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Friday The 13th  (DVD)
Member Name: plipplop
Friday The 13th  (DVD)
Date: 24/06/09, updated on 24/06/09 (108 review reads)
Advantages: Brutal, fast-moving continuation of the franchise
Disadvantages: Eventually runs out of steam
In 1980, a group of teenaged youth counsellors is brutally slaughtered by an unknown assailant. The sole surviving counsellor is confronted at the side of Camp Crystal Lake and in one final desperate bid to escape she beheads the killer with an enormous machete. But as she hysterically runs off into the woods, she is unaware that the entire incident has been witnessed. Many years later, a group of teenaged friends travels to the same area for a camping trip but an unknown assailant silently stalks the trees calmly waiting for the moment to strike...
In 2003, music director Marcus Nispel made his feature film debut with a nasty remake of the 1970s horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Whilst opinion amongst the fans was divided, it was an enormous commercial success, and catalysed a string of remakes under the watchful eye of Michael Bay via his exclusive horror production unit Platinum Dunes. Six years later, Bay and Nispel were reunited, this time to reinvent another horror phenomenon - Jason Voorhees and the massacre of Friday the 13th.
For Nispel, it's more of the same, and a return to the formula that made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so successful. Nispel takes away any of the light-hearted elements that were popular in the 1980s original and strips the production down with a hard-edged, brutal simplicity that somehow breathes new life into an otherwise very tired genre.
For Jason (and for the franchise) it's something surprisingly different. Suddenly Jason has become the monster that previous directors wanted him to be, a huge, hulking mass of seething anger and uncontrollable rage. In spite of his enormous frame, this Voorhees moves swiftly through the trees, deftly pursuing his prey and even more efficiently despatching them. There's none of the creepy subtlety of the original. Voorhees never lurks behind trees watching and waiting like some kind of pervert. This is a new brash, bold and often calculating Jason. He may exist in the darkness, but he has little consideration for secrecy and anyone crossing his path is unlikely to live to tell the tale.
The narrative fairly hurtles along at an occasionally breathtaking pace. Nispel launches the viewer straight into the action, starting in 1980 with the culmination of the original massacre and then fast-forwards to more recent times for a dual-layered massacre that sidesteps the need for a slow introduction to Jason Voorhees. Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (the writers) notably pad the story with additional elements that worked reasonably well in Nispel's version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and so we're greeted by a small number of redneck locals who seem to have a begrudging respect for the killer with whom they share the woods. The police are dubious, with well-timed ineffectiveness and the teenagers are sassier, sexier and ballsier than their 1980s counterparts - not that it helps them live any longer, of course.
In Nispel's hand, Crystal Lake undergoes a transformation of its own. The earthy, bright wholesome surrounds of the original woodlands seem to have been replaced by a hot, sweaty, insect-ridden wilderness that yields a natural hostility that complements the big guy in the hockey mask. There's none of the pseudo-safety of the original films, none of those cute little log cabins and moments around the camp fire that lured Jason's earliest victims into mortal danger. It's not entirely clear what the intention is here, in terms of remaking, reinventing or simply following on from where earlier chapters left off and in fairness, any one of those options could apply. For me, this feels like a continuation of a previous episode (although which one, it's not quite clear.) It's not all entirely removed from the original version though. The teenagers are all horny and ill behaved (a sure fire recipe to attract the attention of the resident psychopath) and very quickly separate to provide opportunities for Jason to pick them off, and it's here where Nispel really excels.
In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nispel introduced a dark, dirty brutality that, for many, added an edge of severity sorely lacking in the original. In Friday the 13th, the same thing applies. There's a new level of savagery here, ranging from a nasty demise involving a sleeping bag and a campfire to a crossbow through the head, via more than a handful of deaths by machete and there's a new kind of cold indifference from Jason that makes him all the more convincing. Nispel clearly doesn't tolerate the word subtlety and Friday the 13th is stuffed full of LOUD JUMPY moments that are astoundingly effective. It should be predictable and clichéd, but somehow it all seems to work. New ideas and plot elements bring new opportunities too. For the first time, Jason has a 'lair', but the new is also affectionately mixed with the old. As our heroes make their way through the earthy passageways of Jason's home is it possible that there are little nods towards Jason's earlier victims? There's a wheelchair on the wall there - could that have belonged to the guy last seen in Friday the 13th part hurtling down a flight of steps, complete with a machete embedded into his skull?
Jared Padalecki, appearing here as a man looking for his sister, works far better outside of the Supernatural TV series than his fraternal counterpart Jensen Ackles. He's reasonably charismatic here, although not quite as dominant as the narrative would demand but, boy, does he look good in a pair of Diesel jeans. The good news is that there is eye candy aplenty for all tastes, including the O.C.'s Travis Van Winkle as a particularly obnoxious rich kid and Danielle Panabaker from legal drama Shark. The script is fast and often bites, very much in contrast to the 1980s movies and the whole thing serves as a timely reminder that today's youth may think it's invulnerable, but a machete to the head is a machete to the head when all is said and done. There are a couple of timely touches that update the recipe in other ways too. Strategically placed condoms suggest that the sexual abandon of the 1980s has long gone (it's theorised that the whole Friday the 13th series was a very literal cautionary tale of such things) and the teenagers' ethnic diversity is occasionally challenged in a humorous and affectionate way.
It's not perfect by any means. The thing runs out of steam a little as it draws into the final act, and the writers don't seem to have enough surprises up their sleeves to fundamentally set this apart from the original. The conclusion to the whole thing is rather inevitable and the writers don't seem to grasp the fact that some things are only truly effective the first time around. That doesn't mean that it isn't entirely devoid of twists, but a more daring writing team could have mixed the recipe up a lot more boldly than this. Inevitably, Nispel and team fail to completely avoid the prevalent genre clichés of people doing stupid things that people wouldn't do, but the premise fundamentally relies on such things and has to be expected.
Nonetheless, these things don't detract from a solid, frightening and brutal reinvention of something that after countless inferior sequels had become a bit of a joke. In Nispel's hands, Jason is back at his terrifying best for the first time in nearly thirty years and for this horror fan, that's exactly where he ought to be.
Summary: Kill For Mother