It doesn't take much to make a good "Friday the 13th" film. All you really need is a camera, a budget, and a willing cast. It's actually a lot like porn in that regard. But, like porn, you sometimes need to mix things up to keep the audiences' interest. I mean, with porn, it's ultimately still just 90 minutes of people screwing each other, but it's how they screw each other that makes the difference between garden variety smut and a genre defining classic.
The same rule applies to a Friday the 13th film. Give us new and clever methods with which Jason dispatches his victims, and fans will eat it up regardless of how hackneyed and redundant it all may seem. While the importance of things like plot and logic deteriorated over the course of the series' many sequels, the producers made up for this with bigger, better, and bloodier kills. Sadly, Marcus Nispel's limp "reimagining" of Friday the 13th opts to buck that particular trend, offering some of the tamest and lamest executions in franchise history.
It's the slasher equivalent to 90 minutes of straight missionary position.
Beneath a flannel comforter.
With socks on.
In the dark.
The film opens with a grainy, desaturated (and, ultimately, pointless) prologue in which we see a hapless camp counselor running through the woods whilst being pursued by Pamela Voorhees (here played by Deep Space 9's Nana Visitor). We get the entire first Friday the 13th film in about 30 seconds, as Mrs. Voorhees blames the camp counselors of the world for her son, Jason's, death. The counselor lops of Mrs. Voorhees head, and we are then given a "Jason's Eye" view of the carnage, as if to suggest that the young boy was sitting in the woods watching as it happened.
The film jumps ahead 20 years to a group of hikers searching the area around Crystal Lake for a pot farm from which they plan to steal copious amounts of weed. They get lost and decide to camp for the night, whereupon one of the hikers entertains the group with the sordid tale of Camp Crystal Lake, and the vengeful deformed maniac, Jason, who, as he understands it, still roams these woods to this day. This, of course, prompts everyone to separate, with one pair heading off into the dark woods for a stroll, whilst another couple decide to get it on in their tent. This leaves the lonely storyteller to go off and take a leak in the woods, where he stumbles upon both the pot farm, and the pillow-case-masked Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears).
Let me stop there, for a moment. While it's never actually said, it appears that, in addition to the lifelong pursuit of vengeance and murder, Jason is also a pot farmer (and, judging by the look of the sticky buds he's harvesting, a damned good one). I would have considered the pot field and Jason's presence in it a coincidence if it weren't for the fact that, later in the film, we see Jason killing a local grease monkey who'd just stolen a bunch of buds from his crop. It's basically Jason laying the smack down on a punk who stole his chronic.
It makes me wonder what Platinum Dunes has in store for their reimagining of "Nightmare on Elm Street". Will Freddy Krueger run a meth lab? Maybe that'll explain the burns.
Anyway, Jason makes quick work (and I do mean quick as all of this happens in the span of ten minutes, before the film's title card even appears) of the hikers, and we are then introduced to a whole new group of potential victims, en route to their rich friend Trent's summer abode. The group runs into Clay (Supernatural's Jared Padalecki), who is canvassing the area in search of his missing sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti), who was one of the hikers from the opening sequence. Trent and his douche bag friends don't care one lick about Clay or his sister, but Trent's sensitive girlfriend, Jenna (Danielle Panabaker....cripes, doesn't anyone in Hollywood change their hard-to-spell ethnic surnames to more streamlined and recognizable monikers anymore?) takes an instant liking to Clay, and, after he later shows up at Trent's family's digs, offers to help him in his search.
While Jenna and Clay are off searching in the bushes for Whitney, Trent and his friends engage in drinking games, drug use, and sexual intercourse, which, seeing as how they're in a Friday the 13th film, marks them for death. Soon, each of them are wandering off into dark sheds, separating from each other for no apparent reason, and doing everything you'd expect a dumb kid in one of these movies to do.
And that's just fine, because that's exactly what I paid to see.
What I didn't pay to see, however, was Jason killing each of these oh-so-deserving victims with all of the enthusiasm of a grade school janitor mopping up a puddle of kid sick in the nurse's office. And would it kill Nispel to throw in a little variety? I mean, sure, we get an arrow through the head (apparently, in addition to his weed cultivating skills, Jason is an Olympic level archer), and an axe thrown about a half-a-mile into someone's back, but the remaining eleven kills (yes, there are thirteen - at least they got that bit right) all seem to involve the combination of a machete and the victim's lack of peripheral vision. It's all very lazy and remarkably tame. It's also kind of boring. As a matter of fact, were it not for his mask, I'm pretty sure we'd have seen Jason yawning on at least one occasion.
When this film was still in theaters, I'd heard mention of an entirely different cut of Friday the 13th that featured, amongst other things, a completely excised subplot, more nudity, and more graphic kills. This Killer Cut does feature a few scenes not shown in the theatrical version (including one in which Whitney briefly escapes Jason's Vietcong-like tunnel lair), and a scant few seconds of extra boobage and gore, but, otherwise, it's pretty much the same flick you saw in theaters; just slightly bloodier and... err...boobier.
Friday the 13th stalks and slashes its way onto Blu-ray with a solid 1080p transfer that boasts a nicely contrasted image, fairly vivid colors (considering the somewhat washed-out color aesthete Nispel favors), and strong detail. There's an occasional soft-focus/blurring that pops up occasionally, but, rest assured, it's supposed to be there, as that is also something you'll see a lot of in Nispel's previous films, most notably, his Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.
The 5.1 Dolby True HD track is equally solid, with a multi-layered sound scape that is immersive and atmospheric. Bass is strong, with things like slamming doors and the percussive thumps of bodies hitting the floor packing a lot of punch. Dialogue is a bit buried in the mix, however, and I found myself having to watch the film at relatively high volume to be able to hear it clearly. Surround effects are well implemented and suitably creepy, while the film's soundtrack and score is rich and organic sounding.
Warner rolls out a decent assortment of extras for the Blu-ray release of Friday the 13th, including a bunch of featurettes, PiP track, trivia track, and more, all presented in glorious HD.
7 Best Kills: A nifty behind-the-scenes feature that showcases what the filmmakers consider the seven best kills (duh) and shows how the kills were conceived and carried out. This is the meatiest extra in the set, running just under 30 minutes, and an especially fun watch for FX nuts and burgeoning Tom Savinis.
The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees: A short look at the reinvention of Jason Voorhees for today's audiences. The filmmakers talk about how they wanted a leaner, meaner, more aggressive Jason rather than the lumbering mongoloid of yore.
Hacking Back / Slashing Forward: Another short feature in which the cast and crew all claim an undying love and devotion to the original series. This is basically EPK stuff, where everyone makes it abundantly clear that they've got nothing but the best intentions when it comes to the fans of the original franchise and the films, themselves. Which is, of course, why they decided to make it over again.
Pip Track: This accompanying picture-in-picture track is pretty sparse, with only the occasional nugget popping up during the film. We get some quickie comments and factoids, but it's no substitute for a proper commentary track.
Trivia Track: I'll be honest; I hate these things. I never watch them. It's here if you like to test your knowledge about these sorts of things, but, at my age, I have trouble remembering my own son's name, let alone who played the guy with the hat in the van in some scene from Friday the 13th part III.
Rounding out the extras are the theatrical cut of the film, a few deleted scenes, BD Live capability, and the ubiquitous digital copy disc, for those really annoying people who strain their eyes watching movies on the 2x2 inch screen of their cell phone in a sad attempt to show the world just how tech savvy they are.
While it may sound as though I disliked Friday the 13th, I actually had fun with it. The film looks fantastic, I liked Derek Mears as Jason, and Padalecki, Righettii, and Panabaker are probably the strongest actors to ever grace the franchise. I just wish the folks at Platinum Dunes showed a bit more creativity with the kills, as this reimagining just lacks imagination when it comes to what many consider the most important part of a Friday the 13th film.
The Blu-ray presentation from Warner Bros. offers a solid transfer and nice collection of HD bonus materials that make this a no-brainer for fans of the film, but if the theatrical version didn't do it for you, this unrated version just ain't gonna cut it.