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?