‘Friday the 13th: Vengeance’ is the newest in a wave of crowd-funded fan films that have sprung into production as the rights battle between Sean Cunningham and Victor Miller has put a hold on the big screen return of Jason Voorhees.
Now, there’s a certain stigma that comes with the term “Fan Film” that immediately gives a not-so-favorable impression when used, and that makes these new Friday the 13th fan films a hard sell. I’ve seen plenty of fan films over the years, and they’re usually nothing more than some passionate fans getting together with friends, a camera, and their own funds, and just having fun while making their own entry into whichever franchise they hold dear. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, and I try not to view them as critically as I would a professional film – but these fan films were things I never gravitated towards, because, to be honest, sometimes they’re difficult to watch.
This changed for me two years ago, when, while at work, I received a text message from a good friend of mine, who is also an enormous Friday the 13th fan, suggesting that I should go on YouTube and watch a Friday the 13th fan film called ‘Never Hike Alone’. I said I would, and later after the kids went to bed, I put on the movie, and it had very much impressed me: it had good cinematography, a good score, good acting, and most importantly it had its own unique story and style in comparison to the rest of the series. It didn’t try to mimic what had come before, and for that I was grateful. I was so impressed by that film, that I suddenly felt compelled to pay attention to the fan film world – especially considering that the official franchise is stuck in limbo amidst an overdrawn court battle over rights – and man, there are A LOT of Friday the 13th fan films in the works, as the fans fight to take back the series that hasn’t had an official release since 2009. Let’s face it, it may be a long time before we get another official entry in this beloved franchise, so I see nothing wrong with turning to independently produced fan films in the meantime.
‘Friday the 13th: Vengeance’ was one of the two I’ve been anticipating the most. Despite being a fan film, it had managed to attract and barrage of talent, most of whom have been a part of the actual series. Tom McLoughlin, the writer and director of ‘Jason Lives’ serves as a consultant; Harry Manfredini provided the score; C.J. Graham, who played Jason in ‘Jason Lives’, has been cast as Elias Voorhees; Steve Dash, who played Jason in ‘Friday the 13th Part 2’, has been cast as a local Sheriff; and they managed to grab Mick Strawn, production designer of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ 3 and 4. The involvement of these individuals increased my anticipation of this project as it showed to have promise of the return to the Paramount vibe.
So, did ‘Friday the 13th: Vengeance’ live up to expectations?
Well, my overall impression is this: it’s a flawed, but fun, movie. I do have some gripes with it, but I do not regret watching this movie at all, and to be honest, I’d rather re-watch this movie again over any of the New Line Cinema entries.
The story is set a little over 30 years after the ending to ‘Friday the 13th part VI: Jason Lives’ (1986), and begins with Elias Voorhees (C.J. Graham) returning to Crystal Lake, and as a result, Jason (Jason Brooks) rises from his underwater grave of sorts, and picks up where he left off. As Jason’s extracurricular activities are being covered up by Sheriff Realotti (Steve Dash), Angelica Jarvis (Kelly Tappan), daughter of the iconic ‘Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’ (1984), ‘Friday the 13th part V: A New Beginning’ (1985) and ‘Friday the 13th part VI: Jason Lives’ (1986) character Tommy Jarvis, receives a note from her father stating that he will be gone for a while and that “He’s back” – concerned for her father’s safety, Angelica calls on her friend Robbie Thompson (Luke Schuck), who brings along a small crew of people who are related to characters from the second, third and fourth films, in an effort to find Tommy and put an end to Jason Voorhees – unaware that Jason isn’t the only one lurking around the woods surrounding Crystal Lake.
To get some of the negatives out of the way first: this film was way too crowded with characters. I know it sounds crazy to complain about a Friday the 13th film having such a large body count, but hear me out. There are so many additional characters in this movie just for the sake of body count that it felt unfocused overall. It felt to me that having all these different groups of people enter the film randomly had taken away time from the plot, the lead protagonists, and further development of the films most interesting addition to the Friday the 13th lore: Elias Voorhees. To give an example, aside from Jason and Elias, we also have the five members of the search party; seven people in one tour group; five people in another tour group; two hunters; two chicks with a broken down car; Sheriff Realotti and his two deputies; Angelica’s little sister and her friend; a drunken redneck (also played by Jason Brooks); and a large group of Prisoners picking up trash, plus more! Sure, a lot of the kills were fun to watch and well done, but some of these didn’t seem necessary and at times made the narrative seem messy. Get rid of one of the tour groups, the prisoners and the little sister and her friend, and I think this film would have been a lot better. Considering that the film ended with more of a sequel set up than resolution, some of these characters and kills could have been saved for later.
My only other complaint is the same one that most have with this film, and that is the sound. The sound seemed a little all over the place, up and down, and at times it took me out of the film. But, from what I understand, the team at Brownspace Films are working on correcting the sound issues and will be uploading an improved version sometime soon.
Moving onto the positives: with the exception of the times where the sound went funky, I had watched this forgetting that it was a fan film. While it didn’t exactly have a theatrical flare to it, it at least felt like it was a studio backed direct-to-video effort. That may seem like a backhanded compliment, but trust me, it’s not. For the most part, it looked and felt like something professionally put together, which says a lot considering that it is just a fan film.
I thought the acting in this was much better than it had any right to be; maybe because I went into this knowing that it was a fan film, that I had expected the acting to be of very low quality, and I was surprised by a few performances. Not everyone was great, but I think Kelly Tappan, Luke Schuck, Ray Hopper and Jason Brooks did well in their roles, but the two standouts of this cast for me were C.J. Graham and the late Steve Dash. This isn’t to say that these are award-winning performances by any stretch, but for a fan film of a series that’s never been known for great acting, these people shined.
My favorite aspect of this movie is the connection between Realotti and Elias Voorhees, and the revelations that come with this. I’m not going to spoil it here for people who haven’t watched it yet, but I appreciated the attempts made to further advance the lore. I honestly would have loved more of these characters, as I feel they could have really carried the whole movie, and with a stronger focus on this subplot, we could have had a truly special film.
Bottom line: ‘Friday the 13th: Vengeance’ is a fun fan film, flaws and all, and I think that it’s at least worth a watch.