‘Friday the 13th’ and Its Bigger, Badder, and All Around Better Upgrade [Revenge of the Remakes]

Welcome to ‘Revenge of the Remakes,‘ where columnist Matt Donato takes us on a journey through the world of horror remakes. We all complain about Hollywood’s lack of originality whenever studios announce new remakes, reboots, and reimaginings, but the reality? Far more positive examples of refurbished classics and updated legacies exist than you’re willing to remember (or admit). The good, the bad, the unnecessary – Matt’s recounting them all.

It’s been over a decade since Jason Voorhees slashed through silver screens thanks to ongoing rights-fight legal lockups. Explicitly, since 2009 when Platinum Dunes dared defy the arbiters of horror nostalgia who’d quiver at the mention of a modernized Friday The 13th renovation. Studio trends at the dawn of the 21st century all but assured a return to Camp Crystal Lake was inevitable. Much like a core subset of horror fans revolting against the idea of Jason’s rebirth because nothing compares to the “good old days” of slasher infamy. We love to romanticize our favorites through crimson-colored glasses, don’t we? Some sectors of the internet, at least.

Enter director Marcus Nispel, writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, and the production studio behind multiple “dark and gritty” 2000s horror remakes. Given how I’ve already covered Platinum Dunes’ contributions to the great “remake boom” from “The Good” (The Hitcher) to “The Dazzlingly Atrocious” (A Nightmare On Elm Street), it’s safe to say Michael Bay was a prolific contributor to a storied era in genre history. Wisecrack beyond your heart’s desire, but Bay’s formula had its successes, two of which belong to Nispel himself. Friday The 13th commemorates a reunion between filmmaker and financier because when you’ve already proven yourself a formidable remake creator, you boast the honor of rewriting New Jersey’s supernatural past with a burst of franchise vigor that, you’re reading correctly, is better than the original.


The Approach

Friday The 13th (2009) opts not to restrictively parallel the events of Sean S. Cunningham’s introductory sleepaway stalker. Shannon and Swift distill the successes of Friday The 13th (1980), Friday The 13th Part 2, Friday The 13th Part III, and Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter into a streamlined, scream-lined slasher that itself represents a curious assessment of the franchise as a whole. The Jason Voorhees we know, the Friday The 13th lore that transfixes pop-culture, doesn’t become canon until (clock it) sixty minutes into Friday The 13th Part III. Nispel executes a Friday The 13th hybrid that anyone new to the cadaverous series might expect the authentic Friday The 13th mirrors. Not a Pamela Voorhees origin tale followed by 80s campground hunt-and-preys that recycle the same blueprint to a repetitive detriment.

In the remake, Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki) is searching for his sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti) after she disappears while camping with her (weed harvester) companions. He crosses paths with Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) and Travis (Travis Van Winkle) while spreading fliers in a gas station, where the latter fratbag asserts his locker room charms. They part ways, with Trent’s SUV full of college-vacation victims driving straight towards his family’s isolated woodland estate while Clay continues to canvas the town. Trent’s friends start dying one-by-one, Clay knocks on Trent’s front door, and the legend of Jason Voorhees grasps all parties in its cold, scummy clutches. Clay’s search becomes a fight for survival against an undead executioner, which leads to the discovery of underground tunnels where a masked murderer haunts. No shortage of lewd sexual encounters, grim fates, and all the targeted slasher malevolence we’ve come to expect.

Shannon and Swift hit fast-forward on Friday The 13th lore because the public wants their Jason Voorhees. Pamela’s arc as an unhinged mother ends with a black-and-white decapitation during the opening credits of Nispel’s aughts interpretation. Whitney’s stoner-rock boyfriend comments how his sweetie resembles a mysterious woman pictured inside a locket spied near “Jason’s” room. It doesn’t take three films for Shelly Finkelstein (Larry Zerner) to bestow Jason his goaltender look; Nispel’s version finds his hockey mask in a barn near the forty-five-minute marker. You could even argue 2009’s twenty-five-minute cold open – filled with mutilation – is a callback to Friday The 13th Part 2, where Alice’s (Adrienne King) cold open runs twelve minutes and only slays a single once-final girl. Why waste time?


Does It Work?

Here’s the part where I say Friday The 13th (2009) functions more efficiently than Cunningham’s original and Steve Miner’s two concurrent sequels. A Friday The 13th marathon does little favors to the reductive replay value of the franchise’s first three films, churning and burning through camp counselors as mythology builds at a snail’s pace. In a single entry, Shannon and Swift find frighteningly gratifying ways to bowl through what’s essentially a “Jason Voorhees 101” session. Familiarity is sharpened and trimmed of fat all in one prime cut (you still get your shattered window grabs and whatnot). Pamela’s introduction as Jason’s motivating voice, Jason’s easily manipulated connection to mommy dearest, costume designs that range from child to bag-head to deformed hulk to his trademark attire; everything fits snugly into a substantial yet rapid-fire correction of the initial trilogy’s shortcomings.

Furthermore, the defender of the tunnels has logged on. Nitpicks often highlight how “ridiculous” it is that Jason Voorhees built tunnel systems under Camp Crystal Lake, which in itself is a ridiculous dealbreaker. We’re talking about a franchise where Jason beamed into space, sailed a boat to Manhattan, rivaled a Carrie knockoff, was reanimated underwater like Frankenstein, turned into a demonic possession critter, battled Freddy Krueger; need I continue? If anything, Shannon and Swift at least offer an excuse as to how Jason can live unseen and slash without intervention. You’ve upgraded Jason’s dilapidated shack to counselor’s digs with an entire subterranean workstation complete with grindstone and plenty of expansion nooks for activities that include kidnapping matriarchal lookalikes. Jason can hide, his hostages can squeal to no avail, and the script reaches that much farther to explain the otherwise inexplicable.

Let’s spotlight attention on Whitney at this point because another big “does it work” aspect is Jason’s decision to spare one single victim. Again, I can hear the outcries. “Jason is a programmed killbot; this doesn’t make sense.” Then Shannon and Swift integrate the Pamela hypnotization, and we realize Whitney’s role in the ordeal.

Also? Friday The 13th is a remake, after all. Shannon and Swift reserve rights to characterize their Jason Voorhees as applicable. Platinum Dunes permit their remakes some massive swings, and compared to choices like in A Nightmare On Elm Street, when the script fatally triples down on Freddy Krueger’s pedophilia past, Nispel oversees a reverential alteration that pays homage to Jason’s trademark mamma issues. Of course, remakes are in a tough spot because they’re deemed unoriginal by default because of their practice – and yet, when the movies do release and serve something fresh, they’re criticized for tainting the source material’s sanctity by choosing to tinker outside the provided box.


The Result

Credit to Marcus Nispel’s Friday The 13th because it’s either my champion or runner-up Platinum Dunes remake, and outside the studio, stands a force to be reckoned with when remaking such a historic property. It’s everything fans have come to adore about Jason Voorhees, but also unlocks an even more vicious streak through a modern horror lens. The way Jason sprints forward and slams his machete into Richie’s (Ben Feldman) skull asserts this inescapability and brute primality that’s equatable to first encountering Zack Snyder’s full-throttle zombies in Dawn Of The Dead. The dedication to fan servicing while allowing creators some wiggle-room for signature freedoms tweaks the formula just-enough while still respecting its dependability. We’re not watching a new Friday The 13th for high-concept Cabin In The Woods redefinitions; slaughter, scintillate and slice away.

Nispel benefits a great deal from the “gritty” overtones that doused many a remake in shadowy, impenetrable darknesses. That’s not to discredit sunny lakeside sequences where Jason pays homage to the speargun kill in Friday The 13th Part III when Nolan (Ryan Hansen) gets an arrow through the skull and topless wakeboarder Chelsea (Willa Ford) finds herself impaled through a wooden dock when trying to hide. Even still, this movie is so dreary and dimly shaded that Jason brightens floodlights instead of knocking out the power for once. Nispel embeds a deadly mood that sustains as Clay fights for the sibling held captive by an ever-imposing maniac. Little shots of Jason standing adopt Trent’s lowest rooftop, perched like the king of a castle surveying all he oversees in the deepest nightshades. Jason Voorhees is a brainless, instinct-driven assassination machine, and Nispel unleashes his brand of netherbeast with threatening severity the likes few franchise protagonists have faced.

Maybe this is unpopular, perhaps it’s not, but Derek Mears is one enraged, mean-like-a-shark Jason Voorhees in one of the character’s leading portrayals. “This ain’t your auntie’s Jason Voorhees,” so to speak. The softness of Jared Padalecki’s concern, the switcheroo final girl misdirect that Danielle Panabaker plays, and Travis Van Winkle’s “Stupendous Tits” encapsulation of slasher-jock toxicity are all standouts. Shannon and Swift lean into the debauchery and dimwittedness of genre archetypes distracted by the sleaze-o-leeriness that defined 80s slashers, especially Friday The 13th sequels. That said, this is still Mears’ showcase as a mute, no-rules killer who stabs through anyone dumb enough to challenge even the notion of his existence. It’s for a whole separate article, but Mears is in the upper echelon of Jason Voorhees mindsets and physicality. He hacks through the fluff, Nispel dispels comedic undertones, and the movie bursts from its grave with a lick-your-chops vengeance.


The Lesson

Jason Voorhees is one of the least compelling slasher villains in practice but headlines one of the most accomplished remakes of “untouchable” horror heavyweights. The first three Friday The 13th films are wobbly franchise builders that are better answered in 2009’s Friday The 13th as a single dosage of horror adrenaline. Unfortunately, it’s also a perfect example of how fandoms are quickest to judge harshly based on newer release dates while falling into comfortable trenches of that past because nostalgia reigns supreme. A rebooted Friday The 13th couldn’t *possibly* be good because it’s not *my* Jason Voorhees, eh? You’re right. He’s bigger, badder, and a whole lot better.

So what did we learn?

  • A remake can consider a source franchise as a whole versus one-to-one comparisons; the best study, cherry-pick, and addresses larger ambitions.
  • Damian Shannon and Mark Swift are unafraid to suggest that something we hold immaculate is flawed, showing their work.
  • Marcus Nispel never crumbles under the weight of Jason Voorhees’ mountainous presence, nor does he shy away from unveiling a new generation’s Jason versus splicing Jason’s old image into updated surroundings.
  • Erases this idea of “untouchables” that devalues the art of remakes because 2009’s Friday The 13th earns its place alongside the countless other franchise entries that all assert their merit.
  • We have our cake and eat it too as horror fans because we’re allowed a Friday The 13th that works as any Friday The 13th should, while also carving something different that’s worthwhile in a standalone sense.

My opinions on the Friday The 13th franchise, as a whole, once made me the villain of Horror Twitter for almost two days. My ranking of Nispel’s Friday The 13th at my #4 slot barely scratched the surface of the internet’s disgust. It’s got Jason roasting horned-up babes over campfires while their partners scream in agony, bloody-ruthless kills that recite Tom Savini’s early SFX craftsmanship, and a new beginning that, frankly, was bound to happen. A remake that never should be written off because it suggests younger generations deserve coming-of-horror experiences on behalf of a maestro of massacres many already cite as an “inspiration.”

Less fighting about whose Jason matters most, more imagining how Jason could return once Sean S. Cunningham and Victor Miller settle their professional quarrel with a final, thunderous blow.

Friday the 13th Remake

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