The body count continues, as will other grosses, in “Friday the 13th,” a by-the-numbers remake of the crudely elemental slasher whose ’80s and ’90s sequels made a half-billion-dollar killing for Paramount worldwide. Resurrected by “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” revampers Michael Bay and director Marcus Nispel, hockey-mask-sporting, mother-grieving psycho Jason Voorhees here butchers not one but two batches of nubile young things who unwittingly share his stomping grounds at Camp Crystal Lake, aka Camp Blood. While it won’t scare up “Chainsaw” figures, “13th” will be a lucky number for Warners domestically and somewhat less so for Paramount, relegated to international rollout.
Sick as it sounds, the pic’s word-of-mouth success will pivot on the creativity of the murders — which are aptly repugnant if nowhere near ingenious, particularly not by “Saw” standards. To say the new film is better shot and cut than those barebones gorefests of the Reagan era is to say nothing much, as even series fans would agree, and Nispel’s movie is only marginally clever in its relation to producer-director Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 “original” (itself a rip-off of “Halloween”).
Pic opens in that year, on June 13 (a Tuesday, but whatever), with sweet young Whitney (Amanda Righetti) decapitating Mrs. Voorhees, who had slain camp counselors she believed responsible for the drowning death of her son Jason (Derek Mears) — still alive, as it turns out. Thus, the bulk of the pic (whose title appears more than 20 minutes in) covers the basic territory of 1981’s “Friday the 13th, Part 2,” wherein the deformed Jason takes his own revenge on Mommy’s killer and other sexy college-age kids like her.
These include a half-dozen sex- and pot-loving campers at Crystal Lake and Whitney’s chopper-riding brother Clay (“Supernatural” hunk Jared Padalecki), who goes looking for his sis and eventually finds her, held captive, in Jason’s absurdly elaborate underground tunnel lair.
After several murders on the property, expertly handled with bow and arrow, bear trap, hatchet and machete, Jason gets inside the cabin and goes to work on eliminating the remaining survivors. The killings are not all instantaneous as before, befitting the torture-porn genre in which victims are made to suffer.
As in his “Chainsaw” remake, Nispel’s scare tactics amount to little more than carefully timed cattle-prod shocks, aided by high-volume speaker blasts that were beyond the budgetary reach of the early ’80s films.
Shot in and around Austin, Texas, the pic peaks early with a waterskiing interlude gone bad, as Nispel, along with d.p. Daniel C. Pearl and editor Ken Blackwell, appear psyched to invoke the horror of other franchise pics, namely “Jaws” and its first sequel. Pastiche-laden screenplay by “Freddy vs. Jason” scribes Damian Shannon and Mark Swift includes, of all things, a marijuana-laced homage to Lauren Bacall’s “Put your lips together” line from Howard Hawks’ “To Have and Have Not.” Sadly, “Friday” series in-jokes are few and far between, though roads to future sequels are surely paved.
Aesthetically, Nispel’s “Friday” is slightly stronger than his mediocre “Chainsaw,” if essentially identical. Pearl’s widescreen lensing appears professional but woefully lacking in nuance and detail — which, given the flatness of the first “Friday’s,” may in fact be one of the more faithful elements of the adaptation.
Standouts in the young cast include Danielle Panabaker, who has the fresh-faced appeal of the young Winona Ryder, and Aaron Yoo, who lends much-needed comic flair to the part of a playfully goofy, Cheech-esque stoner.
Harry Manfredini’s original “ch-ch/pa-pa” theme is used here, but sparingly, perhaps in acknowledgment that the murders are telegraphed plenty well enough as is. Steve Jablonsky’s score also is quicker than Manfredini’s, in keeping with the killer’s curiously aerobic agility.