Friday the 13th Retrospective, Part 1: The “Classic” Era (Paramount Pictures)

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I can trace my fondness for horror movies to the Friday the 13th series. Sure, they aren’t really the most accomplished of movie series, featuring terrible acting , terrible writing, and rote pilots that you can map out who is going to die and when. But there is a certain “charm” to these movies. It is an odd thing to say about movies that are pretty much about people getting killed, but I think its true. Like a good drink or piece of junk food, there is something to admire something that sets out to deliver a simple viewing of entertainment, and delivers.

When I did my look back at the NES Friday The 13th game, it got me back in the mood for Friday the 13th, so it is time for me to go back and look back at the series in total. Going in, I know I can’t judge it based on the merits of a “good” movie. All of these movies contain formulaic plots, bad acting, and questionable dialogue. Keeping that in mind, I’m rating each movie on a scale of 1 to 4 machetes.

Friday the 13th (1980)

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This pretty much sets the template for the series to follow. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, it is pretty much a ripoff of Halloween. A group of camp counselors are knocked off by a mysterious person before Camp Crystal Lake opens for the first time since two murders in 1958. It takes place over one night, where one-by-one, all of them are killed off, until one survivor remains – Alice, who must confront the killer alone. The cast is not that great, but the main character, Alice, is good enough to root for in the finale. Of note is Kevin Bacon playing an early victim. Until recently, he didn’t really like talking about his role in the movie, and I can understand how you can be embarrassed by having this on your resume, but at least he got a cool death scene out of it, as well as a start in Hollywood.

The murder mystery aspect of this movie is really underdeveloped. In a murder mystery, you usually introduce suspects that have the opportunity to commit murders. In this movie, they don’t bother introducing any suspects. When they get around to revealing the murderer, the character that is the killer is introduced in that scene! That murderer is Mrs. Vorhees, a friend of the owner of the camp, who’s son, Jason drowned because the counselors at the camp weren’t paying attention. First of all, the thought that a fifty something woman pulls off all the murders we see in the movie is ridiculous. But that can be easily forgiven because Betsy Palmer’s performance is awesome. With what little screen time she gets, she creates an iconic character. Whether its crazily attacking Alice, or talking to her son, she really makes the climax of the movie work.

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The make-up effects by horror icon Tom Savini really hold up. Kevin Bacon’s death is really seamless, but the highlight is the one I watched a lot as a kid – Mrs. Vorhees losing her head. Savini himself suggested the ending of the movie after seeing “Carrie” and realizing the movie needed one final scare. The image of Jason jumping out of the lake and pulling Alice into Crystal Lake is an iconic scene. While the next scene has Alice waking up and implying it was a dream, the idea of Jason not being dead was created here, and was an obvious direction for the sequels to go.
While it is not a “good” movie, I really got a kick out of this one. I remember liking later movies more than the first one, but looking back this one is pretty damn effective. I also have a thing for movies that take place over a short period of time, so the fact that this movie takes place over one night makes it work for me. This movie made everything that came after in this series, and the slasher genre in whole, possible. For that, it has my respect.

4 Machetes out of 4

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

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The problem with this one is that it is pretty much a rehash of part one. Before you say, “But aren’t they all?” know that I agree, but usually there is at least one twist that differentiates it from the original. This one is pretty much the same as the original. I understand that the original was a success and why fix something that isn’t broken, but this one seems like the original all over again.
The film begins a few months later with the survivor from the first movie, Alice, being killed at her home by Jason. This is interesting because looking at future movies, Jason pretty much sticks around Crystal Lake. Since his mother was killed by Alice, he goes on a bus, or hitchhikes, or whatever, to find Alice. How he even knew where she lives is a mystery to me, but I am not a fan of killing Alice. It reminds me of Alien 3 where 2 survivors of the previous movie were killed off unceremoniously. It does rob some of the last movie knowing that Alice went through all that to survive and still died anyway.

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Jason in this one is my least favorite of them all, unfortunately. This Jason is more of a killer hillbilly than the methodical stalker he became in the future. He wears overalls and a sack covering his face. When removed, he looks more like the elephant man than the deformed human seen fleetingly in the original movie. In this one he pretty much runs around like a lunatic, and I am not a fan. The final girl, Ginny, is easily the best character in the movie. She’s smart in the way she figures out what Jason’s issues are, and tries to trick him into thinking she’s his mother at one point in the climax. The climax in this movie is easily the best part of the movie, and the one part that truly elevates it. The climax is usually when the final girl stumbles upon the dead bodies of all of her friends and ends up getting chased by Jason. In this movie it works really well because we like Ginny and the chase is protracted, with Jason appearing out of nowhere. I will admit that this sequence still frightens me a little.

The only real disappointment is the actual ending of the movie. It has never made sense to me. When the unmasked Jason jumps out at Ginny and Paul, mirroring the shock ending of the first movie, it cuts to Ginny being put in an ambulance and we never find out what happened to Paul. Why would Jason kill Paul and not her? Why would he just leave? I don’t understand why the producers thought this would be satisfying.

Other than that, the feelings of a rehash were there, but the ending made up for it. While it is a step down from the original, it is a fun slasher flick in its own right.

3 Machetes out of 4

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

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I think that Part III is generally underrated by fans. It is remembered mostly for finally giving Jason his trademark hockey mask. It is brought to a farm near Crystal Lake by prankster and generally annoying character Shelly. What is cool about this movie is how you not only have the general partying teenagers being picked off, but a biker gang inexplicably comes involved as well.
I really like Jason’s look in this movie. Not only do they add the hockey mask to his look, but they completely ditch the crazy hick angle. His outfit is more functional, looking more like a survivalist living in the woods. When Jason is unmasked at the end, he is sufficiently weird looking, but not the elephant man appearance from the second movie. His movements are similar to the Jason’s going forward, he walks purposefully and straight forward, rather than running around like a lunatic like Part 2.

I like the final girl, Chris. She fits the mold of the previous final girls, being nice and doesn’t partake of the drugs and sex the other characters do. I don’t really understand the desire to have Chris have a backstory that involves Jason. The story of her in the past being attacked by Jason after she runs away from home is superfluous. When she realizes that Jason is the one that attacked her, it doesn’t really add anything to the movie. This is a trend that continues in future movies, and I don’t think it ever works. In fact, it makes the backstory of the series more incoherent.

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I can’t end this review without mentioning the 3-D. There was a bit of a 3-D boom at the time, and this series jumped on the bandwagon. That is fine and all, but the home video versions take away the 3-D, and the resulting experience is laughable. There are a lot of stunt shots, various things pop out at you, including yo-yos and spears. But it is so blatant, that taken out of 3-D makes the movie awkward.

For all its faults, I enjoy this movie more than Part 2. I find the characters more entertaining than the last one, as well as the setting. Moving the series from the forest to a barnyard setting prevents it from being a rehash like Part 2 seemed like a rehash of the original.

3 Machetes out of 4

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

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The grosses for Part III were good, but Paramount saw that the slasher genre may be cooling off, so they decided to end the series and kill Jason once and for all. The result is many fans favorite in the series. And while I can’t say it’s mine, I can see where they are coming from. Picking up from where the last one left off, more teenagers make their way to a house near Crystal Lake. It is ridiculous how little the title “Friday the 13th” matters, the first movie did take place on Friday the 13th, but the second and third films happen immediately one after the other. This movie should technically be called, “Monday the 16th”

What this movie gets right is the characters. It’s not a big surprise to say that characters are not this series strong suit. They are bodies waiting to be killed by Jason. What this movie tries to do is make the characters likeable, or at least likeable enough for you to feel momentarily sad when they are killed off. This is obvious by the choice of the main character. Instead of focusing on the partying teenagers, the emphasis of the movie is of a child named Tommy Jarvis, played by Corey Feldman, who lives with his family next door to where the teens are partying.

By making the main character a child who is into horror make up and puppets, the movie is basically making the main character an audience surrogate. For the first time, we’re rooting for him to get out of the movie alive. That extends to his mother and older sister. When the mother is killed, it is legitimately sad, since she didn’t do anything to earn the wrath of Jason other than being there. I can’t forget to mention Crispin Glover’s performance in the movie. He injects a bit of weirdness in a rather vanilla role by the way he delivers his line, and especially when he “dances.”

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The portrayal of Jason continues the feel of the Jason from Part 3. What’s funny is that the actor, Ted White didn’t want his name to be credited for the movie. He also didn’t get along with Feldman, thinking he was a brat, so when it came time to do the shot where Jason breaks through the glass and grabs Tommy, he waiting long enough so that Feldman wasn’t expecting it. The “acting” that Feldman did during that scene was real.

At the end of the movie, Tommy attacks Jason with a machete, killing him permanently, although not without hinting that Tommy may have snapped and could potentially becoming a new Jason. I always thought this was weird, we had seen Jason take an axe to the head in the previous movie and come back as strong as ever, so how was this supposed to be permanent? Regardless, the movie is very good for a Friday the 13th movie, with some creative kills courtesy of Tom Savini, returning here for the first time since the original, and characters that you can actually care about. If you’re going to go out, why not go out with a bang, and that ends the series…

3 1/2 Machetes out of 4

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To Be Continued…

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