The last Friday the 13th of the year is upon us so it's time to put to sleep
both the Friday and Elm Street series of films.
It began in February and March, when we had two Friday the 13th months back to back. It continued on Halloween with an exploration of the iconic Nightmare on Elm Street saga. Now it concludes with our review of the film that brings them both together, and of the two remakes that followed after. Welcome to my world, bitch!
Freddy vs. Jason (2003) -- directed by Ronny Yu
After teasing audiences with the prospect of bringing together two horror icons on the big screen for ten years, Freddy vs. Jason finally hit cinemas in August 2003. So seldom is all the hype leading up to a fan-fueled passion project like this worth the wait. Think about it: We waited almost twenty years for a new Star Wars movie, only to be greeted by The Phantom Menace. Almost one decade to the day after Freddy's glove pulled Jason's mask under the earth at the end of Jason Goes to Hell, the fans were able to rejoice. This was everything we were waiting for, and so much more. Freddy vs. Jason is so bombastic, in your face, blood-spewingly and limb-choppingly hilarious, that it singlehandedly makes the case for more Versus Movies.
A lot of the credit for this monsterpiece goes to Hong Kong director Ronny Yu. Only someone who is completely batshit insane could have made this movie, and I mean that as a compliment. The whole idea of this film is crazy. How can you possibly bring together two villains with rabid fan bases and somehow create a film that manages to please both sides without pissing anyone off? I'm still not exactly sure of the answer, but you can't argue with the results. Yu's direction for the whip-smart script by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift is close to perfect. His energy and talent is off the charts. Combine them with the remarkable eye of cinematographer Fred Murphy, who shot the often overlooked Stir of Echoes, and it's a one-two knockout punch of the highest caliber.
I saw Freddy vs. Jason twice in theaters during its release, and both times were among the most spectacular experiences I've ever had in a movie theater. The audiences were eating it up and the jubilation was contagious. This is the kind of time capsule that reminds us why we love going to the movies. It moves forward at breakneck speed with the kind of kinetic life and self awareness that we rarely see in horror films anymore, because too many of them are being made by directors who are far too busy taking themselves seriously. You can tell that Ronny Yu was having way too much fun for that kind of nonsense, and his elation transcends the confines of celluloid to become palpable in the room for anyone watching. This is a feast for the eyes, the ears, the blood, the guts, and the glory.
Friday the 13th (2009) -- directed by Marcus Nispel
Well, this had to happen eventually. By the time Freddy vs. Jason was released, we were already seeing trailers for a Michael Bay-produced remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It actually surprised many filmgoers and made some serious cash, or at least enough to give Bay's company, Platinum Dunes, the idea that they could keep remaking classic films with Marcus Nispel at the helm. So six years later, we got a remake of Friday the 13th, this time with Derek Mears playing Jason in a viscerally threatening and imposing performance. (Side note: If you want to see some really funny paradoxical stuff, watch Derek Mears' supporting role in Hatchet III, and bring some popcorn.)
Right from go, this is a great looking film. In addition to having the director of the new Texas Chainsaw, this remake of Friday the 13th was also gifted with its cinematographer, Daniel Pearl. As an inescapable result, this is easily the slickest looking Jason film by far (not including Freddy vs. Jason). Taking a cue from Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, Nispel plunges us directly into the story of Pamela Voorhees' thirst for maternal vengeance and hurtles us through a long prologue to an opening credit screen that garnered huge applause. For very good reason: Nispel and his screenwriters get it. They actually get it. They know why the fans of these movies pay to see them every time, and they deliver. We wanna see some asshole kids, some funny stoners, some hot chicks, and a couple of pure souls confront the ultimate in hockey-masked evil to some disastrous results. Like a high-speed meat-chopping butcher shop with boobs. Mission accomplished.
I may be in the minority on this, but this is one remake I believe actually surpasses the original. While Friday the 13th remains a milestone in the genre, much of its reputation is truly owed to its sequels; it's not even the best of the original series, not by a long shot. This remake far surpasses the original in terms of technical merit, writing, acting, and a tongue-in-cheek self awareness played for some serious laughs. The best moment involves the dialogue during an overwrought and highly exploitative sex scene that seems to go on forever, pushing the very boundaries of this film's R-rating to the limit of acceptable. Even Michael Bay, one of the most chauvinistic sexaholic ass-bags working from a director's chair, left the theater saying it was "too much." I respectfully disagree. Part V was too much, Part VIII was too little, the remake of Friday the 13th is just right.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) -- directed by Samuel Bayer
There's some really ridiculous foul play afoot when the director of this Nightmare is named Bayer, and the only thing you crave when you leave the theater is some aspirin so you can begin to soothe the headache this festering turd leaves you with as a parting gift. The Platinum Dunes remake of Wes Craven's immortal game changer is a good-looking piece of work with top-notch production design and cinematography to match. It also banks 110% of its effect on obnoxiously loud noises cueing jump scares so copious and mind-numbing that it quite literally pisses you off. After the fiftieth orchestral screech left a skid mark in my underwear, all I wanted to do was wipe my ass with them and mail the stinky swaddle to the film's director, packaged with a four-letter expletive-laden postcard that amounts to a single plea: Stop making movies!!
This is the kind of remake that makes people avoid remakes like the plague. Samuel Bayer's handling of the material is so godawful and heavy-handed that I breathed a sigh of relief to see that he's back to directing music videos with no plans to return to the fold. For that, if for nothing else, we thank you. There is not one scrap of originality brought to this story, not one shred of dignity maintained by an otherwise talented cast of actors. Jackie Earle Haley, fresh off an Oscar nomination for Little Children and basking in the glow of newly achieved cult status from his turn as Rorschach in Watchmen, should have been a dynamite as Freddy. As it stands, we watch the fuse burn away only to discover the bomb is a dud. But I don't blame him. He does what he can with a script so bad that just trying to deliver these lines puts Rooney Mara to sleep.
Even Freddy's makeup is laughable. As with everything else in this horrendous misfire, we can see what they were going for, but it just doesn't work. Instead of being a menacing psychopath with a dark sense of humor, Freddy is nothing more than an soulless harbinger of death with no discernible personality. Anyone who has ever questioned what Robert Englund brought to the role of Freddy needs only to see this movie to have all doubt squashed faster than Samuel Bayer's hopes of directing another feature. When you think about it, Kyle Gallner and Rooney Mara had it the easiest, acting in a film where their motivation is to look like they're struggling to stay awake. This movie sucks. End of story. I wanna nail Michael Bay to the f**king cross just for thinking it was a good idea to make it. You couldn't pay me to watch it again.
- Blake O. Kleiner
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