THE WHOLE PICTURE: “…And Today Is His Birthday” (Part 1 of 3)

WholePicture_Fridaythe13th-1

Franchises are a part of the cinematic landscape. Some series grow more complex and change throughout their run while others just keep doing what’s expected of them. Now, I am happy to announce another ongoing series of our own. Every so often on Moviocrity, I will be looking at each film in a given franchise. One by one they will be reviewed and hopefully give a clear view of how certain franchises survived and how others fell apart. You’ll be able to read all about it in a column I’m calling THE WHOLE PICTURE!


Years ago, a tiny little film came out of nowhere, designed to do nothing but capitalize on the success of other recent horror films and make a quick buck. It accomplished its goal, but in the process, it also seemed to do something impossible. That little horror film started a massive franchise and a culture of fandom that endures to this day.

FRIDAY THE 13TH now celebrates its 35th anniversary. In honor of this occasion, I am reprinting (with some alterations) a series I posted on Film Geek Central a couple of years ago. Over the next few days, I will look at all the films in the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, as well a couple attempts to breathe new life into the saga of Jason Voorhees.

I do warn you that while I am a die-hard horror fan, I have a mixed opinion of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films. This has already caused a lot of grumbling amongst my fellow fans. So, don’t expect to read heaps of praise about each and every film. Instead, we’ll look at each of them from the beginning and judge them on their own terms.

RATING SYSTEM AND 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?

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.


FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Director: Sean S. Cunningham. Cinematographer: Barry Abrams.
FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Director: Sean S. Cunningham. Cinematographer: Barry Abrams.

FRIDAY 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?

The fact is that impossibly,even though the killer is given little screen time, there is a compelling backstory that draws upon many different campfire tales from times gone by.

The film starts off with a bang and even delivers a brilliant bait-and-switch to conclude the first act. Likewise, the third act with Adrienne King evading the killer, is crackerjack stuff. The problem, like many other films in this series, comes with those fifty minutes or so in the middle of the film. The fact is that when nobody is getting stalked or slashed, there isn’t much there to interest the viewer. King is fantastic throughout, no matter what situation she finds herself in. But as for the rest of the cast, they just clown around and it’s not nearly entertaining enough to watch. I’m checking my watch for the next crescendo. FRIDAY THE 13TH has amazing, iconic stuff as it sets up the action and then again when it breaks it down. Shame that for the rest, it just sits there. Recommended.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981). Director: Steve Miner. Cinematographer: Peter Stein.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981). Director: Steve Miner. Cinematographer: Peter Stein.

FRIDAY 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 to reopen the camp. After all, that old business about the death curse should be moot 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. The best of the series, the best film Steve Miner ever directed and one of the best slashers.  Highly Recommended.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982). Director: Steve Miner. Cinematographer: Gerald Feil.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982). Director: Steve Miner. Cinematographer: Gerald Feil.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982) – Okay, time to get people mad at me.

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 an all-new 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.

FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984). Director: Joseph Zito. Cinematographer: João Fernandes.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984). Director: Joseph Zito. Cinematographer: João Fernandes.

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

Proving there’s nothing this guy can’t take, 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 I think so, we don’t really get to see Jason smile) that the woods have spit up another group of vapid teens that need skewering. 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, 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. Sure enough, as soon as the first weekend’s receipts were counted, they decided this series wasn’t dead after all.

When sex and violence is your calling card, more is better. FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER delivers in that regard, providing more violence and nudity than in other installments. And yet, this installment was the subject of rampant censorship by the MPAA. In actuality, every FRIDAY installment dealt with this problem. The 1980s were a time when various straw man issues popped up and people started fretting about their effect on the young people in our country. Everything from heavy metal to Dungeons & Dragons and yes, FRIDAY THE 13TH wound up on the hitlist of politicians and religious leads. Naturally, as sequels are intended to escalate, the FRIDAY THE 13TH series attempted to increase the carnage. But each film in the series would find itself being censored more and more by the MPAA. Today, films and even network television has gotten more violent than anything Jason did in the Age of Reagan. But even though Paramount has re-released the films a number of times, they have been notoriously stingy about giving them special treatment. Hence, the graphic violence – which is one of the main things that drew people to the series – is still neutered. 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.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985). Director: Danny Steinmann. Cinematographer: Stephen L. Posey.
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985). Director: Danny Steinmann. Cinematographer: Stephen L. Posey.

FRIDAY 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). But the characters in this one are so poorly written that the script make other installments seem like Faulkner novels in comparison. If they aren’t given the thinnest characters imaginable (One potential victim likes music, which makes her different from most young people how?), they are painted broader than the most obvious slapstick comedy (Witness the redneck mother and son duo we’ve never met before now.), 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 tomorrow for reviews of FRIDAY THE 13TH PARTS 6-8. And be sure to look for more editions of THE WHOLE PICTURE in the weeks to come!

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