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Friday the 13th (2009)

New Line // R // June 16, 2009
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 14, 2009 | E-mail the Author
Look, the
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formula works, and you remember what happens whenever someone tries to steer Friday the 13th in a completely different direction, right? Swap out Jason for some nutjob kid as the killer? Fail. Square off against a telekinetic Carrie type? Fail. Shove him on a boat bound for Manhattan? While he's tooling around on the water, at least, fail. Have him leap from one meat-suit to the next after some schlub gobbles on a pan-seared black heart? Yeah, fail. Hell, having plowed through just about everything else to do with Jason, they launched the poor bastard into outer space...although I kinda liked that one, so I'm not gonna type "fail" there. The only fundamental change that's ever worked for Friday the 13th is forking over the mantle of killer from mother to son, and as Platinum Dunes mashed the reset button on the franchise, that's where they opted to keep it. Jason. Machete. Crystal Lake. A parade of soon-to-be-skewered twentysomethings. This isn't a reimagining -- it's a K-Tel Greatest Hits of the first four Fridays crammed into a blood-drenched hour forty-five.

The story...? C'mon, it's a Friday the 13th flick: a bunch of horny, boozehound barely-twentysomethings trot over to Crystal Lake for the weekend, and Jason carves 'em apart one by one. Throw in one last jump scare and smash cut to the end credits. There's your slasher. Friday the 13th isn't exactly brimming with lush characterization or some nuanced tapestry of a plot, but it does make some pretty intriguing choices. For one, the continuity kind of follows what unfolded in the first few Fridays, but the backstory's belted out sleekly and efficiently. The first Friday is crammed down to just a couple minutes and change, and it's the only time any camp counselors rear their horny little heads this time around. Rather than lurking at the bottom of Crystal Lake, young, deformed Jason is skulking around in the woods when he sees his mother beheaded. He lives off the land for the next few decades, racking up a body count that makes for a hell of an urban legend but not enough for the police to fret all that much about. I guess the cops haven't caught wind of the legendary fields of weed around the lake either, and that's what sends the first gaggle of red shirts out that way. Stab. Slash. Scorch. Splatter splatter.

It's not until the 25 minute mark -- when Jason's machete is swooping down at the last of the kids from that first wave -- that we even score a title card. That's when the flick mashes the reset button again and shuffles in another flock of lambs for the slaughter. This second set, in the immortal words of the bard, ain't lookin' for nothin' but a good time. How can they resist? Trent (Travis Van Winkle) may be a douche, but he's a rich douche whose family has a million dollar cabin out by the lake. His sarcastic-fingerquotes-friends can barely stomach the prick -- hell, they really don't even seem to like each other all that much -- but a free weekend at a posh lake house...? 'Sworth the sacrifice. Clay (Jared Padalecki) is making the rounds up around Crystal Lake yet again in the hopes of tracking down his estranged sister (Amanda Righetti), and since he's not watching the same movie I am, he didn't see that machete bearing down on her. Anyway, Clay crosses paths with the new gang, and he and Trent's adorably adorable girlfriend (Danielle Panabaker) hike over to the rotting skeleton of Camp Crystal Lake to look for clues while the rest of the bunch (Aaron Yoo, Arlen Escarpeta, Willa Ford, Ryan Hansen, and...hushed awe...Julianna Guill) debauch it up. So...yeah. They give Jason an excuse to dust off the ol' machete (and a bow and arrow and a screwdriver and an axe and...) to keep racking up the drive-in totals.

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John Carpenter may have kickstarted the slasher genre with the atmospheric, unnervingly tense Halloween, but that's not what Friday the 13th is or has ever really been. C'mon, they're Dead Teenager Movies, and this reboot of Friday the 13th nails what I'm looking for in a slasher flick. The backdrop this time around isn't Manhattan or Hell or...y'know, the furthest reaches of outer space: it's back where it oughtta be at Crystal Lake. Jason isn't a zombified golem or a teleporter but the pissed-off -- and completely human -- killing machine from the first few Fridays. Some fans may bitch about the fact that Jason breaks out and sprints a couple of times, and he does lay out a few traps rather than plow 100% ahead with mindless stabbing-and-slashing, but they're forgetting that this is a guy who'd set snares to tie up his victims in years past, and it's not like he never ran in the original movies anyway. Its characters are almost straight across the board one-note cardboard cutouts in the classic Friday the 13th tradition. Yeah, Asian Guy's a stoner. Self-Referential Black Guy doesn't wanna be mistaken for Stereotypical Black Guy. Only Julianna Guill's meatier, jiggling boobs set the main couple of blonde chicks apart from one another. There's a whole lotta skin in Friday the 13th -- the most since parts four and five from the original series -- and pretty much every woman in the film who doesn't have an AARP card and isn't poised to get the nod as Final Girl bares it all at some point. I mean, Julianna I'm really not even that kind of guy, but she has a lot to show off, and...oh, show it off she does.

Oh, but the real reason anyone's tuning in here is for the splatter. Again, this remake takes a lot of its cues from the original flicks, and that means its kills skew more towards impalings than anything else. A few of 'em are really creative -- one early and particularly sadistic murder with a broad in a sleeping bag might even trump the tree whacking from The New Blood -- and sometimes it'll throw a left curve like keeping the camera closing in on a circular saw only to have Jason grab something else outta the toolbox. Jason's really keen on stabbing off-frame this time around, jabbing his machete through a dock (which, amazingly, means one last jiggle for a topless, nubile twentysomething) and repeatedly jabbing it through the cabin floor. This isn't some sort of Hostel retread that sadistically lingers on some poor bastard being carved apart, but even the more routine slashings are pretty brutal, with Jason pounding his blade in there with one or two more thrusts than he really needs to do the job right. Friday the 13th opts for practical make-up effects rather than lazily leaning on CGI as a crutch, and director Marcus Nispel -- who also helmed the redux of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from a few years back -- wants to make sure you can see it all too. Though I don't think the movie takes full advantage of the scope frame and a lot of it is pretty dark, Nispel doesn't turn overdo it with quick-cutting or shaky-cam that too many music video alums skew towards. Jason himself looks amazing, from that one-eyed The Town That Dreaded Sundown burlap sack over his head to the weathered hockey mask he wears for the rest of the flick. Derek Mears settles into the role of Jason Voorhees nicely, and like Nick Castle in the original Halloween, it's the subtle, deliberate movements in his body language that define this silent golem.

So, what doesn't
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really work...? Yeah, there are a couple of particularly colossal gaps in logic -- the take-no-prisoners Jason Voorhees of days past making room for a killer who...well, does take prisoners, and the irrational "...the hell are you doing?" epilogue to breeze into one last scare -- but they're there to pay homage to the first couple of Fridays. Dumb? Sure, but they mean well. I'll admit to being kinda disappointed that they make a woodchipper the centerpiece of the climax but deftly avoid doing anything all that gruesome with it. The remake doesn't bother with trying to reproduce anything close to Harry Manfredini's score -- which ranks among the most iconic music in any horror film, period -- and opts instead for faceless, forgettable faux-industrial-whatever. Piercing strings define a slasher score. A bank of keyboards...? Not so much.

Too many horror remakes from the past decade or so just don't get it: a co-ed Hitcher where The Bandit brings down a helicopter with a couple shots from a pistol, Rob Zombie overexplaining the holy hell out of a boogeyman who's effective because he's an elusive, amorphous concept, and...yeah, the list keeps rambling on and on from there. Friday the 13th knows what it's supposed to be, though. Sopping with blood and jiggling a whole helluva lot of T&A, this reboot captures pretty much everything that made the original series so much gruesome, exploitative fun. Is it perfect? No, but...c'mon, as much as I love 'em, neither were any of the first eleven Fridays. I mean, the remake doesn't knock off The Final Chapter and Friday the 13th Part II as my favorites, but I liked it a lot more than I waltzed in expecting, and they can count on my ten bucks once the inevitable sequel (lucky number thirteen!) rolls around. Recommended.

This reboot of Friday the 13th is getting a couple of separate DVD releases -- one with the theatrical version of the flick and another with the unrated-and-clunkily-titled Killer Cut -- but both of 'em are piled onto this Blu-ray disc. So, what are the differences...? Kinda goes without saying that there's more sex and splatter. Frankentitties taking it from behind runs a lot longer in the unrated cut especially, and the kills can be a lot more brutal, especially a screwdriver skewering and a more gruesome impaling-times-two on the road. There are longer flashbacks with pint-sized mongoloid Jason along with more of him in the here-and-now skulking around in his underground tunnels, including the shot of him sharpening his machete from the theatrical trailer. Two slasher mainstays also claw their way into this unrated cut: the obligatory scene leading up to the climax with whoever's left stumbling onto a parade of mutilated corpses as well as an epilogue with a montage of shots of the backdrops of the murders cast in the light of a new day. The longest addition is a bit with a captive of Jason escaping and nearly making her way to...well, not safety, exactly, so I guess it doesn't make all that much of a difference that she winds up being recaptured. There's not really much of a reason to tear into the theatrical cut of the flick, but..hey! It's there if you want it.

This reboot of Friday the 13th was shot anamorphic, and director Marcus Nispel is hellbent on catching every distorted lens flare he can to make sure you know it, too. When the movie carved its way into theaters, more than a couple of shots looked unusually soft -- almost as if they were just slightly out of focus -- and that unavoidably carries over to this Blu-ray disc too. Clarity and detail are both decent enough, sure, but the 2.39:1 image isn't as startling crisp as I'm used to seeing in a day-and-date on Blu-ray. Still, the photography holds up well enough under low-light -- the backdrop for a huge chunk of the flick -- and black levels are predominately deep and inky throughout. When it's not blanketed in near-complete darkness, Friday the 13th's palette is rendered well, from the lush greens of a sunny afternoon to the sickly yellows slathered around Jason's underground tunnels. There are enough subtle differences between the theatrical and unrated cuts of Friday the 13th that I guess seamless branching wasn't really viable this time around. There are two separate VC-1 encodes piled onto this BD-50, and I wonder if some slight filtering has been tossed on to ease the compression or if all the softness stems back to the original photography. Dunno, but whatever the reason, Friday the 13th looks good but not especially great on Blu-ray.

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Both cuts of Friday the 13th are backed by 16-bit Dolby TrueHD tracks. There are a couple of immersive stretches that almost make me almost forget how stalk-and-slash played out in those dark days before 5.1 audio; Jason's more of a hunter this time around, and there are a few scattered kills where the mix follows him as he encircles his prey. The track also fleshes out an unsettling atmosphere to heighten the tension, from the sporadic buzzing of an overhead light in the workshed to the creaking metal while skulking around in an overturned bus. Overall, though, the front channels dominate the mix, and this might be the least aggressive sound design of any of Platinum Dunes' stack of remakes. Bass response is consistently solid, and even lifeless corpses tumbling to the ground are reinforced by a thick, meaty thud. There's nothing particularly memorable about the score, but it does belt out a resonant, low frequency pulse every once in a while too. The film's dialogue, for whatever it's worth, is rendered cleanly and clearly throughout as well. Much like its high-def visuals, Friday the 13th's lossless audio is unexceptional but still solid enough.

No dubs or alternate soundtracks are belted out for the Killer Cut, although the R-rated version of the flick does serve up a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in French. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.

  • Deleted Scenes (8 min.; HD): Donnie's original hockey-mask-and-Hustler kill -- more gruesome than what made it into the final cut but...kinda dumb -- is the only additional splatter. Also piled on here are a tamer, lamer alternate ending and a pointless scene in a police station with a clumsily framed calendar turned to Friday the 13th.

  • 7 Best Kills (23 min.; HD): I kinda
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    figured by the title that this was just gonna be a montage of splatter from the flick...all the money shots without any pesky plot points stumbling around in the way. As it turns out, though, "7 Best Kills" turns back that blood-spattered curtain to dive into how some of the movie's most gruesome murders were hammered out. These seven mini-featurettes -- preceded by an optional and too-long "the kills are awesome!" intro -- run through drenching one kill in four gallons of the red stuff, lovingly crafting different layers of scorched skin, losing a simple drowning in favor of something much more visceral, and shrugging off CGI in favor of practical effects whenever possible. This is by far the best extra on the disc and the only one that really gets the nod as essential viewing.

  • The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees (11 min.; HD): The reset button gets mashed for Jason in this remake-slash-remix, and "The Rebirth..." takes a look at how the golem-in-a-goalie mask is faster, smarter, and more depraved this time around. Quite a bit of the featurette is spent delving into the look of Jason Mark XII, from early maquettes all the way through the design and execution behind the masks and makeup effects.

  • Hacking Back / Slashing Forward (12 min.; HD): Exclusive to this Blu-ray release, this featurette really isn't much more than the cast and crew repetitively rambling "hey, we loved these movies growing up! See? It's not a cash grab! We're going to make the most kickass Friday the 13th flick we can 'cause...y'know, we loved 'em growing up!" The whole thing seems really promotional, as if it's aimed at letting rabid Friday fans rest easy that the franchise is in good hands. Sure, I liked hearing about some of the cast-'n-crew's specific stories about tearing through this flicks when they were younger, but you hafta take the good -- Jared Padalecki's dry wit -- with the bad. I mean, Willa Ford says, "The slasher films that sort of started the idea of horror films...those are sort of iconic." ...the hell? Whatever. Not really worth a look.

  • Picture-in-Picture / Trivia Track: Sorry, Virginia: no audio commentary this time around. The highlight of this picture-in-picture feature is a more in-depth look at the design, construction, and execution of Jason's make-up effects. There's also a good bit of behind-the-scenes shots, but a fair amount of the other footage is recycled from other extras on the disc. A few scattered comments like Jared Padalecki pointing out how many acting gigs he misses out on because of his height, the rush to get another draft polished in the weeks leading up to the writers' strike, and hammering out Camp Crystal Lake in the not-at-all-East-coast of Austin, Texas are decent enough, but too many of them are kind of cursory and don't dive nearly as far in depth as I would've liked. The track really peters out in the last hour or so, with long, long gaps between much of anything.

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    write-up on the back of the case brags about how the trivia scattered throughout covers all twelve Friday the 13th flicks, but it's so sparse that it's barely even worth mentioning. There are notes about where the name "Jason" and the hockey mask came from along with completely outta left field stuff like the superstition swirling around the number 13 in Scandinavian something-or-another. This might've been a decent way to help fill up all that dead air on the PiP track, but the trivia hardly ever kicks in.

    There's some decent material in here, but because there's so little of it tossed around, it would've been better off spliced into some of the existing extras instead.

  • BD Live: A sticker on the front of the case touts an online trailer for Trick 'r Treat, but that wasn't up when I dug around. As I write this, at least, there aren't any online bells and whistles that have anything to do with Friday the 13th itself.

  • Digital Copy: A second disc in the set serves up a digital copy for iPods and Windows Media devices...y'know, in case you're waiting in line at Denny's and suddenly get the itch to see some schlub take a machete to the head.

Friday the 13th comes packaged in an embossed cardboard slipcase. There isn't an opening menu, but for whatever it's worth, the Killer Cut immediately starts playing with the lossless TrueHD track selected by default. To tear into the theatrical cut, you have to select it as an extra through the popup menu. That's not particularly intuitive, and there's nothing in the navigation itself to make it clear that it's the Killer Cut unspooling on your set. Oh well. You're getting what you probably want straight out of the gate, though, so I guess that really doesn't matter.

The Final Word
Blades, boobs, and barrel drums of blood: check, check, and check. This reboot works because it knows what a Friday the 13th flick is supposed to be. It doesn't shoehorn in a long, meandering backstory, and there aren't any clumsy stabs at atmosphere. Nope, pile a bunch of red shirts together and slaughter 'em one by one. It rolls the franchise back to where it ought to be: the backdrop of Crystal Lake, the not-so-zombified butcher from the first three Friday sequels, and...hell, even mostly old-school make-up effects rather than Saturday morning CGI. Yeah, you're not getting much in the way of a gripping plot, lush, nuanced characterization, or...y'know, logic, but c'mon, it's a Friday the 13th flick. Sure, you have a bunch of stupid people doing stupid things, but that's kind of the point. The reboot nails the tone it's going for: bloody and savagely brutal but cacklingly depraved fun at the same time. There's been a lot -- I mean, a lot -- of bitching about this remake on the usual horror message boards -- but for whatever it's worth, I'm a lifelong fan of the franchise, and I dug the hell out of Friday the 13th. Recommended.
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