SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL #88 – “…And Today Is His Birthday.”

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It’s the last Friday the 13th of 2013, and to celebrate I decided to go ahead with something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. In this Journal, we will cover the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, which I have been re-watching of late. You’re not going to get the whole series here, but rather the first few films including the aborted reboot. Future installments of the Journal, to be published on the remaining two Fridays in 2013, will follow future installments in the series. 

Although I am a die hard horror fan, the truth is that I’m not a big fan of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. This is something that has caused some genre fans to be stunned but I have my reasons. They aren’t all bad, understand, and you’ll see some praise in here. The following entries should reveal what I believe to be the best and worst aspects of the series.

RATING SYSTEM

The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.

CRITERIA

What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?

FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 88

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friday_the_thirteenth_xlgFRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) – A group of camp counselors gather to re-open Camp Crystal Lake, which has been nicknamed “Camp Blood” by townsfolk familiar with the grounds’ troubled past. After a double murder and several aborted attempts to reopen the camp, the word was out – Camp Crystal Lake has a death curse. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop these young people who find out that Crystal Lake’s troubles are no accident and someone is willing to kill in order to keep the camp closed.

This was of course the first film in the series, and everyone seems to know the story by heart. The goals of the production were initially modest. According to screenwriter Victor Miller, Sean S. Cunningham told him, “HALLOWEEN made a lot of money. We’re going to rip it off.” This was not even an original concept, since everyone else seemed to have the same idea around this time. But soon, people would be talking about ripping off FRIDAY THE 13TH. So, what made FRIDAY resonate with audiences more than other slasher films of the era? Was it the gore effects by Tom Savini? Was it the studio backing? Or was it those moments that people can still recite from memory more than thirty years later?

There are indeed a number of great moments to this film. That ending really is fantastic. Adrienne King is an amazing Final Girl and the best moments are in the third act when she has to evade the killer. This would be a trend for the FRIDAY movies – the third act being the highlight. Unfortunately, another trend is established by this film, which is that the first and second acts aren’t so special. There are too many characters we don’t really care about, biding their time until they find up with a machete in their faces. It’s a passable film that is fortunate enough to have an appealing lead and a great last twenty minutes.  Recommended.

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friday_the_thirteenth_part_2FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981) – Picking up two months after the events of the original, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) has been unable to move on, still insisting that Jason Voorhees is alive and out for blood. She’s right.

After a great opening bit, which nonetheless relies a little too much on recaps from the first film, Jason returns to Crystal Lake and waits. Five years pass and Jason gets to resume his activities when a visionary young man gets the idea that reopening Crystal Lake is now safe, since Pamela Voorhees is in the ground. What could go wrong, right?

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 is actually my favorite installment of the series. By now, the producers seemed to know what they should be going for, even if they later forgot it. The pacing is much improved and the faceless killer with a sack over his head (similar to the “Texarkana Killer” in THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN) is quite evocative. The characters are better. What really surprises is how absolutely brutal this film got. With the series’ tendency to stick to a formula, it’s a revelation to see the go for broke menace presented in this still-early entry.

This time, it isn’t a chore to get to the last half hour. But when we do, and Amy Steel is forced to deal with Jason, the entire extended sequence is as intense as this series ever got.  Highly Recommended.

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friday_the_thirteenth_part_3_xlgFRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982) – This third installment picks up on the same night as the previous film and continues for the next couple days. In other words, Jason is perfectly capable of turning his Friday into a long weekend. Fortunately, there are all sorts of promiscuous, pot-smoking, socially awkward teens lining themselves up to get killed off in interesting ways. This is the film where Jason first scored his iconic hockey mask.

But if you ask me, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 is also where the series takes a turn for the worse. A much more cynical and by-the-numbers production than the previous installment. Steve Miner seems to have taken all the wrong lessons from PART 2, deciding that what worked was a sticking to a formula instead of ramping up the tension. The final act is still a highpoint of the film, but it’s a much bigger chore getting there. The characters are completely uninspiring and interchangeable and one wonders why they are even given names. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 is the equivalent of sitting through a boring lecture in order to get a candy bar.

And yes, this is the one that was originally shot in 3-D. So while some effects like eyeballs and harpoons coming at the screen are cool, other placeholders meant to make the audience go “ooh” and “aah” are not (A yo-yo? Really?). Much of the film seems intent on remaking the original film in a 3-D format, including similar kills and even a crazy townie. But Miner doesn’t show the same flair in this sequel that Sean S. Cunningham did in the original, 3-D or no 3-D.  Awful.

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friday_13th_4_poster_01FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984) – And we believed them too.

Jason gets up from the morgue and kills off a few horny nurses and orderlies before walking home, killing anyone he meets along the way. Once he gets into the woods, he’s happy to see (or at least think so, we don’t really get to see Jason smile) that the woods have spit up another group of vapid teens that need killing. But in addition to the same stock characters, there is also a man who knows about Jason, since Voorhees is responsible for the death of his sister. Also, a family is staying nearby and winds up on Jason’s hit list. One member of this family, Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) would wind up being Jason’s most formidable adversary yet.

A slight improvement over FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3, there are some interesting touches in the direction by Joseph Zito. Zito reportedly got the job because of his involvement in the superior slasher, THE PROWLER, which also boasted special effects by Tom Savini.

Unfortunately, many of the teen characters have not been improved over the last film and many of them wind up being so unlikable, you look forward to their demise. Speaking of demises, this film was indeed intended to be the last FRIDAY THE 13TH film. Nevertheless, they left just enough of a window open for a follow-up and sure enough, they decided that they would make more films in the series after the first weekend.

There is also more of what people love as there is a bunch of gore and more nudity in this installment. When sex and violence is your calling card, more is better. It should be noted along these lines that this installment was the subject of rampant censorship by the MPAA. In actuality, every FRIDAY installment dealt with this problem, but as they tried to increase the carnage, the MPAA got even stricter and thus the films have been severely neutered over the years. Since this was purely a puritanical bent and films are much more severe now, it would be great if the uncut footage films could finally be included in a future release. But though Paramount has re-released the series many times over the years, they have been notoriously stingy about giving them any kind of special treatment – a trend that includes the recent Blu-ray releases. Some of this footage did finally surface this year in the CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES documentary, but Paramount seems unwilling to give us an uncut version of this or any of the other sequels.  Disappointing.

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friday_the_thirteenth_a_new_beginningFRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985) – Say you’ve got a successful franchise that you decide to send off with an installment, billed everywhere as “the final chapter.” But uh-oh, that film turns out to make a boatload of money. Now, you’re faced with the no-brainer decision of continuing the franchise. But you’ve just killed off your main character in a very public and glorious manner. So, what are you to do?

If you’re the producers behind the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, you start the story by suggesting that another person inherit the mantle of that character, thus continuing the films in perpetuity. And that’s the most thought you put into the film apparently. Because FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V is not only the worst film in the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, it’s one of the worst slasher films period.

The film takes place at a camp for emotionally disturbed youth, which should make everyone a suspect, particularly Tommy Jarvis (now played by the wooden John Shepherd). Bu the characters in this one are so poorly written that they make other installments seem like Faulkner novels in comparison. Even though the idea is to keep things moving, PART V seems to plod along like no other film in the series. The film looks and feels drab with a lousy script and ridiculous reveal. Even more MPAA cuts make this an impotent entry. Not even the traditionally trusty third act is any good in this one. No wonder fans demanded their Jason back.  The Worst.

Fans weren’t happy with A NEW BEGINNING either, so Paramount would go back to their good ‘ol hockey mask killer for the sixth installment. Check back here next Friday for reviews of FRIDAY THE 13TH PARTS 6-8, and be sure to check back throughout the week for other entries in Scott’s Film Geek Journal!

Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 365

Miss any of the previous Journal entries? Check them out here!

And tune into my new web series, Moviocrity



Categories: Scott W. Davis, Scott's Film Geek Journal

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