Thirty-four years ago, on 9 May to be exact, the world of horror changed forever. While movies like John Carpenter’s Halloween and, before that, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left offered up expert examples of creative, crowd-pleasing terror, the murderous misadventures of some teen counselors at a certain Camp Crystal Lake ushered in a new kind of fear. Tagged the “slasher” film by the media, Friday the 13th became a benchmark for dozens of made-on-the-cheap creepshows. Even with its flat format and uninvolving narrative, its inventive kills (‘executed’ by none other than F/X magician Tom Savini) became synonymous with ‘80s horror. As it went on to spawn ten sequels, a TV show, a sensational 2009 reboot, and a legion of fans, the story of Mama Voorhees and her deformed son Jason became the stuff of macabre myth, with devotees deconstructing it over and over again.
Now it’s been announced that producers, unhappy with what Marcus Nispel did with the aforementioned remake, are looking to take the franchise in a new, and at least in their mind, novel direction. Internet sites have been reporting that the next Friday the 13th will be another reimagining, with the found footage artistic approach the way in which this installment stands out among the rest. Granted, it would be a different way of seeing Jason and his trusty, musty hockey mask, but the proposed story, which sees camera crews returning to Crystal Lake to solve the mystery of its many murders once and for all (or so says the rumors) argues against everything the series stands for. Put another way, no one cares if Jason is real or not. Instead, the Friday the 13th franchise has been built almost exclusively on blood splatter and gore, not some other kind of filmmaking gimmickry.
For most of us, the first person POV found footage ideal began and ended with The Blair Witch Project. The whole “is it true?” aspect of that indie phenomenon helped push the otherwise mediocre moviemaking and obnoxious performances into the realm of actual effectiveness. Once that concept was spent, however, the resulting 90 minutes were nothing more than shaky-cam crap and long stretches of same. As other efforts jumped on the bandwagon, we got some wonderful expansions on the style ([REC], Cloverfield) and barely passable pieces of junk (Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism). In 2014, the idea has come and gone, overstayed its welcome, and yet individuals eager to find something different to do with their property fall back on its over and over again. Heck, even Halloween hit an eventual wall and went FF on fans for the Busta Rhymes ridiculousness of Resurrection.
Now they want to do the same thing to Jason, and to be fair, it’s not him we’re worried about. No, the idea that a bunch of people, fed up with hearing innuendo and rumor about a killer on the loose, would seek out said suspect and film the events as they happened makes a lot of logical sense. Having a record of your activity would help the police (and the typical throng of non-believers) understand that you’re not nuts for believing in a machete wielding maniac. But here’s the rub again, the Friday the 13th films are not about Jason “existing”. Instead, they are about Jason executing. It’s the murders, not the meaning of what this serial psycho is doing, that compels us. We want to see hatchets in heads and spears through nether regions. We don’t need validation. We want vivisection.
Let’s face it, these films aren’t scary. They work via established beats and long determined tropes. We get a group of unknowing victims, allow them to romp around in amoral bliss, and then wait until a masked man shows up, oddball device in hand, to open a vein or three. The autopsy level F/X from Savini are what set the Friday films apart from their far less effective brethren in the first place. It was his attention to detail, the gruesomeness and realism of the result, that created many of the films’ fans. When he left the series (and when the MPAA stepped in and stopped allowing gallons of blood to be sprayed across the screen), Jason and his hijinx became more and more hokey. By the time Nispel stepped in to reestablish the brutality, Mr. Voorhees was a joke, not a genuine threat.
So how will turning the story into something NOT about the murders be a good idea? After all, we don’t care about the various hook-ups and debauchery going on amongst the victim fodder. We simply recognize them as the cliches mandated before our hulking anti-hero goes on another spree. Besides, if we are using the found footage idea, how will we “see” the kills. For example, let’s say the new movie finds two friends, separated from the pack, out in the middle of the woods alone. It’s dark, and all we can see is the small illuminated circle coming from some handheld camera (or worse, the green-tinged night vision on a GoPro headset). There’s a noise and our characters panic. Camera swings around violently. Another footstep or twig crackle and, soon, they are scampering, lens looping from point to point in nausea-inducing randomness. Then Jason appears, weapon in hand. Slice. Cut. Run (maybe).
What? No lingering moment where we see blade set in skin? No celebrated murder money shot where the wound opens and seeps? Rationality dictates that whosever filming this footage will have to stand by for a moment or two to achieve what formerly was the Friday the 13th film’s main purpose, and that makes no sense whatsoever. If you were witnessing a friend’s slaughter, would you merely stand back and gawk as gore flows everywhere? Seems like, the first move after seeing a machete would be to run like Hell and let your buddy/lover/girlfriend/sister/spouse/brother/bestie commune with the afterlife in the safety of a hiding place many meters away. The only problem with this is the payoff, or lack thereof. To argue that fans love the franchise for its random jump scares is ridiculous. We want to see the slaughter, not watch it via constantly giggling imagery.
It’s the same thing that happened to the action film. Once, director’s prided themselves of carefully storyboarding their stunt sequences, maximizing both the thrills and the suspense by expert camera position, brilliant choreography, and the proficiently edited combining of both. Now, while the coordinators are busy blowing stuff up, a cameraman is running around like a scared casualty eliminating everything recognizable or artistic in the process. Sure, Paul Greengrass can make this work because his entire aesthetic is born out of a “you are there” approach. But for something like Friday the 13th, this idea is all wrong. Instead of wasting time with such gimmickry, the producers should plan something a bit more provocative. The series may need a shot in the arm. Going found footage just won’t work.