When it came to remaking Friday the 13th the producers were faced with a problem: story wise there’s really not a lot to it. It’s just some guy in a hockey mask chopping up teenagers in a wood. Worse still, that guy isn’t even IN the first film, and he doesn’t get his iconic face wear until the third one. They solved this with the genius of idea of not just remaking the first Friday but also the second, third and forth ones. And when I say genius I mean incredibly stupid. By squeezing four films into one and a half hours it helps bulk up what little plot there is but makes a terrible mess of little things like pacing and character development (not that anyone ever watched a slasher movie for its nuanced characterisations but I’ll get to that).
The original film is covered in the opening credits as Jason’s mum explains to a final girl that she’s gone on a killing spree because a bunch of horny camp councillors left her son to die in Crystal Lake, before getting her head lobbed off. This event is strangely watched by the clearly not dead Jason who sets out to get revenge for his mum, who was getting revenge for him… Which of course is nonsense. In her dying breath (which must have been tricky having already been beheaded) Mrs Voorhees begs Jason to avenge her, which kind of suggests she knew he wasn’t dead all along. So why was she killing the teens in the first place?
So we cut to twenty years later and a bunch of not teens (ie. twenty-somethings cast as teenagers) roll up to Camp Crystal and start being murdered by a not so mysterious man with a bag on his head. This is the Friday the 13th part 2 stage of the remake, hance the bag. This goes on for a bit until there is only one girl left but we learn a couple of things on the way. One, that the guy they cast as Jason is massive and imposing and does a decent job of playing a man with a bag on his head. And two, Jason in the years since the earlier films has become a pot farmer. I’m not sure why, or what his business plan is, but he’s got some serious looking bush growing his back garden. Maybe is just there to lure unsuspecting stoners to their doom. It works too.
Anyway, so we’re down to the final girl pretty quickly and she’s just about to be cut into small pieces of meat when suddenly up pops the opening credits – twenty three minutes into a film that is only ninety two minutes long in the first place! Can you see what the problem is here? So we are now introduced to yet more new characters who are going up to a cabin in the woods. Now we must be in part three (no 3D though. Boo, I miss the eye popping scene ) as Jason gets his hockey mask. But wait we’ve also got some of Part four as well as the brother of the previous final girl shows up looking for her and is all cool on a motorcycle. His character is “he rides a motorcycle”.
I had a big problem with these new characters, three of them are tall white dudes with floppy hair and I couldn’t tell who was who until the third viewing. They could have been triplets. There were also a couple of interchangeable busty blondes with no character at all. To balance this there was an Asian guy and a black guy. Embarrassingly these minority representatives only interacted with each other except when drug taking was involved or there was a joke about the black guys skin colour. Depressing.
Like I said before though we’re not here to get to know these folks, we’re to watch them die. The Friday the 13th movies have always had two things that should be present to make them legitimate: boobs and inventive kills. Well there are certainly a lot of mammaries on show here but there is a near total lack of good death scenes. I don’t understand this. In the mid to late eighties the sequels had to cope with more and more restrictive censorship but still managed to find time to have a boxer have his head punched off and a sheriff bent in half. Nowadays you can get as gory as you like in these kind of films but there is just one good kill here. A girl hiding under the lake jetty gets a machete through the top of her skull and when Jason pulls it out she is briefly lifted out of the water so we see her breasts. It’s awful but also so silly it raises a macabre smile.
Other than that the film misses opportunities for great kills left, right and centre. There’s a scene with a character in a massive shed surrounded by all the tools you could ever wish for if you were a psychotic maniac to butcher this poor fellow. However Jason picks up a tiny screwdriver and shoves it in his throat. Boring! Later after much set up we find ourselves in a barn with a massive, violent wood shredder, surely one of the most grisly, violent and hilarious ways anyone could die (see Tucker and Dale Vs Evil). Who ends up in the shredder? No one. No one does at all. Sure, it help hang someone but who cares about that? It’s a shredder in a horror movie, it should be shredding flesh. If you want to hang someone get a wobbly chair.
The other major problem with the film is that the final girl is not in the film for most of the running time so you never get to know anything about her. The final girl is a fundamental trope of the slasher genre and a remake of one of the main cornerstones of that genre should have at least a basic understanding of the rules. If the idea was to confuse you about who the final girl was then I don’t buy it. There is another female who almost makes it, and has a larger role but even if that was the idea it still leaves you without a character you’ve had a chance to get familiar with enough to root for.
On the positive side it is shot better than most of the original films and the acting is certainly a step up too. Also one guy calls a girl “dude” whilst he’s having sex with her. I suppose it’s not like the Friday the 13th films are a high water mark for film making so it’s really no better not worse than the rest of them. Okay it’s not as good as the first four it is remaking but it’s better than Jason takes Manhattan. But then again what isn’t?
Platinum Dunes made a run of these classic horror remakes. The nadir was almost certainly A Nightmare on Elm Street, but this isn’t much better. It just seems like a waisted opportunity made by lazy people after a quick buck. A perfect example of this is when Jason gets his hockey mask: the bag on the head look is ruined by some jerk trying to defend himself. Jason is upset (I guess, it’s hard to tell) until he looks down and there is a hockey mask. So he puts it on. Job done.