Friday the 13th Dir. Marcus Nispel

[New Line Cinema; 2009]

Well, it’s been five years since Freddy vs. Jason graced our screens in an orgy of blood and marketing synergy, so producer Michael Bay must have decided that it’s about time to dust off the ol’ hockey mask and machete again. But, feigning an appreciation for how much nonsense an audience will tolerate, Bay has decided to halt the existing franchise in its tracks before we end up with Jason vs. Predator or Jason vs. Kramer and repackage the series’ debut with 21st-century production values. He has placed the keys to this “reimagining” in the hands of Marcus Nispel, who similarly reformatted The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003 and also directed a film called Pathfinder about Vikings fighting Native Americans (which I don’t really remember, but I’m almost morbidly curious to see). With that in mind, I’m not here to tell you that the new Friday the 13th sucks; you probably could have guessed as much. I’m here to tell you why it sucks, why it was bound to suck, and why Michael Bay couldn’t care less if you think it sucks.

It would not really be possible to remake the original Friday the 13th, Sean Cunningham’s 1980 horror classic that brought the slasher genre to the American mainstream, nor would it be economically practical. That film thrived on the premise that no one, characters or audience, knew what the hell was going on. The camera-as-killer aesthetic was novel and unsettling, keeping the nature of the beast a mystery until the climactic confrontation between Alice and Mrs. Voorhees. But innovation does not a franchise make, and over the next two decades Paramount Pictures created a box office juggernaut based on the premise that everyone knew exactly what the hell was going on. Characters spoke freely of the legend of Jason, the reanimated and vengeful son of the late Mrs. Voorhees, yet willfully dismissed the possibility of his presence. Audiences showed up in droves to see exactly how Jason would butcher those reckless youths in the latest installment.

The phrase “reimagining” is thus not quite as apt here as the other bit of marketing jargon that has been tossed around regarding this film: “reboot.” This film exists solely to capitalize on the most bankable aspects of both the Friday the 13th franchise and the modern horror film and pave the way for a run of sequels in a contemporary visual aesthetic. No one really cares about Mrs. Voorhees anymore, so she gets dispatched within the first 30 seconds. Jason is the moneymaker, and the film predictably places him front and center from the get-go. While the classic hockey mask iconography was not introduced until 1982’s Friday the 13th: Part 3, Jason adopts the mask early on in this film. It would have been silly to try to sell a product without its most successfully branded image. Additionally, this film showcases how much contemporary horror has been changed by the Saw franchise. Nispel seems obsessed with finding new and more creative ways to kill those kids, so Jason is less of a mindless brute here than he was in films past and a bit more thoughtful and sadistic.

There isn’t much use in discussing the plot of any of the films in the Friday the 13th franchise, as it really only serves to create situations in which Jason can cut a bloody swath through a group of dull, attractive, and sexually promiscuous young adults. This particular version opens with Jason systematically butchering some hapless campers searching for a hidden pot stash near Crystal Lake. One of them (Amanda Righetti) apparently looks like a young version of Jason’s mother, so he simply chains her up in his basement rather than dismembering her with her friends. A month later, her brother (Jared Padalecki) comes to the area searching for her and attaches himself to some privileged youths spending an ill-fated weekend at one’s family lakefront vacation home. These characters are a cornucopia of frat boy and sorority chick stereotypes, the kind of people who have completely serious altercations involving the phrases, “Get out of my way, bro,” and “I’m not your bro.” The only reason I’m not giving this film zero out of five is because it didn’t antagonize me any more than it had to by letting any of these people live.

The sad truth is that films like Friday the 13th are relatively immune to criticism. I am aware that this film was not made for me, and I am equally aware that fans of this genre are so entrenched in their beliefs that they will dismiss reviews like mine as the elitist tirade of a film snob who doesn’t “get it.” Michael Bay, New Line Cinema, et. al. have identified a lucrative market segment composed of people like this who respond almost mechanically to the visceral impulses of suspense, violence, and sex. This is not news, but it bears repeating, if only to explain why the audience at my screening burst into raucous applause at the end of this film and why their friends will all pay $10 for the same experience this weekend. The same folks who went out of their way to win tickets to the screening from local radio stations will show up for the inevitable Friday the 13th: Part 2 “reimagining” and will show up this time next year for the Michael Bay-produced “reboot” of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

About ten minutes in, a member of the film’s first party of doomed youths asks another camper, “Did you bring any Heineken?” His friend indignantly replies, “Heineken? Fuck that European shit. This is Pabst Blue American Ribbon!” If you either don’t get the reference (now with added xenophobia!) or recognize it but aren’t as outraged as I was to hear this focus group-certified patchwork of horror clichés try to appropriate cultural capital from a truly original and terrifying film, then by all means, see the new Friday the 13th. It was made with you in mind.

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