Jason X is perhaps the most maligned entry in the Friday the 13th series. It has competition, though. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning is often looked down upon as one of the worst, as are Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason Goes to Hell. While personal taste comes into account—I, for instance, have a strong appreciation for two of those mentioned above—the overall fan mindset never really seems to change. By and large, people like to see Jason at the lake, tormenting trespassers and would-be counselors. They tend to get upset when he leaves. If Manhattan was too much for people, it seems reasonable that space would also be much too much.
That was clearly not taken into account when Jason X was being made, because everyone involved seemed sure it was going to work—well, some more than others. Writer Todd Farmer and director Jim Isaac were both very enthusiastic about the idea, but the studio was less thrilled. New Line was actively working on Freddy vs. Jason and had been for the bulk of the ’90s, after the shock ending of Jason Goes to Hell made fans all over the world eager for a crossover between the two terror titans. When it was clear that things were finally coming together and that Freddy vs. Jason was on the horizon, New Line wanted to put out another Jason movie so that people would at least remember who and what Jason was.
Several ideas were tossed around for what the story could be. All that was known was that they did not want another film based around the lake and the summer camp and that they wanted this one to be done as quickly and cheaply as possible. There were a few ideas, including one set in the snow, but none of them really went anywhere. The challenge of coming up with the story for the new entry was that Freddy vs. Jason was on the verge of happening at any moment. And whatever they came up with could not interfere with New Line’s larger plan for the crossover between the two franchises.
Writer Todd Farmer already found himself trapped in a corner, in some ways, because it was almost impossible to come up with a new story that would not have to be concerned with whatever the story of Freddy vs. Jason would be. He needed to come up with a setting so isolated that it could not possibly step on the other project’s toes.
The solution, of course, was to set it in space. And I’ll always defend that Farmer’s idea could have worked on paper. The idea of setting a Friday the 13th movie in space is absurd, but there’s always a better chance to take it seriously if it takes itself seriously—but to also allow it to acknowledge the absurdity of its own premise. The way Farmer has described it in various documentaries and interviews, he wanted to do Friday the 13th by way of Aliens. It would still be a Jason flick with all of the elements that one expects from such, but it would also be a hard-edged, gothic space opera.
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You can even see in the finished film where that almost happened. There are commandoes on board the ship, for some reason, a team of badasses who go up against Jason and are quickly taken out. In the final product, they feel like an afterthought. But there was more to Farmer’s Aliens intent than just having commandoes go up against Jason.
Alien was a great gothic horror movie that happened to be set in space, while Aliens was an excellent work of action-horror blended with the same sci-fi elements of the first. Neither are the worst template to follow and adhering to that industrial, cold look could absolutely have worked and would have added an amazing visual element to the film that it ultimately lacks.
Instead of being set on an industrial space station, Jason X is bathed in very bright colors and sometimes scenes that feel distilled and almost whited-out. Instead of looking like it was filmed on the set of Aliens, it legitimately looks like it was filmed on the set of Star Trek: Enterprise.
To also distract from the original plan of a darker, more serious movie, Jason X was being put together right at the end of the ‘90s when Scream fever was at its peak, so there was pressure to make it funnier, to make it self-referential and sort of intentionally campy.
While it’s a far cry from the original idea, these deviations are actually probably the saving grace of Jason X as a film. It’s a very silly, campy movie but it is extremely aware of the fact and allows audiences to have fun with it. While there may be moments that make you roll your eyes, there are also moments of surprising wit and charm.
Jason X also suffered after production, where it was left on the shelf for a few years while New Line either mulled over what to do with it or forgot about it entirely. The film was one of the first to truly be a victim of piracy on a large scale. By the time it hit theaters, most people had already seen it and this resulted in dismal box office performance.
Now it has admirers, but they are few and far between. [Editor’s Note: I am one of them. I really like this movie in spite of its flaws.] Some have pointed out that the campiness and humor work to the movie’s benefit. Others have noted that Kane Hodder is as ferocious in this one as he had ever been as Jason. There’s also the worthy point that, with this being a Friday the 13th movie in space, it’s truly one of the few entries in the saga where you legitimately have no idea what to expect. With nine films preceding it, that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Still, Jason X gets chalked up as something that just doesn’t work. It’s certainly not the most effective of its franchise. It’s not what it was intended to be. But for better or worse, Jason X is entertaining. Sometimes that can be enough.