FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Written by Victor Miller & Ron Kurz
Starring Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Walt Gorney, Kevin Bacon & Ari Lehman as Jason

FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)

Directed by Marcus Nispel
Written by Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, & Mark Wheaton
Starring Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Aaron Yoo, Julianna Guill, and Derek Mears as Jason

Pardon me while I wax nostalgic for a moment.

I know it’s going to sound weird, but the magic of movies wasn’t introduced to me by Walt Disney or George Lucas or Stephen Spielberg like most of the other guys who write on this site. For me it was something much darker. Sure I spent long afternoons and even longer nights watching Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing on horror movie shows on TV, but I distinctly remember one summer when it all changed. It had to be the summer of ‘84. My father had rigged our television with tin foil and a coat hanger in order for us to get Showtime. I know stealing cable was illegal, but we were a family of meager means and since my father passed away a year later, I feel this indiscretion is inadmissible now. Anyway, I distinctly remember playing war with my brother in my backyard and being called in because it was getting dark outside. After much belly-aching, my brother and I sat down in front of our TV to see what was on. What was on would shape me for the rest of my life. What was on was FRIDAY THE 13th.

It wasn’t at that moment that I realized the magic though. The next summer day, my brother and I continued to “ooo” and “ahhh” at the creepy goodness of the original, re-enacting the lines and all of the cool scenes. That night, when we were called in at dark, we sat in front of the television and were witness to FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2. Holy shit! “What form of magic was this?”, we thought. Another night—the second movie!!! How cool was that!?!? The next night, we saw PART 3. The final fourth night was a Thursday. Looking for our magic window into hell expecting another FRIDAY film, what we saw instead was a preview for FRIDAY THE 13th PART FOUR: THE FINAL CHAPTER! Yes, we were too young to be watching this. Yes, there was something wrong with my parents resulting in the grown-up ghoul I matured to be. But I’ll be damned if my brother and I didn’t convince my parents to see FRIDAY THE 13th PART FOUR THE FINAL CHAPTER on the first night it was released that very Friday. A horror fan was born that week, all because of a piece of tin foil, a coat hanger, and a curfew at dark.

Since then, I’ve watched all of the F13 films more times that I can count. I can name the kills in order in most of the first seven, at the very least. Above my bed as a teen, I had a pair of real machetes in an X with a hockey mask of my own design in the middle looking like a modern skull and crossbones and though I haven’t lived there in almost twenty years, that homemade homage to my favorite horror film series is still there in my childhood room. And my very next tattoo is going to be that same image of the hockey mask and crossed machetes as soon as I save up the cash.

Yep, I’m a F13 fanatic.

For the foreseeable future, I’m going to be looking at all of the F13 films eventually every time a Friday the 13th rolls around. Scoff all you want, movie snobs. I don’t really care. Even the worst F13 has some redeeming qualities in my eyes. But with Make / Remake being the theme of the week, I figured we’d start out by looking at the first and the last.

I think even those who scoff at the FRIDAY THE 13TH films can acknowledge that the original is a well made, gory thriller. At its heart it’s a whodunnit, with the villain only seen from the waist down most of the time making his or her way through the woods and killing campers when they wander off alone. With a relatively small and charming cast, a serene locale, a great FX wizard, and some fantastic music, Sean S. Cunningham struck gold where HALLOWEEN had struck just two years prior. When I first saw the original, I hadn’t heard of Mario Bava’s BAY OF BLOOD (aka TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE), which FRIDAY THE 13TH and its first sequel borrow from heavily. All I knew was that there was something about this film that struck a chord in me that couldn’t be beat.

The film starts out quiet. A POV cam catches a pair of camp counselors leaving a campfire and finding a quiet cabin to have sex. The counselors are disturbed by someone (someone they might recognize) and are brutally murdered. Yes, we’ve seen these first kills before, but this one sets the stage. It resonates and sets the standard while setting up the mystery; who is this killer? Why do these unlucky camp counselors know this person? Why is this person doing this? Years later, a group of kids try to reopen the camp; including the innocent girl next door Adrienne King (who has all of the final girl qualities; virginal, naïve, yet capable of great strength) and a few others (including Kevin Bacon in his first role). They run into a local crazy man, Crazy Ralph (played by the amazingly creepy Walt Gorney) who warns them that Camp Crystal Lake is jinxed with a Death Curse and are later educated by a local sheriff of the camp’s sordid history. Known as Camp Blood by the locals, much death and horror has occurred along the seemingly serene waters of Crystal Lake. Soon enough, the bodies start piling up until one lone girl is forced to go toe to toe with the killer.

Without Henry Manfredini’s iconic score, FRIDAY THE 13TH would not be the classic that it is lauded as today. I’m not just talking about the “Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha” sound (or more accurately “Kill-kill-kill-ma-ma-ma!”), which has grown into an entity of its own. I’m talking about the wonderful screeching violin crescendos, the twinkling water drop chimes, and the symphonic crashes indicating frights and built tensions. Unlike today’s films which think a fist to a synth board is all you need for a good scare, Manfredini made each second a melodic trip into the unknown, permeating even the lightest scenes with a heavy dose of dread. Look at any of the F13 films after. The ones who use the original score are by far the scariest (more on that later when we get to the 2009 remake).

But Sean S. Cunningham deserves recognition too. He crafted a smart mystery thriller first. Who is this killer? The camp owner set to rebuild the camp? Crazy Ralph? The counselor who lingers a bit too long after slicing a snake to bits in the cabin? The sheriff? Maybe someone we haven’t met yet? That’s the question everyone is asking up until the reveal, and even after the reveal, you may continue to question it (could the boy who drowned in the lake be behind some of the killings? We never do see all of the kills…). It may be cliché now, but Cunningham fills his film with an assortment of friends and suspects, throws them in danger, and has a ball with it; making it a real mystery. Sure, the final girl role had made an appearance in many a film before it, but Cunningham brings everything together in the classic ending in an operatic level of slo-mo macabre mastery.
Adding the diabolical talents of FX wizard Tom Savini was the cherry on top here. He made each effect a showpiece. The artistry he used in this film have become clichéd by today’s standards, but each of the kills are as much a highlight reel for the master talent Savini possessed back then. A simple slit throat is common place in these types of films, but here with Savini’s touch you can actually feel the razor across the skin and imagine how painful and shocking it might be. His work on the drowned boy, Jason Voorhees is iconic as well. Savini warps the young boy just enough to be monstrous and pitiful at the same time. The full body make-up crossed with the subtle acting of Ari Lehman under it all makes that final scene all the more frightening.

In the end, I think it was the fact that the killer is actually a victim too that makes FRIDAY THE 13TH as effective as it is. The rage behind the killer’s madness is somewhat understandable; kids are assholes sometimes. And the way the film caught on and birthed so many sequels is equally understandable given that it plays into the rebelliousness of youth and offers them a boogeyman to fear and root for all at once. But the kids in the original are actually pretty likable compared to the cardboard cutouts that appear in later entries, so you really aren’t rooting for the killer as much here. Unlike the films after it which pretty much use the same formula over and over again, FRIDAY THE 13TH may not have been the first, but it definitely sets the stage for all slasher films to follow.

So by 2009, folks thought it was better to remake FRIDAY THE 13TH than do another sequel. I’ll give it to them, with Jason going everywhere from Hell to space to New York, there really wasn’t a lot of places to go but back to the beginning. One would think that with so many films sequelizing, homaging, and down right ripping off the original FRIDAY THE 13TH film, it wouldn’t be hard to pull off a remake. But no one told that to Marcus Nispel, it seems.

The main problem with FRIDAY THE 13TH 2009 was not that it wasn’t like the films before it. It was the fact that the film played like a greatest hits / cliff notes version of the entire series. Pamela Voorhees is quickly dispatched in the opening segments in a decision that reeks of executive producer decision that people want to see Jason instead of seeing the actual killer from the original. Again, if they really wanted to make a remake and include Jason, why not make it a mother and son Team Vengeance taking out these annoying campers? Or tell the entire story of parts one and two, incorporating what was only told as legend in the original? But then again, what do I know?

With the remake playing more like a greatest hits album, you do get modern takes of classic Jason kills like the sleeping bag kill and other highlights. Jason moves from mongoloid child to bag headed man beast to hockey masked icon in an expedient manner. Fans of the original looking for the mystery that permeated the first will find the film sorely lacking in any type of suspense as Jason makes mince meat out of the cast giving them just enough time for you as the viewer to wish them dead before that with is granted. The WB bunch aren’t nearly as likable and though, since the original, it’s become commonplace to root for Jason in these films, you find yourself rooting a little harder given all of the skank and douchebaggery that permeates this young cast. Along with a cast to root for, Manfredini’s score which played such a huge role in the original, is sinfully missing from the remake as well, aside from the “Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha!”, that is, making the film all the more lackluster.

The storyline is next to nil here, which really is a shame. One would think that if a multi-million dollar budget was tossed at this thing, a script that did more than connect the dots from one kill to the next would have been crafted. Sure this is supposed to be a remake, but unlike Bousman’s expansion of the themes in his remake of MOTHER’S DAY, story wise, the moralistic themes that made the original so resonant aren’t given any screen time at all. Instead we just get a big budget version of every F13 sequel mashed together with next to nothing new added to the story.

But in order to try to bring something new to the table the remakers did two things. They included the addition of marijuana fields in Crystal Lake and Jason’s eagerness to protect them which is a lame attempt by clueless executives to pander to those who chuckle any time the word “weed” is used. But the new way Jason is characterized is actually the best part of the film. Cast as a survivalist, living off of the land, knowing traps and hunting skills, Derek Mears’ Jason Voorhees is one of the best (though I’ll always have a black place in my heart for Kane Hodder). There is menace in his silent slasher and the inclusion of the bawdy woodsman persona who creeps around tunnels under Crystal Lake makes this Jason formidable and one of the more serious takes on the character. The Jason bag mask looks damn creepy (kind of like Cronenberg’s mask in NIGHTBREED without the button eyes) and his hockey masked visage is powerful as well. Mears brings a physicality to the role which is much more imposing and frightening. The fact that Jason runs in this one (as he did in most of the early sequels) makes him all the more threatening. Too bad they didn’t construct a stronger story around the monster.

Anyone watching Cunningham’s version of the film which took things deadly serious and attempted to add some heft in tone and plot and Nispel’s version which was obviously made by folks who look down on the franchise and think that the fans are stupid enough to eat up countless marijuana jokes and mindless kills, know the remake doesn’t stack up one bit to the original. The later films became the clichés. The original was smart, fast, fun, and downright scary. Nispel made a remake of the sequels, not the original, unfortunately. While the original goes for the jugular, the remake feels more like a cheap shot to the balls.

I could go on an on with coulda-beens and shoulda-beens when talking about the missed possibilities of a FRIDAY THE 13TH remake. Maybe if they kept the killer’s identity ambiguous throughout, it would have been better, but then there’d be those who complained because they wanted to see more Jason. As it is, the film is nothing but a young cover band trying their damndest to play a classic tune. And while it was great to see my old friend Jason back in action, I wanted to see the story pushed forward, not stuck replaying the same old song.

I’m sure there are some who will poo-poo my dedication of so much time and energy writing about a silly 80’s slasher film, but though the makers of the remake think that fans of the film aren’t intelligent or aren’t wanting a smarter, scarier FRIDAY THE 13TH, I know there are smart fans out there who see the potential for a really good FRIDAY THE 13TH film and want to see it someday. I’m holding out hope. There’s not another F13 on the calendar until next January sadly. So make the best of this one, enjoy the day and watch a FRIDAY THE 13TH film, if you can. Maybe by the time the next F13 rolls around someone will come along and do Camp Blood proud and take me back to the horrific wonder I felt watching that first film on that summer day back when I was too young to watch and too enthralled to care.

Until next Friday the 13th, folks…