We're briefly hitting pause on Carptember in honor of today's date: Friday the 13th. And on this day, I like to kick back, watch a few of my favorite Friday titles from the Paramount era, and also talk about how fucking shitty the 2009 remake is. Plus it's somewhat Carpenter-related since he gets name-dropped in this piece while recognizing that the Friday the 13th series wouldn't exist were it not for him, anyway.
Either way, let's get hatin'.
I’ve been watching Jason Voorhees murder human beings ever since I was a wee one. Too young and poor to own actual copies of the films, I was reduced to watching versions recorded off television from ABC’s “Million Dollar Movie” and USA’s “Up All Night.” The gore was heavily edited, the nudity had vanished, and even benign lines of dialogue like “thank God” were edited down to “thank ___.” But at that time, I took anything I could get, and I wore out those tapes without much effort.
Jason Voorhees, both pre- and post-zombie, was kind of my hero. He was a monstrous force of nature with which to be reckoned. He crushed heads and introduced axes to bodies without prejudice. He cared little for the half-naked nubiles that were helplessly straddled on the floor in front of him — he wanted nothing more than to throw them out the window, bash them against a tree, or stab them…you know…down there. The Friday the 13th series was even, in essence, my first exposure to sex (and in a largely overblown way, its consequences), since it predated my father’s birds-and-the-bees talk, the 37th-generation porn tape that circulated among my friends, and my public school’s laughably tardy sex ed class. No sir, I learned all about female anatomy from The Final Chapter.
Funny and inappropriate as it may sound, the series was a large part of my childhood, but despite my adoration, I would never describe the series as art — not even the first film. Slasher movies that result in legitimately good cinema are a rarity — John Carpenter's Halloween naturally comes to mind. Sure, slashers are “good” in the sense that you like them, and they are certainly entertaining, but they’re not written to trigger any emotional response other than screaming. They don’t want to push you to question society. They just want you to laugh as the fat chick on the side of the road gets a pick-axe through her neck, or to fear for Final Girl who is completely alone, knowing the masked maniac could be around any corner. Post-Halloween slashers were willing to show you anything to earn that response. They are buffalo wings and beer: they’re an option, they really hit the spot, but at the end of the day, they’re junk. (But that’s okay!)
Unlike Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th isn’t a series where most fans point to the first film as their favorite, simply because the series didn’t really come into its own until the sequel, which introduced a masked Jason as the primary maniac. Now that the baggage of “the original” was no longer on the table, fans were free to choose which chapter was their favorite. Pretty sure it’s The Final Chapter, and also pretty sure that’s because of all the Crispin Glover dancing. (It’s my preferred entry, anyway.)
Despite the lack of “quality” in each successive sequel, insofar as could be expected of Friday the 13th, and despite the stick-in-the-mud claims that each sequel was the same movie over and over, you can’t claim that each entry following The Final Chapter wasn’t trying something new.
A New Beginning pissed off fans by removing Jason from the equation and replacing him with a copycat killer. Luckily, the movie boasts a healthy amount of the red stuff, and director Danny Steiner leans on a slimy yet effective grindhouse aesthetic that feels right at home in the franchise. Even with the disappointing fake killer reveal, it’s a natural continuation of the Tommy Jarvis saga, which began in The Final Chapter. It’s effectively directed, and if the real Jason had actually been the killer, I’m confident A New Beginning would be considered a series high-point.
Jason Lives is the “funnest” of the series, with its tongue firmly planted in cheek, and it shows on both the page and the screen. Having said that, (and putting aside the goofy but lovable James Bond-esque opening title sequence), let it not be said that Jason Lives doesn’t live up to the Friday the 13th brand. Jason, newly resurrected, is back with a vengeance. People are smashed through RV walls, ripped apart, and bent in half. Heads are stabbed and triple decapitations are on the menu. “Fun” tone notwithstanding, the threat is still very real. Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead) caps off the Tommy Jarvis story with the best iteration of the character and puts Jason back in the lake for good (haha, not). Director Tom McLoughlin keeps things light, channeling Joe Dante and Amblin Films, delivering a hoot-and-a-half of a Friday. With a diverse cast that doesn’t just focus on teenagers, McLoughlin manages to make Jason Lives feel less like a slasher flick and more like an honest-to-gosh horror film geared toward everyone. (It actually got some decent reviews, too, which in the land of Friday the 13th is usually unheard of.)
The whole Jason vs. Carrie gimmick of The New Blood is a little absurd, but most fans have been pretty forgiving of that plot point. It’s what the MPAA did to poor director John Carl Buechler, and all his gory set pieces, that they can’t forgive. Still, despite being tame with the gore, The New Blood is fun, and if nothing else, depicted the most bad-ass Jason so far (played for the first of four times by fan favorite Kane Hodder) — exposed spine and all.
A Cruise Ship Toronto Manhattan would unceremoniously serve as the last entry produced by Paramount Pictures (the same studio that gave the world the Godfather trilogy), who had distributed the original and funded every sequel. Following the series’ declining box office receipts, Jason Takes Manhattan would prove to be the studio’s last go-around with their hideous and embarrassing cash cow. Unfortunately, what sounded like a clever and exciting script was hacked apart to reduce the budget, forcing writer/director Rob Hedden to sacrifice much of his vision, which included scenes in Madison Square Garden (where Julius was supposed to get his head punched off), a chase scene on the Brooklyn Bridge, and a finale in the Statue of Liberty. Instead, Hedden shifted most of the action to that goddamn cruise ship, where Jason miraculously negotiates tight hallways and cabins without anyone ever seeing him. (In case you were wondering, 34 minutes of the movie’s 96-minute running time “takes place” in New York, and two minutes of that time is actually shot there.) What Hedden can be blamed for, however, is shitting the Friday the 13th mythology bed by impossibly suggesting that Final Girl and Jason were children around the same time period, making Jason either both a zombie killer AND a lake-haunting boy ghost, or Final Girl the oldest high school senior on record. Also, while Jason’s uncanny talent for taking lives has always bordered on absurd, Jason Takes Manhattan takes it one step further and bestows on him the completely ludicrous ability to teleport.
At film’s end, Jason screams like an elephant and drowns in toxic waste.
It had a really fun teaser poster, though:
Once the Paramount reign of Friday the 13th ended and New Line Cinema stepped in to adopt the rotting hulk, Jason went to Hell, space, and Elm Street. Most would agree none of them were a return to form for the masked killer (though it’s easy to love Freddy vs. Jason).
And then 2009’s Friday the 13th happened to us all, which came out ten years ago.
Happy birthday, you piece of shit.
When the soulless production team of Platninum Dunes, headed by Michael Bay, announced the remake of Friday the 13th, every horror enthusiast and their decapitated mother knew they weren’t actually remaking the first film. Instead, they were remaking the concept of Friday the 13th —Jason, with mask, cutting down teens in the woods. But I’ll admit, when the remake of Friday the 13th was announced, I was excited. By this time, Platinum Dunes had already given the world the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which was shockingly good, along with The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher, which…weren’t, but each announcement in regards to Friday the 13th really seemed to indicate they knew what they were doing: the writers of Freddy Vs. Jason would be writing the script, Chainsaw director Marcus Nispel would be getting behind the camera, and Jared Padalecki, star of Supernatural, would be playing the lead role of Clay — basically a reiteration of Jason-hunter Rob from The Final Chapter. This trio of creative decisions tickled my horror fancy. In my eyes, that was some promising horror street cred all involved in this hotly anticipated remake, and this was only Friday the 13th — fucking that up would be like burning water. The movie was soon shot, set visit reports showed enthusiasm from all those involved, and the trailer masterfully captured the tone of the original movies, even going as far as mimicking the “thirteen deaths countdown” as the trailer for the original film did 30 years prior.
But the audience was doomed. They were alllll dooooomed. And on Friday the 13th, 2009, nothing would save them.
After all that, I have to ask…why? Why was the final product so awful? How did they get all of this seemingly so right and then flush it right down the toilet? How did the Friday the 13th flick with the highest budget, made by a studio finally unashamed of its ownership, and created by people who purported to love the franchise, become the worst entry in the series?
Let’s start with the script.
You’ll never (ever) have me bemoaning the lack of character development in a Friday the 13th because I don’t need that, and it’s not what I expect from a movie that’s essentially Part 12. Instead, I would have preferred a group of characters to be, in the most effortless way, at least a little bit likable. Ripping off my own face and begging for Jason to come down off the screen and vivisect me was tolerable compared to watching Funny Dick Guy say one putrid “the obnoxious character is always a gas!” line of dialogue after the other. Meanwhile, writers craft scripts like this and then grin at you and say, “These kids feel like real kids!” If Friday the 13th’s kids are based on real kids, Planet Earth is doomed.
And what’s with these kids and their utter masturbatory obsession with smoking weed? What’s with this needless, overbearing crusade to really reinforce that kids not only smoke week, but that smoking week is hysterical? Yeah, I get it. Teens smoke weed. Teens have always smoked weed, and will always smoke weed. You know who else smoked weed? My parents. And yours. We’re not doing anything new here, people. But Friday the 13th seems intent on beating their audience over the head with a thirty-pound bong. Not only does the movie open with kids hunting for a pot field, later on, an entirely different group of kids come along and smoke weed and laugh a lot, because weed is the BEST. Listen, the original Friday the 13th entries are horrendously dated, I’ll freely admit it. The environments are free of cell phones and flat screens. Kids dance “the robot” and have gigantic hair. The guys wear shorter shorts than the girls. For an entry or two, punk was “in.” But they were still way cooler than the kids of Friday the 13th 2009. They didn’t make their bongs and pipes do puppet shows. They didn’t go “awwww yeaaaah!” when someone took out an ounce and waved it around like a Polaroid. They didn’t say “this is some good shit!” or bellow “I am so stoned!” for comedic effect. They passed the joint, smoked, and played some acoustic. The end.
And if you think the film’s immature look at marijuana is the last of the pitfalls, think again.
Why does every single character in the film lack the social skills of a zoo-born gorilla? Did you really just take your tits out for no reason, Dumb Girl? Were you seriously going to do some common-area masturbating since no one was around, Other Kid? Are we really watching a redneck about to masturbate all over a naked mannequin as he feels its chest? To quote that YouTube child, is this real life?
Worse, most of the deaths are incredibly lazy, while some border on the kind of discomfort-causing dispatches from the world of Saw, Hostel, and all of those imitators so popular during the 2000s, which ain’t the Friday the 13th way. As a result, the deaths look merely unpleasant and somehow simultaneously boring. Case in point: Stoner Kid wanders around a dark garage looking for god-knows-what, spending almost five straight minutes talking to himself. The music is mounting, and you know Jason’s about to pop up and give this moron a death we all hope is glorious. And then…
Jason shoves a screwdriver into his neck.
As Stoner Kid begs for his life.
It’s not fun, but boring — and uncomfortable. That’s not why we’re here. We’ve come for titillation, not revulsion. For the first time in a Friday the 13th, watching teens get slaughtered isn’t…fun.
As far as Jason’s killing capabilities go, I’m a little more lenient than some other fans. If Jason wants to shoot an arrow into some girl’s skull, that’s fine. In previous entries, I’ve seen him throw spikes directly into people’s faces from afar with deadly precision, so I won’t complain about the method, but to then flash to Jason’s old room and show us an archery trophy? Who fucking cares? Astoundingly, the writers thought they were clever enough to “explain” why Jason is good with a bow-and-arrow, yet when it came time for him to find his hockey mask for the first time — in a moment that should have been iconic — they write a scene where he literally finds the thing on the floor. Come on guys, really? That’s like Bruce Wayne deciding what his Batman costume will look like by buying a fucking Batman costume on Amazon.
Not helping matters is the lifeless “bum-bum-bum-bum” film score by Steve Jablonksy, who unfortunately sees fit to keep “ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma” and toss the rest — unaware of the effectiveness of Harry Manfredini’s original music. Manfredini’s awesome original score isn’t music you can hum, like Halloween, Phantasm, or JAWS. Notes are all over the place, and hardly repetitive — more Herrmann than Carpenter—and the collection of harsh strings, harps, and low brass is what made the not-that-scary events unfolding on screen seem pretty scary. It’s a superior film score that deserved just as much respect as Jason himself, but given the complete lack of understanding as to what made Jason a great character, it would seem the score never had a chance. (For an example of how to do this the right way, see Graeme Revell’s score for Freddy vs. Jason, which effectively marries Manfredini’s Friday stuff with Charles Bernstein’s Nightmare stuff, all while writing original compositions.)
The only worthy kudos is entirely dedicated to Derek Mears as Jason. A longtime fan of the series, he understood that — despite what people think — Jason Voorhees really is a “character,” and he did a great job bringing him to life.
After a great opening weekend, Friday the 13th suffered such poor word of mouth that the following weekend saw a severe drop-off in box office, thus killing any plans for a follow up. (It takes a special kind of talent to make a lot of money from a Friday the 13th movie and not parlay that into an immediate sequel.)
Fans all have their own ideas for what makes or breaks a Friday the 13th entry, with many of the criticisms leveled at the remake being things I don’t have the time to care about. Jason runs and that’s weird? I don’t care, and no, it’s not, because he ran in the first three Jason chapters. How does he know how to keep his electricity running in his childhood home? I dunno, ask the Jason who had a working toilet in the second entry. I tend to overlook these details and focus on things that are obviously dumb, like establishing that the town of Crystal Lake knows that Jason is running around in the woods, but aren’t that concerned about it. Or that Jason doesn’t kill one particular female character because she resembles his mother, yet he does chain her up in a dungeon, which seems like a very bizarre way to treat a mother. Or that an abandoned summer camp is infested with a series of underground tunnels which the screenwriters couldn’t be bothered to explain with one line of dialogue.
How did making a Jason film get so hard? Why is the concept of a masked killer cutting off heads so uncrackable? (How did a bunch of kids make the Friday the 13th fan film Never Hike Alone with a fraction of the remake’s budget, resources, and Hollywood talent, and still create something vastly superior?)
Guys, this isn’t Don Corleone we’re talking about here. Nor Indiana Jones, John McClane, or the aforementioned Batman. It’s Jason Voorhees. Put a mask on him, dump him in the woods, give him some unannoying kids to kill in clever ways, add a twist of lemon for freshness, and holy shit, make it fun. As a lifelong Friday the 13th fan, who was able to find merit in every single entry up to Jason X (and I really had to reach for that one), 2009’s Friday the 13th was the first time I ever recall feeling embarrassed by my love for the franchise.
To all the folks who mucked this up: this is such an easy wheel to keep turning, and somehow, you totally blew it.
[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]