Friday the 13th (2009): Jason Voorhees, call your agent

Friday the 13th (2009)Less a remake than just another tired sequel, the new film puts Jason through the same old moves with all the finese of a blind choreographer directing an arthritic dancer.

Jason, what the hell happened to you? You seemed poised on the verge of a monumental comeback, a chance to step back into the ring and reclaim your crown. Instead, your new FRIDAY THE 13TH movie makes you look like a washed-up old has-been, a former champion bulked up on steroids and hyped up on amphetamines who still can’t swing a machete like he used to. But I don’t blame you – at least, not totally. You’re just a victim of your handlers. That’s why I’m telling you – you gotta call your agent and dump those clowns before you even think of making another movie.

Seriously, Jason, listen to me. I mean, I know we’ve never been particularly close. Your first two movies looked like gory rip-offs of HALLOWEEN and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, so I didn’t even bother to see them in theatres; catching up with them on cable was more than enough for me. I did check out your 3-D flick on the big screen; it was ridiculous, but I had to admit it was scary in parts. I still wasn’t a fan, but eventually your longevity won me over with all those crazy things you did in later movies: coming back from the dead, duking it out with that psychic girl, taking a trip to the Big Apple, blasting off into outer space, meeting up with that bastard son of a hundred maniacs.

It didn’t matter that the films were never very good; when you make that many, there are bound to be a few good moments here and there and, eventually, enough to fill one good movie – sort of like a great mental montage that eclipses the lame dialogue, dumb-ass characters, and insipid story-lines that were just an excuse to string together all those kills.

That’s why a FRIDAY THE 13TH reboot seemed like a good idea: it was a chance to take all those good moments – the best of the best – and put them into one great movie. And the great thing was: unlike remaking something like DAWN OF THE DEAD, in your case, the original film is not so all-fired great that the new one would automatically pale in comparison.

Yes, the new FRIDAY should have been a kick-ass crowd pleaser, but let’s face it: something went wrong. A lot of somethings, really. Let’s get down to it, if you dare face the truth with your big ugly face…

First off, the very worst thing about the old movies was that stupid story about how your mother killed those camp counselors because she was mad at some other camp counselors who let you drown because they were making out or something instead of watching you. Well, we all know you didn’t drown, so that’s one dumb thing the new film could have done without.

But what do we get? A prologue where your mom is trying to kill a camp counselor in order to avenge your death by drowning. And when the counselor beheads your mom, we actually see you do something only suggested in the earlier films, picking over mommy’s corpse immediately afterward. So apparently you were nearby the whole time and never bothered to wave your hand and get your mother’s attention to let her know you were all right and she didn’t have to engage in a life-or-death battle that would wind up leaving her headless. Nice move, Jace. Come to think of it, you’re about as dumb as those victims your skewer on a regular basis.

I do have to give the prologue credit for being set on June 13, 1980 – the year that the original FRIDAY THE 13TH came out. That’s not quite the last clever thing in the new film, but it is the last reference to the infamous unlucky day, making me wonder why they even retained it in the title if they weren’t going to use it for anything more.

After that, it becomes clear pretty quickly that this new FRIDAY will have much more in common with PART 2 than with the original. I guess that was expected; no one, including me, wants to see another movie in which your mother turns out to be the killer, and it is kind of nice that the “remake” of the first FRIDAY is condensed down to a couple minutes before the opening credits.

But this leads to some problems. In the old films, you could grow and mature over time; you didn’t even get your hockey mask till halfway through PART 3. Now, however, the audience is three steps ahead of you, expecting all this stuff to happen, so your handlers – the writers and directors and producers – are in a such big rush to squeeze everything in that they forget to make it seem important. It just happens because it’s gotta be there somehow, like having you kill some inconsequential peripheral character who just happens to have a hockey mask in his attic. Lame, dude, real lame.

And what was up with the marijuana growing in your forest? Were your screenwriters really that desperate for an excuse to get some victims onto your turf? Were you supposedly growing it to lure suckers in, or was it grown by the hillbilly who offers to sell some pot to our hero? If the latter, why were you letting him walk through your forest with impunity for so long? Why did you wait until this particular time to take him out?

But forget all that. One of the amusing absurdities of the old movies was that someone was trying to reopen Camp Crystal Lake even though lots of people had died there years ago and no one in his right mind would ever send their kid there again. This was stupid, but it set the tone for the films, which were all about hacking up a bunch of characters who were obviously too stupid to live; otherwise, they wouldn’t be part of such a hare-brained scheme. By removing this element, your new film pretends to be serious and more believable, but that’s not what anyone wants to see in your work

In any case, the attempt at believability is unconvincing, and the serious tone only drains the fun out of the picture. Big mistake. I mean, FRIDAY THE 13TH IN 3-D is an atrociously awful film, but it is entertaining. The new one is just dull.

Sure it was a bit unexpected to see you mow through the first five kids in about a half-hour, and it was clever the way they flashed the title right after that – as if to say, “What you thought was going to be the whole movie is really just a really long prologue.” It was as if that prologue with your mother was really a pro-prologue, followed by another twenty-minute sequence before the movie really got started. You don’t expect the FRIDAY THE 13 franchise to play around with cinematic structure, so my hat’s off to you for that.

But this cute little ploy is not enough to forgive the lame stuff like pretending to kill someone who later turns out to be alive. What are you – going soft in your old age? And why the hell are you suddenly running around like a defensive end chasing down a wide receiver? Back in the old days, you could stride after your victims in full confidence that no matter how fast they ran, they would never escape you. Seeing your hurry now is supposed to make you seem more threatening, but it just reveals your new-found insecurity.

And while we’re at it, what’s with the lame-ass kills? Sticking the blade up through the floor boards was good for a little bit of prickly fun, but as painful as it looks, no one believes it could be deadly – it’s just too easy to get away after the initial surprise is over. And once or twice I thought I detected a trace of computer-generated imagery. What’s the matter? Can’t swing that machete like you used to? Need a computer to compensate for you inadequacy?

I also didn’t get what was up with the bear trap and dangling the girl over the fire. Since when do you use protracted techniques that extend the agony of your victims? Back in the good old days, you were a ruthless, efficient executioner – your victims barely had time to let out a scream before they were dead. Now you’re carrying on like you’re auditioning for a role in the next torture porn film.

This brings us to another problem. You were never an original, but you did manage to carve out your own niche. Unfortunately, your new film reduces you to something more generic. I think the problem is that kids who grew up watching your films are now making films, but they weren’t just watching your films; they were also watching stuff like CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and when they get their chance to work with you, they forget what makes you the horror icon you are, so they churn out a generic remake in which you just happen to be a character. In fact, Marcus Nispel directed a CHAINSAW remake a few years ago, and at times he seems to think he is still making that movie, just with you instead of Leatherface.

That much I can blame on them instead of you, but you’ve got to take your lumps, too, Jason. You’re slow and stupid in this film. We all know the victims in your movies just want to have sex and/or do drugs, and we love to see the women take off their clothes, but did you have to let so many of their antics go on for so long before killing them? It started to feel like Russ Meyers was directing – which would normally be a good thing, but why let that obnoxious ass – the one who invited everyone to his family’s cabin and then kept telling them not to touch anything or get anything dirty – why let him live long enough to have sex with a beautiful woman when he obviously deserved to be gutted as soon as possible?

As if that were not bad enough, Jace old pal, you let some know-nothing Final Girl outwit you with a ploy from the second film – only here it is handled really badly. In PART 2, Ginny was studying child psychology, and you were an unsophsticated, demented man-child, so it was easy to believe that she could get the better of you by exploiting your idolization of your mother. This time out, you let this girl live just because she looks like a picture of your mother, and then you fall for the trick when she pretends to be your mother, telling you to drop your guard. Leaving aside the question of how she figured out that this trick would work, I just have to ask: What’s wrong with you, Jason? This is no psychology student using specialized knowledge and training to pull the wool over your hockey mask; she’s just a chick improvising on the spur of the moment. And you let her get away with it. Pathetic.

Sorry to come down so hard on you, Jason, but I had to do it, for your own good. You see, you’ve fallen in with a bad lot; they pretend to be your friends, but they really aren’t. They’re just using you to get a paycheck. They don’t care. If they did care, they would have come up with a reboot that recharged your batteries and returned you to more than your former glory. Instead, they stuck you in a tired old rehash that might almost be called anti-post-modern.

Instead of showing an awareness of all that came before, they just put you through the same old moves with all the finese of a blind choreographer directing an arthritic dancer. They don’t play with the formula. They don’t manipulate audience expectations to create suspense. They don’t overturn the cliches or reimagine them. We all know the black guy is gonna die, and so are all the chicks who expose their breasts. Okay, there are two girls who don’t go topless, so it seems like either of them could be the Final Girl, but we really know it has to be the one who looks like mother. So sad, so predictable.

The idea of a remake is that you can go back to the beginning and start fresh. Superficially, the 2009 edition of FRIDAY THE 13TH appears like a return to form, but this is merely a disguise. By simply coming up with a new excuse or two to lure a bunch of machete fodder into the woods for a mostly plotless series of set-pieces, your new film comes across less like remake and more like just another uninspired sequel. It’s the kind of thing that ran the franchise into the ground, but at least those old sequels provided some gimmicks to spice things up (3-D, a telekinetic adversary, sending you into space). Omitting the gimmicks can only take your partway toward credible horror; you also need some inspiration, some imagination, or at least a litle renewed enthusiasm – none of which is much on display here.

That’s why I’m telling you Jason: call your agent and get some new help if you plan to star in any more movies. 

FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009). Directed by Marcus Nispel. Screenplay by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift, from a story by Shannon & Swift and Mark Wheaton, based on characters created by Victor Miller. Cast: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Rightetti, Travis Van Winkle, Aaron Yoo, Derek Mears, Jonathan Sadowski, Julianna Guill, Ben Feldman, Arlen Escarpeta, Ryan Hansen, Willa Ford.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

One Response to “ Friday the 13th (2009): Jason Voorhees, call your agent ”

  1. This a very thorough article about the Friday the 13th movies. I just saw the first movie from 1980 yesterday, and then I read what this new movie was about. I was so confused, it says it’s a remake. This article cleared it up for me, and I don’t think I’ll see the new movie. I am really getting tired of these remakes they make today, there’s no point. With this movie, like you said, they should have called it Friday the 13th part 13 or whatever number they’re up to now. Either that, or stop making more movies for this franchise, go make something new for once.
    Also, reading your explanation of the story of Friday the 13th, through all of the movies, it really doesn’t make much sense. I wonder what the writers were thinking when they had Jason be alive after we know that his mother was avenging his death in that first movie. Oh, and the height of nonsense: Friday the 13th: the Final Chapter. There was nothing final about that movie!

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