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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Return to Crystal Lake


So I had the rare opportunity to escape the house last night on Friday the 13th and if anything, superstition played into my favor more than it jinxed me. The parking attendent at the garage near my day job left early and put up the gate, which equated into a free pass, thank you, universe.

After writing up the recently-released Friday the 13th documentary His Name Was Jason (which you can check out at, I had a coupon from the DVD for $5.00 off to catch the new Friday flick which came out yesterday. Granted, this time last year I was bitching up a storm over the announcement that Friday the 13th would be remade. I don't know whether to shake Michael Bay's hand for his ingenuity at retooling and reselling eighties pop culture (his Transformers sequel due out this year looks as badass as the first film, I will admit) or to curse his liberally-borrowed existence.

Damn near every eighties and late seventies horror flick that ever made an impact story-wise or financially has been rebooted within the past five years and for a lover of this stuff, it's been utterly sad to see these pointless redos of The Amityville Horror, Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Fog and the especially needless redux of The Omen. Bad enough a frightening portion of the moviegoing public today are unaware half of these films were done ages ago. I will give credit to the new Dawn of the Dead for mostly making its own story and being an entertaining zombie romp, but seriously... Enough is enough is enough, you guys. Get your own goddamn stories, willya?

So yours truly tried to rustle up some company for the Friday the 13th remake but fate wasn't having it and I'll leave my friends to their privacy in said fashion. I've never been ashamed to go to the movies by myself (I've done it three times since the baby arrived for obvious reasons), but I will say this, even after chowing on sushi at Wegman's and loading up a basket full of various teas I can't get anywhere else, plus flowers for the wifey and my favorite soup mix Mrs. Grass chicken noodle (again remiss of most grocery stores save for Wegman's), I was feeling a bit weird picking up my lone ticket amidst a throng of teenagers. Over two decades ago a mall used to be in this location and that was where I hung every weekend in my teenage years; I consider those grounds to be my own Fast Times at Ridgemont High, no matter what they've done to the place. The torch has long been passed, whether I wanted it or not.

I killed some time in the middle of the square where they have a large fireplace going and a little mouse came scurrying out to lighten up the tension in the cold air, which was now filled with the cloudy exhalations of laughter, repulsion and terror. Normally I'd find a rodent's public presence a bit nasty, but we were technically outdoors, thus it is the mouse's territory; we just liberate it unto ourselves as sovereign beings.

Come time for the flick, I saw a monster line of grumbling and noisy teens at the bathroom near our side of the theater, so I walked to the opposite side and strolled in where only myself and another did our business. Gotta love it. Experience wins over youth.

Popcorn and soda in hand, I mosied up to the theater portal where a bunch of folks were already hovering and waiting for the theater to open. Suddenly an usher forces all of us in our location to form a line behind what amounted to be one hell of a queue. Tempers were flaring from the seeming hopelessness of this wraparound line, while I thought back to the days when the original Friday films came out. Business as usual, as far as I was concerned. Bring Voorhees back out of space and put his rotted ass back where he belongs and people are suddenly interested again. Kids today have no clue how long we stood in line for movies during the eighties and how commonplace this phenomenon was, considering theaters usually only had one print of the film, not three or four as is today's convenient norm. You kids are spoiled rotten! You want to steal what Gen X had before you? Pay your dues and suck it up!

As soon as the doors opened, panic ensued and people in the back of the line shamelessly turned around and squeezed into the file of folks who were already there first. I honestly wasn't all that worried about getting a seat, being a single viewer and also aged 38. I've learned now that teenagers want nothing to do with sitting near old geezers, even though we have first claim to these fucking films to begin with.

So by attrition I ended up being the last one in line and I didn't try to lobby my position further because the universe said I was exactly where I was supposed to be. With cussing and shoving ahead of me, I, along with the last four in line were told Friday the 13th was going to run in the next door theater as well. Can you dig it? Though that theater filled up just as fast, I calmly strode in, found the seat I wanted and ye bang, thank you, universe.

What can we say about Friday the 13th 2009? Not much different than what you'd expect from a traditional Jason splatter epic. Teens wander into woods, start fucking, find stray cannabis leaves near the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake. They think they're in the Garden of Eden, until a sack-faced Jason Voorhees rips them new assholes.

Flash forward six weeks, another group of college idiots turn up on the other end of Crystal Lake for a weekend shindig. You know what's coming to them. Enter the brother of one of the first group of campers looking for his missing sister. Jason takes exception to all of this milling about in his territory and begins dispatching them commando style. More fucking (at one point treading very close to softcore porn), a topless water skier doing aerials with her perky little tits bobbing in time to The Hives' "Tick Tick Boom," you get the picture.

The new Friday the 13th is designed to hopscotch elements of the first four original films. Writers Damien Shannon and Mark Swift grab what they see fit to use of those flicks, be it the brother (Jared Padalecki) in search of his lost sister Whitney (shades of the fourth film), the original Camp Crystal Lake sign planted surreptitiously in the background, the "legend" of Jason beside a campfire (despite preliminary word they wanted none of their characters to know a thing about Jason to give him more aura...oops), kids partying at a lakeside cabin or some of the eighties' more memorable kill scenes re-thought in newer-realized spectacles. Expect to see Shannon and Swift, along with producers Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller try to one-up Kevin Bacon's throat goring stunt from the first film, for starters. Hell, we even see them pay tribute to the original movie in a death sequence occuring in the basement of the luxurious cabin where a broken hanging lamp swings back and forth after the kill. Remember what happened instantly after Marci took a faceful of axe in the original? You really gotta know these films religiously to pick up the new one's subtleties.

How about Jason strung up in a barn, albeit this time with chains? Of course the big to-do is how Jason obtains his famous hockey mask which is much different than in Friday the 13th Part III where Jason shows up from the shadows, having swiped the nerdy prankster Shelly's prop hockey mask after sending him to a prolonged death. Honestly, in the new film, the way Jason finds the mask is too blase and far too convenient, but then again suspension of disbelief was always key in this series. Frankly, I prefer us not seeing Shelly's death on camera, but rather finding him gasping for air in a later frame and dripping blood from a fresh throat slash (ahh, you're fooling no one, Shelly), while his killer lumbers into another scene wearing the mask before shooting a harpoon into the eye of Rita, Shelly's would-be love interest. Now that's making an entrance bearing a new death shroud.

Nana Visitor (of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as a briefly-seen Pamela Voorhees has no fault really other than not being Betsy Palmer. The flashback sequence of Momma V chasing down the last camp counselor (certainly nowhere near as memorable as Adrienne King) then hijacking all of Betsy's critical lines before losing her head in un-gory fashion is rushed through so quickly you almost don't care, other than to see a young Jason at the scene picking up Mommy Dearest's cause. Honestly, this forced exposition could've been left out of the film since nobody bothered to dial in, performance-wise or plot-wise. Then again, I guess we need some sort of explanation for the reason there's a bed in Jason's cabin bearing his name carved into the headboard. Oh, how sweeeeeet....

Then there's the scoring. Ugh. Okay, this is a modern interpretation for a contemporary audience, but Steve Jablonsky's work here just doesn't work, at least for a Friday the 13th film. We want Harry Manfredini's traditional orchestral score and the way he leads his ensemble to peel off quick cello strikes to haunt the scenes more appropriately. Jablonsky reportedly wanted to pay Manfredini subtle homage, but it's so subtle you're going to be hard-pressed to find it unless you're listening out carefully, and honestly when you watch the first four films, isn't that what you're doing half of the time, waiting for Manfredini's death chimes? It lends to the creepy aura. Jablonsky's scoring is too peppy, too bouncy, too loud, all indicative of a rushed society that favors getting-to-the-point in the most noisome manner as opposed to building up genuine suspense. By the way, did anyone else hear John Carpenter's Halloween theme ever-so-silently during one of the scenes in Jason's cabin before his mommy's lopped head is discovered in a carved hole in the wall (and thought to be a doll, groan)?

Credit where it's due, though. Some of the kill scenes are quite colorful such as the meaty boat sequence where an arrow takes the driver out while his topless girlfriend not only gets rammed in the head by the boat, by the time Jason catches up with her overtop a pier, her noggin-skewered dispatch is particularly gruesome. In the opening montage, one of the girls gets torched over the bonfire while strung up in her sleeping bag. Meanwhile, her boyfriend gets caught in a bear trap which Jason has laid out for him and his final moment on earth will remind you of what nailed Mark the paraplegic in Part 2.

Friday the 13th 2009 also has a Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper's version not the recent version) nuance playing into the scheme with Jason's subterranean domicile (which we've never seen before, figuring he was content with an abandoned bunkhouse), plus his willingness to hold Whitney (Amanda Righetti) captive instead of snuffing her like he would anyone else. Can't you hear it in the distance? "Bubba's got a girlfriend!!!" The connection between Jason and Whitney here is that she bears slight resemblence to his mother, at least the one showing in a keepsake locket Jason has--oy. Of course, Whitney borrows Amy Steel's mode of preservation in Part 2 by utilizing some head games to toy with Jason. Ho-hum. Someone call in Lar Park Linkin or Dana Kimmel and show this chick how to really take Jason to the mat, eh?

Unfortunately, this Friday the 13th simply cannot resist the urge to screw the entire endeavor up with its cheap shit ending. It would've been better to have let the camera fade on Jason's sunken mask than what Shannon and Swift write for us... You know what's going to happen by mere insinuation and most likely Shannon and Swift wanted to honor the memory of the original film, but let the crowd's reaction be the gauge to having Jason leaping out of the lake in a flash-cut finale (never mind he's supposed to have has brains shredded out beforehand): More than a few people screamed "Lame!" at that final uninspired moment.

And they're right to say so. Friday the 13th 2009 was every bit as predictable as you would think, except the sex is hotter, the lead frat boy is more of a dick than usual (and you do cheer his riotous exodus out of the film) and Derek Mears as Jason moves at top flight. It did have things going for it.

Like the zombies in the Dawn of the Dead remake, Mears' Jason doesn't merely shamble along. Though setting no speed records for woods stalkers, Mears' hulking mobility makes his interpretation a pleasant surprise, considering anyone who really gives a crap about these films feel Kane Hodder was robbed. Sure, Mears spends 99% of his time behind a head wrap and a mask, but his dexterous crouching and leaping, along with his considerable girth (despite being leaner than previous Jasons, due to the continuity factor of him living off the land) makes this Jason more of a hunter than nearly all of those from the original films. In the past, Jason would stalk, hide, cut the electricity, appear during incandescent lighting and kill. Under Mears' guidance, Jason does all of those, however, this time he uses his victims as bait to lure out the others and he is seen on rooftops patiently waiting for anyone to come outside and pounce upon. Also take note this Jason wears something of a military jacket as well, giving him an altered appearance.

So in essence this Friday the 13th was not all that bad, but it certainly has its weaknesses. Of course, it far outshines Jason's last four outings, Freddy vs. Jason included, which was brought to you by the same team as this one. For one of these dratted remakes, I can at least give it a shaky near-thumbs-up, taking it for it's worth. I really loved the bridge location between the abandoned camp and the slight clearance where a fair portion of the film takes place. Dreadfully shivery. I also salute the troops here for waiting until Jason has first batch of kills before flashing up the title of the film, despite it being about 20 minutes in. Very inventive.

Though it took them a bit of time to start making some chatter, the crowd eventually started groaning and guffawing during the moistier death sequences, which is really all what the Friday the 13th 2009 team is likely looking for at this point, realizing the reviews would be unanimously horrendous just in mere hindsight.

Of course, on my way out of the theater, I by-passed the line of anxious teens trying to get their bladders unloaded and handled my business on the other side of the theater once again, having that bathroom all to myself. You know what, you kids just keep on doing what you're doing; why mess up a good thing?

Unfortunately on my way out, I spotted a movie poster for the remake of Last House on the Left. Jesus, Wes Craven's original was sick enough! I guess they'll go after the nefarious rape ordeal of I Spit on Your Grave next. To make matters worse, we already know Freddy K's sharpening up the gloves yet again and rumor has it Robert Englund has been thrown over for the role.

Hollywood, you're exactly what teenage America called you in that theater last night: lame.


dschalek said...

I'll pass.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

what, my glowing remarks didn't sell you? :)~

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