Our second week of terror brings us a special double feature starring the two biggest icons of modern horror: Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. These two characters are almost single handedly responsible for the horror boom in the 80s, churning out movie after movie and dispatching of teenager after teenager in increasingly inventive ways all through the decade. Between the two of them, Krueger and Voorhees have managed to spawn 20 movies, including 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, which saw the two murderous hellspawns face off for the first time.
After the success of Freddy vs. Jason, which managed to gross over 114 million dollars at the box office and reaffirmed both characters’ abilities to do big box office business, a follow-up movie seemed to be the logical next step. There were early talks of adding Michael Myers to the fray, but Dimension, the studio who owns the property, was far more interested in producing a crossover between their own franchises, namely Hellraiser and Halloween. Much like Dimension’s Helloween project, a sequel to Freddy vs. Jason never got off the ground. With Myers unavailable, New Line Cinema attempted to go with their back up plan: Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash. This movie, which would crossover with Sam Raimi’s famous Evil Dead franchise, was formally announced and at least two drafts of a script were written. But, at the end of the day, Sam Raimi’s demands proved to be unworkable. He’d agree to the use of Bruce Campbell’s famous character only if Ash were to kill both Freddy and Jason “for good,” and the movie had to end in a fashion that would lead directly into Evil Dead 4. Ash killing off Freddy and Jason was certainly no problem, as a matter of fact that’s what happens in both drafts of the script that Raimi was presented with. Killing them off for good, though, was an entirely different story. For those interested in seeing how things would have played out, Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash did ultimately happen in comic book form with Jeff Katz’s adaptation based on his original script.
Talk of Freddy vs. Jason 2, featuring only the titular characters, went on for a few years, but, with the remake trend in full effect, it was decided that the most profitable thing to do with the two icons was allow Platinum Dunes, a production company that’s built its reputation on remakes, to reinvent both characters. Previously, Platinum Dunes had already helmed the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher. They’re also currently scheduled to release their remake of Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles in 2014. Having significant ties to movie mogul Michael Bay, PD is known for producing big budgeted updates to horror classics that feature upcoming young talent and trendy soundtracks. They’ve produced a gem here and there, but their Hollywood approach often robs the films of the unique feel that they once possessed as low budget labors of love using practical effects rather than CGI.
Platinum Dunes released their Friday the 13th remake in 2009 and followed it up only a year later with 2010’s Nightmare on Elm Street. Both films feature elements that really work, and both films feature elements that absolutely do not work on any level whatsoever. In other words, they’re a bit of a mixed bag of good and bad.
Friday the 13th was going to be a tricky from the get-go, considering the fact that the original film doesn’t feature Jason Voorhees, the undisputed icon of the franchise, in adult form whatsoever. Jason’s reign of terror doesn’t kick off until the second film, and even then, he’s not quite the Jason that most are familiar with, donning a burlap bag over his head and wearing his best pair of blue overalls in a look that owed more than a little to the 1976 horror classic The Town that Dreaded Sundown. The hulking figure in a hockey mask that most associate with Jason doesn’t appear until the third film in the series. So, Platinum Dunes was left with a bit of difficult situation on their hands. Designed to appeal to the widest audience possible, because after all you’ve got to make back that huge budget somehow, the Friday the 13th remake absolutely had to feature the Jason that the public knows and loves, making the 2009 movie far more of a reboot than a traditional remake.
Jason’s demented mother appears briefly during the film’s opening sequence, a reimagined version of the original film’s climatic beheading, but from there, this movie is all about Jason. He witnesses the murder of his mother, who was out killing counselors because she was positive that her disfigured child had drowned in Crystal Lake, and grows up to be a killing machine in the vein of Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. Not buckled down by source material, this version of Friday the 13th pays numerous tributes to scenes from the original series while telling an entirely new story. The callbacks to the old movies are nicely done, unfortunately it’s the new story that proves to be a bit problematic.
This entry in the series sees Jason opt to kidnap a would-be victim, a young girl named Whitney, for reasons that aren’t made expressly clear. Prior to her encounter with Jason at Camp Crystal Lake, Whitney had stumbled upon a locket belonging to the departed Mrs. Voorhees. Whitney’s friends insist that she bears a huge resemblance to the picture of Mrs. Voorhees contained in the locket, but anyone with the gift of sight can see that this is just plainly untrue. The two look absolutely nothing alike. So, Jason kidnaps Whitney after killing her friends either because he shares the same vision impairment that Whitney’s friends suffered from and believes that she looks exactly like his mother, or because Whitney’s wearing his mother’s locket. Either way, it’s a bizarre plot point. While it does harken back to a pivotal moment in the original series where a character is able to wear one of Pamela Voorhees’ sweaters to momentarily trick Jason into believing that his dear mother has returned to him, that particular incident didn’t result in a kidnapping, nor did the charade last for more than a few seconds.
It’s really difficult to let this rather out of character moment for Jason go since the entire movie’s plot hinges on Whitney’s kidnapping. Forced to live in captivity in tunnels that Jason’s constructed beneath Camp Crystal Lake, Whitney’s older brother comes looking for her. He meets some colorful locals who don’t offer much more than declarations of doom and offers to buy home grown marijuana. He then happens upon a van full of teenagers who have arrived to the tiny burg of Crystal Lake for an alcohol and drug fueled weekend of promiscuity. The partying teens aren’t much help in regards to the whole finding Whitney ordeal, but they do provide a mandatory body count and, as always in these movies, their back and forth banter can occasionally be amusing.
Aside from the aforementioned questionable plot point, there’s not much to complain about with the 2009 Friday the 13th. Had it been released as Friday the 13th Part XI it is quite likely that it would have been embraced by even the most hardened series devotees. It’s a big budgeted, modern day version of a classic series of horror flicks. It doesn’t do anything to elevate itself above anything that came before, but it doesn’t tarnish anything either. Platinum Dunes played it mostly safe in their approach to Jason Voorhees, and the movie was better for it.
Unfortunately, Platinum Dunes didn’t play it safe when it came to Freddy Krueger. Unquestionably the most identifiable thing about the famous Dream Slayer has been his portrayal by the immensely talented Robert Englund. Englund donned Freddy’s red and green sweater eight times in a row, always bringing his A-Game to even the most ludicrous of scripts. A class act all the way around, Englund embraced the success he found as Freddy and is widely known to be extremely receptive to the sizable fanbase that he’s earned. Englund played the role of a one-man hype machine for the ill-fated Freddy vs. Jason 2 for years, and, even after the project was finally shelved, made his desire to eventually return to his iconic role clear. However, reasoning that a new film necessitated a fresh face to cover in burn makeup, Platinum Dunes opted not to bring a willing Englund on-board and, instead, cast Jackie Earle Hayley, fresh off his performance as Rorschach in Zach Snyder’s The Watchmen, as the famed Springwood Slasher.
Englund took the casting news pretty graciously, offering Hayley his blessing and stating his desire to see the character receive a massive overhaul. The fanbase, however, didn’t take kindly to the news that Englund wasn’t involved with the project, which led to an all-out Internet flame war between producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller and thousands of vocal fans armed with keyboards months before the movie even completed production. This was hardly the correct approach for building hype for an upcoming project. As if calling your potential audience a “bunch of whiners” wasn’t enough to give the 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street a bad name before it ever came out, the shooting script would eventually leak onto the ‘net mere weeks before the film’s premiere.
Opting to re-cast Freddy shouldn’t be a death sentence for a remake of Nightmare on Elm Street, however. After all, this is typically the practice when it comes to remakes. Audiences never would have gotten to witness the splendor of Christopher Lee’s Dracula had it been decided that Bela Lugosi was the only man who could ever play the role. Jackie Earle Hayley was certainly an actor more than capable of giving fans an all new version of an already beloved character. Unfortunately, Platinum Dunes opted to have Hayley mimic Englund’s past performances rather than come up with anything fresh.
The reimagined Freddy Krueger receives a slightly updated origin, now he’s envisioned as a child molester whose crimes pushed parents too far, rather than the acquitted child murderer that he was in the original series. This new development is understandable, clearly a product of its time, and it’s certainly a confirmed fact that Wes Craven, Krueger’s creator, initially wanted to depict the character as being a sexual deviant but was forced to modify his vision in the name of “good taste.” Yes, apparently back in 1984 going after kids with a knife glove was an example of good taste.
When his deeds are discovered in the form of unexplained bruises and scratches on the children who attend the pre-school where Krueger works as a janitor, he’s chased down by a vengeful parental mob and burned alive within the confines of a boiler room. Krueger returns as a demonic, hideously burned madman a decade later and menaces the dreams of his former victims.
While the premise is similar to the original movie, Platinum Dunes once again attempts to tell an all new story for modern audience members. In doing so, they make a huge mistake when they decide to focus the film solely on the Elm Street kids and spend almost no time whatsoever with their parents, despite the fact that Nancy’s mother is played by Connie Britton from Season 1 of FX’s American Horror Story. In the 1984 original, Nancy’s mother played a pivotal role, not only as the ringleader of the parents who burned Krueger, but she also houses Krueger’s sadistic glove in her basement. On top of that, she’s portrayed as a major alcoholic, producing vodka bottles out of some rather surprising places as the movie plays on. Yet, in the 2010 film, Nancy’s mother is barely even a character. Such a wasted opportunity, especially considering Britton’s considerable acting chops. In yet another unfortunate move, one very much derivative of more recent supernatural thrillers such as The Ring, much of Nightmare on Elm Street’s plot is devoted to Nancy researching the sad story of Freddy Krueger in a vain attempt to give his spirit some sort of peace before it’s too late. Believing that Krueger was wrongfully accused of his molestation crimes, Nancy reasons that she must reveal the truth in order to bring her nightmare to an end, even as her friends’ bodies begin to pile up around her. Unbeknownst to Nancy, however, is the fact that Krueger is playing her. He is ultimately revealed not to be a victim at all, but rather just a really angry child molester obsessed with reclaiming his favorite little girl: Nancy.
There’s a definite creepiness factor to the Nightmare remake. The story is tinkered with enough to feel fresh, and the decision to portray sleep deprived teens as being susceptible to fall in and out of nightmares was an innovation full of potential and well implemented into the script. At one point in the film, Nancy is walking down the halls of a drugstore that continuously flashes between being a safe local business and a hellish looking boiler room, making for great tension. Sadly, this is the sole fresh idea that this movie brings to the table. Everything else feels very much like a by-the-numbers Nightmare sequel, and even with a slightly original spin on Freddy’s character, Hayley is burdened by a script that allows him little to do aside from quoting popular Robert Englund lines.
So, the final consensus is simple: neither of these two remakes could be considered offensive. Both of them take pains to pay tribute to what came before them, and neither of them make the unfortunate mistakes of Rob Zombie and his Halloween movies. That said, neither of them bring anything new to the table and, considering that neither film is technically a “remake” in the traditional sense of the word, both would have perhaps been better left as sequel entries in their respective franchises. In the case of Jason, the guy behind the hockey mask has never been of too much importance, but with Freddy, Englund’s absence is very much felt. Therefore the 2009 Friday the 13th receives 3.5 out of 5 skulls, while 2010’s Nightmare on Elm Street only goes home with 1 very disappointed skull.