MONKEY REVIEW: Friday the 13th (2009)

February 13, 2009

fridaythe13th2009First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, let me just say that I’m not one of those horror fans who consider the original Friday the 13th (1980) to be in any way a classic. It was an okay ripoff of the original Halloween (1978), albeit with a very memorable ending, itself cribbed from Carrie, but still scary as hell. The second film introduced Jason, serial killer extraordinaire who eventually acquired a hockey mask as the franchise dragged on and who preyed on mostly teenagers and young adults indulging in sex and/or drugs, or even just thinking about it. Like so many horror icons before him, Jason Voorhees eventually ended up in space and stayed there, the franchise finally dying off after twenty-one (!) years. Enter producer Michael Bay and director Marcus Nispel, who made the financially successful and artistically awful remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and who sought to work their dubious magic on Friday the 13th. Whereas the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was legitimately a work of art, the original Friday the 13th wasn’t anywhere near that, and I figured they couldn’t do worse. And they haven’t, really. In fact, they’ve produced a remake that’s better in almost all respects than the original film. (Make that the first three films, since this new film is essentially a reworking of the first three Friday the 13th films.) That said, it’s still no Halloween (the John Carpenter version, not the Rob Zombie one), but it’s a knowing, unapologetic exploitation film, with copious amounts of violence and plenty of gratuitous nudity. It’s not without problems of its own, some of which I’ll essay below, but for the most part, it’s exciting and scary and mostly a lot of fun. If only the whole movie were like its pre-title prologue, which, in a course of maybe fifteen minutes, recaps the original, sets up this remake, and then jumps from 1980 to the present day, where a group of young adults seeking a hidden marijuana field instead encounter Jason. It’s one of the most brutally efficient openers to a modern horror film I’ve seen. Had the rest of the movie been like that, it might’ve been some kind of a minor horror classic. Alas, the rest of the movie settles into your standard stalk and kill.

So here are my issues with the movie:

1. The underground lair: This is fast becoming the hoariest cliche in modern horror. It would be one thing if the antagonist lived in some ratty cave, but no, they have to be cavernous dwellings, fully furnished and wired for electricity. Where do their electric bills go? Does Jason get on the phone every now and then and argue about the charges?

2. Master archer/gymnastic Jason. Gone is the slow moving Jason of old. The new Jason can run, leap up on buildings in a single bound (I’m not exaggerating) and can use a bow and arrow and throw an axe like nobody’s business. I’m guessing he got in shape refinishing his underground lair.

3. Minorities as comic relief: The two non-white characters in Friday the 13th are likable enough, but it becomes painfully clear their only function is provide comic relief. It doesn’t even make sense why they’re friends with the people they’re with. Women don’t fare much better, as, with the exception of two characters, they’re in the movie to get naked or get killed. Then again, I guess that goes for most of the male characters, too. Maybe the real issue is lazy scriptwriting, but it still bugged me.

4. Jason, pot farmer. The pot angle in this movie is never really properly explained. However, if that pot field is Jason’s, then it would explain how Jason is paying his electric bills and how he funded the renovation of his underground lair. And it’s clear he’s not getting high on his own supply, which makes him a good businessman, if nothing else.

5. The ending. Enough said.

The audience at the midnight showing I saw Friday the 13th with seemed to overlook most of these flaws. For the most part, I did, too. My expectations were admittedly low, but this is one horror remake that works, which doesn’t make it a great movie by any means, but it does make it a pretty good time for horror fans. If you’re not a horror fan, you could probably skip this movie and still lead a pretty normal life. You’ll also want to add a monkey to the rating below.

MONKEY RATING: TWO HOCKEY MASKED MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

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