Friday, February 13, 2009

FRIDAY THE 13TH

In today's USA Today, My Bloody Valentine 3D director Patrick Lussier drew lines between the current revival of 80's slasher icons Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers to the all-time, classic horror institution that is Dracula:

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Iconic bad guys, filmmakers and analysts say, are like memorable action heroes. When you find one that works, you stick with it.

"Dracula has been revisited more than any character in cinematic history," says Valentine director Patrick Lussier. "There's something about these characters that stick in our consciousness."
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Though I see the point Lussier is trying to make, I think that comparison is a bit silly. Dracula is a much more layered character than Jason. First of all, he has a voice (he speaks), and secondly, the character of Dracula has been (re)interpreted in a multitude of ways over the years. Jason Vorhees is pretty much a one note character, a brick house body with surprisingly accurate archery and ax throwing skills. Meaning, he's not exactly the kind of character you can sink your teeth into.

Still, Lussier is onto something, because one thing missing from the latest wave of post-Blair Witch horror is any recognizable and tangible horror icons. Perhaps there is Jigsaw from Saw, but even then, I've seen three of those movies, and I couldn't tell you if that namesake belongs to the old man or the clown-doll-tricycle-thingy. Who else?? The long-haired Japanese dead lady? Eh, that's kinda vague. Truly, there's nothing.

So, it would be easy to be all cash-cow cynical towards Michael Bay and Marcus Nispel's remake of Friday the 13th, but, and as odd as this sounds, there's a sizable segment of movie fans who have a connection with Jason. Is it simply childhood nostalgia? Yep. But that's some pretty powerful emotional capital right there, even if - as all of my Friday the 13th completist friends have told me - all the movies "suck".


Strangely, the new Bay produced Friday the 13th doesn't suck! No, it's not good, or even pretty good, but it's kind of, uh... fun?

What Bay and Nispel tried to do with 2003's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (one of this decade's worst film experiments) was to give Tobe Hooper's goofy original a serious-minded makeover. They brought in a mildewy aesthetic and a jaundiced color scheme quite similar to the style of the modern French-sadists. The TCM remake was a disaster. Did Bay and Nispel even take the time to watch Hooper's more fully realized, and superior sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, where he really lets his weirdo latex-comedy fly?

Good and/or passable horror doesn't need to be aggressive, "boundary-pushing", or cruel horror. Luckily, Bay and Nispel realized that that wasn't what attracted Vorhees devotees to the Friday the 13th series in the first place, and wisely decided to let their new remake experiment veer off into the ridiculous. There are endless scenes with "spectacular" (with "perfect nipple placement") boobies, baby-oiled boobies, topless skiing boobies, sex, pot, boners, dick jokes, jack-off jokes,... and murders. Easy formula, even easier to not screw up.

But like most franchise slasher flicks, Friday the 13th bored me quickly. The first fifteen minutes are the film's best, and I would even argue that that extended-intro of a sequence makes for a far superior short-film version of the entire ninety-seven minutes. Everything Friday the 13th gets right is jammed into its first section, including a chance to see Jason actually running for once! Cinematographer Daniel Pearl catches Derek Mears in a below-angle, ground-level shot running towards a fallen victim, and the image is actually quite visually arresting.

But getting back to Jason in the context of an all-timer horror icon, there was something human to the way final girl Whitney (Amanda Righetti) tempers Jason with a locket photo of his mother. He tilts his head puppy-like at it, and even though he's just slaughtered ten people, you kinda go "awwwww" for a second. And how about that questionable ending in Freddy vs. Jason where Jason saves a girl from some five-fingered-Freddy-death? Is Jason more complex than I thought? Nah, I doubt it... but he's more human than most American horror characters we've come across lately.

5 comments:

Jason Bellamy said...

Terrific job with this! I haven't seen the new "Friday," and I won't. I couldn't even tell you which "Friday" movies I've seen. Maybe one all the way through? Maybe? Most just caught in bits and pieces on TV or at some middle school sleep-over.

What I like about the Jason character is that he doesn't speak. He's the simple embodiment of danger, there for us to project our fears onto. The look works. It goes to show that even if Darth Vader never spoke in "Star Wars" he would have scared the shit out of us. (Aside: Isn't it interesting though that by virtue of the angle in which he's captured or the voice work of James Earl Jones, it often seems like Darth can change the expression of his face. Jason and Darth are two of the few characters whose masks always seem to convey their emotion of the moment, whatever that might be.)

Anyway ...

I also like that Jason's menace is so recognizable. You don't need to have seen an episode to know what you're going to get from the latest "Friday" -- though for teens the boobs might be a pleasant surprise. That makes the franchise both marketable and nostalgia inducing -- though I'm not surprised to hear that the nostalgia wears off quickly.

I must say, one of my favorite moments ever at an awards show was some 10 or 15 years ago when the MTV Movie Awards gave the lifetime achievement award to Jason. In tribute, they played a montage of his killing scenes. It was great stuff, complete with a quick looping segment in which he took someone in their sleeping bag and beat them up against a tree. Good times!

Ah, Jason. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Fox said...

Jason-

Thanks! I think you must have some sympathy for Mr. Vorhees since you share the same name. Isn't it odd that such a regular name exists as iconic one? Darth Vader... The Joker... Gizmo... Jason? I mean, even "Michael" needed Myers to give it singularity. But not Jason!

I've only seen the Friday the 13th - Part 1 myself, but, you know what? I actually felt like renting some of the sequels tonight just b/c of the new one. I'm sure I'd tap out pretty quick... but.

Also, I like the observation you make of Vader. The cool thing about that mask is the mouth... or, breathing device. Whatever it is. I was so young when I saw Empire, Jedi etc. that I don't think I even knew it was an actual helmet/mask, until... well, you know.

Though it doesn't have much competition, I'm anxious to see how Friday the 13th opens this weekend. I imagine it will be # 1 b/c The International just SOUNDS boring from it's title... although, I just remembered that the Shopahalic movie opened this weekend. Nevermind.

Reel Whore said...

I've always been a sucker for Jason and his repetitive flicks. Last Halloween I worked my way through 1-8 because I was getting the deaths all mixed up in my mind. I skipped 9 b/c its still the worst POS of the bunch. After that 10 and 11 just got left behind.

They all get old after a while, some are downright terrible but some really are fun. The new Friday fits into the overall fun category. The boobies are a very very nice surprise but all in all, you know what to expect with a Jason flick and there's something satisfying about that.

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