I've been a film buff since childhood, and I love writing about and reviewing my favorites.
"Friday the 13th: Vengeance"
(aka "Vengeance," 2019)
A fan film directed by: Jeremy W. Brown and Dustin Montierth
Starring: C.J. Graham, Steve Nash, Tom McLaughlin, Jason Brooks, Kelly Tappan, Sanae Loutsis
**This review may contain spoilers.**
It's been a long dry spell for fans of the Friday the 13th franchise. During the series' glory years in the '80s, horror addicts could expect a new Friday movie almost every year like clockwork, but the series has been strangely silent since the release of Marcus Nispel's flashy "remake" way back in 2009.
A major reason for the franchise's dormancy is a legal battle currently raging between Victor Miller, screenwriter of the original 1980 film, and series producer (and director of the original) Sean S. Cunningham. In 2016, Miller invoked a little-known clause in U.S. copyright law that would allow him to reclaim ownership of his original F13 script, which would make him the "owner" of Jason. Sean Cunningham maintains that Miller was his employee when the script was written, which would mean that Miller was never the "owner" of the work in the first place.
It's probably way more complicated than that, but the point is, any and all official Friday the 13th business—movies, video games, comic books, etc.—is effectively "on hold" until the legal brouhaha is resolved.
"Friday the 13th" Lawsuit Details
Rise of the Fan Films
Fortunately, some talented fans have stepped up in recent years to continue the Jason Voorhees saga on their own dimes, producing a variety of not-for-profit "fan films" that are usually financed via crowd-sourcing sites like Kickstarter or GoFundMe, and then distributed for free viewing via YouTube or Vimeo.
The most prominent of these F13 fan films have been 2017's well-received Never Hike Alone and 2019's Friday the 13th: Vengeance (aka simply "Vengeance") which I recently watched on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Vengeance is an impressive feature-length film, intended as an unofficial follow-up to 1986's Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives—which happens to be my favorite film in the F13 series, so of course, I wanted to check Vengeance out!
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Vengeance was shot in the wilds of Washington state on a budget of $50,000 by a crew that clearly knows a thing or two about filmmaking. To the untrained eye, this could almost pass for a legitimate F13 entry. It's fast, action packed, and bloody as you'd expect, and it's loaded with enough "Easter eggs" and call-backs to earlier F13s to keep sharp-eyed fans occupied till the "real" series starts back up again.
The "Vengeance" Story
In the opening scenes of Vengeance, a mysterious old man in a long black coat is seen visiting the gravesites of Jason Voorhees and his mother, Pamela. Through his conversation with the graveyard keeper, we learn that the stranger is Elias Voorhees—Jason's long-lost Dad.
This is a fun scene because Elias is played by C.J. Graham, who was Jason in F13 Part VI: Jason Lives, while the creepy graveyard keeper is played by Part VI director Tom McLaughlin. This scene is apparently based on an idea McLaughlin had in his original Jason Lives script that didn't make it into the final cut.
Immediately afterward, we witness the resurrected Jason brutally murdering a group of unlucky campers. Local authorities write the carnage off as a "bear attack," but obviously the residents of Wessex County know better. (In another nice call back to the F13's of old, local lawman Sheriff Realotti is portrayed by Steve Dash, the stunt man who played Jason in Friday the 13th Part II. Sadly, Vengeance is Dash's final film appearance, as he died in 2018).
We are then introduced to Angelica and Ashley Jarvis, the teenage daughters of Tommy Jarvis, the famed slayer of Jason last seen in Part VI. When the girls arrive at their Dad's home for a summer weekend, the house is empty and they find a note from him that merely says "He's back."
Fearing that their Dad is now lost in the forest on a Jason hunt, they saddle up a group of local friends, all of whom have family members that have previously encountered Jason Voorhees, and they head into the woods on a search and rescue mission. You can probably figure out how well that turns out for most of them.
...all of this would be more than enough plot for a Friday the 13th movie, but the writers of Vengeance muddy the waters by having two killers dispatching random characters in the series' trademark gory fashion. While Jason tears his way through various extras, Elias is doing the same as he gets even with those he blames for "his boy's" death.
After racking up a pretty impressive body count between them, Father and Son finally meet face to face late in the film, setting up a sequel in which the united Voorhees boys apparently intend to settle their feud with the Jarvis family once and for all.
"Vengeance" Sequel Info
Is It Worth Watching?
Overall, I was entertained by Vengeance. It certainly stood head and hockey mask above some of the other "fan films" I've seen on YouTube (many of which are just cheap cosplay junk). The acting, as you might expect from a fan-funded production, ranges from "adequate" to "amateur night," but then, the official F13 films were never known for great performances either.
If anything, it feels like the makers of Vengeance were trying to do TOO much in one film. With two separate killing sprees going on (Elias' and Jason's) and dozens of minor characters stumbling around in the forest at night, I found myself losing track of who was who and what was going on by around the three-quarter mark. The reasons for Elias' sudden reappearance and his connections to Jason's murderous nature are never fully explained, but maybe they're saving that for Vengeance Part 2.
With sequels to Never Hike Alone and Vengeance coming soon, and the multitudes of other F13 fan films already available on YouTube, it appears that the saga of Jason Voorhees is in good hands for now. If and when the "official" F13 series ever gets going again, it would be interesting to see if any of the ideas introduced in these fan films could be carried over to "real" Friday canon.
© 2020 Keith Abt