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."
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.