Not all films are created equal. Every genre has its instant hits that are remembered for generations. Unfortunately, these films also spawn their own brand of low-rent copycats, conceived as an attempt to play on the viewer’s nostalgia for the classics. For every Indiana Jones, there are at least five National Treasures, and it’s these cynical homages we want to focus on. We’ll be starting with the beloved sci-fi and horror powerhouse, Alien (1979), and its franchise fatigued brother, Jason X (2000).
There’s very little to say about Alien that hasn’t already been said. Ridley Scott’s commercial breakthrough is still considered one of the greatest films to grace both horror and science fiction. It’s a claustrophobic thrill ride in which a crew of space truckers has their cryosleep disturbed to investigate a mysterious life form. With tension oozing from every frame, not to mention that unforgettable chest-burster scene, Alien is one of the most beloved sci-fi horror entries out there. Whilst more recent offerings from the franchise have not been able to match up to the original masterpiece, this film is iconic.
Jason X, on the other hand, is the tenth entry of the already flagging Friday the 13th franchise. The film takes us 455 years into the future, and sees the titular Jason Vorhees also being awoken from a cryosleep, ready to raise hell on a new batch of victims. On paper, it should be a lot of fun. We have a familiar murderer usually locked to one location (apart from a brief stint on a cruise and in Manhattan) in a new setting with a whole new set of murderous opportunities open to them. Added to that, we now have the new, improved and even more unstoppable “Uber Jason” – half killing machine, half… well… machine.
Sadly, it was never going to be as fun as it potentially could have been. While Friday the 13th is far from the first slasher franchise to take its killer into space, with Leprechaun 4, Critters 4 and Hellraiser 4 coming before it, Jason X is often used as the prime example of this tired and cynical trope. The only thing it really did differently to its counterparts was waiting until the tenth outing to do so, and not blasting off in the fourth film.
Other than their deep space settings and fondness for the cryosleep trope, these films do share a lot of characteristics, although the quality is not one of them. Jason’s screenwriter Todd Farmer was given the task of creating a new entry for the Friday the 13th series in order to keep it fresh in the minds of audiences while Freddy vs Jason was in the works (a film famously in production hell since 1988, before finally being released in 2003). Farmer apparently bounced around multiple different settings that could move the series past Camp Crystal Lake, eventually settling on a futuristic mashup of Jason and Blade Runner. However, the idea of creating a future world triggered budget fears, so this Alien mashup was pitched instead. Replace the seasoned crew of the Nostromo with teenagers on a class trip in space, and a slasher is born.
It was immediately obvious that Farmer was trying to write his love letter to Alien, and not just to the original but to the entire franchise, and he did this with odd references and broad story beats. Character names provide subtle hints, with Jason X having a character called Dallas (played by Todd Farmer himself) in reference to the captain of Alien’s Nostromo. The film also features a character called Waylander, often referred to as “Weyland”, as in Weyland-Yutani, the company that deems Ripley’s band of men “expendable” in order to secure the Xenomorph.
The similarities don’t stop at names alone. Jason X has an unstoppable monster, underestimated by the marines aboard who all meet a grizzly end, which is the majority of 1986’s Aliens plot. Both Alien and Jason X feature the use of overpowered, intelligent androids – although Jason’s KM-14 is far less convincing as a human than Alien’s Ash. There are also no scenes with either Ash or Bishop (Aliens), which serve only as an excuse for nudity. That’s a staple reserved for the Friday the 13th franchise, provided here by the scene where KM-14 is showing off her artificial nipples in an attempt to become more human. It lacks the subtlety of Data’s arc from Star Trek, but at least they were trying.
Jason X even borrows a kill from the Alien franchise. Late in the film, Uber Jason’s machete punctures a hole in the ship, sucking Janessa into the vacuum of space through a gap far too small to fit a full body. This scene is borrowed from 1997’s Alien: Resurrection where Ripley uses the newborn alien’s blood to melt a hole in a window, pulling her unsuspecting victim into the cold, innards first.
As is the case with all these comparisons, Resurrection executed this much better. The screams of the hybrid Xenomorph still haunt us to this day. Resurrection isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it did prove that in horror, one well-executed kill can stay with you. Jason X pulls this off in its own right with the scene where a victim’s head is dunked in liquid nitrogen and shattered on the table. This is probably the only well-done kill shot in the entire film, but it’s memorable enough that it was talked about in schoolyards for years.
It’s safe to say that the two films are night and day. Where Alien draws its fear from under-lit, claustrophobic corridors and air ducts, Jason X is wide open and bright, because in the future every room is lit like a supermarket. The Alien universe is rough around the edges and lived in; the future in Friday the 13th is smooth, chrome and extremely clean. The terror aboard the Nostromo is rooted in practical effects, the unseen, and our own imagination. Its counterpart relies very heavily on CGI for its gory deaths, inviting us to see almost everything. This can pull you out of a film at the best of times, especially 19 years later, but the effects team here seemed to have a budget that made The Scorpion King look like Avatar.
Jason X isn’t without its charm – it’s unapologetically campy and isn’t taking itself too seriously. While its biggest failing is that it simply isn’t scary, it’s hard to imagine a world where we would be scared by Jason ten films in. It’s also worth noting that the futuristic “Uber Jason” of the third act, whilst meant to be a plot twist that was subsequently ruined by marketing, is the first attempt to majorly shake up Jason’s appearance since 1982’s part three. We still remain unsure as to why the nanobots rebuilt his hockey mask. Jason X wanted to try something new in order to bring the franchise, quite literally, into the future, and it tried to pay respect to its heroes in the process. Unfortunately, it just ended up being a tired imitation.