Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friday the 13th (2009)

With the imminent release of the A Nightmare on Elm St. remake, I figured that I should finally get around to watching the 2009 Friday the 13th remake, or reboot, or reimagining, or whatever bullshit term they tried to use to make it seem like they weren’t simply raping the original franchise for money.

Of all the prodigious slasher brands of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the Friday the 13th movies were always the ones I had the strongest connection to. I was just at the right age to be aware of these movies as they happened, and I was alerted to the existence of Jason Voorhees well before Michael Meyers and the Halloween movies. After the first A Nightmare on Elm St. the quality takes a precipitous dive, and I didn’t finally see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre until junior high, so Friday the 13th is what springs to mind first when I think about the horror movies of my youth. And I swear, though no one ever believes me, that they are all good up until Jason Takes Manhattan, the eighth installment. I don’t know why people find that difficult to believe.

Friday the 13th 2009, as it will henceforth be called, tries to encompass the first three movies from the original series. I say try because, though it contains individual elements from the first three films, the story lines are entirely different. The producers claim that it includes the first four films, but that’s bullshit, it’s only three. I own all of them, including Jason vs. Freddy, and you’re more than welcome to come over and watch them with me if you want.

The filmmakers (including ultra-turd Michael Bay; director Marcus Nispel, who is responsible for Amy Grant’s “House of Love” video, which automatically makes him my enemy since few things in this world enrage me like Amy Grant; and like eight different credited writers, and god knows how many script doctors) gloss over the story from the first movie (easily the best of the bunch) with a quick little prologue, where we find out that a young Jason saw his mother beheaded in front of his eyes in 1980, despite the fact that he supposedly drowned (which is the root cause of his mother’s psychosis).

In the second part, 20 years later, a bunch of douche bag college kids with shaggy hair head out into the woods looking for a mythical weed crop. Six minutes in I’m glad to know that they are all going to die. Apparently in this version of the Friday the 13th mythology, instead of being an unkillable murder machine, Jason Voorhees is just an ugly weed farmer, who, much like Cypress Hill, gets a little upset when people, cops or otherwise, come and try to snatch his crops. (He doesn’t get full blown supernatural until around the middle of the franchise, so I don’t have a huge problem with him being mortal-ish in this, but still, weed farmer? What?)

There are a couple of cool deaths in this segment, and if you were to stop the movie at the 23 minute mark, you would walk away fairly entertained, and without having invested much time. This is the viewing strategy that I endorse.

A third segment picks up six weeks later, and introduces another set of shitty college kids. These shitty college kids are douchy in a whole different way, and are more of the rich-kid frat-boy variety. I find comfort in their impending deaths as well. There is also a pretty-boy on a motorbike. He was on some WB teen drama, I don’t care which one, and is looking for his sister, who was the only decent human being among the initial group of kids that Jason slaughtered.

The next hour is boring. We just went through a bunch of set up and back-story, and now we have to do it all again, and no one cares. Any momentum dies a slow, tedious death.

Somewhere in the middle of this subdivision, Jason dons his trademark hockey mask, an event that originally occurs in the third movie of the initial saga. Apparently that lone act is enough to qualify this as a remake of Part III, which holds the distinction of being Paramount’s first 3-D film. Otherwise it has nothing to do with numero tres.

I’m sure the producers, writers, etc., thought they were doing something akin to Psycho with this movie, you know, killing off what appears to be the main character at the end of the first act. When Hitchcock did it in 1960, he pulled it off. It was shocking and interesting, and added something different to the movie. It is also a trick that has subsequently been done over and over again, to less and less effect each time. Like the photocopy of a photocopy, the quality degrades with each pass. In Friday the 13th 2009, this is just lazy filmmaking. Instead of shocking the audience, it frees the filmmakers from exerting any effort whatsoever to fill up 90 minutes of screen time. The result is a movie that feels like a sitcom clip show.

Friday the 13th 2009 isn’t as puritanically conservative as the first version. Jason isn’t such a tight-ass as in his initial incarnation. Sure, he slaughters teens with a machete, but this time he doesn’t just kill drunk/high/sexually active kids. He’s more egalitarian, and manages to kill the girl who doesn’t have sex, and a couple who doesn’t have sex or use any sort of conscious altering substance. (Sure, they were topless wake boarding at the time of their deaths, but that’s pretty mild to a psychotic drug farmer with some serious mommy issues.)

Here is the biggest question I have. Why is Jason growing weed? He’s obviously not selling it to anyone. Does he just like to get real, real high? That’s the answer that makes the most sense to me. Maybe it’s medicinal. Maybe he needs to smoke away the memory of watching his mother die. The only other reason I can come up with is that he uses it to lure unsuspecting teens into the woods so he can hack them to bits. If that is the case, it works pretty well.

Friday the 13th 2009 isn’t awful, just unnecessary. Everything doesn’t need to be remade, or rebooted, or reduxed, or whatever, just because the first go round didn’t have a budget the size of the GDP of many small nations. If anything, many of these films were bolstered by their lack of funds, and filmmakers had to solve problems creatively, not just by throwing a lot of cash at them. Sometimes they got it right the first time.

I’ll get off my soapbox in a moment. It isn’t like I’m saying anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times already. I just have one last thing to add.

I know studios keep remaking older horror movies (I act like this has just started happening, but we all know it’s been going on for decades) because they can exploit the name recognition, produce them for relatively little money, and make bank. (Friday the 13th 2009 was produced for $19,000,000 and raked in $91,000,000 worldwide.) Still, I just wish they would call them something else. If you ditched the hockey mask and the “Camp Crystal Lake” setting, and called this A Bunch of Asswipes Get Slaughtered in the Woods, I would enjoy it so much more. I would watch it and say, “Wow, that movie was a middle of the road rip-off of Friday the 13th, Parts I-III, like so many other movies. I’m fine with that. Hmm, now I want to go back and watch all of the Friday the 13th movies, up to Jason Takes Manhattan.” Call it something else and it won’t cause me nearly so much stress. But I feel the same way about the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, A Nightmare on Elm St., etc., (I think you get the point) and it doesn’t make a difference how I feel, since nobody cares and they will continue to remake every movie ever made until they are remaking remakes of remakes.

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