You’ve gotta hand it to Marcus Nispel. He managed to make two horrible reboots of beloved horror franchises, first, the grungy, awful Texas Chainsaw Massacre re-imaging (if you’ll permit the phrase for something that involved so little in the way of imagination) and then, a few years later, Friday the 13th.
While the source material here doesn’t soar as high as Tobe Hooper’s inestimable one-for-the-ages classic, Nispel manages to sink Friday lower. Which is an achievement of sorts.
There are several things which made the original Friday the 13th series great, none of which are present in 2009:
1) The Crystal Lake mystique. It’s at once everywhere and nowhere. It’s an important place, which might not even be a place. A killer lurking in the woods, gave Mr. Voorhees a terrific around-the-campfire, no-fixed-address urban legend appeal. Here, Jason gets more than just a makeshift shack, he gets a permanent lair. The Sawyer family had a Texas compound, but Jason just roamed. That’s the Jason way.
2). The lack of fixed reference points. It’d be a stretch to call Victor Miller/Sean Cunningham’s creation “timeless,” but what immediately dates any film is an over-reliance on du jour references, whether it’s tech (GPS! GPS!) or pop culture cringe (“what, because I’m black, I can’t listen to Green Day?”). Also, the product placement added a particularly unsavory element. Jesus, Pabst Blue Ribbon.
3) The fun kills. The original series gave us a solid helping of gallows humor in the form of Jason’s unique kills (a few of which we reference in our book, Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons). He may be a serial killer, but at least he didn’t kidnap/torture his vics!
4) A loss of innocence. Jason’s victims maybe hormone-driven campers but for all their nudity, fornicating and partying, they’re relatable young adults, not vulgar exhibitionists wake-boarding topless and flashing their friends while they’re engaged in conversation.
Friday the 13th (2009), essentially, strips bear everything associated with the series, the then adopts some of the worst excesses of the Saw franchise (a bear trap, really?). This is established right off the bat, with a truly ugly cold opening that’s probably the longest in horror history, where we first get a poorly-shot black & white demise of Pamela Voorhees, and then a brutal dispatching of a bunch of campers (one of whom is burned to death in a sleeping bag, establishing a sadistic element of Voorhees reprised later).
Thereafter, a bunch of central casting interchangables and a brother (played by Jared Padalecki, sticking out like a sore thumb for having acting chops) descend on Crystal Lake. And they happen upon a “cabin in the woods,” where there’s requisite flies, rotting meat…and…wait, is this Friday or Texas?
*3/4 (out of 5)
[CHECK OUT OUR DISCUSSION OF FRIDAY THE 13TH ON THE REALLY AWFUL MOVIES PODCAST!]