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Franchise Friday - Friday the 13th (2009)

I forgot just how much nudity was in this one.

I mean, seriously, every single female on screen, save two, ends up unleashing those puppies at some point! And while my late grandfather would always say that you can have too much of a good thing…well, clearly he never saw the 2009 Friday the 13th remake.

Okay, before I completely get written off as a pig, let’s get through the synopsis:

20 years ago, Pamela Voorhees exacted her revenge on the counsellors at Camp Crystal Lake for leaving her deformed son Jason alone at the lake where he would eventually drown. She maintained that they were having sex as her boy slipped beneath the waves. But she was wrong. As one counsellor fought back, decapitating Mrs. Voorhees, little Jason stood there…watching. Since then, the townsfolk have known to stay away from the fabled ‘Camp Blood’, but each year, tourists and teenagers enter his woods. None ever leave…

Directed by Marcus Nispel, coming off his successful remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003, this chapter of the Friday series would be yet another in a series of horror remakes under the Platinum Dunes banner created by producers Brad Fuller, Andrew Form and Michael Bay. Don’t let Bay’s involvement fool you though…although that might factor into the increased breast county…the screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift keeps the spirit of the franchise intact all the while covering a lot of ground, being composed of pieces from Parts 1, 2 and 3 from the franchise.

While not a straight retelling of those films, this remake does display Jason’s evolution from child to sack-head to the iconic hockey mask. Mrs. Voorhees’ revenge and ultimate fate is conveyed during the opening credits sequence in black and white, proving short, yet effective. One thing of note here during this scene is that young Jason, once his mother has died, goes to her side to collect her head and the machete that killed her. Of course, his collecting the head is canon, however his acquisition of the machete is new and I have to admit, I like it. It assigns some value to the slashers preferred weapon. It’s almost like the horror movie equivalent of Excalibur, bestowed upon the righteous warrior to right the wrongs visited on him and his family.

Between the final ‘Directed By’ credit and the film’s title, there’s a time-jump that shifts us 20 years into the future. This is where we run into our first batch of what we typically expect in these movies, in this case two couples and a nerd, with two in the party of five hoping to score some weed for both recreational and business use. As you’d expect, the legend of Jason is told here and as you’d expect, this is where we come upon Sack-Head Jason and he makes quick work of all but one of the group, staying his hand with Whitney (played by Amanda Righetti), as she bears a striking resemblance to his mother at a young age (as seen in the locket he keeps). This scene also provides a good start to the nudity with America Olivo.

Aaaaaaaaand title. Like you didn’t know.

Now, before you think I’m just going to provide the play-by-play in this review, the reason I bring both of these scenes up is that in some way, through these two scenes, we’ve already covered main points brought into the Friday mythos by the first two films…and this remake has handled this info within the first 15 minutes of the film. This ends up fulfilling two roles here: it pays homage to the starts of most of the films in the series which would provide recaps of the previous films and, unlike those recaps, actually lays a foundation for the story to come. Granted, it’s not like slasher films have much in the way of plot but this segment provides a basis for what’s to come, explains why Jason is the way he is and, most importantly, grounds the proceedings without excusing Jason for his actions. Let’s contrast that with what Rob Zombie attempted to do with his Halloween remakes. In those films, we get a long story about how Michael Myers was bullied at school and had an abusive home life, save for his mother, before finally snapping and killing most of his family. All of this is done in a manner to try and get the audience to sympathize with Michael. This film presents us with the events, and we are somewhat sympathetic (and, of course, we’re all here to see the big guy kill some teenagers smoking weed and having sex!), at no point does it try to excuse what’s happening. Jason IS a monster. And yes, he is who we’re cheering for…mostly. We’ll get into that next.

As we progress into the main film, yes, we’re introduced to our next victims: a douchebag, his girlfriend, her friend (who also turns out to be his friend…if you know what I mean and I think you do), the douchebag’s pal (who, surprisingly, is also a douche!) with his girlfriend and two stoners. They’re not important. Well, I mean, they ARE, because we’re here for some gory deaths and for that, we need tributes, but as an audience our focus is on the lone biker that meets this group in the Crystal Lake general store. Clay here is the brother of the missing Whitney and is out looking for her and posting flyers to increase visibility in a town that KNOWS what happened to her. While I’ve already said that this film takes aspects from the first three films, this particular plot point comes from the fourth…and this is where the audience’s sympathies will generally lie as this is what ultimately proves the to be the heart of the story.

I mentioned earlier how this film serves to ground Jason, removing most of the supernatural aspects associated with him. For example, while Jason had a knack of mysteriously appearing exactly in front of his next intended victim with no rhyme or reason, here it’s actually shown that he has a series of tunnels running under the camp and around the lake, thus allowing him what they call in video games ‘fast-travel’. And all those campers falling at the most inconvenient moments? Turns out Jason’s actually rigged the place with trip wires (that also ring bells alerting him to where his next victims are) and various traps. Hell, he’s been on his own ever since he was a kid, in order to survive, he would need to be a trapper and a hunter. It makes a logical sense…once you get past the whole idea of a five-year-old figuring out on his own that not only does he need to get his own food but also how to go about that.

Now, I could go through actor by actor and critique performances…but really, why? Jared Padalecki’s Clay is a good troubled loner in search of his sister while trying to be nice to people less than deserving of such courtesy. Amanda Righetti as Whitney certainly has a set of lungs on her as most of her performance is screaming. Julianna Guill, Willa Ford and the aforementioned America Olivo DD-efinitely make the film worth watching (and no, I didn’t misspell that…) for the male members of the audience and the remainder of the cast makes sure that the audience is varying degrees of annoyed at them to ensure that each of their deaths is satisfying. No, when it comes to a Friday, the bottom line is how was the guy who played Jason? Rest assured, Derek Mears does a fine job in the role, borrowing some traits from earlier Jasons (I noticed the breathing similar to Hodder’s, although toned down a bit) while bringing some of his own, for example, bringing an air of intelligence to Jason as opposed to just being a rampaging maniac or slow, methodical plodding zombie-ish killer. In a scene that had to be a nod to a film released around the same time, there is a shot of Jason on the roof of a cabin that if you added a cape would not have been out of place in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Although the franchise remains tangled in a legal web and Mears isn’t getting any younger (50 at the time of this writing), it’s my hope he gets the chance to don the hockey mask again…which would make him the only repeat Jason aside from the legendary Kane Hodder.

Before I wrap up, there are a couple of negatives that need to be addressed. While the score by Steve Jablonsky is fine…and mind you I didn’t notice this during the film…but at no point do you hear the “ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” that has been a series staple. In the words of someone much wise than myself: “No way mister! That’s just wrong!” I brought up Rob Zombie’s Halloween films earlier…and even he had the sense to make damn sure Carpenter’s legendary theme got in there. I guess you could make the argument that, say for example the most recent Supeman reboot, Man of Steel, at no point alluded to John Williams’ classic theme and that turned out fine. True…but…sigh, the fact it’s not there will take a few points off for the die-hard fans. Lastly, there’s the ending. I get what they were going for, harkening back to the way the first film ended…but for me it just didn’t work. After all, having him chained at the bottom of Crystal Lake also ties in with the earlier films…Part 7 I think. The two Miller siblings had really been through enough at this point. It also felt rushed. The film really hadn’t quite created the false sense of security that the first one had, so it isn’t quite as much of a shock.

As much as you can argue that remakes are rarely ever good/live up to the originals or how they display the creative bankruptcy that is today’s Hollywood, one must admit that there was a brief stretch in the 2000s where this wasn’t the case. While not the immediate follow-up to his Texas Chainsaw Massacre update, Marcus Nispel and his writers proved they still had the magic as the Friday the 13th remake not only proves to be a solid entry in the series, it’s also a great jumping on point for newcomers and an excellent Cliff’s Notes for those interested in delving further into the series. Yes, missing the main kill-theme and a clunky ending keep it from being perfect, but what we do have here is enough for a high end Happy Cat rating.

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