Adaptations & Remakes: Friday the 13th [Obsessive Friends: Mike]

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Promiscuous teenagers fall prey to a deranged killer at Camp Crystal Lake.

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Original Movie:

Friday the 13th (1980) by Sean S. Cunningham

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My first contribution to The Obsessive Viewer was an article about Roger Ebert. He was a personal hero of mine. In my farewell piece I referenced one of my favorite Siskel and Ebert & the Movies reviews. In the review, the two critics rip Friday the 13th a new one. It’s hilarious. Even better, they compare the movie to the brilliant Halloween; the movie Friday blatantly rips off.

It’s almost humorous how popular Friday the 13th is. It’s one of two powerhouse horror franchises (including A Nightmare on Elm Street) from the 80’s and 90’s. Funny enough, some of the Halloween sequels ripped off the Friday sequels. It’s a sad cycle that proves that nothing original in horror lasts very long.

Friday’s influence in horror and pop culture is undeniable, but what people often forget is that the original movie, well…it isn’t very good.

Friday the 13th is gimmicky to no end. The plot is bare bones: Several camp counselors assemble at Camp Crystal Lake days before it is reopened for the first time since a boy drowned several years ago. One by one the teens, including and introducing a young Kevin Bacon, are picked off by an unseen assailant. Several of the kills are from the perspective of the killer. The effect was fresh and skillful two years earlier in Halloween, but in Friday the 13th it feels like imitation. What’s more, there is an added gore factor that is surely intended to up the scare factor, but really feels more like compensation.

In the end, final girl Alice must face off against the assailant now revealed to be Pamela Vorhees, the mother of Jason, the boy who died in the lake. Pamela’s death is kinda cool, and the final scare is deservedly iconic, but Friday the 13th really provides no indication of what would make the franchise so popular in sequels to come.

Reading this, one might wonder why Matt assigned me to this movie for our Adaptations and Remakes Halloween special. It should be stated that I’m a fan of the Friday the 13th franchise. On the podcast I mentioned that my introduction to horror was through Jason Goes to Hell, and I’ve seen every movie in the series several times…except the original. I had actually watched a few of the sequels a couple times each before I even watched the original. Watching it reminded me of going to see Santa at the mall, but finding Santa by the dumpster with his beard off peeing on the side of the building while taking a swig of whiskey.

It is definitely with a bit of luck that Friday the 13th caught on like it did. The people behind the sequels made the wise decision to introduce Jason to the series in Part II, and a horror icon was born. I’m glad it happened, but I can’t help but think that without that bit of luck, Friday the 13th would be about as important to horror as Sleepaway Camp, April Fool’s Day or The House on Sorority Row. Instead, those movies exist because of Friday the 13th.

How I’d Adapt It

The easiest solution here is to not remake Friday the 13th. It’s not the memorable slasher flick people think of when they think of the entire series, (more on that in the next section.) A better movie to remake would be Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. The fourth entry in the series is easily the best. Jason is front and center as the hack and slash villain out to kill teens, and the mommy issue stuff is no longer a handcuff. The movie shines in every aspect. The performances of the teens are impressive. Crispin Glover is a standout, and Corey Feldman’s film debut as Tommy Jarvis is a crucial and stellar to Friday the 13th lore. The Final Chapter is better than a horror-slasher deserves to be.

Modern audiences need this kind of attention paid to their movies. If I remade a Friday movie, interesting characters and a strong hero are paramount (not to be confused with Paramount Pictures who made Friday I-VIII – strong heroes they are not). I’d set the movie at a lake, and probably drop the camp counselor aspect the same way The Final Chapter does.

I am fully aware that audiences of these kinds of movies expect a certain gratuitousness and drug use, but my Friday movie would drop it. My goal would be to give the victims more sympathy and credibility. In all slasher movies you care for the survivor because he or she (usually she) is the least promiscuous. If none of the characters were sex fiends and stoners, we’d be able to sympathize with all of them…or at least take them more seriously, and care when they die.

I wouldn’t bother with touching on iconic moments. I think Jason should have his mask before the story even starts, and the mystery of it should add to the scare factor. I would want audiences to be familiar with Jason, but he needs to be scarier than before. Origin stories do not produce scares. I don’t care where Jason found his machete, I just care how he uses, and through whom he forces it. Speaking of Jason, the less we see of him the better. Jason is like a big shark out for blood. Jaws was so scary because we barely saw the shark at all.

To be clear, I don’t mean that my remake would maintain the mystery aspect of the original Friday. Viewers will know Jason is the killer from the start, but he should remain in the shadows until the bloody climax – a showdown between Jason and Tommy Jarvis, a pre-teen outcast forced to spend the summer with his divorcee mom in a cabin in the woods. My Tommy loves old horror movies, especially Halloween, but he thinks Nightmare on Elm Street is hokey.

Next door to Tommy and his mommy is another cabin occupied for the week by a group of college-age kids. They aren’t here to party, however, they’re here to investigate and experience the legend of the boy who drowned in the lake. These kids are smart, but Jason is smarter. Most of the scares would take place in these two cabins.

The movie would play out in standard slasher fashion as the teens get picked off one by one. I would be sure to play up the tension and not rely on jump scares. The most popular horror movies today have one or both of the following qualities: they have supernatural aspects or they are directed by James Wan. While I don’t think Jason should be supernatural in my remake, I think that if the characters consider ghosts or supernatural things a possibility, the movie could function on a level we’ve never seen for  Friday the 13th.

In the climax, Tommy kills Jason. There would be no cheap scare at the end.

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How They Adapted It:

Friday the 13th (2009) Directed by Marcus Nispel

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Platinum Dunes’ 2009 remake of Friday the 13th is an interesting beast. The movie probably falls under the category of “reimaging” rather than traditional remake, in that it actually takes the events and elements from the first three Friday the 13th movies and places entirely new characters and character traits in them. There is no updated version of Kevin Bacon’s character in this movie, and this time around Jason is a calculating hunter/pot farmer protective of his sanctuary, rather than a rabid dog let loose by his mother/master. Speaking of Jason’s mother, it’s no obscure bit of trivia that Pamela Vorhees is the killer in the original Friday the 13th. In 2009 she is reduced to a mere mention and a few lines in a brief prologue.

A straight-up remake of 1980’s Friday the 13th would have been a foolish movie to make. Besides the fact that it’s a been there-done that lazy and boorish rehash of 1978’s Halloween, the movie is flat. It’s also not very memorable. Actually, if you’re thinking about a hulking maniac with a machete and a hockey mask, you’re not even thinking about the original Friday the 13th. With that in mind, remaking Friday the 13th is a challenge. Modern audiences need to see Jason.

For the most part, Friday the 13th (2009) hits all the familiar beats that a Jason movie is supposed to. There are buckets of blood and teens have sex, do drugs and get impaled with a variety of weapons from the tool shed. The problem is that the movie often takes itself so seriously that it’s hard to tell, most of the time, if the creative team knows what jokes they’re making. Modern horror audiences are over camp-factor. (And by camp, I mean campiness, not… like, summer camp; though the accidental pun made me chuckle upon second read.) Director Marcus Nispel and the (count ‘em) five people who penned the film wanted to make a scary movie, but couldn’t leave the b-movie flavor behind.  You can’t cut your cake and stab it too. The movie lacks an inspiration.

There are a few positives in the movie. The opening sequence plays like a mini Friday the 13th movie on its own.  We see all the classic Friday tropes. The kills are interesting, and the scare factor is effective. Even more, in this first sequence, Jason is a real threat. Unfortunately, after this exciting sequence is over, most of the characters are dead. We’re quickly introduced to a new main crop of stab-able pretty people, but after a twenty minute intro these characters have even less time to develop than normal Friday characters do. These days, this is unforgivable. It’s a shame too, because I liked these versions of the archetypes. I think another 30 minutes would have done these characters good, but their story is so short, we’re left but to root for Jason.

I must admit that the first time I saw this movie I enjoyed it. I thought the way that it melded the first three movies into a new origin story was clever. After (several) repeat viewings, I’ve realized that the reimaged moments were less homage and more rehash rip-off. In fact, if it weren’t for the prologue, Friday the 13th (2009) seems like just another sequel. The problem is that we don’t need another Friday sequel.

In the first 20 minutes of the new Friday the 13th, Jason runs for the first time since Part IV. It’s fresh, exhilarating and scary, but the rest of the movie is as sloppy as any of the late Friday sequels. Jason sluggishly taking Manhattan proved that he, along with the Friday movies, has lost his legs.

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Verdict

The best I can say about the remake is that it’s slightly less of a snooze than the original. I don’t know how much weight that assessment will carry considering I’m not a fan of the original, but it’s still somewhat of a compliment. In my opinion, though, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you skip these versions entirely and just watch The Final Chapter.

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4 responses to “Adaptations & Remakes: Friday the 13th [Obsessive Friends: Mike]

  1. I find it interesting that you say they shouldn’t remake Friday the 13th simply because it’s not memorable. And then you say Part IV is the best and most deserving of a remake.

    Remakes face such a stigma but I think they could be great for movies that misfired. Shouldn’t Friday the 13th be remade since it’s boring and a waste of potential?

    Also, good job bud! And thanks again for contributing.

    Like

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