Friday, September 13, 2013

Greetings From Camp Crystal Lake: A Look Back at the Friday The 13th Franchise

Posted By on Fri, Sep 13, 2013 at 2:30 PM

Today is the day Warner Brothers is releasing the entire blood-splattered slasher-saga of Jason Vorhees in a glorious Blu-ray box set. Included with the initial Friday the 13th films are the one-offs Jason X, Freddy Vs. Jason, and even the horrendous 2009 remake. A 40-page booklet and a Camp Crystal Lake counselor patch round out the goodies. In honor of the release, I'm going to take a look back at each film. These were staples of my youth; there were a lot of trips to the video store and Pizza Hut in the two-month period or so it took me to watch these suckers. I had planned to watch the entire series last night and today, but my girlfriend wasn't having it I ain't got time for that. Granted, it's been almost 25 years since I've seen some of these, but I'll do my best to do a decent re-cap. I shouldn't say this, but I will - there will be massive SPOILER ALERTS. If, for whatever reason, you don't know that Jason dies at the end of almost every entry, then springs back to life and kills a bunch of horny teens in the next - there's no helping you.

Friday the 13th (1980): If it wasn't for the surprising, massive success of John Carpenter's Halloween, this average slasher flick wouldn't have had a chance. It's the malicious brainchild of Sean S. Cunningham, who had previously worked with Wes Craven on his horrific The Last House on the Left. A group of teenage counselors (including a young Kevin Bacon) are setting up Camp Crystal Lake, on Fridday the 13th of course, for a grand re-opening after 20 years or so. Unbeknownst to them, back in the late '50s, a teenage couple was murdered before the foreplay was even finished. While the current counselors are warned by the town weirdo/drunk ("You going to Camp Blood, are ye?"), they shrug it off and go about their business of painting lifeguard stations, smoking miniscule joints and simply playing grab-ass. Pretty soon, they're picked off one by one, displaying special-effects wizard Tom Savini's (fresh off George Romero's masterpiece Dawn of the Dead) garish skills. The killer turns out to be Pamela Vorhees, a distraught and vengeful mother who's looking for payback after the "death" of her son Jason. Jason Vorhees was attending the camp when he drowned in the lake while two counselors/lifeguards where enjoying some groovy per-marital sex. After the accident, Mrs. Vorhees declared hunting season on teenagers in and around the campsite. After the film's protagonist, the Dorothy Hamill-esque Alice, decapitates Mrs. Vorhees, she's laying still in a canoe. Just when she thinks the nightmare is over, a young, deformed pre-hockey mask Jason rises out of the water and grabs her. Jason is alive!

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981): This is the film I remember the least. What I do remember is this - Jason, who's a teenager (I think?) at this point, has a shrine dedicated to his mother. It's her head covered in cobwebs and surrounded by candles in a shack. He wears a hayseed sack over his head in this one, and I think overalls instead of his later patented jumpsuit. Another group of wily teens gets killed one by one, including a poor sucker in a wheelchair who gets it going down the stairs. I think.

Friday the 13th Part III (1982): This one is memorable for three distinct reasons - It was filmed in eye-popping (literally) 3-D, the theme music this time is an amazing, even-back-then dated disco number by "Hot Ice", and this is the film where Jason finally gets the infamous hockey mask. Not only does another group of lunkhead teens get knocked off in this one, but Jason branches out and goes after some bikers (if I remember correctly, they have names like "Loco" and "Fox"). One of the offending road-hogs gets stuck in the stomach with a pitchfork. Jason receives the hockey mask after slashing the throat of Shelly, a zany wannabe comedian whose routine is straight outta the Catskills. For some inexplicable reason, Shelly rolls with a little case containing a wetsuit, harpoon gun and hockey mask. Whatever floats your boat, Shelly.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984): My favorite of the series. Maybe because it's the start of the Tommy Jarvis story arc. Maybe because it's brazenly titled "The Final Chapter" when it clearly isn't. Maybe because of a young, pre-creepy (nah, he was creepy back then too) Corey Feldman playing a 10-year-old who's obsessed with movie special effects. Maybe because Tom Savini is back to keep the blood flowing bright-red. Maybe because weirdo actor/director Crispin Glover gives us a hilarious dance sequence before he gets a wine-cork stuck in his hand and his throat cut with a machete. Maybe because the Doublemint Twins are here to double the fun. Maybe because Ted White, the actor who played Jason this time around, demanded to be uncredited after having a massive fallout on set with director Joseph Zito. Maybe because the ending is actually brutal and disturbing, even by today's standards.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985): The red-headed stepchild of the franchise. The one that always gets shat upon. Why, I have no idea - the fifth in the series is a whole lot of fun. Tommy Jarvis, played by Feldman in the previous entry, is now played with actual great acting by John Shepard. Jarvis is so screwed up by the previous film's events that he's now placed in a wayward home for wayward teens. Before you can say "But, I thought-", a hockey-masked man is picking off people every 10 minutes. The twist in this one? IT'S NOT ACTUALLY JASON! Nope, we have a copycat killer on our hands, another upset parent. This time it's the father of a chubby young man who was viciously murdered by a sullen teen at the halfway-house. His only crime? He offered the sullen teen a bite of his candy bar. This is also the only entry where I actually got upset at a killing. Poor beautiful Violet, the new wave chick who was dancing the robot in her room, only to be stuck by the faux-Jason. I miss you Violet. Never forget.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986): I really disliked this one as a kid, but having seen it recently I've gained a new respect for it. It's the first self-referential Friday the 13th film, there's a few glimmers of humor that would later over-saturate the Scream series a decade later. Jarvis is back, this time played by The Return of the Living Dead's Thom Matthews. Jarvis isn't convinced that Jason is really dead and buried, so he steals a truck from the halfway-house and brings Arnold Horshack along for the ride. Seriously, it's actor Ron Palillo, who played the lovable Sweathog on TV's Welcome Back, Kotter. After sticking a pole in Jason's corpse, lightning strikes it and what do you know, Jason Lives! Jason kills off a group of geeks playing paintball in the woods, another group of camp counselors (shouldn't that camp have been razed years ago?), and a few deputies just for good measure. The writing is above-par, it's full of references to horror movies and there's even a genuine "wah-wah-wahhhhh" moment that's worth a few chuckles. Alice Cooper breathed life in his moribund career at this time, dotting the film's soundtrack with the fun "He's Back (Man Behind the Mask)."

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988): I barely remember this one. I remember it being touted along the lines as "Carrie Vs. Jason." Lar Park Lincoln plays Tina, a young lady with telekinesis. Tina is at Camp Crystal Lake when Jason returns for a paycheck, and a battle pitting machete vs. mind ensues. The film is best known as the first in the Kane Hodder series. Jason was played by several different actors previously; once the gigantic Hodder got behind the mask he would stay for the majority of the films. I believe this one has my favorite kill - a couple, doing what couples do in these movies, are in a sleeping bag together. Jason finds these two horndogs, zips 'em up, and whacks them against a tree around 10 times or so. Say what you will about the masked murderer, he does seem to have somewhat of a moral compass.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989): The title is a bit misleading. It really should have been called Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Kills Losers On A Boat Before They Get To Manhattan In The Last 30 Minutes Of The Movie. However, when he does finally make it to the Big Apple, hilarity ensues. A group of mohawked-and-liberty-spiked punkers are hanging out on the street blasting hardcore from their ghetto blaster. Jason walks by and kicks the offending stereo out of his way. The punks sneer and before they can gut him with their switchblades, Jason takes off his mask, frightens the street-mutants and they scatter off. Hilarious! Fun fact: Jason Vorhees went on the highly-popular Aresenio Hall Show to promote the movie. A true WTF TV moment.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993): Another entry I don't remember at all. Jason gets mowed down by the Army (I think) and the Necronomicon book from the Evil Dead series makes a cameo appearance. I also saw this the day before I started my sophomore year in high school. There you go.

Jason X (2001): JASON IN SPACE! What is David Cronenberg doing in this movie? Why are they resurrecting this heinous beast in the outer reaches of space? Two great sequences of note: Jason kills an unlucky victim by pouring liquid nitrogen over him and smashing his face to pieces, and there's a "holodeck" sequence that transports Jason back to Crystal Lake, complete with two topless babes with Farrah Fawcett haircuts and wearing blazing hotpants.

Freddy Vs. Jason (2003): When we were kids, we spent a lot of time talking about the greatest movie of all time. The greatest movie of all time would have involved Leatherface, Michael Meyers, Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger facing off in a "Battle Royale" to find out who was the gnarliest of the gnarly. Sadly, that never materialized... until this tepid flick. After years in development hell, the two biggest slashers of the '80s finally clashed, and boy did it suck. Don't even get me started on the outdoor "rave" sequence. This is mostly Freddy's show, however, and Jason is largely played for a chump. What a letdown.

Friday the 13th (2009): The remake. I didn't get past 30 minutes. Boring, uneventful and generic.

If you've read this far, I hope you've enjoyed this little primer. Next time you're walking in the woods, and you hear a faint "kill kill kill ch-ch-ch-", don't be a dummy. Find your friends, stay away from sex, and drive far away.

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