In 2003, New Line Cinema and Platinum Dunes kicked off a massive remake trend with the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Released only two months after Freddy vs. Jason, it made a killing at the box office and led other studios to take whatever horror titles they had in-house and retread them with expensive, glossy remakes. Some of them worked, some of them didn’t. Revisiting it recently, Texas Chainsaw Massacre holds up relatively well. It’s gorgeously shot, stylistic and R. Lee Ermey’s performance is so strong that it’s almost easy to forget about Leatherface himself. My only major gripe with it is that it doesn’t feel like a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. It has none of that quirky humor that’s abundant in the sequels but still present in the original. And Leatherface is very different from the Leatherface we know and love from all of the earlier films because this version of Leatherface is meant to be much “tougher” and grittier than his original counterpart. At least part of that is due to the fact that the remake’s Leatherface actor Andrew Byrniarski hated the original movie and its sequels and wanted to play what he thought would be the first actually scary version of the character.
That’s not to say that the remake is made with a disrespect for the source material, I think there are some great callback moments and cinematographer Daniel Pearl was a great choice visually as he didn’t want to tread old ground and gave the movie a completely new look. Overall, they set the bar fairly high with this one. And then, with Amityville Horror and The Hitcher, things went downhill.
By the time Friday the 13th came along, we had seen a resurgence of the slasher movie on the big screen with Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake. And we saw slashers coming back on video as well, with indie hits like Hatchet and Behind the Mask. From the moment Halloween hit theaters, people knew Jason’s return had to be right around the corner.
For that remake, Platinum Dunes reteamed with Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Marcus Nispel. Both he and producers Andrew Fuller and Brad Form explained that one of the major reasons for doing Chainsaw in the first place was to generate interest in Friday the 13th. I think if you track the trajectory of Platinum Dunes’ remakes, you can see that. Friday the 13th feels like an endgame, Nightmare on Elm Street feels like a byproduct—almost an afterthought.
In some ways, Friday the 13th seems like it was destined to be their best remake because there’s the smallest margin for error when compared to Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Nightmare on Elm Street. While the original Friday is considered a genre classic, it’s not held in the same high regard as those other two. When people think of the franchise, they rarely think of the original. Just by making this a Jason movie, they differentiated their film from the first. By aiming to please fan expectations of the sequels, they almost inadvertently made their most enjoyable remake.
First and foremost, Friday the 13th isn’t even a remake on a technical level. Even if it’s a total reinterpretation of that world, a remake is a movie that—whether it does so loosely or in a radically new way—is a retelling of the original film. This one doesn’t do that. Instead, it opens with a recap of the ending of Mrs. Voorhees’ massacre, the way a sequel would. In fact, while they go back and forth, writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, as well as producer Brad Fuller, have all called this technically a sequel to the original movie.
Some fans try to fit it into the series continuity, but I don’t think you need to. I think at this point, Jason has become a campfire story. This doesn’t negate the original movie, but at the same time, it presents a new version of Jason, different from anything we’ve seen before.
I think this new interpretation of Jason himself is what really makes or breaks the feature for a lot of fans. But I think Derek Mears did a great job with the role. He put a lot of thought into it. This is survivalist Jason. He’s an intense, calculating figure. He’s a hunter. People were not used to seeing Jason lay down traps or even in some instances outsmart his victims, but I think it was a great new twist on the franchise.
Unfortunately, none of the main characters are as interesting as Jason himself. Part of this is due to the fact that the movie slices through two entire casts. After that impressive but awkwardly lengthy opening, we don’t really want to spend the time getting to know a whole second group of characters, and they’re not terribly interesting to begin with.
And while people may say that the franchise has always been about Jason, there have been standout characters in nearly every movie in the series. This one doesn’t have a Tommy Jarvis. It doesn’t have a Jimmy or Teddy Bear—though it does try hard to recreate those two—and it doesn’t even have a Creighton Duke. In this one, we truly do come for Jason himself.
A lot of people complain about the kills in the reboot, but I don’t really get that criticism. In Freddy vs. Jason, almost every single kill was done using the machete, so this one gives us a ton of variety right off the bat. There’s an unexpected element to a lot of these death scenes and while they’re crafted in a more intense way than we might be used to, they still go back to the glory days when Jason would use whatever he could get his hands on.
Friday the 13th might not be one of the best horror remakes ever, but I think it’s the best that Platinum Dunes has given us to date in terms of providing something new while keeping the spirit of the original alive. Yes, the pacing is really awkward and too many of the characters are virtually lifeless. But at the end of the day, it gets the job done. It delivers on its promises. It’s a return to the franchise’s classic elements that isn’t afraid to try new things at the same time. And I have to give it credit for that.