Since his official introduction in 1981′s Friday the 13th Part 2, the character of Jason Voorhees had gone through numerous makeovers and had been adapted so many times by a variety of filmmakers that his appearance in 2003′s Freddy vs. Jason bore little resemblance to his earlier incarnations. From the ‘sack’ in Part 2 to the introduction of the hockey mask in Part 3, from his resurrection as an unstoppable zombie in Jason Lives to his futuristic upgrade in Jason X; each director, writer and actor had placed their own stamp on the character through each movie. Whilst the majority of fans have cited Kane Hodder as the ultimate Jason (having been the only actor to play the role more than once), many have cited the earlier films as more tense as Jason was a human and less far-fetched. With every other franchise seemingly starting over with a remake – or reboot, as filmmakers often refer to them as – perhaps it was inevitable that, after years of struggling at the box office and failing to keep some kind of continuity between sequels, Jason Voorhees would be reinvented for modern day audiences.
Following the release of Freddy vs. Jason in 2003, the internet was awash with rumours of where New Line Cinema intended on taking the franchise next. Amongst the various gossip was a new spinoff entitled Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash and a sequel to the original franchise by acclaimed filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. The latter proved to be untrue, whilst the Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash project would eventually stall before pre-production could commence. Yahoo Movies! reported in October 2005 that Crystal Lake Memories author Peter M. Bracke had stated that New Line were considering either a new crossover with Halloween antagonist Michael Myers of a remake, which would follow the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre two years earlier. Even Hodder had given his approval for a remake as he felt it may give him chance to play the character once again. Other rumours would include a prequel, but in early 2006 it was announced that New Line were indeed intending on relaunching the franchise with a remake, which was tentatively scheduled for an October 13th release.
In February it was revealed that Platinum Dunes, the independent production company formed by Hollywood filmmaker Michael Bay in 2001, would be producing the project from a screenplay by Mark Wheaton (The Messenger). Bay had launched the company with producing partners Andrew Form and Brad Fuller and, following their early success with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, had begun to purchase other fledging properties which they could reinvent, leading to re-workings of The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher. With Platinum Dunes starting from scratch with what they hoped would be a new franchise, this would prove to be the first movie to carry the Friday the 13th title since Jason Takes Manhattan in 1989. In February 2006 it was announced that South African-born filmmaker Jonathan Liebesman, who had recently completed work on the prequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning for Platinum Dunes, was in negotiations to direct the project, whilst E! News reported two months later that Patricia Clarkson (The Green Mile) was in discussions to portray the role of Jason’s vengeful mother, Pamela Voorhees.
As with Freddy vs. Jason, one of the principal reasons that the project would remain in development for so long was due to difficulties obtaining the necessary rights. Paramount Pictures had distributed the first eight movies between 1980 and 1989 (whilst Warner Bros. handled the international release of the first film), before New Line had obtained the franchise in 1992. If the filmmakers were to truly return to the origins of the character then they would need to obtain permission from Paramount. Soon, the October 2006 release date came and went and no new movie was moved into production, causing rumours to once again surface online regarding the fate of the series. In early 2007, the complications with the rights to the series had been resolved when Paramount agreed to co-produce the movie, their first involvement in the franchise since their cancellation of the TV spinoff Friday the 13th: The Series in 1990. Wanting to pay homage to the key moments from the earlier installments, the producers decided to take elements from the first four movies and base their new story around those key plot points.
Another important decision that was made was to make the character of Jason human once again. In the first two sequels, Jason had been a deformed maniac who had taken refuge in the woods away from society and would exact revenge for his mother’s death on anyone who trespassed in his domain, yet in 1984′s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter he had awoken in the morgue and returned to his old stomping ground, where he had finally been defeated by a young child called Tommy Jarvis. After being notably absent in the subsequent film, Jason returned as a worm-ridden zombie in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, which would set the tone for the remainder of the series. Determined to give the character a sense of realism, the producers decided that Jason would return to his earlier incarnations for inspiration. By the summer the studio had announced that the release date had been pushed back to 2009 which, ironically, would coincide with another big budget slasher remake, My Bloody Valentine (co-scripted by Jason X‘s Todd Farmer).
Soon afterwards, Freddy vs. Jason writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift were brought onboard to rework Wheaton’s screenplay, whilst Liebesman would be replaced by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Marcus Nispel. By January 2008 the casting rumours had begun, with the first name attached to the project being Cloverfield‘s Odette Yustman. Despite this being untrue, the twenty-two year old actress was later cast as the lead in David S. Goyer’s The Unborn, which would also be produced by Platinum Dunes. The first actor to be officially cast in the movie would be Jared Padalecki, who had become something of a heartthrob with his role as Sam Winchester in the cult television show Supernatural (in which he co-starred with My Bloody Valentine‘s Jensen Ackles), whilst other appearances would include the 2005 horror flicks House of Wax and Cry Wolf. A casting call was announced for the role of Jason in March, describing the character as ‘thin, lean, and cut from living off the land and residing in the forest around Crystal Lake.’
This would prove to be one of the most controversial aspects of the production, with fans once again demanding the return of Hodder. A site was launched which compiled a list of suitable candidates for fans to vote who they would want to portray the role, with Hodder taking first place and wrestler Glen ‘Kane’ Jacobs coming a close second. Other names to be linked to the role would include Michael Bailey Smith (who had played Freddy Krueger briefly in 1989′s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child), although once again this rumour was falsely created by a news website. In an effort to find a suitable actor to take over the role of Jason, the producers approached several key artists for advice, including KNB EFX’s Greg Nicotero and Scott Stoddard. The final selection came down to two potential candidates; Chris Nelson, whose work had included roles in Eli Roth’s Hostel and David Arquette’s The Tripper, and Derek Mears, whose background in improv comedy and theatre had lead to to a part in the Wild West Stunt Show at Universal Studios.
Much like Nelson, Mears’ screen credits had been a mixture of acting and stunts, having worked on such movies as Men in Black II, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and The Hills Have Eyes II. Auditioning for the role of Jason, Mears met with casting director Lisa Fields (another veteran of Platinum Dunes) and was asked why an actor was needed to portray the character and not merely a stuntman, to which Mears replied that the camera would be able to read the emotions of the actor through the mask, instead of simply chasing his victims without any kind of depth to the role. Impressed with both his physical appearance and approach to the role, the producers agreed that Mears was the perfect choice to give Jason a human touch.
For the role of the ‘final girl’ (and Padalecki’s on screen sister), the producers eventually settled on Amanda Righetti – previously known for her turn in the horror sequel Return to House on Haunted Hill – although there would be rumours that she had been replaced soon afterwards. The casting for Friday the 13th was in full swing by mid-April, with the roles of the endless supply of victims going to Danielle Panabaker (Mr. Brooks), Aaron Yoo (Disturbia), Travis Van Winkle (previously seen in Michael Bay’s Transformers) and Willa Ford (wife of NHL hockey player Michael Modano). The special effects on the production would be handled by Stoddard, whose first experience in make-up was attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, before landing his big break working for the legendary Stan Winston on Congo, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Small Soldiers. Stoddard was initially skeptical about working on a Friday the 13th movie, particularly after being disappointed that the franchise had been sent into space with Jason X and so was determined to make the character menacing once again.
Photography on the movie commenced on April 21st in Austin, Texas and would be the first installment in the franchise to be filmed in America since Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday in 1993. To create the appearance of Jason, Stoddard designed a half body prosthetic for Mears to wear that would give the character a curved spin and slight hump, as well as a prosthetic hood to create his disfigured skull. His wardrobe would consist of a jacket that was actually three sewn together to give it a makeshift appearance, whilst the actor also wore combat boots and a horse bridal around his waist which would keep his machete in place. In an effort to address criticism that some of the sequels had received regarding Jason randomly appearing out of thin air, the producers decided that the character would hunt his victims via a series of tunnels that ran underneath the camp, thus allowing him to trap his victims.
Instead of merely copying his predecessors (although he would occasionally pay homage), Mears likened his take on the role of Jason to that of John Rambo in the 1982 action classic First Blood, in which a wrongly incarcerated Sylvester Stallone reverted to his Vietnam training to hunt down the police who are pursuing him through the woods. Even as filming had begun, the supporting roles were still being cast, with Nana Visitor (who would appear briefly during the opening scene as Pamela Voorhees), Ryan Hansen, Julianna Guill and 24‘s Richard Burgi joining the cast. With principal photography eventually wrapping on June 13th, the $19m picture was released on February 13th 2009. In an effort to avoid a battle at the box office, Lionsgate had moved the release of their 3-D remake of My Bloody Valentine forward three weeks to January 23rd. In its first four days of release, Friday the 13th earned approximately $45m in the United States alone, although its phenomenal success would drop a staggering 85% by the following weekend.
Regardless, its final worldwide gross would be an impressive $91m and soon Platinum Dunes expressed interest in producing a sequel, although their attention would be diverted by their remake of another popular slasher, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Whilst the majority of fans were impressed with the makeover the franchise had received, many critics were divided on the merits of the picture. Rober Ebert, who had launched an attack on the original movie in 1980, stated, “Friday the 13th is about the best Friday the 13th movie you could hope for. Its technical credits are excellent. It has a lot of scary and gruesome killings. Not a whole lot of acting is required.” The New York Times, rather humorously, commented that, “There’s a refreshing lack of numbers in the title of Friday the 13th, the latest in a slasher-flick franchise that has spawned approximately 500 sequels, including one that sent its villain, a hockey-mask-wearing psycho named Jason, into outer space to terrorize nubile astronauts.”