12 February 2009

Welcome back, slashers

Jason Voorhees, everyone’s favorite machete-wielding, teenager-killing, masked madman, is back. And he’s joining other familiar faces—Leatherface, Michael Myers—at the slasher movie revival party.

Friday the 13th, a re-imagining of the 1980 film that introduced moviegoers to Camp Crystal Lake, hits theaters today, the latest in a long line of what Roger Ebert derisively refers to as “Dead Teenager Movies.”

The filmmakers, however, have deep affection for their source material.

“The greatest thing about the films was the experience of sitting in a theater with other people and being scared out of my mind,” producer Brad Fuller said of the previous Friday the 13th movies. “I went to a summer camp in Maine and one of the big reasons most people get so scared watching the films is because so many of us have had a summer camp experience or have gone camping.”

This new Friday the 13th comes at a time when My Bloody Valentine 3D has raked in $55.6 million and counting at the box office. Remakes of Halloween ($78.3 million), The Hills Have Eyes ($41.8 million), Prom Night ($43.8 million) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ($107 million) also scored big in recent years.

Though all slasher roads ultimately lead to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), it was the success of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and, even more so, Halloween in the 1970s that led to the slasher heyday of the ’80s. So many over-sexed teens were dying in so many creative—and often cartoonish—ways that it became hard to keep track of who was killing who.

The movies wore themselves out by the early ’90s and appeared all but dead after their thorough deconstruction by Scream (1996) and its sequels.

But the slashers were something the Saw franchise and its many imitators in the so-called “torture porn” subgenre are most definitely not—fun.

Slasher movies aren’t intended to be truly scary; they’re more like funhouses, with occasional boo! moments you can laugh about afterward. We all know the killer—not his victims—is the protagonist of the slasher movie. Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, the writers of the new Friday the 13th and Freddy Vs. Jason (2003), took that attitude to their work.

“They would never refer to Jason as the monster or villain. He is the anti-hero,” said director Marcus Nispel, who also helmed the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (Platinum Dunes, the production company formed by Fuller, director Michael Bay and Andrew Form, has been behind these and other recent horror remakes.)

And so, with Leatherface and Michael Myers adding to their body counts, it was only a matter of time before the most prolific slasher of them all, Jason Voorhees (appearing in his 12th film), came back to spill some more blood (actually, a lot more blood).

Stuntman Derek Mears is the man behind the mask, and the cast also features Jared Padalecki from TV’s Supernatural, but the real stars are the kills.

“We knew when we took this on that the deaths were one of the most important aspects of the film,” Form said. “The one thing we didn’t realize was just how many deaths there are in a Friday the 13th film. Each death has to feel different and unique. You can’t just kill everybody with a machete because that gets really old and boring. Luckily, Damian Shannon and Mark Swift came up with some really clever deaths that audiences will go home talking about.”

Another Halloween sequel on the way this year, a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street due next year and a likely slew of others trying to cash in on this revival should keep slasher fans talking for the foreseeable future.

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