Nispel, working for Bay's Platinum Dunes, did a so-so job of remaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003, and he fares much better with his take on Jason Voorhees, the woeful drowned boy with mommy issues from Camp Crystal Lake.
One of the reasons this remake feels successful is that the original sucked ass. I've always liked the premise of the Friday the 13th franchise, but I've never been a big fan of its execution by filmmakers. (I did like Freddy Vs. Jason, but that was almost a satire of the two series.)
Nispel and cinematographer Daniel Pearl (who shot the original Texas Chain Saw as well as the remake) are capable of framing scary shots; this film did a good job of making me supremely uncomfortable at times. The mayhem supplies some good jolts, many moments of unease and some solid gore. Hats off to the person who thought up the sequence in which a woman burns in a sleeping bag while suspended over a campfire, as her boyfriend helplessly observes with his leg caught in a bear trap. This pretty much encompasses all of my basic fears of camping out.
The setup for the film is fun, with Jason's backstory and a modern-day slaughter all taking place before the title credit even hits the screen. The rest of the movie involves a sibling of one of the initial victims looking for his missing sister. The missing-sister subplot is nothing but an excuse to get another crop of young, nubile folks into the vicinity of Jason's stomping grounds, where he will most assuredly wield his machete.
Jason is a little more on the athletic side this time out, boasting some agility and climbing skills. He's been a lumbering fool in the past, but now he's quick, enabling him to sneak up on victims and scare the piss out of them (and the audience). Noteworthy kills include an ax-throwing sequence, an arrow through an eye socket and a topless, swimming woman dying in a truly unique way.
I'm not one of those horror-movie fans who cry foul when supposed classics are remade. I enjoyed the new Dawn of the Dead, and I thought the remake of The Hills Have Eyes was much better than the original. I did, however, think the new Halloween was a little weak. There's talk of a Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, with Jackie Earle Haley (Kelly Leak from The Bad News Bears) rumored to be taking over as Freddy Krueger. I say go for it: Freddy, like Jason, has become more of a joke character over the years. It's time to return him to his creepy roots, something Nispel has managed to do quite nicely with Jason.
Now that the series has been restarted, I'd like to cast my vote for a new 3-D Jason movie. Even better, why not remake Jason Takes Manhattan? The original featured Jason spending far too much time on a stupid cruise ship, with a surprising lack of time spent around Manhattan landmarks. I want to see Jason throwing people off the Statue of Liberty, or impaling teenagers on the Empire State Building's antennae!
Friday the 13th will do nothing to change the minds of those who think slasher films are mere garbage, but this film has a good shot at converting both those who adore the original series and horror fans who were never won over by Jason. For those of you who missed the man behind the mask, rejoice: The box-office success of this film on its opening weekend virtually guarantees future installments.