- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

This week’s “Friday the 13th” is the latest update of a classic horror franchise from action master Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes imprint. The trend started in 2003, when Marcus Nispel directed an update of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to mixed reception.

Sure, the remake looked nice, jettisoning the rough-hewn edges and slow-boil tension of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 cult classic in favor of a slicker, faster-paced film. But it was a soulless knockoff, most critics argued, an unnecessary plundering of a classic for a quick buck.

I can’t imagine the same arguments will be raised against Mr. Nispel this time around.

Remember — the original “Friday the 13th” and its first couple of sequels were knockoffs themselves, quickie teen slasher flicks made to leech off the box-office success of “Halloween.” They weren’t terribly inventive movies — an unstoppable killer slaughters teenage campers with precision and efficiency — nor were they all that stylish.

The only thing those movies really brought to the table was Jason, the iconic hockey-masked killer who terrorizes Camp Crystal Lake. And he didn’t even put on that hockey mask until the third film in the series.

This week’s release isn’t so much a remake of “Friday the 13th” as it is a re-imagination and combination of the first three films in the series into one 97-minute thrill ride. Every major plot point from the original trilogy is followed: Jason’s mother is shown to be the original killer at Crystal Lake; Jason is seen wielding a machete and hiding his face with a bag; he soon finds a hockey mask and goes on his merry, rampaging way.

The plot is minimal: Clay (Jared Padalecki) is looking for his sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti). Whitney and her friends had the misfortune of running into Jason while camping near Crystal Lake, so one can assume that Clay’s little jaunt isn’t going to end well even before he runs into a group of college students making their way to a house located on — you guessed it — Crystal Lake.

The kids are all keen on breaking the rules laid out for us so nicely in “Scream”; there’s no shortage of drugs, sex or stupidity amongst this group. But staying on your best behavior is no guarantee of surviving this tango with Jason Voorhees, either.

“Friday the 13th” isn’t great cinema by any means, and you probably know better than I whether you’ll enjoy the movie. It’s a thoroughly predictable, relatively fun time at the theater, especially if you enjoy being around an audience prone to nervous giggles after gruesome decapitations.

The only difference between this and previous incarnations of the franchise is that it looks better. Say what you will about Mr. Nispel, but he knows how to make a glossy horror movie. Sure, purists once again will bemoan the imposition of the quick-cutting music-video aesthetic on a classic horror film, but let’s get real: The rough qualities of the original “Friday the 13th” weren’t lovingly crafted for their contribution to the mise-en-scene.

★★

TITLE: “Friday the 13th”

RATING: R (Strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, language and drug material)

CREDITS: Directed by Marcus Nispel

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

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