Friday the 13th Retrospective, Part 3: The New Line Era (New Line Cinema)

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It is no secret that Paramount Pictures was never thrilled to be the home of “Friday the 13th” They were an upscale major studio that released Oscar contenders and blockbusters. Being the home of a low class slasher franchise was not a point of pride for them. But the profits were enough to keep the enterprise going, until they weren’t. Luckily New Line Cinema had no such delusions of grandeur, they were “The House That Freddy Built.” So when Paramount was done with “Friday the 13th,” New Line was more than happy to get the rights, and put Freddy and Jason on screen together for the first time, but it would take a while to get there.

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

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It seems there is a point in every slasher franchise, where the makers decide its time to explain everything about the murderer at the center of the series. When they do this, it is generally terrible. As the 90s started, it seemed the slasher genre was dying. Genre stalwarts like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th saw their grosses start going down. It is in each franchise where they become so desperate that they decided to go insane and try to create some mythology that ties the series together.

What is good in my opinion about the slasher genre is its simplicity. There doesn’t need to be much story in a slasher movie. Any complexity that you add to a slasher film can only take away the fun. When you look at the major 80s horror franchises, the time they go to the well of trying to explain their characters are at the end of their run. Any future movies in the series have to pretty much disregard what happened in the movie. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare was followed up by Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which pretty much makes fun of what Freddy had become. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Meyers was so convoluted that the next movie, Halloween: H20, ignored its existence. Likewise, Jason Goes To Hell doesn’t really add up to anything in the long run.

Like “The Final Chapter”, this movie is a dishonest one. While this movie was being made, they were pursuing “Freddy vs. Jason”, so this is an even more dishonest move, since at least earlier in the series they might have thought to honor their promised death of Jason, if only for a moment. Getting the original director Sean Cunningham to come back and produce is good from a P.R. point of view, but it is obvious that he was only involved in the original and had no loyalty to any other movie in the series. Giving creative control to someone who is disinterested in most of the series wasn’t the smartest idea.

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The movie itself is a mess. It seems to have contempt for previous entries in the series, so it pretty much blows up the remnants of the old series. It pretty much turns into something completely different than a “Friday the 13th” movie, to its detriment. When I think of a “Friday the 13th” movie, I don’t think of a body swapping chase movie. Getting rid of the typical Jason turns this into something that doesn’t resemble the series at all, and what’s the point of that?

It doesn’t help that the main characters are bland and forgettable. I really didn’t care for any of them. The main character is oddly cocky at times for no apparent reason. The only exception to this is the character of Creighton Duke, a bounty hunter who is after Jason. This movie would have been many times better if it featured him in the lead and the actual Jason in it. The thing that drives me crazy about his character is how he has the knowledge he does in the movie. There is no logical way that he knows what he does in the movie. He is merely a device to move the plot forward.

If the intent was to “explain” Jason, it failed miserably. It is content to simply throw horror movie imagery at us and imply that the Necronomicon from “Evil Dead” is involved somehow. In making the plot Jason trying to kill off his never before seen family, it just blatantly rips off Halloween again. Jason does have a good look in this, too bad he is only seen briefly at the beginning and the end. People get pissed at Jason not being in Part V, but I think this is worse because “Jason” is seen as a series of different people and not as the version we really want to see.

I think this is the worst of the series. At least Part V followed the formula, this movie doesn’t want to be “Friday the 13th,” so I cannot recommend it as part of this series.

1 Machete out of 4

 

Jason X (2002)

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It took nearly a decade before Jason would return to the big screen. With Freddy vs. Jason remaining in limbo, New Line decided they wanted another Jason movie. The direction this took is emblematic of the approach New Line took with Jason Goes to Hell, turning the movie into a gimmick. After all, Pinhead and Leprechaun went to outer space, why can’t Jason. To the movies credit, it doesn’t shy away from how ridiculous its premise is. This is definitely the most overtly comic of the series.

I didn’t care for this movie originally, but on rewatches I have come to have a somewhat favorable reaction to this movie. The main problem with this movie is that it does come off as somewhat cheap. Obviously, the budget was restrained, but in previous movies it didn’t matter since they occurred on simple locations. The fact that it is pretty much a sci-fi movie requires a lot of visual effects, and the strain of that low budget can be seen throughout.

The tone of this movie is more campy than the others, but I am fine with it in this case. It is impossible to make a movie about Jason in space and not have it be more of a comedy. This is vastly preferable to me than the dirge that was “Jason Goes to Hell.” The fact that the makers of this movie don’t dislike the series lifts it above the previous entry. This movie, even more than “Jason Lives” takes a humorous look at the cliches of the genre. It is pretty evident in the hologram scene with the retro Crystal Lake, the two female campers, and the sleeping bags, which is the funniest moment in the movie.

Sometimes the movie tries too hard at the comedy. It seems like most of the characters are smart asses, with “witty” dialogue. When every character is like that, it gets pretty annoying. The android character and her relationship with her creator takes up a lot of space, but it left me pretty cold. Since the movie is content to be funny, there’s really no sense of danger since the movie and characters don’t take the threat seriously. I will say that I do like the main character, Rowan, a lot. She grounds the movie since she’s the point of view character, coming into the future for the first time.

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Jason is played here by Kane Hodder for the last time. While his performance is good as ever, I felt the Jason that started the movie is incredibly cheap looking, and I don’t know why that is. I would go so far as to say it is the worst looking Jason. But one thing makes up for it – Uber Jason. When Jason gets upgraded late in the movie, it is so over the top that it becomes really fun. Thankfully they never followed up on this movie, because the little we get of him is ridiculous fun.

I can’t put this movie on a high pedestal, but it is entertaining enough to put it over some of the mediocre entries of the series. I will take goofy fun over dour any day of the week.

2 1/2 Machetes out of 4

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

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The road to “Freddy vs. Jason” was an arduous one. Since New Line Cinema acquired the rights to Jason, the plan was always to get Freddy vs. Jason made. But putting the two horror icons together took a lot of work. There are dozens of failed scripts that point to that fact. Over the years there were so many different approaches and ideas that no one could agree on what script to go forward with. I’m not going to go into details since you can google the various concepts that were considered. I can only say that there was a good reason it took a full 10 years to get this movie to the big screen.

I would classify this as the most fun of the series. The plot is as simple as it can be giving they are bringing two franchises together for the first time. The most important thing is it actually lives up to the title. It takes a while to get there, but I don’t think you can feel ripped off when you get to the final showdown at Crystal Lake.

Going into this movie, you know what you want to get and you’ll take what you get as long as you get what you want at the end. That is to say, there are a lot of “rough patches” to get through before you get to the ending. The acting is not a high point. The main character, Lori, pretty much screams and cries the whole movie, which doesn’t endear her to the audience. The other characters are mainly ciphers, merely existing to lay out exposition and move the plot forward.

Money was put into this movie, and it shows. I think this is easily the best looking movie in the franchise. I give credit to Ronny Yu the director, who gives the movie a kinetic feel, even when it’s merely the characters giving exposition which is a huge amount of the first part of the movie. I also liked the weaving of elements of the previous movies. I liked the use of Westin Hills and Hypnocil from “Dream Warriors” It really does seem like this movie is more of a Nightmare on Elm Street movie featuring Jason, which I have no problem with because in this case, you need more of a plot and that was never Friday the 13th’s strong suit.

Robert Englund is strong as Freddy again, thankfully Freddy is toned down and not as cartoon-y as previous “Nightmare” movies. The issue of Jason in this movie is controversial. When the movie was being made, Kane Hodder was not cast as Jason like pretty much everyone expected to happen. While I would have liked to have seen him as Jason again, I’m not as crushed as others. Jason existed before Kane Hodder, guys. If they replaced Robert Englund, I would be pissed, but it’s a guy with a hockey mask. It was a big guy replaced by another big guy. Not a big deal for me.

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The final fight between Freddy and Jason makes the whole movie worth it. It is really no holds barred and intense. The amount of blood used is ridiculous and really gives the sequence its operatic weight. The movie perfectly establishes Freddy as the smart one and Jason as the bruiser, so the way Jason keeps taking abuse and keep on attacking is perfectly in character. The movie manages to have its cake and eating it too by having Jason “win” and keeping Freddy still alive and kicking in the last shot. Different fans can take whatever they want out of the ending, which is a really smart move.

This is really one of the more entertaining movie in the series.

 

3 1/2 Machetes out of 4

Friday the 13th (2009)

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It seems like Jason tends to jump onto trends as it goes forward. The original was obviously riding the wave of “Halloween” Later movies jumped on the “Nightmare on Elm Street” gimmick bandwagon. At this time, remakes were all the rage. If you can name an old horror movie it was remade at this time. So for the first time since “Jason Takes Manhattan,” Paramount Pictures joins in with New Line Cinema to create this movie.

This movie is seemingly a remake of the original, but in reality it seems to be a combination of the first 3 movies. The slaughter by Jason’s mother is used in the opening credits of the movie. The kids that follow in the first sequence are hunted by a hooded Jason, and the main group of teens are stalked by the hockey mask wearing Jason. I do think this is a good idea, since if it was a true remake of the original, Jason’s mother would be the killer and Jason himself wouldn’t appear, which would piss people off.

I am really conflicted on this movie. There are elements that I really liked, but there are really no characters to latch onto. I think part of the problem is the movies structure. It starts with a story about a group of people looking for pot and being killed by Jason. This would be fine if it was a “Scream” like opening, short and to the point. The problem is that it goes on for 20 minutes. By the time the main cast is introduced, we are a fair amount of way into the movie. The second batch of characters have little time to make an impression and it is a really small group in general. It would have made more sense to combine the two groups. It would make the group bigger and more in line with previous movies, and it would give more time for build up. You could still have some people from the main group sneak off to find the pot, and get killed by Jason.

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One thing I can absolutely reccommend in this movie is Jason. My favorite Jason so far is Kane Hodder, but I can say my second is Derek Mears. He sort of splits the difference between the Jason from Part 2, and the Kane Hodder Jason. He has an intelligence to him like he has been surviving by himself since childhood, combined with the brutality of Hodder’s Jason. This is a Jason you do not want to go up against. Just the idea of Jason moving around underground, guarding his home, with bells going off if people are moving around above, is such a good idea.

In the end, I think this is a mixed bag. It is not a bad movie, but I cannot put it on the top tier of “Friday the 13th” movies either. It has elements that work so I cannot dismiss it, but I am not surprised that it has taken so long for another to get made. This movie did not inspire passion from anyone. It is just there.

2 Machetes out of 4

This series does have a future, as long as audiences go to horror movies. It’s not like the remake was a financial failure. It is just a question of when it will be made. Release dates keep getting announced for the next “Friday the 13th”, which would be the 13th movie in the series. But whenever it gets near time, the realase date is changed to another Friday the 13th. Just a few weeks ago, the release date was changed from Friday, May 13th, 2016 to Friday, January 13th, 2017. Why is it taking so long? It appears they are overthinking it. If they could learn anything from previous movies is, the simpler the better. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that what the audience wants is simply Jason stalking an unsuspecting group of people. Let’s hope they get their act together in time for 2017.

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The End?

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