Ah, movie franchises! The assured theatrical comfort food for the masses. And audiences eat them up accordingly. A franchise movie series brings along a comfy and familiar concept. If the formula for the follow-up sticks relatively close to the series predecessors, the worst the audience would say is “Well, that wasn’t too bad, right?” Oddly enough, to make the parallel complete, this is the exact same phrase one usually says after eating a Whopper. Sure, you know what you’re getting but there is also the possibility you will regret making that choice. However, you accept what is being served because you entered what kind of restaurant? A franchise one!
You’d think that another sequel for a successful movie franchise should be an easy proposal, after all, studios butter their bread with them. They will greenlight a follow-up before the first movie is even done with opening weekend. And why not? This should be an easy money-making decision to make in most cases. Think about it. Did anyone truly think that a sequel to the original Star Wars was taking a big chance? Was there great trepidation with okaying a follow-up to Raiders of the Lost Ark? Were studio heads in a genuine panic about putting the rubber stamp of approval on yet another Police Academy? I say thee nay! (Although in Police Academy’s case, they could have put the brakes on after having three or so of these entries under their gunbelts already.)
Some formulas seem quite simple to reproduce. Just go ahead and up the ante a little bit. “Hmmm…we’ve already had killer great white sharks in Jaws and Jaws 2. I’ve got it! Let’s have another killer great white shark in this sequel. But this time…let’s do it in 3-D!” There was only one alien in Alien? Well, get a shiteload more for Aliens then! Look at the escalating scenarios with each successive situation they stuck John McClane in with the Die Hards. First there’s one building, then an airport, then buildings in New York, then all of Washington DC, and then all of Russia. The next one should involve all of Australia and call it G’Day to Die Hard. (No, you’re welcome!)
With horror movies it was the same way. 1931’s Frankenstein just had the one creature and one scientist, so in the sequel, they added another creature and another scientist. The Universal horror movies of the 1940s just jammed every single monster they had in one big stew. Abbott & Costello Meet the Wolfman’s Sister and Dracula’s Son-In-Law While Fighting the Mummy’s Accountant and Invisible Man’s Third Cousin, Twice Removed comes to mind as a smidge overblown.
More modern slasher movies also went big by upping the body count. This got to the point where only having ten victims was considered a rather tame and family friendly exercise, resulting in a G rating. To go along with the times, at one point I think Michael Myers killed around 73 people before the 20-minute mark in one Halloween entry.
So why am I writing this other than to generally irritate and annoy you? What is indeed the point? I am a tortured fan of the Friday the 13th series and any current plans to reboot/restart/reintroduce the franchise have been wallowing in development hell for years now. As an unabashed devotee of the series, I was completely floored that of all the franchises in all the world, this is the one that is problematic to start up again? Really? Apparently, having a dude in hockey mask slicing and dicing nubile teens is an earthshattering concept that is just too elusive for a studio.
Of course, there have been legal hurdles and wrangling with original Friday the 13th screenwriter, Victor Miller, over who has the rights to do another Friday the 13th movie. This led to issues with who can use the character of Jason Voorhees, who should get paid what, what are the legal ramifications, obligations, and residuals when it comes to the previous entries, and how much money can be wasted in exorbitant legal fees whilst having no new product out for years. Even an admittedly beleaguered series like Halloween emerged out of its hell during this same timeframe to eventually get three movies out?! By the same token, the crickets at Crystal Lake only get louder.
A few years ago, I had heard the studio backed off from making a new Friday the 13th because Rings didn’t fare as well as expected at the box office. Waitaminute… Rings?! Who in the hell cares about The Ring series? We are talking about tried and true box office legend Jason Voorhees here not some goofy ghost girl with a myriad of different powers that are dependent on whatever the plot calls for without any care for continuity or general makesenseness. Even Freddy Krueger was an exercise in believability in comparison.
Not that the Friday the 13th series hasn’t had some goofy entries (Yes, I’m looking at you, Jason Goes to Hell!), but overall the series isn’t nearly as convoluted as other horror franchises. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Halloween!) For the most part, the Friday the 13ths don’t have a muddled backstory or tangled plot threads that went nowhere. Even as ludicrous as it was sending Jason into space, it still was handled relatively okay. As I fan, I can forgive almost anything…except not having really having Jason in a Jason-titled movie. (Yes, I’m looking at you yet again Jason Goes to Hell, which is more than I’ve looked you in the recent past.)
But how hard is it to do a Friday the 13th movie if we live in a world that still has sharp garden implements and teens going off to have an abundance of pre-marital sex? Just look at the first four Friday the 13th movies and go from there. The fans aren’t asking for much. Just a movie that would be better than the last four entries. I mean Jason went to hell, to space, to Elm Street, and to reboot limbo in those movies; you couldn’t do worse unless you actively wanted to. Unless you went to that cheap direct-to-video purgatory where Steven Seagal, Nicholas Cage, and Hellraiser all dwell. (Those poor, poor Pinhead fans… I have to keep telling myself: “There’s always someone worse off than yourself”.)
One thing that most recent proposed and mooted Friday the 13th movie entry was going to touch on was explaining once and for all why Jason cannot die. Why? Didn’t Rob Zombie’s Halloween misfires teach you anything? Did you not watch the Star Wars prequels? When you explain it away, you kill it. When you go into detail and show that Darth Vader was a whiny emo bastard, you destroy the Sith Lord. When you make Michael Myers a sympathetic character with an explainable background, you’ve done what Dr. Loomis couldn’t even do: you killed off the boogeyman.
As a hastily jammed-in side comparison, I’d like to take this moment to speak about my admiration for the highs and lows of the Phantasm series. There are more questions than answers to be sure. Who exactly is the Tall Man? What are his plans? Why does he focus his efforts on Mike? Is Mike a future Tall Man? What is the story with Mike’s brother? What is real and what is a dream? What in the actual hell is going on?! And yet, series creator Don Coscarelli never really explained a damn thing, leaving a series of five films over almost 40 years that are confusing at times, yet engaging and intriguing. And there’s a black Hemi ‘Cuda and shotguns! It rocks!
Before Jason couldn’t die because he seemed to be quick healing and not as susceptible to pain as others. Then after he was brought back to life in Part VI, I just generally assumed that he received some lightning-induced Frankenstein-y upgrades to his zombie body which resulted in his being even stronger and able to take even more punishment. But that was all the background I ever needed. I didn’t need some sort of hack explanation of how Jason has some combination of slasher-midichlorians and demon DNA that ensure his constant regenerative powers and strength. He is who he is; now let him go sharpen his Garden Weasel and let the man work!
Plus, there’s the simple formula itself: a bunch of inattentive, self-involved twenty-something teens end up in the woods where Jason resides. They engage in drugs, drink, and sex and one by one they get picked off in gruesome ways with farm and kitchen implements by Mr. Voorhees. Soon there’s one teen left, usually a smarter and more observant girl, who gives Jason a run for his money. She then manages to disable him with presumably a killing blow (but we know it isn’t.) Throw in some copious amounts of nudity and acting that is barely above a Sunny Delight commercial and you’re set. Oh, and get Harry Manfredini to do the music. If you want Alice Cooper to contribute a song, that’s up to you. And we’re done, and it wasn’t overcomplicated! Was that so hard?
Jason has a ready-made audience that is hungry for just a simple return-to-roots Friday the 13th movie. It might sound bizarre to some, but Mr. Voorhees is a slasher hero. We root for him to do what he does best. Freddy Krueger has this to a limited extent, but Freddy’s backstory makes it harder to cheer for him, the fried child-killing prick. This lack of empathy thing goes for Michael Myers and Pinhead and Chucky and Jigsaw and every other gory screen king that also has way too many sequels with diminishing returns. But Jason is that mongoloid mama’s boy with the machete that we want to see over and over again.
Now since the studio needs a kindly helping hand to get them across the street, I’ll step up with my unsolicited advice. Once the legal jungle involving Jason has been slashed and burned to the point that Sting can’t stop crying, make the new Friday the 13th a period piece set in the early 1980s. Hell, I’ll even give you a year to make it easier: 1982. Now go and get a few period cars, some attractive actors who are willing to skinny dip, and Tom Savini and go from there. Add in some of the other pointers from the paragraphs above and you would not only attract the hardcore fans of the series, but you could get new ticket buyers looking for some nostalgia too. Oh, and bring back Kevin Bacon as a different character. That’d be neat!
Contrary to popular excuses, audiences are not that sophisticated. I think the studios just like flattering the popcorn purchasing public by saying stuff like that. Now of course I know the audience reading this is sophisticated, well-read, highly intelligent, and well-mannered. (You know, like me.) But they’ve certainly waited long enough for Jason to rise and do his messy work again. No matter how many times Jason has been “killed”, who knew that his true killing blow would come from lawyers and studio wonks that have had no problem okaying drivel like Paranormal Activity and Conjuring installments with depressing regularity?
Ah, never mind. I’m going out for a Big Mac right now. Chances are the franchised cholesterol will kill me before Jason Voorhees ever gets a chance to again.