At the start of 1986's Jason Lives, the sixth entry in the Friday the 13th series, Jason was depicted mimicking the famous opening to the James Bond series. The moment rated as a nice tip of the hat to Jason's status as a pop icon but unlike the many actors that have famously carried on the mantle of England's premiere super-spy through the years, when it comes to Jason Voorhees, the man behind the mask has always been an anonymous figure to all but the most hardcore geek set. But whether or not it's news outside of the FANGORIA crowd, the new Jason for the upcoming Friday the 13th remake has just been revealed to the world. The lucky candidate to don the hockey mask this time around is Derek Mears (see photo above).
For some, the news of a new Jason will be greeted with a shoulder shrug - after all, couldn't any big dude fit the bill? For instance, I felt that Rob Zombie was just blowing a lot of smoke in trying to say that he cast Tyler Mane as Michael Myers in his Halloween remake because he really needed someone who could ACT as opposed to going with a stuntman. Well, having seen that film I strongly disagree. Mane did fine, sure, but I didn't see much in his performance that previous Shapes like Dick Warlock or Brad Loree didn't pull off just as well. If you're playing Michael Myers, you can only get so far from Nick Castle's original portrayal before it doesn't seem like Michael Myers anymore. With Jason, however, there's a little more leeway for the personality of the actor to show through.
To that, some might say "Jeff, do you ever get tired of being stupid?" but bear with me. To the untrained eye, to the casual observer, there may not be much difference between the loping, lumbering hillbilly hustle of Steve Dash's Jason in Friday the 13th Part 2 and CJ Graham's lightening-charged, zombie superhero in Jason Lives (with that film, Jason was no longer just a creepy mongoloid skulking through the woods, he was elevated to a more mythical status) but I stand here today to tell you that there is.
In Friday's 2, 3, and 4, in particular, Jason seemed really scary to me (sure, my young age probably had something to do with that, but still...). Despite the character's uncanny resilience to injury, Jason didn't come across as a supernatural entity in these films, he was just a tough bastard to keep down. He wasn't yet the stoic, Terminator-esque figure that he became in the hands of actors like Graham and Hodder.
I especially liked Richard Brooker's Jason from Part 3. Even if he hadn't been the first Jason to wear the hockey mask, and even if he hadn't been the only Jason to date to kill his victims in 3-D, I'd still be a big fan. For instance, I love the way he loses his shit and tears up a horse stable when it looks like a potential victim that he'd cornerned in a barn may have given him the slip. Seeing Jason get pissed is great! Brooker's Jason also added a patented Jason move to the playbook, being the first to hurl a victim's body through a window with enough velocity as though it had been launched by a missile.
Part 3 also features the best Jason unmasking of the entire series. When Jason is literally at the end of his rope towards the climax, hung to apparently fatal effect from a noose by Final Girl Dana Kimmell, Kimmell pushes open a set of barn doors to look at her handiwork. As Jason's body swings in front of her, twisting and turning with the wind, he suddenly reaches his arms over his head and moves to free himself. As the noose slides over his head, it dislodges his hockey mask, briefly revealing the gruesome visage underneath. It's a great moment, and Brooker's performance really sells it.
And it should also be mentioned that with Part 3 for the first time we had a Jason who possessed the tremendous upper body strength needed to crush a dude's head hard enough to make the crushee's eye fly out. After that history-making kill, all future Jasons were required to go the extra mile at the gym.
Kane Hodder remains the most famous Jason with four Friday's to his credit (he wore the hockey mask from Part VII through Jason X, cruelly being let go by New Line just before Freddy vs. Jason became a reality) but while Hodder's tenacious efforts on behalf of the series always made him an ingratiating presence on the convention circuit, I never loved his portrayal of the character. This isn't Hodder's fault as his tenure in the role was marked by a series of ill-advised alterations to Jason's iconic character (turning Jason into a zombie was questionable to begin with but turning Jason into a hell-spawned, body-hopping slug as well as into a half-man/half-machine cyborg was just too much change for the character to withstand). I much preferred the early versions of Jason when the character was just a crazy mama's boy running around the woods, playin' the fool.
That's the Jason I like and if the plan is for Mears' portrayal to bring that back, I'm all for it.