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Almost eight years ago to the day since the release of the successful reboot and Paramount Pictures have removed the latest instalment of the long-running Friday the 13th franchise from their roster. Released on 13 February 2009, the much-hyped relaunch of the series made over $91m at the box office and despite a mixed reaction from critics, a sequel seemed almost guaranteed. Yet despite numerous attempts to bring back iconic killer Jason Voorhees for his thirteenth picture, a follow-up has remained trapped in development hell.
‘It’s a matter of getting a script that we all love, that we feel like we can execute in a great way,’ explained producer Brad Fuller in 2014 when justifying the long wait that fans were having to endure. ‘We just have to tell the right story. It’s truly about, what is this version? We’re working hard on that. We have a great director, David Bruckner, and we’re trying to figure it out. We have to crack that. We haven’t cracked the tone of that movie.’
While Bruckner would eventually depart from the project, Fuller’s production company Platinum Dunes announced last August that Breck Eisner, best known for his remake of George A. Romero’s The Crazies, had taken over as director, while Contraband‘s Aaron Guzikowski was developing the screenplay. This is the longest that the franchise has gone without a picture entering production and has cast a light over the future of the series.
The original Friday the 13th was released in May 1980 and became an unexpected success, earning almost $6m at the American box office on its opening weekend, despite being produced for a mere $550,000 and purchased by Paramount as a negative pickup. While many critics openly detested the movie, the phenomenal impact of the movie would result in a sequel produced almost every year for the remainder of the decade before the studio sold the rights to New Line Cinema as the public’s interest in slasher pictures had begun to diminish.
Its commercial success would not only provide Paramount with one of their most lucrative franchises, second only to Star Trek, but it would also inspire countless studios and independent producers to develop their own variation of the stalk and slash formula, resulting in the slasher boom of the early ’80s that would boast such drive-in classics as My Bloody Valentine and The Burning. What had been initially produced to capitalise on the popularity of Halloween had inadvertently spawned a sub-genre of its own.
The anchor of the series has always been its invincible serial killer Jason Voorhees and while he may have only been a minor element of the original movie – its unseen villain eventually revealed to be a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Voorhees – from 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2 onwards Jason has been the only constant element. Even when the assailant is revealed to be a copycat (1985’s A New Beginning) or Jason receives very little screen time (1993’s Jason Goes to Hell), fans have always returned to the cinemas and video stores in the hope of seeing their favourite maniac slashing his way through horny teenagers once more.
‘I’m amazed at how many teenagers are into the series, even though a lot of the earlier films in the franchise are way before their time,’ A New Beginning‘s Shavar Ross told Love-It-Loud in 2010 with regards to the series’ lasting appeal. Following their purchase of the rights in the early 1990s, New Line finally brought Jason face-to-face with A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s infamous monster Freddy Krueger for the long-awaited spinoff Freddy vs. Jason in 2003, providing the Friday the 13th property with its greatest success up until that point, earning $82m at the domestic box office on a budget of less than $7m. Yet the reboot, which would arrive six years later, became Jason’s greatest success and convinced both Platinum Dunes and New Line that Krueger deserved a similar treatment.
In the years since its release, there have been numerous rumours circulating online as to where the franchise would go next, with Jason having been resurrected as a zombie, blown to pieces by the FBI and even cryogenically frozen in space. The most talked-about of these would have incorporated the found footage concept, something that had proved popular following the ingenious marketing of the Blair Witch Project in 1999. Yet while Matt Reeves’ monster movie Cloverfield had proved effective, other attempts to use this format, such as Romero’s Diary of the Dead, were less popular.
But plans to bring found footage into the world of Friday the 13th were finally abandoned following an outcry from fans. ‘Listen, there was an outpouring of negative sentiment when it was revealed that Friday the 13th might have been a found footage movie,’ admitted Fuller last year. ‘That was very clear to us that there was not a groundswell of support for that. That had tremendous amount of impact on us and only substantiated our concern about doing it as a found footage movie. Ultimately, the fact that the movie’s been delayed for a long time might be a good thing, because now the movie’s not going to be found footage.’
While fan opinion on the reboot was mixed, one aspect of the movie that was undeniable was the central performance of Derek Mears. Instead of merely recycling the performances of his predecessors, specifically fan favourite Kane Hodder, Mears used Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of John Rambo from 1982’s First Blood as inspiration, with Jason picking off his prey one by one like a ruthless hunter. ‘When approaching this character I had to put what I’ve seen before aside,’ Mears told me shortly before the movie’s release. ‘He’s like John Rambo because he’s the smart hunter. He’s been rejected by society and he wants to be left alone.’
A shadow was first cast on the fate of the latest Friday the 13th when Paramount removed the picture, along with a sequel to the zombie flick World War Z, from their schedule. And while the movie was expected to enter production next month, it has been revealed that development on the film has been cancelled.
‘The exact reason for the move is unclear, although one factor could be the poor performance of the studio’s horror movie, Rings. That pic, which like Friday the 13th was to have restarted a horror franchise, cost $25 million and bowed to $13 million over the weekend,’ revealed the Hollywood Reporter. ‘Sources say that execs quickly began second-guessing Friday the 13th, believing it would have chased the same audience, although others point out that the project is on the opposite spectrum of the horror scale.’