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Friday the 13th: Platinum Dunes Style

September 1, 2009

The world is gripped by recession, tortured by war, and split apart by ideology.  A subgenre of horror, influenced indeed by the hulking, mindless killers created so many years ago, has gained popularity among the masses and captured the profit hungry minds of the Hollywood brass.  Movies like Hostel, Wolf Creek, The Devil’s Rejects and the Saw sequels place irredeemable caricatures in the grips of sadistic torturers with an unflinching penchant for inflicting pointless pain.  It is too often torture for the sake of torture. 

The unexplained success of this subgenre, combined with the financial distress of the big studios, has now lead to a rash of horror remakes.  Halloween, My Bloody Valentine, April Fool’s Day, The Hills Have Eyes, Prom Night, and Friday the 13th have all been given the treatment.  Platinum Dunes, after the hugely successful The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003 (107 million on a 9.5 million dollar budget), has continued to capitalize on the formula.  2005’s The Amityville Horror (108 million on a 19 million dollar budget), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (51 million on a 16 million dollar budget), and The Unborn (72 million on a 16 million dollar budget) have all found huge audiences by following the same tired formula.  

not your fathers Jason

not your father’s Jason

Welcome to 2009 and Platinum Dunes remake of Friday the 13th (90 million on a 19 million dollar budget).  Combining elements from the first three Friday the 13th movies, this remake ignores all of the essential elements of the original mythology while reinventing Jason as an intelligent, focused killer who makes his home, complete with childhood bed, trophies, and pictures, in a crumbling cabin within the confines of Camp Crystal Lake.  Missing are the camp counselors, the innocent kids, the lurking presence, the legend of “Camp Blood,” and the slow motion point of view shots so important to the original’s legendary success. 

Marcus Nispel’s version opens with the killing of Jason’s mother; it happens, like everything in this version, quickly.  As soon as mommy’s severed head hits the ground, we meet Jason, presented from the waist down.  “Kill for mommy,” rings in his head. In this Friday the 13th, he does not rise from the lake. He picks up the machete from beside his mother’s dead body and walks on. Nispel is going for realism. 

But the true nature of this Friday redux is revealed during the next segment.  A group of kids trek through the woods in search of a hidden crop of marijuana.  Lost and tired, they set up camp not too far from Crystal Lake.  A brief campfire story introduces these kids to the legend of Jason before they each break off on separate missions.  Wade, the odd man out of this fivesome, turns up the music on his iPod.  As Night Ranger’s Sister Christian fills his head, he ventures off into the woods where he stumbles upon the elusive magical crop.  But too quickly, Jason appears to wipe him out. 

this Jason has a plan

this Jason has a plan

Whitney and her boyfriend head off on a random jaunt through the dark woods when they stumble upon the camp.  Entering a broken down cabin, they find Jason’s home.  The evidence is strong that this cabin is inhabited; and combined with the campfire tale still fresh in their minds it would seem implausible that these two would stick around as long as they do.  

Meanwhile, Richie and his girlfriend are getting it on in the tent.  When said girlfriend thinks she hears Wade secretly listening, she sends Richie out for a look, “I can’t go out there with a boner,” he says.  Stumbling out of the tent, he does not see Wade. Instead of climbing back onto his girlfriend, he calls to Wade and treks from the clearing deep into the woods.  Soon Richie stumbles upon the weed patch, where he finds Wade’s lifeless body.  Frantically running back to the tent, he witnesses his girlfriend, wrapped in her sleeping bag and dangling above the campfire.  Suddenly, a bear trap snaps his leg nearly in half. 

You see, this Jason is a torturer, thoughtfully setting bear traps, booby trapping his campsite, and hanging girls from trees so that they will slowly burn to death. This Jason is not the sad, motherless boy forever alone, but a brutal, angry murderer.  And when Whitney races back to the camp to find Richie struggling against the bear trap, Nispel presents his final thesis with extreme speed.  Whitney, with back to Jason, strains to pull the trap apart. Jason sprints towards them; Richie stares up at the approaching figure, frozen in shock.  And before he can get a word out, Jason’s machete slams powerfully into his skull.  Jason then violently separates his machete from Richie’s head with a violent kick to the shoulder.  This Jason is nimble, graceful.  

cracked skull?  so what?

cracked skull? so what?

Then, amidst the silent shock, with little impact, the generic title appears on black screen.  No music, no sound effects, and no fun.  From here, Platinum Dunes Friday the 13th presents a generic slasher story.  A group of annoying college kids on vacation in daddy’s lake house indulge themselves with drink, drugs, and sex.  Clay, Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki, arrives in town on the same day to continue searching for his missing sister.  The town’s lone cop insists she is not in town, and tells Clay to move on. 

The set up, like each moment so far, is quick, tired, and dull.  Once the killing starts, Nispel makes an unforgivable error.  An arrow through the skull sends a speeding boat toward a fallen water skier.  After the boat violently strikes her head, a visible gash gushes blood.  Her vision blurred, she sees Jason standing lakeside.  Racing in the other direction, the injured, bloodied girl finds refuge underneath a dock.  But when she comes up for air, there is no more blood, no more gash in her head.  It is an amateur’s oversight, and one that only highlights the lack of respect this redux has for its audience.  

The remake has become Hollywood’s gold; audiences flock to the theaters, it seems, more out of curiosity than excitement.  This Friday the 13th offers none of the original’s charm, none of the original’s mythology. But the formula is working. And there are even more on the way.  Platinum Dunes currently has remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Birds, and Near Dark in development.  And as long as audiences continue to hand over their dollars, Platinum Dunes, and others like them, will continue to find successful horror titles from the past to regurgitate for the future.  There is one sure thing in Hollywood; everyone follows the leader regardless of the direction.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    September 1, 2009 1:58 pm

    This review is DEAD ON. Hollywood lacks imagination and is now acting as cheaply as it’s dumbed down audiences. The continuation of remaking classics like ‘The Taking of Pelham 123’, ‘The Birds’, and ‘The Omen’ shows it’s lack of respect for the audience who, like the reviewer states, ‘stepford’-ly follows the leader. I hear and I obey. My advice? Check for the original before watching a remake.

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