Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday the 13th (2009)

Yes. I went to see it. A 4:45 showing on a Saturday afternoon at the local multiplex was a good idea. I try to avoid the Friday and Saturday night festivals of hormonal outbreak brought on by the onslaught of manic teenagers.

Yes, another remake. Yes, I plunked down my $9.50 to see it.

I think it's only fair that I give some general idea where I stand on all of this, so that anyone who might take the time to read this has a chance to decide how much weight my review of this film really should have for them. I know many people (horror geeks especially) have been less than thrilled by the current spate of remakes hitting theaters. I understand their misgivings, and to some degree agree with them. Why take subject matter which has already been committed to film and which has already found a loyal and rabid following and do it all over again? What's wrong with the originals? The first answer, of course, is money. The studios are raking in the cash, with very little in the way of development time or money, and there's a certain percentage of guaranteed audience. But, just because there are remakes, doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the originals or that the film makers involved don't have some real passion for the characters and the stories. Hopefully, with the remakes coming out, it will inspire some of the young, new blood in the horror crowd to go check out some of the originals.

I try to take each one of these films on their own, as their own separate films, completely independent from the originals. I know to some degree, it's impossible, especially with a film like Friday The 13th and Jason Vorhees, one of the staples of my childhood. There's also the occasional bout of temper tantrum when it comes to the fact that all of the horror staples from my childhood are being remade. Texas Chainsaw Massacre has already been remade, and honestly, I can't say either of those films were really all that bad. They kept most of the elements of the character and story which I liked most and added some new twists. R. Lee Ermey is a great actor, and his Sheriff Hoyt character was reason enough to see both of the new films. Rob Zombie's Halloween suffered from a case of cinematic schizophrenia. The new elements of the film were the most compelling to me, where as the rehashing of the original plot pieces felt really forced and missed the best element of the original, suspense. A remake of Nightmare On Elm Street is in the offing now as well. Out of all of those seminal horror films, and iconic characters, I have the most doubt about a Nightmare remake being at all successful because I just don't know how anyone can top or add to the number of different things Robert Englund has done with the character. Especially in the original, his portrayal of the character as some sadistic jester was unnerving and disturbing at best, disgusting at worst. I just don't see how they're going to do it.

But, we're talking about Friday the 13th here. Jason Vorhees has never been a mountain of personality. Out of that whole crop of horror icons, he's probably had the least amount of personality, a killing machine on two legs. Scratch that. By the end of the original series of films he was an undead, retarded, mongoloid killing machine on two legs, which just adds an interesting twist to the whole situation (and if you're considering Jason X as part of the original continuum, an undead, retarded, mongoloid, cyborg killing machine on two legs). It's crazy and dumb, I know. It's not There Will Be Blood or No Country For Old Men, because it's not meant to be. It's meant to be a big, dumb, fun, scary movie. Boobs, blood, imaginative special effects and laughable stereotypes. It's the kind of film meant to give woman an excuse to jump in their boyfriends laps or make them put their arm around them. That's all those original films were supposed to be.

This new Friday the 13th is a good film in the slasher genre. It's fun stuff. There's plenty of boobs, relatively imaginative effects and enough blood for your average gorehound. The story starts off with a young woman running through the woods, apparently upset. Then, we find out she's upset because a crazy woman is trying to kill her. Crazy woman is very upset about the death of her son. Worse, when said crazy woman makes the attempt to do away with scared young woman, well, scared young woman succeeds in cutting her head off. Yes, a beheading in the first few minutes is high on the points scale for most of us horror fans.

And we're off and running. For fans of the original, this little slice of information makes sense in the context of the story, and how the remake manages to explain how Jason is the maniac murderer of the first film in the new continuum, where as he didn't show up until the second film in the original series. All around, I can't really complain too much. It's a fun slasher film. I know some people are going to laugh about this, but I do think I cared more about the characters in the first few films of the original series. I at least cared more about the lead characters. The female leads in the first and second films were pretty strong characters, and I was more invested in the idea that they survive. I don't know that in watching this new remake I gave a damn. I would have been just as happy to see them catch the bad end of a sharp weapon if it was imaginative enough. I know, I know, you don't watch one of these flicks without looking for a few buckets of blood, and nobody ever cares about the characters. But, I'd say that is one of the major differences between the slasher films which have developed a really large following and become part of the cultural lexicon, and those which faded into cult obscurity. How many people you know have ever actually seen Mother's Day or Sorrority House Massacre? My point exactly. The really good ones do at least have lead characters you'd like to see survive. In at the first two of the original Friday films, this was true, and I think in the 4th film as well (with Corey Feldman making his big screen debut as Tommy Jarvis, the one who finally puts Jason down for the proverbial count, until the 6th film when a bolt of lightning brings old puck head back to life, and no I'm not kidding, a bolt of lightning, and you don't want to know the rest).

My only other complaint about this new film is something which might show my age more than anything else. It's too slick. It looks too pretty. I mean, I think Daniel Pearl is a great cinematographer, I've liked his other work. His work on the original Chainsaw was one of the things which made it so effective. I thought it was great for the Chainsaw remake, but Friday should be different than that. Friday was a whole lot of full daylight, in the day, and even the night shots were well lit and pretty simple. I don't feel like this new, more stylistic brand of cinematography suits the material well. For some strange reason, it felt more authentic when it was as simple and straightforward as those original films were. Maybe because Jason's such a simple character, I'm not sure though. Maybe I just long for the days of 16 mm. which gave so many of those old low budget slasher flicks a more distinctive look. Some of them certainly benefited from the documentary feel which 16 mm. automatically creates.

I know, this is for a new crowd of kids, spoon fed on a whole different, much more sophisticated style of media. I get that. I just wonder sometimes if something which is supposed to be as horrific as mass murder really needs to be stylized to that degree. Wouldn't it be that much more horrific and that much more unsettling if it was presented in a much more matter of fact way, without the kinds of lighting and shooting effects which scream "YOUR WATCHING A FICTIONAL MOVIE WHICH SOMEONE SPENT HOURS SETTING UP LIGHTING AND CAMERA ANGLES FOR"? Maybe it's just me. Maybe I need to just accept the fact that these are new movies for a new generation and let everyone have their fun, just as the adults in my life did for me when I was a kid. Yeah, that's probably it. I hope they get as much excitement and as much pure passion for something in their lives as I had for those films as a kid, so I won't complain about these new films too much anymore.

Someone, please decapitate me if you ever hear me yelling at a bunch of teenagers, "Get out of my horror movie!"

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