(you can skip down 4 paragraphs if you’re sick of me reiterating my stance on horror remakes)
Let me get my biases out of the way for any newcomers. I got a grudge against Michael Bay’s horror-recycling outfit Platinum Dunes and director Marcus Nispel for what they did to TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. I don’t think they understand what made these movies good in the first place. The producers (pictured left) talk a good game about being horror fans, but it doesn’t show. These movies seem like they’re made by cynical used car salesman douchebags who think horror is an easy genre to do and don’t give a shit if their movies are even watchable as long as they have enough sweaty people to show in the trailer and a title that sounds vaguely familiar enough to teenagers that they’ll pay money to see it on the opening weekend. It’s basically a scam, a mathematical equation to make short-term money with a movie most people will never want to see again. If they could do that with just a poster and not even have to make a movie they would do that too. Or if it was that profitable to sell bootleg t-shirts or engraved watches or something. They don’t give a shit.
On the other hand, they have pretty cinematography.
I’m the type of dude that pays to see all kinds of horror movies that I know I shouldn’t. But I got fed up enough with the Platinum Dunes remake spree that even though I wanted to see this one pretty bad I restrained myself and waited for video. I had to stop being one of the marks who keep them in business. They already got NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET on the hit list, ready to re-imagine it with extreme prejudice. I can’t stop the fuckers but at least I can divest my money from their dirty business and keep my soul clean.
I want you to know all that up front, but in all honesty I think I’m more open to a movie like this than alot of people. I like several of the horror remakes that everybody hates (most recently I thought LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT remake was pretty good) and I actually think a Jason so-called reboot is not a bad idea. I never had a problem with calling it “FRIDAY THE 13TH” but skipping over part 1 and just doing a new Jason movie, and I got real tired of people whining about that. Nobody wants to see a remake of part 1 and pretend they don’t know who the killer is. No, if they’re gonna start over I prefer they do it this way, start with the bag on his head and move on to the hockey mask.
And you know what man? As far as slasher movies go, and horror remakes, I gotta say this movie is actually not good. (ha ha, I tried to make it sound like I was gonna like it, that is called playing with your expectations, something that they often do in other horror movies.) In my opinion the Platinum Dunes people still don’t know what they’re doing. But in some ways this is better than I expected, so in the spirit of American optimism I’ll start out by saying some things I did like.
I think this is a pretty decent set of characters for this style of horror. There are different types, on par with characters from various FRIDAY THE 13TH installments. You got a fairly sympathetic (if bland and male) protagonist on a motorcycle (rugged individualism) looking for his missing sister, and he’s played against a rich boy douchebag and his freeloader friends. So there’s something for the people who like to root for the good guys and the people who want to enjoy Jason killing some assholes. Of course the girls are all hot and the guys are handsome dudes with medium long, moderately shaggy hair and tight retro t-shirts showing off their pecs. Because that’s how modern horror rolls. I’m okay with that for this series though.
The lead douchebag works well, he’s not so obnoxious you hate to watch him but he is such a prick you look forward to his death. He pulls some serious asshole moves like when he mistakenly shoots somebody and then tells everybody that Jason killed her. And funny lines, like in the sex scene where he says, “Your tits are so fuckin juicy, dude.” I wouldn’t know, but it seems believable to me that a guy like this would call a girl he’s screwing “dude.”
That brings me to the sex. To be fair I think baseball hat wearers #1 and #2 up there are actually correct in assuming that alot of the fans just want to see tits bouncing around, etc., because FRIDAY THE 13TH is the series where the “teenagers having sex and getting killed” cliche comes from. The sex here (at least in the “KILLER CUT” on DVD) is more graphic than in the old ones, which is an impressive feat in this era of PG-13 horror and actresses afraid of ending up on Mr. Skin.
It’s also true that Jason fans always talk about “good kills,” and that they managed to get a couple of those in here. I really liked the idea of the scene where Jason shoots a guy with an arrow, causing said guy to run over his girlfriend in a speed boat. That was probaly my favorite scene, but something didn’t quite click for me. Maybe it’s that the arrow just hits the guy out of the blue, you don’t get the benefit of the “oh shit” moment where Jason is standing there about to shoot (here’s one example from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3-D).
On the other hand, my other favorite “kill” really worked because it was so sudden. She’s under a dock and then… well, I’ll leave it unspoiled in case you ever watch this.
But the thing is, the “kills” are what you have to build up to. They’re not the end-all and be-all of slasher movies. Christmas is more than just tearing open the presents real quick. I don’t think the Platinum Dunes dudes misunderstand these movies as profoundly as they did THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, but I don’t think they really get this particular slasher subgenre either. Yeah, it’s about him picking the kids off one by one, but they have to have a chance. A good slasher movie is not just a bunch of heads getting chopped off, it’s playing with your expectations about if and when the chopping will occur. It’s about trying to get away and almost making it by the skin of your teeth. But this one is low on chases and cat-and-mouse business. Most of the time Jason just appears out of nowhere to quickly slash somebody and then he’s gone before poor Daniel Pearl can get a clear shot of the bastard.
Then eventually they gotta figure out how to stop him, and if you had the audacity to start the series over I trust you came up with a good one, right? Nope. They just do a half-assed retread of the psychological trick she pulls in Part 2, but without any of the careful setup or the pulpy visuals where he imagines her as his dead mother. Apparently there’s something about a locket I’m supposed to remember from the beginning.
The character of Jason is kind of changed. He’s so limber (“athletic” the producers like to say) that he doesn’t seem like a lumbering mongoloid on the loose anymore. That makes it feel less like a Jason movie, but there’s one or two nice moments because of it. I like when they pan out the window of the cabin and it looks like he’s not there but then you see it’s because he’s standing on the roof waiting to pounce.
There’s a making-of thing on the DVD that’s responsible for some of my harshness toward these producers. When they explain the thinking behind the movie you get the idea that thinking is not really their thing. One of them says that if you make a movie like this you have to decide if Jason is supernatural or not, and if he’s not then you gotta explain why he can catch up with people when he’s chasing them through the woods, and the reason they came up with is he has underground tunnels.
Now, if they got a hard-on for tunnels for some reason that’s fine I guess. I don’t know how the fuck Jason built those things, or why this is supposed to improve the movie, but fine. I don’t got a huge problem with the tunnels, but I don’t think his logic cuts the mustard because:
1. This Jason doesn’t really chase people through the woods all that much. If this is your big idea to explain his chasing people and then appearing in front of them, don’t you have to have a scene where he chases people and then appears in front of them? If there was a scene like that I already forgot it I guess.
2. How exactly is a tunnel gonna make him move faster, anyway? I don’t buy it. If anything it’s gonna slow him down because he has to climb in and out. I didn’t see a conveyor belt in there, or a skateboard or a Segway. Maybe if they were big pneumatic tubes it would work, although there would be kind of a popping sound that would make him less scary in my opinion.
3. Most importantly, how the fuck are you gonna tell me you didn’t consider Jason supernatural? In the opening he’s a kid who drowned. Then he is an alive person who grows up and continues to be alive. You’re telling me he’s not supernatural, you just made a continuity error? (Somebody suggested maybe he escaped drowning through a tunnel.)
I’m not always against remakes but sometimes they seem condescending. They seem to believe the originals have aged poorly and can be improved on by explaining more, but then their explanation ends up being as stupid or more stupid than what was there in the first place. It’s like when somebody corrects my spelling and then spells a word wrong in the process, or when I say “Jim Jar-mush” and they say “you mean Jim Jar-MOOSH?” and then later I look it up on the internet and find out I was right in the first place you smarmy prick. See, Jason’s trademark of catching up to people without running doesn’t make sense – because it’s not supposed to make sense. That’s the whole concept, it’s scary because there is no explanation. This movie gives an explanation that’s supposed to make sense, but doesn’t. That, I believe, is what the kids call “fail.”
And it’s kind of the same thing with the hockey mask. I got a good laugh from the Platinum Dunes TEXAS CHAINSAW prequel because they thought it was important to show where Leatherface got his chainsaw, but then where he got it was it was sitting there on a fucking table. What a great story, it adds so many more layers of meaning to know it happened to be sitting there and then he picked it up.
Well, they do the same thing with the hockey mask! Jason kills a guy, and then there’s a hockey mask on the floor, no explanation, no previous establishing shot. So he picks it up. I mean, I don’t want there to be a meaning to the hockey mask (he took it from Shelly in part 3 was good enough for me) but what is with this “it happened to be sitting there” motif? If you’ve decided to go back seven movies and retell the story of him putting the mask on for the first time doesn’t that indicate that you have some cool idea for how to do that? If your idea is it was sitting on the floor I think that’s when it’s time for you to say you know what, I am not an idea guy. I’m gonna leave this movie to somebody else, anybody else.
Attention Platinum Dunes: pay attention to the opening credits of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET where he builds the glove. I don’t want to see Freddy finding that thing sitting somewhere.
It’s also worth mentioning that the cool scuffed up mask from the teaser posters is how he finds it. He didn’t do any of that damage. You know how they sell pre-damaged t-shirts, jeans and hats, like you can’t be bothered to wear them out yourself? This is like that. This Jason’s a god damn poser!
I’m glad they didn’t try to “re-invent” him as much as they probaly sorely wanted to. I guess they gave him a blond mullet but luckily since they also don’t believe in getting a clear shot of anything except tits you can’t tell. There has been debate about whether or not Jason is supposed to be a pot farmer, killing people to protect his crops. You can definitely read it that way – he lives near marijuana crops, has a SEE NO EVIL style alarm system near them and kills several people who try to steal it. There’s a guy selling some of the pot but he mentions at one point that he just found it there (like Jason found his mask [helpful tip: if you find pot growing somewhere don’t just take it]). But I think another possible interpretation is that he just happens to live next to somebody else’s marijuana field and because he’s retarded he doesn’t see the connection between the plants and the dumb kids invading his privacy.
The biggest change to the character of Jason is that he keeps a girl locked up in his tunnel. Of course the ten previous incarnations of Jason would never do that. Kane Hodder, who played Jason four times, said he saw him as a t-rex, he’d just go after anything that moved.
Okay, so this is a major change. What does it add? What is the purpose? The purpose is that the hero is looking for his sister, so it’s nice to have her still alive. I don’t know what Jason’s motives are. I don’t know his methods. Was he bringing her meals? Was he giving her bathroom breaks? She doesn’t look too disheveled. Remember what Saddam looked like when he came out of that spider hole? And he had access to running water. This girl was chained up in a tunnel for either 4 or 6 weeks, depending on whether you believe what the brother says or what’s written onscreen.
I don’t mind them changing Jason’s M.O. if it’s gonna add something, but there’s nothing dramatic about a character you forgot about being chained up for the whole movie and not being able to escape. So this was another failure.
I would’ve forgiven all this dumb shit if there were some good chases and what not, some tension, maybe some surprises. I’ve seen worse but this one does not achieve passability. It needs the energy Steve Miner had back in the part 2 and 3 days. I think actually the score by Steve Jablonsky is a major culprit too. Until he switched over to keyboard in the later installments Harry Manfredini’s Bernard Herrman style scores were a big part of what made the movies effective. It’s rare that I beg for a more bombastic score, but this one’s mostly a bunch of drones like you’d have on a real serious, not-trying-to-be-fun horror movie. I honestly think if you put some of the old Manfredini music over the climax of this thing it would seem about 5 times more exciting.
I checked some Fangorias from recent months, and according to the interviews all the people who worked on this movie are huge fans and trying really hard to make a great FRIDAY THE 13TH. I’ll take their word for it, but trying or not they didn’t get there. I’ll go ahead and say it’s better than JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, but not as funny. They just never seem like they’re trying very hard. A good symbol of the movie’s lack of effort is the opening title. It doesn’t come onscreen until 24 minutes in, long after you forgot they haven’t shown the title. I love that and it sets up a great opportunity for a kickass title sequence that makes everybody cheer.
So they just fade a small logo in gently with a quiet “kill kill kill”-esque echo. I guess part of the idea with “rebooting” the series must’ve been that they hated how the title sequences were always awesome and wanted to get rid of that whole outmoded idea. I mean why would you want to do something like this:
and get everybody excited and whooping and hollering? I’m sure there’s some poll that proves modern audiences don’t like excitement.
Somebody asked me which was better between HALLOWEEN remake and this. I didn’t really know how to answer because HALLOWEEN has so many more parts that are just howlingly wrong-headed, but at the same time it seems like it’s trying harder. To me that one’s kind of an interesting failure, this one is more of a boring failure.
Oh well, I’m not pleased but it could’ve been worse. It definitely comes closer to working than their TEXAS CHAINSAW did six years ago. So at this rate I’d say they’ll be ready to competently remake THE BURNING in about 2021. Or maybe we’ll get lucky, they’ll all discover their inner selves, quit the business, apologize and sell the rights to somebody that could make a pretty good part 2.
(Sorry for the length on this one, you know how I get about these things. At least it’s not as bad as my one for the HILLS HAVE EYES remake. And that was for one I actually liked.)
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.