"Is anyone getting a signal out here?"
Group member Chelsea checks her mobile phone
on arriving at Crystal Lake, establishing the group's
isolation in what has become the traditional manner
You'd think that with films like Pearl Harbour and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen under his belt, Michael Bay's crimes against cinema would be enough to see him banged up by the Taste Police for a good hundred years or so. But he's also been responsible, in his less visible role as producer and executive producer, for contributing to one of the most tiresome of modern American movie phenomena – the witless horror remake. It's his name you'll find headlining those dreary rehashes of The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher, the supremely naff franchise extender Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, and at this very moment his minions are preparing completely unnecessary new versions of A Nightmare on Elm Street and – God forbid – The Birds. One suspects that Hitch isn't so much rolling in his grave as preparing to climb out of it and bury a large sharp object into Mr. Bay's ear.
Another film that recently made Bay's hit list is Sean S. Cunningham's 1980 Friday the 13th, seen by many as the godfather of the slasher film and a hugely influential genre fan favourite. I'll confess I was never a major devotee, too wowed was I by Halloween's class and complexity to be similarly impressed by Cunningham's summer camp massacre. But I respect it nonetheless, and its place in horror history is fully justified and well earned, so news of a remake prompted the same weary irritation that I experienced at every other such genre regurgitation of recent years. Depressing symbols of a once great horror industry in sad decline, a particularly tiresome aspect of these remakes is their lack of tonal diversity, with every one of them taking a self-consciously dark approach to characters and violence, but one that varies little from film to film, creating the sense that all have been banged out from the same unimaginative horror factory (it probably doesn't help here that director Marcus Nispel also helmed the 2003 update of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
Despite some misdirection in the early stages and an unlikely turn of events towards the end, this reworking of the original Friday the 13th is not big on narrative surprises. Following the brisk false start in which a group of particularly tiresome teenage campers are thankfully slaughtered, followed eventually by opening titles that don't appear for a staggering 22 minutes into the film, the stock characters that make up the lunch menu of a second party should allow an even half-aware audience to draft out a reasonably accurate outline of what is to follow.
In nominal charge of this group is self-satisfied super-jock Trent, whose parents own the cabin in which they are staying and who is too busy playing Testosterone King to tolerate uninvited visitors or take any threat to the party seriously until it spikes him through his chest. Also on board is Chewie, the smart-mouthed pot smoker who you just know will be making clever comments right up to the moment he gets nailed – that he's of Oriental descent helps with the obligatory demographic spread, to which token black party member Lawrence also contributes. And let's not forget unattached but up-for-it Bree and the loud, fun-loving bundle of muscle and tits that are Nolan and Chelsea, who do everything they're told not to in pursuit of experiences that make them shout 'Way-hey!" and are inevitably the first to meet their doom.
The film needs its audience sympathy figures, and fulfilling this function are level-headed Jenna and non-party member Clay, who's touring the area in search of his missing sister Whitney, a member of that first group to get a visit from Jason. We're encouraged to connect with these two because Wade is a nice guy and Jenna thinks he's cute and actually listens to what he has to say. Points are scored by actor Jared Padalecki for some well judged underplaying that helps make Clay a genuinely sympathetic hero. Of course this doesn't help the lead-weight inevitability over just who is going to make it to the final act – Nolan and Chelsea are both too boisterously cocksure to last that long, and Chewie and Lawrence are simply too ethnic to ascend to hero status, a position still reserved for the good-looking and decent young white male.
A real problem here is that it's genuinely hard to work out whether much of what happens is intended as pastiche or is meant to be taken at face value. Now when I say pastiche I'm not talking witty parody, but elements and character behaviour that have likely only been included because they are regarded as slasher movie staples, a wink at the audience that we're meant to accept with a knowing smile rather than disbelieving groans. This is most evident in the hammered-home connections between sex and death, in the jock stupidity of the alpha males, and in the ludicrously limp reasons concocted to isolate characters to serve them up for Jason's displeasure. Thus when Chewie falls over and breaks a chair, it's not any old chair but a precious family heirloom, but luckily for the antiques world Chewie is a wizard at repairing broken furniture and all he needs to fix this one is a few tools from the DARK AND ISOLATED TOOLSHED OUTSIDE. You can write the rest of the scene yourself. Which, of course, may be the point.
Technically proficient in all departments, with CG stepping in to seamlessly enhance the impressive make-up effects, it's nonetheless hard to see what the point of it all is, beyond the obvious and usual ones of a quick buck made on the back of a tried and tested franchise. Tolerating the victims and their dopey behaviour and a plot that plays out to convention requires either low expectations or a familiarity with the original movie, which for true fans is always going to be preferable viewing anyway. And in common with pretty much all of the recent blitz of horror remakes, what felt fresh and exciting back in 1980 needs a lot more than a new coat of paint to make it seem so again almost forty years on.
No problems at all with the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, whose contrast, colour and sharpness are as impressive as you'd expect from a modern American studio movie. No detail is lost to shadow or highlights, especially important given how much of the film takes place at night. I'll bet the Blu-ray looks superb. There's a leaning towards brown-green hues that is common in recent horror remakes, but is not as overt here as in some of its companions.
Dolby surround 5.1 only. Great on clarity and dynamic range, as you'd expect, and with some frontal separation of effects and music, but surprisingly little use is made of the surrounds. The score provides a few beefy bass notes to wake up the subwoofer.
The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees (10:58)
An EPK-style featurette in which the cast and crew reflect on the appeal of the central character and how they approached their rethink of the franchise. Edited for the short attention span audience and including interesting but too-short snippets of the shooting of scenes, it also includes the original version of the scene where Jason first dons the hockey mask.
Hacking Back/Slashing Forward (11:15)
More of the same in the same style, with cast and crew recalling the experience of watching the original for the first time and (again) how they approached the same story for a new generation of viewers, with writers Mark Swift and Damian Shannon revealing their intention to make a horror equivalent of Batman Begins. And yes, terms like 'grittier' and 'like a runaway train' are used to describe the result.
7 Best Kills (21:56)
In a throwback to the slasher movie heyday that should tell you quite a bit about filmmaker perceptions of the target audience, the cast and crew get all enthusiastic over the originality and nastiness of the killings – actress Danielle Panabaker even describes them excitedly as "fantastic." We're then taken on a detailed tour of seven of the film's most violent kills, which if the film works for you is actually pretty interesting, not least because we're shown the preparation and shooting of the scenes themselves. There are spoilers aplenty here, so definitely one to watch after the feature.
Alternate Scenes (8:05)
Three alternate scenes in their completed form, including the full version of the reshot scene in which Jason first gets the hockey mask, which is preceded by a warning about the mature content. If you've got this far then you're unlikely to be too shocked.
OK, let's be clear about one thing. Technically there's nothing that wrong with Friday the 13th – it's well enough made and the cast are actually a lot less annoying than many of the more tawdry entries into the 80s slasher cycle. But in the end this is still just another dose of generic recycling that looks and feels almost identical to the other recent examples of the same, right down to brown/green hues, the grubby look of the killer's den, and the suggestion that somehow the filmmakers are taking the whole thing more seriously than their predecessors. There's nothing new here, and frankly nothing to get remotely worked up about either. Paramount's DVD does a decent enough job, and doubtless there'll be a thrill for some in seeing the effects in even more precise detail on the also available Blu-ray.