A couple years back, I was pointed to a video on Youtube where Platinum Dunes guru Brad Fuller talked to a film class about his career, why all of the directors who made Platinum Dunes movies were bad at their jobs (including the two who came back to direct a second film for them?), how they had a formula for success that included a hot girl and other stuff that struck me as funny or ironic. But the key point he made was that the Dunes would no longer be making horror movies, the talking point I used for the headline in my resulting article. Since The Purge is more action/thriller than horror and they've found their biggest hit yet with the Ninja Turtles reboot (and made a few bucks with their low-budget, teen-friendly sci-fi Project Almanac), it seemed like he wasn't lying - they hadn't actually made any true horror films for years following that chat. But then they made Ouija, and as recently as this month he's been giving updates on their long-stalled Friday the 13th sequel, so... uh, welcome back?
It's been six long years since their F13 reboot had a gigantic opening weekend ($40 million, more than most of the films in the series made in their entire run) and then proceeded to sink faster/harder than Jason did in any of the films where he drowned in the lake again. Fan opinion was mixed; some loved the return to basics (Jason was just a guy again, the location fit with the first few films instead of a city/a spaceship/Springwood, etc), but others balked at the overly slick look, loathsome characters and Jason chaining a girl up for the whole movie. I think it was okay; it was probably the best one since Jason Lives (not a tall order, but still), and Derek Mears is one of the best Jasons ever, but it lacked that charm that keeps me going back to the earlier entries, and the awkward structure - which presented a sped up movie for the first 25 minutes and then its own sequel, sorta - makes it a bit too long (the longest in the series, in fact, in its unrated form).
Fuller was recently interviewed by Esquire (huh?) about the current plans for their sequel, as well as some insight as to why it's been taking so long for them to start production. As Fuller explains, the success of Paranormal Activity made it difficult for the parent studios to justify spending another $20 million or so when Paranormal Activity, with a budget south of $100k, made even more money than Friday did (and had better reviews from the fans). He doesn't get into the whole "We quit making horror" part, but I'm sure that also delayed things; their reboot of Nightmare on Elm Street came along a year later and was universally loathed (even Fuller has dismissed it), and with Halloween on hold and the most recent Chainsaw film sinking even faster than Jason (it opened at #1 and was barely in the top FORTY films at the box office a mere three weeks later - which has to be a record drop*), it seemed the time for reviving our '80s horror icons had passed. With all that in mind, you can assume Mr. Voorhees wasn't a priority for them as they looked to expand their horizons beyond R-rated horror.
But Fuller claims that getting Jason back on-screen, and doing it right, is a passion project for him, and I'd really like to believe him. Sure, he knows he's talking to the press and knows what fanboys want to hear, but the fact that he seems to want to make sure the next one takes place at a summer camp is a good sign (the 2009 film took place at Crystal Lake, but at a random giant house, with the camp section confined to the prologue). He also seems to understand the importance of fake blood over digital hackery, saying "You can't do a great kill quickly. It takes time and the blood levels. You know, every time there's a drop of blood you have to change their wardrobe and shower people off. You can't rush that to get it right." I've talked to a few indie producers who defend their use of the always terrible pixel spray, with every one of them explaining that they simply don't have the time to do it right with their production schedules, for the reasons Fuller describes. To me, it seems that should be something that they plan time for when making said schedules, same as "filming the climax" or whatever, but what do I know? The important thing is that they're still working on it, and they're seemingly on the right track again - he shoots down the rumor that the film will be found footage, thank Christ.
However, he also said some things that really trouble me, and I hope he reconsiders before locking a script down (well, to the extent any script is locked down in today's "set the release date first and then make the movie" method of filmmaking). The most upsetting being this:
"There's always been this supernatural aspect to these movies. It defies logic that, you see Jason get killed in every movie, including ours, the 2009 one. And then he comes back and no one's ever really investigated what that is. So that's something that I think about a little bit. Like it is supernatural, but what is he? Those are the things that we're toying with. Nothing has been decided. But those type of things: How does he always come back?"
First of all, he's wrong. Jason Goes To Hell explained why he was so impossible to kill, and Jason X also explored some of his regenerative properties, albeit without drawing from JGTH's family-driven mumbo jumbo. Secondly, Jason only came back in the final seconds of their 2009 film, which most folks assumed to be a dream sequence anyway (the fact that he had his mask back on after it had been busted up and thrown into the lake separate from his body being the key bit of evidence), so I'm a bit confused as to what he's talking about. Sure, Jason kept coming back in the older films, but his is a different timeline/universe/whatever you want to call it - the Jason that trapped Amanda Righetti in his underground lair for a month is NOT the same Jason that fought Tommy Jarvis, or went to NY and outer space. So Fuller is still free to do whatever he likes with a followup - including (and no one will like this) having someone else wear the mask, New Beginning-style.
See, here's the thing - those two movies I mentioned that previously explained Jason's healing powers? No one likes them. And before you leave your comments, when I say "no one" I mean in general. Every single entry in the series is someone's favorite, but overall, those tend to be among the lowest placed films in a series ranking (believe me, I've queried folks on Twitter enough to provide evidence). And even if you want to get into semantics with whether or not they are well loved, the dollar signs don't lie - they are two of the three least successful (regarding ticket sales) entries in the series, with the hardly loved Jason Takes Manhattan being the third. As a film producer, Fuller might not care too much about which entries people like more than others, but he sure as hell should care about which ones lost money on their theatrical releases - and the record shows that the more they explain away and fuck with the formula, the less interest people have in watching it. It can't be coincidence.
That's not to say fans don't love coming up with explanations and such - on the contrary, it's been a pastime for over thirty years. From Part 2 on the series has been riddled with things that don't quite add up (How did Jason find Alice, and then how did he get back to Crystal Lake so fast? Why did he lose all of his hair overnight from Part 2 to 3D? Etc), and if you look around on any fansite you'll get someone's explanation. But that doesn't mean we want that stuff in the films - that's just something we do to pass the time in between entries! When it comes to the actual movies, history has proven that we like our Friday the 13th movies to be basic; nearly everyone puts Final Chapter in their top slot (or top three, at least), and that's the most mercenary entry in the entire series. There's no gimmick, there's no supernatural element, no in-jokes... it's just Jason, in his trademark hockey mask (the first film that he had it for the whole movie), slaughtering a half dozen or so teenagers near a lake before being done in for a while. The "hook" was that it was supposed to be the last one, but that was not only false, it seemed Paramount didn't even want to really entertain the idea: A New Beginning was released eleven months later - the shortest gap between entries in the entire series (hat tip to Eric D. Snider for pointing out this hilarious factoid).
Plus, isn't part of the whole point of a reboot/remake/"recalibration" a way to get rid of all the mythology and "rules" that started to turn people off in the first place? Since they sort of combined parts 1-3 into one movie for their first one, their sequel should be like Final Chapter, which, again, is much loved and totally free of any "rules" or back-story. Hell, Joe Zito's (sadly sole) contribution to the franchise is so loose with the series mythology at that point that it borders on silly - Rob the Jason Hunter is seeking revenge for his sister Sandra, who died in Part 2... which was, at most, four days prior. Isn't there a funeral, or a family to grieve with? It always seemed to me that Final Chapter's filmmakers knew that they were taking place immediately after 3D... but forgot that 3D took place immediately after Part 2. Otherwise, that's a pretty goofy thing to have in your movie, and there isn't even a throwaway line to justify it. And yet, like I said, everyone loves the film anyway. No one cares about explanations or even basic logic in these things! Hell I'm a stickler for continuity and even I just shrug off most of this stuff. Just provide what we came for and leave the backstory to our overactive, OCD imaginations.
Fuller also suggests adding a Dr. Loomis type character, something the series has mostly lacked so far. The closest approximation would be Tommy Jarvis, particularly in Jason Lives where he, like Loomis, is looked at as a Chicken Little type by the local law enforcement, only to be proven right (albeit too late). The original series never explained where he went after that sequel, or why he didn't seem to care when Jason came back again and again (his death was big news in Jason Goes To Hell; surely Tommy would have come out of the woodwork then, right?), so his tenure as Ahab to Jason's whale was rather short-lived. According to Fuller, the next film isn't necessarily a followup to his own movie (with the series entirely back at Paramount, they're free to do whatever they like and go back to original continuity, not unlike what Chainsaw 3D did), so if Platinum Dunes wants to go that route AND please whatever fan bridges they burned with their last movie, they'd be wise to just save themselves a heap of time and bring Jarvis back into the fold.
But if they do that, they'd be seemingly forced into abandoning their key asset from the 2009 film: Derek Mears. The series is confusing enough as is without having reboot Jason suddenly transplanted into original continuity, but who would want to ditch Mears? Even the reboot's biggest critics agreed he made for one of the best Jasons ever, and it'd be a shame to drop him just because they opted to go back to the original '80s timeline. Again, they made such a mess of things back then that it's in everyone's best interest to pick from their 2009 film and simply get it more right this time. Part 2 was basically a remake of the first film, albeit superior in my opinion, and that was the one that shaped the series to come by introducing Jason and moving things beyond "Camp Blood." THAT (and again, Final Chapter) should be their model for things to come, not a mythology-heavy, exposition-riddled thing that reminds us of Halloween 6. By the time the film is released, it'll have been seven years since the last one - after all that time, we just want a Jason movie that feels like a Jason movie.
And finally, stop swearing by Friday the 13th release dates. Not only does this guarantee a giant drop off from Friday to Saturday, but there's not even a good precedent for it - of the first six films, i.e. the ones most fans regard as the overall best, only two of them were released on Friday the 13ths. And the two biggest TICKET SELLERS (attn: producers!), which would be the original film and the one where he fought Freddy, were released on non-13ths, so there's no added value beyond maybe saving some room on your billboards. Much like the mythology, no one really cares what day it comes out on any more than they care about having a Halloween movie come out in October (something only half of them have done), so stop planning your film arbitrarily by looking at the calendar and seeing when the next one is. Just make a good entry that we'll want to keep watching long after we remember what day it was released.
*Box Office Mojo doesn't track chart positions with regards to fastest/slowest drops, but I looked for a good while and couldn't even find a #1 that was out of the top *20* in such a short time, so I think it's safe to assume Chainsaw 3D can proudly wear that badge of dishonor.