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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"FRIDAY THE 13TH"

The first half of this review is of the theatrical version. My re-review of the new "Killer Cut" on DVD is further down the page.


 
Here's the dirty little secret that some folks will give me grief for saying: the Friday the 13th movies weren't any good. Sure, some people consider the original a classic, but you'll never convince me that it is anywhere near as effective as, say, John Carpenter's Halloween, or Ridley Scott's Alien, or Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Those movies chill me to the bone. A hockey-masked machete-wielding lunatic who stalks anyone who enters his campground? Not so much.

Whatever raw power the original Friday may have had - and I don't think it had much - was eventually diluted by increasingly silly sequels, like one in 3-D, one where Jason went to Manhattan (for a whopping 15 minutes), and one where he went to Hell. He even battled Freddy Kruger. Should I even bother to mention Jason X, in which he went into space? You also have to laugh at any series where the fourth installment is subtitled "The Final Chapter," only to be followed by seven more sequels.

So now that the whole "torture porn" genre is thankfully played out, the new trend in horror is "rebooting" well-known titles from the 70's and 80's. We've already had remakes of The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, The Hitcher and The Hills Have Eyes, with several more on their way. It was unavoidable, then, that Friday the 13th would come up for a rebooting as well. I may not be the right person to review it since, as you might be able to tell, I have not exactly been a fan of this series. While diehard admirers of Jason Voorhees will undoubtedly lap this up, it's hard for me to be nostalgic about something I never liked in the first place.

The structure of the film is quite interesting. It begins where the original ended: with a young woman decapitating Jason's mother, who devotees will know was the initial killer. For the uninitiated, Mrs. Voorhees was pissed that her special needs child drowned while the camp counselors were making hanky-panky in the bushes. We then jump to present day, where a group of anonymous twentysomethings arrive in the area around Camp Crystal Lake in search of a supposed field of marijuana. Jason doesn't take too kindly to anyone trespassing on his turf (especially when said interlopers might want to have sex) and so he dispatches them quickly and gruesomely. This is the first 20 minutes of the movie, at which time the title finally flashes on screen.

Six weeks later, a young man named Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki from "Gilmore Girls") shows up in the area looking for his sister, who was among the pot-seeking campers seen in the first act. He meets up with yet another group of twentysomethings. The guys fall into convenient clichés: egomaniacal jerk, dweeb, stoner, etc. The girls, meanwhile, are generic hotties with no discernable personalities but an eager willingness to shed their clothes at a moment's notice. The exception is Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) who empathizes with Clay and offers to help him find his sister.

Do I really need to tell you what happens from here? Here's a hint: it involved a dude in a hockey mask carrying a machete.

My problem with the Friday the 13th series - and slasher movies in general - is that they don't amount to much. Young people get dispatched in gruesome ways every 15 minutes or so, and everything else is just filler. Such films seem to exist solely for the kills; no one ever really cares about the plot, so most of the slasher pictures don't bother coming up with much of one. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but there's little that is interesting about on-screen killings for their own sake. I much prefer a tightly-wound story. While certainly more skillfully made than any of the ten previous films, the new Friday the 13th remains just as meaningless as its predecessors.

I want to be fair here. If you are one of the legions of viewers who have affection for this series, you're going to have your mind blown. The movie delivers on what it promises: gratuitous nudity interspersed with lots of gory slashing. Granted, that may not be enough for everyone, but if the general formula is up your alley, Friday the 13th takes all the ingredients and pumps them up as much as possible. It's a crowd pleaser for gore hounds.

I'll also cop to the fact that this new version - directed by Marcus Nispel - has moments of effectiveness. There's a scene in a rotting old bathroom that generates some suspense, as does a chase though Jason's basement dungeon. Some of the "kills" are admittedly creative (dig how the nude water-skier bites it). There's even a sly sense of humor at play. I especially liked the antics of a perverted redneck who lives/works near Camp Crystal Lake, and Aaron Yoo (from 21) generates some giggles as a pot-happy dweeb. Perhaps the most welcome advancement is that Jason now runs. I hated how he moved in the previous pictures. Victims would run at top speed while Jason just lumbered behind, yet he always ended up in front of them somehow. The new conception of Jason finds him faster and meaner, which ups his creep factor significantly.

I think Friday the 13th is going to please a lot of people. There's an audience for this sort of thing, and if that's what you're into, it gives you exactly what you want. However, by nature, I can't review the movie based on what you might think of it; I can only describe my own experience. And like I said, slasher movies are not my cup of tea. At the same time, honesty requires me to acknowledge that Friday the 13th is a really well-made and effective example of something that I don't like.

Note: The two-and-a-half star rating is a compliment coming from me. I don't recall awarding any of the prior films more than one-and-a-half. So I guess, by default, it's the best in the series.

( 1/2 out of four)

DVD Features:

Friday the 13th arrives on DVD June 16 in widescreen format, with a digital copy of the film included on the disc.

The primary bonus feature is the "killer cut" of the film, which runs about nine minutes longer than the theatrical cut. Some of the changes are minor - a little more sex/nudity, a little more blood/gore. However, there are two more significant changes. There's a longer scene in Jason's hideout as he becomes consumed with rage thinking about witnessing his mother's murder. Another elongated scene finds Ashley briefly escaping Jason's imprisonment, only to be hauled back. I think these moments actually add something to the story, so they are a welcome addition.

Beyond that, there are three deleted scenes, totaling about eight minutes. The most interesting of them is an alternate take of a scene where Jason kills a hillbilly (my favorite character in the movie, by the way). As originally shot and shown here, the guy is humorously wearing a hockey mask when Jason walks in and beheads him. It's a different explanation for where Jason got his famous mask. In the released version, he merely finds the mask among the hillbilly's belongings. Personally, I think this version is better than the one that actually made it on screen.

The decision to reshoot the sequence is explained in an 11-minute making-of feature called "The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees." Here, one of the producers explains the reason for filming a less-dramatic version: it had to do with keeping the audience from getting one step ahead of the story. The rest of the segment contains interviews with actors, the director, and the writers as they discuss the challenges of bring Jason back to the screen for another go-round. A lot of crucial decisions had to be made, including the one to have Jason run now instead of just lumbering after his victims. It's quite fascinating to hear the filmmakers talk about how they conceptualized the horror icon for this reboot.

The Blu-Ray will contain all these features as well as a trivia track, a look at the entire series, and something called "The 7 Best Kills" that will doubtlessly please gore hounds.

When I saw Friday the 13th theatrically, I walked away pleasantly surprised that it didn't flat-out suck. Watching it a second time in the "killer cut," I again concede that this is a well-made slasher film that has some genuinely effective moments. The "Killer Cut" is the preferred version of the film.

In addition to DVD and Blu-Ray, you can also own it on iTunes, Playstation Store and Amazon Video On Demand. Click here for details


Friday the 13th is rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, language and drug material. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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