Despite gaining a cult following on VHS after its mediocre performance at the box office in 1993, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday had only proven what Paramount had feared when they had sold off the franchise to New Line Cinema; that the popularity that Friday the 13th and its iconic antagonist, Jason Voorhees, had had enjoyed throughout the 1980s had come to an end. Whilst A Nightmare on Elm Street creator Wes Craven had attempted to inject some originality into his own series with 1994′s New Nightmare, the slasher boom was a thing of the past. But over the Christmas holidays in 1996 something unexpected happened; the genre would receive a postmodern makeover with Craven’s stylish thriller Scream, which would become a phenomenal success and, much like Friday the 13th sixteen years earlier, would spawn a slew of imitators. With the long-awaited crossover Freddy vs. Jason languishing in development hell, talk eventually turned to creating a new sequel and bringing Jason back from the dead.
Over a decade earlier, as Jason was terrorising New York City, Friday the 13th creator Sean S. Cunningham had begun to struggle with his second franchise, House. Following two relatively popular movies, Cunningham had intended to launch a new series with The Horror Show, which had focused on demented serial killer Max Jenke returning from beyond the grave to haunt the cop who arrested him. Echoing Craven’s Shocker, released the same year, the movie’s director, David Blyth, would be fired midway through the shoot and replaced by first-time filmmaker James Isaac, whose previous association with Cunningham had been as a visual effects coordinator on 1987′s House II: The Second Story (which, amusingly, would later be referenced in Scream 2). The Horror Show would fail to meet Cunningham’s expectations and would be rebranded as House III in certain territories, whilst a disappointed Isaac would return to the world of effects with David Cronenberg’s disturbing fantasy Naked Lunch.
Having completed work in Toronto on Cronenberg’s thriller eZistenZ (a loose reworking of his 1982 classic Videodrome), Isaac returned to Los Angeles in early 1999 and contacted Cunningham, who at that time was struggling to bring Freddy vs. Jason to fruition. It would be Isaac who would suggest a new Friday the 13th sequel as it had been ten years since the release of The Horror Show and he had still not directed a second feature. Whilst concerned that a new movie could affect Freddy vs. Jason, Cunningham reluctantly agreed, providing it worked as a stand-alone story and was not based around a summer camp. With the Friday the 13th franchise having laid dormant for almost six years – the longest that time had past without a sequel since the original movie was released two decades earlier – Cunningham wanted to generate some interest in his character in anticipation for Freddy vs. Jason and so turned to a young writer called Todd Farmer, who had made the acquaintance of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday‘s Dean Lorey several years earlier and had found his way into Cunningham’s inner circle.
Along with Cunningham’s son, Noel, who would take over duties as producer, he began discussions with both Isaac and Farmer on a practical way to bring Jason back. After briefly considering relocating him to the Antarctic, Farmer suggested sending Jason into space. This scenario would often prove to be the nail in the coffin for a franchise, with Critters IV, Hellraiser: Bloodline and Leprechaun 4: In Space all failing to impress fans of each respective series. But the concept held potential and Cunningham took their pitch to New Line’s Michael De Luca, who had been a supporter of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday and an ally for Cunningham. Although insistent that it not be just another Friday the 13th movie, De Luca was also enthusiastic about the story and so gave his approval. As with the earlier films, Friday the 13th Part X (or Jason X, as it would become known) would be a negative pickup, meaning that the movie would be produced independently and then delivered to New Line for distribution.
Farmer began to develop the space premise into a screenplay, using both Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic Alien and James Cameron’s action-packed sequel Aliens as a template by including a tough heroine, an isolated location and a small army of soldiers. Determined to make amends for what he felt had been a disappointing debut with The Horror Show, Isaac requested a significantly larger budget with which to do the concept justice. Along with Noel Cunningham, Isaac embarked on the long and difficult process of pre-production, using Toronto as his base of operations due to the low production costs. Turning to his fellow FX artists for assistance, the special effects for Jason X would be supervised by fellow Cronenberg veteran Stephan Dupuis (Scanners, eXistenZ), whilst the film’s spacecraft would be created by the Toronto-based workshop Toybox. Jason X would also prove to be the first Friday the 13th movie to boast a significant amount of digital effects, although there would still be an array of prosthetic gore to please the fans.
Casting for Jason X commenced shortly before Christmas 1999, which would include several Canadian actors for practical reasons. Both Lexa Doig and Lisa Ryder, who would portray ‘final girl’ Rowan and android Kay-Em 14, respectively, would go on to co-star together in the hit sci-fi show Andromeda. Chuck Russell would also appear in the 2000 slasher sequel Urban Legends: Final Cut and would later play a character called Chuck in Stargate: Atlantis. Other principal roles would be portrayed by Melyssa Ade, Peter Mensah and Melody Johnson, whilst the adult role of class teacher would go to Jonathan Potts, whose prior credits included such shows as The Twilight Zone, Swamp Thing and F/X: The Series. Taking the role of Jason for the fourth and final time was veteran stuntman Kane Hodder, who had also pursued acting roles with appearances in Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, Scanner Cop II and Wishmaster.
Filming would take place in Toronto in early 2000, eventually wrapping in April. During the process of pre-production, Farmer had witnessed his script stripped down and as a consequence had lost its darker elements, instead reduced to comedy. Jason X would be notably more action-orientated than its predecessors, with both Doig and Ryder adopting Ripley-like roles in keeping with Farmer’s homage to Aliens. In a nod to the original Alien, Farmer would name one of the characters Dallas (as played by Tom Skerritt in the 1979 movie), which would allow him to make an appearance and be killed on screen by Jason, much to the writer’s delight. An aspect that would ultimately divide the opinion of the fans was the introduction of what would be dubbed Uber Jason; a cyborg killing machine that was a result of Jason receiving a futuristic upgrade. Despite the image of Uber Jason being featured heavily in the film’s promotion, the new character would not be introduced until the final act.
During the making of Jason X there had been some significant developments at New Line; the studio were prepping the release of the first installment in their big budget trilogy The Lord of the Rings and De Luca, who had first approved of a new Friday the 13th movie, had since left the studio. When Cunningham and Isaac submitted Jason X to the executives their response was less than enthusiastic, resulting in the film remaining unreleased in the United States for two years, eventually making its North American debut on April 26th 2002. Due to the lack of studio support and the negative criticism that had dogged the movie on the internet, which had never been a concern for the franchise before, the film failed to find an audience and would eventually gross just $12.6m at the US box office. With an overall budget of $14m, making it the third most expensive film in the series (although, at the time of production, it was over twice the budget of any previous Friday the 13th), Jason X was considered a financial disappointment, despite the occasional positive review. Unknown to either the fans of Cunningham at that time, Jason X would prove to be the final film in the original series, as two years later Freddy vs. Jason would finally make its way to the big screen.