If you search this site for early mentions of this remake, I’m sure I spared no opportunity to slag this movie off and dismiss the whole thing. I live under the illusion that I keeps it real but as time passed, I began to warm up to the idea of a Friday the 13th remake and even found some pretty novel ways to come to terms with the fact that I was okay with a remake. But I wasn’t just okay with a remake, I was okay with a remake of one of my all time favorite movies. This would be like me suddenly thinking that a remake of Escape From New York starring Gerard Butler was okay. This is a big shift in policy for me. By the time it was go-time for Friday the 13th, and the waiting was over, I was downright giddy.
One, I hadn’t been to the movies, an actual movie at a movie theater, in forever. Go back on all my recent movie reviews. They’re all DVDs. Two, I hadn’t been this excited for a movie since Episode 1 only I hoped Friday the 13th would fare better than that one; and three, I hadn’t seen a Friday movie theatrically since Jason Goes To Hell.
Now that the wait is over and I’ve seen the movie, I feel like I can go back to my regularly scheduled life. As much as I love Friday the 13th, between the three Paramount Deluxe editions, scrounging for news, listening to the Manfredini scores and His Name Was Jason, I feel like I’ve saturated my life with the man in the hockey mask. The sheer weight of the excitement was beginning to leave me feeling fatigued. I just didn’t know how much longer I could keep up this level of energy. So I’m sure many of you are wondering, how did it stack up? Was it worth all the hype? Was it any good? As far as I’m concerned, the answer is yes to all of those questions.
We begin in 1980. Pamela Voorhees chases an unnamed girl through the woods blaming her for the death of her son, Jason, but the final girl turns the tables and hacks off Mrs. Voorhees’ head with a machete. In the closing seconds of the scene, a child emerges from the forest and retrieves Mrs. Voorhees’ locket as her disembodied voice commands him to kill. Flash to the present. Five victims-to-be hit the Jersey woods for some camping while two of them plan to raid a crop of pot that is supposed to be out in the woods somewhere. During the inevitable debauchery of just such a scene, they’re attacked by a hulking man wearing a bag on his head. All are killed. Or are they? Flash forward six months, more retarded college kid victims roll out to Crystal Lake for sex, booze and weed while Clay looks for his sister, Whitney, one of the girls from the previously seen group of kids, presumed dead. It’s not long before they step out of bounds and into Jason’s territory and become dead bodies.
What Nispel has done with his Friday the 13th is clearly illustrate precisely how shallow the Friday series is by taking the first three features and distilling them down to their most important parts. He then uses these parts to craft an original feature with original ideas without compromising the original’s fabric. This is very much a Friday the 13th movie and not so much a remake. Had it been released in place of parts 2, 3 or 4, it would have fit easily into the series and been one of the better entries.
It begins with a bang, sparing you no time to get used to the cast at all. The initial five victims get theirs in brutally short order, even taking the violence to an upsetting, distinctly contemporary degree. When you consider that the tame original Friday the 13th required trims to qualify for an R rating, this Friday the 13th features agonizing, explicit gore that lingers on screen a little longer than you might be expecting. A strange characteristic of the early movies was that Jason wasn’t particularly sadistic. True, his kills were brutal, he rarely drew them out for maximum suffering. Within the first 20 minutes of the movie you see a guy squirming around, leg caught in a bear trap while his girlfriend cooks alive in a sleeping bag suspended over the fire. It’s really quite something.
But the film does eventually slow down. Keeping up that pace would have worn out the average viewer and it takes time to weave a story around the kills that is downright sophisticated by Friday the 13th standards. Given this quality, Friday the 13th, the old-timer, could be the movie to put the final nail in Torture Porn’s miserable coffin. Clay’s search for his sister, Whitney, is sympathetic. He’s a character that you don’t want to see die and while finding that sympathetic tone requires a little blind faith on your part, you’re rewarded in the end with a Friday the 13th that maintains the spirit of the series while building a new layer on a very tired franchise.
Jason, of course, is the star of the show and fans have come to hold the franchise icon, Kane Hodder, in high regard, still not having gotten over his rejection from Freddy vs. Jason. But the new Jason, Derek Mears is a worthy heir to the hockey mask and its legacy. Kane has a massive presence and seems to throw his body around for maximum intimidation factor and Mears follows closely in those footsteps. It may be giving the character too much credit but watching a new actor interpret the character can be interesting, like watching someone interpret an abstract work of art. Jason has no spoken lines and a paper thin back story so finding your motivation as the character can be difficult. Some actors have played him out like a bundle of rage but Hodder seemed to find the action that worked in that Jason is more like a hunter than anything else. His kills may have been elaborate, but they always played on nearby implements of opportunity. There was a calculated efficiency and he never seemed to get carried away. Mears very much does the same. Those lamenting the exit of Kane Hodder can rest assured that he has a worthy replacement and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the inevitable sequel, Mears returns as Jason as the new franchise phenom.
It’s hardly a perfect exercise, though. Nispel’s hangup on the grimy aesthetic of the 70’s and early 80’s darkens the picture considerably and he goes out of his way to saturate every scene in browns and blacks. It’s a suitable design for the picture since most of the movie takes place in the forest and around the moldy remains of Camp Crystal Lake but the old production look was often a limitation of budget and technology. Here it looks forced and often dominates the entire picture. Some shots are just too dark to clearly see the action. There are also some suspicious cuts throughout the film that suggest (and recent news of the DVD release confirms) that a portion of the movie was cut out. It isn’t a deal breaker and this missing footage doesn’t seem to take any of the story with it, but they’re clumsy cuts that anyone can recognize.
All gripes aside, though, Marcus Nispel’s remake is probably the first remake I’ve seen that respects the source material and the fans and turns in a product that is every bit as much a reboot as it is a sequel. It’s a remake that is so successful in what it set out to do that I’m actually looking forward to the impending Nightmare on Elm Street reboot. Without exception, Friday the 13th is the most violent in the series, maybe a little too violent at times, and our new Jason is bad motherfucker. Every scene of the movie is loaded with the means of killing and the weapons are sometimes frustratingly neglected (circular saw) but old fans of the series won’t be let down and new viewers will be introduced to the series with a movie that maintains the spirit of the old. I never thought I’d say this, but: Well done, Platinum Dunes.