Depending on how passionate you are about your favorite films, even the utterance of the word “remake” can strike you like nails on the proverbial chalkboard. This aversion to the concept of a remake is doubly strong amongst horrorphiles, as we tend to hold such high reverence for our beloved classics that tampering with them seems tantamount to blasphemy. However, I feel that we as a community can sometimes let this overzealousness get the better of us and blind us to the few exceptions to the inherent inferiority of remakes. I say “we” because I am just as guilty of this prejudice.
Take for example Platinum Dunes’ 2009 remake of Friday the 13th. This updated version of the seminal horror phoneme upholds a lot of the appeal of, not just the original film, but the original franchise as well. Don’t believe me? Head on over to Netflix’s Watch Instantly service and take in a double feature of 1980’s Friday the 13th, the progenitor, and the follow-up, ‘81’s Friday the 13th Part 2; both recently added. Once you’ve done that, consider the remake with those two entries in mind.
1980’s Friday the 13th was directed by Sean S. Cunningham and written by Victor Miller, while neither of them would be able to recapture the success of Friday the 13th, the film’s mark on the horror genre was no less indelible. The first Friday is also one of the first acting gigs for a young Kevin Bacon. While Part 2 can’t boast such formidable burgeoning acting talent, it was the first film for director Steve Miner who would go on to direct Friday the 13th Part 3 and Halloween H20.
For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, let’s break down the first two films. Friday the 13th starts with the murder of two counselors at Camp Crystal Lake in the ‘50s. Flashfoward to 1980: the camp has been purchased by a young man hoping to reopen it as a haven for a new batch of kids. Unfortunately, someone is butchering the arriving counselors one by one until only good-hearted Alice remains. Turns out the killer of all these counselors, including the two in the ‘50s, is Pamela Voorhees, the mother of a young boy who drowned at the camp many years ago who blames the counselors for her son’s death. When she is summarily dealt with, the counselors in the sequel (set five years later) must contend with a new killer: Jason himself. To this overarching summary I’d like to add Part 3, which is not streaming, but is the series’ 3D entry and sees Jason return to slay a new batch of counselors and finally adorn his signature hockey mask.
There was a strange double standard applied to the Friday the 13th remake. People complained that it brought nothing new to the table while lamenting about the cheesy characters and implausible plot points. If you accept that the film is doing nothing divergent from the original, shouldn’t you expect to see the elements that canonized the original film?
Jason being able to scramble up onto a rooftop in a flash or find a perfect target with a bow-and-arrow seems like a reasonable pill to swallow when faced with the idea that a mutant boy lived at the bottom of Crystal Lake for decades, as the original espouses, or that a woman wearing Jason’s mother’s sweater can fool him into believing she is his mother as we see in Part 2. The remake does more to make the characters memorable and likeable than were those in the first film. As much as I like 1980’s Friday the 13th, there’s very little to distinguish those characters other than the fact that one was Kevin Bacon.
If people are going to quibble about originality and bringing something new to the table, it’s a must to reexamine the first film. The American slasher film, for which Friday the 13th is credited as being one of the originators, is little more than a creative requisitioning of Italian giallo films. The stab-happy, unseen killer whom we often see in POV and who is out for revenge for something that happened years before? Like the pages of Baby’s First Giallo. The obligatory teenage morality play—the sex, drugs, and drinking leading to certain death—would be added for American audiences and is certainly alive and well in the remake.
The remake is a fascinating amalgam of the first three films of the franchise. It deals with the events of the very first film in the opening title sequence and then instantly shifts gears to a Jason-centric story — acknowledging the origin story while simultaneously allowing us to remain focused on one of cinema’s greatest boogeymen. When we first see Jason, he is wearing bandages on his head that smack eerily of the hideous burlap sack he wore in Part 2. They then cap the evolution that previously took three films by having the new Jason lose the bag, opting for that iconic piece of sporting equipment midway through the remake. Other signature moments from the first two films creep into play; the severed mother’s head, the harbinger character warning of the dangers of the woods (a grizzled old woman filling in for the daffy Ralph of Parts 1 and 2), and even the franchise’s tendency for a surprise stinger ending.
The remake even improves upon the original(s), thanks to the performance of Derek Mears as Jason. Whereas in 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2, we get a silly, lumbering woodsman with a potato sack on his head, Mears is a towering giant who actually employed Greek mask acting to portray Jason as a more frenzied, rage-powered force of nature. As a die-hard lover of the entire Friday the 13th franchise, these were the films that were most central to my horror education, Mears represented the first time in many, many years that I was legitimately scared of Jason.