by Dan Fields
Gear up, campers! This week, we salute the ominous convergence of the summer holidays and a real live Friday the 13th. If you are striking out into the wild with your pack and lantern, don’t forget to throw in a snakebite kit, a guitar to ward off bad vibes, and a working knowledge of the following films. Knowing the paths to avoid may save your life. You’ll be fine, of course. Just count your tent stakes and pitchforks before going to bed. And if you were planning for a weekend of fooling around in the woods with someone special, you may want to reconsider. Abstinence and meditation might be better ways of keeping your head attached.
More prolific than Halloween or Hellraiser, or even A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th originated one of the longest-running film series in popular horror. Much credit is due to the creation of Jason Voorhees, an undisputed icon among movie killers. Another probable reason for its longevity is that among well-known movie franchises, its content is the cheapest and easiest kind to mass produce.
Friday The 13th (1980)
directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Six Degrees Of Mutilation! The Crystal Lake curse makes bacon of Kevin Bacon
© 1980 Paramount Pictures
Back in 1958, somewhere in a leafy part of New Jersey, the Crystal Lake summer camp becomes the site of a gruesome double slaying. For years it has lain abandoned, surrounded by legends of a “death curse” and shunned by the locals. They refer to the place as “Camp Blood” but mostly ignore it, like a slightly more complacent version of the villagers in Dracula. Nonetheless, an eccentric go-getter decides to reopen the camp twenty years later. A group of adventurous teenagers, including Alice (Adrienne King), arrive to fix the place up before working as counselors to the imminent droves of campers.
As the campers divide their time between devoted chores and enthusiastic goofing off, they little suspect that an unknown killer is already lurking around the woods. For the first of several young people, it has turned out a very unlucky Friday the 13th. When a storm moves in, they find themselves cabin-bound with not much to do… except play strip Monopoly. This is one of those original slasher movies, with strong rules against the survival of teens who fool around with each other. Though not the first victims, the first couple to leave the group for this purpose (Jeannine Taylor and a young, naked Kevin Bacon!) fall prey just moments after finishing their tryst.
Besides the eventual rise of Jason in his hockey mask, the Friday The 13th franchise is famous for staging inventive murders with tools and other common objects. Until the arrival of the Final Destination series it stood unrivaled in this department. In the beginning, these items are those commonly associated with summer camp and the great outdoors. An axe and a flight of arrows are two memorable methods of demise in this first massacre. Eventually the first few murders attract the notice of the other potential victims, but lacking preparation against the threat they keep dropping like wooden soldiers. Soft, goopy wooden soldiers with fragile skulls.
For all the energy expended, this film gives the lie to Edison’s axiom about genius. While Friday the 13th seems to be at least 99% perspiration, it lacks the extra measure of inspiration it would have needed to measure up to Carpenter’s Halloween or Hooper’s Chain Saw, two movies it clearly means to imitate. While “pretty tame by today’s standards” (Bart Simpson has a quote for everything), Friday The 13th opts for a measurably higher level of gore and teenage sex, setting the precedent for the notion that more brutality guarantees a more frightening film. Considering its extreme application in the remake boom starting around the year 2000, this prevalent but mistaken notion was ahead of its time.
True, Friday the 13th is far from the first film to spill bright crimson gore on a paying audience. Grindhouse auteurs like Herschell Gordon Lewis were spraying buckets of it, but only to a certain kind of niche audience. The same can be said of Italian giallo and horror directors, like Dario Argento with Deep Red or Mario Bava with Bay of Blood, or even Ruggero Deodato with the repellent Cannibal Holocaust. Meanwhile, George A. Romero had met success with two exceptionally violent zombie films, Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead. By 1980 it seemed that the tastes of a broader audience were turning to appreciate the more extreme side of horror Despite a negative critical reception, the international release and success of Friday The 13th played a large part in confirming that the slasher movement was headed for the mainstream.
Aside from its frenetic score and several shocking gore effects, Friday The 13th never gains enough traction be truly, memorably scary. Clearly the movie is not meant to be taken any more seriously than a gruesome campfire story, but there is an overriding clumsiness to the production that leaves a sour taste. What jokes the teens do toss around are feeble, and the acting would more correctly be called laughable than amusing. Maybe it is unfair to suspect that real teens of 1980 would not amuse themselves with awkward asides in the style of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. Maybe the film was made badly on purpose, in the service of greater comic effect. It is equally possible that Cunningham cynically believed horror fans would pay to see any old garbage, including a bare-bones Halloween knockoff with camp counselors instead of cheerleaders. If so, the approach worked from a financial standpoint, but may have kept Friday The 13th from its true potential as a memorable classic.
In hindsight, why should anyone care? The legacy of Friday The 13th is carved in the marble of time, never mind that the mythic figure Jason, Masked Killer Of Nymphets, would not properly emerge until later in the course of the film series. It is not by chance that Marcus Nispel’s remake drew elements from the first four Friday The 13th films, not just the original. Until its final act, the flick that started it all is indistinguishable from any other low- to mid-grade murder spree. It matters only because any person, inspired by the remake to go back and discover the source material is bound to think, “Gosh, I thought this might be more entertaining.”
It is understandable that the makers of Friday The 13th had no idea the smash they had on their hands. It would be unreasonable to hold them to the highest standards of a genre that barely existed at the time. However, the structure of the story is lopsided to the point of baffling. Other than passing references to the supposed death curse of Crystal Lake, the audience never gains any clues to the killer’s identity prior to the final act. There are a few thin red herrings thrown out for show (most notably a lurking village idiot), but never are two counselors together long enough to speculate on how the legendary curse might apply to them. When the killer arrives complete with motive, the impact of the climax is more of a wet thud than a jolt. since no time has been allowed to process its logic. You cannot knock dominoes down without first setting them up. You can only drop them rudely out of nowhere.
The saving grace of Friday The 13th is a haunting epilogue which is too good to spoil. It is the right kind of wild surprise, unlike the graceless dramatic conclusion just preceding it. It is on record as the idea of Tom Savini, a master of makeup effects who famously made zombies for Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead and would later direct his own Night Of The Living Dead remake. Everything mentioned before about this movie still applies, but the seed of what the franchise would become in popular imagination lies chiefly in its last few shots.
Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)
directed by Steve Miner
Amy Steel to Jason: “Get forked.”
© 1981 Paramount Pictures
The director of the second and third Friday The 13th movies is Steve Miner, who worked as production manager on the first. The superior overall quality of Part 2 suggests that he learned a lot on set about refining the slasher concept. This movie deserves most of the credit that its predecessor receives simply for being the original article. For one thing, Part 2 is the first chapter featuring Jason Voorhees, in the flesh, as the main antagonist, although his iconic masked appearance is still in development.
Released in 1981, Part 2 is set not one but five years after the events of the first Friday The 13th. That would place it in the futuristic age of 1984. Unfortunately, these kids have nothing as organized as Big Brother to worry about. Their problem is an only child. Thanks to Alice Hardy, a motherless only child.
Alice (Adrienne King), sole survivor of the ’79 Camp Crystal Lake massacre, suffers from recurring nightmares long after her ordeal. In a prologue sequence, she dreams a rather cumbersome recap of the last film’s final act. If both films are being watched in sequence, it goes on a bit too long. However, it would be useful for someone wanting to skip Part 1 entirely and still have all the important facts and a sense of continuity.
Rattled by her latest bad dream about Jason and his mother, Pamela Voorhees, Alice wakes one stormy night to discover she is not alone in the house. In this film, the killer makes a genuinely shocking entrance, yet despite the savage choice of an icepick to the brain, has the consideration to take Alice’s kettle off the boil before leaving. This is a fair indicator of the jaundiced humor that fell flat in the previous film, but which Miner’s direction manages to capture.
With the whole gang from ’79 now gone, “Camp Blood” (the affectionate local name for Crystal Lake) is ready for a new crop of victims. This time, the destination is a camp counselor training course, hosted by nice guy Paul (John Furey) and his spunky assistant Ginny (Amy Steel) a short distance from the derelict remains of Camp Crystal Lake. They have a high-spirited batch of sexy teens to train in the ways of the wilderness, but they plan to party away some of their energy away before getting down to business.
In many ways, this is the true beginning of Friday The 13th as we now know it. Early on, Paul tells the legend of Jason and his mother as a campfire spook story, hoping to defuse any lingering anxiety about living in the woods near the murder site. The group laughs it off as expected, but a lingering curiosity drives one couple, Sandra (Marta Kober) and Jeff (Bill Randolph) to explore the Crystal Lake ruins. They discover one cabin still barely standing, but have no immediate reason to think it might still be inhabited. The local law promptly runs them off.
With considerably shorter shorts and fewer bras, Friday The 13th Part 2 really hits the stride of the slasher paradigm. From hot sex to skinny dipping to late-night underwear modeling, these teens do everything possible to seal their doom at the hands of an archetypal serial killer. Although they play important roles in the narrative, blood and guts and bare skin are not the only attractions of this movie. Wittier, more tightly paced, and better constructed than its predecessor, this sequel proves that while Friday The 13th is basically lowbrow popcorn junk, the premise is ripe for a truly frightening thrill ride.
In the grandest and cruelest tradition, the victims even include a guy in a wheelchair. Unlike the famous Franklin of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Mark (Tom McBride) is a handsome, sensitive athlete with a firm hold of the attention of the lovely Vicki (Lauren-Marie Taylor). He has a bright outlook on the future, going so far as tell her he does not plan to stay in the chair “for the rest of his life.” Oh, what cosmic irony.
Half the group sets off for a final night of fun at the local roadhouse. The rest, who have loins to bare and sex to do, remain behind at the isolated campground. What a shame that Paul omitted the most important part of his campfire story – Jason is still alive, in the area, and feeling very raw over the loss of his beloved mom.
At the roadhouse party, Ginny cannot banish thoughts of Jason from her mind. She wonders what sort of young man he would be if he were still around (which he is). Rumored to be disfigured and possibly deficient of mind, he would probably not adjust well to life as an orphan. Without knowing it, Ginny has done a good job of preparing herself for what awaits her back at camp. Little do she and Paul know that their arrival has given Jason’s life new purpose.
Meanwhile, back at camp… spears and machetes and pitchforks are flying as Jason takes those naughty teens to task, one by one or in pairs. If that were not enough bad luck for Friday the 13th, a storm blows in, right on schedule, adding to the chaos and terror. Paul and Ginny return to find a trail of carnage, and a harrowing showdown with Jason unfolds.
Taut, exciting, and full of disturbing surprises, Friday The 13th Part 2 is the best film it can be. A sequel that outstrips its parent so thoroughly is rare, but the difference is undeniable. Jason’s popularity would ultimately prove as difficult to kill as his onscreen persona, and this film is but the first of many more returns to the legend of Crystal Lake.
Friday The 13th Part III (1982)
directed by Steve Miner
3-D claims its own. Friday The 13th comes of age.
© 1982 Paramount Pictures
The first of several sequels intended to close the Friday The 13th saga, Part III springs for the crowning gimmick of 3D. Fortunately for enthusiasts, home video versions are still being released in 3D, packaged with red and blue anaglyph glasses. Though not nearly as interesting or well acted as the previous chapter, it comes together in the final reel with a strong climactic chase sequence.
We begin, as before, with a recap of the last film’s ending. Ginny Field (Amy Steel), having narrowly survived the Part 2 bloodbath, uses Jason’s Oedipal delusion against him by impersonating the creepy Mrs. Voorhees and commanding him to lay down arms. The ruse does not work out perfectly, but it allows her to stun him with a machete to the collarbone. The ensuing chaos lands her on a hospital gurney the next morning. Medics are loading her into an ambulance as she hazily demands to know the whereabouts of Jason and her boyfriend Paul. The conclusion of the previous night is lost in her shaken memory, which means the audience never finds out either.
Cue the 3D opening titles, with a funky disco replacing the usual cacophony of Bernard Herrmann-esque strings. This title sequence speaks eloquently about the kooky sensibilities lurking ahead.
Friday The 13th Part III takes place over the two days immediately following Friday The 13th Part 2 (Evidently Part 2 was never deemed worthy of Roman numerals). For those tediously keeping track of continuity, that should make the dates in question Saturday the 14th and Sunday the 15th.
On Saturday, Jason Voorhees takes a vacation from his woodland shack. Apparently this is what he does between attempts to reopen Camp Crystal Lake, playing the odd road tour like any veteran performer. His first hideout is a general store, where a henpecked husband and his shrill wife play out a thin comic vignette before falling victim to Jason’s wrath by hatchet and knitting needle, respectively.
Jason’s latest spree is all over the local news, dubbed “The most brutal and heinous crime in local history.” Perhaps, but only by a thin margin around these parts, can we agree?
With Jason’s continued (and indiscriminate) thirst for blood established, the main characters begin to arrive. Chris (Dana Kimmell) is hosting a weekend at her family’s lake house, in order to help herself move past a bad scare she got years ago in the woods. Hint: it involves a disfigured killer who roams the Crystal Lake area. Any guesses? Little does Chris know that her worst nightmare has returned and is lodging in her barn.
Although this movie is set one day after the previous one, a magical transformation has taken place. Whereas the teens in Part 2 were witty, sexy cutups, adolescents in the universe of Part III are for the most part dumpy and unfunny, despite obvious attempts to make a brighter, more comedy-laced Friday The 13th scenario.
For one thing, the first hour takes place in broad daylight. We are talking about a brilliant, cloudless, happy summer day. The weather is fit for a balloon race, not a slasher. Also, after the prologue, it takes forty solid minutes for another character to encounter Jason. Instead of a token victim or two to keep things moving, the story relies on countless repetitions of that scene in which a potential victim creeps around some abandoned place while the audience tenses in anticipation of a surprise attack. Instead, the victim finds nothing, shrugs and walks away. When they are almost out of sight, Jason’s silhouette steps from the foreground shadows, where he has been watching in silence all along. This foreshadowing trick can work once, but not several times in succession.
What crazed killer would waste a moment in chopping these teens? They are a bunch of pretty but fairly dull girls who hang out with guys they must have picked up at bus stations. There is barely a shred of sex appeal in the male half of the party – Kevin Bacon is never around when the world truly needs him – and none of them have great personalities to compensate.
The only cast members displaying much personality at all are Tracie Savage as the sexy, self-assured Debbie, and Dana Kimmell as Chris. At first, Chris seems inert and vulnerable thanks to her emotional frailty, but she later summons impressive strength and survival instinct, which round her out as a character.
With no executions scheduled for a painfully long stretch, the script tries several times to build sympathetic characters. The most misguided of these is the abrasive jokester Shelly (Larry Zerner), who expresses his desire for acceptance through a tireless barrage of grim practical jokes. In a show of bravado to impress his blind date Vera (Catherine Parks), he even incurs the wrath of a bizarre motorcycle trio, who evidently wandered off the set of a music video by Meat Loaf.
Shelly deserves a grand onscreen slaying, which he never gets, although his practice of crying wolf does leave him poignantly lacking allies when he finally staggers into the house with his throat genuinely cut. To give him some credit in death, it is thanks to Shelly and his collection of masks that Jason finds his own signature prop. Thanks for all the sequels, man.
The true historical importance of Friday The 13th Part III is in the introduction of Jason’s hockey mask, which will become his defining characteristic. Also, we witness clear examples of his absurd strength and hardy resistance to lethal force, the first signs of a permanent evolution into a supernatural hulk.
After an excruciating stretch of non-narrative, the sun goes down and Jason begins another spree. The shots deepen and the 3D moves to greater purposes than fooling around with yo-yos and other harmless flung toward the camera. The shots deepen to show composition in depth, as in Debbie’s shower scene and Vera’s short adventure against a spear gun. In fact, once the crummy characters have been eliminated, this movie picks up quite a bit. Some of the victims are doubled by impossibly springy dummies, no doubt to heighten the effect in 3D. Through the inherent silliness of these props, the piece finally achieves a measure of pleasing humor. A goodly variety of 3D shock effects peppers the final showdown between Jason and Chris.
Chased all over the house and barn, Chris faces her fear of Jason with real fortitude. She makes crafty use of her environment to get in a number of good shots during the confrontation. She does better with sheer resourcefulness than even Ginny did in Part 2, when she used her cunning to fool the killer into submission.
To date, this was the only 3D release of a Friday The 13th film. Soon after it made the scene, the Jaws and Amityville Horror series followed suit and put out their own 3D sequels. This was originally meant to be the last Friday The 13th, but the popularity of the newly masked Jason could not be kept in the grave. The following film tried for the same, even sporting the subtitle The Final Chapter. This too would prove a lie.
Even so, in the spirit of closing the cycle, the ending of Part III opts for a jarring tone similar to its predecessors, but with a conclusion subtly different than the open-ended mystery of before. Having faced her foe successfully, Chris learns that confronting fear and beating fear are two different things. Even surviving a massacre comes with its own peculiar disappointments.
Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
directed by Joseph Zito
Say hi to Corey Feldman! You might not get another chance.
© 1984 Paramount Pictures
Fortunately for everyone in New Jersey, Jason Voorhees is dead from an axe to the head. With his crimes exposed and his grim legacy in print, he is bound for the morgue to become just another bad memory. Surely it would take a mad scientist years and untold fortunes to reverse the masked killer’s permanent and irrevocable state of death.
If you believe this, you have not been paying attention. The second attempted finale of the Friday The 13th series, it only managed to make greater demand for the franchise. Despite the customary critical scourging it received – and let’s face it, the best of these films is extremely poor art – the film’s box office receipts more or less guaranteed that Jason would not be on ice for long.
In a curious hiccup of narrative flow, Jason first must be resurrected so that he can be killed off, once again presumably for good. Part III was supposed to be the end of him, which is why the morgue. Rather than indulge in a complex tale of voodoo and Franken-engineering, director Joseph Zito brings Jason back to life simply by having him dead in one shot and alive the next. He makes quick work of the slovenly medical examiner (Bruce Mahler) and his short-tempered nurse girlfriend (Lisa Freeman). This is something of waste, since their contentious chemistry is the only good comedy in the movie. Even though Halloween II did the “slasher in a hospital” idea in 1981, Jason’s turn in the scenario would have been a welcome wrinkle at this point in the Friday The 13th canon. Instead, he hits the road again, browsing for more teens in lake houses.
Trish Jarvis (Kimberly Beck) is a well-behaved young woman living with her mother (Joan Freeman) and her brother Tommy (a precocious, Goonies-vintage Corey Feldman). The three of them are making it quite nicely on their own until a group of party-crazy teens rents the house next door. Their carefree substance abuse, partner swapping and skinny dipping draw Jason like a bear to nubile, drunken salmon.
Despite their proximity to a famous murder site, Trish and Tommy live with a complacent sense of security. They hardly lock or even close the door of their nice lakeside home, and when meeting strangers on the road, such as a burly hunter named Rob (Erich Anderson), they freely volunteer their hospitality and personal details. Collectively, this may be the biggest flock of sitting ducks Jason has yet encountered.
During several scenes of violence, the editing is abrupt and confusing. The probable reason is that censors demanded the trimming of more graphic effects prior to release. For the supposed finale of the series, Zito does not push new boundaries of allowable content. The violence is nowhere near as extreme as in A Nightmare On Elm Street, released the same year. That said, the fantastical nature of Elm Street may have bought it leeway with the ratings board.
Make no mistake, The Final Chapter is plenty gruesome, nihilistic and mean-spirited enough. The two most sympathetic of the teen characters, Sarah (Barbara Howard) and Jimmy (Crispin Glover), suffer especially nasty deaths after each enjoys a sexual awakening with a generous, attractive parter. This is a matter of course under the genre rules, but the effort spent making them more likable than their friends makes their joint demise seem almost too cruel. At very least, Sarah should get a little more playing time on the side of the survivors.
While Jason carves his way through the party house, Trish learns that Rob is on the trail of Jason, whom he knows to have escaped the morgue alive (or at least in fit condition for swinging sharp things). Rob’s sister Sandra fell victim to Jason two films ago, and the resourceful outdoorsman is after vengeance. He lasts a laughably short time, and his dying cries of “Trish, he’s killing me!” could only elicit hoots of laughter in a crowded theater.
Without any spectacular crutches such as 3D, this movie simply has too little ground to break, and the formula is growing tired. Friday The 13th films are always ugly, and while The Final Chapter boasts the steadiest photography and far superior pacing to Part III, certain over-dark sequences such as an inflatable raft ambush and Rob’s basement slaying are like mud thrown in the eyes.
Near its end, the film does try one bewildering new idea, in which young Tommy has an epiphany about Jason’s weak spot. In a move that recalls Ginny’s Freudian ruse from the end of Part 2, he sacrifices his innocence (and evidently his sanity) to finish the monster off. Until the box office should cry out for more, the world is safe. Or maybe not. Is it? Who the hell knows anymore? Jason’s thorough destruction seems like it might take, but haven’t we all been down this road before? Nobody so far has had the sense to burn Jason or even sever his head, just to see if that helps destroy him more permanently. Friday The 13th is a fairly consistent addition to the genre, and a suitable epilogue for the first generation. Despite its mostly artful execution, it does not leave the blood center hungry for more, at least not right away.
Friday The 13th (2009)
directed by Marcus Nispel
Derek Mears (with Julianna Guill, unawares at left) brings Jason back to life.
© 2009 Paramount Pictures
Marcus Nispel, director of the inaugural Platinum Dunes remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, returns to tackle the prolific legend of Camp Crystal Lake. The result is an uneven but passable tribute to a horror franchise most celebrated for all the things wrong with the typical slasher movie. In pioneering tropes like the slaughter of skinny-dipping teens, the maniac of campfire legend come to life, and the inventive use of entire sheds worth of tools and sports equipment as murder props, the Friday The 13th movies guaranteed that most of its countless imitators would be seen as dreary and hackneyed. Most of them are, but for the most part Friday The 13th is just as bad, having only the virtue of novelty on its side.
Given Jason’s iconic appearance as a goalie-masked hulk (which took nearly three whole films to evolve), it would have been impossible to re-imagine the franchise using only the first or second film as source material. Jason barely appears in the original film at all, and he spends the second chapter in a crude sack mask. Rather than play such a trick on the audience, the creators of this film chose to create a sort of anthology of the first four Friday The 13th film, which originally formed a complete arc ending in the probable death of Jason Voorhees. In a remarkably short time, the sequel gods would glow green from their eyes and demand more more more, but the movies from Part V onward have no particular bearing on the discussion, except to show the lasting appreciation of these nasty movies that marked it as a no-brainer for remaking.
It may have helped that the writers of this new vision were the same team responsible for Freddy Vs. Jason, no gem to be sure but at least some kind of proof that they understood and appreciated the kind of fan spirit that has kept these movies in our collective memory. As low, vile and nasty as many of this particular kind of remake turned out, Friday The 13th hits a stride more in tune with its predecessors than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare On Elm Street, or indeed most others in the same class. The most important creative decision was to resist the too-serious tone that invariably ruins horror movies. The script opts for dark levity when possible, as a means to remind us that this is gruesome fun and not meant to be taken seriously. The jokes frequently fail, but the attempt shows the proper spirit, as in every other Friday The 13th from best to worst.
Though the story picks and chooses freely from all four source chapters, the most heavy borrowing is from Part 2 and The Final Chapter (as Part IV was officially called at the time. Har har). This is a smart move, as Part 2 is without a doubt the meatiest and best executed of the original batch.
The prologue dispenses with the most important elements of Part 1 rather efficiently. Picking up at the third act reversal, in which the deranged Mrs. Voorhees has killed all but one camp counselor in the name of her supposedly dead son, she unsubtly vomits the subtext of all slasher films directly at the audience. “You need to be punished!” she screeches, and she doesn’t just mean for letting Jason drown. She means for having sex and doing drugs in the woods. She means for leaving the city to trespass where hillbillies don’t want them. She means for being young and attractive. All the classic narrative reasons for sacrificing the young that movies like Scream and The Cabin In The Woods discuss at length in snide, hip tones. Here, it simply serves the function of letting us know which film we have paid to see, in case we forgot.
The difficulty with making one movie from four is that it ends up feeling like several movies unceremoniously crammed together. Given the number of crucial fan-service beats the script must hit, there is probably no way to make it seem otherwise. With Jason’s continued survival and devotion to his mother’s murder philosophy established, the film cuts from 1980 to the present day, where a bunch of no-good kids are camping in the woods. Wade (Jonathan Sadowski) and Richie (Ben Feldman) have led the expedition in hopes of harvesting some primo marijuana that some unverified source has told them is growing wild in the forest. This is an annoying plot detail, simply because it goes nowhere and wastes script pages. Since these two knuckleheads plan to slip away from the others at night, steal the weed and not share with their pals, why did they not simply come to the woods by themselves? Everyone else has come along on the pretext of seeing the old murder camp at Crystal Lake. That would have been a clearer impetus for all of them to have come in the first place. Teenagers need no better reason to camp than exploring old murder sites. Admit it; we were all young once.
When discussion of Crystal Lake finally begins, it has the hazy quality of your stoner friend who doesn’t really remember the original movie very well trying to tell you the plot. “You do realize this camp was closed down, like, twenty years ago!” He’s not really talking to the other characters, he’s telling the audience, which seems like a clever angle but does not land with much impact. The narrative rambles with none of the appeal that a campfire story should have. It would have made more sense for one of the characters spout Jason’s history as the group explored the ruined campsite, giving the tale some atmosphere.
Finally, we meet our first important character. Whitney (Amanda Righetti) is basically the good girl of the bunch, who regrets leaving her invalid mom for a weekend away with friends. This paints a target squarely on her chest as surely as she were in Vietnam reminiscing about a sweetheart. It is she who along with her boyfriend Mike (Nick Mennell) explores the remains of Crystal Lake, which is an overblown hybrid of Jason’s shack from Part 2, Eli Roth’s Hostel, and the kind of generic murder factory that Universal Studios puts up during Halloween season. Despite the abandoned stacks of perfectly good canoes, it does not look like the ruins of anything that ever resembled a summer camp.
The second important character, at least in the context of Friday The 13th, is Amanda (America Olivo), who performs the task of getting her tits out. Like it or not, this the crucial first seal of the slasher genre. That Amanda’s taut body is a fairly ragged, plastic affair underneath makes a comment, whether intentional or not, on the lack of earthy, identifiable teens in most popular entertainment today. Good old twenty-first century. Nonetheless, she is a figure of sexiness and promptly gets down to that sexiness, which draws Jason (Derek Mears) like catnip. Now fully grown and dwelling in crawlspaces under the former camp, he is always up for processing intruders the way Cuisinart processes food. Hiding his disfigurement with cloth wrapped around the head, he begins offing the interlopers in ones and twos, as usual.
Riffing on a well-established rule that Jason, whose mental age and emotional state are generally ambiguous, can be fooled by impersonations of his departed mother, the script tries for its most original – yet somehow least original – wrinkle. Through the use of a locket, unequaled among jaded visual shorthands for mother/child tenderness, we learn that Whitney strongly resembles a young Mrs. Voorhees. Unlike the weed heist, this point will later be important.
With stilted delivery, crass lazy jokes, and a pace that plods, this movie is true to the worst aspects of its ancestors. On the other hand, the initial sequence of Jason-borne mayhem (not Jason Bourne mayhem, sadly) is inspired. Once the killer gets down to killing, in other words, the movie offers a series of genuine thrills. Adjusting for style and budget appropriate to the time, this movie’s quality now is roughly the same as the original films enjoyed back then. The massacre of Whitney’s friends is well-staged, gruesome within reasonable bounds, and most importantly, exciting. Unfortunately, this peak never comes again, and there is so much more story to go.
Six weeks later, Whitney’s rugged brother Clay (Jared Padalecki) searches for her in the area. For those keeping score at home, this is essentially the same character as Rob from The Final Chapter. From now on, the plot most closely resembles the house party massacre plot of the fourth Friday movie, but sadly without the benefit of a sly, pre-pubescent Corey Feldman or the frenetic dancing of Crispin Glover. Pity.
In contrast to Clay’s noble quest, a group of “friends” show up to party at a nearby lakehouse. Led by the snotty Trent (Travis Van Winkle) and his sensitive girlfriend Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), they are primed for a weekend of privileged debauchery. The only problem is that not one of them seems to like any of the others. Pothead clown Chewie (Aaron Yoo) is a positive reject from the group, presumably invited for his stash alone. Aspiring musician Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta) has a vague chip on his shoulder about the cultural ignorance of spoiled white people. Fun fun fun already, yes? There are a few more token dumbbells to fatten the kill list and raise the breast count, but you get the idea. Deep, progressive satire to be sure.
While the tradition of Friday The 13th calls for most of Jason’s victims to be obnoxious, these kids are just plain insufferable. They practically cannot be butchered quickly enough. There is not one convincing pair of friends in the lineup. Hours seem to drag by, with scenes of Clay being shrilly protective of his daddy’s precious house, while Chewie sucks air from the room with his mopey stoner antics. Why would anyone want to spend time with any of these assholes? Meanwhile, Jenna befriends Clay and resolves to help him find Whitney.
Sometime during their search, it slips out that the local folks, at least the older ones, are aware of Jason and have accepted him as a force not to be probed or stirred up. This recasting of the superstitious locals from the original Friday is an interesting angle that could have been taken further. The complicity of the community in Jason’s continued existence might encroach a bit too much on Texas Chainsaw territory, but it seems like a dangling plot thread that may have been lost from an earlier draft of the script.
Jason’s second spree of the film begins with the slaying of Donnie (Kyle Davis), one of the most ill-conceived ancillary characters in the entire series. Donnie is a foul-mouthed, perverted redneck spouting aggressively unfunny dialogue clearly meant to be blue comedy gold, rendered by an actor who does not seem to have met real white trash before. Thank goodness he is immediate Jason fodder and not a comical sidekick in the making. Characters like this bring down the tone of any movie, even unapologetic schlock like Friday The 13th.
The rest of the unfolding plot is satisfactorily grim, but moves at a clumsy pace and without any sensible character motivations. Chewie gets banished to an isolated equipment shed to “find some tools” to fix a chair he broke. Whatever. The resulting scene is pretty funny, including the stoner’s proffering a hockey stick to the impassive Jason, to complete his look. He is rewarded with a suitably tragi-comic demise.
Meanwhile, Clay and Jenna make a bewildering number of trips to and from the campground, still looking for Whitney. Whitney is still alive, by the way, and being held captive as a sort of mommy doll. This is a twist that only confuses the nature of this new modern Jason. No longer a simple force of hostile killing power, he contemplates his woes while methodically grinding his machete blade. He sets tripwires to signal him when intruders are near the camp. He is not a monster anymore, but a scheming bachelor supervillain whose day has not yet come.
Once Jason lays siege to the lakehouse, things get back on track despite the butt-dragging middle act. It lacks the focus of the first campsite attack, but there are plenty of prickly, chilly moments to hold attention. Struggling victims dragged away into the dark as oblivious couples get it on mere feet away. That sort of thing. Trent’s shrieking inefficacy under stress is a humorous punchline to his strutting bravado of before, even though the character is far too abrasive overall for the amount of screen time he gets.
Despite the highly varnished style of filming, there are nods to the movie’s low-budget roots in such effects as a cheapo lightning storm, essentially just haunted house strobe flashes without even the benefit of thunder.
Much of the written material in the movie straddles the fence between inept and intentionally bad. For a movie like this, artistic intent is difficult to prove and not ultimately of much importance. Those who came seeking what this movie promises should not be disappointed. Those in search of great craft and excitement need not stop here. It all comes down to whether you can enjoy Whitney’s finishing stroke accompanied by the line “Say hi to Mommy… (pause) in HELL!”
Jenna and Clay and Whitney manage a successful mangling of Jason’s body, which would certainly kill anyone else. Given that happy outcome, why on earth would they untangle and unmangle his remains just to dump them into the lake? Also, truly compelled into this hollow gesture, why not do the thing that every horror movie survivor should do, but infuriatingly never does. Sever his head, you morons! In this case it would serve the triple purpose of practical good sense, emotional catharsis and narrative symmetry. Of course, those paying attention will know why, and they’ll also know I’m not really upset about that decision. There must be some rude surprise waiting for the final shot, for which Jason will need his head. After all, this is a Friday The 13th movie. Were you expecting a clean finale?
All the usual misfires of a modern horror remake are hard to criticize here than in other such films. The cheap false scares, the forced wisecracks, the obnoxious kids who could generally do with a good hacking, all seem to fit in here. Evidently, Friday The 13th was the Platinum Dunes paradigm all along. By opting for a slightly lighter tone than Chainsaw or Elm Street, this is quite a respectable homage to the spirit of those movies that inspired it. For what that’s worth.