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Friday 13 August 2010

That Day Again

Friday the 13th did not even have a completed ...
Friday the 13th did not even have a completed script when Sean S. Cunningham took out this advertisement in Variety magazine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Cover of "Friday the 13th Uncut [Blu-ray]...Cover of Friday the 13th Uncut [Blu-ray
So, we arrive on the day when superstition runs rife in the western world. 13 witches in a coven, Judas Iscariot, the treacherous member of JC’s gang, made the number of participants at The Last Supper 13, the Knights Templar were arrested on Friday 13th and so on. “The Thirteenth in the Series” is a great episode of the Alan Simpson and Ray Galton brilliant comedy show “Hancock’s Half Hour”, and is a wonderful satire of how the number 13 can set off a chain reaction of superstitious confirmation bias in a gullible individual followed by buying into any amount of New Age nonsense. In 1980 director Sean S. Cunningham had both horror and humour on his mind when he directed and produced the slasher film, “Friday the 13th”. The humour was designed to relax the audience and the horror came in the form of cheap shocks. It was a pretty bad film in so many ways. It was unoriginal and it kick-started a cynical franchise
. However, it ended up becoming one of the successful franchises in the history of cinema – the hockey mask adopted by a character that had the briefest of cameos in the original becoming one of the most iconic images of the 20th century.

I can’t help but have affectionate memories for the “Friday the 13th” series. I watched them when I was way too young in the ‘80s. Having already discovered the vastly superior “A Nightmare on Elm Street” I was intrigued by this poorer genre-relation. Barely into double figures, I knew that is was bad – we all knew it was bad – but there was something compulsive in its viewing. We scoffed and jeered at the stupidity of the victims; we laughed at the film’s predictability and wondered why they bothered killing the antagonist off at the end of each film when we knew he was set to return in the sequel. Looking back I see that they couldn’t even be consistent with their numbering, mixing Roman numerals with modern numbering was faux pas that even the comparably feeble Police Academy “comedy” franchise didn’t make. Mind you, muddling sequel titles was something that 1980s films got down to an art form – see the Rambo series for example.

Below are my reviews of the whole series of films, including the remake, and I hope will somehow explain – at least to me – why I take some guilty pleasure in seeing an instalment listed on at least one television channel…

“Before the remake, before the sequels, before the hockey mask, before the bag there was..?”
Friday the 13th (1980)

On Friday 13, 1958 two lakeside camp counsellors were brutally murdered by an unknown killer. 22 years later on Friday 13 June the camp is set to open despite local fears regarding the camp being cursed. According to one driver, who gives one of the new counsellors a ride halfway to the camp, a young boy, Jason Voorhees, drowned in the lake one year prior the murders. That very day, one-by-one the new counsellors are picked off and brutally slain by an unseen killer until only one person remains to discover the terrible truth of Camp Crystal Lake...

And that really is it as far as plot goes without spoiling anything. Friday the 13th and its incredibly successful series of sequels is a "so bad it is good" type movie. I loved them as a youngster, watching them well before the age I was supposed to. We all understood then that they were horror at its basest most cynical level with stupid plots, rubbish acting and relying on the cheapest of horror tricks. We all laughed at the ridiculous ways the series' main protagonist, the enduringly evil Jason Voorhees would return from the grave. Technically speaking, of course, he only returned from the grave in parts VI, VII, VIII and the Freddy versus Jason team-up. Looking back at his incredible resilience in these episodes it just goes to show how naïve we all were to think that drowning, a machete through the arm, an axe through the head and being slashed to bits and then buried for several years were ever going to keep this monster down, all of which were methods used to dispatch Jason at the finale of the films first three sequels. I watched nearly all Friday the 13th sequels before the original, which seemed quite elusive at the time. As I looked I was told by someone who had seen it how very different it was from the others. After all, as the tongue-in-cheek slasher resurrection film "Scream" would reveal, this was one where Jason was not the killer!

What the original Friday the 13th did do was distil the slasher film genre. In this light is only seems appropriate that its 2009 remake be a virtual distillation of the majority of the series rather than a careful attempt to update the original film. The first film acts as a type of watershed for these types of movie. It takes the whodunit idea, but doesn't really give you anything to work on. The killer is revealed only moments after their first onscreen appearance. John Carpenter's "Halloween" (1978) is often cited as its source of inspiration or as a blatant model to copy (you choose, as Sean S Cunningham, the film's director, is quite content with the latter description), however, the film probably at least as much to Bob Clark's "Black Christmas" (1974) for its base structure. Granted it uses the puritanical line of if you have premarital sex, smoke dope or are not a nice person you die concept that Halloween inspired, but the unknown killer angle is all Black Christmas and so is the vast array of different ways victims are dispatched. The remote rural setting perhaps owes something to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and by having a lone killer stalk and slay people in a sleepaway camp I guess it is a bit like taking the sorority house of Black Christmas and putting it in an even more secluded setting. Many of Halloween's other features, namely the mute indestructible male killer, were only incorporated into the film's sequels.

The slasher genre's origins, it has been argued, perhaps started with the Agatha Christie novel "And Then There Were None". The story gave us the one-by-one demise of victims who were less than innocent and who met their ends in many ingenious ways. No matter how bad their crimes, Christie does a superb job in humanizing the people and creating sympathy for most of them. Friday the 13th cares little for much of its protagonist's back stories. The only thing we can sympathize with is that they are humans - incredibly stupid and superficial humans. It has been argued that Friday the 13th was one of the first of its kind to have you virtually rooting for the bad guy. Audiences from this film onwards apparently cheered in theatres when victims were dispatched.

The film does revel in its own lunacy, however, and it is this trait that makes it decent no-brain viewing as part of a double bill or a film fest. All its sequels share this same trait, the best being Part VI's blatant tongue-in-cheek attempt. The first film also wins points for featuring an early onscreen role by Kevin Bacon and a decent turn by Betsy Palmer. Don't expect anything that resembles the cruelty, relentless visceral intensity and intentional black humour of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), the slick pacing and decent casting of Halloween (1978) or even the creativity of the first A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Fans of Friday the 13th largely accept its flaws without question. They love the films not just in spite of them, but because of them. The first film does differ from its sequels in many ways, but it doesn't mean it is better than them all. Don't be kidded into expecting to be a great horror film that was shamelessly cashed in on. Friday the 13th was the cash-in! But the secret, as is always the case with "so bad they are good" films, is to love it not in spite of its faults but because of them.

"The franchise gets moving!"
 Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Okay, first the easy part. The so-called storyline is quite simple. A bunch of young adults attend a counsellor training centre near the infamous Camp Crystal Lake, which now has a history of two sets of killings committed by the psychopathic mother of a drowned child. Said adults will spend their time walking through woods, being scared around a campfire, having sex and then getting stalked and killed one-by-one. This is what counsellors, trainee counsellors and any other young adults or late teens do in most Friday the 13th movies.

Set five years after the events of the first film, this second instalment in the franchise removed all doubt about its shameless copying the Black Christmas and, more significantly, Halloween model. However, this no-brain series of slasher flicks would prove to be more successful than possibly all of its far better made rivals.

Friday the 13th Part II both introduced new mainstays into the franchise. The most obvious new mainstay is Jason Voorhees as an adult. As most reviewers and fans will tell you he appears wearing a less than iconic one eyehole burlap sack this time around about two thirds into the feature, rather than the hockey mask that he is known for. There is little mystery this time around - not that that first one was a classic whodunit - as we learn pretty soon that the mysterious new killer on Crystal Lake is none other than Mrs Voorhees's favourite little boy. He apparently survived drowning in the lake and avenged his mother's decapitation two months later, making no real sense of the first movie at all, but logic will never be a strong point in this "so bad its good" franchise. I am sorry if that really is counted as a spoiler, but if you hadn't guessed who the killer was by this time then I would suggest that ease up on the beer when you watch these films.

Other new elements include the first nude scene that was regularly and unnecessarily inserted into 1980s B movies. You get one solo skinny dipping scene this time around, but by the time Part IV arrives these will be boosted along with body counts and gore.

Friday the 13th Part II is classic bad movie fun. It does well with its modest budget and there are genuinely well-executed scenes of suspense. As a picture that relies on simple shock tactics it delivers on cue. The opening prologue is particularly good with its use of a red herring (or should I say black cat?) shock and is one of the best jumps any film has ever given me. Mind you, I was a naughty 13 year old at the time!

"The formula really gets going and Jason gets the right mask"
 Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

For all its faults, Friday the 13th Part II did not mislead viewers into thinking Jason Voorhees was dead. The guy only received a machete through the shoulder (pretty pathetic considering what he will survive in future instalments) and then in a confusing scene ('80s slasher films and particularly the first three and fifth Friday the 13th films loved to do a "was it a dream" dream sequence that never made much sense) he apparently came back revealing his disfigured adult face for the first time. So, matters can continue with another bunch of dumb young adults, this time accompanied by some disgruntled bikers, getting dispatched by Jason. Along the way Mrs Voorhees's favourite little boy at last picks up the iconic hockey mask.

Part III is significantly more violent than its predecessors, but this is in line with the demands made of such a series. Steve Miner continues in the role as director and seems quite settled into the simplistic formula, but surprisingly made it with all intents and purposes as a series finale. Just as he provided a good shock scene at the beginning of Part 2, Miner is good form with the shocks he uses in homage to the original film's ending.

This film is remembered for two things. The aforementioned debut of the hockey mask and that it was originally released in 3D. The early '80s saw the trend of 3D movies emerge as it had done in the '50s and is it is currently being done again in the late 2000s. Perhaps recognizing the inherent problems with the final part of trilogies, some filmmakers went for broke with a gimmick like 3D. Unfortunately what this means when the films are released in 2D on video or DVD is that you get loads of action scenes where objects are pointlessly thrown at the camera. You get plenty of this in Friday III. However, 3D versions have since been released on DVD and Blu Ray.
Unfortunately, as "films that are so bad they are good" go, this doesn't really work too well as the final instalment. In hindsight it bears many hallmarks of a film used to keep a series going.

"Beware it's... Monday the 16th?"
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

You can't keep a good movie killer down, but after the instalment tried to bring closure to the series this one heavily implied it was time for closure. The ending to this film and its subsequent sequel did demonstrate a genuine desire take the series in a very different direction, but that's another review! Friday the 13th had shamelessly ripped off Halloween more and more as the series progressed. Part III and this particular film took its lead from Halloween's sequel by picking up the story immediately after the events of its predecessor. Part III was set the day after Part II and the events of the Final Chapter occur from Saturday 14th until Monday 16th. It seems that the bad luck of Friday the 13th has little respect for any sort of timeframe.

So, big Jas is not dead. Having been taken to the morgue after receiving an axe blow the head in Part III, he wakes up in the local morgue, kills the morgue doctor and nurse, and heads back to Crystal Lake. Seemingly oblivious to two sets of killings that have occurred in Crystal Lake and the nearby Higgins Haven not to mention other murders in the surrounding area over the last two days that would have definitely brought droves of media crews following the ambulances and police we have seen in the previous two films, a group six holiday making young adults, a sister and a young brother plus two local twins all decide that Crystal is a great place to have a party. Only a mysterious hitchhiker with links to Part II seems to have any idea that there is a nigh-on indestructible spree killing maniac in the area.

It is business as usual for Jason as he goes about dispatching skinny dipping and sexually active young adults with very white tan markings. The violence remains amped up, but not as gory as Part III. Director Joseph Zito clearly decided greater nudity was required this time around. The film may have been an attempt to bring an end to the Jason story, but it brought in a new character, Tommy Jarvis played by film-saving child star Corey Feldman, the young brother character. The Last Chapter forms the first part of what fans call the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. Despite still being a mindless slasher film it is Feldman's performance and the Wes Craven style psychological turn during the final scenes of this film that lifts it above the first three pictures.

"The unsung hero of the Fridays?"
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

The fifth film follows the story of Tommy Jarvis who, as a child, succeeded where all others had failed. He dispatched the murderous Jason Voorhees. Unfortunately like many of the survivors of the first four films, Jarvis was left severely psychologically damaged. However, despite being haunted by dreams of Jason returning Jarvis makes it to a halfway house. After one of the inmates savagely kills another a series murders begins and once more a familiar hockey masked killer appears to be the culprit...

Don't ever trust the subtitle of a Friday the 13th film. What the filmmakers intend rarely has any bearing on reality. The one before this instalment was called The Last Chapter. It wasn't in any respect other than it ended a certain era of the story's mythology. This one is entitled A New Beginning. It isn't. Rather it's a bit of an interval before events go from plain illogical and improbable to outright supernatural. The fans panned it for daring to be different. However, in hindsight it provided a genuine whodunit twist to the series that bettered the first film's attempt at being a whodunit. The horror in the film is the most inventive yet and there are even signs of the humour that will make its sequel the best in the series.

"A much needed comedy entry for Crystal Lake"
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives! (1986)

There is a scene in Bill Condon's excellent fictionalized account of the last days of director James Whale, "Gods and Monsters", where different people watch his film "The Bride of Frankenstein" almost two decades after its releases. Each person or group of people give their own very different opinion on the film. Some deride it as an outdated horror, another person is genuinely horrified, James Whales laughs at the in-jokes and campiness he intentionally inserted, and one more person is just generally fascinated by the true genius that lies behind this genre picture. While "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives" is no work of genius it is arguably the best film in the franchise save for "Freddy versus Jason". This is not easy to do. However, when I first saw this picture I was a prepubescent youth who began watching it without realizing the intended irony and humour. It still made me laugh, but more in a mocking way. Fast-forward almost a decade and the BBC decide to show this instalment of the series on Friday the 13th. It suddenly all clicks - it's a fun take on the whole ridiculousness of the series without turning the film into a spoof.

So how did this happen? Well, the first Friday the 13th was intended as a cynical cash-in on the slasher flick, a new genre in horror that had been properly established by Halloween and Black Christmas. Seeing Halloween's success with a sequel Friday followed suite. The original Friday centred on the story of a deformed boy, Jason Voorhees, born on Friday the 13th, who had supposedly drowned due to negligence on the behalf of Crystal Lake counsellors and their pre-marital sexual activity. Said counsellors were slaughtered by the boy's mother, Pamela. When attempts were made to reopen the camp psycho mum returned and started killing counsellors again on Friday the 13th (it wasn't really but that's another story!), until the obligatory "last girl" helped Pamela to literally lose her head. With the first low budget film delivering well at the box office, Paramount needed to start milking this cash cow. They hit upon the idea of bringing Jason back as a grown up protagonist. He had briefly featured at the end of the first film rising out of the water in a dream sequence.

Bringing Jason back for Part II turned out to be a brainwave. Although Part II didn't do as well as its predecessor, it was successful enough to justify another sequel to round off the trilogy and an ending just loose enough to justify Jason not being dead. Part III out grossed Part II, so franchise logic dictated that Jason could still not be dead - he had only received an axe blow after all. A film was made with a title declaring that this was really it: Friday the 13th: The Last Chapter. 12 year old Tommy Jarvis gave the resilient hockey-masked nutter his final rites with a machete to the head and then going completely Hills Have Eyes by hacking his still twitching corpse with manic ferocity. The producers clearly wanted to finish with the Jason character, but continue his legacy through other characters. Every film had finished with the survivor being severely traumatized by their experiences. The Last Chapter wanted to take matters further and the end credits roll with Jason's 12 year old slayer looking at the camera with a mad look in his eyes. However, rather than shoot this bolt too soon the next film, "Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning" saw a rather mature looking 16 year old Tommy still playing the hero. This time he kills a Jason copycat, but before the end credits roll we see young Tommy donning the hockey mask himself apparently confirming his role as the next killer.

Sometimes, however, franchises can be too clever for their own good. The fans weren't interested that Part V was a better whodunit than the first film (which wasn't very difficult really) or the idea that the Crystal Lake legacy lives on the minds of its survivors, which linked well with the concept of the second film. No, what they wanted was Jason. Not a copycat, the real deal. They didn't care that credulity and suspension of disbelief had been stretched to the point of farce with Jason now having been drowned as a child, hacked in the shoulder with a machete, chopped in the head with an axe, hacked to bits with another machete and then buried for years. Part V was the least successful in the series and the fans loathed it. The writers and directors of future films would have to understand that if you were going to do Friday the 13th it was going to have to be all about the real Jason killing stupid young adults.

Part VI got the message load and clear. With horror influenced rock star Alice Cooper, going through his commercial period, providing the soundtrack, the series came back with a tongue-in-cheek self-aware edition that satisfied most viewers. Rather than trying to create some plausible way for Jason to have survived the events of the Last Chapter or explain just what Tommy Jarvis was intending to do at the end of Part V, Jason Lives opens up with Tommy Jarvis being very stupid and digging his old maggot eaten enemy up on a stormy night. Tommy is convinced the killer is not dead, so he throws him back his hockey mask and shoves a stake through his body. In a scene that just has to be a reference to James Whale's Frankenstein films, the stake acts as a conductor for a flash of fork lightning. This reanimates Jason as he opens his inexplicably well preserved eyes and begins his murdering rampage anew.

With Jason now a supernatural entity, it was possible to do all sorts with the series now. As with the "Gods and Monsters" scene reference in my opening paragraph, there are many ways viewers can and do see Jason Lives. Some just take it on board as a straight slasher movie. After all, we were in a time where the stalker in these movies didn't have to be human anymore and much of the horror is still graphic with plenty of the same sort of tension present in the former instalments. Others see it as a good example of juxtaposing comedy with horror. Many good horror films have comic moments to provide relief and contrast, making the horrific scenes more effective. However, in later years I like to think of it as a direct comment on the series and the stubbornness of the fans to not let go of Jason. In the world of series fandom there is an expression known as "Jump Shark". It comes from an episode of Happy Days, where the Fonz jumps a shark when waterskiing and has come to mean an episode in a series when ideas have dried up and all that is left is gimmicks. Friday the 13th had no glory days. The original was a cheap cynical film made to cash in on the slasher horror genre. However, it resulted in one of the most successful movie franchises in history. In light of this Jason Lives voluntarily and happily jumps the shark for the good of the series and is probably the best Friday made.


"Not quite new blood, but a worthwhile transfusion all the same"
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1987)

Having camped matters up in the sixth instalment (no pun intended), where could this stalk 'n slash series go? Well, the direction with Friday the 13th series seems to be all about going into excess. This is no carefully plotted saga, my friends. This is movie franchising at its most cynical. Each subsequent episode provided either more violence or more sex or was generally more over the top in tone. Having decided that Jason could be a zombie in Part VI it seemed perfectly reasonable that Part VII could have a telekinetic heroine and her alcoholic father rising from his watery grave!

Friday the 13th Part VII just picked up the ball thrown to it by its very successful predecessor and actually ran with it quite commendably. The production values are certainly higher than everything that had come before, with director and special make effects wizard John Carl Buechler giving us the "definitive" looking undead Jason Voorhees after the obligatory unmasking. Sometimes dubbed "Carrie versus Jason", the original plan was to pit Jason against Freddy Krueger 15 years or so before this actually happened. When this fell through the writers clearly still liked the idea of Jason to face another supernatural adversary. This came in the form of the haunted Amanda Shepherd who accidentally raises Jason from the watery grave Tommy Jarvis put him back in at the end of the previous film. This has now become as much a part of the Jason mythology as stakes are part of the vampire story. Part VII also sees the first appearance of stuntman Kane Hodder playing the role of Jason. Hodder became a fan favourite and would be the only actor to play the role of Jason more than once, portraying him three more times after this instalment.

The New Blood is another genuine attempt to do something half-decent with what is essentially a series of bad movies. It doesn't rise above its status as a supernatural slasher movie and it lacks the humour of Jason Lives, but The New Blood is still better than most of the others that came before and the films will not fly this high until the eventual "Freddy versus Jason". It has a fairly decent sub-plot with the Amanda character and it doesn't stint on the action nor the special effects with the best work in this department since Tom Savini's work on the fourth film.

"Jason takes a boat and Paramount Pictures take the piss!"
 Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Matters had been looking up for the Friday the 13th series. Parts VI and VII were two of the strongest entries in the series. By making Jason a supernatural entity, by using humour and by increasing production values, they may still have been bad movies but at least they were executed well.

Unfortunately the increased budget of this, the eighth instalment, could not provide enough polish to spruce up a noticeably tired looking turd. And turds are exactly what Crystal Lake's least favourite son is reduced to wading through during the film's "thrilling" final act, as Jason ends up chasing his prey down New York's sewer system. It's a fitting place to end this rather transparent gimmicky final instalment for Paramount pictures before Newline Cinema bought the franchise.

Other than increased budget, the main problem with Part VIII lies in its not learning from the mistakes made in the series past. The fans will accept a degree of change if it goes in the right direction; just don't mess with the formula. After the first film, supporters of the series demanded two things: Jason as the main protagonist and Crystal Lake as the hunting ground. This is what had come to represent the essence of the series. Part V was not thanked for making a valiant effort to move things along without Jason. Part VIII promised to take him New York, but the first half of the film is spent with the hockey mask adorned one killing high school teenagers on a boat. When he does get to New York there is none of the remote feel of the wilderness provided by the Lake to create any sort of tension.

Humour is fine, but in a horror film it should be set as contrast the scare factor. Part VIII oversteps the mark by creating full on comedic death scenes and yet tries to also retain the feel of a straight slasher film. It just doesn't work, as the rather dud scene where Jason punches the head off a high school boxer demonstrates.

Part VIII signaled that the writing was on the wall. Ideas had become exhausted. It was time to say goodbye again. Unfortunately worse was yet to come...

"Dead horse with a hockey mask you say? What this animal needs is a bit of body hopping!"
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

When New Line Cinema bought the ailing Friday the 13th series off Paramount Pictures it clearly didn't see any need in trying to pick up any continuity from the previous films. At least Paramount made some sort of attempt to explain how Jason would return, bring back characters from former episodes and so on. New Line had an altogether more ruthless approach to the franchises in the 1990s. This was demonstrated with their attempt at a final instalment in the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" series, "Freddy's Dead the Final Nightmare", where scripts to link any characters from the previous film or create any sense of continuity were abandoned. This might have to do with the lack of rights New Line had over the franchise. It couldn't use any footage from the previous films apparently and probably had to tread carefully. Therefore, seeing as we get no explanation as to how Jason went from being reverted back a little drowned boy after having all his evil washed off him via New York's finest toxic waste in "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan", I thought it better to offer a more useful type re-cap for viewers trying to decide whether or not the ninth instalment would be worth viewing.

The re-cap I offer is a little bit of history on the body hopping trend in horror pictures. In 1987 a science fiction horror film was released called "The Hidden". It took the concept of possession that was popular in the 1970s with films such as "The Exorcist", its many imitations and "Rosemary's Baby", and cranked it up with the paranoia brilliantly expressed in John Carpenter's "The Thing". The film told the story of a sociopathic alien entity from another world that uses human bodies as a host to commit crimes. The idea was then re-used by "A Nightmare on Elm Street" creator Wes Craven in his failed attempt at a new franchise, the 1989 feature film "Shocker". Craven had executed serial killer Horace Pinker being resurrected as an electrical spirit that could jump from body to body and also down cables and into electrical devices. In 1990 occultist serial killer Patrick Channing also came back from his execution to continue his satanic murders by jumping from one unfortunate victim to another in "The First Power". Not to miss an opportunity, "The Hidden II" came out in 1994. However, before that we had "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday", which decided it would be a good idea to turn Jason into a body-hopper.

This series was already beset with gimmicks. It had gone 3D in Part III (a method also used at the end of "Freddy's Dead"), it declared finality in Part IV, it used a different killer in Part V (an idea perhaps not a million miles away from Halloween's ill-received third instalment), it went camp in Part VI (just as "A Nightmare on Elm Street" had done in its fourth film), it introduced a telekinetic opposite number in Part VII and then it shipped Jason out to New York in Part VIII. This was not a series that had much sense of poise and self-respect. New Line decided to repeat the same "this is it" gag it had done with Part IV, hoping to capitalize on the opening success Freddy's Dead had experienced, and bring in the body hopping gimmick. Hey, if Jason could become a zombie being brought back to life by a lightning bolt in the sixth episode and a Carrie-type nemesis could exist in the seventh one why not have him possessing people? This explanation was even offered up as the reason behind his immortality. Friday the 13th writers have never heard of Occam's razor it appears.

Jason is no longer a small town secret by the beginning of this film. He is still referred to as a serial killer rather the undead monster he clearly has been in the last three films, but the FBI still feel justified in blowing him to smithereens before the opening credits. After this the real nonsense begins. Jason apparently has a sister on his father's side. She is brought into the picture early. Once again, "Freddy's Dead" had executed a similar idea with Freddy's daughter. Then we have this bounty hunter character who matter-of-factually tells us about Jason's ability to jump from body to body despite this never been mentioned before in the entire series. It's then all about Jason's little sis getting a magical knife send her brother to hell. I won't spoil the ending, but it is worth mentioning that this was another attempt to lead into a match-up with Freddy Krueger (Part VII was originally supposed to be that match-up) and there is more than hint to this idea after the closing credits.

However, this would not happen for another decade during which both Freddy and Jason would have one more outing alone. Freddy's would be one of the cleverest act of auteur-ship to grace a slasher franchise, Jason's well... having done New York and hell they decided to send him into space!

"Houston, we have a franchise problem!"
Jason X (2002)

In the distant future of 2010 undead maniac Jason Vorhees is cryogenically frozen at Crystal Lake's laboratory. Apparently body hopping evil spirits, which is what this film's predessor revealed was the source of Jason's powers, can be cryogenically frozen. As this is supposed to be set after Freddy versus Jason, which won't be made for another two years, it doesn't matter that we don't how Jason returned from hell. This is the explanation given on the documentaries made around Freddy versus Jason. For 450 years the world will not have to suffer another Friday the 13th sequel. After that though Jason is going to be defrosted. The good news is that this will only happen in space. Great! Problem solved. Oh no, we're supposed to care about what happens to the people on the spaceship... Well, sorta.

Jason X, which has a rather annoyingly lazy and cynical title, which seems representative of both this and the previous New Line entry's lack of consideration for the series's continuity, works as a bad comedy. New Line Cinema, who bought the franchise off Paramount, apparently got stuck in developmental hell when trying to pair off Freddy and Jason. This was a match-up that had been intended since 1988 when Paramount still owned the rights to the Friday franchise. When it didn't materialize back then Part VII became a story about Jason fighting a girl with telekenesis - a sort of Carrive versus Jason - which was one of the better entries. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, which was the ninth instalment, also clearly suffered from these rights issues. New Line couldn't use the Friday the 13th title or any of the footage from the previous films. This is partly to blame for the film's disconnection from the series. However, there was a promise of the Freddy meeting at the end of this episode. This didn't happen. It looked like it was going to happen in 2001, but problems still persisted, so Jason X was dashed out.

Friday the 13th has three trilogies in my mind, with Part VII being the odd one out. There is the original trilogy. Then there is the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. Then after Part VII, there is the really bad trilogy. Jason X is the last of these three and surprisingly the best. This isn't much of a compliment, as Part VIII is terrible and the so-called "Final Friday" is the worst of them all.

Jason X possibly cites what Part VI, the best of series, did with humour. This does lift it a little bit above the other two, but only just. None of the Fridays are good films - they're all thoroughly entertaining "so bad they're good" type guilty pleasures - but what gave Part VI that edge over all the others was its moments of self-awareness and the campy understanding of the genre. It was like a very rough prototype for "Scream" with added supernatural over-the-topness. Jason X's self awareness is delivered very clumsily and late in the day. The previous film was made almost a decade before hand and since then slasher films gone way past the ironic stage. We were back into homage territory with the beginning of the remakes.

"The most anticipated horror match-up in years"
Freddy versus Jason (2003)

In the red and green corner, weighing in with one genuine movie classic and six sequels of varying credibility and quality, once an original icon of horror now a lampooned cartoon figure associated with the 1980s: Freddy Krueger! In the white and red corner, weighing in with one half-decent send up sequel: Jason Vorhees! This was the moment many slasher fans of the '80s had been waiting for. We didn't think we would have to wait this long. Proposals for the match-up had been around since 1986, but it would take New Line Cinema to eventually buy the Jason character off Paramount Pictures in the early 1990s and then go through what is known as "production hell" where several disparate scripts would be proposed and rejected until finally 2003 saw the release of "Freddy versus Jason".

The millennium saw retrospective go into overdrive in terms of fashion, music and especially films. It was a time for the remakes, the live action versions of retro cartoon and toy franchises, and for superheroes (and villains) to meet. Fans were not just a vocal minority now, they were active contributors guiding people on the internet, writing for mainstream magazines and demanding that respect be shown for nostalgia they held so dear. So, according to the publicity surrounding "Freddy versus Jason", the story is linked directly to the end of the abortive "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday" and almost as terrible "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare". The previous instalments of the franchises required no place in the film. "Jason X" was set in the future and "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" was none cannon. Jason is resurrected in his dreams by Freddy Krueger in order to bring terror back to Springwood, a town which has erased the history of Freddy from its archives and put all its children on the dream suppressant drug first seen in Nightmare 3. The plan works, but Jason refuses to stand aside when Freddy wants in on the action. Meanwhile some teenagers have figured out what is going on and embark on a plan to ensure that when the two monsters clash it will finish them both.

We all waited for this film to smash our expectations and many of us were pleasantly surprised. I am happy to say I was among those many. I am under no delusions about this film's place in horror history; it is the 21st century's equivalent to Universal's "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man". However, its realization is not some desperate attempt to resuscitate an ailing franchise, that had already happened, but an unashamed commercial enterprise designed to appeal to fans of the two "horror heroes". Robert Englund steps in as a cackling and wisecracking Freddy without missing beat. Jason Vorhees is, well, Jason Vorhees. Kane Hodder had become a fan-favourite and only actor to play the role for more than one film, but he was replaced by a much taller actor in order create a greater contrast with Robert Englund's smaller stature. The film worked hard to merge the hallmarks of each respective franchise. Elm Street's switched on kids and Crystal Lake's stupid ones have their representatives in the different characters. Both Freddy and Jason's back-stories are used extensively for valid plot reasons, including the discovery of their weaknesses. It all culminates in a match-up that sees the two icons duke it out in Freddy's dream world and Jason's home at Crystal Lake. Unlike the very short eventual fight between Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man, this battle is good value for money.

"That familiar Friday feeling"
Friday the 13th (2009)

Deformed child, Jason Vorhees, who has been presumed drowned, watches in seclusion as his mother's murderous rampage at Camp Crystal Lake is brought to an end when the last surviving counsellor fights back and decapitates the killer. 30 years later and a group vacationing friends are slaughtered around their camp fire at Camp Crystal Lake. One girl, who reminds Jason of his mother, is spared and held hostage. Six weeks later and the girl's brother visits Crystal Lake on a mission to find his sister. Meanwhile another group of friends also decide to vacation at Crystal Lake, where one of the group has secured his father's summer cabin. Little do any of them realize the horror that awaits them...

The "Friday the 13th" franchise was a shameless yet beloved series of cash-in horror pictures. Even the film's most virulent fans would have to admit that little sacrilege could be done with a remake/reboot of the whole franchise. The result is a picture that delivers no more or less than what is to be expected. It is a picture that is not as bad as final three desperate sequels, each of which went to ridiculous lengths to freshen up the franchise, but not as good as the stronger middle entries, all of which brought the franchise to a tongue-in-cheek level of horror respectability.

Remakes are most certainly nothing new in the movie world, but it does feel the past decade has seen studios hammering their back catalogue of enduring franchises. It feels like virtually everything is getting a remake or a reboot, whether it really justifies it or not. In the horror world we have seen two pretty decent remakes of old classics, "Hills Have Eyes" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", but little else that seems encouraging. The latter film was directed by Marcus Nispel who also directs this film. Nispel hit the right notes with TCM by balancing the otherwise rather wearisome yet popular "torture porn" subgenre of horror with well-executed suspense and cruel flavour of Tobe Hooper's original low budget classic. With Friday he seems to have less material to work with and it was more a case of trying to hit more superficial expectations rather than to re-invent the principles driving the film. The original TCM was nothing like the gore-fest it was promoted as, but rather disappointing audiences once it got their attention it tore deeper into their collective psyche, using human characteristics like spite, pack-mentality and maliciousness as tools to illicit fear. Nispel was able to use this again and couple it not with the over-the-top gore of Hooper's sequel to the original, but with the tools of a "torture porn" horror. It wasn't as good as the original, but it delivered in scares and I couldn't imagine anyone else improving on it. With Friday, however, there is little beyond its basic premise and despite a genuine attempt to make a scary film, Nispel clearly acknowledges the power of the parody.

Interestingly, and I feel this says something for Nispel as a director, "Friday the 13th" does not venture into "torture porn" territory. This says something for the director's integrity and his desire to keep to the very limited formula of the original films. He may come across as being a big kid fanboy of the series in interviews, but there is something to be said for his desire not to go all out on the gore or even the sex for that matter. We get some topless skinny dipping and an extended sex scene, but it's really nothing more than what the original series offered in less liberal and more heavily censored times. You don't get any particularly disgusting or bloodthirsty death scenes either. Again, this all seems to be down to Nispel's desire to update the franchise, but yet keep a type of nostalgic familiarity going. The "Friday the 13th" series were famous for, if nothing else, the huge variety of ways Jason Vorhees dispatched his victims. Nispel and his huge board of writers do this, but have the scenes run in line with his depiction of Jason being a type of hunter who had grown up as a hermit living off the land. This leaves little reasoning for the deaths to be overly sadistic. The only time you get a tortured victim is in a scene lifted directly out of "Full Metal Jacket", where Jason displays his intelligence by leaving a half dead victim outside in order to lure his other victims over. It's an effective device marred by the rather shameless bad joke of having the tortured victim being the only black member of the group lying on a woodpile! I kid you not! It's the sort of scene you would expect in a Russ Meyer film.

It's moments like the above unfortunate humour that actually allow us to pick into some of the inherent problems with "Friday the 13th". Despite not being a period piece like the remake of TCM, the film's whole feeling seems rooted in a bygone time. Aside from obvious improvements with the whole filmmaking process and the fact that the storyline starts again from the beginning, this does not feel like a reimagining. Instead it just feels like another "Friday the 13th" sequel.

On the homage front fans should be pleased by Nispel's careful acknowledgement of all the hallmarks of the franchise, nicely tidied up and made to flow to a soundtrack that retains elements of the trademark "Kill, Kill" score. We get the whole plot of the first film condensed into a prologue, with a slight twist. Now it serves as direct inspiration for the infant Jason to do what he does. There is also Jason wearing a modified bag over his head, as he did in the first "Friday the 13th" sequel, which he exchanges for the iconic hockey mask. Updates to the character can be found in his leaner form, which coincided with Nispel's "more realistic" back-story of Jason living as a hunter in the wilderness. However, there is little more departure for this lead antagonist. He remains mute, is hideously deformed and still tends to kill mainly young adult victims who have engaged in sex, drink or drugs recently; these disposable characters in the film illicit little sympathy. The original series was known for having audiences cheer when a victim was dispatched and I can imagine a similar situation will occur this time, once beer and curry has been consumed in the prescribed quantity.
So, in the end what we get is a film that pays undue amount of respect to a series that cared little for anything other than bums on seats using whatever cheap trip or gimmick they could think of at the time to achieve this objective. The humour is dated, the horror is dated and the concept is dated. Nostalgia can only stretch so far and Nispel's own take on the story is not enough to cut it any slack.

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