It’s hot as hell in Austin. Hot and humid. The bugs are out in full force as a group of journalists, most of us buzzing with excitement, get bused out to a wooded area where the Platinum Dunes guys have set up shop to shoot one of the climactic scenes in their reboot of Friday the 13th. There’s a series of cabins out here, and the reason we’re buzzing is that we know we’re on the grounds of Camp Crystal Lake, one of the most iconic locations in horror movie history. This iteration of Camp Blood lies just beyond a AAA baseball field; all during the night we hear the cracks of bats and cries of the crowd, and when the game finally ends Jason Voorhees has to stop trying to kill Supernatural‘s Jared Padalecki in order to wait out a fireworks display.
When we first get to the location we’re all worried that this will turn out to be another legendarily bad set visit. I’ve been flown all over the world to visit sets on days when absolutely nothing is happening; I’ve been in Berlin to see an actress stand in front of a green screen for two hours and Mexico City to see a conversation in a truck being filmed. In both cases the big action – a huge explosion, an army of zombies – was scheduled for the day before or after my visit. A trek to Austin for Friday the 13th simply has to contain one element to be worthwhile: Jason Voorhees. If we don’t get to see the man himself, preferably in some sort of action, this whole thing is a bust.
The whole thing is not a bust. Producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller meet us and do a quick Q&A, and then we go to the set. The scene in question is taking place in and on an abandoned bus in the woods – their homage to Into the Wild, Fuller jokes. Padalecki and co-star Amanda Righetti are in the bus, while Jason, wielding a wicked looking machete and wearing the classic hockey mask, stands atop it. Padalecki ends up battling the killer; I don’t know the final outcome of the fight, but things do not look good for our hero. By which I mean Padalecki, despite the fact that Fuller and Form know everybody is going to be rooting for the man in the mask.
“In order for us to do our jobs we feel on this film you have to be rooting for these kids to get away,” Fuller says to us. “So in that context, Jason is a villain – because he’s the adversary that the kids are going up against. We know that there are going to be deaths of these kids that the audience is going to clap because they hate certain kids. And we know that there are going to be deaths where Jason kills someone and they’re cheering for Jason.”
And it’s those claps and those cheers that Fuller and Form want to get this time out. With their remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, they were looking to upset you and gross you out. But with Friday the 13th they’re going for something totally different. “We felt that a lot of the horror movies, and some of our own, were so dreary,” says Fuller. “We wanted to kind of take a step away from that and kind of bring in the horror, which you have to have there, and bring in some great characters and funny, amusing situations.
“We want to have some fun on these movies,” Fuller continues. “We’ve spent a tremendous amount of time in the basement dismembering people. It was exciting for us as producers to get out there and go to a place where there’s sun and water and fun.”
Form agrees. “If you look at all the horror movies over the last 5/6 years you really can’t count on your hands how many have been that type of a fun, slasher-type horror film with, you know, sex and drugs and rock and roll and kids having the time of their life and paying the price for it.”
And these kids will pay the ultimate price. There will be blood, but it won’t be in the vein of the recent torture trend that they helped spark. “There’s no torture,” Form tells us. “[Jason]’s not a big torturer – in this version of the film. He doesn’t tie people up and torture them and pull their fingernails off and, you know, he doesn’t do anything like that. He kills hard and fast and he dismembers people – body parts fly, but it’s very quick and visceral.”
The more I talk to Fuller and Form the more impressed I get. They know their shit when it comes to the Friday franchise, and they’ve cherry-picked moments and concepts from the first three films to make their reboot sort of an uber-Jason movie (but not featuring Uber-Jason from Jason X). They know that the mainstream audience wants Jason with a hockey mask, and they don’t want to wait until Friday the 13th Vol 2 Part 3 to get that, even though purists will cry that the original first film didn’t even feature Jason as the killer and that he wore a sack on his head, a la The Elephant Man, in the second. But these things have been taken into account – there will be the head of Pamela Voorhees, and the sack, slightly modified to look creepier than ever, is Jason’s couture in the first act. But for those worried that this is going to be like the Chainsaw prequel, all didactic origin story, Fuller and Form say not to worry.
“It’s not presented as an origin story in the least,” Fuller says. “That’s not our goal here to show how he put the mask on. The goal is to put a group of kids in Crystal Lake, bring them back to Crystal Lake, and have them meet Jason Voorhees – and along the way you kind of get a sense of the history.”
Meeting Jason Voorhees is a funny thing. Clocking in at well over six feet, dressed in a motley assemblage of found clothing (he wears stirrups on his belt as rudimentary machete holsters), the new Jason looks classical. He does have a touch of Freddy vs Jason to him, but done right. Standing in the presence of this figure as he holds that razor sharp blade is enough to make you think twice about making out or smoking a joint in the immediate area. But under all of that menace is Derek Mears, a guy who could not be nicer. I know that sounds like some kind of paid off jerk off journalist cliche, but it’s just the God’s honest truth. Mears isn’t nice in the boring, harmless way that you expect when someone is proclaimed a very nice guy; he’s just incredibly personable and funny and charming. And playing a retarded backwoods murderer.
First Mears gives us a tour of his costume. “I have some regular, very well-worn combat boots. Which I am sure were stolen off some wayward hunter. This T-shirt that I am wearing? It’s funny. Its some high priced fashionable T-shirt that cost a hundred dollars. We had to destroy it. The reason we use it is because it is so thin. Through the holes, you can see [FX artist] Scott Stoddard’s details of the chest plate. It is really cool once it is lit. The fake skin is a little bit up right now, because I am all sweaty. But once it is down, you can see the individual muscles move. Especially during the rain sequence. Scott gave me a slight scoliosis to the body. And if you can see here on my back, I have a hump. There are some deformations to this Jason Voorhees. He is a guy that is living in the forest. And he isn’t able to eat so much. But he is still action-y. He is lean and functional. With Scott’s design, the body is really defined by the hump.”
Yes, he’s wearing a body suit from the chest up. But that isn’t all the make-up that Mears endures. “For the Hockey mask scenes I am wearing a prosthetic eye. Scott, being a fan of the originals, wanted it to look as cool as possible. So it is glued to my face. Some people ask, ‘Why isn’t it glued to the mask?’ Because if it is glued to the mask, it won’t move right, and it will look fake. I’m really excited, because I talked to Brad and Andrew, and I told them how much I hate it when someone has a dead eye. And it looks completely fake. They are talking about CGIing in an eye blink. It will be really fast, so that you can’t tell it is CGI. I am so excited about that.”
He’s so excited in general. While Mears started out in improv comedy and got into stunt work, he’s a huge fan of the series. Like the kind of fan who will stand around for a long time talking about his favorite entries in the franchise. Mears has an interesting point of entry in the Friday the 13th movies – he really empathizes with Jason Voorhees. “I’ve been thinking about what I love about the character. I think it’s that he is a victim. He represents those people in high school that get picked on. Those people with the lisp, or with the hair loss. The outsiders and the misfits. He is alone, and he has been rejected by society. Then the beautiful people come and take over his place. In this world, we are not socially allowed to lash out and get our revenge. Nothing like that. Jason does that, though he does it in a poor way. People keep crossing over into his territory. I could identify with that when I was growing up. I had Alopecia and I had the hair loss. When they did part four with Tommy Jarvis, and he shaved his head, when Feldman did that, I had had my hair in patches. Because my hair started falling out at that time, not to get super personal. And I really related to him. I thought, ‘I am just like Jason. Okay. Cool!’ He has given me so many nightmares. He has always been my favorite iconic character. That is why it is so surreal to me when I am watching that monitor. I want this to be so good, because I can’t believe that I am being able to do this. I feel like a kid at home playing Jason.”
That level of empathy doesn’t just come from personal experience but also from Mears’ commitment as an actor. It’s probably easy to don the outfit and go through the motions, but Mears has put serious and real thought into how he’ll be playing a character that has been written off as a very angry mongoloid in the early films and a very angry zombie mongoloid in the later films. “My take on Jason is that he is a mix of John Rambo from First Blood, a little bit of Tarzan, and the Abominable Snowman from Looney Tunes. I want to say that he is like Lenny from Of Mice and Men, but that sounds sort of actor-y. He is very much John Rambo. This is a smart, smart script. Its not just another slasher flick. Boom, another actor is dead. You actually see Jason thinking. You see him setting people up. In my opinion, it is very much like First Blood. He has been wronged. People come in. He fights back. And it is brutal. You understand him. And you know why he is doing this. You have that sympathy for the character. I don’t look at him as a villain. He has been wronged.”
I’ve heard some horror stories about previous Jasons, about actors who get on star trips or who take the role so seriously that they mistreat their co-stars. Mears seems unable to even contemplate doing such a thing. When the camera is on he’s in character, huge and menacing, but as soon as cut is called, he’s back to joking around. There’s no build up to or cool down from the character; a sheer professional Mears just turns it on and off.
That’s not as easy for his co-stars. At one point Amanda Righetti gets pretty banged up and ends up recuperating back at video village, where we’re all hanging out. She keeps a stiff upper lip, but you can tell that the physicality and the heat are getting to her. Mears stands to the side, being tended to by Stoddard, who is carefully reapplying pieces that have come off as the actor sweats. Even during this process Mears is completely friendly, and we all get a moment with his machete.
Stoddard, who did 13 years at Stan Winston’s studio before going out on his own, starting with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, tells us a great story about bringing the hockey mask to set. He had it in a padded case, and was bringing it through airport security (unwilling to check the case, he brought it as carry on). When the case went through security the TSA employees pulled him aside and asked him if that was actually Jason’s mask. They wanted to try it on, but Stoddard stood up to them and wouldn’t allow it. The mask he’s designed is perfect – completely identifiable as Jason’s mask, not reinventing the wheel. In fact, that was his take on Jason in general. “There were elements like Paul Halderman’s makeup in part two that I really liked and I wanted to meld that in a bit with what [they] did in part four,” he tells us. “So I wanted to meld the two of those together… you know, he’s a human being so I didn’t want to put it too out there and make him, like, a monster. He’s a deformed man, so I wanted to keep it in that vein… I didn’t want to go completely bald. I didn’t want to make him completely like a mountain man with hair all over and straggly… there’s definitely a human side to him and a side that’s more twisted.”
As the night goes on it’s fascinating to watch the way the crew works. We never speak to director Marcus Nispel, who is down by the bus dealing with the nitty gritty technical details. Fuller and Form sit back at the monitors, calling all the artistic shots. In many ways this Friday the 13th reboot is their movie, top to bottom. I don’t know how they are on their other sets, but on Friday they’re old-fashioned producers, really making all the decisions, looking at the playback, working with the actors and having the director make their vision come alive. It’s Golden Age Hollywood film making on a slasher movie set.
They’re really into this film. As we sit through a number of takes, Fuller and Form are very honest about their oeuvre to date, not hiding that some of the films didn’t meet their expectations, but they’re very happy with what they have going here right now (months later I would run into them again and they could barely contain their excitement. These guys feel like Friday the 13th is their best movie, and it seems like they think this could be the start of something very big for them). And they’re really working it. Many of the kills have alternate versions – not versions that are gorier for the DVD but completely different versions of kills. They describe the two versions of one lake-based kill; version one is based on terror and atmosphere while version two is a faster, more brutal and classic Friday kill. But either kill would be amazing in the film, with the first one feeling more iconic while the second kill feels more cathartic. Either kill would be a serious crowd pleaser.
As the night drags on we lose some of our less hearty fellows. I could stay on set all night, but it’s soon time for everybody to leave. There’s a couple more hours of shooting to be done, but it’s already almost 3AM. We all get crew shirts, and then we get the biggest gift of all: personalized photos with Jason. Mears is such an incredible guy that he puts on the full costume, make-up and mask just to take pictures with a group of goofball web journalists. Everybody else gets their picture taken in a death pose – Jason stabbing them, Jason choking them, Jason crushing their head. I know that isn’t the photo I want. After all these years growing up on Friday the 13th films and after a night having the chance to see one of them being made first hand, there’s only one picture that I want with Jason Voorhees: I wrap my arms around him, bury my head in his chest and give him a big hug.