Blasphemy is a strong word, but for some, it may apply to what I’m about to say.
Frequent iHorror visitors are aware of my love for Friday the 13th, Kane Hodder in particular, but the more thought I devote to it (and the more I watch the 2009 reboot), the more I believe the finest portrayal of Jason Voorhees belongs to Derek Mears.
Look, I get it, how can a guy come along in the twelfth version of a film and be the best? Well, that’s not all the difficult to answer.
Horror fans are inextricably tied to the past; it’s just the way that it is. Collectively we are hung up on the “glory days” of eighties slasher flicks, and many of us fall prey to the idea that the best the genre has to offer is in the rear view with solid submissions few and far between these days.
So let’s drop that fascination with the past and weigh things for what they are.
We’re not talking Stephan Smith Collins replacing Doug Bradley or Jackie Earle Haley stepping into the shoes of Robert Englund here, because Hodder’s four performances aside, a myriad of men have played the Camp Crystal Lake marauder.
Some have towered above the competition. Richard Brooker offered our first glimpse at Jason as refined killer. Still human, still a bit of bumble to the execution, but what Jason would become began to take shape with Brooker’s offering from Part III. Then Ted White set the standard by which all Jason’s henceforth would be judged in The Final Chapter, and Kane took zombie Jason to another level from The New Blood through Jason X.
Fantastic depictions all, but none quite measure up to Mears.
Before anyone goes off on that remark, let’s break it down. There was an element of goofiness to many of the Jasons we’ve been treated to over the years, and the legends above are not immune to that criticism. What separated Mears from the field was the realistic way he approached the character.
For the first time we had a completely believable Jason, one whose every action was calculated and embarked upon for reasons that made sense.
Mears’ Voorhees didn’t simply wander the grounds of the camp slaughtering everyone he came into contact with; it was all laid out in the prologue of the film. Richie (Ben Feldman) commented, “I get it, though. You do what you’ve gotta do to survive.” Later, when Clay (Jared Padalecki) stopped by an old woman’s house to ask if she’d seen his missing sister, she commented that folks didn’t know where to walk around those parts. The people just wanted to be left alone, “and so does he.”
Those statements encapsulate everything you needed to know about the latest iteration of Voorhees. This Jason was not about stalking and slaying, he was about survival and protecting his home. That was certainly the intent of Damian Shannon and Mark Swift in the way that they wrote the character, but Mears took that premise to a whole other level.
Mears himself has stated that he may have done more research than he needed to fulfill the role of Jason, but that homework paid dividends.
The Bakersfield, California native delved into child psychology and the effects of losing a parent at a young age, as well as isolation and survival techniques. We saw Jason portrayed not only as human, but for the first time, as a human being.
We saw how taxing the loss of his mother was, how lost, alone and confused Jason felt. And like anyone else, when he was fucked with, he wanted to take action, to let everyone know that he was not to be trifled with, and grew angry when he couldn’t find his tormentors as they hid beneath canoes.
These weren’t camp counselors who needed to be punished for drinking, getting high or fornicating like rabbits, but rather invaders who were, to Jason’s thinking, threats to his very existence. They were unwanted guests who ventured into his backyard and strolled into his home, looking through his things as though it were a hotel. He acted accordingly – get them before they get you.
Mear’s Jason put them down swiftly and violently. Make sure they don’t get back up. He had set up trip wires around the camp to tip him off to approaching trouble, and his kills were efficient rather than elaborate. It was about survival, not savoring the murder. He only made victims suffer when it served a purpose, to bait the others into appearing to help their friends. Not as a set up for good times, but because he didn’t know how many of them there were or what weapons they may or may not have had. The only way to reclaim the upper hand was if the battle was fought on his turf.
Everything Mears did as Jason was purposeful. It was strategic, believable and done out of survival.
Now, for those who would call into question Jason wandering to Trent’s (Travis Van Winkle) father’s cabin, you’d do well to remember that he simply followed the trail that the invaders put him on. That they had decided to exit his home stage left made them no less of a threat in Jason’s mind. Get them before they get you.
There was nothing humorous or goofy about the Jason Voorhees of Derek Mears. Yes, he ran and some had distaste for the tunnels beneath the camp that shed light on the long-standing mystery of his apparent ability to warp from one location to the next in what seemed like seconds, but for the first time Jason was not simply a killing machine seeking out blood regardless of circumstance.
No, this Jason was an actual character who thought, stressed and suffered, and whose motivation was not out of blood lust but survival. And when you have a hulking figure wearing a burlap sack or hock and wielding a machete believing that it’s him or them, you have all the ingredients for a horrifying figure.
“Let’s think beyond the legend, put it in real terms.” When Swift, Shannon and Mears teamed to expand on Ginny’s (Amy Steel) contemplation from Part II, they provided a gift to Friday fans everywhere, the most terrifying Jason in franchise history.