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Friday the 13th (2009) Review–Screened at Monster Mania Con!

June 17, 2009

fridaythe13th2009In a post on my other blog, Super Tuesdays, I promised that I would share my thoughts on the recent Friday the 13th remake (which came out on DVD yesterday) as soon as I had seen it. I just watched it this past Saturday, and I’ll get to my review shortly, but first I want to talk about the context in which I watched the film: The Monster Mania Con horror convention in Cromwell, Connecticut.

Anyone who’s followed Super Tuesdays knows that I have a certain affinity for scary movies. When I heard that a horror convention was going to be held in Cromwell, about half an hour away from my home, I immediately marked the date on my calendar. The event interested me partly as an extension of my affection for the genre, but also as a big idiosyncratic spectacle that I wanted to witness. has a fascinating article about a trip to a horror convention; judging by that account, I expected quite an interesting experience.

Upon close inspection, the convention's wristbands didn't make a whole lot of sense.

Upon close inspection, the convention's wristbands didn't make a whole lot of sense.

And the convention was indeed a good time. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to check out any of the merchandise dealers or autograph booths, most of which closed around 6:00. That wasn’t a big deal, though, since I was mainly interested in two Q&A sessions which were held with cast members from the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street films, respectively. The X-E article had given me a pretty accurate indication of what these would be like: Very loose, almost to the point of raucousness, with many of the actors possibly intoxicated. (Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare films, began an anecdote by saying, “This was two hours ago, before I started drinking vodka.”) Check out this exchange from the Friday Q&A, in which Steve Dash (Jason in Friday the 13th Part 2) is asked about the injuries he sustained on set:

By the way, the woman at the table is Betsy Palmer, who played Mrs. Voorhees in the first two Friday films. Much credit to her for being so accessible and friendly to the fans; she stayed up at the front of the room for several minutes after the panel ended, talking with fans, signing autographs and posing in pictures.

Sorry, Derek

Sorry, Derek

The “big, bald-headed, red-faced motherfucker” is Derek Mears, who played Jason in the 2009 remake and who delivered a brief introduction before the screening later that night. Mears seemed like a pretty nice guy as well, which makes me feel kind of bad that I didn’t like the remake all that much–though, if it makes him feel any better, I thought his performance specifically was good.

Okay, the review proper: Let’s start with the positive. Unlike Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, the new Friday recognizes and preserves the basic elements which made the franchise work. We’ve got the horny teens, the mysterious hockey-masked killer, and, of course, the creepy abandoned summer camp. It’s a simple formula, but there are several films that managed to screw it up. The remake is nothing if not quintessential, and in a series like this, that’s an asset.

F132009 also boasts the highest production values of any film in the series (except possibly Freddy Vs. Jason), and the amount of technical expertise that went into it ensures crisp visuals and at least a few moderately frightening sequences. The remake isn’t all that scary, but it is nonetheless the scariest Jason movie of the last twenty years, and I suppose that earns it some kudos. However, the big budget sometimes becomes a liability. To my tastes, the cinematography and production design are too glossy and Hollywood-ish for the rustic, gritty subject matter.

The film’s central flaw, though, is the all-important screenplay. Like Halloween (2008), Friday the 13th (2009) has a structure that is completely out of whack. We start off with an awkward opening credits sequence that rushes through the series’ backstory, and then we move on to a group of pot-crazed teenagers who take about half an hour to get picked off by Jason one by one. Then we’re introduced to another group of teenagers who will take about an hour to get picked off by Jason one by one. It’s hard to build tension when the plot keeps pressing restart. Also, who’s supposed to be the protagonist? It could be Amanda Righetti’s Whitney, but she gets kidnapped by Jason and disappears for most of the movie’s middle. It seems like it should be Jared Padalecki’s Clay, the most admirable character, but even he seems to get less screen time than one-dimensional rich douchebag Trent.

Jason--Sometimes scary, sometimes just awkward

Jason--Sometimes scary, sometimes just awkward

Speaking of characters, the new Jason isn’t as bastardized as the new Michael Myers, but his identity as a Jigsaw-style survivalist doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. How did he know how to build his giant underground lair, and where did he get the supplies? Did he go to Home Depot and sign up for the undead man-child discount? That’s just one of the many lapses in logic, perhaps the most ridiculous of which occurs in the final scene. (What the hell are they doing? Why don’t they just wait for an ambulance?) Finally, the plot holes are matched by the clunky dialogue, which ranges from bald-faced exposition to laughable clich├ęs. (“Say hi to Mommy–in hell!” Ugh.)

Any of these individual flaws could have been overcome, but together they amount to a failure of storytelling. And yeah, I know–it’s just a Friday the 13th movie, what did I expect? But even the sequels were charming due to their low budgets and general earnestness, two qualities that the remake lacks. In their place, screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (of Freddy Vs. Jason, no surprise there) offer a winking, unfocused checklist of Things That Will Please the Fans. Gory kills? Check. Horror genre in-jokes? Check. Nudity? Check check check (with one of those checks representing Willa Ford, fulfilling the dreams of every twelve-year-old who went through the “I Wanna Be Bad” video frame by frame).

But where is the dramatic build? Where is the understated, eerie atmosphere of Friday the 13th (1980)? Presumably most of us nerds who gathered at the Cromwell Crowne Plaza this past weekend were there because some horror movie, be it A Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween or any other exemplary scare flick, connected with us on a level deeper than the need to see Willa Ford’s tits. In our effort to recapture that connection, we’ve been given a big-budget chunk of mediocrity that in its slavish adherence to What the Fans Want implicates us in its own existence.

Now that’s scary.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. S. permalink*
    June 17, 2009 5:07 pm

    I do believe there was a picture of you and Betsy floating around the internet…

  2. September 2, 2009 8:38 am

    Great site…keep up the good work.

  3. September 4, 2009 3:19 am

    Excellent site, keep up the good work


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