Written by Denis Faye
Believe it or not, Damian Shannon and Mark Swift made a point of dialing down the gore when writing the new Friday the 13th reboot. While the team wanted to avoid the comedic tone of their first foray in the iconic slasher franchise, Freddy vs. Jason, they particularly wanted to stay away from the “torture porn” trend popular in today’s horror genre.
“Horror started as an escape,” explains Shannon. “You get that release when you watch these films and for me and Mark, the torture stuff doesn’t provide that.”
The team wrote the “kills” in the new movie to be “swift and quick and surprising,” so one need not be an evisceration connoisseur to enjoy them. And indeed, test screenings indicate that Friday the 13th is thrilling and chilling demographics that had previously left the horror genre for dead. “I think that if you make a movie that’s thrilling for everyone,” Swift says, “it’s going to be successful.”
Shannon and Swift chatted recently with the Writers Guild of America, West Web site about how they wrote those kills, how to appeal to both new and hardcore fans, and how to keep a venerable franchise fresh.
How did you go from the comedic Freddy vs. Jason to this more intense film?
Damian Shannon: I think it’s because of our experience on Freddy vs. Jason that we decided to turn this one into a little scarier, more controlled, tonal film.
Mark Swift: In the new one, I feel like we still have some humor, but we wanted it to come from the characters and not the tone of the movie. We wanted the scares to be scary, and we wanted the humor to be funny. I think we had a lot of unintentional laughs in the first one. It got a little too cartoony for us. In this one, we really wanted to have the tone more balanced.
How did you guys score the assignment? Freddy vs. Jason was so different from this.
Mark Swift: I think the studio and the producers came to us because we had familiarity with the characters, and we’d written a number of projects with New Line, so I think they trusted us.
How did you reboot a franchise that had already been done so many different ways? How do you make something like that fresh?
Photo: © 2009 Warner Bros. Pictures
Derek Mears in Friday the 13th.
Damian Shannon: Well, first of all, we felt lucky to be part of something that we loved as kids. In rebooting it, the challenge was to remain faithful to its original roots without straying too far away from that, as well as how to come up with new, fresh spins on the franchise that newer audiences might groove on. I think it was just figuring out a balance between those two things.
How do you think the craft of writing horror has changed in the 30 years or so since the original Friday the 13th came out?
Mark Swift: I think it goes in cycles. I think for this new one, we wanted to cycle back to the way that it was in the ‘80s. It was a little less self-aware. Then we had the cycle with Scream where it was self-reflexive and winking at the audience a lot. After that, it seems like it went into, I think it’s been referred to as “torture porn,” like the Saw films, which are all about throwing out that self-reflexivity and really making it brutal and visceral. I think we’re trying to have this pendulum swing back to where it was a little more entertaining and fun. That was basically our goal.
Regarding the “kill” set pieces, are they organic to the story or do you come up with a bunch of cool ones and work the story around them?
Mark Swift: One of the things we try to do is put the characters in a real situation and try to come up with something organic out of that. You don’t want to say, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if Jason killed someone with a refrigerator?” It would be kind of goofy. You want to put the characters in a real place and hopefully, the kills will come out of that.
Damian Shannon: Also, some kills we have in this movie are references or spins on old kills we saw in the franchise. We put them in there for the real, hardcore fans so they could get a kick out of it. These movies are very personal to the fans of the genre. They’re very protective and whenever you service them, they are extremely appreciative.
Mark Swift: But the thing is that you have to be careful not to show them anything they’ve seen before. With a franchise like this, that’s had so many movies with so many different kills, you really have to do your homework and make sure you’re showing them something original.
So it is Scream-like in that you’re paying homage to older movies?
Mark Swift: I would say more like dropping Easter eggs that only a fan would pick up on.
But you have to be careful not to do too much of that because you don’t want to alienate the new fans.
Mark Swift: I don’t even think the new fans would notice them. When we have a shot of a wheelchair in a tunnel, a real fan would say, “Oh my gosh, that’s a reference to Mark’s death in part two,” and someone else might just say, “Oh, that’s kind of creepy because there’s a wheelchair down there.” If you balance it right, you can have it both ways. You can have a movie that’s fresh to a new audience but that pays respect to the fans that have been there since 1980.
Damian Shannon: I definitely think you don’t want to make the newcomers feel left out.
How did you guys handle the tropes of the genre, like the Final Girl or the fact that if you have sex, you’re gonna die?
Damian Shannon: It’s almost unavoidable in a Friday the 13th. You just need to be aware of them.
Mark Swift: And you don’t necessarily want to avoid them. I think part of the fun is the familiarity of the structure of these movies, but at the same time, what’s a great opportunity for writers working on a reboot is that you know the audience has certain expectations based on what a character is like or what the genre is like, and you get to play on those expectations and surprise the audience. You definitely want to play with their expectations and then subvert them.
I think that would be a very difficult dance.
Damian Shannon: It’s absolutely a juggling act, and it’s something we paid a lot of attention to.