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FRIDAY THE 13TH

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Aaron Yoo, Amanda Righetti, Travis Van Winkle, Derek Mears
Director: Marcus Nispel
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: June 16, 2009

“Say hi to mommy…IN HELL!”

Film ***

Let’s face it; we are living in an age where remakes/reboots are just about the only thing driving the movie industry. Though it’s not exactly a trend that deserves any celebration, in some instances it’s not so much a bad thing. Such is the case with the Friday the 13th franchise, which for my money was in need of the exact kind of makeover it got.

Though I’ve come to appreciate a few of the Friday movies, hardly any of them were of any high quality on story, acting, or even technical scale. And lately, it got to the point where the series had gone way past the point of self-parody. I mean, come on people, and was Jason X (aka Jason Goes to Outer Space”) really all that necessary?

Then came the long awaited Freddy vs. Jason in 2003, which was even more fun than the title suggested. And though the promise of a continuing series of fights between the two seemed to be indicated by that movie's final shot, a sequel never materialized. Now that Hollywood has gone insane with rebooting every franchise, especially within the horror genre, Masters Voorhees and Krueger have both been included on the reboot list, with Freddy’s return slated for next year.

The most glorious thing I can say about the newly polished and revamped Friday the 13th is probably going to get me some hate mail from hardcore fans of the franchise…but here goes; it’s the absolute best Friday movie to ever get made yet. Is the acting any better? No. Is the plot deeper than any previous movie in the series? Um, hell no! Are the teenaged characters smarter than before? Actually, I think they might be more retarded than ever.

But what makes this version superior is the simple fact that it looks spectacular in a way all of the previous Friday movies never did. And most importantly, Jason’s physical presence is bigger and more menacing than ever. Just the sight of him was enough to send a chill down my spine.

And what’s most ironic about this particular remake succeeding is the mere fact that director Marcus Nispel also directed the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. To me, that was a horror classic that didn’t require a remake of any kind, where as Friday the 13th always had room for improvement. But Nispel did bring a unique visual style to Chainsaw and he does so ever more effectively here.

Instead of a traditional remake, this Friday actually condenses the first three movies into one, which I thought was a really nice touch. If you recall, Jason’s mother was the killer in the original movie, then Jason first appeared as a hooded killer in the second movie, and then finally donned the hockey mask in the third one. All three elements are covered in this version, and all before the first 45 minutes.

Another nice touch is the pre-title sequence, which actually runs a good twenty minutes before the title even pops on the screen. It shows a group of young campers looking to settle in a wooded area where it’s rumored that a rare type of marijuana exists (they never learn, do they?). It’s a chilling and quite effective opening, which almost plays like its very own short movie.

Then cut to a new group of teens who are arriving at one’s lake house cabin for the weekend. I’ll give you three guesses as to whether or not the cabin is located near Camp Crystal Lake. The bunch include a parade of stereotypes, including Trent (Travis Van Winkle), the resident douchebag whose parents own the cabin. Also among the gang are two stoners; one Asian (Aaron Yoo) and one black (Arlen Escarpeta) I should point out, as well as a pair of female hotties; Bree (Julianna Guill) and Chelsea (Willa Ford) who should both have worn a sign saying “Will appear nude/have sex before dying”.

There is one standout in this crowd, Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), who is douchebag Trent’s girlfriend. I’ll give you three guesses as to whether or not she’s mistreated by the great one known as Trent. She happens to have that rare quality any female character in horror movies have; a brain.

When the group encounter a passerby named Clay (Jared Padalecki), who’s passing out flyers and asking people if they’ve seen his missing sister, Jenna’s the only one who steps up to the plate willing to help. As it turns out, Clay’s sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti), was among the campers in the first segment of the movie and has, in fact, been kidnapped by Jason and held prisoner.

Now I know what you’re thinking at this point. Why, oh why, has Jason Voorhees, Esquire demoted himself down to the rank of measly kidnapper? Believe me when I say that a reason for Jason’s periodic gesture of kindness does exists.

As you can see, I’m having way too much fun mocking certain elements of the movie, which I wouldn’t be doing if the movie itself didn’t welcome it at all. What’s most important is the quality of the violence and gratuitous sex and nudity. Trust me, friends, there all at an outstanding quality, even by Friday the 13th standards, which is saying something.

And the main reason this is the best Friday movie yet is the mere fact that, for once in the series, I found myself actually on the edge of my seat with fear. That was the complete opposite effect of watching any of the previous movies in the serious, where you would basically sit around waiting for Jason to strike at the exact moment you knew he would. But now, thanks to the marvelous technical upgrades and stylish look, Jason actually gets a reaction out of you.

All I can say is that after seeing this re-imagining of Friday the 13th, my faith has been fully restored in this horror series. Hopefully, the inevitable sequels won’t get more and more ridiculous like they did before. But even if they do, as long as Jason maintains the menacing presence he’s re-established here, that’s all that matters.

Video ***1/2

The look on this New Line release is most impressive, considering that around 98% of the movie takes place during a stormy night. The anamorphic picture is definitely strong in the way it handles the black levels, which there are plenty of. The few daytime sequences hold up amazingly well. For the most part, the consistent darkness is most rich and allows more detail than you’d might expect. The only setback is some noticeable pixelation in couple shots. Otherwise, it adds up to a most effective watch.

Audio ***

To be honest, I was expecting to have my socks knocked off by this sound mix. And while there is a lot of boom on display, the 5.1 mix seems to be limited on pure surround sound. During one too many crucial scenes, I noticed that all of the action, including kills, yelling, music score and set surroundings, were all confined to the front channels. A background sound would pop up every so often, but not as much as you’d expect for a movie like this. In spite of that disappointing quality, the overall sound quality is actually quite decent as far as music, action and dialogue delivery are concerned.

Features *1/2

Unfortunately, we don’t get a deluxe level treatment of extras like the original Friday movies have been getting lately, even though this is from a different studio. What we do get is a featurette titled “The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees” and three additional scenes.

Summary:

Jason is back and deadlier than ever. The remake of Friday the 13th provides the single most entertaining experience to come out of this franchise. As a result, we are likely to see the series draw more fans in addition to possibly bringing back those who couldn’t take the movies seriously anymore.

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