Happy Friday the 13th everyone! We are lucky enough to get three of these glorious days in 2015, and this is the third and final one. After all of the feedback from our Halloween Vs. Halloween post a few weeks ago, we thought we would pit two of the franchise greats against each other and take a look back at the original 1980 Friday the 13th and its 2009 remake. For an alternate perspective on this debate, check out check out episode 49 of our Double Murder podcast with Danny and Tim right here.
***MAJOR SPOILERS for both films to follow***
Original: Friday the 13th doesn’t exactly have a unique directing style. Sean S. Cunningham’s direction is very straightforward, but the POV shots of the killer are nice. There aren’t any special camera tricks or cool shots in the film, but Friday the 13th doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t Made on a budget of $550,000, the money went straight to the gore effects (more on that later). It was also the first movie of its kind to secure distribution in the USA by a major studio, Paramount Pictures.
Cunningham directs the POV shots with aplomb, but what I love about what he does is that there are moments when you think you are in Mrs. Voorhees’ point of view, only to realize you are not. It’s a nice little trick that Cunningham pulls and it’s quite effective.
He also uses shadows effectively, specifically with the axe in Marcie’s death scene and Mrs. Voorhees’ shadow in her final confrontation with Alice. It’s not masterful by any means, but it’s a cool technique. It is interesting to note that Friday the 13th feels different than all of the films that feature Jason (so….all of the sequels). It doesn’t really matter in relation to this post, since I’m discussing the movie on its own merits, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I think the fact that it wasn’t intended to be a franchise-starter helps the viewing experience. Still, the fact remains that the original Friday the 13th is a very plainly shot film. There’s absolutely nothing special about it. There’s a reason you don’t hear Sean S. Cunningham’s name mentioned along with the likes of John Carpenter and Wes Craven.
The remake, on the other hand, has a very stylish look to it. Marcus Nispel is no stranger to stylized shoots. After directing a ton of music videos in the 90s, he was hired to direct the remake of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 2003. That film was a very pretty gritty film (and arguably the best of the horror remakes of the 2000s), but Nispel didn’t bring that same sense of grittiness to Friday the 13th, which is disappointing. Rather than make a dark, scary film, Nispel spends most of the middle chunk of the film in the daylight, which is par for the course in a Friday the 13th film. As weird as it may sound, it feels light-hearted. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different.
The best way to describe the remake is “slick.” That isn’t exactly the first thing you think of when it comes to Friday the 13th, but it is what it is. The film certainly looks great, and while it doesn’t have Cunningham’s POV shots, it is a much better-made film.
I may get a lot of shit for this, but between Sean S. Cunningham and Marcus Nispel, the latter is the better director. He’s no auteur, but he produced a solidly directed film.
Winner: Friday the 13th (2009)
The acting in the original Friday the 13th isn’t going to win any Oscars. It’s not awful by any means, but a lot of it does come off as stilted. One good thing about the group of kids is that they all actually feel like real people. This is probably because of the fact that most of them knew each other before filming, so they were all friends in real life.
One thing that always bothered me about the Friday franchise is that characters like to talk to themselves a lot to tell the audience what they are thinking. This never comes across as authentic and feels forced. Robby Morgan runs into this problem a lot as Annie, as we never get to see her interact with any of the other campers. She’s just walking around talking to herself, and it’s silly.
Weirdly enough, one of the best acting scenes in the film is when Alice finds a snake in the cabin and everyone comes in to help her kill it. It’s a small, barely memorable scene, but it feels real and the actors sell it.
Other than that, it’s just standard slasher acting, and it’s not very impressive. Even Kevin Bacon, in his minimal role, doesn’t make much of an impression. Betsy Palmer of course, is the saving grace of the film, but more on her in a moment.
The script for the original Friday the 13th is rather generic, and the film drags for quite a bit in its middle section until it’s ending. One thing that doesn’t make a lot of sense is why Mrs. Voorhees doesn’t kill Alice immediately upon finding her. Of course, it’s to provide the audience some exposition, but it still doesn’t make any sense.
The overall plot is fairly simple, and if you’re reading this I’m sure many of you know it already. I can’t really fault the script for its simplicity since it came out in 1980, but there were many better slashers (and other sub-genres of horror films) that were much, much better. The fact is that Friday the 13th was made to capitalize on the craze of slashers started by Halloween in 1978, and it is a pale imitation of that film (just with more gore). It was the Urban Legend/Valentine/I Know What You Did Last Summer to Halloween’s Scream.
As for the characters themselves, Marcie makes the biggest impression, and Alice is kind of a dopey Final Girl (more on her later). I actually wouldn’t have minded if Annie had been the Final Girl, but Victor Miller wanted to go the Psycho route and kill the most relatable character first. Alice is a dope, but more on her later. All of the men are just fodder for Mrs. Vorhees, but Steve Christy is written as a total pervert. That may not be good, but it helps him stand out from the rest of the cast.
Friday the 13th may seem generic now, but it’s only because it helped create the clichés we all know and love (hate?). It’s difficult to criticize its script knowing it pioneered many horror trends, but even in the 80s, it was considered poorly written.
Say what you will about the characters in the remake. They’re all pretty awful, save for Clay, Whitney (who is BORING) and Jenna, but all of the actors play their respective roles very well. With a higher budget, New Line Cinema was able to afford better actors, and in that respect, the remake has the original beat. Aaron Yoo is the standout in the film. He elevates Chewie the stoner above mere comic relief. Travis Van Winkle plays the perfect asshole as well. Damian Shannon and Mark Swifts script goes out of its way to make him the bad guy, and Van Winkle just rolls with it. He is given some of the most ridiculous lines (“You got perfect nipple placement, baby”), yet he somehow pulls it off. There is never a funnier moment in the film than when he screams like a little girl when Bree’s corpse is dropped on his car.
Let’s talk about the plot. First, the film is more a reimagining of Parts 2-4 of the original franchise, paying homage to certain moments while working with a new story. Condensing the entire original film into a 2-minute opening credits sequence doesn’t really work in the film’s favor. Mrs. Voorhees’ dialogue is overly expository and feels contrived.
Jason keeping Whitney hostage for six weeks because she bears a small resemblance to his mother is a little difficult to swallow, but it’s forgivable since this is a new Jason, and not the one from the old franchise.
There is no debate that the acting is better in the remake. The script is a different story. You can argue that the original was a good script for its time, but that it hasn’t aged well. I don’t buy it. The remake’s script isn’t much better, but it is a nice homage to the films in the franchise that came before it.
Winner: Friday the 13th (2009)
The score to the original Friday the 13th is iconic. The “ki ki ki ma ma ma” (which many people confuse to be “ch ch ch ah ah ah”) is a brilliant use of minimalism. It brings to mind the score of Jaws and like that film, it is beautiful in its simplicity. That sound effect is so memorable that many people seem to forget that there is actual score in the film (I know, it’s hard to believe). Sting instruments make up the majority of the score, which makes it quite effective.
Realizing that the original “ki ki ki ma ma ma” was too important to not use, the creators of the remake decided to sample it all over the remake. Many people don’t remember though, that in addition to its soundtrack, it actually had a pretty intense-sounding score. The most memorable piece of which comes from the best part of the film: the opening 25-minute scene. The only downside to this score is that it really doesn’t really do anything to differentiate itself from any other horror movie scores. It sounds great, to be sure, but it also sounds a little too familiar.
While the remake does have a pretty great score (which YouTube user Fiendish MrFresquis has graciously made into one playlist since the score is not available for purchase), it just has a lot going on and doesn’t do a lot to make it stand out. If you were to hear one of the tracks randomly, you would not be able to place it in the film, whereas if you hear any sample of music from the original, you would immediately be able to recognize it as Friday the 13th.
Winner: Friday the 13th (1980)
Original: Does anyone find the original Friday the 13th that scary? It’s fun, sure, but not particularly scary. This may be a side effect of age, as what may have been scary in 1980 just isn’t scary in 2015.
The film chooses not to show the killer for the majority of the film, with Betsy Palmer only showing up for the last 15 minutes. Still, she gives a chilling performance that does send shivers up the spine (more on that in a bit). While the film isn’t particularly scary, it does have a few good jumpscares, with the final bit with Jason jumping out of the water being a literal jump-out-of-your-seat moment.
Jack’s death is also a great jump scare, with Mrs. Voorhees’ hand (or whichever stuntman’s hand it was) coming out from under the bed to hold him down while an arrow punctures his throat. Still, the fact that this is just a Halloween rehash is never more apparent than when Alice finds the bodies of Annie and Steve, with Annie sitting in the car just like Linda lying in the closet. Then as Alice runs away Steve’s body falls on her (rather improbably) while hanging from a tree is a little too similar to Bob’s body dropping in on Laurie (also improbably) in the doorway.
The entire climax of the film, with Mrs. Voorhees stalking Alice, is highly entertaining, but again it’s not very scary. Though Alice hiding in the pantry is a great suspenseful moment.
The remake peaks early. While not overtly terrifying, the opening sequence is a masterclass in Friday the 13th. What it lacks in scares though, it makes up for in intensity. Would that that intensity have crossed over into the remaining 80 minutes of the film. Friday the 13th does a fairly good job at avoiding jump scares, but it also does a pretty good job at avoiding scares in general. There is some suspense peppered throughout the film, but overall the film sort of has you rooting for Jason. It’s impossible for a film to be scary if you are rooting for its villain. While many people may lament Jason’s intelligence in the remake, it does make him a scarier and more formidable foe.
The remake does have a decent amount of suspense. While the majority of it is relegated to that opening sequence, Chelsea’s under-the-dock death and Clay and Jenna hiding under the pile of canoes are pretty edge-of-your-seat. The humor dilutes the suspense just a bit though, with a prime example being Whitney being captured (again) in the background while Trey and Bree are orgasming during their rather graphic sex scene (the aforementioned “You got perfect nipple placement, baby” scene).
Truth be told, I don’t find either film to be very scary, but if I had to declare one the winner it would have to be the remake. It has a bit more suspense than the original. And despite that fantastic final scare in the original, it doesn’t make the rest of the film any scarier.
Winner: Friday the 13th (2009)
Half of the kills in the original Friday the 13th happen off-screen. This is surprising, considering it’s known for being a gory film. The deaths that are shown are quite bloody, and Tom Savini’s effects work is top notch. From Jack’s arrow in the throat to Marcie’s axe in the face and the decapitation of Mrs. Voorhees, Friday the 13th has a few standout gore moments.
Surprisingly, the remake is not that gory. I’m not sure what the filmmakers were thinking when they chose to remake Friday the 13th (which is essentially a remake of chunks of different films in the franchise), but many of the deaths in the film are pretty tame. That is not a good thing to say when you have 14 deaths in the film.
One odd thing about the remake is that the first kill is off-screen. I’m not saying we need to see all of the deaths or that more gore would make the movie better, but since we’re in the gore category the comments must be made. The best death is probably Chelsea’s machete-in-the-head, but even that isn’t very inventive. Jason’s weapons in the film include a machete, a bow and arrow, a screwdriver, an antler and a fireplace poker. That is a lot of items that Jason does the same thing with: stab people. The whole film is a missed opportunity in the gore department.
Winner: Friday the 13th (1980)
In the words of Randy Meeks: Mrs. Voorhees was a terrific killer. I’ve always wondered how effectively her identity as the killer was kept back in 1980 (though if you had read Gene Siskel’s scathing review of the film, you were sadly spoiled), because it really is a great reveal.
To top it all off, she is scary too. While the film as a whole isn’t very scary, she gives off this wholesome and somewhat relatable vibe so that when she really lets loose it is sort of creepy. She also gets his great moment when she’s chopping through the pantry door with a machete and she looks through the opening she has just made. Had she said something witty at this moment, it could have been as famous as Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny” line in The Shining, which was released just two weeks later.
Betsy Palmer grounds Mrs. Voorhees and, in what could have been a campy, over-the-top performance from another actress, is given a sense of realism. She is one of the great villains of the horror genre for a reason: she gives a fantastic performance and humanizes what was probably written as a two-dimensional villain. RIP Betsy Palmer
For the 2009 version, people tend to focus far too much on Jason’s tunnel system and the fact that he runs (he runs in parts 2-4, by the way). None of those things are bad but many fans of the franchise can’t seem to get over them. It’s a new interpretation of the character and for the most part, it works.
And though this reimagined Jason is a force to be reckoned with, he still lives in the shadow of the original. While he may run and have a tunnel system and use people as bait, he doesn’t do much to stand out from the other Jasons that came before him. There isn’t much more to be said about Jason in the remake, because there’s just not much to him. Mrs. Voorhees is a complex character, while Jason is just an intimidating (and smart) giant.
Winner: Friday the 13th (1980)
While this may not be the popular opinion, Alice is kind of a dumb Final Girl. Just look at her reaction to finding a bloody axe in one of the beds at camp:
Alice is also in the background for the majority of the film, which is true of most of the Final Girls in the franchise, but she’s just a little boring. She sits around acting scare for much of the time, but she does know how to put up a fight. Her beach brawl with Mrs. Voorhees is highly entertaining. She proves to be fairly resourceful as well, using things like rope to tie doors shut (this is sarcasm). She will always be remembered as the girl who decapitated Mrs. Voorhees, but she just doesn’t do much else in the film. And you know what? She dies in the first scene of the sequel anyway.
None of this is to say Whitney is a better final girl in the remake. In fact, I think most people would have been fine if she had just been killed in the opening scene and all of that kidnapping nonsense didn’t happen. She is an incredibly boring character with no presence whatsoever. The film tries to pull a bait-and-switch with Jenna as a potential Final Girl, but honestly, you can see her death coming a mile away. As much as I hate to see Danielle Panabaker die, she was never going to make it out alive as long as Whitney was alive.
The true Final Girl in the remake is Clay, and Jared Padalecki is actually not that bad in the role. In fact, he is pretty good. He’s a nice guy just looking for his sister, and when shit goes down he gets things done. Also, he’s just a nice guy in a sea of asshole characters.
Alice is always going to be remembered as a great Final Girl because of her role as the first one in the Friday the 13th franchise, but she’s really not that great. If we’re judging solely based on their skills at survival, Clay has her beat.
Winner: Friday the 13th (2009)
Friday the 13th (1980): 3
Friday the 13th (2009): 4
WINNER: Friday the 13th (2009)
The original Friday the 13th is an important movie to the horror genre and has earned its place in history as a seminal slasher film, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is cheaply made and a total ripoff of a much better film. It has its moments, but taken on its own and not viewed as a franchise-starter to one of the greatest slasher series ever made, it’s really not that good. It’s a bold statement, but I stand by it. The remake, by comparison, is the better film. It’s not perfect, but it is competently made, with a solid cast and it is strongly directed. I may burn in Hell for saying this, but the remake is a better film from a technical standpoint, just not a creative one. It may not go down in history for being the slasher film of the 2000s, or even be brought up in film discussion like the original has, but it’s still the better film.