Ed. note– I saw this flick at a preview before its official release date. I haven’t seen it since, so I figured it would be unfair to rewrite a critique. What you’ll find below is mostly my original First Look review from Icons of Fright, cleaned up a bit. There’s good reason I’ve never seen this flick since then, and why I don’t usually pull up Tori Amos’ version of “Raining Blood” on my iPod.– P. F.
When I first got into Slayer a few years ago, I was astonished when I came across a cover version of their song “Raining Blood.” The final song from pound for pound the heaviest metal album of all time, “Raining Blood” is a seminal masterpiece, a brutal and brilliant coda to their album Reign in Blood, which is an onslaught from beginning to end. My shock wasn’t so much over the idea that somebody would cover the song itself (there are many Slayer worshippers out there), but that Tori Amos was the one covering it. For those uninitiated to Ms. Amos, she’s a loopy singer whose catalogue probably best qualifies as experimental. As I listened to her version of “Raining Blood” for the first time, I knew it was wrong. Sure, the words were the same. Some of the notes were too. I could see that she was trying, in her own slowly gloomy way, to capture the essence of the song. But as much as it strived to be, this was not “Raining Blood.” And it certainly wasn’t Slayer.
No, this is not, as you can tell from the title, FIRST LOOK: Tori Amos’ “Raining Blood.” But much of what I said in my opening paragraph applies to the new remake of FRIDAY 13th. Michael Bay and company have taken a much beloved slasher franchise and turned it into a mind numbing waste of time that tries to hit all the notes of the original, but fails as a FRIDAY 13th film.
To address the film, it’s important first to address the franchise that it so desperately wants to imitate. Admittedly, the FRIDAY 13th films were never very good. The first one stole the “important calendar date” from John Carpenter (whose classy, well-made HALLOWEEN director Sean S. Cunningham never strived to equal with his sleazy, in-the-backwoods film); it then robbed most of its kills from Mario Bava’s superior TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, so much so that some of those deaths carried over into Part 2. The film and its sequels were fraught with glaring inconsistencies, actors whose talents were generally well below the Quality Equator, and characters straight out of the Generic Stereotype Generator. But for all that, the Friday movies always had one thing going for them: Jason Vorhees. The idea of a super strong mongoloid running around the woods slaughtering people in creative ways terrified me as a child, when I didn’t really understand just how poorly made many of those films were. As an adult, with a full understanding, I still love most of the FRIDAY 13th films, even the later ones; though their quality dipped further down the spiral with each, Jason was a zombie, and therefore infinitely cooler in my book.
Then along came the Platinum Dunes boys. Intent on “reimagining” every seminal 80s slasher franchise, Michael Bay and his producers, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, hired music video/ TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE “reboot” director Marcus Nispel. With Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, the writers of FREDDY VS. JASON, on board, these men set out, as they claimed, to bring the series back to its roots and give the fans of the first three or four films what they wanted. Instead, they hit all the notes, yet the tune is nowhere near the original. Ms. Amos, take heed.
The first thing they did was to reduce the franchise’s Ground Zero to a glorified credits sequence. Pamela Vorhees gives the cut and dried version of her speech from Cunningham’s film, just before meeting the same fate her character suffered 29 years earlier (when the film’s opening is conveniently set, because I’m sure Bay and Co. figured fans wouldn’t have it any other way). Flash forward to six weeks before the Present Day (I can’t even make this stuff up, folks), to a group of teens hunting down a secret stash of weed. Not realizing, of course, that they’re committing every sin an 80s teen can ever commit in a horror film, right down to the underage boozing and premarital sex, they then commit the cardinal sin of splitting up into three factions. Seeing his prey is ripe for the slaughter, Jason kindly arrives and does his thing.
Several problems lie herein. First, the last few sentences of my previous paragraph should have described the entire film. Alas, it does not; Bay and Co. have set up not one, but two prologues. It’s blatant they shoehorned in Pamela Vorhees so the diehards of the franchise would not cry foul. Even forgiving that, the larger problem is that the second prologue’s group of teens is thoroughly more likeable than the protagonists/sheep for slaughter that are to follow. Because, yes, Swift and Shannon then introduce a second group of teens. The majority of the flick follows this second group. I remarked in my review of DIARY OF THE DEAD that George Romero would have done his audience a favor by following the group of black militants, instead of his video toting college students. In the same vein, the FRIDAY remake would have done wise to stick with this first group of teens who, though one dimensional caricatures who spout dialogue no teen ever would, represent a much more appealing group.
And therein lies the next problem. Though the FRIDAY 13th films have never been known for their profoundly forged characters, this second group of teens is so cardboard thin, I swore if they turned sideways they’d disappear. I maintain that Nispel must’ve told his cast: “Okay, folks. Make sure to play these kids as the most stereotypical caricatures in the history of film.” And it seems they complied. Straight out of the Generic Stereotype Generator are: the girl who just wants to have sex with the other girl’s boyfriend; the Black guy who only speaks like black guys in horror movies do (and on a side note, Black actors have to stop accepting these roles, which are the modern day version of the Stepin Fetchit characters that should no longer exist in our more accepting times); the Asian stoner whose every 2nd line is a quip; the caring girl who’s with the jerk, when she obviously shouldn’t be, because, hey, she’s caring. And then there’s Trent, who’s in a category all his own. Trent’s the 80s rich kid whose jaw and every word tell you that he’s slumming with this group, and that he came out of not a FRIDAY 13th movie, but a John Hughes movie. I kept waiting for Ducky to pop out, looking for Molly Ringwald. Bottom line, I have never before waited in such anticipation to watch a cast of characters die.
And here’s a scary thought. Jared Padalecki is the most talented actor in the cast. Ponder that for a minute. Good on Supernatural, but not a world class thespian.
Padalecki wanders in looking for his sister, one of the teens from the first group. He stumbles onto this ridiculous second group, and then onto Jason. Even if you want to discount the victims (because they’re only victims anyway, as you’d rationalize it), Jason himself represents some problems. I commend Derek Mears for doing an admirable job as what may be the largest Jason ever put to film. But this is not the Jason of old. Left to his own, Jason has become a survivalist, and this is another area in which the film falters. This Jason runs like a cheetah, and lays traps. Instead of a retarded mongoloid, he’s embraced his inner alpha male, and has become a much more clever beast than he ever was in the previous films. As my friend X decried after we left the theater, “Jason doesn’t run! He stalks!” Yes, he runs a lot in the earlier films, but he’s never been cunning or stealthy before, and watching this stealthy, cunning Jason just didn’t do it for me. Nispel does him no favors; more than once, the director sets the camera low and in front of a character, revealing Jason behind him or her, where every self-respecting horror fan knew he would be. Worse, Nispel often focuses his lens on some high powered machinery (a wood chipper, a table saw), and then abandons the weapon without putting it to use. In fact, much of Jason’s work here is accomplished with simple tools, such as his machete or a screwdriver. If Bay and Co. were so intent on emulating the first four films of the franchise (and if you know the earlier films, you’ll see Nispel stole many of his shot compositions wholesale), they could have improved this movie vastly by sticking with the spirit of those creative kills. In fact, many of the murders are shot so quickly that much of the gore is hard to see, a sure reminder of Nispel’s earlier career in music video. Other kills suffer from the “weapon slashes, but the camera cuts away” school. In the post-HOSTEL age, this style is blasé.
Having altered Jason for the worse, Bay and Co. also do harm by taking away one of the Friday franchise’s greatest strengths: the Harry Manfredini score. Though a little hokey, his music actually heightened the tension in the earlier films, making each kill an operatic moment of savagery. Though the credits don’t really clarify just who created the new score, it’s generic work that adds nothing to the overall film.
If you’re a Jason Vorhees fan and you’re not crying foul by the time this film reaches its logic-lacking final sequence, I’d be shocked. Much like Tori Amos’ cover of “Raining Blood” fails not only as a song, but as a Slayer song; Platinum Dunes’ FRIDAY 13th is not only a poorly made movie, but a bad FRIDAY 13th remake. Cunningham might not have had high aspirations, but at least he made a flick kids loved, warts and all. In their attempts to do the same, Bay and Co. merely made a pastiche that pounds out the same notes, but can’t even come close to carrying the same tune.