Travis Van Winkle
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Friday the 13th (2009)
9th Mar 09
Classically trained pianist Jason Voorhees (Philip Seymour Hoffman) falls in love with an amputee Holocaust survivor (Kate Winslet) and fights a long, arduous battle with AIDS. Well, what did you expect the “plot” to be from a movie called “Friday the 13th”?!
The last time Michael Bay’s horror-devoted Platinum Dunes production outfit hired Marcus Nispel to direct a remake of a beloved horror classic, the result was 2003‘s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Never likely to recapture the never-equaled intensity and discomfort of the Tobe Hooper original, it settled for being a suspenseful, straight-forward 21st century slasher pic instead and thoughtfully drenched a skimpily dressed Jessica Biel with water every few minutes to ensure extra goodwill. Diehard fans resented its very existence - but, hey, if that’s how you feel, why not just ignore it and watch the original film? It hasn’t gone away, after all.
Nispel’s Friday The 13th was unpopular with the same kind of fan base long before its novelty release date of Friday the 13th 2009. The box office receipts spoke for themselves and have already ensured a sequel, but for certain audiences, the movie was received with the kind of disdain you might normally reserve for discovering a fresh genital wart. In short, it hasn’t had much in the way of fan-love, which is too bad considering that, taken as the latest addition in an endless, simplistic franchise, it does most things right.
The writers of the maligned but fun Freddy Vs Jason are behind this reboot and they avoid the cartoonish tendencies of their previous foray into Vorhees territory, while maintaining some of the stoner humour. They also return Jason to his scary roots as a fast-moving, unstoppable but non-zombiefied killer - while dubiously following the trend of the new Chainsaw series by making the maniac a lot more sympathetic than he was in the old movies.
The new Friday is a satisfying picture if you go into it with realistic expectations. Perhaps the nicest compliment we can pay is that it displays a pleasantly retro attitude in indulging its target audience’s adolescent demands. In other words, we’re talking three sets of wondrous bare boobs. Remember when horror movies simply had to incorporate at least two topless women for good old-fashioned gratuitous titillation purposes? This film does, as it enthusiastically disrobes the old-ish America Olivo (fake, odd-looking boobies), topless water-skier Willa Ford (perfectly decent boobies) and extraordinarily sexy Julianna Guill (whose boobies are actually described onscreen as being “stupendous”, with “perfect nipple placement”). There’s not a lot more to this movie other than boobs, a nasty death every few minutes and repeated odes to the wonders of weed. But then, would you want anymore than that?!
The naysayers have been reinforcing their pre-emptive “nays” after actually viewing the film, but the truth is, the 2009 Friday successfully recreates most of the key elements of its 80’s predecessors. There’s campfire-based exposition for morons who need the plot spelled out; ominous old-timers warning about imminent death who just get ignored by the morons about to suffer imminent death; ill-fated law enforcement (Richard Burgi) characters who exist just to add to the bodycount; post-coital death; and a last-minute Jason-rising-from-the-lake chair jumper that very directly echoes the 1980 movie’s classic final shock. As the year is 2009, the new horror cliché of having no mobile phone signal is reliably in place, substituting for the old cliché of all the phone lines being cut, which was reliably present in the original flick.
It isn’t groundbreaking but it is good old-school fun, and it’s executed with significantly more visual panache than the workmanlike (but effective) directing job done by Sean S Cunningham back in the day. Cinematographer Daniel Pearl - who worked on both versions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - relies too much on that irksome modern trend of shakicam but he captures some very atmospheric shots of Crystal Lake’s oppressive woodland and effectively exploit’s the imposing presence of Derek Mears (he’s no Kane Hodder in terms of intimidating bulk but he’s a scary-enough variant on hillbilly Jason from Part 2) appearing in tight corners or in copious look-behind-you scare moments.
The film has a hero (Jared Padalecki) who’s a variation on the ill-fated male lead of The Final Chapter - though someone sadly forgot to order him a personality, perhaps reinforcing the reason these movies traditionally have a lone young female protagonist for survivor duties. This aspect and others (notably a climactic sequence in which heroine Amanda Righetti confronts Jason by acting very similar to Amy Steel during the showdown of Part 2 ) display a reverence to the early Paramount films that reveal the writers as devoted fan-boys. To some extent, the film also returns to the kind of viciousness and brutality that were more common to the earlier, nastier Friday s than the MPAA-neutered latter sequels.
Nispel’s film subverts any expectation of being a direct remake of the 1980 Friday the 13th by condensing its core events into a single scene at the very start, set, poignantly enough, in 1980. The movie is barely two minutes old and already a survivor girl has beheaded a Betsy Palmer look-alike. This is followed by a self-contained, pre-titles sequence of a small group of campers being done in Jason, sporting the unnerving one-eye-holed tater sack he wore in Part 2. Plucky Righetti is last seen apparently meeting the sharp end of Jason’s machete before the flick cuts to a few weeks later.
Her brother Padalecki is cheesed off with the failure of the cops to find Righetti so sets off on his own mission around Crystal Lake. We find out soon enough that Jason has uncharacteristically kept the girl alive in his cavernous lair, purely because (gratuitous plot contrivance alert!!) she looks a lot like Mrs Vorhees did as a young woman. A new bunch of young folks are in the area too, planning a weekend of booze, weed and sex in the plush shack of rich bastard Travis Van Winkle (who, unless a film made this year features an actor named Pecker Hardening, is 2009’s brightest contender for the Silliest Movie Star Name Award). There’s a wisecracking but amiable black stoner dude, a comic relief Asian stoner dude, a booze-chugging uber-hot blonde bimbo and various other disposable teens. Jason picks up his hockey mask courtesy of a hilarious in-bred local weirdo - the type of guy who lost his virginity to a mannequin - and goes on a kill spree.
Although it fails to make the expected potential use of a prominently displayed wood chipper (for shame!), the new Friday efficiently, briskly decimates its cast (yep, there are 13 kills - something misleadingly promised by the trailers to the earlier films) in unpleasant ways : machete centre-partings, throat slashings, head stabbings, sharp things trusted into necks / hands / legs / eyeballs / foreheads. There’s also a non-bloody but pleasingly sadistic new twist on one of Jason’s classic kills: the bimbo-in-a-sleeping-bag death seen in Part VII: The New Blood and satirised in Jason X. There’s nothing over-elaborate to get the crowd cheering here, just simple old-school kills executed with panache.
The film’s shortcomings are to some extent shared by even the superior episodes in the Friday series: it’s undeniably formulaic, but it does the formula well enough to merit its existence. There are two or three fun characters (along with the expected quotient of total dicks and stupid people), and, if the plot denies us a fully functional final girl like the old days, at least she gets a retro kiss-off line. Nispel is proficient at setting up the shocks, scares and deaths though Harry Manfredini’s distinctive string-based score is much missed: only momentarily does the immortal “chi chi ma ma” effect make its presence felt. (Steve Jablonsky’s ambient discordant score is more typical of his work on the new Chainsaws than anything in the Friday canon).
Ultimately, the bottom line is: any movie with a topless water-skier scene cant be all bad.
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