Friday, March 4, 2011

Double Dipping: Friday the 13th and Pirnaha (The Remakes)

I seem to be steeped in remakes right about now. Last week, I presented my thoughts on the very good Let Me In - a remake of Let The Right One In - and today, I bring you not one but two looks at recent remakes: 2009's relaunch of the Friday the 13th franchise, and 2010's jaunty remake of Joe Dante's Piranha. Both movies are modern updates of two drive-in-style features from roughly the same period in time, with the original Piranha coming out in 1978 (a great year for horror movies) and Friday the 13th coming out in 1980. Both had their fair share of energy and a certain freshness, which brings about mixed results with their younger descendants.

Let's start with Friday the 13th, originally brought to us in 1980 by Sean S. Cunningham (with writing credits going to Victor Miller). It was a campfire tale brought to life: young, pretty, devil-may-care camp counselors are systematically murdered by the mother of a child that drowned several years before. Boil the story down to its essence, and it truly is one of those flashlight-under-the-chin spooky stories that have been told for generations. In the original, it's given a fleshed-out story, and if anyone remembers, the killer juggernaut Jason Voorhees was not in the first movie, at least not as a the horror icon. He didn't appear until the second film (which I actually find to be the better one).

2009's version, produced by Michael Bay and directed by Marcus Nispel, starts where the original ends: unhinged old lady tries to murder the last teenage counselor, but is given the business end of a machete. Like the beginning of the second film in the 80's, we learn Jason witnessed his beloved but insane mother bite the dust, or mud in this case. Many years later, he takes out his deep-rooted psychological problems on an admittedly annoying group of pretty post-teens out near Camp Crystal Lake geocaching for a secret garden of Mary Jane. A few weeks later, another group of pretty college students heads to the summer home of one of their number and meets Clay (Jared Padalecki of TV's Supernatural), who is still searching for his missing sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti). Turns out Whitney wasn't killed by Jason in the beginning, as he spared her due to her resemblence to his mother - but he still keeps her chained up in an underground tunnel. It doesn't take long for Jason to start doing his thing to the new group, dispatching them in brutal ways before being defeated by Clay and Whitney in a classically ambiguous ending.

While this remake isn't horrible, I wasn't overly impressed with it either. It's somewhat entertaining, but doesn't have the wild abandon that the original series - despite its shortcomings - possessed. An intriguing change is the no-nonsense body language of Jason. He doesn't lurk for long, instead coming right at victims like a raging hockey-masked rhino. The only time he really "lurks" is when he's stalking Chelsea (Willa Ford) on the lake, and that's just because she's in the water and he's not, which subtly plays into his probable fear of water. It's in the mythology that he was presumed drowned, or was damaged by prolonged time in the water. Anyway, the movie itself was a quarter-pounder, good enough to snack on, but not great as a meal.

Trying to segue deftly from the food analogy of my previous paragraph, I give you Alexandre Aja's Piranha (usually with "3-D" attached to the end), which was a whole different experience. It's based loosely on Joe Dante's (Gremlins) film of the same name, which in itself was a loose sendup of Jaws. Lending itself to the recent trend of homaging grindhouse films, Piranha doesn't have any illusions about itself: it's got boobies and gore, and lots of them, combined with silly lines and situations, and WTF-style cameos that make you say, "wait, he's in this?" I mean, seriously, it's such a rollicking cast. You've got Elizabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Jerry O'Connell, Paul Scheer, Adam Scott, Ricardo Chavira, Dina Meyer, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd, a couple of genuine porn stars, and a cameo by horror director Eli Roth. It's like one of those Airport movies of the 70's. Only with hungry fish.

It's another basic plot: we meet a fisherman (Dreyfuss) who may or may not have triggered a deep tremor by losing his beer bottle while hauling in a fish. The tremor opens up a vast underground lake that's been covered up since the time of the dinosaurs. Out come the fish and of course, it's spring break time in this sleepy little Arizona town. That means a steady diet of alcohol-infused dudes and chesty trollops, along with a few people who don't even deserve it. There is family drama involved as the sheriff (Shue) not only has to deal with the massive carnage at the center of the festivities (which results in a few yuks, both gory and funny) but has to rescue her kids and some others, who are trapped on a porn mogul's (O'Connell) boat. There is, of course, the "gotcha" ending and many 3-D-ready tricks that were pretty much lost on me, watching it in good ol' 2-D.

Piranha is a wacky, toothy good time. Check your brain at the door; you won't need it. And every so often, what's wrong with watching a movie like that? It didn't say, "oooh, look at me, I'm all serious with my mean fish and artsy nudes." No, it said something more along the lines of "dude, check this out and here, pull my finger." It moves along quickly, no one seems to be safe, and you get to see Elizabeth Shue be an action heroine. A movie made just to be fun wink and nod to movies from the tail-end of the grindhouse era. Well, how about that.

And hey, fun fact: the original Piranha had a goofy sequel, Piranha II: The Spawning featuring piranhas that could fly. That film's director, making his feature film debut?

James Cameron.

Until next time, fellow survivors, it's back to the chopper for me.


  1. Kelly Brooks and Riley Steele's underwater extravaganza...nuff said. "Great Scott!" Chris Lloyd's appearance make Piranha 3D such an awesome flick.

  2. I remember saying out loud during the underwater scene, "well, if anyone ever needed a textbook definition of 'gratuitous,' here it is!" I found myself laughing more and more through the movie - just some good fun.

    Jerry O'Connell's "final fate" made for some hearty laughs as well.

  3. Friday The 13th was such a wasted opportunity. They promised brutality and delivered shite!

    Piranha was so much fucking fun...that 5 minute massacre scene is unbelievable. KNB should've gotten an Oscar for that!

  4. "Wasted opportunity" is a good assessment. It just wasn't much of an experience for me.

    Now, Piranha - that was a load of fun!