People keep coming back to Crystal Lake, myself included. I saw my first Friday the 13th film at age ten on a requisite dark and stormy night and here I am all these years later still mindlessly prattling on about it.
Except that’s inaccurate: the requisite storm turned our satellite reception to shit so by the time it moved off I only really got to “see” the last fifteen minutes of Part 2. “What?” I said, for I was an inquisitive scamp. “This is it? What’s everyone so hard on about? This is great shit. Hot chicks beating rednecks over the head with chairs? Yes, please!” At the time I thought, The only way they could possibly improve this would be to stage the whole thing in a Wrestlmania ring, surrounded by thousands of cheering assholes and lights.
Imagine my naive joy as I loaded Friday the 13th Part 3 into the VCR and prepared to have my mind blown by ninety minutes of that. Imagine my disappointment. No Amy Steel burdened with all manner of weapon, from chainsaws to machetes to her own highly-attractive knees. No Frugal Ku Klux Klansman since Amy and her douche boyfriend Paul let Jason Voorhees’ malformed head out of the bag at the end of Part 2…and the beginning of Part 3. Still, as with the last picture, director Steve Miner helpfully tacks these last bits of Part 2 onto Part 3, just to make damn sure we’re all caught up.
I appreciated that at age 10. Now I imagine a voice (the voice of Walt “Crazy Ralph” Gorney, or Bettsie “Mrs. Voorhees” Palmer, perhaps) solomly intoning, “Previously on Friday the 13th,” as if this were some horrible TV series…rather like the one that would eventually bear Friday the 13th‘s name. Jason chases Ginny. Ginny almost kills Jason. Paul comes conveniently back from the dead since Ginny’s obviously running low on Hero’s Battle Death Exemptions. Ginny kills Jason. The end.
Except, of course, it’s not, because Part 2 proved far too popular to leave things hanging like that. Especially in an age that had stopped considering the Cliffhanger Ending one of several potential stinger devices at the disposal of creative storytellers and instead looked upon it as necessary set-up for the inevitable sequel.
So here we are, on the other side of the BIG, JUTTING CREDITS (reminding us this was originally filmed in 3D, as will plenty of other things) and Henry Manfredini’s somewhat-retro score which, no longer content to rip-off John William’s Jaws, now rips-off its percussion track from every shitty disco band who ever debased the 1970s and its eerie theremin sounds from every Universal Monster Picture ever made between the 1930s and the 1960s. So I guess that’s what they call “progress” ’round these parts.
Afterwards, Jason teleports (not shown) to a lakeside bait and tackle shop owned by the redneckiest couple of rednecks we’ve seen since Part 1. No Rosanne-ish air of dignity here. It’s hair-curlers, bad game shows and nagging for the lady, whiskey bottles hidden in the outhouse for sir. Jason puts both out of their misery only after we’ve enjoyed what feels like a glacial age in their presence. I know it was only ten minutes…but I can’t shake the feeling Steve Miner threw those in just for an excuse to wave more things at the camera.
Here’s a fun game you can play. Pause that shot of a rattlesnake lunging out at Sir Redneck’s face (dangit, it misses). Point out the clearly visible string jutting from the snake’s mouth (and possibly wound round its jaw) to your friends. Allow them to reflect upon the fact that 3D is cheap, meaningless gimmick trotted out by desperate movie studios as an excuse to inflate ticket prices and make up for the fact that movie theaters are becoming irrelevant in an age of five hundred channels, an internet full of crap, and TVs the size of walls.
After you’ve driven all your friends away, resume film. Time to meet this week’s episode’s entry’s cast. Thankfully, after Part 2‘s Bland Brigade, these Pretty White Kids seem a colorful bunch, even if their Problems are the same kind of superficial bullshit that now clogs basic cable line-ups. Chris (Dana Kimmell), the obvious Final Girl, we’ll talk about later. Andy (Jeffrey Rogers) and Debbie (Tracie Savage), are our designated Guy and Girl couple, and thus doomed. Shelly (Larry Zerner) is the real wild card. Here the Odious Comic Relief is redesigned as a special effects nerd in larval form, the filmmaker’s projection of their own “core” audience members. Too bad that projection is a socially-inept, insecure jerk, fond of dressing up in masks and fake-stabbing his friends. Vira (Catherine Parks) is Shelly’s “date” for this “weekend in the country,” and thus his Doom in a Blouse. Not that she’ll fuck him. Nor should she. He’s a socially-inept, insecure etc. Chuck (David Katims) and Chilli (Rachel Howard) round things out by being the worst type of movie stoners, having to be asked before they share the wealth…a disgrace to the entire stoner race. And two years out from Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie. For shame.
This merry band is off to Chris’ parent’s place, Higgins Haven…which may be on Crystal Lake, but…shit, how large is the lake, anyway? Never mind. First they meet a crazed local in the Crazy Ralph mode, ignore his Warnings From the Divine, and proceed. They meet Rick (Paul Kratka), a Manly Spice chiseled from the Paul and Steve mode, at Higgins Haven, setting off an extended back and forth between Rick and Chris. This helped me come to terms with a central fact: the writing in this series has actually improved as things have gone along. Sure, Rick has a one track mind and that track leads right between Chris’ legs, but she just ignores him and remains in a better humor about it than I certainly would, were I in her position. Here she is, trying to get over a Past Traumatic Experience, and all Mr. “Dumb Country Boy” can think of is doing the horizontal hoola.
Alas, it’s 1982 and Final Girls hadn’t yet learned to respect themselves. (Just look at the useless dicks Alice and Ginny settled for.) I only mean to say “the writing’s improved” in relation to Parts 1 and 2. Characters are now recognizable as characters rather than mere archetypes. The Slasher movie has completed its house in Stereotype Land whence it remains to this day. Sensible plotting remains beyond the series, over the boarder in the lands of “real” movies. Having tossed the “camp” out of their “lakeside summer camp murder” movie franchise last go ’round, they here jettison the “lakeside.” Why did Jason go after that Redneck couple anyway? Why go after the kids at Higgins Haven? Assume he just needs to kill everyone in the Crystal Lake woods. What kept him from doing so in the five years since his Mommy dearest’s death-by-Alice? And I’m sorry, but…suddenly Crystal Lake’s big enough for its own biker gang? The fuck you say?
I suppose anything that gives black actors speaking rolls is better than nothing…but, of course, they play criminals. And they die pointless deaths. But at least they served a narrative purpose, providing a conflict that Shelly must overcome. And does. So the film almost pulls me back from the brink by dangling the chance to watch at least one character develop before me, like a coy stripper dangling that last little bit of fabric.
In that same vein, Chris here is the first Final Girl with a Defining Element of Tragedy in her past. Alice had a thing obviously going on with her boss and “something” to do in California. Ginny had a college career, opinions, her boss wrapped around her fingers, and knees that functioned the way any sensible woman’s should if and when she is chased by a maniac. Ah, but Chris…she has a tragic story to relate to Rick (and thus the audience) once they get tired of hanging out with her dumbass friends. A year ago, after a tiff with her parents, Chris ran away into the woods. She fell asleep while sulking and woke up to the sounds of a hamburger-faced maniac trudging toward her. She ran, he chased her, he caught her, she blacked out…and woke up in her own bed with no memory of what happened.
Here’s a Death Exemption to end all Heroes Battle Death Exemption and yet another shark jumped in the name of adding depth to a series that self-consciously centers itself around the meaningless deaths of fake teenagers. Credit where it’s due: screenwriters Carol Watson and Martin Kitrosser are actually trying. They just don’t do anything with the tools they spread out in front of themselves.
As with Part 2, we spend an entire film watching Jason kill everyone he comes across…and yet here’s Chris telling the laziest kind of survivor story. “I blacked out. I don’t know what happened after that.” Because neither of our screenwriters, nor our director, could figure out a good way to have Chris (a) meet Jason and (b) survive.
Goddamnit, Friday the 13th. Pick a sport and you’re way out of it. Way out from any of your initial premises. Oh, Jason drowned in 1957, cries the first film. Driving his mom co-ed-killing insane. But wait, cries the second film. Jason didn’t really drown. He’s been living in the woods all this time, doing a bit of mom-worship and killing everything he comes across. So what sent Mom so carve-you-up mad? Who cares? this film asks. Here. We’ll kill Jason and then bring him back to life again. Just like you did in the first film? Yeah, man. Only this time, we’ll pit him against this chick he came across in the woods last year. So he found a nubile teenage girl in the Crystal Lake Woods and didn’t kill her? Why not? What stopped him? What’s so special about Chris? Hey, says the film, don’t be so harsh. You ask too many questions. You got this negative vibe going. Smoke some grass. Chill.
I’d need more grass than Snoop Doggy Dog to “chill” in the face a plot hole like this. Okay, maybe Jason had to work his way up to Part 2‘s “kill-death-destroy” rampage. “Typical” real world killers (I use that adverb lightly, fully acknowledging its pitfalls) often take time to test how their fantasies play out before moving up to acting them out on humans. These often amount to a series of “Oh, shit,” moments, as in, “Oh, shit, my victim didn’t passively submit to being strangled and stabbed. I better refine my technique before I screw up and get my ass jailed.” Only problem with that (from a storyteller’s perspective, at least) being, who said Jason’s a “typical” killer? Seems pretty a-typical to me, what with the coming back from the dead and all…twice now…
Never mind, says the film. Time to cull tonight’s herd. With these deaths, and Debbie’s death in particular, an almost shot-for-shot recreation of Kevin Bacon’s death in Part 1, the series announces it’s officially run out of ideas and started ripping itself off, right down to the violations of basic physical laws.
Debbie climbs into the hammock and starts paging through Fangoria in a perfect example of the co-option that turns entertainment “journalism” into cheerleading for shit. Blood starts dripping onto the (quite well-written) Godzilla article she’s reading. She looks up. Fucknuggets! There’s Andy, sliced in half by Jason’s machete. A hand reaches out from under the hammock and stabs Debbie through the chest.
So…Jason killed Andy while Debbie was in the shower…stowed the two halves of Andy’s body in the rafters without recourse to a ladder, chair, or any of the other height-increasing pieces of furniture in the room…magically ensured Andy’s guts would defy gravity and stalwartly remain inside his abdominal cavity…and somehow concealed his own bulk behind the various covers thrown over the hammock until Debbie got into position.
Jesus H. Christ. So what if the film has characters in it? Every film should! And the little drips and drabs of characterization can’t distract from the basic, logical problems underlying this whole series.
I should probably come up with some grand sociological theory as to why these films are so popular, given how deeply and truly they suck…but I can’t get anything past Occam’s razor except “tits + blood = financially successful horror movie.” Except that’s what They Who Live While Sleep want us to think. Really, the equation runs something like, “$1 million dollar film + $40 million dollar box office = successful horror film.” Make um cheap, make um quick, and you’ll make your money back, so long as you sacrifice whatever dreams you might’ve had of making “good” films.
There are good bits here. Shelly’s “boy-who-cried-wolf” death scene is a perfect moment, and the inclusion of the Biker Gang both pads out the body count and provides a good reason for Chris’ Mystery Machine to break down, forcing her into the usual Final Girl confrontation. A battle that’s much more varied and kinetic than Ginny’s…or Alice’s…or Laurie Strode’s, for that matter. One that’s resolved with a brutal finality indicative of the Slasher movie’s overall obsession with humanity’s inhumanity towards itself…
…and then promptly ruined by a tacked-on, bullshit cliffhanger that does nothing but echo Part 1‘s tacked-on, bullshit cliffhanger. Oh, Friday the 13th series, you coy bitch, why don’t you toy with my emotions some more?
Uneven, illogical, contrived, and haphazardly assembled, Part 3 could’ve signaled a move toward more nuanced storytelling and at least the illusion of depth other, better horror movies at least try to paint. The cast is a marked improvement over previous entries, evidence of the greater production value behind the show, but having only one note to play certainly must’ve made things easier.
Given the number of trends this movie set for the rest of the series (Jason’s hockey mask and machete being only the most obvious, along with Chris Defining Element of Tragedy) I’m tempted to call Part 3 required viewing for anyone curious about why horror films suck as much and as often as they do…but I don’t want to subject you to this much obviously horrific 3-D.
Thanks to the internet, terabytes of worth of data and opinion on all three of these films is readily available. Read some of that instead. I’d recommend Liz Kingsley‘s exceptionally well-done write ups of these films, which not only entertained me a great deal more than the film’s they describe, they’re also real value changers.
At least then you’ll be reading. Improving your mind and what-not. And don’t worry…there’s no hockey-mask wearing redneck hiding under your hammock…or is there?
Complaining about formulaic Slasher films is like complaining about historical inaccuracies in Westerns. But since I do that all the time I’m not about to deny myself another intellectual shortcut. I might as well examine the reason why Slashers are so formulaic, and the best way to do that is to examine the film that carved that formula in stone.
Oh, you say, but didn’t Halloween and Friday the 13th Part 1 do that already? Trusting fool. Did you think Hollywood’s run by smart people? It takes more than one or two good films to set a trend…or it used to, back the bad old days of the early 1980s. Sure, Carpenter and Cunningham paved the way for an explosion of half-baked and half-witted imitators and one or two actually-decent serial-killer-centric flicks. But this, a studio-backed sequel which earned back over twenty times its estimated budget, this taught Hollywood (and, by extension, everyone who ever wanted to work there) how to assemble a true-to-life, Grade-F Slasher, altering the face of modern Bad Moviedom in the process by providing a template so soul-crushingly bland it would go on to power the next ten years of increasingly-route, mechanical, and meaningless “horror” movies.
And yes, this is a bad movie by any stretch. So was its prequel, but at least Part 1 had a shred or two of decency. This is just a soulless cash-in – worst than most, better than some – made by money-grubbing hacks who couldn’t even wipe the drool off their chins long enough to hire a decent screenwriter, director, or cast.
In a surprisingly-still-creepy intro, we catch up to Alice (Adrienne King), sole survivor of 1980’s Friday the 13th massacre at Camp Crystal Lake. In one of the longest pre-credit sequences in movie history, we see Alice attempting to put her life back together by ticking off a list of ways to die in a horror film: she showers, sets the kettle on to boil, freaks out at the Spring Loaded Cat and finds Mrs. Voorhees severed head in her fridge. A flannel-clad hand stabs her through the forehead with an icepick and it’s bye, bye, Alice. Nice to spend all that time kinda, sorta getting to know you.
I understand what everyone was going for here. They meant us to sit up and say, “Awww shit, son, they done killed they main character. Nobody’s safe!” Since that’s patently untrue, Alice’s death just seems like a cruel trick the film plays on her and us. So fucking what if you identified with her? the film says. Here, meet the new batch of post-pubescent semi-tards. Identify with them. I dare you.
Here Steve Miner and screenwriter Ron Kurz inadvertently shoot any chance of coherent continuity in the face. Jason drowned in 1957, right? His mother killed two councilors the next year and Camp Crystal Lake, understandably, shut down. Steve Cristy reopened it in 1980, drawing Mrs. Voorhees’ ire and stabby-stab-stab. Now Part 2 jumps ahead five years. It’s 1985 and “Camp Blood” is once again condemned, so the film spends most of its time at another “camp councilor training center” just down the lakefront. The important thing is: even the movie’s creators couldn’t come up with another believable reason for this many attractive young people to gather by a lake in the summer.
Meet them, then…a racially-diverse cross section of canon fodder. Don’t do what I did and worry about keeping everyone straight: we only need to know about the few characters Kurz’s script lowers itself to name.
There’s Sandra (Marta Kober), our Adventurous Spice for the evening, decked out in the shortest pair of shorts this side of a Japanese primary school. There’s the boy hypnotized by her buns, Jeff (Bill Randolph), our Manly Spice/Kevin Bacon analog. There’s Jeff’s friend Ted (Stu Charno), Odious Comic Relief to you. And Terry (Kirsten Baker), A Girl with A Dog named Muffin. Mark (Tom McBride), being wheelchair bound and “in training” for something, fulfills the film’s ADA requirement, while Vicky (Lauren-Marie Taylor) exists for no other reason than to ply Mark with pot and (potential) access to her nether regions.
And that’s it. That’s all we get, because Ginny (Amy Steel), the girl who arrives late in the red Beetle, is an obvious Final Girl from frame one. Who once again seems to have a thing with Paul (John Furey), the Head Councilor (insert cunnilingus joke here). We know Ginny’s our Final Girl because the script lavishes her with the lion’s share of early character development…by which I mean we learn she’s studying “child psychology”…and nothing else. Christ, at least Alice got to hint at having a life outside these damn, death-cursed woods. Still, this bit of background’s enough to cull Ginny from the New Meat herd as effectively as her long dress and non-form-fitting top.
Here we see a series that had already jumped its shark. About fifty minutes in, Ginny delivers a monologue that no doubt sprung full-grown, like Athena, from Ron Kurz’s head. Her speech paints a picture of Jason Voorhees (the killer who’s been stalking everyone this whole time) as an isolated, friendless, “child trapped in a man’s body,” a negative-Batman, become vengeance because he misses his mommy sooo badly. Fans of the series love to use this bit of drunken rambling to justify their own sympathies for Jason Voorhees…rather than own up to their misanthropy and start alienating friends and loved ones like all the rest of us who have balls.
Not that I begrudge them their delusion…it’s just that Part 1‘s pointless, literally-tacked-on cliffhanger ending suggested Jason was a waterlogged zombie at best, raised from the lake by his mother’s demise at the hands of Alice Highwaist. Yet here he is! Ecce homo, fully grown and exacting bloody revenge on similarly-sized adults. If he didn’t drown back in 57, what drove Momma Voorhees over the edge? If he did, who’s this thirty-something huffing it around the woods, taking down lawmen with claw hammers and ripping up cute widdle dogs?
Plenty of time to wonder about all this. Collectively, Crystal Lake’s latest harvest has all the screen chemistry of a high school Christmas recital performed by heroin addicts just coming down, so there’s no reason to listen to their nonsense. Thanks to them, the film drags like a bastard. Fifty minutes into Part 1 all but three of the main cast were dead and our Final Girl dance was about to begin. At least Mrs. Voorhees had a sense of pacing to her murders. Sonny Boy just stalks around the woods before he gets his real killing done, providing those of us who’ve given up caring with only four dead humans and one dog to sate our bloodlust through this slow time. Then we still have an hour of one-note characters bleating at each other to get through before the real movie can begin.
Memo to Ron Kurz: sexual innuendo and skinny-dipping do not substitute for character development. Nor do scatological jokes, no matter how clever you think they are. If I lean on a piano key over and over for an hour my audience will grow bored. Everything here feels assembled from the cheapest off-the-shelf parts you could find. I know you were in a hurry, but did you and Steve Miner have to rip-off The Town that Dreaded Sundown and Twitch of the Death Nerve? Again? Twice in two movies ain’t just coincidence: that’s Group Think, Destroyer of Worlds and good ideas.
This is as good a place as any to mention something I’ve been wanting to bring up for awhile: movie studios do not care about movies. Individuals within those studios might say they do, but as organizations the studio can no more care for the quality of a film than a Terminator could care about why human’s cry. To them, we’re just hands clutching money, flying at them like out-of-control freight trains driven by drunks. They’re nothing but cowards who jump on the first bandwagon they see, and ride it right off the rails every damn time. You think people want to watch stale, whitebread characters die horribly? You think this is horror? No, my friend. Paramount thinks we think this is horror. They thought kids like me would mistake it for horror back in 1981, and you know what? They were right. So they did what all capitalists do and continued to supply a demand they themselves manufactured.
That’s the beauty of what Theodore Adorno called “the culture industry”: grade school economic notions reverse themselves faster than a Federation starship’s deflector shields. Think about it. You grow up watching William Castle flicks, Universal and AIP horror movies, or Roger Corman’s Golden Age. Suddenly you wake up in the 70s. Here’s Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, the Hammer Horror pictures (if you were lucky) and by the 1978 you helped make Halloween the legend it is today.
Suddenly serial killers are everywhere. Horror films unrelated to mass murder become few and far between. No more Amityville Horrors (that were any good). No more cannibal families, except Leatherface’s…and even they traded anything that might actually be scary for a whole lot of fake blood. Rather like this sub-genre as a whole.
It ran away from them is what it did: Sean Cunningham bottled lightning, Paramount bought it up, and this is them selling it back to us. Same Coke, new label. Same shit, different day. Cosmetic differences don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, Elsa. There’s no bullshit mystery surrounding the killer’s identity here, and Steve Miner does not play any real tricks on the audience…unless you count the film itself as one sick April Fool’s joke.
Thanks to this film, and his next one, Miner won a hot-shot director’s reputation for knowing how to bring the Scary. Except he doesn’t. You don’t need flair when you’re directing your entire picture in the “follow victim around room until their death” style. There are, maybe, two shots in the film that actually work on the nerves…and conveniently enough they both come near the end.
For this Friday ends with one of the most memorable Final Girl sequences in history, the only reason I bore fond memories of it, and the only real reason to ever see this flick. We learn more about Ginny in this fifteen minutes of fight-n’-chase than a fist full of expository monologues could’ve possibly taught us.
Here she proves empathetic, resourceful, and unafraid to knee her opponent in the groin. Steel also endears herself further by playing scared without the all the damned whimpering Adrienne King and Jamie Lee Curtis made so famous. My unground teeth would like to declare Ginny my official Favorite Final Girl, but that would be blasphemy. After all, Heather Langenkamp still exists, and I dare not offend the Goddess.
Ah…but the film can’t let me escape without crushing one last hope. Up until this point, Jason’s killed everyone he’s come into contact with, including Muffin the dog. (And I say unto this film, “Good.”) At the start of Ginny’s run through the Final Girl Olympics, Jason confronts Paul and subdues him off screen. Then, near the end, when it looks like all hope is lost…the film jumps the shark again by having Paul return from the dead, distracting Jason just long enough for…well, if you don’t know, I imagine you can guess. Then they bring the dog back to life…right before the tacked-on and pointless “chair-jumper” ending. Because let’s face it, baby: by 1981, you just had to have a sequel.
If it’s anything, Part 2 is a necessary evil on your way to Part 3 and the much better Friday‘s beyond. It could serve as the litmus test for potential converts. If you like this, expect much, much, much more of the same, some of it better. Most of it much, much worse.