Friday The 13th (2009) Review
The remake juggernaut continues apace with Marcus Nispel's "reimagining" of the 1980 blockbuster Friday The 13th, complete with more nudity, more gore and about a tenth of the effectiveness. The appeal of the original was easy to work out and can be summed up in Stephen King's pithy observation - "See ten kids killed in ten interesting ways and we promise you that the girls will take their blouses off..." In its day, Sean Cunningham's film was reasonably original; admittedly with antecedents in the Italian Giallo and the very English stylings of Agatha Christie but blessed with a brutal directness and viciousness which were comparatively refreshing at a time when big-budget horror films were chasing their tails and exploitation studios were churning out copies of Dawn of the Dead. Even now, it's quite a tense and exciting movie which pleases horror fans and offers a couple of shocks which still work beautifully.
Marcus Nispel's film manages to screw up everything which makes the original film work and offers virtually nothing new to make the project worthwhile. If you are determined to remake a film which has become iconic, even if it wasn't exactly Citizen Kane, then you simply have to have a clear vision of what you're doing. Nispel and the screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift have no vision at all and are instead clunkily literal minded, intent on explaining every last irrational thing which made Jason Vorhees scary in the first place. So we're told initially that the reason for his killing spree is the trauma of seeing his mother decapitated - a scene repeated here with much less imagination than was shown 29 years ago - and the film goes on to explain how he got his hockey mask, what he does with the bodies of his victims and how he manages to know where his victims are and then pop up unexpectedly to do them in. None of these explanations are particularly convincing, particularly not the one about how he has somehow managed to make an abandoned mineshaft into a snug little lair complete with torture devices.
In simple terms, the more we know about Jason, the less scary we find him and the attempts to 'humanise' him here are half-hearted and risible. It doesn't ring true that Jason would leave a victim alive simply because she bears a slight resemblance to his mother. Nor does it seem convincing that he would have somehow turned into a hulking giant on the order of the new Michael Myers in the misbegotten Rob Zombie remake of Halloween. This last point would seem less significant if we saw less of Jason, incidentally, but he's given plenty of screen time here and he becomes just another tedious serial killer with nothing mysterious about him
Perhaps none of this would matter particularly if there were any significant suspense generated. But Nispel has no imagination as a director and seems unable to get any plot point across in less than five minutes of screen time. An inordinate amount of time is spent on a prologue which turns out to be of only minor relevance and we then wait another half hour while a second set of teenagers are set-up in order to be butchered. Given that none of these characters, with the possible exception of the likeable Jared Padelecki, are anything other than cardboard cutouts, one wonders why anyone felt it necessary to expend any screen time on trying to develop them. The teenagers in the original films were equally wooden but at least they died in satisfyingly short order. Nor is any play made with the genre conventions, either to satisfy or undercut them. For example, while it's gratifying to see that having sex still marks you for death, it seems odd that a lengthy sex scene is included which Jason can have no knowledge of. Equally, the wonderful genre concept of the Final Girl, one of the things which makes slasher films so much more interesting than they may have seemed at the time, is muffed here - not least because Jason seems so strangely uninterested in making sure that he's killed the Final Boy.
Not a single shock or scare is created during the course of the film; the gore scenes just sit there looking impressive but ineffectual and the potentially creepy music score - taken from Harry Manfredini's superb original - is used so sparingly that one wonders why they bothered putting on a music track in the first place. The film is so limp that Nispel simply seems like an incompetent horror director. The only salvagable thing about the whole 100 minutes is Daniel Pearl's exceptionally stylish cinematography, although even this is compromised during some scenes which are so darkly lit that it makes you wonder whether Gordon Willis has suddenly taken charge.
Paramount's DVD of Friday The 13th is reasonably good as you'd expect for a recent major release but it's certainly nothing special. This is the 'Extended Cut' which adds about ten minutes of gore and nudity but doesn't do any favours for the somnolent pacing.
The film is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced. Much of the film takes place in darkness and this causes a problem which, one suspects, was evident on the big screen since it's occasionally hard to see what's going on. The darker scenes are free of noise or excessive grain but remain excessively gloomy. Otherwise, this is a pleasing, vibrant transfer with strong colours and plenty of detail. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is surprisingly uneventful, possibly due to the lack of an effective music score which I noted above. There is some use of the surround channels for atmosphere but it remains unexpectedly muted.
In terms of extra features, there are three featurettes and a collection of alternate scenes. The featurettes last for a total of roughly forty minutes and tend to repeat themselves, with much emphasis placed on the creation of the gore effects and a good deal of mutual backslapping. Marcus Nispel appears occasionally and, even on this brief evidence, he comes across as much scarier than Jason Vorhees. The three alternate scenes offer alternative versions of things already in the movie and the first - a different take on the murder of the redneck mechanic - is actually better than what was eventually decided on.
There are 26 chapter stops and optional subtitles are available for both the main feature and, pleasingly, the extras.
I'm not sure I can come up with any reasons to watch Friday The 13th as Jason fans will almost definitely prefer the originals and new viewers are likely to be disappointed with the total lack of suspense. However, if you do wish to see it, this DVD should suit you well.