CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(The camera pans a sign that reads CAMP CRYSTAL LAKE, and then we find MICHAEL ARRUDA inside a dilapidated cabin, trying to turn the lights on, but they won’t work)
MA: Hey, LL? I don’t mind that you keep wanting to meet in these creepy places, but at least pick a place where they pay their electric bills! (Strikes a match and lights a candle, engulfing the interior of the cabin with full cheery light) (Looks at camera) It’s a new guy doing the lighting, but hey, it works for me.
(A closet door swings open and a scary figure pops out, wearing a hockey mask)
MA: Hi LL.
LS (removes mask): What gave it away?
MA: You know, I think I’m going to go with the Alf T-shirt.
LS: Oh. I knew I should have worn something more menacing.
MA: Speaking of menacing, let’s get to the review of the new FRIDAY THE 13TH remake. Take it way, Alf.
LS: Okay. Well, first off, the new movie FRIDAY THE 13TH isn’t exactly a remake of the first film in the Jason series from 1980. It’s kind of a condensed remake – or reimagining – of the first two sequels.
MA: You know, I just have to butt in here. I’ve heard that term a lot lately: “reimagining,” and all I can say is, after watching FRIDAY THE 13TH, if the filmmakers are going to use that term, there’d better be more emphasis placed on the “imagining” part and less on the “re” part, because as it stands now, there ain’t a whole of imagining going on!
At least with the HALLOWEEN (2007) “reimagining” (a film I didn’t like), there was an attempt to look at the story in a different way, as a strong effort was made to explain the background of Michael Myers. It was an effort that ultimately failed, as the connection was never made between tragic childhood and supernatural adult killer, but at least the attempt was made. Here— well, I’ll let you explain the movie, but I’ll just say this at the outset: I didn’t view this movie as a “reimagining” at all. I just didn’t see many differences between this movie and those in the original series.
LS: Okay, so the new film opens with the end of the first movie, where Jason’s mother reveals herself to be the killer of the camp instructors at Camp Crystal Lake, and confronts the final survivor of the group, who then chops off her head with a machete.
We then jump ahead to present day, where a bunch of kids are wandering around the forest, looking for an abandoned pot harvest that will make them rich. As night falls, they pitch their tents not far from the old, abandoned Camp Crystal Lake, and meet grisly ends at the hands of the vengeful Jason.
It seems that Jason didn’t die and that his mother, who killed all those campers back in 1980 because they’d allowed her poor son to drown unattended, went on a killing spree for NOTHING! Not only was he alive, but he watched his mother die, and now has a major problem with anyone who even comes near his home.
MA (yawns): BORING! (Light bulb goes off above his head) I’ve got it! Here’s our maniacal killer’s motivation: he’ll have a major problem with anyone who comes near his home! Brilliant! Come on, screenwriters, give the audience some credit. We do have brains after all.
(A ZOMBIE pops his head up from the rotting floorboards)
(LS kicks it like a football)
MA: We can figure out complex plot points! Why do horror movies have to be dumbed down so much?
LS: When we first see Jason in modern-day, he is wearing a sack over his head like he did back in FRIDAY THE 13THPART 2 (1981)—.
MA (jumps in front of LS wearing a sack over his head): This just in! There’s been a major “reimagining” concerning characters wearing sacks on their heads. We’ve had the Scarecrow from the new Batman movies, the Strangers, and now Jason. Enough with the sacks! Everyone knows that the REAL new look is lamp shades! (Replaces sack on his head with lamp shade, and begins to grunt and swing a machete).
LS (shaking his head): Are you through? (MA crashes into wall and falls to the floor). I’ll take that as a yes. Where was I? Sacks. But about half-way through the movie he puts on a hockey mask instead, like he did in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982). So this is really a bunch of remakes all in one. At the same time, the movie seeks to jump-start the series all over again.
MA: Did someone say jump-start? (Lunges as LS with jumper cables. LS steps aside and MA crashes into wall again.)
LS: What is it with you today?
MA (sitting on floor): It’s the “reimagined” me.
LS: I think I like the old you better.
A second group of kids come to the area a few months later (because this Jason is so good at killing, there can’t be just one group!). One of them is a rich kid and he is bringing his dumb-ass friends to his parents’ summer home in the woods. Unfortunately, it’s on the other side of the lake from where Jason dwells, so they’re soon under attack as well. At the same time, the brother of one of the first batch of kids (the ones who came looking for the pot plants) is in town to find his missing sister, who just happens to be a prisoner in Jason’s basement (which looks a lot like a mine shaft from MY BLOODY VALENTINE). We never really find out why she’s being kept alive. Is it because she has a locket that she found that holds pictures of Jason as a child and his mother? Does he think she’s his mother when she shows him the locket? Or is she being kept as his sex slave? We’re never really sure. And if he thinks she’s his mother for some weird reason (supposedly she looks like the picture in the locket) then why does he keep her chained up in the basement? None of this really makes any sense.
MA (applauding): Thank you for saying this and saving me the trouble.
LS: The acting, for the most part, is mediocre. We’ve got a few more television veterans this time around, including Jared Padalecki from the CW show SUPERNATURAL as Clay Miller, the guy who is searching for his lost sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti). Padalecki is brooding and very bland, as always, and strikes me as a very boring hero. I guess some people find him attractive, but seriously, I just don’t see his appeal as an actor at all. And then there’s Ryan Hansen who played the jerk Dick Casablancas on another former CW show VERONICA MARS. He played a jerk on that show, and plays another one here. I guess he’s just really good at playing jerks! And Richard Burgi (who was on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES as well as in HOSTEL PART II) plays the local cop, Officer Bracke. I like Burgi, but he really has very little screen time here, and his role is more like an extended cameo.
There are also plenty of other archetypes, such as the virginal girl, Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), who hangs around with the morons but who befriends the brooding Clay, and is just as boring as he is; rich boy Trent (Travis Van Winkle – what an appropriate name for the actor!); and a few hot bimbos, Bree (Julianna Guill) and Chelsea (Willa Ford). There are also two nerds, an Asian guy named Chewie (Aaron Yoo) and an African-American guy named Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta), who just smoke a bong all day and can’t get laid (!). They’re mainly there as comic relief.
MA: I really enjoyed Aaron Yoo as Chewie. Though his character wasn’t that original, he made the best of his scenes and had me laughing quite a bit. Yoo was also in DISTURBIA, and I liked him in that, too.
LS: I forgot about DISTURBIA. I hated that movie. Although Yoo is pretty good here.
But even the characters that are developed a little more than the rest are mostly just here to be fodder for Jason to kill using various sharp instruments. Which brings us to Jason Vorhees himself (played here by Derek Mears). He’s faster and more physical than the old slower, more hulking Jason of previous films, and sometimes that works okay. He’s effective enough as a mostly unstoppable killing machine, but sometimes I found myself missing the slower, more lumbering Jason of the past.
Overall, I liked this movie, even though it was directed by Marcus Nispel, who also gave us the watered down remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in 2003. There is, however, a big difference between CHAINSAW and FRIDAY THE 13TH. The original CHAINSAW from 1974 is a true genre classic, one of the most powerful horror films ever made, and it did not need to be remade. FRIDAY THE 13TH, on the other hand, was meant to cash in on the success of the original HALLOWEEN (1978) from the get-go (not to mention being also “inspired” by Mario Bava’s 1971 classic, BAY OF BLOOD), and so you immediately have much lower expectations for a Jason film. Despite the fact that most of the Jason sequels were pretty awful, I always had a soft spot for the hockey mask-wearing psycho. And I found myself digging this one most of the time.
There are a few points where the new movie is a letdown. The decapitation of Jason’s mother at the beginning was actually done much more gruesomely in the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, and the very final scene of the new movie, which seeks to emulate a dream sequence at the end of the original film, is a total letdown in the scare department (they just totally screw it up). But I won’t reveal what that is, in case there are people out there who have no idea what I’m talking about.
Most horror films these days are not screened for critics beforehand, because they are mostly panned and yet do quite well at the box office even without good reviews. FRIDAY THE 13TH is one of the rare new horror films that were screened beforehand. I notice in my local paper that it got one star, from a critic who admitted that he despises slasher films, once more showing the bias mainstream critics have against horror films. Well, you won’t get that crap here. I enjoyed the new FRIDAY THE 13TH, and if you’re a Jason fan, you should go see it. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is better than several of the previous sequels in the series.
The new film is also rated R and features not only some nifty gore effects (although they seemed very restrained to me) but also plenty of nudity, which this critic always appreciates. And, by the way, we get some real breasts in this one, as well as some implants, and I’ve got to say, real ones look a hundred times better. And I’d like to give a shout out to Julianna Guill, who plays Bree, for proving this.
So what did you think, Michael?
MA: Before I weigh in on the movie, I have to say I agree with you about Julianna Guill. Whoa, baby! Hands down, her sex scene is the best scene in the movie. So, if you want to see a good sex scene, I mean, a REALLY good one, check out FRIDAY THE 13TH. Oh yeah, it’s a horror movie, isn’t it? Which means you’ll have to sit through all those gruesome murder scenes just to enjoy one erotic scene. Damn! And I don’t know about you, but while I liked this scene, that’s not why I went to see the movie. I went to see it because I like horror movies.
Which ultimately explains why I did not like FRIDAY THE 13TH. I just don’t find it a very good horror movie.
I actually went into this movie with a very open mind. I wanted to like it. I was hoping that this “reimagining” would be a fresh start. I never liked the original FRIDAY THE 13TH series, so I was psyched that perhaps this could be a new beginning, a fresh start to a new series. Sadly, it’s about as fresh as that McDonalds’ french fry that’s been resting on the floor of my van for two months!
I was also hoping that maybe this movie would mark the changing of the guard. I’ve always enjoyed the HALLOWEEN series better than the FRIDAY THE 13th series, and I thought, wouldn’t it be neat if this film was really cool and started a new way-better franchise? My expectations were sadly way too high.
LS: I hate to say this, but in some ways I actually liked this movie better than Rob Zombie’s remake of HALLOWEEN. I say “hate to say it” because RZ’s movie was a lot more ambitious, but in the long run it failed at what it tried to do. This one isn’t very ambitious at all, but, like that McDonald’s french fry, it seemed satisfying in some no-nutrient junk food kind of way.
MA: You mean, you’d eat that french fry that’s been sitting in my van for two months? No wonder you liked this movie!
I’ve been poking fun this whole review at the “reimagining” concept, and that’s because when you cut to the chase, the bottom line is there’s nothing new or fresh about this movie. It’s the same old thing.
LS: I guess I’ve got to agree with you on that point. Although there was one thing new in this movie. We learned that Jason is an expert with a bow and arrow. He even won a trophy in it!
(Suddenly the REAL JASON crashes through a window and impales LS with a harpoon, pinning him to the wall)
MA: (ignores what’s going on) Not that this movie doesn’t look good. It does. It has high production values, and I didn’t find the acting all that bad or annoying. I liked the characters well enough. But ultimately, what do we have here? We have a movie where everybody will be killed by Jason in super- violent, grotesque ways, and not only that, but a movie where we in the audience KNOW that everybody will be killed by Jason in super-violent grotesque ways. Now I know you can make the argument that this is the formula that works, that people flock to these movies because they like the formula. While this might be true, I find this particular formula boring and unimaginative, and I find it ludicrous that this movie would use the term “reimagining” since it’s not a reimagining at all. Reimagining in my mind is what the people behind the new Daniel Craig James Bond films have done. THAT’S reimagining.
LS (Still impaled, and blood dribbles out of his mouth): Y’know what I would have liked? If the Clay Miller role had been played by a black guy, who actually got the girl for a change. Or if a slutty girl got to be the one who survives at the end. That would have been nice. These virginal types might be morally acceptable, but they are friggin boring!
MA (nodding): I would have to agree with you 100 % on those points.
(JASON press harpoon in deeper and looks confused as to why LS is still talking)
LS: And I hate to say it, but it does seem silly to spend so much money making a Jason movie look good. When it would have been just as effective, or not more so, if it had been a lot grittier. That’s a problem I had with Nispel’s remake of TEXAS CHAINSAW, too. He cleaned it up way too much, and washed away all of the scares in the process.
MA: Then there’s Jason himself. Can there be a more boring horror movie villain? He has the depth of a puddle.
(JASON pounces upon MA with a machete)
MA: I’m sorry, but someone as boring and unimaginative as you just isn’t going to get the satisfaction. (Slams lamp shade onto JASON’s head, and pushes him out of the cabin).
LS: Aww, c’mon. I’ve always liked Jason. Although, I really can’t explain why. It certainly isn’t the quality of the movies he’s in.
MA: How can you like a guy who just impaled you to a wall?
LS (pulls out harpoon): No harm done. See? Merely a scratch.
MA: And while I liked the characters, in that they were fun to watch, they weren’t fleshed out at all, and so, did I really care when they were in harm’s way? Not really. And that’s too bad because that could have been one way to really raise this movie to another level, by giving us characters who are special in some way, so that when they’re about to die, we feel something other than “oh that was a cool special effect!”
I would agree with you about the gore effects being rather restrained. While this didn’t hurt the movie in my eyes, it wasn’t enough to help it.
LS: Oh, I thought the restraint was a letdown. When I see a Jason movie, I want wall-to-wall blood.
By the way, you forgot the scariest part of all!
MA: Did I?
LS: Yeah, in the opening credits where it said “In Association with Michael Bay.”
MA : Oh yeah.
I saw this movie in a packed theater, and before the movie started there was a lot of buzz about FRIDAY THE 13TH, as I heard several conversations where people were talking about the original series (I felt like I was at a FRIDAY THE 13th convention!). And when the movie ended, people applauded, but I just can’t see this movie appealing to anyone other than fans of the original series. If you liked the original series or movies like them, you’ll no doubt like FRIDAY THE 13th, but if you’re like me, and like horror movies with more depth, with characters you care about, and with touches of originality that catch you off guard and actually scare you, you’ll find this “reimagining” nothing more than a repetitious replay of things you’ve seen before. It’s an all too familiar rehash of a series that was pretty awful the first time around. Unless you’re a diehard fan of the series, don’t bother with this one. It IS your father’s FRIDAY THE 13th.
LS: The theater I saw it in was packed, too, and the audience seemed to dig it. I liked it, too. I just learned a lesson. Don’t expect much from a FRIDAY THE 13th movie, even if they claim it’s a “reboot.” It’s still just going to be the same old dumb fun.
MA: Or just plain dumb.
LS: Okay, we’re done with the review. Now we can go home. Man, I got some real heartburn all of a sudden.
MA: I’m not surprised. That was some harpoon.
(Originally published on Fear Zone on 2/15/2009)
© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares