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Friday the 13th: Killer Cut (2009)
over and over and over again?"
--Marucs Nispel, director
The last time I got excited to see a Friday the 13th movie was in 1989, when Jason took Manhattan and my excitement for the franchise fizzled in a matter of minutes. Since then, the films have relied on gimmicks that haven't worked. "We had a good run!" I thought, certain that the good ol' days were long gone. You see, Jason was always my favorite villain, and Friday was always my favorite franchise--I know other films are better, but there was something about this series that excited me as a kid, and the nostalgia factor will stay with me forever.
So when Platinum Dunes announced it was reimaging the franchise with a new, gimmick-free film that echoed the heyday of Jason's run, I was in horror heaven. That grew exponentially as opening night drew closer--and hit overdrive when I first saw a rough, leaked trailer in low quality video online. Then came the official trailer, the TV spots, the huge press campaign...all leading to the night of Friday, February 13, 2009, when I sat in a dark theater nearly beside myself with childlike excitement. Regardless of what transpired over the next 90 minutes, it was already worth the rush of anticipation.
The new Friday--directed by Marcus Nispel, the man behind the reboot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (a film I enjoyed) in 2003--isn't a remake. The filmmakers--including screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, who penned Freddy vs. Jason, the least offensive of the bad Fridays--noted that they were taking elements of the first four films and adding their own ideas into the reboot. (If you forgive a few developments, you might be able to squeeze the film somewhere between Parts 2 and 3.)
The film starts with brief glimpses of Part 1's legendary standoff over the opening credits: an angry mother, trying to avenge her son's drowning at the hands of careless counselors, gets her comeuppance from the one counselor she couldn't kill as her deformed son watches from the woods. We jump forward to present day, where the campgrounds at Crystal Lake have been abandoned, and the locals live in fear. Is Jason just a legend, or a real man that roams the forest protecting his territory?
After a 23 minute pre-title sequence--in which a group of campers meet an untimely demise--we know the man is real. He carries a big, sharp machete and wears a scary sack (one of Part 2's iconic elements), and as the long prologue fades to black, we're led to believe that Whitney (Amanda Righetti of The Mentalist and Fox's cancelled-too-soon Reunion) has been hacked to pieces. We jump ahead six weeks, where Clay (Jared Padalecki of Supernatural and Gilmore Girls) is searching for his missing sister. He runs into a group of seven young friends on their way to a weekend getaway at a fancy cabin isolated in the woods. You can guess what follows.
So what's the verdict? The 2009 entry is by far the most slick, expensive production we've seen, filled with some solid kills and an atmosphere reminiscent of some of the better films in the franchise. It isn't the masterpiece I was hoping for, but it isn't anywhere close to being bad by Friday standards. It almost isn't fair that the weight of expectations on the film were so huge for genre diehards like me--but that's what happens when it's been 21 years since the last decent entry and the film is saddled with a bigger budget and more talented cast than usual.
When judged by modern day horror standards, the 2009 Friday isn't that good, and there's very little unique or genuinely scary stuff here (and that sometimes shaky cam can get a little annoying in spots). But when judged alongside its franchise brothers--none of whom had the same expectations placed on them, and none of whom were judged by the same standards--it still kicks ass. This Friday is easily one of the series' strongest, so keep that in mind as I share some of my issues with the film--I'll get the bad out of the way first, so be patient with me (it will get better!).
I like more things about this film than not, but the elements I don't like? I really, really don't like. The biggest problem is how the bulk of the main teenage characters were written, starting with Travis Van Winkle's Trent, who almost singlehandedly ruins the picture (note, this isn't the actor's fault--he does a solid job of performing what he was given). The character is such an extremely unlikable douche bag ("Your tits are stupendous...you've got perfect nipple placement, baby!"), it's clear that the film wants us to root for his death--and that's a quality that goes against what the best Fridays had to offer. Ditto Bree (Julianna Guill), a blank blond whose name I didn't even know until 67 minutes into the film (!). One sequence that really bugs me comes toward the end when the gang is shacked up in the house: Travis doesn't comprehend the sense of urgency for way too long (enough of the asshole, already!).
Then there's token potheads Chewie (Disturbia's Aaron Yoo) and Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta of American Dreams), who also serve as the film's token minorities ("Let's just all be one big happy cliché!"). Given little to do but act stupid and talk about masturbating, they--like so many others here--waste potentially valuable minutes that could be used to actually develop characters a little bit (ugh: "To all the felching, welching pussies of the world!"). I hate pothead humor, and I really hate pothead humor in horror films. At least Part 3's Chuck and Chili were smart enough to know they were in deep s%$! when they came face-to-face with Jason, something that doesn't faze clueless Chewie (are you kidding me with the "It completes your outfit!"? Ditto "You're even curved to the left like my penis!"). There's no way these people are friends, and I'm of the school of thought that slasher films are scarier when you care about the characters.
The victims with the most personality--Nolan (Ryan Hansen of Veronica Mars) and Chelsea (Willa Ford)--are killed too soon, and the scenes with the four above-mentioned zeros distract the film from the business at hand. The four victims in the extended prologue are all written and performed far better; you have to wonder what the writers were thinking. That leaves the awesome Danielle Panabaker (of Mr. Brooks and television's Shark)--whose Jenna is far and away the film's most likeable character--to try and save the day with the reliable Padalecki, who also does a solid job with his character (patterned after Rob in The Final Chapter).
And (mild spoiler) Righetti also does fine work, and proves to be one of the franchise's best screamers. You see, Whitney wasn't killed. She's been held captive by Jason because she bears a striking resemblance to his young mother (hmm, Part 2, anyone?), adding a unique subplot to the story that provides a decent distraction. The development also serves to toy with our "final girl" perceptions (although why Whitney doesn't look a lot worse for wear after being chained up for six weeks, I have no idea...)
It's also clear that the filmmakers want to shove the film with as much T&P (tits and profanity) as possible, which becomes excessive even by Friday standards. The boobs bounce far and wide, and the curse words reach near distracting proportions--witness Donnie (Kyle Davis), a redneck stoner who epitomizes every awful aspect of this reboot (sex with a mannequin? Really?!). This version certainly doesn't have the spirit of the best franchise efforts--Part 1 was genuinely scary and had likeable characters brought to life with natural performances, while Part 6 was scary and funny without lowering to crude tricks. The 2009 entry probably shares the most with The Final Chapter, although even Part 4 had far more likeable victims.
There are a few other things I didn't care for, especially the music. A lot of modern pop songs are used without any connection to the story, and it's distracting. But far worse is Steve Jablonsky's score, a generic hodgepodge of horror movie clichés without any unifying theme or elements reminiscent of Harry Manfredini's stark original. I also question a few of the editing choices--one of the more effective stalk sequences is unnecessarily interrupted for one big buzz kill of a sidetrack.
There's also one demise that wasn't respectful enough, and I could have done without Rosemary Knower's scene as the old lady/village idiot--most likely a nod to Crazy Ralph (it's a scene that belongs in Nispel's TCM remake, not here). And the scene that introduces the hockey mask is lame--they should have used the alternate take (presented as a deleted scene).
Okay, still with me?! I know, I know...if I picked apart every Friday film like this one, I'd be the worst horror fan in history. Contrary to what this review might suggest, I actually like this film. Let's move on to more complimentary matters, and there are plenty of them. Derek Mears is an excellent choice for Jason, reminiscent of the lean and mean C.J. Graham version. He's fast--a development I love--and he has a real presence (although I wish he weren't so bulked up in fake costuming--that neck is too thick; something more along the lines of Part 2's more human Jason would have been a better way to re-introduce the character). I'm a fan of the underground tunnels: not only are they spooky, they actually help explain Jason's ability to get places so damn fast (they could have been used even more; I love me some Hell Night and My Bloody Valentine claustrophobia!).
I also love how this Jason is a little smarter--the tripwires, the traps, using people as bait...it makes sense and works, adding a new dimension to the character that makes him even more dangerous. Mears helps create some of the film's most lasting images, and Nispel has to be commended for crafting some chilling frames. The shot of Jason standing atop the house is one for the scrapbook, as is our first glimpse of him as an adult (when he stalks Wade in that super-scary sack) and the shot of him busting out of the floor hatch. And the sequence where he runs down Whitney in the prologue--used to great effect in the trailer--is hella horrific.
There are also some great stalk sequences--I love (love!) the boat sequence with Nolan and Chelsea, and the scene where Lawrence gets chased is frightening (that ax throw? Killer!). The prologue is full of cool elements: the campfire ghost story (wow, lots of Part 2 in here, huh?), the shadow behind the tent (Part 4) and the sleeping bag kill (perhaps a semi-wink to The New Blood?). There's a moody sequence where Whitney and boyfriend Mike (Nick Mennell) explore the abandoned campgrounds (ala Jeff and Sandra in...you guessed it...Part 2!), although I'm not quite sure why the grounds still exist (one of many plot holes that you'll just have to overlook). I also love when Jenna and Clay first spot Jason and have to hide (look for the archery targets...a little nod to Part 1).
The final standoff (with shades of Fargo!) also has some great touches (I love the chain noose), while the final shot--while achingly predictable and highly nonsensical--pays necessary homage to the original. There are other images (the counselor whistles = chilling!) and shorter sequences that I enjoyed--the last shot of Bree recalls another Final Chapter moment, and the final image of Trent shows the film has some original imagery up its sleeves. Some of the other highlights were spoiled in the trailer--like the shower curtain reveal and the demise of the sheriff (played by the underused Richard Burgi, who could have leant a lot more respect to the film). They would have been a lot more effective if you weren't certain what was coming.
As for the gore, this entry is pretty solid, among the best in the franchise (aka, the Savini ones). That brings me to this "killer cut" edition, which runs about nine minutes longer than the theatrical cut (interestingly, this edition still wears an R rating). I only saw the film once in theaters, so I can't be certain of every change or addition. But most of the kills seem a little longer and more gruesome: I know Chewie's wasn't as brutal the first time around, and Lawrence's sequence has a nasty finish I don't recall. I'd also swear the demise of Mike is extended, as are so many others--I just don't remember the film being this bloody, and all of the new gore makes the film better in my book.
Based on what I remember and what I've read, other additions include more glimpses of Jason in the opening ode to Part 1 (an addition I really don't like; it was creepier just seeing his body); more boob shots; an added sequence involving Whitney that doesn't do much for me; the shot of Jason sharpening his machete (also seen in the trailer) interspersed with flashbacks of his mother's death; and lots of other cool inserts (there's a neat hot tub shot I don't recall; and I can't remember if the discovery of Chelsea was in the theatrical cut). I've also read that the sequence with Whitney discovering a trapped Richie (Ben Feldman) is slightly different (that's a scene I didn't understand either way--why didn't Richie yell?).
Is there more footage missing? An interview that BloodyDisgusting had with Panabaker hints at shot footage we still haven't seen, so who knows? I pray that the franchise has more gas left in the tank; after a solid opening weekend, this Friday plummeted astronomically. I would love to see a prequel (similar in vein to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) and Part 1 remake. Seriously, how can this be considered a traditional Friday film when it doesn't even have any counselors or a final girl chase?! I got goose bumps in the opening credits with the nod to Part 1; I would love to see the rest of that film.
Wouldn't it be great to see an entry that used more suspense and classic slasher techniques rather than indulging in excess? Until then, I'll still get plenty of enjoyment out of 2009's reboot. It's not perfect, but it still returns the franchise to its glory. It's been a long time coming, baby...welcome back!
When I reviewed the deluxe editions of Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 earlier this year, I ranked the films in the series. Keep your eyes peeled for an update soon, because there's some slight shuffling in store after recent repeated viewings...
The 2.35:1 image--rarely seen in the franchise--looks pretty darn good here. I've read how some people think the image can be too dark in spots, making it hard to make sense of some movement. While I wish a few shots were clearer, I'm chalking it up to artistic license and not a transfer issue. Some shots are softer (what's going on with the window smash at the end?!), and I don't recall seeing so many blue light intrusions in the theater. They've also gone for a few intentional hues in certain sequences (shade or brown reminiscent of the TCM remake; many night scenes have a blue tint). Still, overall, this is an extremely detailed with strong, rich colors, and I didn't find many major issues.
The 5.1 track has some nice elements that make use of rear channels, crucial to helping set a mood with horror films. Thunder, rain, crickets, snapping twigs...a lot here is put to good use, although I wish the track was just a little more dynamic. (Again, it's a real shame that the score here is so uninspiring...what a wasted audio opportunity). Dialogue is never an issue, helping make this a strong if not stunning experience. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Considering this film had such a huge marketing blitz--and considering the genre usually sees a bigger boost than normal from DVD sales--the extras on this DVD are highly disappointing. Three deleted scenes (8:17) show a different reveal for the hockey mask (it's a lot stronger and should have been used), a dialogue scene with the sheriff (it isn't necessary but has two things going for it--more Richard Burgi and the calendar with "Friday the 13th" in the background) and a slightly different barn standoff (mostly the same save for the ending--I prefer what's in the film, but this one has one nice touch).
The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees (11:16, non-anamorphic video) has the cast and crew talking about the making of the film. It has a few interesting moments but is mostly fluff. The producers talk about rebooting the franchise and upholding the mythology and why they made certain decisions with Jason (supernatural or grounded in reality? walk or run?), while Mears shows a nice enthusiasm for the character. The special effects men talk about constructing Jason's build and mask, and the writers also offer some thoughts. The actors also chime in: "We started with the sack head, and it was so creepy," notes Amanda Righetti. "I didn't need much to get to that point that day."
The decision to reshoot the mask discovery scene is also discussed, with the writers dogging on Part 3 for making the reveal "incidental" (I disagree--in Part 3, the mask at least appeared and was established in the story; here, it's just randomly inserted). Given all the marketing and press for this film, it's hard to believe this is all the studio has to offer. If nothing else, this clip reiterated two things for me: the young deformed Jason (seen here in more light) looks awful, and was wisely omitted from the theatrical cut; and Mears is hidden behind way too much latex.
That's it--no audio commentary, no in-depth making-of feature, no franchise retrospective...not even the cool trailer?! A few other features--like a look at the special effects behind seven kills, the "Hacking Back/Slashing Forward" interviews and a picture-in-picture trivia track--are exclusive to the Blu-Ray edition. All in all, a big disappointment on the extras front. Is there a bigger and better release down the line? Doubtful, but I'll cross my fingers.
Not perfect but far better than the majority of other films in the franchise, this 2009 reboot of Friday the 13th returns Jason Voorhees to his g(l)ory days and restores the series to its slightly more serious roots. While some awful characters threaten to ruin the film--and other problems of excess derail the scarier tone of the original--evil wins out in the end. It's unfair to compare this film to anything else than its bloody brothers, and in that regard this Friday is a bloody good time. It has some great stalk sequences and unforgettable images, with this "killer cut" adding in more gore that will please fans. (And Danielle Panabaker is one of the coolest Friday chicks ever!) There's a lot to like here, and even with the disappointing bonus features this comes Recommended.