In an unapologetic attempt to capitalize on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween a year and a half earlier, Paramount Pictures released its contribution to the slasher genre, Friday the 13th, on May 9, 1980. Then, something unexpected happened: instead of being dismissed as a blatant rip-off, it was successful in its own right, spawning a series that would become what is arguably known as the greatest horror franchise ever.
While Friday the 13th might not have been made without Halloween before it, its ultimate success had very little to do with it. They were two very different movies. Halloween was all about subtlety; the scares were genuine because so much was left to the imagination. Friday the 13th, on the other hand, was all about the gore. And while Halloween made a star out of the actress, Jamie Lee Curtis, Friday the 13th made a star out of the makup artist, Tom Savini.
I remember seeing Friday the 13th opening weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was a junior in high school and was so eager to see it that my parents sent me on my own. Before you question their parenting choices, please know that I was already a horror buff at this early age; the window of opportunity to be scarred by onscreen violence had long since closed. I suppose the possibility that I would be mentally damaged by the movie was not enough to outweigh my constant nagging about wanting to see it.
I was familiar with Friday the 13th, however, before I even saw the movie. We may not have had the Internet back then, but we had something just as good: a brand new magazine called, “Fangoria”. I would argue that it was just as responsible as the movie itself for ushering in a new age of horror, an age less concerned with mystery and story, but more concerned with violence and gore. Yes, Halloween paved the way, much like Psycho did for it, but things were never the same after Friday the 13th. (As evidence of this evolution of horror films, consider the tagline for Happy Birthday to Me, released a year after Friday the 13th: “Six of the most bizarre murders you will ever see.” The murders themselves had become the marketing campaign, and the bloodier they were, the better.)
Cowering in a seat by myself in that theater in Tulsa so long ago, I was scared out of my mind, yet I loved every minute of it! For the next 23 years, I obsessively attended opening weekend of every sequel, increasingly complaining as they grew more ridiculous, but never threatening to stop going. I give you this history not only to express how fond I am of Friday the 13th and its legacy, but also so that you understand how critical I might be of last year’s remake.
The idea of remaking Friday the 13th was not a bad one. In fact, I believe it was ripe for an update. I enjoyed the remakes of My Bloody Valentine and, especially, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so I had high hopes for this one. I also appreciated the approach they took with it and the few changes they made. My overall disappointment came ultimately not from the concept; rather, the execution. I was surprised that it wasn’t better while at the same time grateful that it wasn’t worse, resulting in a neutral opinion.
The most interesting comparison between the 1980 and 2009 versions of Friday the 13th is that the latter uses elements from not only the original, but also its first three sequels. Does anyone remember that Jason wasn’t the killer in the first one and didn’t pick up the hockey mask until the third? Friday the 13th (2009) consolidates the evolution of Jason into one movie, and that’s kind of cool. However, in doing so, it takes the one clever plot device of the first movie and relegates it to an introductory flashback that ends before the opening titles have even finished. If you think that’s because the filmmakers have come up with a new twist for later in the story, think again. From that point to the end, it’s nothing but standard slasher fare.
Jason is faster and more brutal than we remember, but the remake adds nothing else new. When he wears the mask, Friday the 13th (2009) could be just another sequel, rather than a re-boot for a potential new franchise. I was hoping for one original idea that could propel a new series forward in a fresh and exciting way. Instead, it seems that any future movie would be more likely to combine elements from the later sequels, and the last thing we need is to be reminded of Jason Takes Manhattan or Jason X!
An attempt to add story comes not from Jason, but from his potential victims. Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki from TV’s Supernatural) arrives at Crystal Lake to look for his missing sister (Amanda Righetti), who may or may not be a victim of Jason’s first violent killing spree six weeks earlier. He’s full of more angst than usual because their mother just died of cancer. The first twenty minutes (the killing spree) of Friday the 13th (2009) is terrific, but the introduction of Clay’s story brings things to a near halt. It’s twenty more minutes until Jason discovers the hockey mask and during that short time, I about gave up caring.
The problem with this approach is that we’re not supposed to care about the other characters in a Friday the 13th movie. They exist only to be slaughtered. And they are such an unlikable group, more so in 2009 than I remember in any of the other movies that we can’t wait for it to happen. Jason is more interesting than any of them and we root for him as the killer because we’re led to believe that they all truly deserve to die! In this respect, the new version of Friday the 13th is true in spirit to the original.
Friday the 13th (2009) succeeds as a Cliff’s Notes version of the original series. As a longtime fan, I appreciate the glossy look and minor updates. But for someone unfamiliar with the source material, I don’t know that there’s anything here to make them a fan. In 1980, Friday the 13th was groundbreaking. It paved the way for a whole new subgenre that would be copied by countless other movies and a multitude of sequels. The remake is respectful of its heritage, but may be too respectful to ensure its future as a franchise.
If the legacy of Friday the 13th were to end here, I’d be happy. The remake is a fitting tribute. But there is absolutely nothing about it to justify a continuation. Jason has been to Hell, New York City, space and now back again. There’s nowhere else for him to go. Can we finally let him rest in peace, or is he destined to spring again from theater screens like he first did from the icy waters of Crystal Lake over 30 years ago?