In the spirit of their previous crosstalk about the Halloween franchise, Mike Thorn and A.M. (Anya) Novak sat down to discuss another iconic horror series: Friday the 13th. With recent news of the hyped F13 reboot being abandoned by Paramount, Camp Crystal Lake’s larger-than-life supervillain Jason Voorhees remains as relevant as ever. Where does the series go from here?
Anya: On February 6th, 2017, it was announced that Paramount/Platinum Dunes had canceled Friday the 13th, Part 13, citing low box office numbers for Rings. Are you disappointed?
Mike: I’m very disappointed. It seems counter-intuitive to assume that Rings’ poor earnings somehow indicate a lack of interest in another completely unrelated horror franchise. I think if they had made a stronger sequel, it’s likely that it would’ve seen better financial results. Speaking purely as a fan of genre movies, and of the movie-going experience, I was very excited to see the 13th Friday the 13th movie drop on Friday, the 13th of October. What a letdown! How did you feel when you heard the news?
Anya: I was dejected, but not shocked. Paramount has been repeatedly surprised at the popularity of the franchise, and they always seem to go through the motions when making new entries in the series. The fact that the entire F13 remake was dependent on an unrelated horror film’s profitability is further evidence of what horror fans already know: big studios have a testy relationship with the genre. Why do you think that is?
Mike: I think this speaks to an unfortunate trend in contemporary mainstream American horror cinema: the genre has become far too safe. Studio emphasis on bankability and market trends is nothing new, of course, and we’ve seen similar slumps in the past; but it seems to me that, in particular, the insistence on keeping horror contained is a recipe for failure. Horror is predicated on confrontation, shock, subversion and a fundamentally resistant attitude toward politeness. Frankly, I even see an impulse toward faux-combativeness in many of the genre’s recently celebrated festival favorites; The Neon Demon, Green Room, The Witch and It Follows have their passionate fan bases, and I don’t really want to drag those beloved movies through the mud, but none of them felt to me to be particularly engaged with the genre’s serious questions, and not one of them felt even remotely new or exciting to me. I realize this is a very unpopular opinion, but I have to be honest.
Anya: We all respond to different fear motivators, it’s what makes the genre so expansive. Even a series like Friday the 13th can be approached from wildly different angles. Nick Antosca tweeted that he had previously been hired (two years ago) to pen an F13 script for the doomed remake. Have you had a chance to look at that script?
Mike: I haven’t, no, but I saw that Don Mancini was really keen on it. Have you read it? Any thoughts?
Anya: I have, and I have to say I’m really disappointed that it didn’t make it to the big screen. The Jason Voorhees in Antosca’s screenplay was big and brutal, and he was scary once again. The camp counselors were fully realized characters that were distinguishable from one another, making every death scene count among them. The third act was a bloody, thrilling payoff culminating in some memorable final moments. The script was a satisfying read that I would have paid to see played out in a theater.
Even the most die-hard fans of any horror franchise acknowledge its inherent flaws in this entry or that entry. Where do you think is the series’ biggest weakness is? And if a new Friday the 13th film were made, what would you want to see from it?
Mike: Good questions! Although I enjoy almost every Friday the 13th entry, I think it’s far from being one of the genre’s most inspired franchises. It’s an odd series, in the sense that it contains no original auteur-driven “masterpiece,” as opposed to A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven), Halloween (John Carpenter), or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper). This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy Sean S. Cunningham’s original, but it’s not as if his film is especially game-changing or inventive in terms of concept or craft. I think the series often veers into misogynistic territory, and too often disregards the importance of precise form. Having said that, I’m very keen on the character and mythology of Jason Voorhees, and I think the films are often downright nihilistic in their brutality and their roughness. I find this vicious sensibility fascinating. I would be happy to see just about anything from a new Jason Voorhees movie, but in my dream scenario, I’d love to see an auteur-driven Friday. Give the reins to someone like Eli Roth. Hell, if the brilliant Anna Biller (The Love Witch) would ever be interested (I don’t know if she would), I’d love to see her take. In terms of content, I’d be thrilled to see the series dispose of its safety net. Marcus Nispel’s 2009 reboot was a skillfully directed film about the franchise’s mythology, and — despite some flourishes — it mostly stuck to the rules. What I’d love to see next? Surprise me! Make a Jason movie that I’ve never seen before! Have you had any particular qualms with the Friday movies?
Anya: Out of the Big Three (Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street), Jason Voorhees was my least favorite character, because of the films that came out when I was a young horror fan growing up. In the early 90s, Cunningham (the F13 creator) sold the rights to New Line Cinema, and put the franchise in the hands of inexperienced filmmakers. As a result, we got Jason Goes To Hell, one of the worst films of them all. I love playing around with a mythos and exploring new narratives as we saw in A New Beginning, but the hockey mask stayed. It was the man behind the mask that changed. Likewise, the makers of Halloween III: Season of the Witch learned the hard way: you’ve got to at least keep the slasher icon onscreen, or be upfront with fans in your marketing. But that’s just me, I can be picky about my slasher films. In fact, horror fans in general seem to be finicky about franchises; they claim to want originality, and subsequently decry any series entry that disturbs the continuity or formula of its predecessors (like I just did). As a genre enthusiast, where do you stand?
Mike: Break the rules. Shake things up. And I don’t think that this necessarily means you need to make an obvious point of doing so. Hell, in a post-Scream world, the very idea of faux-subversive, post-modern self-aware horror has, in itself, become extremely boring and overdone. Make something raw, make something real. Sometimes this might mean adhering closely to existing ideas and tropes; but I still think formal risks can be taken, or even that an emphasis on pure craft above all else can be something close to radical. I want real, pure horror, and I realize that this is a difficult thing to characterize. When asked to name the really exciting horror movies of 2016, I see a variety of approaches in the titles that come to mind: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Creepy, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, Rob Zombie’s 31, M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and even Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper (some might say this last one doesn’t qualify, but I would argue otherwise). How about you? What do you want to see in a horror film? Do you think the genre is in a good place right now?
Anya: The genre is experiencing something magical right now. While corporate horror is hit-and-miss as always, indie horror has enjoyed a resurgence. And when coupled with widespread streaming services, it’s more accessible to the masses. On top of that, sites like Shudder and Fandor give fans access to older or more niche horror that we might not have been able to procure otherwise. Entire subgenre collections and director retrospectives are curated for subscribers, many of whom are writers and film creatives. We have a wider range of influences and more of whatever kind of horror strikes our fancy. These things all permeate into our work and inform the stories we tell. It’s because of this that we should have plenty of great horror ahead of us in the years to come.
A.M. Novak (@BookishPlinko) is a horror enthusiast and contributor to Daily Grindhouse, 100 Films/100 Scenes, Horror Writers and 52 Weeks of Horror. When she’s not staunchly defending Halloween 6, she’s scribbling nightmares for the masses in the form of short stories.
Mike Thorn (@MikeThornWrites) is a lifelong cinema enthusiast pursuing his M.A. in English literature at the University of Calgary. His fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including DarkFuse, Double Feature Magazine, Turn to Ash and the anthology Creepy Campfire Stories (for Grownups). He has also written numerous articles for Bright Lights Film Journal. You can contact him through his website, mikethornwrites.com.