I’ve Got a Fever… And the Only Prescription Is More Lens Flare
A remake creates a conundrum for a filmmaker, especially with such an intentionally repetitive genre as the slasher film. The charm of the cheapies made in the 80’s is in the sloppiness and DIY effects, 30 year old teenagers, totally gratuitous nudity, and the simplicity and lack of pretension in the whole enterprise. Given a reasonable budget, but forced to stick to the formula as much as possible so as not to alienate the fanbase, made trickier by the source material being a pretty dull and lousy movie, what should a director do?
Director Marcus Nispel, who made the grim and unpleasant, but well produced (if unscary) remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the snow and slow motion Viking fest of Pathfinder, doesn’t seem to have come up with a solution to this problem with his remake of Friday the 13th. He gives us the ancient teenagers, the ample nudity, the graphic deaths, the obnoxious characters who you hope get murdered soon, the adherence to the rule of those who sin with drinks (rich snobs drinking Budweiser?), drugs (the search for the legendary pot in the woods!) or fornication (some very strange combinations of relationships that are more about script convenience than logic) will find their peril quite quickly through the hands of our moralistic, anonymous monster. There’s even two extensions of that idea, one of which is with the girls who bare their breasts who are killed off in the order of worst (implants) to best (the last one has natural abundance). The other is that following the prologue (which gives us a recap of the original in only 10 minutes), the characters are killed off from blonde to least blonde, apparently assuming that people must be punished for their use of hair dye.
That’s a heap of formula and subtext to contend with, and Nispel’s response to the task is complete avoidance as he finds ways to distract himself with constant lens flares, characters pointing flashlights at the camera, car headlights, etc., and a strange tactic of one out of every four of five shots being out of focus. There doesn’t seem to be a stylistic reason for these shots, but they suggest that Nispel took the camera and went off into the woods to shoot random things, all the while; someone else was making a slasher movie right behind him. This would explain why the kills aren’t integrated with the actual actors, and so we don’t really feel any of the impact. Every death looks like 2nd unit footage, as if Nispel felt the details were unimportant and he should go back to making his avant-garde nature film. And while most of the murders aren’t particularly creative, even the ones with some juicy, gruesome close-ups (such as the through-the-dock-and-the-top -of-the-head spearing), are phony-looking and have the air of someone sticking Jason’s machete through a Styrofoam head, or God forbid, completely done with CGI.
This is all sort of stunning, because the requirements and expectations in making a slasher film are very low, and the quality of the filmmaking can be as half-assed as you want, the acting dire, the dialogue dreadful. But you have to get the kills right. They need to be brutal, vicious and elaborate, not the wrestling matches and typical throat slashings we get. Did the MPAA strip the fun out of the movie? Could be, but perhaps there was something even more cynical at work (and that’s saying something considering this is a from a studio, Platinum Dunes, that specializes in remaking horror films and removing the subtext, not to mention that these movies are all produced by Michael Bay). Shortly before the film’s theatrical release, producer Brad Fuller revealed that the DVD/Blu-ray of Friday the 13th, would “have a different cut of movie, that not only has more violence and sex, but it has an additional storyline that is totally different from the movie you will see in theaters. It’s not like we just cut a few things differently, the DVD version will feel like a different movie.”
Maybe that was the movie Nispel was actually making?
P.S. While most of the characters die quick deaths, one of them gets thrown head-first through what looks like fifty different bus windows and yet appears to have just a few scratches. Maybe he’s just made out of Jason?