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Deconstructing Jason: A Conversation With the Filmmakers of Friday the 13th

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’re probably aware that this week marks the release of the remake/reboot/reimagining of Friday the 13th. Yes, Jason Voorhees is back, courtesy of producer Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes cohorts Marcus Nispel (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller. They’re pushing this baby hard — just today I spotted three massive billboards during a 15-minute drive. Mind you, I love having Jason loom intensely over the parking lot of my grocery store — he really livens up the neighborhood — and what could be better than spending Friday the 13th in a movie theater watching a new entry in the Friday the 13th saga?

I sat down with a bunch of people associated with Friday the 13th and asked the burning, hard-hitting questions I just KNOW you want answered regarding everyone’s favorite homicidal idiot man-child in a mask, Jason Voorhees.

Q: Regarding Jason’s mental capacity, is he just horribly deformed? Or is he, as Ginny posited “a frightened retard”?

Derek Mears (“Jason”): I think there’s a mild retardation, but he’s a smart guy — he sets people up [in the film]. I think it would be more of a deformity with a mild retardation. Even though Jason does kill people, the filmmakers wanted to lend him an air of humanity — something with which the audience could empathize. You know, he wears the mask to hide his pain and all that. That’s a symbol of — “That’s my protection from society”. I don’t know what the writers intended, but that’s what was going on in my head.

Damian Shannon (co-writer): He’s a sympathetic character. We understand his backstory — he was neglected, he was ostracized, he was different. He was neglected and supposedly drowned, and then they cut off his mother’s head. That would make anyone very angry, so we understand his reasons for killing.

Q: With this retelling it feels like you practiced “less is more” when it comes to backstory.

Shannon: You don’t want to reinvent him too much — you want to keep true to his original roots and his mythology, but come up with fresh twists that a modern audience hasn’t seen.

Mark Swift (co-writer): You want to keep a little mystery to it. For instance, did he really drown? How did he come back? Where’s his father? We weren’t going to bring in that, I think that takes a little bit away from it.

Q: This notion of Jason as a “human character” seems very important: This is not the superzombie Jason of the later movies in the original series.

Marcus Nispel (director): I proposed to think of him as a hunter, [someone with] the mentality of a hunter, but also somebody who got raised in the woods. I really wanted to stress a reality-based Jason, rather than this mythological creature who’s maybe a ghost or whatnot. The real horror is always much more scary to me.

Mears: My take is that he didn’t drown because he’s a normal guy. I think he actually did fall in the lake and maybe his mom pulled him out and resuscitated him… but she blamed everybody because he could have died… When he’s hurt and he keeps going after somebody, it’s almost like a Bruce Willis/Die Hard moment — this guy is so passionate about what’s going on, he’s getting jacked up, he’s injured, and he’s still moving forward because he’s so upset by what happened to his mother.

Shannon: We wanted to see Jason run again because he had turned into this lumbering zombie that would kind of stalk after you — but if you watch Parts 2 and 3, he runs — he comes after you like a crazy hillbilly.

Swift: The series went [supernatural], and that was cool, but it was important for us to start over and make him more human. In terms of where the series had gone — sending him to Manhattan, sending him into space –I think there was an opportunity to say, you can go back to classic Jason and it’s something that people will respond to. I, as a fan, want
to see him back in the woods. We, as fans, wanted to see him in the sack again. I want to see him in the hockey mask.

So what can you expect with this Friday the 13th? A Jason who’s more real, perhaps, but he’s still an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a hockey mask, living in the woods — a guy, as Mark Swift reminds us, who’s “obviously got deep, deep mommy issues.” A guy who deals with those mommy issues in pointy, stabby ways.

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