Jason Lives! Pt. 1
The Friday the 13th franchise holds a special place in my old, decrepit heart. I was around for its initial run, which makes me ancient, but also give me a different perspective on the series and what it might mean. Shout Factory has released a gorgeous box set of all the movies on individual Blu Ray, with most of the extras imported from other release versions, as well as a few new ones to spice up the mix. I’m going to be going through the movies, three at a time, doing a little walk down memory lane/review of each as I go along. I’m not going to be dipping into much talk about the Extras found on each disc, because I simply don’t have the time of day to watch everything in one go. So here are some mad ramblings from a big fan of the series. Hope you enjoy them!
I first saw Friday the 13th as a twelve-year-old when it played on Showtime. They used to have a horror double feature every Friday night (or was it Saturdays? I can’t remember) when I was growing up. One at midnight, the second one around two or so. I saw a lot of movies that way. This was my way of catching things my Dad wouldn’t let me rent from the video store and, just a year later when I was able to rent more, a way to supplement what I was seeing. Sometimes the movies were duds, other times they stuck. Friday stuck, in a big way. First of all, boobs. Not a lot of them, but enough to make young Kelly’s head spin. Second, gore. Oh yes, it might not seem like much now, but watching that ax to the head changed my world, and don’t get me started on the beheading; I’ll be preaching all night. Third, jump scares. There were plenty of them and they got me, every damn time. Fourth, the creepy atmosphere. The original doesn’t get much credit for this, but Sean Cunningham made those woods and that lake scary as hell, with just a few brooding, dark shots. Who knew what terror lurked out there? It was chilling, and that was during the daytime, much less the night, when the real slaughter began. Fifth, the ending. Yes, that jump-scare at the end. I remember sitting alone in the basement, bowl of popcorn finished, Pepsi drank, nerves jangled, but just beginning to relax. Alice had survived her night of horror and now she was waking up, beautiful music was playing, and I was waiting for the credits and OH SHIT WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? The child, Jason? He wasn’t dead? He was a zombie? He was a dream? I was sitting cross-legged on the couch and I remember jumping so high I hit my head on the ceiling. I didn’t scream. I wasn’t able to. All I had was a visceral reaction. A month later, at a friend’s house, I made a couple of my buddies watch the movie, and they seemed to like it okay (the boobs went over well) but they were too cool for school when it came to the scares. I waited, watching, secretly grinning to myself. It was coming, and it was going to get them. I hoped. And then it happened. Jason leapt from the water. One friend screamed, falling back and waving his hands in the air like a tipped-over turtle. My other friend screamed and scrambled on all fours, crawling/bolting across the living room and fleeing into the kitchen. I screamed, too, with laughter. Still the best movie of the entire series, and still somehow wildly underrated by all the fans. I know Jason isn’t in it (or is he?) but my God, it’s an amazing film.
Friday the 13th Part II I saw on video. Dad rented it for me and I was pretty pumped. This was the sequel to the scariest movie I had ever seen (up until that point) and I wondered what they would do with it? I was instantly angry they killed off Alice. How could they do that? She had been through so much and to die right away? Still, the screwdriver through the head was pretty cool. I knew instantly that the killer was a grown-up Jason. Who else could it be? Questions about how he was still alive didn’t bother me then and don’t bother me now. Who cares? He was alive and kicking, and killing, and killing, and killing…Like in the first movie, the cast of young people (they get called teens but really, no teens in the first three movies, right? Aren’t they all in their early 20s? In any case, they seem older than sixteen) were sympathetic, interesting, and funny. Also, diverse. If you look in the background, there were some people of color in the cast. None of them were central, of course. This was and will always be, it seems, a series of movies that caters to the fears of white suburbia. That’s an observation that needs more fleshing out (because people of color start appearing and playing major and minor roles, starting with Part 5), but that’s a discussion for another time. The second installment features some pretty inventive kills (the wheelchair one is still the best) and we get to see our first iteration of Jason. He’s scary as hell with that sackcloth over his head and that one eye peering out. He’s not as big and lumbering as he will become, at least it doesn’t seem that way. He’s more like a mountain man that got crossed by a bunch of kids and now he’s going to make them pay. And make them pay he does. I remember being slightly disappointed in this one; it wasn’t as good as the first. But over time, my fondness for it has grown. It’s not as scary, not as gory, but it does have a certain something going for it, and that certain something is the characters and, most importantly, Amy Steel’s Ginny. She is a great Final Girl, maybe the best in the series. She’s a bit tougher than Alice, a bit grittier, and she’s certainly smarter. Alice got by on sheer determination and adrenaline; Ginny has that and more. A great second entry that is often overlooked by the fans. Don’t. It’s crackers.
Friday the 13th Part III was a big deal when it came out. I wasn’t allowed to see it in the theater so I never got to see it in 3D, but I was there when the video came out and swallowed it whole. This one felt a bit disconnected from the first two. No camp counselors, no Crystal Lake featured prominently. The characters were decent but more like caricatures (I like the hippies but they’re short-hand, not people we can root for), but the gore and boobs were still there, thank God. But it was in 3D! And don’t forget the Disco score! The Main Girl wasn’t that interesting. I still to this day think she’s the most annoying Final Girl, but I’ll give her credit, her final fight with Jason is pretty damned cool. The most interesting guy was Shelley, and he was pretty exasperating. I really enjoyed the parts with the little motorcycle gang taking on Jason and the way he simply wiped them out. Real tough guys, eh? And of course this is the one where Jason dons the hockey mask at long last. Here is where we get the Jason we’ll be getting for the rest of the series, the focusing in and locking down of the character. He’s a great killer, powerful and (nearly) unstoppable. The ending has been something I debate with fellow fans all the time. They all think Jason becomes Zombie Jason in part VI, when he literally raises from the dead. But they forget that at the end of Part III, he is dead. He comes back to life at the beginning of Part IV (we’ll get into that then). But if Jason died as a kid drowning, did he come back to life before? Has he always been Zombie Jason? Part VIIII tries to answer these questions, and I guess does (with whatever authority you might recognize in that). In any case, Jason gets hung and his skull split open by an ax and is left for dead as the cops come in and swoop our Final Girl away (who has gone completely mad at this point). And we are left with questions, so many questions…But don’t worry, Part IV is right around the corner!
Friday the 13th: ★★★★
Friday the 13th Part II: ★★★✮
Friday the 13th Part III: ★★★☆