The Free Thinker and the Automaton: Polarity and Duality in Stephen Hand's Freddy Vs. Jason: The Novelization of the Screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark J. Swift

By Sean Gill

 

Freddy Vs. Jason is a quintessential tale of a clash between titans, the unstoppable force pitted against the immovable object, a crude powerhouse reckoning with a vulgar wit. In this way, Voorhees and Krueger echo some of the great 20th Century feuds: Mailer and Vidal, Hemingway and Faulkner, Hearst and Welles, Leno and Letterman.

The polarity/duality of Philistine and sophisticate is a leitmotif that Stephen Hand dwells upon throughout his 2003 work, Freddy Vs. Jason: The Novelization of the Screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark J. Swift. In reading, we bear witness to an author in conflict with himself, torn between two separate urges: the single-minded brute force of a micro-managed studio product... and the bawdy flourish of a born dreamer, clawing for the sublime (with knife fingers).

It is Hand the Dreamer who opens his novel with an epigraph from John Milton's Paradise Lost[1], who grasps for poignancy while comparing Freddy to classical statuary ("Jason looked down as this Venus de Krueger knelt helpless and armless before him"), and who can describe Freddy as having "sickly abattoir hands" with a straight face.[2] It is he who explores the finer points of playing "Fuck, Marry, Kill" with The Three Stooges, and he who challenges us to imagine a better solution than "Curly, Larry, Moe."[3] It is this Hand who delivers a variety of purple prose rarely glimpsed outside of spiral notebooks emblazoned with the anarchy symbol:

This was Crystal Lake as delineated by the lunatic on his final death march to the gallows. This was Crystal Lake as seen through the pustulent eyes of a body at the bottom of a plague pit. This was Crystal Lake as dragged screaming through the hatred and baby-fuck violation of a serial killer's mind.

Hand is at his most passionate when describing bloodshed ("Trey's smashed face and pulverized remains glistened among the broken bedstead, like some kind of fucked up slaughterhouse sandwich"), embarking on morbid daydreams about Freddy's boiler room ("How many Springwood light bulbs had been powered by the corpses of the townfolk's own dead children?"), or envisioning, with Joycean flair, the soundscape to which Freddy and Jason slice and dice.

It is said that the Eskimo language possesses over fifty words for snow. For his part, Stephen Hand entrusts us with nearly as many onomatopoeic terms for the slashing of Jason's machete (THWOCCKK!, K-CHANG—Fsssssssssssssssssss, KABWHAMMM!, KCH-BZZBZZBZZZ!!!, THWAACK!, KTING!, THWICK!, THUNNKK!, WHUCKKK!, THWUCK!, THUBD!, etc.) or the clawing of Freddy's glove (Scrreeeechhhh!, CH-AIIICCCKKKTTT!!!, SNICK!, AKKKHHKH!, Thip—Thip—Thip, THWISHK!!!, etc.). We even learn perhaps the most hallowed word of all, meant to illustrate the (psychosexual?) sensation of Jason's machete being seized by Freddy's glove: "SHHWWIGNN..."

Sexuality in Freddy Vs. Jason runs the gamut from Cotton Mather moralizing (Jason kills the sexually active) to Cinemax skin flickery ("The wet on her body made the fabric cling to her firm, moist breasts") to the phantasmagorical ("they were locked in an unholy coupling of bad dreams and dry humping") to the metronomic ("He and Gibb had finished their high beats-per-minute screw") to the transgressive, such as when a teenage girl is turned on by a grain silo ("Kia could see it too—the tall, round-topped cylinder. Oh God, it was making her feel horny. She needed therapy").

Hand the Dreamer revels in these eccentricities with admittedly mixed results. Certain lines would probably read better if delivered by Werner Herzog ("This was ultimate violence. This was psychotic undead annihilation"), and others are perhaps beyond saving, though they're usually peppered with scrappy confidence and adolescent pizzazz ("She had just seen her best friend slaughtered, hacked to fuck by Jason Voorhees"[4]). In this vein, there is one particular passage, however juvenile, for which I must express my admiration:

Kia was trembling. No, delete that. Kia was scared to death and shaking like a dog with its tail on fire. Which only showed how big her balls were when she reached down with her well-manicured fingers to touch the bottom of Jason's hockey mask.

The reverse engineering of a "big balls" metaphor by way of a simile about a dog whose tail is on fire (apparently burning away to reveal said balls) is a true feat of literary persistence. It overcomes a variety of basic implausibilities (i.e., Would a dog with its tail on fire be standing in place, merely shaking? Would it be running? How likely is it that only the dog's tail would be on fire, and positioned in such a way as to give us a nice, unobstructed view of its balls?) in the name of Hand the Dreamer's commitment to vivid dog-ball imagery.

Now, the second Hand—the Hand of brute force, Hand the Studio Product—is considerably less passionate and demonstrably less charming.  We encounter stylistic choices that appear to have been foisted upon him by corporate committee.  While many popular authors tend to end their chapters with cliffhangers, Hand has been instructed to end every paragraph, nay, every sentence with a cliffhanger. To wit:

She turned.
Jason Voorhees!
No.
He stood right in front of her.
No.
She cried out.
It was pathetic, she was crying...

There are so many paragraphs-per-page that the novel occasionally takes on the appearance of free verse, if not the scansion. For instance, page 93 contains twenty-four paragraphs and no dialogue.[5] An excerpt:

No way.
No.
W
ay.
...
Injuries...
Amputees...
She turned the pages. Faster, faster.
A body wired up to metal hooks and electro-clamps...
A hellish collage of vivisected women...
Faster.
More flesh...
Faster.
More horror.
Faster.

This tendency to march joylessly and relentlessly toward an end goal (cliffhangers within cliffhangers) is not unlike the behavior of the unstoppable automaton Jason Voorhees. Jason—who lacks Freddy's élan, his absurdity, his charming morbidity—is already a less fleshed-out version of Halloween's Michael Myers... to imitate his literary style is to admit the death of creativity. And yet it is Jason who is venerated most frequently by the prose ("All mighty. All powerful. Invulnerable. Jason!"). It is Jason who ultimately receives catharsis, in the Aristotelian sense. Eventually all other characters, with the partial exception of Freddy, are swallowed up by this snowballing, Voorheesian reverence ("Indomitable. Relentless. Indestructible. Unstoppable. Jason Voorhees!").

Beyond Jason, Freddy, and Lori Campbell (our Final Girl), we are introduced to so many faceless victims, hastily drawn, that we end up with passages like this:

Lori looked at him warmly. Her father was a proud man, and he didn't have much of a sense of humor, but the death of his wife, Lori's Mom, had changed him so much.

Later, her mother is mentioned again in the same fashion ("Campbell—the guy Will had just called a murderer. Campbell—accused of killing his own wife, Lori's Mom"), which leads me to conclude that Lori's mother's full name must actually be "Lori's Mom Campbell."

Elsewhere, colorful descriptions give way to the generic—while Hand paints a rich portrait of Freddy's boiler room, Springwood High is outsourced to New Line's television branch ("Springwood High School would have looked familiar to anyone who had ever seen any of the countless TV shows set in high school").

We see Hand's inner conflict perhaps no more strikingly than in the cornfield rave sequence (which contains the aforementioned objectification of a grain silo). The metronomic sexuality of the early chapters finds delirious release in a techno soundscape ("the energizing pounding of some block-rocking beats," "the dance was hard and fast—the drum and bass music was mental"..."Welcome to the rave!"). But it soon becomes clear that Hand the Studio Product is in the pocket of Big Glowstick, frantically assuring us that "even the chemical-liquid glowsticks they waved had recently been taste-rehabilitated and were now just about cool again." Lobbyists from Hot Topic undoubtedly insisted upon the following:

Even to Kia's jaded and cynical eyes, usually on the alert for the merest hint of a fashion crime, the swathe of huge, baggy combat pants, ruffled jackets, and hair extensions sported by boys and girls alike were hip and happening.[6]

And so here Jason has truly won, the unstoppable corporate juggernaut, laying waste to whatever book Hand the Dreamer had wished to write.[7] Perhaps this is meant to place us in Freddy's shoes; resentful that our narrative has been usurped by a character who barely qualifies as such—or perhaps Hand the Studio Product has smothered Hand the Dreamer, the glory of a simple mercenary's paycheck sullied by the micro-managing machinations of New Line Cinema and Big Glowstick. Perhaps a fitting benediction would be this melancholy summation from Chapter Fourteen: "He'd fooled Jason into going to Elm Street, but then everything had spun out of Freddy's razored hands."

This brings us to our conclusion. It's cliché, but I have to say it—the denouement of Freddy Vs. Jason: The Novelization of the Screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark J. Swift lacks the subtle ambiguities of the source film. The novel depicts a clear winner (Freddy), whereas the film offers a layered tableau of alternating power dynamics (Jason may be carrying Freddy's severed head, but Freddy's head is winking churlishly). In the book, Freddy achieves victory in an ultimately hollow, Voorheesian manner, an off-kilter inversion that fails to fully satisfy—as if Faulkner were to vanquish Hemingway in a bullfight or fishing match instead of at a spelling bee or a run-on sentence contest. Hand the Dreamer indeed reaches for the stars with his claw-glove, but in the end, he may have flown too close to the sun.

 

[1] "See with what heat these dogs of Hell advance/To waste and havoc yonder world..."

[2] Faulkner once savaged Hemingway by saying, "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary"—one cannot say this about Stephen Hand.

[3] If there is one, I have not yet discovered it.

[4] Hemingway's retort to Faulkner's original insult was, "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" Truly, Hand has come full circle here: the author in conflict with himself.

[5] Neither an isolated case, nor the most egregious.

[6] Emphasis added.

[7] In his dedication, Hand explains, "Bill and Rich—it's not the one you expected, but it wouldn't have happened without you."


Sean Gill is a writer and filmmaker who won the 2016 Sonora Review Fiction Prize, the 2017 River Styx Micro-Fiction Contest, and The Cincinnati Review's 2017 Robert and Adele Schiff Award. You can find his work at seangillfilms.com