Saturday, February 14, 2009

FRIDAY THE 13th VERSION 2009: THE SLASH REMAINS THE SAME



There’s more good cinematography in this one shot from the new Friday the 13th than in the first eight Jason movies combined.

As the esteemed film critic Jimmy Page once noted, the song remains the same, and that’s certainly the case with the “new” and slightly improved Friday the 13th. If ever there was a film franchise beholden to formula it’s this one. The rubber-stamped elements of a Jason movie put surefire repeaters like James Bond or Inspector Clouseau or even Rocky Balboa to shame, so ingrained and inevitable are the pieces of the puzzle that slam into place like shoddy clockwork from film to film. The 2009 mix puts a bit more emphasis on the gore than did the last few episodes that I saw, and it takes full advantage of CGI enhancements to purge the money shots of those annoying cutaways to a meat cleaver buried in an obviously rubber brainpan. There seems to be a smidgen more sex in this one, of the post-porn Girls Gone Wild variety, than I recall from the series’ glory days as well. Obnoxious college punks? Check, check, check, check, check, check, check. Exceptionally obnoxious college punk set up for ostentatiously gruesome kill because he’s so exceptionally obnoxious? Check. Not one, but two final girls, so there’s a bit of added “suspense” as to which one will unexpectedly get skewered at the last minute? Check. Relentless, unkillable killer who makes “unexpected” shock reappearance just before awesome shock-cut to end credits? Check. Good night, everybody, and thanks for coming!

The gore is splashy but not particularly imaginative, and only one kill got a laugh from me not so much for audacity but for actually catching me off-guard. (To describe it would sap the one genuine surprise the movie has up its tattered sleeve). But the new Friday the 13th keeps things moving along and adds a bit of cheapjack mommy psychology to spice up the hunt-hunt-hunt-hunt-kill-kill-kill-kill mechanics as the movie lurches to its foregone conclusion. The wonder is that even though every single scare is of the dog/funny stoner/masked psycho-jumping-out-at-you-from-nowhere (accompanied by amplified musical sting, or scream, or stabbing sound effect) variety, the movie is so much more accomplished on a simple technical level than any of its predecessors that, despite its slavish faithfulness to the tired (not a typo) and true Jason formula it ends up, through the sheer magic of competent pacing and high-quality cinematography, seeming like a masterpiece, if not of the horror genre, then at least of the Jason genre.

The opening-night audience I saw it with seemed determined to have a good time, screaming (and faux screaming) in all the right places, so I suspect the movie will satisfy the average Voorhees mythologist and date-movie connoisseur, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this picture spawns another two or three chapters of its own. Director Marcus Nispel does toy with using the frame to gradually reveal Jason and create suspense in his some of his set-ups, but he doesn’t have a lot of patience for coloring outside the lines and almost always retreats to standard “gotcha” gimmickry instead. If the subsequent directors of the probably inevitable sequels followed through on this impulse and explored new ways of generating scares, then the Jason Voorhees line might actually start to get a little more interesting. But the question is, at this late date, by varying the blueprint would the end result still be a Friday the 13th movie?

18 comments:

Fox said...

I pretty much agree with everything you've stated here, I just wish that films like these would never go on past the 75 minute mark. I mean, 97 minutes??... for this?!?! At this point, with these movies, I think we can fill in the exposition ourselves.

POSSIBLE SPOILER (though, really??): Am I right in guessing that the creative kill you speak of was the one under the dock? I thought that one worked quite well too. And I especially appreciated that Nispel didn't feel the need to make it nastier than it needed to be. If Eli Roth had shot it, surely he woulda cut to a close-up of the rod coming out of her head with goop on it (and then maybe some goop on the boobs as well).

Anyway, that kills was a reminder that good kills can be clever, fun kills, they don't need to be just as gory as you can get.

J. Astro said...

"But the new Friday the 13th keeps things moving along and adds a bit of cheapjack mommy psychology to spice up the hunt-hunt-hunt-hunt-kill-kill-kill-kill ..."

The mommy-psychology has ALWAYS been a part of the "FRIDAY THE 13TH" series since the very first film, as the first one WAS about Pamela Voorhees, not Jason... and in most of the sequels, it is mentioned that Jason kills to avenge his mother, just as she killed to avenge him... how many of the "FRIDAY THE 13" films have you -actually seen-??

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Fox: That was the creative kill I was thinking of in regard to how CGI has been utilized to make those obviously fake prosthetic heads unnecessary. And I agree: that one was as nasty as it needed (needed?) to be. But the one I was thinking of was the one that immediately preceded it. Nispel gets you relaxed with the waterboarding business. They're out in the middle of the lake! What could possible happen? And then, thwak!

J. Astro: This is why an editor is a good thing. I should have written "a bit more cheapjack mommy psychology..." Obviously Jason's motivation from Part 2 on has been to avenge his beloved mother. And I may be wrong, but I don't believe any of the other movies went so far as to make a link between a final girl's resemblance to Mrs. Voorhees and a hesitance on Jason's part to cleave her in two for that reason. Perhaps you are more of a Jason scholar than I and could point to a similar moment in a previous film, and if you could it would only reinforce the point that these movies are relentlessly unoriginal. Even though the new movie adds a dab more of this element, it's still a rehash. And let's be honest-- we were never talking Psycho here to begin with, or the X-Files "Home" episode, or even My Mother, the Car. The mother-son relationship in the series resonates about as deeply as the rest of the cheap thrills to be had here.

And for the record, I admit to not be a Friday the 13th completist-- I missed Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X. But I think I've seen enough of the series to get the point, and like one lucky person in each movie I always get it... right between the eyes.

bill r. said...

I hope the sequel to this remake follows in the footsteps of the original Friday the 13th Part 2 -- which I just saw for the first time about a week ago -- and gives up a full ten minutes of its run-time at the beginning to a flashback of the ending of the previous film. Watching that, I thought it might have been the laziest and most incompetent thing I've ever seen in a movie.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Lazy? Incompetent? I just heard these movies were, in retrospect, full of low-rent elegance!

The capper to that lame opening sequence really set the tone for the cynicism of the series too-- don't even bother investing in any of these characters, because even if it looks like someone has survived, they too will end up with a screwdriver in their head.

I really tried hard, but I couldn't think of a single moment in any of these movies that I thought was genuinely scary, as my adult self would define the term. (I can remember getting the shit scared out of me by a lot of things when I was 10 that were probably no scarier than a Jason movie... but I was 10.)

By the way, David Edelstein's single paragraph on the new Friday the 13th movie is hilarious (it can be found at the end of this piece).

bill r. said...

Oh, every bad movie is full of low-rent elegance these days, provided the film was made roughly 30 years ago. The way you describe the remake indicates to me that I'll probably like it more than the original, because how could I not?

Speaking of horror remakes, over the weekend I saw a trailer for the remake of The Last House on the Left (it was in front of Doubt...!?). I hate Craven's original film, but the basic idea, which wasn't even original to Bergman, is pretty great, and hard, one would think, to screw up, although more than one person has done just that. But this trailer initially gave me some hope. Nothing to get nuts about, but there was some decent acting on display, some nice photography, maybe it would be worth checking out. And then at the end of the trailer, they show the parents feeding a guy headfirst into a microwave oven. How the parents are planning on closing the microwave's door, I couldn't tell you. So I guess this is another swing and a miss.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yeah, the first two Friday the 13th movies are about as crappy as it gets, so any movie, like the remake, which is thoughtful enough to at least provide lighting so you can halfway see what's going on is going to be an improvement by default.

As for Last House, I've been hearing more about it lately and am interested, but as someone who could barely sit through the first one I can't help but think they'll feel the need to ramp up all the most unpleasant elements of the original for our enjoyment. I am interested, but wary. As for that microwave, perhaps the parents were using the guy as a Swiffer of some sort, hoping he could be twisted around inside the oven to clean out some of those stubborn, nuked-on stains. Otherwise, they're gonna be mighty disappointed if they try to press "start" with the door open...

Jeez...

bill r. said...

Oh, Dennis, you and I so frequently disagree on films that knowing you can't stand Craven's idiotic, shallow and clumsy Last House on the Left fills me with joy (that is what you were saying, isn't it?). How did that thing ever come to be regarded as a classic? Is it because Ebert gave it such a rave?

As for the microwave, maybe they ARE using him to clean it. If so, then my apologies, Filmmakers, because that's a great idea. Wish I'd thought of it.

By the way, early in the trailer, the family is driving to their vacation house, which they've apparently never been to before, and someone asks where it is, and the dad says "It's the last house on the left." As far as lines of dialogue that contain the title of the movie go, that one's not so bad, I guess.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yeah, I pretty much found Craven's early movies-- this one and The Hills Have Eyes-- pretty repellent. Ebert's review of Last House was very influential, as I recall, but so was Robin Wood's "An Introduction to the American Horror Film," which assessed Craven (among others) seriously, even beyond Ebert's praise. Ebert latched onto Bergman as the crux of his review, but Wood went further, especially from a political angle, in his assessments. The trouble is, I could never get past the movie's essential crudity and agonizing wallow in the tortures inflicted upon these kids. I don't doubt Craven's sincerity and humanity from what I've read since, but if Last House was the only evidence I'd probably come to a much different perspective.

bill r. said...

Ugh...the "political" angle. Please don't get me started on that. Because the movie was about Vietname, right? So are the murdering rapists the US military? And the parents are the peace-loving VC who bite off people's dicks?

That's the kind of shit that kept me away from film criticism for so long. And unless I'm remembering incorrectly, Craven said that angle had never even occurred to him!

Sorry, but that stuff drives me kinda crazy...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I looked around a bit (albeit not very hard) for some commentary from Craven re his first movie and had little luck beyond this brief interview, which tends to suggest that Craven would have embraced the position of his movie as being a reflection its time, even in hindsight, and probably dug/digs the cache it has gathered in the ensuing years as some sort of fearless classic.

I think it's entirely valid to take such a position and read a movie as such based on what's there, but I've always had a suspicion, in the case of Craven's movies, that he was always a bit too eager to accept the readings of others as his own intention. Like you, Bill, I love horror movies, but if someone came up with an elaborate, well-researched thesis about the underlying political or social subtext of Friday the 13th I'd still be pretty hard-pressed to deny the thudding boredom of actually watching those films, which are far more appealing to me as concepts than as actual experiences (and even as concepts their appeal is severely limited). It's the old saw of having to dream up some intellectualized justification for liking what you like, rather than just owning up to the lowdown pleasure you get from being scared. Directors can do this with their own movies too.

bill r. said...

I'm sure Craven loves the intepretation, but (again, if memory serves) he admitted in the DVD commentary that politics weren't really on his mind when making the film.

As for the rest of it, exactly. Some people need to justify their own tastes to themselves, to the point where Ebert is wildly inconsistent regarding horror films. I guess he always has been, but over the last several years he's been contradicting himself like mad. For instance, he liked The Devil's Rejects (a movie I hate, incidentally) because he thought it was executed with wit. Meanwhile, he thought Wolf Creek (not a great movie, but far better than anything Rob Zombie has done) was a sadistic disgrace. Anyone who has seen both knows that Zombie goes much further with his sadism then the guy who made Wolf Creek did, but because he plays the violence for laughs, that's supposedly okay? How so? Wolf Creek seemed rather serious in its intent, I thought.

Anyway, yes, I'm fed up with people twisting themselves in knots so they'll feel okay about liking horror films (or action films, or whatever). The fact that they often do so while running down the genre and its fans just makes it worse.

And, of course, not all horror films are vehicles for "low thrills", but of course you know that.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I enjoyed parts of The Devil's Rejects, largely the ending, which I thought hit a perfect pitch of ridiculous self-mythologizing (and I felt like Zombie knew it). But the movie did spend an awful lot of time digging the cruelties its victims were put through, all in the name of dubious postmodern comic effect.

I am curious, however, to hear your thoughts on Wolf Creek, which I'd always heard was the slimiest of the slimy.

bill r. said...

Dennis, Wolf Creek has NOTHING on The Devil's Rejects when it comes to slime. Look, it's not a great movie, but it takes the time to set up the characters who will be the victims, and it does so with care and subtlety. Since we know what kind of movie we're watching, the dread builds steadily, and for a long stretch before anything really happens.

When the violence comes, yes, it's rough, but why shouldn't it be? And I honestly don't think anyone's wallowing in it: it's nasty, but fast (for the most part). Overall, I do think it's an effective film.

As for Zombie knowing what he was doing with the ending to Rejects: if he did, then I guess I should tip my hat to him (although I still wouldn't like the movie), but many, many people didn't see it, and embraced that section for what it SEEMED to be saying, which utterly offends me.

bill r. said...

Sorry, I used "fast" to describe the violence in Wolf Creek, and that was boneheaded of me. It's not fast, but the idea that Wolf Creek is any worse in that regard than Zombie's films or either of the Hostels is absurd.

When you're dealing with a story about a sadistic murderer and his crimes, at least some of that sadism is going to have to come through. That's all we're dealing with in Wolf Creek.

eroslane said...

That first sentence! That is exactly what I said when I first saw that promo picture four or five months ago!

My brain is small. There is only room for one. (Kinda like Highlander.) :-D

Cathy said...

The Friday the 13th films were never popular with the critics, in contrast to other slasher films like Halloween. It currently sits as the second highest grossing film in the Friday the 13th franchise with $65 million. I will definitely buy the dvd movie

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