coincidentally, it is also the only movie of the summer to lead all others at the box office for two weekends in a row: guilt and gore make a great combination.

Freddy vs. Jason, starring Robert Englund, Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, Christopher George Marquette, Lochlyn Munro, Kathryn Isabelle, Brendan Fletcher, Zacharias Ward; written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift; directed by Ronny Yu. Cinemark Tinseltown; Hoyts Greece Ridge; Loews Webster; Regal Culver Ridge; Regal Eastview; Regal Henrietta.

You can hear George and his movie reviews on WXXI-FM 91.5 Fridays at 7:20 a.m., rerun on Saturdays at 8:50 a.m.

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