Friday the 13th – Review

Twenty-nine years after the original, Jason is still making mommy proud.

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Director: Marcus Nispel
Notable Cast: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Travis Van Winkle, Amanda Righetti, Ryan Hansen, Derek Mears

Horror is the most maligned genre by critics. A release like Friday the 13th is the perfect lightning rod for them to stroke their egos, rip it to shreds, and name off ten or twenty others that are classics to the genre. But the audience has changed. What worked then won’t necessarily work now. Mood and atmosphere have taken a backseat to graphic violence. That’s why we had a new sub-genre of horror (“torture porn”) and endless debates of its place in cinema. It had its run of semi-success, but now Hollywood is on an eighties kick, updating and reimaging movies for a whole new audience. So it’s no surprise that slasher films are hip again.

Some of my earliest movie-watching memories were slashers. As a kid in the eighties I grew up with horror icons Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees; they both did their parts to stimulate the economy by ridding the world of sleepy-eyed teenagers and disobedient camp counselors. Freddy posters adorned my walls and I even have one of his pull-string dolls in a closet – next to Pee-Wee Herman, Beetlejuice and Ernest P. Worrell.

The Jason movies have always been about jump scares, inventive kills, and nudity. The formula isn’t that hard. Place a group of teenagers in the woods without adult supervision. Have a sociopath that honors his mother by killing campers, counselors, basically any living soul that sets foot in Camp Crystal Lake. Filmmakers that meet those requirements are off to a good start.

Marcus Nispel’s new interpretation of the Jason character is not a re-imagining. Think of it is as an alternate timeline of events (aka “Parts two through ten never happened”). We get a poorly constructed re-enactment of Mrs. Voorhees’ decapitation death scene over the opening credits. Once the counselor runs away, young Jason enters the frame, picks up his mother’s locket and a machete.

This leads to an extended opening in the present day with a group of horny twenty-somethings in search of pot fields on the grounds around Crystal Lake. Big mistake. Jason is overly protective of his weed. If he sees you picking plants or toking away, you’re as good as dead. Needless to say it doesn’t end well for the horndogs, especially one who looks like Richard Grieco.

A few months pass and Clay Miller (Jared Padelecki), brother to one of the twenty-somethings, is still looking for his missing sis. He’s not getting much help from the local police, even though they claim to have conducted a thorough search. Later he has a run-in with a bunch of spoiled rich kids heading to Crystal Lake for the weekend – they’re roughing it in a lodge with beer, bongs, and HDTV.

Well that establishes the list of potential victims at the hands of Jason. Now the real question is the order of their demise. Like a game of Clue; will it be the token black guy by machete while taking a whiz in the woods?

I must admit there are a few nit-picky things – not sampling more of Harry Manfredini’s score, what gives? – and a “jump the shark” moment that may turn off some of the Friday the 13th faithful. I won’t spoil anything, but when you see it, you’ll know what I mean.

Of course you’ll question some of the actions of the characters, making yourself seem all the more intelligent. But this is a Jason movie after all. Slogan: Crystal Lake. Where stupidity will get you killed (any number of ways).

Nispel still delivers where it counts, though. Inventive kills, T and A, some more kills, and some more T. Not to forget Jason (Derek Mears) showing off some mad track-and-field skills. I kid you not.

In the eyes of many horror fans Kane Hodder, who played the hockey mask killer a record four times, is the best Jason of them all. That’s like the never-will-die argument of who is the best James Bond. But newcomer Derek Mears plays the icon with plenty of energy. He may not have the acting chops of Sir Laurence Olivier, but did you ever see Olivier convey such emotion wearing a potato sack on his head?

As the sun sets and day gives way to night this Friday the 13th, while a revisionist history of a character that has been hacking away since 1981, is a fun homage to the first three or four entries in the series. It’s also a scared-straight reminder to never engage in pre-marital sex or smoke weed. Do it and die. Jason succeeds where teachers and authority figures can’t.

FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):

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