I consider myself a horror aficionado. I try to catch everything I can: the good and the bad, the independents and the studio-backed, the classy and the splatterfests. But like all film lovers, I have gaps in my knowledge. There are films so well known or well regarded that I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t seen them. In fact, I’m ashamed that I haven’t seen them. Admitting to that shameful gap and fixing it is what this column is about. Some of the films I watch and write about will be considered classics to even the most uptight cinema snob. Others will simply be well known cornerstones of the genre. They all have one thing in common: I have never seen them before.
It was not until I was putting together my recent piece on the most anticipated films of 2017 that I realized I had never seen all the films in the landmark FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise. I noted that the reboot of the series was supposed to be out this year (which is questionable since it’s not even in production yet) and that no matter how it looks, we would all go see it. But here’s the thing, the gaps in my knowledge of the franchise are as large and gaping as a machete wound to the throat.
When I sat down and looked at how many films there actually are in the franchise, I only totaled up viewing five out of twelve (if you include JASON X, FREDDY VS. JASON, and the 2009 FRIDAY THE 13TH remake) films. The five I had seen were the 1980 original, PART II, PART III, JASON X, and FREDDY VS. JASON. That left six of the original sequels and the remake unseen.
This is not necessarily surprising for me. I’ve never been a huge slasher fan. When I do enjoy something in the subgenre, it tends to be one of the truly sleazy independent knockoffs like THE MUTILATOR. But not having seen every entry in arguably the most successful of ’80s horror franchises is a bit shameful. I’ve seen every NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film multiple times, stuck with the HALLOWEEN films through H20, and watched every CHILD’S PLAY movie. But I had missed out on FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER and JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI, the two sequels generally acknowledged as being the best in the franchise. So with the calendar turning over to an actual Friday, the 13th, it seemed the appropriate time to remedy this major gap in my genre knowledge. Over five cold days, I settled in under a blanket, made sure I had snacks and beer within reach, and powered through all twelve films. The results were as mixed as expected. And it should go without saying, but SPOILERS ABOUND in this article.
FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
Looking at the film today, it is sort of surprising that it launched such a phenomenon. A simple game of Ten Little Indians that takes cues from ’70s slasher trendsetters TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, BLACK CHRISTMAS, and HALLOWEEN, Sean S. Cunningham’s quickly churned out exploitation flick did not come close to matching the quality of its inspirations.
But that is not to say it is a bad film. If anything, it feels a little too tame and well made at times. Roughly the first hour of the film is very solid. Victor Miller’s script is efficient at bringing together the small cast of characters and while the dialogue is flat and the actual characters barely sketched out, the acting is pretty decent from a likable cast and the sense of place is authentic (the location shooting helps wonders in this regard). Despite three murders in the first twenty minutes (one off screen), much of the first and second acts of the film feel like a low-key dramedy version of MEATBALLS.
But Harry Manfredini’s justifiably iconic score and Tom Savini’s believable effects work pull the film firmly back into horror territory the second an arrow is shoved through Kevin Bacon’s throat. Despite this famous gore gag, Cunningham goes fairly light on graphic violence, favoring quick insert shots of killings or their aftermath. Until the introduction of Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), the whole thing is damn near classy (even the requisite sex scene/nudity is tasteful by slasher/summer camp movie standards).
The third act twist is where the film runs into problems. The whole justification for Mrs. Voorhees as the killer is silly and Alice (Adrienne King) is a dull final girl (or survivor girl or whatever the term is these days). Only the sucker punch of Jason (Ari Lehman) leaping out of the water during Alice’s nightmare at the end brings the film to the kind of jump scare horror film of its reputation. While Cunningham did not have a franchise in mind when he made FRIDAY THE 13TH, that image of Jason leaping out of the water was the hook producers needed to turn around and crank out a quick sequel to cash in on the unexpected success of the first film.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II (1981)
The law of diminishing returns hit the franchise hard with this first sequel. Gone is the atmosphere and focus on suspense of Cunningham’s original. In their place are more kills (but not very inventive and only a little bloodier than the restrained first film), even thinner characters, and a focus on building the legend of Jason as the new big bad.
To give credit where credit is due, Jason is creepy looking in the film with the white bag over his head (possibly inspired by the look of the killer in THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN?) with a hole torn out allowing just one eye to be seen; Amy Steel’s sarcastic attitude makes her a drastic improvement as the final girl (easily the best in the series); and the editing and cinematography are a little more polished.
But there are too many steps back from the first film in other areas. The cast overalls forces their performances, but it’s hard to blame them since the script by Ron Kurz reduces them all to one identifying characteristic (the guy in the wheelchair, the girl who has the hots for the guy in the wheelchair, the guy who wears a hat, the girl who wears crop tops, etc.) and director Steve Miner does not seem interested in fleshing them out.
Despite the increased number of victims and a spontaneous skinny dipping scene to provide a larger dose of nudity, PART II also feels a bit too tame for its own good. Hell, the only interesting kill (and let’s face it, that’s why these films exist) is stolen directly from Mario Bava’s TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE.
PART II is largely a dull film, lacking in surprises (outside of first film returnees Alice and Crazy Ralph getting knocked off in the first act). It is a disheartening template on which to base the following films.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982)
Steve Miner returned from PART II to direct this installment, meaning I expected more of the same. While that is mostly true, there are some new wrinkles to the formula. Unfortunately, they do not improve on the lackluster second entry. If anything, it might be slightly worse than the previous sequel.
The decision to shoot PART III in 3-D was intended to give a little novelty to the film in what had fast become an overcrowded subgenre. As far as gimmicks go, it wasn’t a bad idea. But watching it now without the benefit of 3-D, it is simply an annoyance with awkward angles catching such mundane objects as a yo-yo or apples and oranges being juggled directly at the camera. It takes nearly an hour into the film before Miner finally makes use of the technology in any meaningful way by having a spear gun fired directly at the camera and an eyeball popped out of a man’s crushed skull in all its “comin’ at you” glory. Those moments do not have much effect when watching the film at home in regular old two dimensions, but I can see how they would have been cool in the theater.
Aside from the 3-D gimmick, the other change is the inclusion of full on caricatures in the film. While the first two entries had paper-thin characters, this one seems intent into turning the cast into cartoons. These include a pair of stoners that smoke so much weed it makes their van look like it’s on fire, a biker gang that randomly menaces people, a dysfunctional husband and wife straight out of a hacky sitcom, and a schlub named Shelly (Larry Zerner) in the main group of kids that Miner goes out of his way to make as unattractive and self-pitying as possible.
Shelly, of course, turns out to be the character who inadvertently gives Jason his iconic hockey mask. Aside from that turn of events, nothing else out of the ordinary happens in the film. With the exception of the aforementioned spear gun and eye popping, the kills are routine and unimaginative. The established formula is followed to the letter, from the opening use of footage from the previous films, to the final confrontation between a young woman and Jason, to the end jump scare that turns out to be a nightmare (Or is it?).
Worth noting was a change to Harry Manfredini’s usual orchestral score. Over the opening and end credits, the score has a disco inflection with some old school horror sound (think music library stuff for a spooky old house) mixed in. That bizarre choice felt like the only challenge to the rigid structure of the franchise, so I kind of enjoyed it.
FRIDAY THE 13TH : THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)
Leave it to Joseph Zito, director of indie, super sleazy slashers like BLOODRAGE and THE PROWLER to craft the best entry in the series since the original film. I’m not claiming THE FINAL CHAPTER is a great film, but it is entertaining and provides enough of a disruption to the stale formula of PART II and PART III to give a little bit of spark to the proceedings.
I suppose it could be considered a cheat to know going into a sequel billing itself as the end of a franchise that there are still several more movies to come. But even without that knowledge, it is pretty clear by the way the film is laid out that the producers never had any intention of making this the final film.
There are several ideas that are brought up in this entry that reverberate through the rest of the series. The first and most important is that Jason is definitely a supernatural presence and not just a mindless hulk who heals quickly. Beyond that, Zito and screenwriter Barney Cohen throw a lot of ideas at the wall. Only a few of them stick—most notably, introducing the character of Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman), who would prove important over the next few films — but at least they are trying things beyond simply sending a group of kids to a secluded location where Jason picks them off one by one. Having a family unit as potential victims, including Tommy — an adolescent kid — changes up the dynamics. And there is Rob (Erich Anderson), a twentysomething hunk who is apparently the brother of one of the victims of a previous film (it says something about the interchangeability of the characters that he mentions his dead sister’s name, but I have no clue who she was or in which previous film she appeared), hunting Jason in the woods. It makes sense that the family members of victims would eventually come calling, but this idea is largely wasted.
If I’m being honest, the biggest change in the formula between THE FINAL CHAPTER and the previous two films is that this one is fun. There are the requisite stock victims on hand, but they are a little better cast than usual. Most notably, pre-BACK TO THE FUTURE Crispin Glover is on hand to give a jolt of honest comedy to the film. For once, the comic relief is not annoying or obnoxious. As a confused guy trying to come to grips with why his girlfriend dumped him up until he takes a cleaver to the face, Glover is acting in a completely different movie. Even as a 20-year-old, Glover was doing his own thing and getting noticed for it.
Zito also ups the gore and nudity factor, injecting a bit of honest sleaze into the proceedings. He takes advantage of having Tom Savini back to do the effects for the first time since the original film. Where the kills in the second and third films felt perfunctory, Savini stages some inventive bloodletting that is as graphic and realistic as you would expect from him. And of course Zito not only casts twin coeds, he immediately has them go skinny-dipping. Because breasts. The connection between sex and death is made clearer than ever before by the tongue-in-cheek storyline of one of the young women who agonizes the whole movie about whether or not to lose her virginity to her boyfriend. Three minutes after doing so, she takes an axe to the chest.
The ending is interesting, even if it does not fully work. Zito takes the time to set up Rob as the possible heroic protagonist and then unceremoniously kills him off before Tommy tricks Jason by cutting his hair to look like him as a young boy when he drowned. I have no idea why this is supposed to soothe the savage beast, but it does long enough for Tommy to hack him into pieces with a machete.
Zito’s inclusion of some self-aware humor and setting up the franchise to continue with a possibly psychopathic Tommy taking Jason’s place was solid. It’s too bad that the producers followed it up with the worst entry in the franchise.
FRIDAY THE 13TH : A NEW BEGINNING (1985)
There is a lot of potential in A NEW BEGINNING. It takes director Danny Steinmann approximately twenty minutes to squander it all.
Things start off promisingly as this is the first sequel to not include a lengthy, unnecessary prologue made up of footage from the previous films. Instead, Steinmann jumps straight into the action as Tommy Jarvis (Feldman, returning ever so briefly) watches from the woods in a rainstorm as two thrill seeking yokels dig up Jason’s body. Their summary execution at the hands of the undead killer is not surprising. What is (slightly) surprising is that this turns out to be a nightmare the now teenage Tommy (John Shepherd) is having.
In a nice touch, Steinmann and his co-writers Martin Kitrosser and David Cohen acknowledge the psychological damage that is often the result of someone who survives a violent attack on their lives. Added to that trauma is the fact that Tommy went to a very dark place when he “killed” Jason at the end of THE FINAL CHAPTER. The result is a quiet, shell-shocked young man who doesn’t trust himself and is given to fits of anger and a volcanic temper.
Tommy’s issues move this entry away from summer camps and vacation party homes full of horny teenagers and college students and into a group home for troubled youths. It should be a welcome change of pace and a chance to have a slightly more interesting set of victims. Unfortunately, outside of an early moment when an angry one of the residents of the group home murders another with an axe, the kids at the home are as generic and forgettable as any from the other sequels. Even worse, the comic relief this time around is provided by a mother and son pair of idiotic, angry redneck neighbors who shout all of their dialogue at the tops of their lungs. They are easily the shrillest characters in the entire series and their eventual deaths are not inventive enough to make it worth sitting through their existence.
Speaking of deaths not being inventive, A NEW BEGINNING sports the most anemic kills in the series, with the red stuff being held back to a ridiculous level. I get the feeling that this entry felt the deepest cuts demanded by the MPAA of any of the sequels. This is a major disappointment, especially following up the fairly gory mayhem of THE FINAL CHAPTER.
Steinmann tries to offset the lack of interesting carnage with some extra nudity, but his staging of two gratuitous scenes of leering at a topless woman are staged in too silly of a way to be titillating or even sleazy. These moments just feel like a filmmaker desperately trying to hold audience interest when nothing else is working.
And make no mistake, nothing else works. Keeping the killer’s identity a secret is clearly supposed to make the audience think it might be Tommy, but that is an idea that never gains traction. The revelation that the killer is not Jason or Tommy, but instead is an angry paramedic out for revenge is ludicrous (and worthy of the disdain this entry draws from fervent fans of the series). And the final twist of Tommy apparently taking on the mantle of Jason in the freeze frame ending is the most illogical moment in a series of films that thrives on plot twists and character decisions that lack logic.
But the worst sin of A NEW BEGINNING is that it is flat out boring. Tommy is the first survivor to carry over in any substantial way from one film to the other, but Steinmann never does anything interesting with him. Simply using him as a red herring is not enough. Boring kills plus boring characters minus Jason makes this the nadir of the series.
What a difference a writer/director with a firm handle on story and tone can make. Using a legitimately witty script and good casting, writer/director Tommy McLoughlin turns in the best film in the series. Even more impressively, he does so by more or less maintaining story continuity with everything that came before.
Basically ignoring the ending of A NEW BEGINNING (Or was it a nightmare? I honestly don’t care.), McLoughlin sends Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews, a huge upgrade) into the cemetery with the plan to dig up Jason’s body and burn it until nothing is left. Of course nothing goes right, Jason is resurrected by a bolt of lightning (he’s been a zombie and now a Frankenstein’s Monster), and the re-opened Camp Crystal Lake (now known as Camp Forest Green) just happens to have a group of newly arrived counselors and young children unaware of the hulking, undead storm coming their way.
In a way, McLoughlin takes JASON LIVES back to basics, but brings along a healthy dose of self-awareness without ever tipping over into parody. It is still a film about Jason Voorhees stalking and killing camp counselors, but little touches like the town of Crystal Lake re-naming itself so that tourists don’t realize where they are, a game of paintball that Jason interrupts with bloody and funny results, and a slightly more useful sheriff than usual, ground the film in an odd reality.
It helps that the cast is solid this time around (Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Ron Palillo, and a young Tony Goldwyn are just a few of the recognizable character actors on hand) and McLoughlin has a good touch with them, giving each character a couple of beats to make them more than interchangeable fodder for Jason. The characterization never goes more than skin deep, but at least the effort is there to provide some personality.
Tommy and Megan (Cooke) are appealing heroes. Their flirtatious relationship is funny and sweet and makes them worth rooting for. That rooting interest is largely what most of the films in the series is missing. Jason is a force of nature, but there is no personality to him. If the kills aren’t inventive, that leaves not a lot to hold the interest of the audience. Thankfully, JASON LIVES provides several clever kills. The added bonus of likable protagonists and Alice Cooper’s legitimately great “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask) over the end credits is just icing on the cake.
It is too bad that McLoughlin did not return to the franchise after this entry. His ability to craft an actual narrative worth caring about from the most basic elements of the series is sorely missing from the next two films.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988)
How does a film that can best be described as “Jason vs. Carrie” turn out to be so dull?
After the high of JASON LIVES, I have to give director John Carl Buechler and writers Daryl Haney and Manuel Fidello credit for not settling for the usual, but their attempts to meld what is basically a subplot from THE FURY with a basic FRIDAY THE 13TH stalk-and-slash set up is so poorly put together, it renders all good intentions moot.
But it is not just the fumbled premise that is the problem. All of the issues with the other lesser sequels are present here: bland, interchangeable characters; mostly boring kills (once again, seemingly neutered by the MPAA); and all the action stuck to two generic locations alongside a lake.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this entry is that it is the first (that I can recall) with a legitimate villain aside from Jason. As the power-hungry psychiatrist using a patient with telekinetic powers (Lar Park Lincoln) to chase fame, Terry Kiser (the “Bernie” of those movies about disrespectfully playing pranks with corpses at weekend beach houses) is a sleazy lout with droopy eyes who always seems in danger of breaking out into flop sweat. He plays his “human” villain with such a repugnant aggression that he is actually uncomfortable to watch. He is also the only memorable thing about the film. Take from that what you will.
Next to A NEW BEGINNING, this is the worst film in the franchise. The only thing keeping it from taking that honor outright is an inspired bit that finds Jason zipping a victim into a sleeping bag and beating them against a tree. Seriously, that’s how thin the line is between the worst films in the franchise.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989)
I’m sure I’m not the first to make this joke, but shouldn’t it have been called “Jason Takes a Boat to Manhattan?”
In all honesty, I was expecting this one to be much worse than it was. It has the reputation of being one of the worst of the series, but I found it to be on par with PART II and PART III. Given my lukewarm reception to those entries, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.
I can understand why audiences felt betrayed by this entry. Writer/director Rob Hedden fails to live up to the promise of that audacious title. He further compounds that problem with an opening sequence that shows New York City in purely ugly aspects: gangs mugging people, junkies shooting up, trash covering the sidewalks and streets, and disgusting barrels of what looks like raw sewage just sitting on street corners. If there is anyone who could possibly be worse than the violent, cynical scum of the New York presented by Hedden, it is Jason Voorhees. In a move that I assume was born of budgetary constraints, Jason does not even make it to Manhattan until over an hour into the film. Even then, it’s clear that only a few minutes of the New York footage was actually shot in the city. Hell, I’m not invested in this franchise in any real way, and even I felt cheated.
The action aboard the boat is the usual stalk-and-slash material with no memorable characters and only one good kill (Jason using a sauna rock to burn through a victim’s stomach). This would not be so annoying except for the fact that it all feels like one super-long first act setting up the five main potential victims who will eventually run through the city encountering the horrors of criminals who want to rob, rape, and murder or jaded New Yorkers who don’t care that a massive, undead, psychotic killer is trying to murder them.
Once in the city, Hedden does show some interest in changing things up a bit. There is a little bit of a campy Troma feel to things like the barrel of green ooze just sitting in an alley that Jason uses to drown a particularly unlucky victim. For one of the only times I can recall in the series, I felt for a victim—amateur boxer Julius’ heroic but doomed last stand as he tries to punch his way out of danger was honestly touching. And the bizarre “death” of Jason this time around as he is washed away by toxic waste in the sewers, leaving behind what looks like a small boy, curled in the fetal position is beyond weird.
It is worth noting that this is the first film in the franchise for which Harry Manfredini did not compose the score (he is one of two credited composers on THE NEW BLOOD). His absence is felt here, as Fred Mollin’s score is a generic sounding piece that was better suited at the time for a forgettable action flick.
Maybe I was influenced by the terrific interview that DAILY GRINDHOUSE‘s Nathan Smith did with director Adam Marcus, but I enjoyed JASON GOES TO HELL. Sure, there are a lot of plot holes, but that means there is an actual plot—something this series has rarely bothered with. It was almost bracing to realize there was information in scenes that I needed to remember as the movie went along.
After a clever, over-the-top opening that finds the FBI killing Jason via hundreds of gunshots, grenades, and an apparent air strike that blows him into tiny pieces, the film goes on a crazed info dump that is as hilarious as it is ridiculous. At least five main characters are introduced, an entirely new mythology for Jason’s supernatural ability to keep coming back to life is spouted, and the “spirit” of Jason keeps getting passed from person to person through a slug ingested via the mouth.
This new mythology (which still includes Jason’s drowning and Mrs. Voorhees’ revenge and death) thankfully means there is no redundant prologue made up of footage from the previous films. I am sure the reason for that is just as much the fact that the franchise changed hands from Paramount to New Line with this entry, but from a storytelling standpoint, it means the film hits the ground running and never lets up. There’s just too much story to get through.
Impressively, with as much exposition is being spouted by the likes of obsessed bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams) and sleazy tabloid news show host Robert Campbell (Steven Culp), Marcus keeps the film flying along with numerous set pieces of Jason (in the guise of several different people) slaughtering rooms full of people. In many ways, this entry feels like a ripoff of THE TERMINATOR—and I’m completely fine with that.
While the new mythology is strictly supernatural hogwash, it at least gives nominal protagonists Steven (John D. LeMay) and Jessica (Kari Keegan) a goal to work toward, rather than just constantly running in panic from one location to the next.
Even with as much as I enjoyed the film, JASON GOES TO HELL still felt a little too sloppy in places. There is clearly supposed to be a history between Duke and Jason, but that is never explored, despite being referenced. The same goes for Steven’s underdeveloped friendship with local cop Randy (Kipp Marcus) who keeps having to arrest him. It feels like it should be a big moment when Jason takes over Randy’s body and Steven is forced to kill him, but the death is rushed over.
Sloppy storytelling aside, I had fun with JASON GOES TO HELL. It’s overly ambitious with the new mythology, the action scenes, and elements of subtle-as-a-sledgehammer satire, but some ambition is exactly what the series needed.
Of course, audiences didn’t agree with me and largely gave JASON GOES TO HELL a cold shoulder. Despite the final image of Freddy Krueger’s razor gloved hand pulling Jason’s hockey mask beneath the earth, Jason’s next appearance wasn’t for another very long eight years (this is a franchise that averaged a film every 1.4 years to that point, so eight years was practically an eternity) and had nothing to do with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
JASON X (2002)
JASON X is basically the FRIDAY THE 13TH parody that was never needed. By the time the film came out in 2002, the tropes established by the series had already been lampooned countless times in other films. But the character of Jason is too valuable to let lie dormant for too long, so director Jim Isaac and writer Todd Farmer launched his ass into space. Really, at that point, what else was there left for them to do?
I find JASON X to be amusing in many ways that have nothing to do with the FRIDAY THE 13TH films. Instead, the whole thing plays like a spoof of the mid-’90s to early-2000s style of syndicated and Sci-Fi Network (back when it was called that) TV shows set on a space station. From the brightly colored, but cheap, sets to the endless stream of techno-babble to the highly questionable science and the cast of freshly scrubbed young Canadian actors, the film nails the feel of those mediocre time wasters. The joke—to me, at least, and maybe to others—is unleashing Jason Voorhees on a cast of characters that look and talk like they belong on a UHF station (look it up, youngsters) at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon.
There is not much to say about JASON X. The kills are pretty good with Jason making use of the futuristic science equipment available on the space station and sometimes just resorting to hacking a character into pieces (there is even a call back to Jason beating the camper to death in a sleeping bag from THE NEW BLOOD). David Cronenberg, of all people, pops up in an odd cameo (let it be noted that Cronenberg should never run on camera again). And the interchangeable cast of characters is overall a bit more likable than they have been in several entries. I suppose that’s all you need when you reach the tenth film in a slasher franchise and send your masked killer into outer space.
Weirdly, audiences didn’t go for Jason killing people on the set of Andromeda, so instead of staying in space and fighting the Leprechaun, he was brought back to Earth for the showdown everyone supposedly wanted.
FREDDY VS. JASON (2003)
As a rule, I tend to hate the idea of “shared universes” in films. I understand the need for such a thing in comic books and some TV shows, but in movies, the shared universe is usually the last gasp of a franchise that is out of ideas. Even the classic Universal monster films eventually gave in to this idea, but it was not until they had gone through numerous premises for Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Wolfman. True to form, the most commercially successful horror movie villains of the ’80s came together for an intended battle royale long after their sell-by date.
I will give director Ronny Yu and writers Damian Shannon & Mark Swift this much: they did try to craft an actual movie and not just a series of gags. Unfortunately, that movie is largely dull when it spends time with a predictably boring group of teenagers who are caught in the middle of Jason and Freddy’s grudge match over who gets to kill them.
There are sparks of creativity to the film that hint at what it could have been. Freddy using Jason to kill a couple of kids on Elm Street so that he can be remembered back into existence is clever — especially the touch that when Freddy comes back, he can’t rein Jason in. The scene of Freddy finally getting into Jason’s dreams and playing him around the boiler room like a giant pinball machine is prime early sequel-era Freddy. And the vision of Jason in flames as he slashes through a party in a cornfield is impressive.
But too much of the film is made up of the core group of teenagers trying to piece together what the viewer has known for over twenty years: Freddy gets you in your sleep and Jason is an immortal killing machine. It’s fine to have a conspiracy where the parents have put their kids on an experimental drug to keep them from having dreams, but don’t drag out that mystery for half the movie. The same goes for an unnecessary cop (Lochlyn Munro) who pieces together the Jason Voorhees angle for approximately an hour and then gets killed off once his usefulness as a vessel for exposition has been exhausted. Nothing he tells the teenagers is anything they couldn’t have found on the Internet in five minutes.
Once Freddy and Jason do face off, things improve considerably. Robert Englund is reliably hammy and sleazy as Freddy and watching Jason go up against a worthy rival with an actual personality is a nice change of pace. But that positive simply points out the core problem of the film, which is the same problem with most of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films: the potential victims are dullsville. Even with Katharine Isabelle and Brendan Fletcher spicing things up with performances that far outpace their co-stars, every time the narrative shifted focus to the teenagers, my eyes glazed over. Call me a grumpy old man.
FRIDAY THE 13TH (The 2009 Remake)
On paper, remaking FRIDAY THE 13TH seems like a good idea. The original is a solid film with a sturdy premise at its core, but there is a lot of room for a good filmmaker to improve or expand on the original. Unfortunately, the remake just winds up another piece of product squeezed through the Platinum Dunes remake factory where everything seems to come out of the same bland mold.
I will admit to having hopes for the film after director Marcus Nispel and FREDDY VS. JASON writers Shannon and Swift pull the clever trick of introducing a group of campers, making me assume these are the kids who are going to be picked off one by one, and then having Jason annihilate them all within fifteen minutes. Even better, the Jason on display is frightening. When he descends upon the campsite, he truly seems like the boogeyman that so many generations of young people have whispered about in the original films. I was so impressed by this sequence that I wasn’t even bothered by Jason being presented as having an apparent intelligence as he uses a bear trap to capture one of the campers and sadistically zips another into a sleeping bag which he then strings up over the campfire.
But once that audacious extended prologue is done, everything is back to business as usual with a group of obnoxious college kids partying in a house by the lake. But the 2009 version of this story has the same problem that a lot of modern day slasher flicks have: the potential victims are largely despicable people who can’t stand each other. Sure, making them unlikable is supposed to make it more fun to watch them get sliced and diced, but I would rather like a character who is possibly going to die. It makes the film that much more suspenseful and horrifying. I would rather be upset at the death of a character I like than grimly root on a psychopathic killer to off some jerk. Call me crazy, but after a while, I felt a little ashamed of myself for rooting for Jason to kill these kids. Maybe that was the point of the filmmakers, but I highly doubt it.
There is also something wrong with how slickly made the film is. I get that Nispel probably had a budget in excess of all the original FRIDAY THE 13TH films put together, but I had trouble reconciling the beautiful cinematography and crisp editing with the story of Jason hacking up a bunch of cartoonish assholes. I refuse to admit to being nostalgic for a series of films that I’ve largely written off as being more mediocre than not, but there was a real feeling of camaraderie among the cast of the original film and a scrappy, underdog indie feel to it. That underdog feel extended to the first few sequels, even though I wasn’t a huge fan of PART II or PART III. The remake doesn’t make me want to root for it. It’s a calculated cash grab that lacks the faint glimmer of a soul that some of the sequels possessed.
I have no doubt that if I had watched these movies when I was an adolescent, that I would have loved them and would feel nostalgic for them now. But watching them all the way through for the first time at my decrepit old age did not have the desired effect. And that’s probably the way it should be. The original films were made for adolescents and teenagers. They were a product of their time — a time in which I grew up, but don’t particularly feel nostalgic for. Watching them now feels like a glimpse into a past I can never go back and experience. I don’t regret watching the films, but I don’t particularly feel enriched for having watched them (except for JASON LIVES — that movie rocks, no matter what my age). I completely understand why someone who grew up on them would love them and I don’t begrudge them that connection, but for me, they are a ship I missed jumping aboard and it’s too late now.
FINAL RANKING OF THE FILMS
1. JASON LIVES
2. FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
3. THE FINAL CHAPTER
4. JASON GOES TO HELL
5. JASON X
6. FREDDY VS. JASON
7. PART II
8. PART III
9. JASON TAKES MANHATTAN
10. FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)
11. THE NEW BLOOD
12. A NEW BEGINNING
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