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Friday, November 13, 2020

Campfire Tale: Why the ‘Friday the 13th’ Reboot is a Fitting Final Chapter

To make it clear right out of the gate: I do not want them to ever stop making Friday the 13th movies. I don’t even care who “they” are. I don’t want to ever see the last of Jason on the big screen, to know that franchise has run its course and to have to live with the awareness of the fact that its time is over. I don’t want that at all. I want all of these ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s movie monsters to survive, even thrive. I think we’re entering into the Dracula and Frankenstein stage of characters like Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers, etc. Sure, those two titans of the Universal era originated in classics of literary horror long before their respective cinematic debuts, but both of those characters’ popularity really started to spark on the stage, which led in both cases to their films. Even after all this time, it is the cinematic portrayals of Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster originated by Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff that are immediately what come to mind when their names are invoked. That’s the era we’re heading into with the modern monsters as well. This is when we start to shed the skin of franchises as we know them, easier to do now that every one of these movies has been remade at least once. Continuity might not be intact, but seeing the glass half full, any of these characters could be entering their Hammer phase, and that’s not a terrible thought. 

But over time, the probability of a new Friday the 13th, in particular, starts to look less and less likely. The lawsuit that has prevented a new movie may or may not be ending soon, but it’s seemed as if it would come to a close so many times before with no avail. Add to that the fact that Friday the 13th: The Game has finally, officially received its last update. The height of the game’s popularity would have, without a doubt, been the perfect time to push a new Jason flick into production, but instead it became the only new Friday the 13th content of any kind we’ve seen in a decade. The game reintroduced Jason into the mainstream, at least for a short time, and now that moment is kind of over. Jason’s only continuing to fade from the public consciousness, most merchandise bearing his iconic hockey mask typically meant for collectors already familiar with the franchise. Nothing’s really being made to introduce new people. Because of that, the chances basically increase day by day that when the lawsuit resolves and there’s even the option to make a Friday the 13th movie again, it won’t really be a viable brand to consider reviving in the way that it had been only a couple of years ago. 

And if—and it could very well be and hopefully is a big if—all of that comes to pass, let’s look at the most recent Friday the 13th. A movie that will turn twelve in three months. A movie that, when phrased like that, isn’t all that unreasonable to think of as the last one we might ever see. People are torn on Marcus Nispel’s Friday the 13th. When you see reactions online, people either seem to love it or hate it, though that’s admittedly the response to just about anything right now. I personally like it. I think it is exactly what the people behind it set out to make: a throwback to the early days of the series, when Jason was an icon, when these films dominated the box office, and Friday the 13th was, in general, on top. The throwback attitude of it is its greatest strength, but also the only thing that kind of holds it back. The drive to make stock characters who you know are just there to get picked off and the fact that they’re intentionally shallow pulls me out a bit because while that’s certainly the cultural memory of the early movies, it was honestly some of the earnest character moments and unexpected interactions that made them shine. 

Still, there are a slew of strengths, beginning with the drawn-out showstopper of an opening sequence. Jason is as fierce as he’s ever been and Derek Mears gives one of the most intense and all around best portrayals of that character in his forty year history. The arrow kill is one of the absolute best moments of the movie. It comes out of nowhere at exactly the right time. Couple that with Jason driving the machete up through the floor in the extended prologue and I truly do not get the criticisms that the deaths in this flick are lackluster. The scene in which Jason sharpens his machete while flashing back to the memory of his mother’s death might legitimately be one of the best character moments for Jason, ever. It is the pure distilled essence of who he is, encapsulating everything about him while also showcasing the toll his trauma has taken on him. Every time he sharpens that machete, every time he sets out to do what he does, he reflects on that pain. And he is so overtaken with rage in this moment that he starts lashing out at his own environment because he has no one there to hurt.

More than any of that, though, I want to take a step back and examine the movie as a whole, because if it’s the last Friday the 13th we ever see, it’s really not a bad way to go out. This movie came out right in the height of the ’70s and ‘80s remake boom of the 2000s, kicked off largely by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Both that remake and this one share a director in Marcus Nispel, and both are more conceptual remakes than overt ones. They center on a new cast of characters, taking the situation into account more than anything else. But as much as it changes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre still feels like a remake of the Tobe Hooper classic. And that template would be adhered to by most remakes that followed it over the next few years. Friday the 13th, however, abandons this template almost completely. It is not, by any stretch, a remake of the original movie. The basic events of the original are covered quickly in the opening, much like the recap in Friday the 13th Part 2. Structurally, 2009’s Friday the 13th has much more in common with sequels than it does any remake.

This is obviously due to necessity. Remaking Friday the 13th in the traditional sense would be like when my friend introduced me to the original as a kid after weeks of telling me stories about Jason and about the movies. I thought I was going to see Jason and when I didn’t, I felt tricked. Great as Betsy Palmer’s performance is, it’s not what people think of when they think of Jason, or even when they think of the title. The movie was always going to revolve around Jason and always going to feature him wearing a hockey mask, because that’s the character that people know. We all know this. And yet, at the same time, the 2009 movie is very much Friday the 13th as if it were being presented to you for the first time. The details are different, the memory of what that was is a little hazy, and so the story takes a new—yet utterly recognizable—shape. And you know what? That’s great. 

Friday the 13th is, after all, a campfire story at its core. It always has been. It’s a story that gets told and retold. It’s “The Hook.” In one version, it might end with nothing more than a bloody hook in the car door. In another, the boyfriend’s fingernails are dragging along the roof of the car after he’s been gutted and hung upside down, or it’s the sound of his feet after he’s been hanged from a tree. The reboot is not so much a remake of any kind, or a throwback to any specific film as it is a passing of the mic to the next generation, putting them on the spot to tell the campfire story as they grew up hearing it. This is Friday the 13th as we remember it, as so many heard about it secondhand, a story dictated by cultural memory. It’s just like an urban legend. The details change, they go off course, sometimes as far as Manhattan, even as far as space, but the story never really changes. 

After Elm Street, Hell and so many other locations, it’s admittedly nice to have a movie that’s just Jason back at the lake and doing his business again. As wild as the journey has been, the Friday the 13th saga, if left here, ends pretty much as it started. The unruly teens, the abandoned lake, the camp with a terrible past, it’s all here. All the same elements are in play and still work like gangbusters. The only real addition is the Jason myth, truly introduced in the second and built up more and more with each successive entry, a boogeyman so tailor-made to be spoken of by the light of a campfire that it’s almost amazing he didn’t genuinely begin as such in the first place. This was certainly not designed as an attempt to take one last trip to the lake, to tell a quintessential Jason story, to provide a feature that is more or less the distilled essence of Friday the 13th. But that’s exactly what it is. And even with obnoxious Trent and lines like “Say hi to mommy in Hell,” I can’t help but think about the ending: a killer believed to be dead, and a rare moment of calm on the lake. A quiet lull and one last jump, as Jason bursts up from underneath the dock to remind us all that the nightmare is never really over.

With that in mind, it’s honestly kind of moving to think that this saga might end exactly where it began forty years ago, with a boy jumping out of the water.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3641458/campfire-tale-friday-13th-reboot-fitting-final-chapter/

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