The “Friday the 13th” Re-make

February 18, 2009

(A) Film review
(B) Enjoying Schlock rather than Celebrating Mediocrity
(C ) What Could’ve Been
(D)Parents have no common sense sometimes

So I actually went to the theaters to see the new “Friday the 13th” re-make. Me, who just wrote an article disdaining the celebration of mediocrity opted to see “Friday the 13th” this close to the Oscars without yet having seen all of the nominations– more on that later in this article, but first I should actually offer a movie review.
It’s a bit difficult to adequately review a movie like this. Going into this I knew it wasn’t going to be “good” in the technical sense. Sure the special effects are good, the violence and action looks terrifyingly appropriate for such a thing. Surprisingly the acting isn’t terrible, given the short range the actors have to work with in their characters. At this point the characters in slasher films are “teens” that are consistently over-sexed, heavy pot and alcohol imbibers with few redeeming personal qualities that wander into the wrong place at the wrong time and become prey for an unstoppable killing machine. One character of the entire lot actually gets to portray himself in a purely noble manner whereas the others only show positive qualities in short, if any, bursts.
There are some highly effective moments, and this is a movie that benefits from a theatrical viewing if you hope to get any actual jolts from it. The use of music and noise heavily amps up every possibly scary moment. Each appearance of Jason Voorhees does work in a very scary, or “awesome” (if you’re an ‘80s fan boy) way.
It’s not a re-imagining nor simply a remake of the first “Friday the 13th,” it’s more of a compressed and exacerbated amplification of the first 3 films into one hour an a half lightning bolt of gore that makes full use of new effect developments and less violence restrictions than the originals. Viewers catch the gist of the first film in the first 5 minutes of footage, and Jason gets to make his appearance much quicker than in the old days. The first group of teens to wander in Jason’s path quickly find their demise (at least most of them) and months later a new group wander into the woods on their own trip, as well as the brother of an earlier missing girl looking for his lost sister.
Anyway, it’s enjoyable and problematic and could have been so much more yet should it have been given the source material?
See, I’m a child of the eighties, born in ‘82. Growing up in my early years, cinema slashers like Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers were practically omnipresent and when I was old enough to finally watch the films I was a huge fan. This geekdom comic fan and horror niche market past made it a given I’d see this. I wrote an article this past Halloween discussing 10 horror films I felt were truly great, and I went into a discussion on what is good about Horror entertainment and what makes for a good example of it (scroll back through my past entries until late October and you can read it if you missed it when I put it up the first time). This movie would not make such a cut. Yet it’s undeniably fun in many ways.

Which brings me to what I feel is a tie-in point with my recent “Celebrating Mediocrity” article. I propose now that there’s a bit of a difference between celebrating mediocrity and enjoying schlock- B-movies, silly speed metal, pulp novels and big dumb horror movies. “Friday the 13th” doesn’t pretend to be anything it is not. It doesn’t aim for crowd-pleasing wide range attractiveness of a middle-of-the-road turd of a movie like “Marley and Me.” It makes no concessions to reach the widest range of people, it knows its audience and goes after it. Critics were strictly average on their ratings and judging by most internet fan posts, a lot of 14-18 year old boys thought this was 5 star phenomenal. The rest of us, those of us who appreciate what the horror genre is capable of and what its faults are, those of us that know the good ones when we see them yet are able to glean a few minutes of gold from a lot of average see such a film as escapist fun that harkens back to a time when we were much younger and much more terrified by such a silly idea.
The one concession I make that pinpoints me as guilty of something I accused those of celebrating mediocrity as doing is that I was able to see this at my local theater. I drove 2 hours to see Milk, an hour to see “Frost/Nixon,” and my local theater still does not have the Oscar front-runner “Slumdog Millionaire,” that ones yet another hour drive away. Yet they had “Friday the 13th” and I paid them my matinee 6 bucks to see it, allowing them to keep bringing such things in over such other choices. I’d have gladly driven to a 24-plex to see this one if only my local 12-plex had things like “Slumdog” and “Milk” for the entire community to see. Oh, well.
It’s worth noting what “Friday the 13th” could’ve been. It could’ve gone two different paths from what it did, either of which probably would have been much better than it was. See, the excellently campy, action packed, big dumb summer movie that was “Freddy Vs. Jason” screamed “bad” from all directions yet remained immensely watchable and enjoyable. Sad to say, but the infinitely better and more important “Gandhi” remains a favorite of mine yet I’ve actually watched “Freddy vs. Jason” 4 or 5 times now and Gandhi only once. Which goes to show that big dumb fun remains escapist fun.
The other path that could’ve been would’ve been the Rob Zombie path. He had mentioned his interest in doing the character and concept himself, that the franchise was in dire need of a new approach to bring out its potential, yet the producers already had Damian Shannone and Marcus Nispel on tap to do it. Rob Zombie handled “Halloween” as a re-imagining and provided viewers with a captivating, disturbing, and highly psychological yet violently visceral dark art film. Zombie could’ve made art out of Friday had he been the one to write and direct this remake rather than Shannon and Nispel (who directed the remake of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) with the association of Michael Bay. The original had such capability of subtest. Ebert called it “Psycho in reverse,” with “mother killing for son.” Add that to Jason himself, a physically deformed and mentally handicapped never-ending child who simply can’t die and continually kills because his dead mother orders him to– there is so much room in that preposterous concept for a disturbing yet artful psychological thriller that Zombie’s infinitely better potential version practically writes itself if you’ve seen his “Halloween.”
I do find it interesting that the original, and undeniably classic slasher film that was “Halloween” was responsible for inspiring such a thing as the original “Friday the 13th,” and critics who loved the artful and subdued “Halloween” hated “Friday the 13th.” Now, 2 decades later we see a successful remake of Halloween that doesn’t equal the greatness of the first yet succeeds by a totally different approach possibly inspiring a remake of “Friday the 13th” which vastly improves on its original yet doesn’t beat either version of “Halloween.”
To see what a typical mainstream critic is saying of this film, here’s the first part of Roger Ebert’s review:

“ ‘Friday the 13th’ is about the best ‘Friday the 13th’ movie you could hope for. Its technical credits are excellent. It has a lot of scary and gruesome killings. Not a whole lot of acting is required. If that’s what you want to find out, you can stop reading.”

Last of all, I was at a weekday 1 pm showing and noticed at least 2 children under the age of 12 accompanying their parents to see this movie. It contains pervasive gore, language, drug use, binge drinking, sex and  nudity . What parent in their right mind would take their ‘tween to see such a thing?


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