“Die! Die! Die! Die!”
It’s Friday the 13th! (Also my Dad’s birthday.) I’ve used this as an excuse in the past to do a review of the original Friday the 13th film as well as do a ranking of all of them from worst to best (IMHO, of course). This time around I’m doing capsule reviews of installments 2-4 of the franchise, which also happen to include two of my favorites.
I may have mentioned this before, but I actually live about 5 minutes from Crystal Lake. well, A Crystal Lake, anyway. It’s got a locals-only beach that my wife and I go to in the summer and directly across from that beach is an old Catholic summer camp, Camp Gregory. It’s no longer in use and looking up to see the paint peeling off the old concrete retaining wall in the shadow of the looming pines always gives me a bit of a chill, no matter how hot it is.
I hear they’re renovating and hope to open again soon. I’m sure it’s fine.
I have bare-bones DVDs of these films, which was my viewing opportunity this time around. For streaming options the films are free for subs on STARS and can be purchased/rented at most online vendors.
There are a few decent Blu-ray releases, include a big ol’ tin from Warner Brothers in 2013 and an 8 film release from Paramount just this week. If you’ve got the scratch, though, Fear Factory put out an impressive collection last year that is the only set that includes all 13 films as well as a separate disc of supplements. (Someday you will be mine…)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
This was the first of the Friday the 13th movies I got to see. I’d like to think it was because this was the first film of the series that I saw featured in Fangoria (something my brother Scott reminded me of). It’s more likely that when I went to rent the first film the store didn’t have it in. They always only had one copy of any given film (except for new mainstream releases), so this was a constant problem back then. Want to see the original Jaws? Sorry, how about The Revenge? Gah.
Anyway, this was my first experience of Friday the 13th and it colored my perceptions and expectations for the other films. It’s the first of the series with Jason as the actual antagonist (though he runs around looking like the killer from The Town That Dreaded Sundown for most of it). It’s considerably more polished with the cinematography, editing and acting than the first film. And I found the characters to be actually likeable – something that didn’t always prove the case as the series progressed.
I also remember this film as much more bloody and violent than it actually is. Most of the gore is cut away from fairly quickly or (like the infamous spear) isn’t actually shown on screen. I don’t know if this is a result of Paramount getting more involved or the MPAA starting to crack down on horror movies, but I was surprised at how tame it is – especially for a series famed for its violence. I’m guessing I’ve somehow transposed behind the scenes shots from Fangoria for the edited sequences in the film.
The opening pads time with a recap of the events of the first movie and follows that up with a sequence featuring the sole survivor of those events, Alice. It’s a bit of a mean-spirited scene, with a rough end to a strong character. Knowing the actress, Adrienne King, had to deal with a real life stalker after the first movie also makes it more uncomfortable.
After that it’s all young people, camp, hanky-panky, doomed, slaughtered – yadayadayada. The song seems familiar, don’t it? They definitely chose not to stray too far from the original, which makes sense. Why mess with what works? It’s in the details and the overall improvement in skill that I find what I enjoy about Part 2 – it’s certainly not in any deviation from the formula.
I mostly like the characters, which I guess isn’t that much of a change – but I also find it easier to differentiate and identify them. Other than Kevin Bacon (and primarily because of his later work) and Alice (because she’s the final girl) I don’t really care that much about the characters in the first film. The broad strokes of character development are still in place – the joker, the former jock in a wheelchair, the horndog, the fitness girl – but the actors seem to do more with them, somehow. I really wanted Vickie and Mark to get together, for instance – I sure as hell wasn’t that invested in the characters in the first movie.
I also really like the cinematography in Part 2. Things are framed well, let well, and I can generally tell what’s going on in any given scene. I also really like the long, Steadycam shots as Ginny is trying to escape from Jason. We still get plenty of Jason POV shots as well, but those tracking sequences feel a little like we’re running alongside Ginny, trying to escape as well. (And it also gives a great sense of space and uses the levels of the setting well to show us where the killer is in relationship to her.)
And I love Ginny. She’s my favorite final girl. She’s smart, sarcastic, capable and strong without being a fearless automaton. She’s terrified the entire time she’s being chased, but you can see her overcome it and do what she has to. There’s a shot of her sitting on a bed, holding out the business end of a broken pitchfork at the camera, dirty, disheveled, hurt – and yet determined. That’s my mental image of the character.
The ending is an unfortunate cheat, however. We never really know what happened. Jason’s brief appearance sans-mask isn’t even necessarily real. Did she pass out? Did he really appear like a deformed hillbilly? Where’s Paul and what happened to that damn dog, anyway. Ginny is taken off – strapped down, though she appears completely coherent – and we get no answers. Now or in the sequels. I always kind of wanted to see that character again – showing up with a chainsaw and a Psychology textbook to save the next batch of teenagers. Alas, Amy Steel declined to do any further Friday films.
The Bottom Line
My first Friday the 13th movie, and the one for which I have the fondest memories. It’s basically a remake of the first film, but as it’s better in almost every way I don’t really care. (I do miss Tom Savini’s makeup, though.)
Friday the 13th Part 3: In 3D! (1982)
I only vaguely remember Part 3, even after seeing it a few times. My clearest original memory is actually that of frustration – I couldn’t go see it in the theater, so I never got to see it in 3d! And that’s really the biggest drawback of the film – it knows it’s a gimmick film and so it shoves that gimmick into every frame it can. Poles come at you, rats come at you, machetes, pitchforks, popcorn and eyeballs come at you. And because it’s NOT being seen in 3d, it just screws with the tension and pacing and you start getting annoyed. Yeah, I see it – stop holding it right in front of the camera for crying out loud.
The second biggest problem with Part 3 is that I really don’t like any of the characters. They’re… annoying. Even our supposed lead, the final girl, Chris, is… I dunno, flat. Vapid. I don’t even like the nerd stand-in character of Shelly. In fact the character I end up liking the most is Vera – and she gets a spearfishing spear in the eye way too early. The unlikable teen protagonists seemed to proliferate in the slasher flicks of the 80’s, and probably led to my early burnout on the genre.
The third problem for me is that they moved the production of the film to California. It’s obvously California. The vegetation is all wrong, the light is all wrong, hell, the ‘lake’ is just a dug out area beside the house. It looks like a billion other films shot in California and loses everything that said “rural New Jersey.”
And don’t get me started on the ‘biker gang.’
The best thing that can be said about Part 3 is that we finally get the archetypal Jason. The huge, deformed killer wearing the hockey mask.
The Bottom Line
I really don’t like this movie much and it’s flabbergasting to me that it’s directed by the same guy – Stephen Miner (Who also did House and Lake Placid) – that made the second film. If it wasn’t for the iconic mask I’d say skip this one and move directly to Part 4.
I still kinda want to see it in 3D though.
Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter (yeah, right) (1984)
This and Part 6 form the apex of the Friday the 13th movies for me. If I had to pick one over the other, though, it would be this one. It’s got all the elements that make a classic Friday the 13th movie – teenagers in lust, Crystal Lake, Jason and – most importantly – Tom Savini. Add to that Matthew Star (sans powers), Doublemint twins, Crispin Glover (and his amazing dance skills), a Goonie and the best Jason death ever… well, that’s winner, winner, chicken dinner. (A phrase I only learned recently and have resolved to use as often as possible.)
Another bunch of idio… er, teens, head up to Crystal Lake, including Glover and that kid from The Last American Virgin (Lawrence Monsoon). They’re once again thinly written stereotypes, but as with Part 2 the actors do their best with what little they have. A new addition to the pool of potential victims this time around is a family – Trish Jarvis (Kimberly Beck), her mom and her little brother, Tommy (Corey Feldmen). Why anyone would still be living on that lake at this point is an open question – but maybe they’re just underwater on their mortgage. One other addition is Rob (Erich Rob) – a guy ‘hunting bear’ who’s actually hunting Jason – seems he’s the brother of Sandra from Part 2. (That’s another nice thing about this film – the nods and references to the previous installments.)
The teens do what teens do in slasher films – they skinny dip, drink, hook up, fight, stomp off alone to go swimming in the nude. Jason shows up because that’s like catnip to a slasher and proceeds to impale, slash, stab, nail, crush and otherwise make mincemeat out of them. Winner, winner… you know, I’m done with that phrase already. (And just as an aside, who the hell is renting cabins on Crystal lake to teens, anyway? That’s like aiding and abetting homicide. In my head cannon it’s now Vincent Price, laughing maniacally every time he gets some teens to sign the rental agreement.)
The two main locations – the Jarvis house and the rental – allow for some interesting back and forth chase sequences and the kills in general are more interesting than usual. (I remember reading that some of the actors had to do their own stunts, and some of that stuff looks damn dangerous.) Tommy is a fun addition – having a kid that loves makeup and special effects is an obvious shout-out to Savini and it works much better for me than the ‘have someone read a copy of Fangoria‘ placement in Part 3.
Part 4 also features the only moment of real horror in any of the Friday the 13th movies – as far as I’m concerned, anyway. Jason’s already slaughtered the teens next door and both Rob and Trish are investigating. Rob descends into the basement – because being near Jason obviously causes IQs to drop sharply – and is attacked. He screams for Trish to run and as she does we can clearly hear him screaming in the background, “he’s killing me! He’s killing me!” That is a legitimately horrifying moment and the one time I’m actually not treating the whole film like a carnival thrill ride.
The final sequences with Jason chasing Trish and Tommy are great, as is the final confrontation with Tommy having made himself up to look like Jason as a kid. Jason’s death is fantastically gory – especially considering the relative tameness of the previous attacks. There’s no doubt – as he lands on the machete and slides down it, the blade biting deeper into his skull – that this is the end of Jason Voorhees. A real final chapter. No doubt in my mind. None.
The Bottom Line
In the general sense there’s nothing special about The Final Chapter – it’s full of standard Friday the 13th stuff – but in the details it succeeds at doing all those things in the best possible way. I know there are issues with the making of the film – Joseph Zito was notoriously difficult to work with and there were injuries, walkoffs and threats – but none of it comes through in the film itself. It’s tense and fun and gory and would have been a great sendoff for a classic character.
But then it went and made a ton of money.