Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Jason is back with a murderous vengeance in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake director Marcus Nispel’s “Friday the 13th” (** out of ****), and he doesn’t aim to please. This invincible villain with his attitude toward pre-marital sex has changed. Essentially, the new “Friday the 13th” synthesizes Sean S. Cunningham’s above-average original along with Steve Minor’s first and second gratuitous sequels to deliver the maximum amount of mayhem. Nevertheless, despite its slick, ultra-polished production values, nudity, and carnage, this “Friday” lacks a shred of creativity. Clearly, nobody expected anything fresh from the new “Friday the 13th,” but Nispel’s remake shows more interest in Jason than Jason’s truly demented mother. Gorehounds weaned on the “Saw” sagas will gripe about the lack of brutality. Everybody else will feel like they’ve suffered through a nightmare in a hospital emergency room. Prudes will carp about the soft-core porno scenes and the voyeurism that panders to its lusty teenage audience. Bluntly, “Friday the 13th” generates no suspense, but does a number on your eardrums.

The original “Friday the 13th” dealt with a mom gone amok over the drowning death of her son while teenage counselors who were supposed to be watching him indulged in sex. Mrs. Voorhees vented her rage and cut a swathe with a machete through those amorously distracted teenagers. Indeed, Jason appeared only at the last moment in Cunningham’s 1980 original and he was only a boy. Incidentally, the first “Friday the 13th” helped launch the slasher genre a couple of years of John Carpenter’s mildly bloody “Halloween.” Mind you, Jason didn’t don the hockey mask that provided him with more personality than any other slasher stalker until the second sequel, “Friday the 13th in 3-D (1982) and by that time his immortality was taken for granted. After all, Jason is basically supernatural. He has more lives than a cat. He’s been frozen, blasted into outer space, and consigned to Hell with few ill effects. A mute, inexorable, slaughter machine with the mentality of a battery powered hare, Jason is Death personified. The new Jason, however, takes on some of the characteristics—not surprisingly—of Leatherface from the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise. Jason operates in and around Camp Crystal Lake, where he drowned as a youth, like a cunning Viet Cong guerrilla, living in a maze of tunnels with booby-traps galore. Boasting his usual god-like omnipotence, he is tall, dark, and deadly. You never know where he is going to strike and where his weapon of choice will penetrate you.

The problem with the new “Friday” is Nispel disposes of Mrs. Voorhees in the first few moments without giving the dame her due. The Damian Shannon & Mark Swift screenplay doesn’t take place in Camp Crystal Lake, and nobody is trying to refurnish the old campgrounds. Instead, the latest lambs for Jason’s machete are a half-dozen, college-aged hikers searching for marihuana growing wild on Jason’s stomping grounds. This subplot recalls the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” where college kids swarmed into a pot field and died at the hands of machine-gun armed natives! Of course, these kids don’t have a clue that they’re trespassing on Jason’s bailiwick. Our deformed killer dispatches them with extreme prejudice in the first 30 minutes. In a throwback to an earlier Jason sequel, he bundles a babe into a sleeping bag and smokes her to death over a fire. Unmistakably, Nispel is paying homage to Jason bashing a girl trapped in a sleeping bag against a tree in “Friday the 13th Part VII—The New Blood” (1988).

In a departure from the norm, Jason takes one of these girls, Whitney Miller (Amanda Righetti of “Role Models”), hostage because she reminds him of mom. He keeps her chained up in his subterranean lair. Later, to her credit, Whitney parlays her resemblance to Mrs. Voorhees to her advantage. Whitney’s motorcycle riding brother, Clay (Jared Padelecki of TV’s “Supernatural”), is scouring Camp Crystal Lake for her and handing out missing posters. Clay is reminiscent of Rob in “Friday the 13th Part IV: Jason Lives” (1986) who wanted to kill Jason for slaughtering his sister. Anyway, Clay encounters a group of obnoxious twentysomethings hanging out at a cabin on Crystal Lake. These kids look like they stepped out of a WB soap opera. They are pretty, but bland, except for Asian-American Aaron Yoo of “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” who provides some comic relief. Eventually, Clay finds Whitney, but by then Jason has appropriated his hockey mask, whittled down virtually nondescript nitwits, and bears down on the hero and heroine. Nispel generates his scares with sudden bursts of deafening music timed with occur with Jason’s sudden appearances. Everything is rather dull when Jason isn’t slashing and gashing his victims. “Pathfinder” lenser Daniel Pearl’s atmospheric photography creates a modicum of mood. Incredibly, Nispel doesn’t take full advantage of Harry Manfredini’s memorable “ch-ch-ch/pa-pa” music. Comparatively, Nispel’s unsubtle remake makes Sean S. Cunningham’s original slasher look Shakespearean.