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Survival of the

Survival of the


As Friday the 13th gets a reboot on the big screen, out film critic and Friday the 13th expert Peter M. Bracke takes a look back on Jason Voorhees.

Jason Voorhees is back on the big screen in an all-new remake/reboot of Friday the 13th that's sure to make a killing at the box office. In honor of the film's big opening, sat down with out film critic and historian Peter M. Bracke, author of Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of "Friday the 13th," to discuss why the time is right to revive the 30-year-old franchise and why the gays aren't exactly afraid of getting lost in the woods with the hockey-masked, machete-wielding bad boy.

Why is the time right to re-launch the Friday series? Well, for two reasons. One, I think the original series had more or less exhausted itself out with its 11 sequels -- you know, Jason going to Manhattan, Jason going to space, and then fighting Freddy. Basically, 30 years is a long time for any franchise. The second reason, the big reason, is: They're remaking everything!

Whenever the studios announce one of these high-profile horror remakes, some fans cry sacrilege. But money does the talking in this town, so until the remakes start bombing (or the companies run out of unoriginal ideas), the trend will continue. What are your feelings about the horror remake craze? Well, I think it all started with TheTexas Chainsaw Massacre remake in '03. People were really up in arms about that film, saying, you know, "Oh, my God, you can't remake classics!" Then the film turned out to be pretty good and it made money. So that really opened the floodgates. Fans are just accepting it -- everything's being remade. Clearly, the cries of sacrilege don't matter to the producers, so we've just given up at this point [laughs].

Is any horror classic untouchable? The only one I can think of is The Exorcist, but I think they'll remake that eventually. I don't think anything's too sacred. I mean, they remade Psycho.

A few years ago you wrote Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of "Friday the 13th," which may be the most insanely comprehensive book about a film franchise ever created. Talk a bit about the genesis of that project. I started that book in 2002, and at that time, Scream had come out, but the remakes hadn't started. I thought, Wow, this is kind of exciting: There's this whole era of slasher films that isn't really regarded or analyzed or discussed much. I know the Friday films aren't the greatest movies ever, but they mean a lot to a lot of people and they really influenced the evolution of the exploitation film. I mean, Friday the 13th was the first "B" movie that was picked up by a major studio and treated like an A-list one, with a big marketing campaign and a wide opening in over 1,000 theaters. That was unheard of at the time. Now, it's totally acceptable for Warner Bros. to make and market a brutal slasher movie. Before that, it was purely a drive-in, grindhouse kind of thing.

How many people did you interview for the book? Over 200. I went overboard [laughs]. Some people were really fun; the best were the actors and actresses who had a sense of humor about it -- and really embraced it. You know, "I did this crazy movie when I was 18 and it's bewildering to me that fans care, but I'm glad they care." There are always a few people who are like, "That was beneath me and I don't want to talk about it."

Horror has proved a fertile launching ground for some of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Kevin Bacon, who romped around in a Speedo in the first Friday the 13th. But most of the actors in the series have more or less disappeared. For example, what happened to Adrienne King, who played the spunky heroine Alice in the first movie? Well, Adrienne King is an interesting story. She was a theater actress and dancer when she got the part. Like everyone else involved in the making of it, she didn't think Friday would play outside the drive-in. So when it proved to be a hit, it was thrilling for her. But then she had (and she's talked about this openly) a stalker for, like, two years, and that kind of sent her away from acting in high-profile movies. She came back briefly for Friday the 13th Part 2, but, um, she pretty much left the business and now she paints and does a lot of other things.

Yikes. Well, we wish her well. What about Amy Steel, the tomboyish survivor of Part 2? Amy Steel is more like everyone else, in the sense that she got some other parts and was in other movies. But it's a hard business. You know, 1.1% of actors out there work, let alone become big stars. Anyway, now she's a therapist.

Probably tending to people like us who like these movies! Anyway, in a horror series, is the best part the one with the best death scenes? Well, that's the thing about Friday the 13th that's interesting. Unlike Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street, the first one isn't really looked at as the best in the canon. Everyone I talk to, fans and myself, think there are little bits and pieces in all of them that you like and really cool deaths in all of them. Jason's not even in the first one.

Yeah, the original plays a bit like a low-rent Agatha Christie murder mystery in which Jason's mother is revealed to be the killer at the very end. Can you talk a little bit about the decision to make Jason the killer in the subsequent films? Sean Cunningham (the director of Friday the 13th) and Victor Miller (the first film's screenwriter) didn't like the idea of having Jason be the killer in Part 2. They thought it was silly; you know...he drowned! Sean Cunningham's idea was to make each new Friday film a stand-alone with a different idea, you know, like an anthology. But the backers, these guys based in Boston, and Paramount were both like, "No, people want to see a body count," so they hired a writer named Ron Kurz, who talked with Steve Miner (the director of Friday the 13th Part 2), and they decided to say Jason didn't really die. Basically, that way they could repeat the same movie, but with Jason as the killer.

The later entries in the series took Jason out of his Crystal Lake element and thrust him into Manhattan and outer space. Would you like to see Jason cut a swath through any particular place? A Taliban campground, perhaps? Actually, no. I'm a traditionalist. I like the camp setting. The early movies work so well because that's what's fun -- seeing kids go back to a campground with this legend and they're too stupid not to go. I feel like when they take him out of Crystal Lake it gets kind of gimmicky. Some people I've talked to want to see Jason in the snow, like have a film set during winter time. That might be interesting.

Oh, I like that, a frozen Crystal Lake -- I can already picture a death-by-ice-skates sequence. Anyway, any thoughts on why the horror genre is critic-proof? Horror is sort of like comedy. What makes you laugh makes you laugh; what makes you scared makes you scared. It doesn't matter what any critic says. If you like roller coasters or jumping out of airplanes, no one can convince you otherwise.

Horror movies are pretty primal. Basically, you get to cheat death while watching others fail. Splat! Slasher movies are, by their nature, for younger people, not for 40-, 50-year-old critics. When you're 18, 19, the idea of untimely death is scary. I think when you're 50 and you have your own kids and you're dealing with aging and your own parents dying, a guy in a hockey mask isn't really scary anymore. You have other things to fear and worry about.

Now, we know Jason likes to swing an ax. Any theories on which way he swings it, if you know what I mean? The interesting thing is, and some of the series' screenwriters and I have talked about this: Jason doesn't really have a sexual component. He doesn't rape. He's almost like a kid, an overgrown kid; he's presexual. There was actually a cut ending to Friday the 13th:The Final Chapter [the fourth film]in which Jason is fighting with the heroine, Trish, and gets sexually aroused and that distraction allows Tommy Jarvis to kill him. But the producers didn't like that idea. They wanted to keep him asexual.

I remember as an undergrad stumbling on this super-esoteric book exploring the connection between gay men and horror -- any thoughts on why gays love horror? Slasher movies have a big gay following. I have theories, which are always fun. You should listen to the commentary I did for the Blu-ray and DVD of part 1. I talk about that. But yeah, as a gay kid, I grew up relating to the main girl character. I didn't care about seeing big-breasted women naked and I didn't relate to Jason. For me, it was more about the lead girl who was kind of different, kind of boyish. She wasn't out having sex and all that kind of stuff. She was smarter, never part of the main social group. The popular kids all got killed. It was always the weird outcasts that survived, which was appealing to me. Being different and being outside the group is what gave you strength: That spoke to me. And it seems like all the gay fans I meet, they remember Amy Steel and Adrienne King -- that's who they talk about. They don't care about Jason's mask.

Do you think it's a little scary that some audience members root for Jason? As the sequels went on, the filmmakers were more and more aware of that, so they created characters that were intentionally stupid so you would cheer when they died, but by the end, you cheer when the heroine picks up the machete and goes after Jason. The audience kind of goes back and forth. You realize these are cardboard characters you're not supposed to take too seriously. This isn't Ordinary People where the parents get decapitated at the end.

Well, too bad, because that mother was a bit of a monster... Well, purposefully the characters [in these films] are types. They're people you recognize and can laugh at: the nerdy guy, the pot smoker. It's kind of darkly comic. I think for the viewer, who understands and gets it, we're not really championing people getting killed. It's more the game, the cat-and-mouse aspect. The best movies in the series really used the foreground and the background, and the characters kept going in and out of dark places and Jason would pop out. We enjoy the haunted house aspect -- that's the fun of it.

Some horror movie franchises are hot messes in terms of continuity. What are the biggest continuity complaints about the Friday series? First of all, the whole idea that groups of campers and counselors keep dying and disappearing in this one area is preposterous. The FBI would close that place down! The other thing is Jason's look. In Part 2 he has long hair. In Part 3, he's suddenly bald and gains 30 pounds and six inches of height. Jason's makeup was always changing too, and the way he runs and moves doesn't match from film to film. Luckily, Kane Hodder came along in Part 7 and played Jason four times. That gave the series some continuity, but even then, he always looked different and wore different masks.

Now, besides writing the book, you've also had some involvement in the recently re-released super spruced-up DVD editions of Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2. Can you talk a bit about that? Paramount contacted me about contributing to the DVD and Blu-ray reissues of the first two movies. There's a commentary on the first that I'm a part of, and there's a featurette about the book on the second one. I also wrote a trivia track for Part 2. Also, Anchor Bay produced a 90-minute documentary called His Name Was Jason: Thirty Years of "Friday the 13th." I was interviewed for that.

So, back to the remake, which I assume you've seen, are there any cool homages to the original you can talk about without giving too much away? The film's really a remake of the first four Fridays. There are plot elements of each of them in it. There's a character coming back to rescue his sister, which was in part 4. There are also allusions to the stoner characters in Part 3. You know, they definitely pulled the recognizable types from the series, and there are little things die-hard fans will notice -- certain situations and locations are used in different ways.

Finally, how does it feel having sexy DILF Richard Burgi play a character named after you in the remake? It's cool! I feel like I'm the only person name-checked in the remake. They were supposed to have cameos by Adrienne King and Betsy Palmer, but none of that made it. I guess I'm an IMDb trivia question now. Oh, and he dies pretty cool too!

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