Franchise Corner Entry: FRIDAY THE 13TH
FRIDAY THE 13TH ***** USA 1980 95 mins
Borrowing the format and structure of HALLOWEEN and the shock tactics of CARRIE, while adding a new kind of horror star to the mix (make-up FX legend Tom Savini), this movie became as influential in its own way as the Carpenter movie before it. The trailer emphasised the bodycount above everything else though, in retrospect, it’s surprising how many of the murders occur off-screen: most of the gore is limited to aftermath shots. Director Sean S Cunningham shrewdly realised the impact of tried and tested techniques like the eerie signature theme to represent the unseen killer (c.f. JAWS) and the subjective camerawork familiar from early slasher efforts like BLACK CHRISTMAS. Slower than its sequels, the original F13TH devotes more time than usual to the fooling around of its likeable weed-smoking, Strip Monopoly-playing teens, while the ultimate horror movie harbinger of doom Crazy Ralph lurks in pantries to spread his local cheer (“You’re doooomed!”). There’s remarkably little T & A given what was to come, but the murders (especially Kevin Bacon’s post-sex bed spearing) are memorable and the denouement is a tour de force dominated by Betsy Palmer’s creepily grinning, unflatteringly dressed portrayal of Mrs Vorhees. Back in the day, this was roundly dismissed as a prime example of contemporary horror movies being a) misogynistic and b) taking a kind of moral high ground by equating sex with death. In fact, a) as many men die as women and b) all of the characters (including surviving heroine Adrienne King) appear to be sexually active, and if anything, Mrs Vorhees’ oppressed, Mrs Bates-ish attitude suggests a message of sexual repression leading to murder and madness. Fuck you, Roger Ebert.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II **** USA 1981 87 mins
Opening, unusually, with a suburban prologue and subtle creepiness (Jason steps in a puddle on a dark street right after a little girl has played “Itsy Bitsy Spider”), the debut film for Mrs Vorhees’ grown-up son returns to the original’s woodsy summer camp backdrop after heartlessly disposing of final girl Adrienne King in a lengthy prologue. Jason’s origins are explained via a campfire gathering in urban legend terms, echoing many similar scenes in slashers of the era, while Amy Steel’s intelligent heroine analyses the maniac as a “child trapped in a man’s body”. Crazy Ralph turns up briefly to utter his catchphrase before being garrotted, while Ned the Prankster is replaced by gangly Stu Charno, whose jokes end with lines like “the bear wiped his ass with the rabbit”. Hot girls skinny dip in the lake near a well known murder scene in the middle of the night and the enduring influence of Bava’s BAY OF BLOOD is most apparent during a sadly censored spear-penetration involving two young lovers. Weakened by the MPAA-snipped murders, this suspenseful sequel has a terrific second half, in which the talented Steel proves herself to be the cutest, most convincing final girl of the series. Jason, wearing a burlap sack that offers a visual echo of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, is a genuinely creepy presence during the well directed climax at his late mother’s shrine.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III *** USA 1982 96 mins
In the same year as JAWS 3 and AMITYVILLE 3-D, director Steve Miner’s second Jason movie cheerfully thrust an assortment of baseball bats, eyeballs, snakes and joints at the audience for this 3-D sequel. Gimmickry aside, it’s as formulaic as they come, from Larry Zerner’s overweight, insecure prankster character (his only purpose : to inadvertently provide Jason with his iconic hockey mask) to an eyeball-clutching old-timer offering dire warnings and at least one character impaled from below a la Kevin Bacon. There’s even a direct reworking of the original film’s infamous only-a-dream final jump scare. Miner makes evocative use of the widescreen frame (it’s the only FRIDAY in the scope format), but the film is weighed down by some of the dumbest, oldest-looking characters in the series: laughable biker stereotypes and a pair of embarrassing aged hippies are a low point. In 2-D and on repeat viewings you really notice how grating final girl Dana Kimmell really is, and the eyeball-popping murder is amusingly cartoonish, but it’s still entertaining and a couple of the murders (a flare gun to the eye, the wince-inducing fate of that guy who walks on his hands) deliver the goods.
FRIDAY THE 13TH THE FINAL CHAPTER **** USA 1984 91 mins
Promoted as “Jason’s Unlucky Day” and bringing back Tom Savini to provide a juicy comeuppance for you-know-who, this fourth entry provides a rousing “finale” courtesy of THE PROWLER director Joseph Zito. A briskly edited pre-titles sequence offers a marvellously appetite-whetting “Previously on Friday the 13th” montage before Jason wakes up from the morgue and heads back to his old stomping ground to hone in on a fresh half-dozen horny skinny dipping teens. Top-notch boobs are provided by Judie Aronson as the camp bicycle (yep, she takes a fatal midnight swim), while anyone with a hard-on for brunette twins are catered for. Corey Feldman prefigures Danielle Harris in HALLOWEEN 4 as a monster-loving adolescent who turns out to be the only person so far to convincingly kill Jason, though the offensively permed Kimberly Beck is a bland, too-straight heroine. The supporting cast is far livelier than usual: stand-out is Crispin Glover (pre BACK TO THE FUTURE) as a gimpy teen with a nervous laugh and a maniacal dancing technique (famous last words: “Where’s the corkscrew?!”). The gruesome kills are superbly staged, though Zito also knows how to craft atmospheric set pieces without the need for graphic bloodshed (check out the “shadow” kill) and makes us forget that the usual array of false scares, corpses crashing through windows and assertions of “I’ll be right back” were, by now, very old hat.
FRIDAY THE 13TH A NEW BEGINNING **** USA 1985 92 mins
Paramount’s hasty cash-in on the success of the alleged “final” chapter was widely hated by fans for a long time, who failed to notice that the splendidly sleazy approach by SAVAGE STREETS director Danny Steinemann makes it one of the liveliest, most honest sequels. It took three credited screenwriters to craft a heavy handed whodunit around some very Jason-like murders, establishing the adult Tommy Jarvis (John Sheppard replacing Corey Feldman – though the latter shows up for a nightmare-prologue) as a red-herring potential killer. Setting the movie in and around a mental institute provides some freshness, plus an amusingly excessive early moment in which a twitchy inmate hacks up a fellow resident just for being fat and annoying. The “mystery” killer gets an array of sinister close-ups just in case we can’t guess for ourselves, and many characters are introduced for the purpose of having flares / meat cleavers / machetes shoved into their bodies. The deepest character development is to give one guy a stutter. The actresses (including the buxom Debisue Vorhees) obligingly take their tops off though weird bleach blonde Tiffany Helm is sexier than any of them when she does her 80’s robot dance. Stealing the show are foul mouthed red-neck harridan Ethel (Carol Locatell), who spits in her stew, hates everyone and has a retarded son named Junior (“Eat yer fuckin’ slop!”). It’s the only FRIDAY movie in which a Michael Jackson-esque black kid pursues a pseudo-Jason with a bulldozer, and it’s one of the most purely enjoyable of the lot.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES **** USA 1986 86 mins
Though it runs out of steam at the end (tying Jason to a big rock smacks of desperation!), the seriocomic tone and self-mocking dialogue of Tom McLoughlin’s sixth film provides a delightful prelude to the jokiness of later FRIDAY movies. Reviving Jason via a wonderfully evocative old-school Gothic horror graveyard opening (all dry ice, forked lightning and an EC-comics style maggoty corpse), it also hits the bullseye with a cute title sequence featuring Vorhees in a James Bond pastiche prior to the title splashing on the screen in bright red blood. McLoughlin revitalises the standard FRIDAY set-up with pre-SCREAM referential humour (“any weirdo wearing a mask is never good”), horror fan-boy jokes (a service station named Karloff’s) and comic violence instead of nastiness, like the trio of goofy survivalists beheaded by a single machete blow. When Jason (played with real energy and presence by C J Graham) is on screen, the movie has zest and invention, with one cool, superhero moment in which he stands iconically atop an overturned, blazing R.V. Too bad that Thom Matthews’ incarnation of the now-irritating Tommy Jarvis deserves a slap, though Jennifer Cooke is the sexiest, feistiest heroine since Amy Steel. The sense of throwaway fun is summed up by the post-modern moment in which a drunk gravedigger deadpans straight to the camera: “Why’d they have to go and dig up Jason? Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment!” P.S. Don’t dare call yourself a horror fan unless you have Alice Cooper’s theme song on your I-Pod!
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII : THE NEW BLOOD *** USA 1988 88 mins
It’s fitting that a franchise instrumental in turning a make-up FX artist into a “star” eventually gave sequel-directing duties to an FX artist…though John Carl Buechler isn’t much of a director and the seventh chapter, despite featuring the most impressive Jason of them all, suffers from mundane staging. Even by the standards of 80’s horror sequels, the script contrives a ridiculous means of reviving Jason that would be forgivable…if the means of killing him at the end wasn’t so flat-out embarrassing. This is also the FRIDAY that suffered the most from the MPAA’s pre-release cuts, neutering all the juicy bits. It was a nice touch to bring back Crazy Ralph himself, Walt Gorney, to narrate the opening montage, and Lar Park Lincoln is sympathetic as a telekinetic girl even though the movie just requires her to weep and frown on cue. Revived again from a watery grave, Jason (played for the first of four movies by Kane Hodder) resembles, in his unmasked form, Dr Freudstein from THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and vividly culls fresh meat including beautiful slasher veterans Heidi Kozak and Elizabeth Kaitan. Most of it is lazy, there’s no graphic gore remaining in the released version and it turns out that pitting Jason against a girl who can routinely demolish houses with her mind drains most of the usual suspense from the climactic mano a mano. This slick, watchable but humourless flick was the first in the series that you can genuinely call “bland”.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN *** USA 1989 100 mins
Famously, the title of the final Paramount FRIDAY promises mass-carnage in a vibrant urban locale, but only delivers a few minutes of MPAA-friendly, budget-conscious kills in back alleys and sewers. Revived via electric current and wearing his axe-marked original PART III mask (in the pre-eBay era, how did he get that?!), Jason boards the good ship Lazarus (arf!) from Crystal Lake, joining a bunch of New York-bound graduates. Troubled heroine Jensen Daggett has a dull backstory involving an earlier encounter with juvenile Jason, there’s a Crazy Ralph-style doom-laden deck hand, and the liveliest characters are a cocky black boxer who challenges Jason to a fight (“Give it your best shot, motherfucker!”) and a coke-snorting prom queen bitch. The kills, with sauna rocks, electric guitar and axe, are mostly splatter-free, though Hodder’s tremendous physical presence lends a violent edge to the best sequences, including a discreet but jarring attack on a nude girl with shards from a smashed mirror. Sadly, the movie gets bogged down with silly ideas (teleporting Jason, ELM STREET-ish dream-based shocks featuring Young Jason) and only displays a pulse in the climactic city scenes in which JV freaks out gangbangers and smashes up diners. It does, alas, possess the lamest finale of the whole series, and arguably the best thing about the movie was the fabulous appetite-whetting teaser poster with Jason slicing through an “I Love NY” icon.
JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY *** USA 1993 86 mins
A fanboy mentality (director Adam Marcus was making his directorial debut in his early twenties) makes this New Line Cinema “finale” to the FRIDAY franchise feel like a cobbled together stew of in-jokes and horror movie references, built upon an old-hat body-hopping-parasite gimmick and featuring a misjudged use of Jason himself. But there are a lot of positives, starting with the movie’s success in breaking out of the usual FRIDAY format. The opening set piece is strong: setting up the usual clichés (buxom, lone woman stalked and pursued through the woods after taking a shower) before subverting all of them and having Jason blown to pieces by the FBI before the opening titles. Thereafter, there are traces of wit (a sleazy diner holds a Jason is Dead 2 for 1 Burger sale and flogs pate shaped like hockey masks) and a surprisingly explicit spoof of the usual slasher movie sex-and-death sequence that contains (in the unrated version) one of the bloodiest and most spectacular kills in any FRIDAY movie. John D Le May is a very bland hero and the heavy handed back story (Jason can only be truly killed with an OMEN-style specific dagger) is utter tripe, but it’s tough to dislike and doesn’t stint on the gore and nudity.
JASON X **** USA 2002 93 mins
The first Jason movie to get a U.K. cinema release in 17 years, this tenth FRIDAY movie refreshingly gives fan-favourite Kane Hodder substantially more screen time than its immediate predecessor and is more successful at combining the expected slasher elements with a gimmicky backdrop and a streak of tongue in cheek humour. With all attempts at executing him failing miserably, the unkillable Jason is cryogenically frozen until the year 2455, when he thaws out on a spaceship where, handily, most of the travellers are scantily clad hot young women. Fast paced and fun, JASON X revels in cheap puns, futuristic jokes (hockey has been outlawed) and at least one show-stopping creative death involving a frozen face. There is a stand-out parody sequence featuring a Virtual Reality simulation of Camp Crystal circa 1980 (“Pre marital sex, we love it!”), and the climactic emergence of “Uber-Jason” provides a rousing finale.
FREDDY VS JASON **** USA 2003 97 mins
Disguising himself as Mrs Vorhees to manipulate him into leaving Camp Crystal Lake, Freddy Krueger has his own particular motives for prompting Jason to resume his murderous ways on Elm Street instead of his usual stomping ground. This long-anticipated, much rewritten franchise spin-off was the first movie in well over a decade to achieve big bucks box office for either of its two title characters. Despite a strain of goofy comedy, it satisfies by restoring Freddy to his child-murdering, relentlessly cruel roots, while devoting much of the first hour to a vigorous Jason rampage. With a nude, nubile young woman brutally murdered at Crystal Lake in the opening scene, Ronny Yu’s movie captures the ingredients of a typical FRIDAY movie quite nicely, with short, sharp brutal kills, gratuitous shower scenes and an outstanding cornfield rave massacre in which Jason cuts a swathe through various extras while on fire. There are nice incidental touches, like the duplication of Savini’s original Young Jason make-up for the flashbacks, and in a clever touch, bullies forcing a sack on junior Jason’s head like the one he wears in PART 2. It, perhaps inevitably, gets cartoonish for the arterial-spraying mano a mano finale that the whole movie has been built around, and making any major slasher character sympathetic (as happens to Jason here) is never a good idea, but FREDDY VS JASON is the kind of crowd-pleasing romp only a self-serious fool would fail to admit to enjoying.
FRIDAY THE 13TH **** USA 2009 Dir: Marcus Nispel. 97 mins
Teaming the director of the (very decent) TEXAS CHAINSAW remake with the writers of FREDDY VS JASON, this 21st century FRIDAY wisely returns Jason to his roots as a fast-striding, unstoppable (non-zombified) killer while likeably fulfilling the adolescent indulgences we expect: hot, horny characters of both genders, a nasty death every few minutes and stoner humour. It has fun checking off regular FRIDAY tropes: campfire-based exposition, ominous but ignored harbingers, ill-fated law-enforcement characters, post-coital death and a reworking of the 1980 film’s classic final shock. The script condenses the original film’s events into a single scene at the very start, as a survivor girl beheads Mrs Vorhees before a small group of campers are executed by Jason in his PART 2 burlap sack costume. Plucky Amada Righetti seemingly perishes in the struggle, while the present day action riffs on THE FINAL CHAPTER by following the attempts of her brother (a bland Jared Padalecki) to locate her at Crystal Lake, where rich bastard Travis Van Winkle (yep, that’s his real name) has brought his ethnically diverse buddies to enjoy a weekend of booze, weed and shagging. Derek Mears is a suitably imposing presence as Jason, briskly decimating the cast with machete centre-partings, head-stabbings and throat slashings, and achieving the rare symmetry of a 13-strong bodycount. Nispel stages a pleasingly sadistic variation on a classic Jason kill: the bimbo-in-a-sleeping-bag death seen in PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD and parodied in JASON X. The characters are largely less likeable than the often personable folks from the old FRIDAY flicks, and the introduction of Jason’s cavernous underground lair was a major misstep (as was the irksome use of trendy shakicam) but the movie was not deserving of the backlash it received from the miserable fan base. Bottom line: any movie with a topless water-skiier and the line “perfect nipple placement” is worth a look…
Reviews by Steven West