Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Script Review: Friday the 13th Part 13 by Aaron Guzikowski
Cody has read the Friday the 13th script that got six weeks away from being filmed.
The next installment in the Friday the 13th franchise is trapped in development hell. Last month, I reviewed a script that had been written for the film, Friday the 13th: 3-D by Nick Antosca, and in the opening preamble I detailed all the trouble the series has been going through lately. Antosca's script was one of several that have been written and discarded over the last eight years, and after that draft was rejected Contraband / Prisoners screenwriter Aaron Guikowski was hired by Paramount Pictures and the producers at Platinum Dunes to start over from scratch and give them his idea for a Friday the 13th.
Paramount, Platinum Dunes, and Guzikowski were in a race against time to get the movie into production. Warner Bros. had handed the Friday the 13th rights over to Paramount for a period of five years, and when Guzikowski was hired in December of 2015 they had already spent almost three years on abandoned approaches.
Guzikowski's script got very close to being filmed. Breck Eisner was attached to direct, locations were being scouted in the Atlanta, Georgia area, casting calls were being sent out. The film that was being referred to as Friday the 13th Part 13 was scheduled to be released on October 13, 2017, coming in just under the five year deadline.
Filming was supposed to begin on March 19th and wrap up on May 4th. Six weeks out from the start of production, Paramount pulled the plug, deciding not to go forward with making a Friday the 13th.
Now that the project is dead in the water, I have been able to read a draft of Guzikowki's script that was dated 05/13/16. There were likely some revisions done after this, but it gives an idea of what was in store for us if this movie had been made.
The title on the script is Friday the 13th Part 13, but this is not a "part 13", it's not in continuity with any of the films that came before it. After the franchise was rebooted with Friday the 13th 2009, I felt lucky that the series had made it through the remake/reboot era without getting a direct remake of the early films, I was very relieved that the '09 didn't outright disregard any of the back story that had been established for slasher icon Jason Voorhees and his mother Pamela. The origin was intact. The "Part 13" that Guzikowski and Eisner were going to bring us would have knocked that relief right out of me, because it is a remake that changes everything.
The story that has been established in other movies is that Jason Voorhees, born in 1946 to Elias and Pamela Voorhees, was a deformed, hydrocephalic child who was being raised by his single mother Pamela, who worked as a cook at Camp Crystal Lake. Pamela described Jason as a "sweet, innocent child", and while that may be a biased mother speaking, there also hasn't been anything to tell us he wasn't sweet and innocent. A nightmare sequence in Freddy vs. Jason implied that Jason had been mocked and bullied by the other kids at camp. One day in 1957, while Pamela was busy preparing meals for the campers, the counselors weren't paying enough attention to the kids and Jason drowned. Driven mad by the loss of her child, Pamela did whatever it took to make sure Camp Crystal Lake would never open again - she killed a couple counselors in 1958, and whenever an attempt was made to re-open the camp after that something would go wrong. Fires, bad water. In 1980 (or possibly 1979, thanks to a continuity error on a gravestone), the camp was about to be re-opened, so Pamela went on the killing spree that is depicted in the original Friday the 13th. That killing spree came to an end when the last surviving counselor decapitated Pamela... And somehow Jason witnessed that decapitation, whether from beyond the grave or from the woods - there is a chance that he had survived his drowning and spent the next twenty years living in a shack in the wilderness. Either way, Jason did have a shack, and Pamela's head ended up on an altar in that shack. A couple months after Pamela's death, Jason murdered her killer. Five years later, he kills some counselors himself when a counselor training center called Packanack is opened across the lake from the closed down Camp Crystal Lake - the events depicted in Friday the 13th Part 2. Like Pamela was avenging him, Jason is now avenging her, and he kills anyone who ventures into his territory in the wilderness surrounding the lake. When we first see the adult, murderous Jason in Part 2, he's wearing a sack over his head. While killing people in a cabin near the lake in Part III, he acquires his iconic hockey mask... And the series goes on from there.
Described as "a unique retelling of the origin story", Guzikowski's script begins on July 12th, 1977, at which time Jason Voorhees is a deformed 16 year old (he wears a medical mask to hide his facial deformities) who is being raised by his mother Pamela, a cook at Camp Crystal Lake who is known for her sugar cookies, and his father Elias, a park ranger. And that's not all Elias is up to while he's out of the house. The opening sequence finds a pair of Crystal Lake counselors going into a hundred foot tall fire tower, a private place to have sex and smoke pot, and getting murdered by a man wearing a sack for a mask. That masked man turns out to be Elias, and the sack mask is really only present in this scene to pander to fans, because Elias slips it on to hide his identity even though he's still wearing his park ranger uniform, name plate and all.
After those opening kills, the script introduces its main characters, 17-year-old camp counselor Annie Christy and her counselor-in-training sister Mary, who is 14. These are the daughters of camp owners Steve and Andrea Christy. Steve Christy was the name of the man who was re-opening the camp in the original Friday the 13th, but this Steve isn't really a character. Steve Christy isn't the only name from the early films to be recycled in Guzikowski's script, a lot of the character names are references - the name Annie comes from the first movie, the couple killed in the opening scene are Jeff and Sandra, named after a couple in Part 2; there's a Barry and a Claudette, the names of the first people killed in the first movie; the name Tommy Burns is a combination of the names of hero Tommy Jarvis from 4, 5, and 6 and copycat killer Roy Burns from part 5; there's also another character named Roy, etc.
Jason doesn't speak, but he has convinced his mother to allow him to take swimming lessons at the camp. Sandra was supposed to be giving him those lessons, but since she's not around anymore (being dead and all) and Annie has caught Mary being a bully to Jason, Annie decides to assign the lessons to her sister as punishment. Of course, bratty little Mary doesn't show up for the next lesson, leaving Jason in Annie's care.
Annie is sort of an odd character in that she's largely the typical responsible and caring heroine, and she'll turn down alcohol and drugs because she's in training to become an Olympic swimmer, but she'll still pop amphetamines to fuel her swimming practice. When a trio of other counselors, loaded down with alcohol and drugs, interrupt Jason's swimming lesson to invite her out to the island in the middle of the lake - a heavily wooded area called Big Brick - she actually takes Jason along with them.
That was a big mistake, because Annie's friends end up mocking Jason and tearing his medical mask off while filming the incident with a Super 8 camera. Jason runs off into the woods of Big Brick and can't be found... The counselors suspect he went into the water and drowned, and Andrea Christy decides that they should just keep this whole "lost Jason at Big Brick" story to themselves (especially don't tell Pamela about it) so it won't cause trouble for the camp.
There's trouble for the camp anyway, because Elias ends up killing Annie's three friends, framing one of them for the murders he has been committing. Since it's a murder site, Camp Crystal Lake closes down... But it re-opens three years later as an all-girls camp.
Guzikowski's script is essentially told in three chapters, with a different killer in each. He had Elias killing people while telling his own version of Jason's drowning, and that takes up the first 36 pages of the script. Then it's time for the "part 1 remake" section of the script, in which Pamela begins killing people. The script moves ahead to Friday, August 13th, 1980, which fans know wasn't really a Friday the 13th, the only Friday the 13th in 1980 was in June. Pamela believes Jason is talking to her from the grave and she feels drawn to the fire tower, which is where he was conceived.
Climbing into the fire tower, Pamela finds evidence of Elias's murderous deeds, along with Jason's medical mask and the Super 8 film from the day of his disappearance. Seeing these things makes Pamela snap. She murders Elias, who has become a broken-down alcoholic since Jason disappeared, then watches the footage of Jason's final moments - footage that shows he was with Annie when he went missing and likely drowned.
Pamela kills some people on her quest to get to the Christy girls, but her ultimate goal is to get Mary, now a 17-year-old counselor herself, and Annie, who is now a 20-year-old burn-out, into her house so she can show them the Super 8 footage and torment them. It's not directly stated in the dialogue, but Guzikowki's descriptions indicate that Annie is now strung out on drugs and alcohol and has become suicidal because her dreams of Olympic glory were dashed by the United States' participation in the 1980 Olympic boycott. Since it's not said, viewers would probably think she was a mess because of what happened to Jason and her friends, which would have been the more sensible thing for Guzikowski to write into his script in the first place.
Dialogue in this stretch of the film does reveal more about the Voorhees home life. Elias started out as a nice guy who was happy when Pamela got pregnant, he was excited to be having a son. But at some point, he began to realize that there was something off about the child in Pamela's womb. He tried to kill Jason while Pamela was still pregnant, which is why Jason was born deformed. As Jason got older, he had a babysitter, and Elias became convinced that the babysitter wanted to kill him - and that Jason had somehow gotten into her head and was controlling those homicidal thoughts. The babysitter was fired and soon after killed herself. Or did Jason make her kill herself? Or did Elias kill her? Who knows? It's not explained.
After Pamela has killed a few people and done some ranting to the sisters, Annie and Mary end up escaping from the Voorhees house, leading Pamela on a chase through the woods and across the lake, ending up at the Big Brick island. Pamela is decapitated on the shore... and as soon as she's killed, on page 65, a wail comes from the woods on the island.
Jason didn't drown, he has been living on Big Brick for the last three years. He's wearing a hockey mask now, a mask left behind by the locals who play hockey on the lake when it freezes over, and he has just witnessed the death of his mother. The last 31 pages of the script continue on further into the night of Friday, August 13th, 1980, as the hockey masked Jason follows the Christy girls back to camp to avenge his mother.
The characters Jason hacks through while pursuing the sisters include the girl that Mary has been having a secret lesbian relationship with, some of the other female counselors of Camp Crystal Lake, and male counselors from the nearby all-boy camp Packanack, who have come over to party with the girls.
Hardly any of these fodder characters have any presence on the page at all. They have different names, but they're all interchangeable. Almost every teenage character except the Christy girls are only defined by the fact that they love alcohol, weed, mushrooms, and acid. This script is the complete opposite of Antosca's draft, which spent time making sure you knew who each of the characters were and liked and cared about most of them. The victims in this script have less depth than the teens in the original films, they're just there. Guzikowski was too focused on telling us different versions of things we've already seen to develop the people.
There is slightly more variation to the kills in this script, but just like Antosca did Guzikowski chooses to have Jason attack his victims all at once, going after groups of four to six people instead of knocking them off one at a time. Of course, when you've decided to fit the entire "Jason as the killer" section into just 30 pages, you have to make it move quickly.
Each chapter of the script involves the fire tower in some way, and that structure is where Annie and Mary ultimately choose to take shelter as Jason chases them through the woods. It doesn't go well.
The producers at Platinum Dunes said they had decided to delve into Jason's origin because they felt the viewers "kind of have to understand Jason", as if we've been having trouble understanding him for the last thirty-seven years. If they were trying to clarify anything in this script, they failed, because this version of the origin story only brings up more questions than ever. They muddy the waters with the inclusion of Elias, especially with the way the character is portrayed in these pages, and the portrayal of Jason is confused as well.
Toward the end of the script, Annie looks through Elias's journal and seems to have a breakthrough. And it's not just the realization that young Jason was fascinated by the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" rhyme, a fact that is hinted at throughout the script. (The rhyme was featured in Part 2, so now they want to give it Deep Meaning.) Suddenly she understands everything that has been going on. While Pamela was pregnant, Elias somehow realized what his son was going to become and from that moment on was dedicated to stopping Jason. But what has his son become? Until he saw his mom get decapitated, he was just living alone in the wilderness, not hurting anybody.
Annie figures that Jason stayed on Big Brick because he wanted to get away from his dad. That's why he wanted swimming lessons in the first place, he wanted to swim away from Elias. So the script makes it pretty clear that Jason never drowned in the first place. That answers that question, taking away that supernatural element. But this Jason is still supernatural in that he is indestructible, able to just shrug off things like getting a cleaver in the chest. And Guzikowski also adds in a different supernatural element - it seems that Elias's fear about the babysitter wasn't just madness, Jason can get into people's heads. He did want the babysitter to kill Elias, but that seems fair, since Elias wanted to kill him. He probably was mentally reaching out to his mom as well.
It's made quite obvious that Jason can manipulate people's thoughts when Mary's girlfriend suddenly turns against her, grabbing Mary and holding her in place while she calls out to Jason, telling him to come get her. But I'm not sure how much control Jason has over this ability, because when he reaches them he kills his little servant instead of Mary.
This mental power stuff is very weird, and I'm left baffled over the Elias side of things. He realized that his baby son was going to become an unstoppable killing machine with supernatural mental powers... so he decides to try to stop his son from becoming a killer by killing people himself? What sense does this make? Then when Jason "dies", Elias becomes an alcoholic shell of his former self. Why wouldn't he be glad to be rid of Jason?
The only thing making Elias a sack-masked killer adds to the script is that it provides a moment when Annie is briefly able to intimidate Jason by putting on Elias's coat and mask, a sort of callback to the "tricking Jason by pretending to be someone from his past" endings of Part 2 and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. There's actually two examples of such a trick in the climax, because Annie later distracts Jason by ringing the dinner bell that Pamela used to ring to call him in out of the woods when he was a kid.
Those sort of callbacks are nice, but even with them in there I'm not convinced that there is anything in the pages of the Guzikowski script I really needed to see in a movie. Throughout the Antosca draft, there were multiple moments that I badly wanted to see be brought to life on the screen. There were no such moments in the Guzikowski draft. I don't want to see his version of the origin story. I don't want to see anyone's version of an origin story, honestly. I'm perfectly fine with what we've already been told. I'm not opposed to a film shining some light on what Elias Voorhees was like, but the Elias Voorhees story here is completely nonsensical.
This story isn't worth telling, the characters aren't interesting, none of the violence really blew me away. I don't need to see Jason's drowning all over again, I don't want him to have mental powers, I don't want to see Elias as a killer, I don't want to watch Pamela's killing spree all over again (unless I'm watching the original movie), and sure as hell don't want to see her show Super 8 film to two tied up girls. If this movie had been made, it would have just been one scene after another of stuff I wouldn't want to be sitting there watching. I would have been left wondering "What the hell was going on there?" about certain things and more than anything I would have been wondering "Why did they bother telling me that story?"
In my opinion, Paramount made a wise decision when they decided that they didn't want to bother telling this story. It would have displeased a lot of people. The Antosca script had its issues, but it was much closer to what the audience would want to see from a new Friday the 13th than this one was. This was a muddled mess, and not very Friday the 13th.
Since I pointed out the musical choices in the Antosca draft, I should mention that Guzikowski put song cues throughout his script as well. The soundtrack the writer had in mind for this one: "Do You Love Me" by KISS, "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks, "Thank God It's Friday" by Love & Kisses, non-specific Blondie and Diana Ross songs, "People Who Died" by Jim Carroll, the Eddie Van Halen guitar solo "Eruption", "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner, and "Cars" by Gary Numan. At least I would have liked the music.