Film Review/Essay: Friday the 13th (2009)

fridaythe13thThe “Friday the 13th” films have always had an odd appeal to me. I mean, they’re obviously poor quality for the most part, laughably written and relying on a series of suspense bits that even a first-time viewer can pick up after ten minutes, but the formula of laughable construction and meat-grinder approach to the terrible actors made it rather endearing. Plus there was always one on when I was home from college, making Jason Voorhees a regular companion on slow nights.

As a series it has pretty much gone to self-parody, transforming Jason into an interstellar cyborg in “Jason X” and pitting him against the now equally absurd Freddy Krueger in “Freddy vs. Jason.” Now though, with “Batman Begins” proving that by tossing all your shitty films into a grinder and starting a franchise over you can actually succeed, the franchise has been rebooted with the eponymous film “Friday the 13th.”

As far as story goes, it’s essentially a hodgepodge of scenes and “narratives” from the first few films. The opening sequence takes the end of the first film where his mother is decapitated after killing the counselors who let him drowned, the second film’s slaughter is packed into the first 15 minutes, and then a completely new story starts with another band of stock actors at a friend’s house who could fit into the third or fourth film easily, right down to the ridiculous haircuts of all the male characters.

To summarize the pointless details of the movie, I’ve decided to adopt the critique system of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, the brilliant mind behind Zero Punctuation who also has considerable amount of old horror reviews on his site. I’ll be following the J.A.S.O.N. rules set, seeing just what the film has in comparison to other movies.

Jason: Since this is a reboot there’s none of the scarring and battery that has come upon him in previous films, be it an axe through the head or having a motorboat carve open his throat or drowned in a sea of toxic waste to be left a little deformed child (“Manhattan’s” utterly moronic interpretation). The new version of Jason is something sandwiched between volumes 2 and 3 of the series, resembling a burly scraggly hobo who likes to beat his children on weekends.

9742_4620329143He starts out with a bag over his head in the style of volume 2, and after cutting the throat of a delightful pot-smoking hick finds his hockey mask in an attic of junk. The act of reveal and putting it on reminds me of the scene from “Hannibal Rising” when an oily young Hannibal Lecter dons a samurai mask, evoking images of his restraints of “Lambs.” I thought it was a bad idea then, and time hasn’t done much to make it seem like any more than fan service.

Archetypes:

  • Angsty McTroubled (one in each act, the second looking for this sister who is the first and held hostage by Jason since she reminds him of his mother),
  • Doctor Hilarious (two token minorities who you know will be disliked at first glance),
  • Kooky J. Oversexed (one in each act),
  • Mackdaddy Suave (one in each act),
  • Nerdy von Crapinbed (first act),
  • Omen McFuckedinthehead (an old women who looks like the grandmother from Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and
  • Senor(ita) Generic (enough that they got killed off regularly and counting them at the start was pointless. Seriously, two or three appeared out of nowhere at one point and I shrugged because I knew they’d be dead soon).

Survivors: Angsty McTroubled (both)

Oddities: Oddly enough (and ironically) there are none. There’s no Jason being struck by lightning and coming back to life, no allegiance with the forces of Hell and no Freddy Krueger waking him up and attacking him in a dream sequence. It’s just a mute psycho willing to hack his way through a bunch of idiots and just happens to keep his mother’s head in an alcove. His living in a series of mining tunnels beneath the camp is a little out there, but you figure the guy has to live somewhere.

N-ding: After being stabbed with a screwdriver, kicked in the face, slashed with a sickle, strangled with a length of chain and having the top of his head nibbled away by a wood chipper, the female Angsty McTroubled drives the machete through his chest and they dump him in the lake. At the very end, he bursts through the pier planks and grabs her in an attempt to pull her down, in an obvious attempt to emulate the early films.

So far it seems like more of the same – young adults are idiots, Jason kills them, dies and then comes back. What makes this installment actually (gasp) enjoyable are two things, the first being the lack of the mentioned oddities. Self-parody and over-the-top storylines are removed, and the bits taken from early movies are the bits that actually seem to add something to it. Teenagers are at the camp, Jason needs to kill them, that’s all there is to it.

The second thing that makes this film so enjoyable is the fact that for the first time in ages Jason seems to be having fun. There’s something almost sadistic about his behavior here – he fires an arrow into someone’s head while they’re driving a boat, lets a woman think she’s safely hidden under a pier and then drives a machete through her head, throws an axe into someone’s back and lets him scream for a couple minutes before flipping him over and slamming him into the ground so hard the blade goes through his chest, and even lights a woman on fire in a sleeping bag to cook her alive. He seems to finally realize his targets are massive pricks, and he – and by extension the audience – enjoys torturing them all the more.

I have no choice but to admit it: “Friday the 13th” is entertaining. It’s a return to form, or as much form as the series has ever had. It has some annoying points – depriving us of a “Fargo”-style wood-chipper scene, and taunting us with a circular saw that’s always on screen but never used, but it’s a film that actually seems to understand its core material and audience. We want to see the people we hated in high school killed, ideally while they’re having the sex we never had in high school, and we want it to be done by someone who is doing it just because.

Oh, and one other thing that the film did to earn points: Nerdy von Crapinbed found himself bitching about how there was no Heineken, while Mackdaddy Suave said all they needed was Pabst Blue Ribbon. Yes, there was a “Blue Velvet” reference in a Jason movie. Honestly, I’ll score it high regardless of other factors just for doing that.

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~ by Les Chappell on February 13, 2009.

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