The Friday the 13th remake was probably the most hyped horror movie of the year, with websites and magazines whetting fans’ appetites for the twelve months that led up to its recent release. Produced by Platinum Dunes, the company responsible for the recent ‘re-imaginings’ of such classics as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hitcher and, ahem, The Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th was intended to reboot the franchise after the truly appalling crossover Freddy vs. Jason which, despite being a box office hit, had failed to generate enough interest among the fans to kickstart a new series. Following the success of Rob Zombie’s trailer trash update of Halloween, remakes were not just something to be scoffed at and the idea of Jason Voorhees being reborn for the 21st century seemed like a viable option.
Paramount Pictures had originally sold off the rights to the franchise to New Line Cinema in 1992, after seven sequels which had slowly become less and less successful, with the new decade seemingly putting an end to the slasher cycle. New Line would produce two efforts of their own – Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday and Jason X – in an attempt to keep fan interest alive as they devised their long-gestating Freddy vs. Jason project. Some time after the release of the latter, New Line approached Platinum Dunes with the offer of reinventing Friday the 13th for a new generation, yet certain copyright issues meant that they were unable to use elements from the earlier movies. Fortunately, Paramount soon came knocking and suddenly anything was possible. With the intention of creating a brand new story with parts taken from the first four movies, Platinum Dunes set out to find talent suitable of bringing Jason back from the dead.
Initially, the producers contacted The Messengers writer Mark Wheaton with the task of creating a new story but, after failing to impress, Freddy vs. Jason co-scribes Damian Shannon and Mark Swift were drafted in instead. Platinum Dunes chose to harvest talent from their previous features, including director Jonathan Liebesman, who had just completed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Apparently due to scheduling conflicts, Liebesman was forced to walk from the project and was swiftly replaced by Marcus Nispel, who had helmed the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Much of the cast were either made up of young TV stars (Supernatural‘s Jared Padalecki, Veronica Mars‘ Ryan Hansen) or actors from recent horror flicks (including The Return to House on Haunted Hill‘s Amanda Righetti – a role previously linked to Cloverfield‘s Odesse Yustman – and Disturbia‘s Aaron Yoo).
The role of Jason himself caused much controversy, as fan favourite Kane Hodder had been jettisoned in favour of fellow stuntman Ken Kirzinger for Freddy vs. Jason and, naturally, they wanted Hodder back. It was finally revealed that the part had been offered to Derek Mears, who had appeared as one of the monsters in The Hills Have Eyes II. The teaser footage that was slowly leaked online via the likes of Bloody Disgusting had fans divided, though most agreed that Mears seemed to dominate in the role of Jason. But by the time the film was released on the 13th February, the anticipation was almost unbearable.
Friday the 13th opens in 1980 with a brief sequence that recaps the final moments of the original movie, with a bruised and beaten counselor decapitating the psychotic Pamela Voorhees (Nada Visitor), who blames her for the death of her son, Jason, who drowned in the lake years earlier. Fast forward to present day and a group of friends, including Whitney (Righetti), Wade (Jonathan Sadowski) and the extremely irritating Richie (Ben Feldman), arrive near the abandoned site of Camp Crystal Lake, where the previous murders took place, in search of marijuana. Around a campfire that night, Wade tells the legend of Pamela’s vengeful killing spree and Jason’s return from the grave, which clearly convinces no one. Soon after, Whitney and her boyfriend, Mike (Nick Mennell), decide to take a walk when they stumble upon the old camp. Ill-advised, they take a look around where they discover a necklace with a photo of Pamela, which Mike mentions has an uncanny resemblance to Whitney.
Back at the campfire, Richie and his girlfriend, Amanda (America Olivo), make their way into a tent for some pre-marital sex whilst Wade wanders into the bushes to urinate. As he comes across an obscene amount of marijuana he is hacked to pieces by Jason (who, despite claims from certain fans, is not protecting his ‘stash’), who then moves onto the happy couple. Amanda is tied in a sleeping bag above the fire whilst Richie gets his foot caught in a bear trap. At the camp Mike finds the decomposed head of Pamela. Moments later Jason reappears, his features obscured behind a ‘bag,’ and slaughters Mike. Whitney makes her way back to the campfire in time to see Amanda barbecued. As she attempts to free Richie, Jason slices his machete straight down deep into his head, before taking Whitney hostage. And then cut to opening credits…
Six weeks later, Trent (Travis Van Winkle) is driving some of his friends to his family’s summer house, when they stop off at a small store. This motley crew of friends includes Jenna (Panabaker), Chewie (Yoo) and token black buy Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta) who, despite claiming that he isn’t a racial stereotype, immediately falls foul of the typical ‘black guy in a slasher’ clichés. Whilst in the store they come across Clay (Padalecki), who is desperately searching for his sister, Whitney (a major plot device from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), and is pleading with the shop clerk to place a ‘missing’ poster in the window. The arrogant Trent takes a dislike to him and the two argue, before Clay quietly leaves the store. Already the typical slasher characters are set up – the ‘final girl’ Jenna, the alpha male jock Trent, the comedy relief joker Chewie, pretty boy Nolan Hansen, and blonde airheads Chelsea (Willa Ford) and Bree (Julianna Guill). Clay is surprisingly well written though, with Padalecki delivering a rugged and strong performance. Soon after leaving the store he is pulled over by a police officer (Richard Burdi), who seems all too familiar with his mission regarding his sister. As his journey continues, the various locals that he encounters seem to hint that the surrounding area are well aware of Jason and have decided to leave him be to keep the peace.
The friends arrive at the summer home and immediately settle in, despite Trent’s attempts to enforce his house rules. Meanwhile, Clay makes his way to an old barn where he meets a creepy caretaker (Bob King) who proves to be of no help. This character is possibly the most clichéd and out of place of the entire movie, repeatedly spilling out obscene dialogue for the sake of it. In fact, it seems that the writers went out of their way to show how despicable he is – he licks the page of a naked centrefold and makes references to a sexual relationship he has had with a mannequin. It comes as no surprise when Jason turns up and offs him, before finding his trademark hockey mask.
Meanwhile, Clay turns up at the house as he continues his search for his sister. Once again, Trent locks horns with him but the kind-hearted Jenna is more sympathetic to his situation. Nolan and Chelsea, however, have made their way out to the lake for some fun in the sun. But as Nolan drives the boat he is suddenly struck in the head by an arrow. The topless Chelsea quickly makes her way to shore and hides under the jetty, but Jason slams his machete down straight through her head. This scene is by far the most effective of the whole movie, with both murders being extremely brutal and showing how dangerous Jason really is. As Clay and Jenna explore the old camp – conveniently situated a little further up the coast from the house – they witness Jason carrying a headless corpse. He becomes aware of their presence and turns on the large floodlights that surround his lair, but unable to see any trespassers he makes his way underground, where he has kept Whitney for the last few weeks (due to her reminding him of his mother).
Back at the house the party is in full swing. It should be noted, however, that there seems to be a few racial issues regarding Lawrence and Chewie. Not only are they the two jokers who seem far more immature than the other childish characters but they are also the only ones to not have dates (the two blonde white males are accompanied by blonde white females). This may just be bad coincidence as opposed to a conscious effort by the writers to make some kind of statement on race in horror films. Clay and Jenna soon return to the house hysterical and try to convince the stubborn and arrogant Trent of what they saw. It is not until Lawrence is used as bait and then murdered before their very eyes (Chewie had been killed moments before) that Trent finally believes him and calls the police, though when Officer Bracke (Burgi) arrives at the house he is immediately dispatched (authority figures never prove useful in this type of film).
When they eventually try to escape, Trent is killed straight away and Clay and Jenna make their way back into the woods, returning to Jason’s old shack. After hearing screams from below, they find a tunnel that leads them directly to Whitney. Unfortunately, as they escape Jason kills Jenna (shame as she was one of the stronger characters, though this does make sense dramatically) and knocks Clay unconscious, before turning his attention back to Whitney. Clay eventually wakes up and the two of them make their way to the old barn, where Jason jumps through a window and grabs Clay from behind, à la The Final Chapter. Much like Ginny did in Friday the 13th Part 2, she uses the image of his dead mother in order to overpower him (this scene of the final girl facing off against Jason in a barn as it pours with rain outside is also slightly reminiscent of the finale of Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning), as Clay sneaks up behind and wraps chains around his neck, pulling him up into the air. When he finally makes his way back down, Whitney drives a stake through his heart whilst growling, ‘Say ‘Hi’ to mommy.’ For some stupid, unexplained reason they decide to stay at the camp until dawn, where they drop the body into the lake and then collapse on the jetty. But, in an obvious homage the original movie’s legendary ending, Jason jumps back out of the lake and drags Whitney under. Fade to black…
So was Friday the 13th worth all the hype? Well, to be honest it does take more than one viewing to appreciate the film. Aside from Clay and Jenna, most of the characters are one-dimensional and spout cringe-worthy dialogue, and they are too catered to the standard stereotype formula to be either convincing or sympathetic. But Padalecki and Panabaker make for impressive leads, both proving to be resourceful and, more importantly, likeable. Righetti, to a lesser extent, also makes a good effort, though sadly she spends the majority of the running time manacled in an underground tunnel so there is very little room for character development. Shannon and Swift prove once again that they have no idea how to write convincing characters or avoid slasher clichés, though on second viewing you learn to overlook these issues.
By far the star of the show is Jason – as it should be – and thankfully Mears proves to be one of the best, or at the very least one of the most intimidating Jasons yet. Whilst Hodder brought the role to a whole new level there were always a few errors with regards to the character – he always caught his prey without running and in Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan it seems that he could even teleport, as there is no other explanation as to how he managed to be in two places at once. Yet here these problems are rectified, Jason can run and, using his underground tunnels, he can appear from nowhere. Mears plays the role with an intensity and level of aggression that has not been seen for many years and certainly wipes all memory of Kirzinger away. The other decision the filmmakers chose which really pays off is returning Jason to Crystal Lake. It has been over twenty years since he last spent an entire film at this infamous location – instead opting to explore New York, Hell and even twenty-fifth century deep space. Fans will have fun pointing out all the various references to the previous films and books (from plot points to character names), though you should not let this distract you from the movie itself. Despite its flaws, of which there are many, Friday the 13th does take the franchise back to the gory glory days of the 1980’s and whilst it may be far from perfect it is a welcome addition to the series.