Retro Review: FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009){0}

Usually when I’m about to write a review, I think of an opening, present (at least) one interesting angle, and make sure my opinions are laid out in decipherable form.

But when it comes to any movie with that employs the phrase “Friday the 13th,” my objectivity sort of flies out the window like so many rabid crows. On one hand (the hand with taste, education, and intelligence) I can plainly see that, for the most part, the Friday the 13th flicks are pretty bad movies. They just are. When a franchise is moving on full-bore assembly-line mode, quality often gets swept into the dumpster and we’re left queueing up for the same dang sequel every 14 months. On the other hand, I’d be a big, fat liar if I didn’t admit my younger days were spent knee-deep in Crystal Lake lore. Your grandfather probably talked about the “great old serials” of Buck Rogers and such … my generation looks back on the exploits of Jason Voorhees with similar fondness. A little twisted, sure, but also pretty harmless.

Once the Parmount era ended with the head-smackingly stupid Jason Takes Manhattan, our evil antagonist was shipped over to New Line, and they had almost no idea what to do with the hulking lummox. At first they tried wedging him into the screenplay of an unproduced sequel to “The Hidden,” and then they just shot him into space. And then the ultimate gimmick: Jason brawled with Freddy Krueger, and the results weren’t all that scintillating. And then, much like the killer we all love so much, the Friday franchise lie dormant … in the shadows … behind closed doors.

But hey! With the Horror Remake Renaissance in full (and seemingly unending) swing, the smart guys over at Platinum Dunes saw a great opportunity to resurrect the hockey-masked maniac. With remakes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Amityville Horror, and The Hitcher under their belt, the producers tapped TCM director Marcus Nispel, hired a few writers who’d keep the thing “fan-friendly,” and went about mounting a remake to Friday the 13th. And right about here is where you think I’ll be saying how awesome the new flick is.

And yet … I’m not saying that. Huh? What gives? Haven’t I been programmed since the age of 10 to love this nifty new version of Friday the 13th? Well, obviously I have. But I’ve also studied a lot about film and stuff in those intervening years, and I suppose it’s that boring, old, halfway-intelligent part that keeps blocking my total enjoyment of the remake. Overall I dug it, had a good time with all the carnage, and definitely appreciated all the fan-friendly touches that were tossed into the mix. Of course I dug the flick’s enthusiastic embrace of the R rating, respected the fact that the formula wasn’t monkeyed with too much, and even enjoyed a handful of the acting performances. The kills were pretty wicked, the new Jason is a certified bad-ass, and the director obviously has an eye for imagery that’s both slick and twisted.

So what’s the problem? Surely those numerous nuggets of praise would be enough to call Friday the 13th a successful horror flick, so maybe my complaints are borne from the fact that I’m a bigger fan of this series than anyone should ever be? No, just the opposite, actually. My complaints are of the boring variety: The film critic kind. For example, the film opens with a 20-minute prologue that’s really quite cool. It’s like a miniature version of every Friday flick you’ve ever seen. (Plot synopsis in three words: Teenagers. Forest. Psycho.) But after the title card, we’re treated to the exact same flick all over again, only this one is 65 minutes instead of 20. I “get” that the prologue is supposed to be an amalgam of Fridays one through four, but that doesn’t make it work, necessarily. (And don’t even get me started on the film’s final scene, which is one of the clumsiest, clunkiest, and most illogical moments in the whole dang franchise. I know WHY this last scene had to be in there, but boy is it stupid.)

And of course there are other nerdy complaints regarding Jason’s stunningly Olympic-level archery skills, the killer’s newfound affection for taking prisoners (?!?!), and the flick’s frankly sloppy editorial concerns (both in the kills and the talky bits!) … but really: We’re talking about a remake of a movie that spawned a dozen (mostly crappy) sequels … and was never really considered all that brilliant a piece in the first place. Shocking but true, young gorehounds, Friday the 13th might be mentioned quite often in the same breath as PsychoHalloween, and (insert horror classic here), but on a technical (filmmaking) level, it hardly makes a mark.

So with that in mind, I can easily call Nispel’s Friday the 13th a welcome and fitting addition to the series. Aside from guilty pleasures, this is easily the most enjoyable Friday festivity since the first two flicks, because (and despite its handful of editorial missteps, which I can only assume will be rectified in the Director’s Cut DVD) it takes the concept seriously. Young adults, all alone, deep in the woods, with a ferocious lunatic. On that (very basic but still effective) level, I had a surprisingly good time with Jason’s latest rampage. I’d usually mention a few of the film’s more reliable performers, and Friday definitely has a few, but the only guy who really matters is the man behind the mask. The latest to don the hockey-face is actor/stuntman Derek Mears, and the guy brings a playful ferocity that, frankly, we’ve never seen from Jason Voorhees before. He’s always been a ridiculously efficient killer, but here he’s also fast, angry, and motivated.

Bottom Line: If Friday the 13th simply HAD to be resurrected (and considering how profitable the franchise is, this was only a matter of time), then I’d say they did a solid enough job of bringing a simple scare-tale to a new generation. Because, as much as I love the flick, the original isn’t exactly Hitchcock, and every new generation deserves its own version of the boogeymen.

(Totally random observation: In the film, Travis Van Winkle plays a character called “Trent,” yet I’m almost positive that I heard someone call him “Travis” … in the flick! Can someone confirm this for me? If so … yeah. That’s something they should have caught in post-production.)