Technically, the original Friday the 13th film was late in the game as far as slasher movies go. John Carpenter's Halloween had already cleaned up at movie theaters and drive-ins all across the country only two years prior. Even earlier than that was Bob Clark's Black Christmas. That film was more of giallo-type film than a slasher, but you can certainly see the similarities between them all. So if you wanted to be analytical about it, the slasher sub-genre had been created long before Friday the 13th ever came along. It may have not been the first, but it did popularize it while also making headway for many copycats to follow.
Unlike Halloween, the Friday the 13th series was better known for its extensive use of blood and gore, something that Paramount Pictures really got behind and promoted at the beginning of the series. Every year, a new roster of teens would meet their demise in some very creative and, quite often, ridiculous ways. As each film was released, the kills became more and more imaginative, becoming far more important than plot or characterization. Even though the MPAA really came down hard on some of the latter films in the series, the first film escaped relatively unscathed with an R rating, setting the standard for what would be done with the sequels.
Friday the 13th was also one of the early slasher films not to have come from an independent source. It had a slightly higher budget than one would normally have to make these types of films and a major Hollywood studio backing it. In that way, it's highly unusual, as opposed to smaller and more independent films like Halloween, or even the often-overlooked Sleepaway Camp franchise (which parodied Friday the 13th extensively). Unlike their no budget counterparts, the Friday the 13th films found a much bigger audience and were seen by a lot more people.
As far as Jason himself, he became a cultural icon. Ever since he put on that hockey mask in the third film of the series, he's more or less been well-known to popular culture just as much as Freddy Krueger, or even Darth Vader for that matter. He's never been one to have much of a personality either, which the series has had some fun with at times. He's just a killing machine, out for revenge against those who've wronged him. He doesn't talk or quip funny lines. He just stalks his prey and kills it without remorse. He never dwells on it and he never takes prisoners (despite what we've seen in the remake, but I'll get into that later). Even though Jason is at the center of the series, I don't consider him to be the real focal point or the appeal. Fans have always tended to cry foul whenever Paramount (or New Line Cinema) made a Friday the 13th film without the real Jason on-screen doing the killing, but the real draw is the gore, horror and suspense, and not so much the characters. It works ok most of the time, but for someone like me who craves a bit of characterization in what he watches, it can be frustrating. Sometimes the logic of certain things in these films is also a problem, but despite it all, they're still fun to watch.
Even though I'm not quite as big a fan of the Friday the 13th series as I am the Nightmare on Elm Street series by comparison, I certainly don't discount it by any means. As with the Nightmare series, I have a marathon of the Friday the 13th movies every year, and at least once a year; sometimes on Halloween and sometimes on Friday the 13th (all weekend, of course). As a kid, I dressed up a couple of times as Jason for Halloween as well, so I'd say that I'm a fan without being fanatical about it. Some of the films I really enjoy, while others I have some problems with, so I'd like to take this opportunity to dissect the films a bit and explain exactly why I like some more than others. I'll be discussing a lot of the plot details, characters and situations, so if you haven't seen these films and want to avoid spoilers, it's probably the best idea not to read any further. For everyone else, I hope you enjoy it. And whether you agree with my opinions or not, hopefully it'll stir up some good-natured debate amongst us all. So let's get started with the first one.
Friday the 13th
In 1979, Sean Cunningham decided that he was going to, in the words of screenwriter Victor Miller, "Rip off Halloween". They quickly came up with a story, got together with an unknown group of young actors & filmmakers and produced it. The film follows a group of camp counselors who are preparing Camp Crystal Lake for reopening, but instead they're knocked off one by one by an unseen killer. At the end of the film, it's revealed to be an older woman named Mrs. Voorhees, who blames the camp counselors for her son Jason drowning at the camp three decades earlier. She takes her revenge on them, but she's eventually stopped and killed by the lone survivor Alice.
Looking back on it comparatively, Friday the 13th actually opens very much like Halloween. There's the beginning of the film, which takes place in the past in first-person view of the unknown killer, as well as the flash forward to the present with a girl walking through town, not unlike Laurie Strode from Halloween. However, this is where the film severs its visual detachment from that film. From this point on it follows its own route without heavy-handed allusions to other horror films (despite there being a nod to The Shining when Mrs. Voorhees is trying to break the pantry door down with an axe and afterwards peering in at Alice).
There are plenty of good things to like about this first film. There's quite a bit of set-up and building the suspense up in the story. There's the character of Ralph, the doom-prophesizing old geezer who seems to materialize out of nowhere at times. There's also a great little group of actors, including a young Kevin Bacon in one of his first films. There's some fantastic special effects from Tom Savini, as well as Harry Manfredini's signature score, which would more or less stick for the rest of the series. So yeah, there's plenty to like. It's in some of the technical and plot details where the movie fails a bit for me and doesn't hold up as well as it should.
The one thing to remember here though is that when this film was being made, there were no thoughts of this becoming a huge movie franchise. Sean Cunningham himself thought that the idea of bringing Jason to the forefront as a killer who had somehow survived drowning and was living in the wilderness was ludicrous and that it wouldn't work, a view shared by many others who worked on the original film. This was nothing more than a low-budget horror film designed to cash in on the success of its predecessor Halloween. It's just that simple, and the filmmakers aren't coy about admitting to it either. However, now that there's a long-running series of films, minor details become more crucial when they're all stacked up together. Continuity issues with the story are probably the biggest flaw of the series, among many other things.
The biggest flaw of the first film, at least to me, is that the killer is being built up visually as a man. If you look closely, the killer is not only dressed like a man but also the hands of a man are doing the killing. Most of us probably already know that it was prosthetic and special effects maestro Tom Savini doing the kills for the most part, but for a film that's trying to follow a story thread as much as this one does, this jumps out at me as a major error. That's why it really comes out of left field when you find out that it's a middle-aged crazy woman. In a twisted sort of way, the killings are very efficient, and the killer doesn't really waste time or effort in carrying them out. That's why I've never quite fully bought the reveal of Jason's mother, especially when she's clumsily trying to kill Alice. At one point she has her cornered and there's no way that she's able to get away, and Mrs. Voorhees does nothing more than smack her around. Or how about the moment when she amusingly tries to stab her on the beach with the end of a broken oar? It's a bit of a let-down, but I don't hold it too harshly against the film.
I also find it strange that the family that owns Crystal Lake, the Christy's, is never mentioned again in the sequels. In fact, this particular spot of land seems to change hands with different owners without even a mention. Details like this are mostly minor and frivolous, but even a slight mention of it would have made the sequels tie in to the first film a bit more directly. There are also all sorts of visual continuity errors from film to film as well, such as the fact that there's a different Camp Crystal Lake sign in nearly every film. Other minor details are simply forgotten or brushed over in the sequels, which is to me why the first film doesn't really feel like the first film. Overall, it's a mixed bag of great special effects and questionable minor details, at least as they apply to the sequels.
However, none of these things were much of a factor when the film was released on May 9, 1980. It was one of the first independent films to be released nationally across the country, and the investment paid off. Friday the 13th brought in big profits, along with an awareness that films like it were great business for teenagers on a Friday night. Soon after, a sequel was developed without the involvement of the original director, who wasn't happy with the direction that it would take. Despite it being held up as a classic, I don't like the first film as much as I do a some of the sequels that followed.
Friday the 13th, Part 2
Frank Mancuso Jr., the head of Paramount Pictures at the time, wasted no time in following through on the success of the previous film, and less than a year later, Friday the 13th Part 2 made its debut. Taking place in an area just a stone's throw away from Camp Crystal Lake, this film follows a group of camp counselors in training, but when they disturb Jason's neck of the woods, the murder spree continues.
Almost unwittingly, Part 2 seems more like a proper slasher film than its predecessor, as well as a better film in general. Not only did it have a higher budget, but it also focused a bit more on the characters. You got to know them a bit, and they weren't just the clichéd partying teenagers looking to get wasted and screw around all night long. They seem more like real people. They did take the sexual plunge, of course, but it feels more believable comparatively. It's great to see at least one of these films have not just characterization, but motivation as well. For instance, Ginny and Paul, the head counselors, have a strange relationship with each other, and you can tell that there's some sort of rift between them involving something we know nothing about. Paul's motivation throughout the film is to make her like him again and Ginny's motivation is to try and get over whatever the problem is between them. It's not mentioned out loud in detail, but it's there for those paying close attention. You just don't find that kind of subtlety in any of these films.
The rest of the characters are interesting too, even the half naked girl who contributes nothing most of the time except to be eye candy. Her motivation is to try and win Scott, who's after her in a big bad way. The skinny redheaded guy, Ted, is out to have a good time, and is genuinely funny and likable. The motivation of the wheelchair-bound guy, Mark, is to be more than what he is and ultimately get out of the wheelchair, and his love interest is intrigued by him because of this. However, it's the other couple in the film that don't seem to fit into this more realistic scheme too well. They like to cause trouble, and you can tell that about them immediately. They feel shoehorned in just to get the plot underway, but at least they have some sort of purpose because they're useless otherwise. When Paul warns the group not to trespass near Camp Crystal Lake, these two do just that. And by doing so, they invade Jason's home turf.
Part 2 also has some distinguishable visual flair, and that's saying a lot for a series that's looked down on justifiably for being so cheaply made. Thanks mostly goes to Steve Miner, who would go on to direct the next film, as well. The film also borrows a couple of deaths from the Mario Bava giallo classic Twitch of the Death Nerve. In particular, the double impalement of the troublesome couple with a spear, as well as the infamous machete to the face of the kid in the wheelchair. The kills aren't quite as bloody or as gory as the first film because of the MPAA coming down hard on the final cut, but they seem to have more of an impact.
The film's biggest problem for most people at the time (especially the people that made the first film) was that Jason was alive somehow despite drowning in 1957. It's a bit of a logical lapse, but for me personally I've just always assumed Jason to be a supernatural force of some kind anyway, considering how much damage he can dish out as well as take. I don't think a normal human being could squeeze someone's skull in and make their eyes pop out (not that the filmmakers really had that in mind at the time). Like the fourth entry later, this film has a group of teenagers that we like and we don't necessarily want to see them meet an early demise, especially Amy Steel's character. She's not the typical heroine and she adds a bit of substance to the film. It's also nice that they set her up early on as someone who's studying child psychology, which she uses to her advantage against Jason. She understands him, as evidenced in the bar scene where she talks about his relationship with his mother. It's very clever and well set up. I also prefer Jason's look in this film, with the potato sack over his head, and not because it's a slight take on The Town That Dreaded Sundown, but because it's not the hockey mask for once. It's just too bad that they couldn't focus their efforts on coming up with a more satisfying ending that made a little bit more sense, but I digress.
Released on April 30, 1981, Friday the 13th Part 2 once again brought in the revenues, and I think it's pretty apparent that I'm a big fan of this film. Nearly all aspects of it work perfectly for me, and it feels more like a film than just a generic slasher. I'm sure that the filmmakers were only merely concerned with making an entertaining slasher movie without much thought into how it was constructed, but it doesn't matter because they did well on all fronts. It's one of the underappreciated films in the series, at least compared to The Final Chapter and The New Blood, but Part 2 is really where this series begins for me. It's not a carbon copy of the first film but it carries more genuine suspense and is much a better film by comparison. It's a shame that this couldn't be latched onto in the sequels that followed. After this film, Jason is nothing more than a killing machine with no psychological nuances. He simply kills to kill, to the point where it became a bit of joke later on. The kills also became bigger and broader and seemed to have little to no substance or reason. Admittedly, this isn't a series that really goes for that kind of thing, but I just wonder what it would have been like if it had, which brings me to Part 3.
Friday the 13th, Part 3 (3-D)
The third outing from Jason & Co. is probably my second least favorite of the entire series, mainly because it's such a drop off in quality from its predecessor. The direction that Part 2 took seemed like a good way to go for the series, at least to me. It was well-made, well-shot, had some nice characterization and wasn't chock-full of horror clichés. Its strong storytelling aspects were completely ditched because the focus of Part 3 was to make the gimmicky 3-D work. The story itself is about a girl who returns to the area of Crystal Lake after having been attacked by a strange man in the woods there long ago. Her and her friends stay in a farm house nearby, and one by one, Jason takes them out.
I'll go ahead and start this off by saying that I mostly dislike 3-D, whether its being used as a storytelling tool or as simply a gimmick. It doesn't ever fully work no matter how it's being used, and usually story is sacrificed because of it. Just look at Avatar, which used the 3-D to tell its story, but that story was so simple-minded that it was ridiculous. On the other hand, there's the gimmicky 3-D, as used in Friday the 13th Part 3. Characters spend their time awkwardly sticking objects toward the camera lens, such as when Jason fires a harpoon directly at the camera. It's cheesy, and definitely doesn't add anything in 2-D. I've attempted to watch the film in 3-D a couple of times, but it ended up giving me a headache more than anything.
As a consequence, everything else in the film suffers. The dialogue is probably some of the most atrocious of any of the films. For instance, blood drips from the ceiling and a character asks out loud to themselves "where is this coming from?". The delivery of the dialogue isn't much better, as evidenced by the lead actress. The characters are also more thinly-drawn. They have no substance or character motivation, except Shelly, who just wants to be accepted. The problem is that he intentionally scares and angers everyone around him all the time, and is sad when no one understands. Logic is also thrown straight out of the window in this one, just to have more scare value (albeit cheaply). This is also the film where Jason becomes a Timex watch (you know their slogan so I don't need to repeat it). He's bashed in the head, hanged and takes an axe to the face, yet somehow survives it all. I guess this is where his supernatural abilities come into play. Yeah sure, whatever. They even did a bit of retconning at the beginning of the film, tossing out the final moments of Part 2.
To be fair, there are some unintentionally funny things and moments throughout the film, including the film's uncredited actor, the barn. For some reason or another, the barn plays a significant role in the film because everyone is attracted to it like ants to sugar. People go inside it for no reason other than because it's there. Shelly even knows where the light switch in the barn is, even though he's never been in there before. It's where Jason does most of his dirty work in the film and where he seems to be hiding out at times, but it feels like the film is trying its hardest to include it as a main character. There's also that terrible moment at the end of the film when Jason's mother pops up out of the water to grab Chris, which is a carbon copy of the first film when young Jason pops up out of the water and grabs Alice. Why they decided to do this is beyond me. It's negated in the next scene anyways and makes no sense whatsoever.
Even though I dislike a lot of the things about the film, there are some good points to it. The characters and situations themselves don't feel like familiar territory. Sure it's a group of teenagers getting together for a good time, but they don't feel clichéd. We have the lead who's been away for a while (presumably in a mental hospital, but that's just a guess), her love interest who really isn't much of an interest to her at all (and a bit of a wuss for a so-called "country boy"), the pregnant couple, the awkward guy who never learned how to socialize with other people, the lonely girl who sees nothing in the lonely guy but friendship, and finally, the older-looking pot-smoking couple (why are they in this group of people?). So this isn't just another set of promiscuous and rebellious teenagers looking for a good time with lots of sex, drugs and alcohol. It's very tame in that regard. There's also the biker gang, who are only around to increase the film's body count and contribute nothing to the overall plot.
The special effects themselves are about average. The only death sequences in the film really worth mentioning would be Andy's character being split in half and Debbie's character taking a machete through the chest from underneath. I like that the film has the guts to kill a pregnant woman, even though she doesn't look pregnant. The best thing about the film overall is the opening and closing theme, which is catchy and funky. The score is pretty much the same, but that funky intro and outro is quite terrific (not that it improved the film all that much).
Making its way into theaters on August 13, 1982, Friday the 13th Part 3 wasn't as stellar a hit as its predecessors but it did pretty good business considering. The critics hated it (like they did all of the films) but the fans generally seemed to get into it. The sequels always have their pros and cons, and while some are better than others, some are just not that great. Part 3 falls into the latter category for me. However, it's not the worst film in the series. It's definitely worth watching, but when you're having a marathon of these movies, you can't wait to get to the next one.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
After three films and Frank Mancuso Jr. feeling like he was being typecast as just a "horror producer", Paramount decided to close out the Friday the 13th series and kill off Jason once and for all with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Despite the fact that Part 3 was originally meant to be the last film, the producers went ahead with the project, bringing in Joseph Zito, who had some success with The Prowler a couple of years earlier. Also returning to the fold was Tom Savini, who Zito had worked with previously.
The film is more or less a copy of Part 3 storywise, but with a family next door thrown into the mix. This time around we're treated to another group of teenagers that we actually like, including a young Crispin Glover (who went on to film Back to the Future a year later). Although the difference this time is that the teenagers are simply out to party and get laid, even the young virgin. By this point, this series was pretty much well-known as being filled with horny teenagers who would get their comeuppance, even though it's not all that clear cut. We're also introduced to a young Corey Feldman, whose character would be Jason's ultimate foil. Having a kid be under threat from Jason was something new too, and raised the stakes a bit.
While the special effects are pretty great, The Final Chapter isn't as strong a film as had I hoped it would be. The unnecessary character of Rob, who was looking for the man who killed his sister, is pretty much swept under the table and meets his demise early on in the third act, leaving little to no resolution to that character at all. Sure he attempts to save Tommy's sister, but he feels useless and tacked on, adding nothing to the overall plot (as do the promiscuous doctor and nurse at the beginning of the film). It also seemed like a missed opportunity to dig deeper into Jason's backstory and his family history. It's clearly evident that Paramount didn't put much thought into it and was only concerned with producing a horror film with a body count that would turn a profit and not much else.
An interesting aspect to overall story up to this point is that if you break down the timeline of films 2 through 4, you realize that they take place over the course of a week in different locations in and around Camp Crystal Lake. I find that absolutely insane. If something like that happened in the real world, there might have been a constant dragnet of police checking over the area, especially since Jason is still alive. After all, they just might be looking for him. Instead, he just goes unhindered and murders everybody he crosses paths with. The people he kills aren't even aware of the murders happening around them (except the general store couple at the beginning of Part 3, but they barely count as characters anyway). Most people probably don't even think about it much though because the story isn't focused in that direction anyways. We're just here to watch a bunch of teenagers get slaughtered over and over again.
This is also the last film in the series where Jason is still human. Two sequels later he would be resurrected, literally, and would be almost superhuman. That wasn't in anybody's minds at the time though. Jason really bites the dust in this one, and there's no wink-wink moment at the end where you know he'll return. I've always thought that the final moment of the film, wherein Tommy stares blankly into the camera, was to signify Tommy's loss on reality, and not that he would be taking up Jason's mantle. The people who made the next sequel, however, didn't feel the same way.
Released on April 13, 1984, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter brought in a lot of dough for Paramount, and they immediately went back on their intentions to end the franchise and quickly got another sequel in development. Oh, if only Jason would have known how many times he would arise like Lazarus, he probably would have stayed underwater. Overall, this is a solid entry in the series, but for me, it's missing something that made Part 2 work so well, mainly the solid character development and suspense factor. Not that The Final Chapter isn't good, but Tom Savini's effects are the real star in this one and not necessarily the story. Although, it was probably thought out much more than the next film.
Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning
After The Final Chapter raked in the profits, the decision was made to continue the story, but without Jason. It was a blow from the very beginning of the process, which had many more blows to follow. For this reason alone, the film gets a bad rap as the redheaded step-child of the series. The idea seemed to have been for Tommy to be traumatized by going through yet another experience with Jason, or at least someone like Jason. Afterwards, Tommy would lose it and become the new killer. It's heavily implied at the end of the film when the famous music motif of "Kill, kill, kill... Ma, Ma, Ma" becomes "Kill, kill, kill... Ta, Ta, Ta". Although it turned a nice profit, it was met with immediate disapproval from fans and critics alike, but is Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning really that bad?
Well, yes and no. For me personally, it comes off like a black comedy, or almost a spoof of Friday the 13th (despite spoofs like the Sleepaway Camp series or Saturday the 14th popping up around this time). It wasn't intentional, but because it's so poorly-made, it feels that way to me. The entire plot revolves around an ambulance driver named Roy being driven to kill using Jason's appearance to hide his identity. The kills are mostly random people: two greasers with a broken-down car, Tommy's ambulance driver & girlfriend and Reggie's brother & girlfriend. The teenagers in question don't even get it until towards the end of the film. I guess if you're going to go insane and start killing people you probably would have a target, and not just murder everybody in sight the way Jason did. It would have made a little more sense if they had just made Tommy the killer from the very beginning instead of Roy, but oh well. That's the direction that they chose to take.
The kills themselves are pretty lame as well, for the most part. The most impressive one is actually Roy's death, when he lands on a bed of spikes (why there's a bed of spikes near that barn, I'll never know). The rest are pretty unimaginative and poorly executed. The characters themselves don't really have any depth to them either. There's an attempt to have the stuttering kid have a crush on one of the girls and be rejected by her, but it just feels useless more than anything, and doesn't come in until the third act anyway. The film is visually uninteresting as well. It all just stinks of sloppiness, which seems to be the case. They just seemed to have rushed through it quickly just to get another Friday the 13th film into theaters the following year.
The things that make the film funny are the unintentional things, like Junior and his mother, who are terrible people, but unintentionally hilarious. Their entire existence in the film is wanting to see the teenagers at the nuthouse next door killed if they ever set foot on their property, meanwhile bickering amongst themselves. Other things like the two pot-smoking, sex-crazed teenagers (including a very healthy Debi Sue Voorhees, who apparently got the job for her name and not just her assets). The two just want to have sex all the time and act fairly normal, making you question just how crazy these teenagers really are. Doesn't seem like it to me. But the best laugh in the entire film comes when Pam, Tommy and Reggie are driving down the road to see Reggie's brother at a nearby trailer park. The ride there is completely uneventful and needlessly takes place over the course of about 30 seconds, but they underscored with threatening horror-type music, for no apparent reason. It makes me laugh every single time I see it.
There are also lots of missed opportunities with this sequel. We have the opening with Tommy's nightmare where we see him as a kid, watching Jason come out of his grave and kill him (with a reprisal by Corey Feldman, who shot the scene on his day off from The Goonies), but the question is never answered about what happened to Tommy's sister. They were both alive at the end of The Final Chapter, but yet again, the filmmakers retconned the story into saying that Tommy's entire family was killed by Jason. They also didn't bother to dig any deeper into Jason's or Tommy's backstories, which judging by the direction they took, didn't even cross their minds. I think that it's a safe bet to say that when they decided to make Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives that they chose to just totally ignore the events of the previous film. If you think about it, the entire plot about Tommy going crazy, taking up Jason's mantle and Jason's body being cremated were entirely abandoned, and neither film before or after it depends on it at all. In that way, it's very much like Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The entire story involving Michael Myers was dropped in that film for a completely different story about something else. That's the way that A New Beginning feels to me, despite still being enjoyable in a 'so bad that it's good' kind of way. Danny Steinman (who also directed Savage Streets, as well as having a history in pornography, and it shows) may have gone in with good intentions, but the overall product is ultimately left out of the Friday the 13th pantheon.
Released on March 22, 1985, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning certainly made a profit for the studio, but was an enormous let-down for fans of the series. When the dust settled, this disapproval was later felt by the studio as well, although I don't think it should be overlooked just because it doesn't fit into the series as snugly as it should. Hell, the first film doesn't. It can be very entertaining if you look at it from the right perspective. In all honesty, you probably won't get the humor on your first time through, but after it settles with you and you see it again, you can begin to see a lot of the unintentional ironies in it. For good or bad, the series continued on and went in a much more satisfactory direction afterwards.
Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives
After the disapproval over the final product of A New Beginning, Paramount decided to resurrect Jason with a sixth sequel. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives would have a slightly bigger budget, a better director, a better story and more interesting actors. With director Tom McLoughlin at the helm, the series took a more apparent humorous direction than an unintentional one like in the previous film. McLoughlin wanted the film to have more entertainment value, and included allusions to other movies for film fans. He ultimately got what he wanted and Jason Lives wound up being the most popular sequel, up to this point anyway.
Instead of sticking to the gratuitous Friday the 13th formula of the previous films, Tom McLoughlin decided to completely rework the formula, making it not only satisfying and entertaining to fans of the series, but to newcomers as well. It honors the series and even other horror films of the past with visual references abound, including the electrifying rebirth of Jason ALA Frankenstein's monster. This was also the film where Jason became the superhuman zombie we all know him as today.
It was also decided to bring in a fresh roster of camp counselors and a group of kids, as well. Adding kids to the dynamic really raised the stakes, and made what Jason was doing in an around the camp more threatening. At the same time, comedy was thrown into the mix and both aspects managed to work well together. In retrospect, the whole thing could have been a real disaster. Making enormous changes could have spelled real doom for the series if it hadn't been received well, although I don't think it would have stopped Paramount from making further sequels. They seemed secure enough to release whatever they wanted to at this point.
There are also some great performances from the actors as well, including Thom Matthews as Tommy (replacing Corey Feldman and John Shepherd from the previous films), David Kagen as the town Sheriff and Jennifer Cooke as his rebellious daughter Megan. It's also interesting that they dropped Crystal Lake as a name. In the film, the Sheriff explains to Tommy that they renamed the town to Forest Green because they wanted to forget about what Jason did there. Now I've always assumed that Crystal Lake was the name of the camp and not the entire town, but they really drive it home in this film that Crystal Lake and Forest Green were not just the names for the camp site, but the entire town as well. It's not that big of a deal, and it's something that the audience doesn't really think about, but it does leave a slight hole in the overall scheme of things. Not that continuity between films has never been a problem before or since, but this was always one aspect that bothered me specifically for some reason.
As I stated when talking about A New Beginning, they also decided to retcon all of the events of the previous film. In the beginning of Jason Lives, Tommy is fresh out of an institution, but instead of beginning his life anew, he decides instead to dig up Jason's resting place and cremate him. Unintentionally, he resurrects Jason and, for the rest of the film, is on a mission to stop him. So Tommy inadvertently causes the deaths of a number of people. Whew, that's got to make you feel bad about yourself, huh?
Anyways, the film also benefits from a slightly higher budget than the previous films. Everything looks and sounds so much better. You can tell that a strong effort was really put into the look and sound of the film. They also decided to go out and get Alice Cooper to do a song for the film, which became a modest hit when the film opened. The special effects and the kills were also much better, much more imaginative and more fun this time around. Look no further than Jason stabbing a guy at the wheel of a motor home in the side of the head and causing the thing to crash and burn. We had never seen a stunt this big in a Friday the 13th film before, which made the film seem even bigger and more sophisticated than it was. Attention to detail was vital for this crew of filmmakers, and it really shows.
Opening on August 1, 1986, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives was a big hit, and a welcome return for fans who had been let down by the less than mediocre film before it. Of all of the sequels, this is the one that has the most entertainment value to it, and coincidentally ties with the second film as being my favorite. It's a near perfect sequel that makes you wonder why they didn't just go in this direction in the first place. In retrospect, I guess they had to make a bad follow-up sequel in order to follow through and make a really good one, but it's a shame that it had to happen that way. I'm still grateful though, because this is a great film, and really the last great film of the series. It's too bad that they couldn't repeat this level of fun and quality.
Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood
Less than two years later, Paramount re-surfaced the series with the seventh sequel: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. Bringing in special effects guru John Carl Buechler on to direct, this time there wouldn't be as many positive aspects to the final product, at least in my opinion. As far as the film itself goes, it's more or less a repeat of The Final Chapter in some ways. There's a party about to happen next door to a family, but in this instance, the family is broken and dysfunctional. It's a mother and her daughter seeking refuge away from the world with a psychologist, who is seemingly attempting to help the daughter overcome a kind of psychosis after seeing her father die when she was young.
The film was originally meant to be Freddy VS. Jason, which is maybe why there are vague similarities with the film that eventually came later. However, Paramount Pictures didn't own the rights to A Nightmare on Elm Street or the character of Freddy, and when they couldn't reach an agreement on character and distribution rights with New Line Cinema, the project was scrapped and re-purposed. The story was changed to incorporate some of the elements from that script, but with a telekinetic girl instead, who could use the power of her mind to throw objects at Jason to defend herself. The idea may seem a bit far-fetched, even for this series, but I guess if you can buy a superhuman zombie killing people in some very extreme and nasty ways then I guess you'd also have to buy into this as well.
The New Blood is mostly credited with containing the definitive Jason: a zombie that's been trapped under water, looks very bulky and a bit skeletal at times (I can't imagine how he smells). It's also the first film in the series where Jason is portrayed by Kane Hodder, a stuntman turned actor (having been previously played by Ari Lehman, Steve Daskawisz, Warrington Gillette, Richard Brooker, Ted White and C.J. Graham, respectively). The difference between the previous portrayals is Hodder's intensity. Jason is now a violent killing machine, and not just merely a killer. His take on the character was a welcome change to fans and it's the reason that he was brought back for the next two sequels. People tend to give the film a lot of credit for both of these reasons, but I think they've got blinders on in that regard.
Being the successor to Jason Lives, the film feels mainly disappointing because it doesn't really bring much new to the table. Sure the telekinesis is certainly a new element, but everything surrounding it feels like the same old territory. While The New Blood has some very sparse character development, it's the lead character that really makes the film take a nosedive. She's constantly weeping and in a near catatonic state throughout the entire film. She's also socially awkward and hung up on the death of her father, but these things go hand in hand in nearly every scene in the film, and it gets old really fast. By the time she learns to harness her mental abilities and stop Jason, I'd already grown tired of her and would've gladly cheered on her demise. The rest of the characters don't have much to speak of, other than the double-crossing psychologist who claims to be trying to help Tina, but is really out to exploit her abilities. It's rather fitting that his character gets the most over-the-top and ridiculous kill in the film.
Speaking of which, the deaths in the film become more and more silly as the film goes on. Some aren't very creative, like Jason throwing someone out of a window (which we've seen before), but some are beyond extreme and really reach out for the entertainment value. The most talked-about death is when Jason takes the sleeping bag with the girl in it and slams her into a tree (only once in the home video version but several times in the theatrical release). The rest include a party favor to the eye, a standard axe to the face and a lackluster drowning in the lake. It feels a lot milder in comparison to the last film, but Hodder's menacing performance makes Jason much more threatening, and Hodder really throws himself into the role. The most impressive stunt in the film is when Hodder falls backwards through a staircase (nearly killing him, according to him).
This is also the entry in the series where the MPAA came down the hardest on the final cut, as well. Unfortunately, all of the cut footage has been lost forever and we'll never get to see an uncut version of The New Blood, which is a shame. It wouldn't improve the story or the lackluster elements themselves, but it would be interesting to see nonetheless. Overall, the film has some pretty decent moments and some genuine suspense in spots, but it pales in comparison to the entry before it. The anti-climactic end of the film doesn't help much either, which is so quickly brushed over that it feels like a rush to get to the end credits. Just a quick cut to an ambulance driving away and, boom, it's all over. No finality, no commentary, no nothing.
When Paramount released Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood on May 13, 1988, it proved once again that Jason still had some staying power. I think a lot of this success had to do with coming off of the success of Jason Lives, kind of like how A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master was a big success because of the popularity of the previous film, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors. It feels very much like that to me, because in both cases, the final product wasn't nearly as compelling or as interesting as the one before it. Don't get me wrong though. I don't think that the film is a total waste, but at this point, it's definitely starting to feel like these movies are beginning to tread water, which is ironic considering the direction of the next film.
Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
When Paramount hired Rob Hedden to write and direct the next film, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, they wanted him to incorporate some kind of finality to the series (despite the franchise being seemingly ended in two of the previous films). The original series definitely ended at Paramount Pictures, but mostly for the wrong reasons. My feeling about it is that they wanted to close out the series before they sold the rights to New Line Cinema, so that the series would be bookended somehow and New Line wouldn't be able to make a direct sequel (which is what ended up happening). Regarded by most fans as the worst of the series, Jason Takes Manhattan was disowned early on because of its misleading title. Despite the detractors and the hardcore fan community seemingly hating it outright, I'll admit that I kind of like Jason Takes Manhattan more than The New Blood.
Now before you start sending me vicious hate mail, let me explain myself a bit. At the time this film was released, the Friday the 13th series had become stale. It had been sort of rebirthed two films earlier, but there wasn't much left that you could do with it without getting ridiculous. To add to that, the public seemed to be getting tired of Jason and his status in pop culture made him more a figure of fun than anything else. If they were going to do another film, they needed to do something pretty risky, and there's no mistake about it: Jason Takes Manhattan IS a risky film, but unfortunately it's a risk that didn't pay off. For starters, it was nice that we weren't stuck on dry land at a summer camp or a similar location again. We've seen that so many times, not to mention the cavalcade of other slasher films doing the same thing over and over again. It was definitely time for a change of setting. It's basically the same plot of murdering a bunch of teenagers (or anyone else that gets in Jason's way), but it's more appealing visually.
There also seems to be an element of creativity to it. Anyone who has seen the deleted scenes from the film might realize that they were really trying to develop the characters a bit more, and give them some motivation outside of running from a maniac. Renny's character, for instance, has a fear of the water and is trying to overcome that fear. The captain of the boat also has a slight arc to him, despite his early demise. There are some clever things in the film as well, such as when they have one of the characters walking around with a camcorder and when he loses his glasses, he pulls focus on the camera to see properly (only to discover Jason in front of him). Overall, the film seems more creative and more engaging than most people give it credit for.
That being said, yes, the film definitely has a lot of flaws. A plethora of questions seem to pop up in most of our minds when we see the film. Since when is Crystal Lake connected to a waterway that leads out to sea? Why does Jason revert to a little boy at the end of the film? Why doesn't the ship start sinking despite taking on all that water? Since when did Jason learn to teleport? Why did the captain not bleed when his throat was slit? Why was Tamara even allowed on the boat in the first place if she hadn't completed her senior project? If Renny is only hallucinating because of her trauma as a child, then why does her dog see her hallucinations too? Why do the sewers of New York flush out toxic waste every night? All of these questions have been burning up fans for years, including myself, and contribute to the film's overall dislike.
The biggest flaw of Jason Takes Manhattan, however, is the fact that despite the title, Jason doesn't even set foot in Manhattan until the last thirty minutes or so of the film. Unwittingly or not, all that did was basically set up audiences for disappointment, which is where the film ultimately failed. It would have been great to see Jason all over New York City, causing mayhem left and right with pedestrians, thieves, hookers and policemen. Sadly, the budget didn't allow for that, but they based the title and advertising campaign around it anyway. In my opinion, it was a huge mistake on Paramount's part to do that. If it had been titled something like "Jason's Final Voyage", "The Final Friday", or anything else that didn't have Manhattan or New York in the title, I think it might have fared a bit better than it did (no pun intended).
They also made the mistake of trying to come up with a backstory for the lead character of Renny without really paying it off. She is nearly drowned by Jason as a young girl and develops a bit of a psychosis because of it. Over the course of the film she has these hallucinations of a young Jason calling for help and near the end of the film, she brings forth her repressed memory of nearly being drowned. At the very end, Jason becomes that little boy again, leaving us with many unanswered questions. It's also unclear about her parents and why she's having to be looked after like an orphan, but her main focus is to get over her fear of the water, which is tied into Jason's story, somehow. If you're confused, don't be ashamed. Also, what is it with this series and making the lead characters basket cases or people with deep psychological problems? They really ran that one into the ground, didn't they?
Both the acting and the kills in the film are pretty good, at least more imaginative than the previous film. We also finally get another harbinger of doom again like Crazy Ralph from the first two films. The film tries to play with the idea that he might also be in on the killing, but it's a dead end, of course, when he's found with an ax in his back. The best kill in the film, however (and one of my favorites from the entire series), is the boxer's death. He spends at least a minute and a half of screen time punching Jason repeatedly until he tires out. When he does, Jason grabs him and punches his head clean off. We switch to his point of view as his head tumbles off of the roof and into a dumpster. It's built up wonderfully to that moment and you have to laugh out loud when it happens. It's also nice that for once everybody knows there's a killer on board early on, instead of each of them finding out one by one. It gives the film a bit more urgency and better suspense value, at least to me.
Released on July 28, 1989, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan saw a disappointing decline at the box office, and became the least money-making film of the series. Some of it had to do with the disappointment of the film not living up to its title, but I think it had more to do with the public just being sick of Jason. There had been a film in the series released almost once a year since the debut of the first one in 1980, and the grueling pace had finally caught up with the series. As with the previous film, it also came under heavy scrutiny from the MPAA and, as a consequence, isn't as bloody or as brutal with the onscreen violence as you would expect. Despite all of its problems, the film is much more entertaining for me, and is FAR better than what came next.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
Four years would go by without another Friday the 13th sequel. The series seemed to have run its course, but despite that, New Line Cinema purchased the sequel rights to the character and story. While Freddy VS. Jason was still stuck in development hell, the decision was made to make a definitive final film in the franchise that would ultimately lead to the match-up between the two icons. What we got from director Adam Marcus and Sean S. Cunningham, who produced the film, was Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. However, this time around there would be very few positive aspects to the proceedings.
The story involves Jason being killed by the F.B.I. at the beginning of the film. The only problem is that his spirit takes over other people's bodies until he can be reborn through one of his blood relatives: his sister, her daughter or her daughter's daughter. Hot on Jason's trail is Creighton Duke, a bounty hunter who is out to destroy Jason once and for all, but only with the help Jason's sister's daughter and her ex-husband John. According to Duke, Jason can only die by the hand of a Voorhees... with the use of the Necronomicon and Candarian dagger from The Evil Dead found in the Voorhees house. Right.
Not only is Jason Goes to Hell my least favorite film in the series, it's also probably the worst overall. You would have thought that after the backlash of A New Beginning, wherein someone was pretending to be Jason, that they would have foregone the idea of Jason inhabiting the bodies of other people in order to survive, but no. They went with it anyway, and we had to suffer as a consequence. To be fair, Jason IS onscreen in the film, but only for about fifteen minutes, if that. The rest of the time we have to watch actor after actor pretending to be him. Also in this film, instead of Jason being a supernatural serial killer just out for revenge against those who've wronged him, we learn that he's also an evil spirit. It reminds me a lot of the direction that the Halloween series took. After they had done all they could do with the reality of each series, they had to get some unreality in there. In fact, there are quite a few similarities between the franchises at this point that it becomes both ironic and ridiculous.
It's also abundantly clear that after Jason Lives filmmakers were more comfortable in making more and more changes to the series to prevent it from becoming stale. This isn't a bad thing, per se, because it was indeed stale, but perhaps just leaving the series alone and not making anymore sequels would probably have been the best idea. New Line Cinema taking over the franchise didn't really help that much either. I think they hoped to breathe new life into it somehow, but instead they were just flogging a dead horse.
I know I'm bitching quite a bit and you're probably asking yourself 'is there anything positive to this film?' Well, the actors do an ok job with their roles, I suppose (not that there's much there to work with in the first place). The dialogue is gut-wrenchingly bad most of the time, so there's no room for creativity there. Some of the gore effects are pretty good, in particular the melting man scene (despite the scene not making much sense). The only really good scene in the film is the jail scene between the characters of Duke and John when Duke breaks John's fingers in order for him to "pay" for information about Jason. It’s the moment when the film stops being schlock for a few minutes and actually pulls off something character-driven and interesting. It seems to have a nice build to it, and it's about the only really positive thing I can say about it. Everything surrounding it is garbage.
I've already talked about the awful plotline, and there are many scenes that accessorize that awfulness. The scene that really stuck out as not making any sense was when Jason (disguised as the coroner from earlier in the film) has a naked man strapped to a table and proceeds to shave him before the "evil spirit" leaves him and enters his body. While he's shaving him, the guy says "What the hell are you doing?", which is what I was wondering myself. Why exactly does Jason do this? What will it achieve? He's already in disguise as another person so why would making him look different be any help to him at all? And why does the guy melt into a pile of goop after Jason leaves his body for another? The guy wasn't dead or anything. He was just possessed, more or less. There's also the scene when Jason attacks everybody in the diner and suddenly this little waitress becomes superchick, shooting shotguns with efficiency and moving with stealth (all in slow motion, I might add). Or how about the moment when John goes to the Voorhees' family house, only to discover it's a mansion of some kind with a large playground out back? The mailbox doesn't even have the proper spelling of the name on it. It says "Vorhees", despite the name being spelled correctly elsewhere in the film.
Other mistakes include the score for the film, which is absolutely terrible. I've never really objected to Harry Manfredini's score before, or cared that people accused him of blatantly ripping off the score from Psycho, but it stands out in this film as just needlessly appalling. It's basically a synthesizer-driven score that's trying to be epic in scale, but it just sounds like a MIDI file most of the time. It's not even laughable, it's just annoying. I'm sure the point was to signify with the music that this was a big film, but it fails miserably. It ends up just sounding over-the-top and sticks out like a sore thumb.
However, the biggest mistake that the filmmakers made was that in going with the storyline that Jason inhabits other people's bodies that Kane Hodder wasn't one of those bodies. Sure, he has a small cameo as a SWAT team guy who Jason murders off-camera, but it was a missed opportunity for people to see Hodder onscreen for once in this scenario. To be honest, I don't believe that the filmmakers thought that much about the actual content of the film while making it. They just showed up and did their jobs. There doesn't seem to be any passion or logic behind anything that's happening. You might be sitting there wondering why I'm disregarding this film as opposed to Jason Takes Manhattan, where I slightly defended it. Well, that's the reason. The director was trying to do something different with that film and had a passion for it, as opposed to Jason Goes to Hell, wherein there doesn't seem to be a need to make anything more than just a generic slasher trying to be an epic conclusion, which it fails at tremendously.
Released on August 13, 1993, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday was met with lukewarm response, but managed to rake in a bit more cash than the previous sequel. I'm not exactly sure how it has shaped up over time with fans, but I for one find it the least-interesting and most poorly-made of the series. The film manages to depart from the franchise's formula significantly, but in the wrong direction. As I stated previously, there just seemed to be no passion behind it and it felt, more or less, like people just showed up and got it over with, as opposed to something like Jason Lives. It ended up being a black eye to the series anyway because we later learned (unsurprisingly) that this was indeed NOT the final Friday.
Nearly 11 years later, New Line Cinema decided to go ahead with yet another Friday the 13th sequel. Part of the decision behind it might have been just to keep Jason relative in people's minds, but also to give die-hard fans of the series something new. The real reason behind it was to make a placeholder for the impending Freddy vs. Jason, which was less than a year away from being made upon the release of Jason X.
I'm sure you're expecting me to sit here and rip this film to pieces, but I honestly can't do that. Why? Because Jason X is a hell of a good time. Most people would contend that the idea of sending Jason into the future and space could very well be the worst idea in the history of the series. Well, that's not totally inaccurate. I had the same reaction when I first heard about it. There was actually a cliché of taking slasher and horror movies into space at the time (perhaps most infamously with the Hellraiser series), and I thought 'wow, they're really going that route?" But as I stated previously, this series, at least at this juncture, needed to make risky moves like this in order to avoid repetition. One could also argue that this series was built solely on repetition, but when you stack these movies up together and watch them back-to-back, you start to develop tunnel vision. It's not until you get something out of left field, like Jason X, that you perk back up and realize that these movies can be fun, even if they're done much differently.
The story is basically about Jason and a young woman, who are accidentally cryogenically frozen, only to be unearthed by a group of scientists in training almost five centuries later. Waking up on a space ship, Jason goes back to his old tricks and murders everyone in sight. Later in the film, Jason is temporarily stopped by the crew aboard the ship, but reborn as a cyborg, and the film earns its title. An insane premise, wouldn't you say? It actually sounds like something from a novel based on the series, or even fan fiction. This actually had the potential to be the worst film in the series, but because of the direction of Jim Isaac and the other talented people behind the camera, it wasn't. It's actually very well-made, and much more engaging and interesting than the previous three sequels (especially Jason Goes to Hell).
There isn't much in the way of standard Friday the 13th story fodder either. There's no one with deep psychological problems trying to defeat Jason, no gratuitous sex or nudity scenes and there's no sense of suspense or build-up to it anymore. Why is that a good thing? In this context, and as stated previously, these films are so played out that a sequel that would try to be genuinely suspenseful would just fall flat on its face. This film is having fun with the series, and it shows. Hell, they even have a scene that pays homage to The New Blood when Jason walks into a holodeck-type area and is made to believe that there are a couple of teenagers looking to party and have sex. He immediately bashes them while they're in their sleeping bags. They also have a similar scene earlier in the film where Jason walks into that same area and thinks he's killed one of the main characters, just to find that it was all a computer simulation. He immediately afterwards kills the character for real.
There's also a bit of set up and pay off, or even building up the reality of the film. Early on, when they discover Jason's frozen corpse, he's accidentally knocked over and cuts off one of the character's arms. Causing little to no fuss, they use a futuristic method of cauterizing the wound, bring the severed arm with them, and re-attach it on the ship. It seems frivolous but it actually sets up that these people have the technology to combat things like severed limbs or damaged tissue. It also sets up the nanobots table, which are little mechanical spiders that are used to bring the frozen lead actress back to life, repairing damaged tissue in the process. It's also, of course, used to the nth degree with Jason later in the film. This is also another entry where everybody knows about Jason early on, which I like.
In all actuality, there's no way to really do a sequel to this series (or a remake, for that matter) without it being laughed at in some way. It's when the filmmakers have a passion for it and try to do something creative and fun with it that it's most effective, which is the case with Jason X. I'm sure I'm going to be accused of having double standards with my opinions regarding this series, but whatever the reasons, this concept and the way that it's executed just works for me. It's by no means perfect, or even a great slasher movie. It's a tired slasher movie that tries to have fun, and be a little meta at the same time.
Debuting on April 26, 2002, Jason X had a mixed reception from critics and fans alike. It made its money back at the box office, but wasn't greeted with open arms very much. I think most people just couldn't get their heads around the concept: Jason goes into space, kills everyone and lands on a new planet at the end, where the cycle will start all over again. In other words, the series had come a very long way from a vengeful mother and her vengeful son reeking havoc on promiscuous teenagers. For me, the original films end on a high note, and I'm glad that we got one final good film in the series, as opposed to something really crappy.
New Line wasn’t completely done with Jason though. He returned the following year, 2003, for Freddy vs. Jason. Being that the film is generally contains more of a Nightmare on Elm Street plotline with merely elements of Jason and his story, I personally don't consider it canon with the Friday the 13th series. Also, I think I've covered it well enough elsewhere, so there's no need to re-review it. I generally enjoyed that film, and would have preferred it if they had left those characters alone afterwards. But, in the age of remaking anything and everything that has marquee value, Friday the 13th was by no means holy ground.
Friday the 13th (Remake)
After several years of silence on the Jason front, New Line Cinema decided to resurrect the franchise and remake Friday the 13th. They hired Platinum Dunes for the job, which is a company that was also behind the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Bringing on some of the creative people from Freddy VS. Jason, as well director Marcus Nispel, it could have gone either way. Hollywood today is more keen on remaking something that the public will recognize rather than spend money on something that's not a sure-fire money maker, and remaking Friday the 13th was one of the major cash cows left to plunder in the horror realm. In a way, they succeeded, but not without the usual drawbacks. I think the main thing that these remakes do is bring the original films to the attention of new audiences, which is definitely a good thing, but that's an organic process unto itself. You usually discover these movies at a young age through friends and family members most of the time and not by other means.
Friday redux (which is how I'd like to think of it) is not that bad at being what it is, I suppose, but it's not that good at bringing anything that new into the formula. It's just familiar retread. The filmmakers spend most of the time making Jason more reality-based than supernatural. For instance, Jason being in one place and then another so quickly was explained by him having underground tunnels all over the camp grounds. They also take the time in the opening moments to show him as a child seeing his mother being beheaded and finding a locket on her dead body with her picture inside it. In these remakes, there just seems to be this need to overexplain the characters and situations, and make them more relatable somehow. It's become a bit of a cliché, as have the remakes, but was it really necessary with Jason? Probably not all that much. The locket thing is fine (in and of itself), but they still ignore the lack of logic that Jason drowned and suddenly came back to life. The underground tunnel thing just felt unnecessary, but it also served another purpose.
In this film, Jason is purely a momma's boy. It goes to pathetic levels to show it, too. Jason even has a bed with his name carved into the headboard with the obligatory teddy bear on top of the blanket. There's even a moment when they show Jason having a flashback to the beheading of his mother while sharpening his machete (why would he do that?). It's that sympathy thing, not unlike Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween, that makes it feel pathetic. Broad strokes are necessary when it comes to telling a backstory in these films. We don't need to sympathize with the killer. The moment that they take it too far is when Jason takes the lead girl prisoner because she's wearing his mother’s locket and she looks her. Listen, Jason doesn't take prisoners. He's not Leatherface. He murders without remorse and without the need to take prisoners. Hell, even in Part 2 when Ginny plays the trick on him that she's his mother and Jason realizes that she's not he still tries to kill her. You can fool Jason sometimes, but when it comes down to it, he'll flat out murder you. He's also a bit smarter and a more exacting killer. He's a lot of faster, of course, but he also has things like bear traps set up to catch people off guard. The latter changes aren’t terrible, I guess. Just something different.
As far as the characters themselves, they're slightly one-dimensional, and clichéd as all can be. It had to be intentional though, because there's no way that they made this film without realizing it at some point. Starting off you have the handsome hero, the dick boyfriend, the sweet girlfriend who hates the dick boyfriend but likes the handsome hero, the funny stoner Asian guy, the black guy who points out racism in every direction and tries to be tough, the blonde looking to have a good time and eventually goes bananas (but thankfully dies early before she gets annoying), the adventurous couple who get it early, and finally, the lead victim who overcomes the killer. It's formulaic and generally boring on that level. The only thing that's missing is a mouthy black woman or a creepy little girl. The flipside to this is that these people show more of their emotions than nearly anyone in the original series. It's just a sign of the times, I guess, but it's also how these movies are set up. There's a party, there's conflict between characters, characters die, the other characters find out about it and then its time to escape (or fight back, in some cases). In other words, what all of the other modern horror films are doing. The only character who has any real feeling or depth is the Asian guy, who actually gives the best performance in the film. I also like the local old woman, who's the harbinger of doom in this film, and seems to know everything about Jason and his mother. Unsurprisingly, the dialogue is pretty awful at times, including the last line right before Jason dies: "Say hello to mommy... in hell!"
On the other hand, the kills in Friday redux are actually pretty good, and some are even a bit on the visual side, such as the policeman's death. In the Killer Cut of the film, there's quite a bit of blood and gore, but much tamer in the theatrical version. The Asian guy's death, in particular, is quite brutal and bloody. Jason, being faster and more ferocious, really deals out some disgusting kills. He doesn't just stalk his prey slowly. He gets right in its face and kills it horribly, which to me leaves me scratching my head whenever they try to get me to relate to this guy. There's also quite a bit of nudity and sex in the film. Actually, much more than I would have expected. It's shocking what you can get away with in an R rated film nowadays compared to something like A New Beginning, which had a big chunk of a sex scene lifted out of it to satisfy the MPAA. Hell, even one of the kills with a girl being stabbed in the top of the head while she's under a pier unnecessarily shows her boobs, and that didn't get axed. I wasn't surprised by the nudity itself though. It's pretty much a given that someone could lose their top at any given moment in one of these films. That formula never changes.
The film is also shot competently. It looks good, but it also looks like most of the horror films coming out these days, including the Nispel-directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and The Cabin in the Woods. They all have a stylized look to them: dark, lots of shadows and washed out colors, except for the blood. Even the shaky cam is surprisingly used appropriately. There's some general atmosphere to everything, and a lot of work seems to have went into the set decorating to make things creepy at times, but it doesn't totally succeed in that regard (but not for lack of trying). The score is made up of synth and rock. It's mediocre, but it's also used sparingly, so that's ok I guess. There are also lots of similarities between the film and the original series, mainly the first three films. The barn from Part 3 makes a return and the ending borrows quite a bit from Part 2 with the girl who looks like Jason's mother pretending to be his mother briefly to distract him. Jason also starts out wearing the potato sack and later finds the hockey mask, which they made into a slightly epic moment. They also pay homage to Jaws in one scene where they filmed a nude girl underwater, which logically makes no sense because it turns out that Jason isn't in the water, but whatever. They also changed the ending for there to be a jump scare and the possibility of a sequel, which is totally demeaning to a horror film, as well as a cliché these days (see The Strangers for the best example). So there's a various amount of elements at play in this film that doesn't really hold up together as a single entity.
Released on February 13, 2009, Friday the 13th redux brought in quite a bit of business to the box office, mainly because of the value of the name, and Jason, of course. It was met with some positive feedback, but the overall feeling was that it wasn't necessary in the first place, which is how I felt about it. It's watchable, and not all that insulting, but not all that memorable either. That's about all I can say about it really. And as of this writing, the franchise ends here. There are talks of making a sequel to the remake, but so far, nothing has come to fruition. I'd like to see it stay that way, but I have no say in that regard, do I?
"Ma'am, we didn't find no boy..."
I would be neglectful in not mentioning the documentary made by the good folks who did the Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th was released by Paramount Pictures to coincide with the release of the remake by New Line Cinema. Overall, I didn't care for the documentary all that much because it didn't seem to cover much ground with the filmmakers and crew members and brushed over a lot of the more interesting details. It just seemed to be more geared towards fan gushing, and was more of a studio-controlled project, which is why it turned out the way it did, unfortunately.
Thankfully, that will change in June of 2013. The makers of that documentary have returned to the series to create "The Definite Documentary" on the series called Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. The word on the grapevine is that it will dwarf the Never Sleep Again documentary's running time (which was four hours). I look forward to it, and I also hope they dig into the Friday the 13th TV show a bit, which I'm sure they will. They're a pretty thorough crew of filmmakers and really good at what they do.
For those who want to learn more about it, visit the documentary's Facebook page here.
"Then he's still there..."
In closing, I'd just like to take a moment to tip my cap to the cast and crew of all of the Friday the 13th films, both living and deceased. To those who've worked on this series of films over the years, I hope there's no hard feelings over some of the things I've said. These are purely the opinions of a fan who appreciates the films, even the bad ones, and tries to find something positive about each and everyone one of them (even the ones I don't like). I love these films and it's been a great opportunity to talk about them. I'd also like to thank the continued support of the crew behind the Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories documentaries.
And as always, I'd like to thank my fellow cohorts at The Digital Bits for their constant support and never-ending inspiration, as well as the people taking the time to read this thing. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Until next time...
Happy Halloween to you all!
- Tim Salmons