June 15, 2017

Opinion: Friday the 13th Legal Limbo

I don’t know where I’ve been for the past year, but I have just become aware of the legal battle that is surrounding the Friday the 13th franchise. And here I thought the problems with getting another film off the ground was the fact that the suits couldn’t come up with a good story. For the record, I am a fan of the remake and wish they had just started with a sequel to that one. In any case, this legal wrangling could have long lasting effects on one of the most enduring horror killers of all time.

The case, as I am reading about over at Dread Central, has original screenwriter, Victor Miller, squaring off with original director/producer and project shepherd, Sean Cunningham. Miller is seeking to invoke an element of copyright law that would allow him to reclaim ownership of Friday the 13th. Cunningham’s representatives counter that it was work-for-hire and does not fall under the clause that Miller is seeking to invoke. This ownership transfer would also apply to derivative works, such as the Jason Voorhees character we all know and love.

Further detail has come to light that could see some sort of compromise that would give ownership of the original screenplay, ideas, as well as the title, to Miller. He would also be able to create new derivative works based on the original. Cunningham on the other hand would be able to produce films based on Jason Voorhees outside of the US.

Frankly, I do not see how any of this will be any good for the franchise. With Cunningham’s inability to make Jason-based features in the States, I foresee this as a nail in the coffin for our beloved slasher as I do not see overseas only as being a profitable long term option. I am also curious as to what Victor Miller’s reasoning is for bringing this up now. Is it purely monetary reasons that he is seeking the ownership? Or does he have a new idea to try out on the franchise?

I would like to think that Miller has a fresh idea for where Friday the 13th can go. I would also bet if such an idea does exist it would not involve a hulking killer of teens. Granted, I quite like the Jason character, at this point making a good Jason film is all about execution of familiar elements. I am not sure there could be any legit freshness. Not that I am complaining, maybe there is a genre busting concept to have Jason inhabit, if not, I am perfectly happy with a well executed feature of familiar ideas.

Still, I am also curious about ways the franchise can be expanded or changed by going back to the beginning or before. I know there was talk of a young Jason television series, and while that could prove interesting, not exactly what I am thinking in terms of redefining the series. That would seem to be more along the lines of what Rob Zombie sought to do with his Halloween redux, demystifying the evil. I think Jason actually is an interesting character, something I explored a little in my Friday the 13th review series from a few years ago. (Original, Part 2, Part 3, The Final Chapter, A New Beginning, Jason Lives, The New Blood, Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell. Jason X, Freddy vs. Jason, Remake)

A couple of ways this could go to bring new elements in would be to explore Pamela Voorhees past pre-Friday the 13th film. This could be the period of time prior to the movie but after the death of Jason in the lake, the time of her as a parent taking care of a special needs child, or what she was like before having a child. These ideas would not be the typical dramas they appear in that brief description. It could explore her increasingly unhinged mental state, or maybe explore the fact that she was nuts in the first place. We could also introduce Jason’s father. Perhaps he was the unhinged one who drove Pamela over the edge, or maybe they had some sort of involvement with the counselors prior to Jason’s drowning. Maybe?

Another direction would be to go a more supernatural direction. Perhaps it has something to do with the lake itself. Perhaps there is some sort of curse of spell involved with Crystal Lake that results in some people being turned into killing machines. Another idea could be the lake and surrounding land being a regular victim of horrific events that give life to an urban legend.

I think there are things that could be done with Friday the 13th outside of Jason-centric films. I am not sure I am ready for it or if it is a feasible direction to move. I have a suspicion that should a Friday the 13th film be made without Jason, it would end up being a financial disaster with a rebellion among the fanbase. Maybe I’m wrong. I guess only time will tell if this legal dispute ends up going anywhere and what long lasting effect it will have on the direction of the franchise. Please, just don’t do a found footage Jason.

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