Three Fridays: A Comparison of ‘Friday the 13th’ – Part 2

When I finished taking a look at the original ‘Friday the 13th’ last week, I hoped that the 2009 remake would offer a new twist or angle on the story, or perhaps a new idea that would add to the Jason mythos. And at first glance, it sounded like the movie had everything going for it: a bigger budget, a bigger scope, and including elements from the first few films. Thus, with the disappointment of the original still fresh in my mind, I started the remake, hopeful that I’d get a more exciting version of Jason’s origins.

After a very quick recap of Pamela’s attempt to kill horny teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake, ’13th’ wastes no time in getting to the basics: young adults head out to a remote lake, get drunk, get high, get naked, have premarital sex, and die at Jason’s hands. A familiar formula, but it isn’t a bad thing. I was impressed at how quickly the film got to the killing, and it was quickly made clear that Jason doesn’t mess around: in the span of a few minutes, he wipes out everyone in the small group of horny, drug-seeking young adults in gruesome fashion, including bear traps, machetes, and a particularly horrible, drawn-out death for an unfortunate young woman in a sleeping bag.

And then the opening title appeared; I had been so sucked into the opening act that I was shocked to realize that the film hadn’t even started yet! Now excited, I watched as the movie started up, glad to see that things were going well.

An hour and a half later, I watched the end credits, crushed at being disappointed once again.

As a modern remake and reboot for the Friday the 13th series, ‘Friday’ is a return to the classic elements of the franchise: Camp Crystal Lake, Jason killing with his machete, and his eventual defeat at the hands of a lone, young woman, all in an attempt to leave behind the over-the-top silliness that the franchise became known for, culminating in Jason’s trip to outer space, and facing off against Freddy Kruger. A little housecleaning isn’t a bad move in and of itself: When a series heads back to its roots, it’s a chance for a clean start, and to introduce the series to new fans while honoring what came before and keeping series traditions for the returning fans.

Sadly, however, ‘Friday’s attempts to strip away the over-the-top elements of the franchise also takes away much of what made Jason memorable. Yes, he may have become ridiculous in his later outings, but a demonically-possessed, cyborg zombie Jason is far more interesting to watch, especially when he uses his superhuman durability and strength to perform wildly inventive kills. But by removing the silliness and Jason’s enhanced abilities, ‘Friday’ unfortunately turns itself into a routine slasher movie. As with the original, if we were to take away Jason and Camp Crystal Lake, there would be little left to distinguish itself from its peers: Most of the kills – which revolve around being stabbed, slashed, and impaled with a machete, shot with an arrow, or being stabbed with various items – feel routine and unimaginative (with the exception of the aforementioned sleeping bag kill). The story feels routine, and aside from his new ability to run, Jason himself feels like almost any other slasher villain in hundreds of other horror movies: Just a normal man in a mask who’s strong and tough to kill.

When the credits were rolling, I was struck by how I had to focus to recall any memorable moments that stuck with me, those, ‘that was so cool!’ scenes that we love sharing with our friends later on. To my surprise, the only thing that stuck with me was that I like how the main character, Clay, is a person with a strong, believable reason to go to the hunting grounds of a serial killer (he’s looking for his missing sister), and that, even better, he manages to find and rescue her… until Jason bursts out of the lake at the end of the movie, presumably killing her, and making his whole quest pointless.

While I was hopeful that the 2009 remake of ‘Friday’ would correct the mistakes of its predecessor, I was disappointed to find that it was little more than your typical horror flick, one that happened to have Jason Voorhees in it. It did have a faster pace, more action, more kills, and more of everything to keep our attention (I didn’t fast-forward through it), but there was nothing particularly memorable about it.

But not all is lost; there exists one more version of Friday the 13th, a fan-made version that, in my opinion, tells the best version of Jason’s origin story. Come back next week, where we’ll take a look at this adaptation, which isn’t what you’d expect.

 

What we can learn from ‘The Northern Incident’

 

Is there such a thing as a perfect horror story? A few months ago, I took a look at one of the best written examples, and today I want a look at one of the best animated examples: A 2011 animation titled, ‘The Northern Incident’ that freaked me out the first time I saw it, and has remained with me ever since as one of the scariest horror shorts I’ve ever seen… up until the last minute. But before we get to that minute, let’s take a look at what this short does so well.

In a horror story, the more remote and more isolated your setting, the better

In the grand tradition of horror stories being set in remote, hard-to-reach locations, ‘The Northern Incident’ takes place at a cabin in the remote, snow-covered forest far from civilization. In a nice twist, though, the cabin’s just close enough that the man has access to a television and a phone so he can call for help… but when the phone line is cut, he might as well be on a different planet. He has a way back to civilization, but no way to get there without freezing to death. There’s nothing worse, after all, than being in sight of safety, but being unable to get to it.

Consider making your audience hear your monster more than they see it

It might be a cliche, but keeping the monster/threat in a horror story out of sight is one of the best things writers can do. Without knowing what the threat looks like, audiences are forced to use their imagination to create the threat, coming up with horrors more terrifying than anything any writer or concept artist could create. Before they’re fully revealed, all we know about the monsters in ‘The Northern Incident’ is that they’re roughly human-sized, intelligent, and can move with astonishing speed.

While ‘The Northern Incident’ follows this trope perfectly, it masterfully uses another aspect to enhance it: Using sound to show where the creatures are. We hear them knocking at the cabin’s door, walls, ceiling, and even driving a car. It’s one thing to see a terrifying monster, but it’s even more terrifying to know that it’s close by, but only being able to hear it.

Consider making your monster smart and sadistic

While the unseen and the unknown is terrifying, it becomes even more frightening when your audience realizes that the monster isn’t some mindless beast, but something that’s smart. The creatures in ‘The Northern Incident’ are smart enough to know how to hotwire and drive a car, as well as knowing how to disable a phone, but there’s a more subtle horror that’s not easily noticeable at first: The creatures toy with the man. They want to make him afraid, and are holding back on killing him (or whatever they plan to do) to try and drive him mad. They’re sadists, and there are few things as frightening as having your characters deal with something that’s human, smart, and loves inflicting misery on others.

Be very careful revealing that your monster is a joke character

Years ago, my father made an observation that’s stuck with me ever since: ‘The closer you get to perfection, the more obvious a flaw becomes.’ ‘The Northern Incident,’ regrettably, becomes a perfect example of this saying. The first 90% of the story is a masterpiece of pacing, animation, sound design, and horror. Then, in the final minute, we finally see what has been stalking the man and his dog… Furries.

The first time I saw ‘The Northern Incident’, I was shocked at the ending, and not in a good way. All the horror, the tension, and the scares were forgotten as I realized that all of it had been the setup for a joke, retroactively ruining everything that had come before.

For years, I’ve thought about why I find the ending to ‘The Northern Incident’ to be such a disappointment; other films effectively blend horror and comedy, so why does this one fail? I think it’s because the tone isn’t consistent with what comes before. By the end of the short, we – the audience – have been conditioned to expect a serious horror story, and the revelation that the man was attacked by furries retroactively makes us realize that everything that came before was a lie to throw us off guard. Had there been more comedic elements earlier, or hints about the creature’s true identity, the ending would have been easier to accept. As it is, it’s proof that while out-of-nowhere endings are memorable, they should at least fit with the tone of what came before.

The Takeaway

When doing a horror story, set it in a location far away from help (or have it so that characters can see help, but can’t get to it) and consider keeping the intelligent and sadistic monster hidden, with the audience hearing it instead of seeing it. When it comes time to do the ending, it’s okay to try something different, but keep the tone of it consistent with what came before.