22 June 2009

Friday the 13th (2009)

Friday the 13th
starring Jared Padalecki, Amanda Righetti, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Derek Mears, Travis Van Winkle
written by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift
directed by Marcus Nispel
release date: 13 February 2009
dvd release date: 16 June 2009
New Line Cinema, 97 mins., Rated R

Pretty Frakkin' Good

Slasher movies have three bad guy icons - Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, and Jason Vorhees. [Sure, it could be argued that Letherface is such a icon, but I firmly believe these three are the most widely recognizable] These guys are the worst of the worst - the scary Boogeymen that come out at night, and when you see them, all bets are off and you better run for your freakin' life! And if you didn't have sex, smoke a joint, or drink a lot, or act like a douche, chances are you'd survive a face-to-face confrontation with these baddies. In the 70's and 80's, these Boogeymen were powerful instruments of evil, stalking babysitters, teenage campers, and murdering sleeping children. By the late 90's, the slasher men took back seat to more self-aware horror fare that was more accessible for the teen audiences, like Scream (1996) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) or Urban Legends (1999).

Myers gained momentary popularity with Halloween: H20 (1997), bringing back original cast member Jamie Lee Curtis to battle her unstoppable brother once again; Wes Craven sat behind the camera to bring Freddy into the real world with Wes Craven's New Nightmare, and Jason's evil knew no bounds when he was blown to bits in Jason Goes to Hell (1999). Sadly, this was only a fleeting comeback, as all the franchises dwindled away after another installment (with the exception of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, which didn't have another entry). Michael concluded fighting a rapper-turned-actor in the Myers house and Jason went to space in a mixed review tenth picture.

And then the idea of a "re-imagining" became big with movie studios when it came to horror. Remakes of Prom Night (2008), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes, When a Stranger Calls, and so on and so forth. For the companies, it's a logical thing to do because for some reason or another, no thought to how bad the product is, the product sells. So Dimension Films teamed up with Rob Zombie (The Devil's Rejects) to re-imagine Michael Myers and delve into the Boogeyman's backstory, thus resulting in the critically panned but financially successful Rob Zombie's Halloween in 2007. This movie and 2003's Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake pretty much convinced Platinum Dunes and New Line to get rollin' with a "re-imagining" of their own, a one Jason Vorhees. But c'mon, after a bizarre sci-fi Jason melee in space, it was probably best to get back to basics, yeah?

So here we are, with Friday the 13th, penned by the writers of Freddy vs. Jason (2003), and the general notion is that people either really hate it or really like it. For me, this eleventh self-contained installment (not counting FvsJ) is quite good, and perfectly captures the atmosphere of all the Fridays before it.

There's a bunch of pretty looking teenagers that are in the vicinity of Camp Crystal Lake, either as campers or vacationers; there's sex, drugs, and drinking; nudity; swearing; bad one-liners; and one, tall, pissed off freaky looking guy with a machete and hockey mask wanting to rip the kids a new one. When Friday the 13th came out in theaters in February, I saw it in the environment of a legion of teenagers, many of them loud, obnoxious, and clearly under the influence of some agent. And although they were annoying, it also did help the movie become an "experience" of sorts, and I couldn't help but notice a difference with the midnight showings of Halloween and Friday the 13th - with Halloween, barely anyone spoke, instead pretty much glued to the screen as young Mickey transformed from a messed up kid to murderous psychopath with a mask fetish; as for Friday, the entire experience was a party. Is that what these movies are? A celebration of stupid teenagers and a machete-wielding hockey-mask wearing slasher? Fun time?

This installment has its moments of darkness, but for the most part, it really does come across as just a fun, throwaway movie that doesn't really have anything to set itself apart from all the others; and that is sort of the rub: it can either be a good or a bad thing. There are many things this movie does right and that I like, but it feels very much like a homage movie moreso than trying to distinct itself from the pack. Which, again, can be an either/or thing.

On June 13, 1980, a young Jason Vorhees witnessed his mother massacred right before his eyes. Fast forward to present day, a now grown up and pissed off Jason Vorhees seeks to take out his pissed-offery on some local teenage campers. Clay (Padalecki), brother of one of those so-totally-screwed campers, is on the search for his sister. During his manhunt, he meets up with the newest group of fresh meat, and befriends Jenna (Panabaker), the only halfway decent person of the bunch. As bodies keep piling up, Clay gets closer and closer to finding out what happened to his sister, but Jason's hot on his tail...and, well, everyone else s...

Story-wise, it goes right back to the beginning. Not necessarily a origin story, as it touches on the events of the first Friday the 13th (1980) through a quick flashback in the first 3 minutes, the movie very much feels like just another installment that could fit into the overall mythology. Teenagers, victims, sex, blood. But the unique thing here is that the writers integrated several points from Fridays I-IV, including Jason's first use of a bag and the transition to the world renowned hockey mask. There's apparently also some kills from those films that are emulated here, but hell if I know what ones those are (if you're really interested, ask a horror fanatic, mate, I'm the wrong guy). One aspect of the movie I found myself really liking is the pre-title sequence, which is, in its own way, a mini Friday movie. Encompassing 23-minutes, it also accomplishes a set-up for the rest of the story and character motivation for Clay (Padalecki's character). Simply put, everything within those 23-minutes were awesome. Favorite part of the movie hands down.

Derek Mears is outstanding as Jason Vorhees. Extremely intimidating, buffed up, giant, this Jason is my favorite since Kane Hodder. One aspect of this Jason that I know has some people a little gruffy about is that Jason occasionally sprints towards his victims; I love that. I think it adds to his character and makes far more sense than a slow-neck pace and he's suddenly ahead of a person ready to strike 'em dead. This is a threatening Jason, one that I definitely sure as hell wouldn't want to be in the same state with. Similar to how Michael Myers has been portrayed in the Rob Zombie film, this Jason is a brute force that will crash through any wall to get to its target. Frighting and freaky, Jason Vorhees is back, baby!

The rest of the cast that is not Jason is actually really good. Although, sadly, none of these characters step outside their bound stereotypes, the actors make them bearable and half relatable. As Clay, Jared Padalecki (TV: Supernatural) is the reluctant hero who just wants to find his sister, played by Amanda Righetti (Role Models), who has the more fun role of running for her life and screaming at the top of her lungs; but I'm sure that whole being tied up in a underground mine wasn't all that fun. Danielle Panabaker (Mr. Brooks) is the beautiful almost Final Girl, playing the sweet but aware Jenna who has one hell of a dicky boyfriend, played to absolute perfection by Travis Van Winkle. Acting like a complete jackass, and even looking stupider with his dumb curly blond hairdo, Van Winkle is one annoying S.O.B, and I love him for it. Aaron Yoo (Disturbia) is lovable as the stereotype Asian guy, and Arlen Escarpeta as the necessary black guy. Rounding out the cast is Ryan Hanson (TV: Veronica Mars), who I'm just happy is still employed; and Julianna Guill with Willa Ford, who supply the boobage.

Steve Jablonsky (Transformers) was given the task to score Friday the 13th aft
er impressing Platinum Dunes with his Texas Chainsaw Massacre work. Although not making me rush to the nearest Best Buy to pick up his original score soundtrack, Jablonsky does an admirable job paying homage to classic Friday themes originated by Harry Manfredini while creating his own voice. It sets up the scary atmosphere, has a nice tempo as our meat - er, leads - are running for their inevitably short lives, and happily avoids the strange random loud noise bursts that the compositions from the 90's were so fond of. A very good score by Jablonsky, and I 'm sure his best work of the year is soon to come (i.e., Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen).

New Line released Friday the 13th in a "Killer Cut" edition with 10 minutes of added footage to the movie, although the added material does little to really change the movie, which is unfortunate, because rumor has it that there's more than 30 minutes of deleted material that could have been put back in. In addition to the "Killer Cut", the theatrical edition was released separately as was a Blu-Ray release with a few more bonus materials as well as the inclusion of the theatrical cut. Should be noted, the theatrical edition clocks in at 97 mins., the "Killer Cut" at 107 mins. Bonus material is sparse, considering that this is a New Line production after all. I mean, look at the extra material for Jason Goes to Hell and Freddy vs. Jason, which is far more thorough than the little we get here, comprising of a short behind-the-scenes marketing bit and a few additional scenes, including an alternate take on Jason becoming in possession of the hockey mask.

Friday the 13th is back on the mind of moviegoers, and despite the not stellar box office results, it will hopefully maintain momentum enough to bring about sequels with this same mindset. Keeping the franchise grounded in reality, with the simple story of Jason getting pissed off and running after teenagers, I dig that, and although I know a franchise needs to explore and evolve, I hope whatever future installments don't lose sight of what it really is.

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