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Friday, February 13, 2009
  DVD Review: Friday the 13th Parts 1-3

I’ve mentioned in this space before that I’m not really much of a horror movie guy, and slasher flicks in particular aren’t my thing. There are exceptions of course – I love the original John Carpenter Halloween, and I quite enjoyed Rob Zombie’s remake (my review of the latter is here), and I dig the Scream movies, but that’s more to do with their meta-humour/satirical aspects – but I was never a gorehound during my formative movie geek years, which I think is crucial to loving the slasher genre. (I was more into robots and spaceships as a kid than masked, knife-wielding psychopaths.) And no franchise best exemplifies the slasher than Friday the 13th. Following the box office success of remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, everyone’s favourite machete-wielding amateur goalie, Jason Voorhees, is the next passenger on the remake train. And to promote the new Friday the 13th film, Paramount has reissued new DVDs of the first three films in the franchise.

Before I go any further, I should mention there will be spoilers ahead (mostly for the first movie, as it’s the only one with something resembling a “twist”), in case you’ve somehow managed to not see the 1980 original and yet also really don’t want to know what happens at the end. (It turns out the killer is Jason’s mom.)

What I find the most fascinating about the Friday the 13th franchise is that the thing it’s most famous for – Jason – doesn’t actually show up as most people think of him until partway through the third film in the franchise. (I’ve heard the remake basically condenses the first three films in order to get to Jason with the mask and machete killing teens, which would explain why the first three got the DVD reissue treatment.) The original Friday the 13th, which screenwriter Victor Miller openly admits was never intended to be anything more than a quickie rip-off of Halloween (he says producer/director Sean S. Cunningham said to him literally “Halloween made a lot of money; let’s rip it off.”), basically just borrows heavily (VERY heavily) from Carpenter’s film, including an opening flashback sequence shot in the first person.

The other thing that amuses me about Friday the 13th is that it’s basically an R-rated Scooby Doo movie. The story follows a bunch of randy camp counselors preparing to re-open Camp Crystal Lake, which is said to be cursed, known as “Camp Blood” by the locals. About 20 years earlier, a developmentally-challenged boy named Jason Voorhees drowned because the counselors at the time were too buSPOILER ALERT!sy drinking and copulating to notice, and the following year some teens were brutally murdered. The camp was then shut down, and the local rumours began. When more counselors show up, disregarding the local folklore, the mysterious killer – Jason’s mom, who now hates all horny teens, especially randy camp counselors – starts killing again to try to scare people away. Except instead of Shaggy and Scooby and the gang, we get a young Kevin Bacon getting an arrow stabbed through his neck.

The original Friday really doesn’t hold up all that well. It’s not particularly suspenseful, and it predates the slasher genre’s latching on to the gimmick of increasingly violent, crazy kills, so the murders are fairly unspectacular, and Cunningham – who never really had any affection for the genre, and was just following the money, having helmed a couple of Bad New Bears rip-offs previously – doesn’t have much talent for building suspense. It’s an interesting artifact given the stature this franchise has since achieved in movie history, but as a stand-alone piece of work it’s pretty underwhelming. But the twist of having the killer being a sweet-looking middle-aged woman remains genuinely clever, so it gets points for that.

Part 2 came out a year later, in 1981 (but is set five years later), following the first movie’s surprise success. Of the original three, I found it the most enjoyable as a straight-ahead slasher movie. But while this time around Jason himself is the killer, he’s still not yet the Jason fans came to know and love. He’s just a maniac with a sack on his head. It’s still not exactly mind-blowing stuff by today’s standards, but producer/director Steve Miner does a decent enough job crafting a movie about a psycho who stalks camp counselors. Part 2 is also noteworthy for really upping the gore and pointless-nudity quotients, both staples of the genre as it would develop (one scene in particular, in which a girl out looking for her lost dog in the middle of the night by herself, up and decides to go skinny dipping for no discernable reason in the midst of her search had me in hysterics). It’s not anything incredible, but Part 2 moves along at a brisk enough pace and does what it’s trying to do well enough.

Part 3 is both the worst of the original three and also the entry where much of what the series became known for takes shape (but these aren’t necessarily relJason, in his early sack-headed incarnationated). It’s hampered in part for being part of the ill-advised 3D fad from the early ‘80s, so it’s filled with ridiculous shots of things flying or pointing at the camera intended to blow the audience’s red-and-blue-glasses-wearing minds. But the problem is that the film takes forever to get going. Nothing really happens for basically the first hour of the movie, which, in a 90-minute slasher movie, is almost unforgivable. But it’s the film where Jason first dons the iconic hockey mask, and it’s also the first movie where he’s portrayed as a hulking brute, as in Part 2 he was a just an average-sized guy with a sack on his head.

An interesting (and, presumably, unintentional) side effect of the 3D gimmick in Part 3 is that in order to fully take advantage of the 3D angle, the film is filled with ridiculous kills (my fave is when Jason squeezes a guy’s head until his eye pops out right and it flies directly into the camera), which eventually became a trademark of the series, and the slasher genre in general. (Part 3 also features Jason running around without a mask for a little while, and he looks almost exactly like Chunk from The Goonies.) But unfortunately the sluggish pacing and the focus on the 3D stuff make it the worst film of the original three.

The Friday the 13th franchise is synonymous with horror/slasher movies for millions of people, and as much as the films on their own may not stand the test of time for casual moviegoers or non-fans like myself, it’s great that fans get these really cool DVDs of the original three movies.

GRADE: Friday the 13th: C-; Part 2: C; Part 3: D+


The amount of extras on the three new Friday the 13th DVDs gets thinner the later into the series the discs get. The original is now an extended cut, with a few more bits of gore added in that had been cut out for decades (it had been previously available as deleted scenes in earlier DVDs, but this marks the first time the footage has been reincorporated into the film proper), and it also includes commentary from producer/director Sean S. Cunningham and various cast and crew. It’s a little bit piecemeal, sounding more like a series of separate audio interviews spliced together (moderated by Peter Bracke, author of the coffee-table book Crystal Lake Memories). It’s not necessarily bad, but the participants don’t really comment on what’s happening on the screen, but rather they just talk while the movie’s playing. The people are still pretty interesting though (at leas'So, uh, I guess that's a no to a second date, then?'t Cunningham and writer Victor Miller are). Also included on the DVD for Part 1 is a series of featurettes, including one on Cunningham himself and retrospective items on the cast. There’s also something called ‘Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 1,’ some sort of newly-created horror short that has seemingly nothing to do with Friday the 13th at all (some teens get murdered by a big guy, but he’s not wearing a hockey mask and it doesn’t seem like he’s supposed to be Jason, so I have no idea what’s going on here.)

The Part 2 DVD has an interview with aforementioned Crystal Lake Memories writer Peter Bracke, and I found it the most interesting piece on any of the discs. Bracke’s a walking encyclopedia of Friday the 13th lore, and he provides lots of interesting insights into the franchise, such as why Cunningham, Miller and makeup effects guru Tom Savini didn’t return for Part 2 (they thought bringing Jason back as an actual character after turning up in a dream sequence at the end of the first movie to be too much of a credibility-stretcher – hilarious in light of how out-there and supernatural the franchise would eventually get). Also included are featurettes on horror conventions (of which the Friday the 13th movies are always a staple) and a 2004 panel discussion with all the actors who had played Jason up until that point. And there’s ‘Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 2,’ which makes as little sense as ‘Part 1.’

The DVD extras on Part 3 are nonexistent, at least in the traditional sense; the only thing on the DVD is the theatrical trailer, though the disc gives viewers the option of watching the standard two-dimensional version of the movie or the 3D version, thanks to the inclusion of two pairs of old-school, red-and-blue-3D glasses (which are decked out to resemble Jason’s mask). I wish I could say the 3D worked well, but it doesn’t really, but I give Paramount an A for effort for even including it. It’s a cool little feature to put on the DVD, and I can’t say I didn’t have fun watching the last half-hour or so with the ‘80s-era 3D technology.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that all three movies have new digital transfers and 5.1 surround sound audio tracks, and they all look and sound pretty slick. And it’s not really a DVD extra, but all three come with sweet lenticular covers. I’m a sucker for cool packaging.

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