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Happy Birthday, Mediocrity: Friday the 13th (2009)

“His name was Jason. And today is his birthday.”


I’VE BEEN WATCHING JASON VOORHEES run amuck ever since I was a wee one. At that time, I was too young and poor to own actual copies of the films, so I was reduced to watching versions I’d recorded off television from ABC’s “Million Dollar Movie” and USA’s “Up All Night.” Yes, the gore was heavily edited. Yes, there was no nudity to be found. And yes, even terse lines of dialogue like “thank God” were edited to be simply “thank ___.” But at that time, I took anything I could get. And I wore out those tapes without much effort.

Jason Voorhees, both pre- and post-zombie, was kind of my hero. He was a monstrous force of nature with which to be reckoned. He crushed heads and introduced axes to bodies without prejudice. He cared little for the half-naked nubiles that were helplessly straddled on the floor in front of him—he wanted nothing more than to throw them out the window, bash them against a tree, or stab them…you know…down there. The Friday the 13th series was even, in essence, my first exposure to sex (and in a largely overblown way, its consequences). I didn’t have the birds-and-the-bees talk with my embarrassed father, nor did my older brother one day sneak home a badly dubbed porn VHS (at least not right away), and my inevitable tour of duty in Sex Ed 101 had yet to occur. No sir, I learned all about the ways of female anatomy from The Final Chapter.

Funny and inappropriate as it may sound, the series was a large part of my childhood. During middle school history class, I would design my own posters for the existing entries, as well as “what if?” concepts:

Jason Vs. The Army

Jason Vs. Jaws

Jason Vs. Some Weird Thing Covered in White-Out That’s Supposed To Be Michael Myers (I was, and continue to be, a shitty artist.)

In art class, after being given molding foam to sculpt anything we wished, other kids looked on in confusion as I created a hockey mask, compete with rows of air holes and a blood-red triangle. A childhood friend and I used to sleep over each other’s houses every time a Friday the 13th marathon was scheduled to air, even though between the two of us we’d seen the films a hundred times. At a “sidewalk sale” at my local mall (where old stockroom items were sold for next to nothing), I just about had a boner-heart attack combo when finding a poster for Jason Lives.

Despite all this, I would never describe any of the series’ entries as high art—not even the first film, which by default receives more love than it deserves simply because it was “the original.” Slasher movies that result in legitimately good cinema – Halloween naturally comes to mind – are a rarity. Sure, they’re “good” in the sense that you like them, and they are certainly entertaining, but they weren’t written to push your emotional buttons and induce an epiphanic awakening. They were written so you could laugh as the fat chick on the side of the road gets a pickaxe through her neck. They were made so you could scream as you realize Final Girl is completely alone, and the masked maniac could be around any corner. Slasher movies are buffalo wings and beer. They’re an option, they can really hit the spot, but at the end of the day, they’re junk. (But that’s okay!)

Unlike the Halloween or A Nightmare Elm Street series, most Friday the 13th fans do not point to the first film as their sole favorite, and this indifference is fueled by the lack of Jason, being that he’s become synonymous with the series as we all know it (and rightfully so). As for a fan favorite, I think it’s safe to say the Crispin Glover dance-infected The Final Chapter would be the victor. (It’s my preferred entry.)

Despite the lack of “quality” in each successive sequel, insofar as could be expected of Friday the 13th, you cannot claim that each entry post-Final Chapter was not trying something new.

friday-the-13th_5 A New Beginning pissed off a lot of fans by removing Jason from the equation and replacing him with a copycat killer. Luckily, the movie boasts a healthy amount of the red stuff, and director Danny Steiner employs a slimy yet effective grindhouse aesthetic that had never before been married to the Friday franchise, but which feels right at home all the same. Even with the disappointment that the real Jason sat this one out, it’s a natural continuation of the Tommy Jarvis saga, which began in The Final Chapter. It’s effectively directed, and had Jason actually been the killer in the film, I believe A New Beginning would be considered a high-point in the series.

friday-the-13th_6Jason Lives, most would agree, is the “funnest” of the series. With this entry, tongue was firmly planted in cheek and it shows, both on the page and on the screen. For a series in which two of the previous entries took place in summer camps (Jason Lives being the third), we finally have younger kids in the cast, and miraculously they’re used sparingly and effectively. Despite all this (and despite the goofy but lovable James Bond-esque opening title sequence), let it not be said that Jason Lives doesn’t live up to its namesake and reputation. Jason, resurrected from the grave, is back with a vengeance. People are smashed through RV walls, ripped apart, and bent in half. Heads are stabbed and triple decapitations are on the menu. “Fun” tone notwithstanding, the threat is still very real. Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead) caps off the Tommy Jarvis story with the best iteration of the character and puts Jason back in the lake for good (haha, not). Director Tom McLoughlin channels Joe Dante and Amblin Films, delivering a hoot-and-a-half of a Friday film. For the first time, characters of all ages (kids! teens! adults! old men!) are included in the carnage, and it brings an understated legitimacy in that it feels not just like a slasher film geared toward teens, but an honest-to-gosh horror film geared toward everyone.

friday-the-13th_7The New Blood also receives much backlash, though unduly so. Yes, the whole Jason vs. Carrie gimmick, brought to life by Final Girl’s uncanny ability for telekinesis, is a little absurd, but most fans have been pretty forgiving of that plot point. What they’re not forgiving of, however, is the chopped and heavily edited version that made it to theaters. Director John Carl Buechler, having previously spent his time in special effects, filled his movie with what could have been the most impressive deaths since Savini’s Final Chapter. Sadly, except for the intensely grainy footage recently resurrected for the last few home video releases, it’s likely these deaths will never be restored for a future edition. But, regardless of what the MPAA did to the movie, and not director Buechler, a new direction was explored, albeit unsuccessfully, so the movie is not totally without its merits. If nothing else, the Jason brought to life in The New Blood (played for the first of four times by fan favorite Kane Hodder) was at his most absolutely bad-ass looking—exposed spine and all.

friday-the-13th_8Jason Takes A Cruise Ship Vancouver Toronto Manhattan would follow one year later and unceremoniously serve as Paramount Pictures’ last go-around with their hideous and embarrassing cash cow. Unfortunately, what sounded like a clever and exciting script was hacked apart for budgetary reasons, and so writer/director Rob Hedden had to sacrifice much of his vision, which originally included scenes in Madison Square Garden (where Julius was supposed to get his head punched off), a chase scene on the Brooklyn Bridge, and a finale in the Statue of Liberty. Instead, Hedden was forced to shift most of the action to that god damned cruise ship, where Jason miraculously negotiates tight hallways and cabins without anyone ever seeing him. (In case you were wondering, 34 minutes of the movie’s 96-minute running time “takes place” in New York, and roughly two minutes of that time is actually shot there.)

What writer/director Hedden can be blamed for, however, is shitting the Friday the 13th mythology bed by impossibly suggesting that Final Girl and Jason were children around the same time period, making Jason either both a zombie killer AND a lake-haunting boy ghost, or Final Girl the oldest high school senior on record. Also, while Jason’s immortality and uncanny talent for taking lives have always bordered on absurd, Manhattan takes it one step further and bestows on him the completely ludicrous ability to teleport.

At film’s end, Jason screams like an elephant and drowns in toxic waste.

It had a really fun teaser poster, though:

friday-the-13th_12Once the Paramount reign of Friday the 13th ended and New Line Cinema stepped in to adopt the rotting mongoloid, Jason then went to Hell, space, and Elm Street. Most would agree none of them were a return to form for the masked killer (though it’s easy to love Freddy vs. Jason).

In 2003, New Line Cinema unleashed the very controversial remake of Tobe Hooper’s seminal 1974 classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. While it certainly was a project motivated by money (what Hollywood films aren’t?), it wasn’t necessarily part of the ensuing remake craze that would follow—it was merely the first. It was the catalyst that set into motion the realization that brand names like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween all had street value. The strength of their titles would cut through everything else being released and easily compete for the attentions of the masses.

So what happened?

After the mostly-decent Chainsaw remake hit theaters with great success, every single horror movie with an infamous title fell victim to the remake machine. Iconic titles like Halloween and The Omen, the more obscure like Black Christmas and My Bloody Valentine, and minor footnotes that actually deserved an honest-to-god revitalization like Prom Night and House on Sorority Row—nothing was safe. The horror genre was raped by the movie gods and vomited on screen with mostly pitiful results.

And none of them missed the boat as badly as 2009’s Friday the 13th, which came out exactly six years ago today.

Happy birthday, you piece of shit.

   friday-the-13th_14One of the most disappointing movies I’ve ever had the extreme misfortune of seeing in theaters, it was the first time that I remember ever feeling embarrassed for the Friday the 13th brand, and my enthusiasm for it.

When the soulless production team of Bay et al. announced the remake of Friday the 13th, every horror enthusiast and their mother knew they weren’t actually remaking the first film, in which the killer is Jason’s mother. Instead, they were remaking what goes through everyone’s minds when you say the words “Friday the 13th”—Jason, with mask, cutting down teens with machetes in the woods. That’s all you need, that’s all Friday the 13th is, and – despite all the later sequels’ attempts to try new things – that’s all Jason Voorhees is ever going to be. You can take the killer out of the woods, but you can’t take the woods out of the killer.

Despite all the misgivings, when the remake of Friday the 13th was announced, I was excited. By this time, Platinum Dunes had already given the world the aforementioned remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – which was shockingly good – as well as their follow-up project, The Amityville Horror, starring Ryan Reynolds’ beard and abs. Amityville was mostly greeted with a boo-hiss from critics – both legitimate and fans – but it was simple, effective, and provided a few scares, though obviously the victim of “needs more dumb shit!” reshoots.

Then PD’s version of The Hitcher came along, and was anemic in every sense of the word.

Still, PD was 2-for-3 in my eyes, and each announcement in regards to the Friday the 13th remake really seemed to indicate they knew what they were doing:

The writers of Freddy Vs. Jason would be writing the script. (Hey, I liked that movie!)

The director of 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would be getting behind the camera. (Hey, I liked that movie, too!)

Jared Padalecki, star of “Supernatural,” would be playing the lead role of Clay—basically a reiteration of Jason-hunter Rob from The Final Chapter. (Hey, I like “Supernatural!” And the kid can actually act!)

friday-the-13th_16The movie was soon shot, set visit reports showed great enthusiasm from all those involved, and the trailer masterfully captured the tone of the original movies, even going as far as mimicking the “thirteen deaths countdown” as the trailer for the original film did 30 years prior.

So why was the final product so awful? How did they get all of this seemingly so right and then flush it right down the toilet?

Let’s start with the script.

You’ll never (ever) have me bemoaning the idea that characters in a Friday the 13th movie should have development coming out the ass, because I don’t need that. If I want character development, I’ll go see a movie that doesn’t end in “Part 12.” What I want, desperately, is for the characters to be in the most effortless way at least a little bit likable. Ripping off my own face and begging for Jason to come down off the screen and vivisect me is tolerable compared to watching Blonde Boy say one putrid “the dick character is always the funnest!” line of dialogue after the other. Writers craft scripts like this and then grin at you and say, “These kids feel like real kids!” If Friday the 13th’s kids are based on real kids, Planet Earth is doomed.

Worse, most of the deaths are incredibly lazy and border on the kind of discomfort-causing dispatches from the world of Saw, Hostel, and all of those imitators, which ain’t the Friday the 13th way. As a resultthe deaths look merely unpleasant, and somehow simultaneously boring. Case in point: Asian Kid wanders around a dark garage looking for god-knows-what, spending almost five straight minutes talking to himself. The music is mounting, and you know Jason’s about to pop up and give this kid a death we all hope is glorious. So what happens? Jason shoves a screwdriver into his throat. Slowly. As Asian Kid begs for his life. It’s not fun, but boring—and uncomfortable. That’s not why we’re here. We’ve come for titillation, not revulsion. For the first time in a Friday the 13th, watching teens get slaughtered isn’t…fun.

As far as Jason’s killing capabilities go, I’m a little more lenient than some other fans. If Jason wants to shoot an arrow into some girl’s skull, that’s fine – in previous entries, I’ve seen him throw spikes directly into people’s faces from afar with deadly precision, so I won’t complain about the method – but to then flash to Jason’s old room and show us that he once won a trophy for archery? Who fucking cares? You mean the writers thought they were clever enough to “explain” why Jason is good with a bow-and-arrow, yet when it came time for him to find his hockey mask for the first time – in a moment that should have been iconic – they write a scene where he literally finds the fucking thing on the floor?

Come on guys, really?

Speaking of bullshit, what’s with these kids and their utter masturbatory obsession with smoking weed? Yeah, I get it. Teens smoke weed. Teens have always smoked weed, and will always smoke weed. You know who else smoked weed? My parents. And yours. We’re not doing anything new here, people. But talk about beating your audience over the head: the movie opens with kids hunting for a pot field, and then later, more kids come along and smoke weed and laugh, because weed is just hysterical. Since when did weed become synonymous with Friday the 13th? Did these writers accidentally rent Friday instead when writing their script? (That’s a terrible joke, I know.) Listen, the original Friday the 13th entries are horrendously dated, I’ll freely admit it: there are no cell phones. Kids dance “the robot” and have gigantic hair. The guys wear shorter shorts than the girls. For an entry or two, punk was “in.” But you know what none of these kids ever did? Made a huge goddamn production out of the fact they were smoking weed. Because despite how goofy the Friday the 13th kids of yesteryear might seem to the current masses, they were – and are – cooler than kids today. They didn’t take out their bongs and pipes and do puppet shows. They didn’t go “awwww yeaaaah!” when someone took out an ounce and waved it around like a Polaroid. They didn’t say “this is some good shit!” or laugh “I am so stoned!” They passed the joint, smoked, and played some acoustic. The end.

If you think the film’s immature look at marijuana is the last of the pitfalls, think again.

For instance, how come every single character in the film lacks the social skills of even a zoo-born gorilla? Did you really just take your tits out for no reason, Dumb Girl? And were you seriously going to just masturbate in the middle of the living room since no one was around at the time, Black Kid? Do you even want to be friends with someone who would equate an empty room with a perfect time for some self-love? I remember a lot of dumb shit from the older Friday the 13th movies: a punk teen singing a duet with his girlfriend as he takes a shit inside an outhouse; another girl wandering alone outside and deciding the boy she is looking for is probably inside that creepy old barn. I do not ever recall a character looking around, and after noticing that everyone is suspiciously missing, prepping for some out-in-the-open masturbation.

All of these pitfalls come together and only enforce that the movie was made by filmmakers who had no reverence for the material, and who simply didn’t get it. Friday the 13th 2009 feels like one of those ____ Movie parodies. You know, the ones that mock popular genre films of the past three years, but in the unfunniest way possible. Only this time it’s like they were trying to make Friday the 13th Movie.

friday-the-13th_15Not helping matters is the lifeless “bum-bum-bum-bum” film score by Steve Jablonksy, PD’s go-to guy, who unfortunately sees fit to keep “ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma” and toss the rest—unaware of the effectiveness of Harry Manfredini’s original music. Manfredini’s awesome original score isn’t music you can hum, like Halloween, Phantasm, or Jaws. Notes are all over the place, and hardly repetitive – more Herrmann than Carpenter – and the collection of harsh strings, harps, and low brass is what made the not-that-scary events unfolding on screen seem…pretty scary. It’s a superior film score that deserved just as much respect as Jason himself, but given the complete lack of understanding as to what made Jason a great character, it would seem Harry’s score never had a chance. (For an example of how to do this the right way, see Graeme Revell’s score for Freddy vs. Jason, which effectively marries Manfredini’s Friday stuff with Charles Bernstein’s Nightmare stuff, all the while writing his own original compositions.)

The only worthy kudos is entirely dedicated to Derek Mears as Jason. A long time fan of the series, he understood that – despite what people think – Jason Voorhees really is a “character,” and as such, he should be played by someone who is going to do more than just walk. Mears did a great job bringing some life to Jason, but it’s a shame he didn’t have a stronger script to ensure an appropriate level of quality. If so, future trips to Crystal Lake would have been ensured. (Friday the 13th had a great opening weekend, but bad word-of-mouth caused a severe drop-off afterward, thus killing any current plans for a follow up. Six years later, we’re still waiting. If this were 1986, we’d have six – good – films by now.)

It’s relieving to know that a lot of Friday fans were left cold by this attempt at a reboot, although they all have very different reasons for disliking the approach, ranging from the understandable to the very nitpicky.

No, I don’t think it’s ridiculous that Jason runs in the film (because he did in Part 3 and 4). No, I don’t think it’s ridiculous that he’s somehow rigged electricity in his childhood home (because he managed to finagle a working toilet in the middle of the woods in Part 2). No, I don’t think it’s ridiculous that he shows rationale and skill beyond what we’ve come to expect from a mindless Jason Voorhees (because he’s done so throughout the original series).

However…

I DO think it’s ridiculous to establish that the town of Crystal Lake knows that Jason is running around in the woods, yet aren’t that concerned about it, so long as he doesn’t bother them.

I DO think it’s ridiculous that Jason would chain up a random girl and even feed her for a week, all because she resembles his mother, considering another character played by Danielle Panabaker, whom Jason kills without hesitation, looks exactly like her.

I DO think it’s ridiculous the filmmakers had promised that the scene where Jason found his mask would be iconic – an “epic” moment in which Jason slid that sucker over his face and became the masked maniac we all know and love – but ended up being the cinematic equivalent of “Oh, there it is” (which is like Bruce Wayne deciding he wants to be Batman and then buying a fucking Batman costume).

I DO think it’s ridiculous that a Friday the 13th film, whose entire series would be based on the creative ways Jason dispatched his victims, would purposely establish one backwoods character owning a wood chipper, and not letting Jason use it for a kill.

And I DO think it’s ridiculous that an abandoned summer camp would be infested with a series of underground tunnels that Jason seems to travel with ease. Please, tell me: why are they even there? Did Jason dig them himself? Were they perhaps left over from the old mining days? Was it because of those damn monsters from Tremors? If only the writers had taken two seconds – had written ONE line of dialogue – to explain this little development, being that a large portion of the third act takes place primarily within these tunnels.

Instead they opted to explain why Jason is so handy with a bow-and-arrow.

Good work, nerds.

To those at Platinum Dunes: this isn’t Don Corleone we’re talking about here. Nor Indiana Jones, John McClane, or the aforementioned Batman. It’s Jason Voorhees. Put a mask on him, dump him in the woods, give him some unannoying kids to kill in clever ways, add a twist of lemon for freshness, and holy shit, make it fun. You’re not reinventing the wheel here. You’re only keeping it turning. That’s all we ever wanted. And you totally blew it.

friday-the-13th_17

Note: This was originally published on: Feb 13, 2015

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Written by

J. Tonzelli is a writer, film critiquer, and avid Arnold/Van Damme/Bronson enthusiast who resides in rural South Jersey. He is the author of "The End of Summer: Thirteen Tales of Halloween" and the "Fright Friends Adventure" series, co-authored with Chris Evangelista. He loves abandoned buildings, the supernatural, and films by John Carpenter. You can read some of his short fiction at his website, JTonzelli.com, or objectify him by staring at his tweets: @jtonzelli. He apologizes for all the profanity.

  • Mick

    Awesome rant! I never saw the Friday films, but you wonderfully conjure a childhood (and adulthood) steeped in them.

  • Donnie

    Well, I was with you on this entire article until you started ranting about the remake, which I actually enjoyed. Like you said yourself: “Jason, with mask, cutting down teens with machetes in the woods. That’s all you need.” And that’s exactly what the remake delivered. No frills, no bullshit. Sure, the kills could have been more fun and creative, but I think you’re being awfully hard on this movie.

  • Max Shreck

    I agree with you on the remake.

    One thing that really bothered me was that the summer camp had nothing to do with it. Originally Jason was killing camp counselors to avenge his mothers death. It made sense that he would be doing that after they re-opened the camp.

    In this movie he just starts attacking an area that he had prior left alone and for no real reason.

    Not to mention that both the Friday remake and the Nightmare remake featured scenes where Freddy or Jason was about to kill the lead girls boyfriend, and then stops to keep going after the girl, even though they had not shown any mercy to anyone up until that point in the film.

    It was absurd garbage that lacked logic and proved that the writers/producers had no idea why these movies worked or what fans of them would want to see. But hey, WEED!!!

  • Adam Paquette

    Sorry I just dont see why you hate the remake so much. Sure it lacked the 80’s vibe, and Harry’s score wasn’t present through the movie, but besides that and it looking like a more well funded movie, this movie did it’s job. How can you hate on the reboot that brought Jason back from the ridiculousness that was Manhattan, Hell, and space? Give me a break- this was what the series needed!! It brought Jason back to his fuckin homeground; Crystal Lake, mixed with a bunch of dumbass teenagers. No stupid gimmicks this time like flying to outer space, or body hopping, or taking a cruise. This was a solid Friday the 13th mashup of the first four movies into one, told in it’s own way. I don’t get all the hate for it. Did we really want another shitty Jason in space movie? Bring on a sequel. I’ll be there opening night, again.

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  • DecoyOctorok

    Great write-up. One correction: Jason Takes Manhattan was shot in Toronto, not Vancouver.