Thursday, March 5, 2009

Deconstructing Jasey

Marcus Spells it Out for Cunningham

            Alas it is upon us, a Friday the 13th film that can actually compete amongst the profoundly grotesque slashers of both Craven and Carpenter...except 30 years late.  (Though after recently watching Craven’s Shocker I feel he is more in conjunction with Rage Against the Machine's music – a few great songs amidst a series of mind-numbingly boring compositions).  Needless to say, Cunningham’s original series never lived up to his peer’s high level of horror expertise and technique.  Films two and three are simply remakes of the first, with Part III being the best of the trilogy – a rare yet somewhat honorable achievement.

            His problem was the characters, or lack thereof.  Absent was the Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson or Sydney Prescott.  I believe the slasher formula indirectly demands a continuation of the lead female character, and Alice (not even possessing a last name in the first movie) is of minimal substance.  This is not to glorify Halloween, Nightmare or Scream’s writing as being the be all end of all of horror, but that Friday the 13th is simply a script that should have been reserved for dollar store video bins or a Walmart 2-for-1 special that shares a box with the third prequel of a Van Damme series. If Paramount took half the time on developing the script as it did on the amazing poster, the movie could have been good. 

            I am not trying to preach that the remake is meant for the horror hall of fame, but if you take the influx of slasher remakes from the 70/80’s that have been completed thus far - Halloween, Prom Night, Black Christmas, The Hills Have Eyes, When a Stranger Calls, House of Wax, The Hills Have Eyes 2, My Bloody Valentine, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - this one stands its ground.  Only the Hills Have Eyes remake is even close.

            First off, the movie isn’t really a remake at all.  It seems to be caught in some sort of space-time continuum between Part 1 (1980) and Part 7 (1987).  For the sake of argument, lets say its Part 3.5, which means its taking place in 1984 and therefore ignore the inclusion of an escalade, GPS, cell phones and IPOD. 

            This is the first horror movie I have seen in the modern day “slasher” genre that has not fallen victim into gorno conventions.  I recently watched TCM The Beginning and what I once thought was a good addition to the series regressed into appalling territory due to its avoidance of slasher themes in favor of torture porn methods.  Thus, although the intro scene for Friday the 13th (remake) teased the audience with Saw-esque obstacles, the “6 week later” transition left them for dead.  I dare even say that Marcus Nispel did this on purpose, a little bit of satire about the reluctantly welcomed sub-genre of gorno.  

            Next up the characters.  The black guy in the movie blatantly and humorously calls attention to his past role in horror films as the “black guy.”  When a girl insinuates that the record label he wants to start is rap he backfires with a critique of her racial stereotyping.  He is not the smooth talking black man who gets all of the girls and yet remains ignorant to the situation.  In fact, he’s a dorky guy who wants to start a record label and tries masturbating to a JC Penny catalogue.  His friend is an Asian who is perhaps the funniest person in any slasher film yet and makes Jamie Kennedy from Scream look like Joshua Jackson from Cursed.  

            Thirdly, the film gets back to what made the 80’s films so good in the social sense.  It’s a movie involving tits, weed and horror.  Without delving into theories as to why these things are common I will just ask what do the majority of college kids want?  I don’t care if you read J.D. Salinger while on your way to buy the latest purple hoodie from American Apparel or if you’re doing a limp bizkit onto a cookie for your latest pledge activity at Kappa Delta , kids want drugs and sex.  Lately there hasn’t been too much inclusion of these elements (with the exception of Nispel’s TCM remake).  It was like enjoying Beautiful Day by U2 after listening to Pantera for three years; felt good to go back to these sub-plots.

          Finally, the lead female character - Whitney Miller - completely deters from previous horror characterizations. There is no indication she is a virgin, rare hints of any conservative agenda and perhaps most interesting, is not the dominant protagonist.  

After thinking about the film for the past few days I'm more inclined to say its a very subtle deconstruction of the slasher sub-genre.  Pay close attention to the formula and how it detracts from the common approach as seen in Halloween, Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street.  Pay close attention to the usual technical approaches - the POV of the killer, the POV of the friend, how the frat boy gets killed - and how they all play with the audience.  For a slasher film this one definitely holds its ground.

Now obviously there are large ingredients of this movie that fall victim to previous conventions and from the initial viewing it seems like nothing new.  But try to keep in mind a few things: this is the twelfth addition to a series that has mostly sucked. My advice is to approach this movie with an attitude that there has never been a prior Friday the 13th.  I would also advise to think of it as a satire of the slasher genre.  If you do, I assure you a pretty decent bang for your buck.

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