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Movie Review: Friday The 13th (2009)
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BAADASSSSS!   |  
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Friday the 13th
Directed by Marcus Nispel
Starring Derek Mears, Jared Padalecki, Julianna Guill, America Olivo, Amanda Righetti, Danielle Panabaker
Rated R
Release date: February 13, 2009

Friday the 13th, the latest horror classic to get the Platinum Dunes treatment, is not just a remake but also a reboot and in several ways a re-imagining. Directed by Marcus Nispel, the same dude who helmed the unnecessary 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the latest installment in the kill-tastic adventures of Jason Voorhees takes some of the most memorable elements of the first four movies and remixes them while bringing a few fresh ideas of its own to the table. Best of all, it brings Jason back to where he truly belong, stalking horny teenagers in the woods surrounding Camp Crystal Lake. After all, when the guy’s been killed more times than Rasputin, traveled the universe from New York City to deep space, and battled fellow franchise slasher Freddy Krueger, what else can he do?

I’ve been a fan of the series for years and I have to say that each Friday movie has always been addictive viewing for me. Ever since I watched the original on the local horror movie show “Dr. Gruesome’s Movie Morgue” when I was nine years old I rarely pass up an opportunity to watch Jason strap on his facial armor and go kill crazy on some dumbass campers. The movies are tons of fun for the undiscriminating horror fan. Some are more violent and gory than others but in a way the Friday series has always been pretty nihilistic. We can be assured that most of the characters in each movie will be dead as fried chicken by the final frames and as fans we can’t help but get a deranged charge from that. This is pure Grand Guignol theater gone mainstream, and like any addiction we just can’t get enough.

The story opens on Friday June 13th, 1980. A frightened camp counselor is being hunted in the pouring rain by the crazed Mrs. Voorhees (Nana Visitor). Ranting about her son Jason and how “they” let him drown, the woman raises a machete and moves in for the kill when the counselor grabs a blade of her own and takes Mrs. Voorhees off at the neck. A shadowy figure emerges from hiding and takes the dead woman’s machete. Cut to the present day: a group of campers are walking through the woods looking for a rumored garden where grows the finest ganja. That night as the campers pair off a hulking maniac wearing a sack on his head kills them off one by one. Six weeks later another group of college horndogs led by conceited rich kid Trent (Travis Van Winkle) arrives in Crystal Lake for a weekend at his father’s cabin. Along for the ride are his girlfriend Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) and their friends Nolan (Ryan Hansen), Chelsea (Willa Ford), Bree (Julianna Guill), Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta), and Chewie (Aaron Yoo). While at a gas station they encounter Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki), who has arrived in town looking for his missing sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti), one of the campers from the beginning.

The locals are less than accommodating in helping Clay in his search, acting like the disappearances in the area are just a way of life. While Trent and company enjoy a weekend of sex, booze, and getting stoned, Clay explores the area with some help from his new friend Jenna. Coming across a ramshackle compound they take cover just in time to see the same madman that killed off the first group of campers returning to his home carrying a wrapped corpse, only this time he’s wearing a hockey mask. This is Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears) and Crystal Lake is his home. Anybody who dares intrude upon his home will all meet the same fate, and such a fate is in store for Clay, Jenna, and her friends unless they can band together and escape the woods with their lives. But come on folks, this movie ain’t called Friday the 13th for nothing.

There’s an old saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Other than a few minor (and much welcome) tweaks the company that screwed around with such horror classics as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, and The Hitcher have learned their lesson this time by honoring the traditions of slasher movies past with their take on the Friday the 13th series and the legacy of its centerpiece masked monster Jason Voorhees. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the new Friday is a bloody brew of the old and the new. Plot elements from the original and its first three sequels, the only ones released during the golden age of the slasher horror genre, are thrown together along with the occasional original thought by writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, and their best contribution to the Friday mythos is a fresh new look and attitude for Jason himself.

This is not the lumbering psychopath we’ve all come to know and love these past three decades. As played by veteran stuntman Derek Mears and conceived by the filmmakers, this Jason may still be a bloodthirsty backwoods mutant but he’s got speed, agility, and most importantly brains. No longer living in a crude shack with his mother’s severed head on the coffee table (he’s got a new hiding place for that little family heirloom), Jason has built himself a sturdy compound with multiple access points and outfitted with a security system that includes tripwire and flood lights. He makes it known right away that Crystal Lake is HIS territory, and the townspeople know it for damn sure. Plus under this creative team Jason no longer just shows up and kills his prey without much warning. He enjoys the hunt as much as the kill. Jason toys with his victims, even using one of them as bait for their friends in one scene. In the past we’ve pretty much had to accept it when Jason would seemingly be in two places almost at the same time because the filmmakers didn’t know jackshit about how to explain it. This time at least director Nispel and writers Shannon and Swift have put some thought in circumventing potential holes in logic and continuity. But it’s Derek Mears himself that should get the most praise for his performance. The best actor to wear the mask of Jason since Kane Hodder, Mears obviously never gets to utter a word during the movie but he makes the legendary character his own by establishing a terrifying presence through his body language. This motherfucker is powered by volcanic fury and sheer force of will and won’t let anything stand in his way. This is also a more physically vulnerable Jason than we’re used to. He’s not strong enough to avoid being taken down as easily as the rest of us mere mortals, but then again so was the Jason of the first five original films (even the fifth one when it really wasn’t Jason). This is the beginning of the legend, free of any unnecessary backstory.

While some of the death scenes were effective most of the time they were filmed (by Daniel Pearl, the cinematographer on both the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its 2003 remake) and edited (by Ken Blackwell) to the point of near-incomprehensibility. For example, when Mrs. Voorhees gets killed at the beginning supposedly she gets decapitated but it looks more like she just got her throat slashed. Other times the killings take place offscreen and we only get to see the gruesome aftermath, and it’s usually not that gruesome. Some killings stand out though, including a double murder on the lake in broad daylight, some ocular violation, and one particular death that reminded of the death of Adam Goldberg’s character in Saving Private Ryan only not as emotionally charged and with lots more blood. In the wake of the over-the-top violence of the Saw and Hostel series and the recent 3-D remake of My Bloody Valentine , a little restraint would normally be welcome, but the reason for the existence of the Friday the 13th franchise this Friday often reminded me of the sequels to the original from the 1980’s when the series came under the corporate umbrella of Paramount Pictures (which united with Warner Bros./New Line Cinema to bankroll the remake) and under the scrutiny of the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board. Fortunately we live in the era of unrated DVDs so the carnage candy that we all expected and the film promised but did deliver will hopefully see the light of the day instead of being lost forever, the fate that has befallen so many Friday sequels in the past.

Another hallmark of the Friday the 13th movies is casting relatively unknown actors in the major parts who are unknown for a reason….their acting sucks. Sure there have been a few exceptions (Hello Crispin!). For the new Friday the filmmakers have gone with a cast consisting of some moderately-known actors and a few unknowns, mostly recruited from television. No one in the cast really stands out as all the performers are serviceable in their roles. Jared Padalecki and Danielle Panabaker make a decent pair of heroes, Julianna Guill and Willa Ford provide the ample boobage (along with a first reel assist from America Olivo), Travis Van Winkle makes for a first-rate dickwad, Richard Burgi has a few brief scenes as the town sheriff, and Arlen Escarpeta and Aaron Yoo are the requisite token stoners. My personal favorite is Yoo, who gets a lot of funny one-liners and often seems to be improvising dialogue.

Steve Jablonsky, a frequent collaborator of producer Michael Bay, contributes a fine score that seems more indebted to John Carpenter’s synth-drive work than the screeching violin-and-horn work of the Friday series’ signature composer Harry Manfredini. Cinematographer Pearl may go a little too dark at times but his camera work is often very atmospheric, aided immeasurably by production designer Jeremy Conway, art director John Frick, and set decorator Randy Huke. Scott Stoddard and his skilled team do fine work on the special effects make-up front. And flawed though it may be this is still the best film yet from director Marcus Nispel, but given that the only movies he directed before this were the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the gloriously botched Vikings vs. Indians tale Pathfinder that’s not saying a lot.

A time-honored campfire story of bloody horror has been passed into the hands of people who will hopefully get better at telling the tale as time goes on. For better or worse, Jason Voorhees lives again.

BAADASSSSS will return.

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