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Friday the 13th: The Franchise - An Appreciation

October 31, 2012 - 12:02 am   |   By 

Jason X

Nearly 11 years later, New Line Cinema decided to go ahead with yet another Friday the 13th sequel. Part of the decision behind it might have been just to keep Jason relative in people's minds, but also to give die-hard fans of the series something new. The real reason behind it was to make a placeholder for the impending Freddy vs. Jason, which was less than a year away from being made upon the release of Jason X.

Jason X

I'm sure you're expecting me to sit here and rip this film to pieces, but I honestly can't do that. Why? Because Jason X is a hell of a good time. Most people would contend that the idea of sending Jason into the future and space could very well be the worst idea in the history of the series. Well, that's not totally inaccurate. I had the same reaction when I first heard about it. There was actually a cliché of taking slasher and horror movies into space at the time (perhaps most infamously with the Hellraiser series), and I thought 'wow, they're really going that route?" But as I stated previously, this series, at least at this juncture, needed to make risky moves like this in order to avoid repetition. One could also argue that this series was built solely on repetition, but when you stack these movies up together and watch them back-to-back, you start to develop tunnel vision. It's not until you get something out of left field, like Jason X, that you perk back up and realize that these movies can be fun, even if they're done much differently.

The story is basically about Jason and a young woman, who are accidentally cryogenically frozen, only to be unearthed by a group of scientists in training almost five centuries later. Waking up on a space ship, Jason goes back to his old tricks and murders everyone in sight. Later in the film, Jason is temporarily stopped by the crew aboard the ship, but reborn as a cyborg, and the film earns its title. An insane premise, wouldn't you say? It actually sounds like something from a novel based on the series, or even fan fiction. This actually had the potential to be the worst film in the series, but because of the direction of Jim Isaac and the other talented people behind the camera, it wasn't. It's actually very well-made, and much more engaging and interesting than the previous three sequels (especially Jason Goes to Hell).

There isn't much in the way of standard Friday the 13th story fodder either. There's no one with deep psychological problems trying to defeat Jason, no gratuitous sex or nudity scenes and there's no sense of suspense or build-up to it anymore. Why is that a good thing? In this context, and as stated previously, these films are so played out that a sequel that would try to be genuinely suspenseful would just fall flat on its face. This film is having fun with the series, and it shows. Hell, they even have a scene that pays homage to The New Blood when Jason walks into a holodeck-type area and is made to believe that there are a couple of teenagers looking to party and have sex. He immediately bashes them while they're in their sleeping bags. They also have a similar scene earlier in the film where Jason walks into that same area and thinks he's killed one of the main characters, just to find that it was all a computer simulation. He immediately afterwards kills the character for real.

There's also a bit of set up and pay off, or even building up the reality of the film. Early on, when they discover Jason's frozen corpse, he's accidentally knocked over and cuts off one of the character's arms. Causing little to no fuss, they use a futuristic method of cauterizing the wound, bring the severed arm with them, and re-attach it on the ship. It seems frivolous but it actually sets up that these people have the technology to combat things like severed limbs or damaged tissue. It also sets up the nanobots table, which are little mechanical spiders that are used to bring the frozen lead actress back to life, repairing damaged tissue in the process. It's also, of course, used to the nth degree with Jason later in the film. This is also another entry where everybody knows about Jason early on, which I like.

In all actuality, there's no way to really do a sequel to this series (or a remake, for that matter) without it being laughed at in some way. It's when the filmmakers have a passion for it and try to do something creative and fun with it that it's most effective, which is the case with Jason X. I'm sure I'm going to be accused of having double standards with my opinions regarding this series, but whatever the reasons, this concept and the way that it's executed just works for me. It's by no means perfect, or even a great slasher movie. It's a tired slasher movie that tries to have fun, and be a little meta at the same time.

Debuting on April 26, 2002, Jason X had a mixed reception from critics and fans alike. It made its money back at the box office, but wasn't greeted with open arms very much. I think most people just couldn't get their heads around the concept: Jason goes into space, kills everyone and lands on a new planet at the end, where the cycle will start all over again. In other words, the series had come a very long way from a vengeful mother and her vengeful son reeking havoc on promiscuous teenagers. For me, the original films end on a high note, and I'm glad that we got one final good film in the series, as opposed to something really crappy.

New Line wasn’t completely done with Jason though. He returned the following year, 2003, for Freddy vs. Jason. Being that the film is generally contains more of a Nightmare on Elm Street plotline with merely elements of Jason and his story, I personally don't consider it canon with the Friday the 13th series. Also, I think I've covered it well enough elsewhere, so there's no need to re-review it. I generally enjoyed that film, and would have preferred it if they had left those characters alone afterwards. But, in the age of remaking anything and everything that has marquee value, Friday the 13th was by no means holy ground.

 

Friday the 13th (Remake)

After several years of silence on the Jason front, New Line Cinema decided to resurrect the franchise and remake Friday the 13th. They hired Platinum Dunes for the job, which is a company that was also behind the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Bringing on some of the creative people from Freddy VS. Jason, as well director Marcus Nispel, it could have gone either way. Hollywood today is more keen on remaking something that the public will recognize rather than spend money on something that's not a sure-fire money maker, and remaking Friday the 13th was one of the major cash cows left to plunder in the horror realm. In a way, they succeeded, but not without the usual drawbacks. I think the main thing that these remakes do is bring the original films to the attention of new audiences, which is definitely a good thing, but that's an organic process unto itself. You usually discover these movies at a young age through friends and family members most of the time and not by other means.

Friday the 13th (Remake)

Friday redux (which is how I'd like to think of it) is not that bad at being what it is, I suppose, but it's not that good at bringing anything that new into the formula. It's just familiar retread. The filmmakers spend most of the time making Jason more reality-based than supernatural. For instance, Jason being in one place and then another so quickly was explained by him having underground tunnels all over the camp grounds. They also take the time in the opening moments to show him as a child seeing his mother being beheaded and finding a locket on her dead body with her picture inside it. In these remakes, there just seems to be this need to overexplain the characters and situations, and make them more relatable somehow. It's become a bit of a cliché, as have the remakes, but was it really necessary with Jason? Probably not all that much. The locket thing is fine (in and of itself), but they still ignore the lack of logic that Jason drowned and suddenly came back to life. The underground tunnel thing just felt unnecessary, but it also served another purpose.

In this film, Jason is purely a momma's boy. It goes to pathetic levels to show it, too. Jason even has a bed with his name carved into the headboard with the obligatory teddy bear on top of the blanket. There's even a moment when they show Jason having a flashback to the beheading of his mother while sharpening his machete (why would he do that?). It's that sympathy thing, not unlike Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween, that makes it feel pathetic. Broad strokes are necessary when it comes to telling a backstory in these films. We don't need to sympathize with the killer. The moment that they take it too far is when Jason takes the lead girl prisoner because she's wearing his mother’s locket and she looks her. Listen, Jason doesn't take prisoners. He's not Leatherface. He murders without remorse and without the need to take prisoners. Hell, even in Part 2 when Ginny plays the trick on him that she's his mother and Jason realizes that she's not he still tries to kill her. You can fool Jason sometimes, but when it comes down to it, he'll flat out murder you. He's also a bit smarter and a more exacting killer. He's a lot of faster, of course, but he also has things like bear traps set up to catch people off guard. The latter changes aren’t terrible, I guess. Just something different.

As far as the characters themselves, they're slightly one-dimensional, and clichéd as all can be. It had to be intentional though, because there's no way that they made this film without realizing it at some point. Starting off you have the handsome hero, the dick boyfriend, the sweet girlfriend who hates the dick boyfriend but likes the handsome hero, the funny stoner Asian guy, the black guy who points out racism in every direction and tries to be tough, the blonde looking to have a good time and eventually goes bananas (but thankfully dies early before she gets annoying), the adventurous couple who get it early, and finally, the lead victim who overcomes the killer. It's formulaic and generally boring on that level. The only thing that's missing is a mouthy black woman or a creepy little girl. The flipside to this is that these people show more of their emotions than nearly anyone in the original series. It's just a sign of the times, I guess, but it's also how these movies are set up. There's a party, there's conflict between characters, characters die, the other characters find out about it and then its time to escape (or fight back, in some cases). In other words, what all of the other modern horror films are doing. The only character who has any real feeling or depth is the Asian guy, who actually gives the best performance in the film. I also like the local old woman, who's the harbinger of doom in this film, and seems to know everything about Jason and his mother. Unsurprisingly, the dialogue is pretty awful at times, including the last line right before Jason dies: "Say hello to mommy... in hell!"

On the other hand, the kills in Friday redux are actually pretty good, and some are even a bit on the visual side, such as the policeman's death. In the Killer Cut of the film, there's quite a bit of blood and gore, but much tamer in the theatrical version. The Asian guy's death, in particular, is quite brutal and bloody. Jason, being faster and more ferocious, really deals out some disgusting kills. He doesn't just stalk his prey slowly. He gets right in its face and kills it horribly, which to me leaves me scratching my head whenever they try to get me to relate to this guy. There's also quite a bit of nudity and sex in the film. Actually, much more than I would have expected. It's shocking what you can get away with in an R rated film nowadays compared to something like A New Beginning, which had a big chunk of a sex scene lifted out of it to satisfy the MPAA. Hell, even one of the kills with a girl being stabbed in the top of the head while she's under a pier unnecessarily shows her boobs, and that didn't get axed. I wasn't surprised by the nudity itself though. It's pretty much a given that someone could lose their top at any given moment in one of these films. That formula never changes.

The film is also shot competently. It looks good, but it also looks like most of the horror films coming out these days, including the Nispel-directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake and The Cabin in the Woods. They all have a stylized look to them: dark, lots of shadows and washed out colors, except for the blood. Even the shaky cam is surprisingly used appropriately. There's some general atmosphere to everything, and a lot of work seems to have went into the set decorating to make things creepy at times, but it doesn't totally succeed in that regard (but not for lack of trying). The score is made up of synth and rock. It's mediocre, but it's also used sparingly, so that's ok I guess. There are also lots of similarities between the film and the original series, mainly the first three films. The barn from Part 3 makes a return and the ending borrows quite a bit from Part 2 with the girl who looks like Jason's mother pretending to be his mother briefly to distract him. Jason also starts out wearing the potato sack and later finds the hockey mask, which they made into a slightly epic moment. They also pay homage to Jaws in one scene where they filmed a nude girl underwater, which logically makes no sense because it turns out that Jason isn't in the water, but whatever. They also changed the ending for there to be a jump scare and the possibility of a sequel, which is totally demeaning to a horror film, as well as a cliché these days (see The Strangers for the best example). So there's a various amount of elements at play in this film that doesn't really hold up together as a single entity.

Released on February 13, 2009, Friday the 13th redux brought in quite a bit of business to the box office, mainly because of the value of the name, and Jason, of course. It was met with some positive feedback, but the overall feeling was that it wasn't necessary in the first place, which is how I felt about it. It's watchable, and not all that insulting, but not all that memorable either. That's about all I can say about it really. And as of this writing, the franchise ends here. There are talks of making a sequel to the remake, but so far, nothing has come to fruition. I'd like to see it stay that way, but I have no say in that regard, do I?

 

"Ma'am, we didn't find no boy..."

I would be neglectful in not mentioning the documentary made by the good folks who did the Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th was released by Paramount Pictures to coincide with the release of the remake by New Line Cinema. Overall, I didn't care for the documentary all that much because it didn't seem to cover much ground with the filmmakers and crew members and brushed over a lot of the more interesting details. It just seemed to be more geared towards fan gushing, and was more of a studio-controlled project, which is why it turned out the way it did, unfortunately.

Thankfully, that will change in June of 2013. The makers of that documentary have returned to the series to create "The Definite Documentary" on the series called Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. The word on the grapevine is that it will dwarf the Never Sleep Again documentary's running time (which was four hours). I look forward to it, and I also hope they dig into the Friday the 13th TV show a bit, which I'm sure they will. They're a pretty thorough crew of filmmakers and really good at what they do.

For those who want to learn more about it, visit the documentary's Facebook page here.

 

"Then he's still there..."

In closing, I'd just like to take a moment to tip my cap to the cast and crew of all of the Friday the 13th films, both living and deceased. To those who've worked on this series of films over the years, I hope there's no hard feelings over some of the things I've said. These are purely the opinions of a fan who appreciates the films, even the bad ones, and tries to find something positive about each and everyone one of them (even the ones I don't like). I love these films and it's been a great opportunity to talk about them. I'd also like to thank the continued support of the crew behind the Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories documentaries.

And as always, I'd like to thank my fellow cohorts at The Digital Bits for their constant support and never-ending inspiration, as well as the people taking the time to read this thing. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Until next time...

Happy Halloween to you all!

- Tim Salmons

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