Rabies and germs, happy Friday the 13th! If you’re not familiar with me, I would call myself a loyal horror fanatic and one whose childhood oftentimes had me binging classic, and not-so classic, Slasher films. I always loved Child’s Play, and Halloween, I loved A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I loved the Scream film series, and although I recognize their faults and don’t pull punches when I discuss their merits or lack thereof, I usually opt to be constructive and what I say comes a place of love, but also a place that’s reflective and self-aware.
The Friday the 13th series has always been among the black-sheep as far as my thoughts on it. I wasn’t really into the horror franchise as a kid, and, I even distinctively remember renting several films from the series from a video-store, only to tap out of the series early-on. I can’t remember the exact reason why, although, I think it had something to do with the sound-effects (I was a weird kid). Suffice to say, I don’t look at it through the same nostalgic lenses as I do many other slasher series’. Regardless, I don’t think that will affect what I say about the Friday the 13th films.
Friday the 13th (1980 film)
Let’s talk about Friday the 13th, a 1980 slasher film directed by Sean S. Cunningham and written by Victor Miller. It is no secret this film was prompted by the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, but the approach is unique in its own respect. I’ll go ahead and say right now that you should brace yourself for spoilers in-regards to certain details, which I assume you might have expected, given that I intend to share my thoughts on several films in the series. Something I’ve always felt about the Friday the 13th series and something that has always been discussed is that it is a simplified version of the formula established with Halloween. I don’t say that in a derogatory fashion, and, perhaps, more accurately, I could say that the film is more the meat and bones of a slasher film.
Although this film dedicates a lot of screen-time toward the cast involved, I would say that all of them are underdeveloped. It can be argued this is a deliberate effort, that they are meant as simply the targets to be slashed, but the fact that so much time is dedicated to the characters makes it difficult to believe that was the intention, at least in this first installment. As I don’t have to tell you, this film attained considerable success at the box-office, it did, however, receive negative responses from critics. In later years, the harshness of the critical response either lessened, or was muffled under the much warmer reception from audiences, developing the film a cult following for itself.
I think that Friday the 13th is a film that is better in-retrospect than when you’re watching it. If I were to read you a summarization of the film, it would come off like a solid, classic horror story. Camp counselors find themselves offed by a mysterious figure, with red herring suspects such as a man named Ralph, whose abruptly bizarre behavior is more than a little strange. Although nowadays, the concept of Jason Voorhees is enough to make casual-viewers have certainty of the film’s resolution, I still know individuals would be surprised to find that his mother Pamela Voorhees is the killer in this film, a frustrated woman who blames the promiscuous counselors for her child’s demise.
If I read the premise alone of frustrated mother offs camp counselors after the death of her son decades prior, it would sound like a decent enough concept for a film. If I add in the classic scene at the end of the film where the final victim leaves and finds herself snatched out from the water by a young boy, then, that would be the proverbial icing to top it all off.
As far as the film itself is concerned, I don’t particularly enjoy its execution for the most part. The actors can be considered as passable given the budget, although I’d mention that Halloween had an even smaller budget. Actors such as Kevin Bacon, went onto have very successful careers, but the characters they portray are heavily underdeveloped and paper-thin.
One can echo the sentiment said earlier about them only meant to serve their intended purpose, but I would argue the film itself spends a large-portion of its run-time neither developing the characters or building suspense for the acts set to occur. It feels more-or-less like stalling the inevitable, instead of developing the dynamic at hand.
The soundtrack itself has widely been praised, and I can agree with that sentiment, but, while I enjoy the score itself, I don’t particularly enjoy its implementation in the film, which I found a little heavy-handed and sloppy.
All in all, I think that the first Friday the 13th is an uninspired film that lacks in unique ideas, decent characters, and fails at execution. Regardless, I will single-out the fact that the final scene in the film with a youthful Jason rising out from the water to attack the last surviving victim is rightfully was of the most memorable scenes in horror, with the calm before the storm itself with Alice in the canoe, and the suddenness of the fact. On the other-hand, I would’ve much preferred Alice to have met her demise, as the choice to have her survive always seemed like an abrupt afterthought.
Friday the 13th: Part II (1981 film)
Friday the 13th: Part Two was not originally intended as a direct follow-up to the initial film, instead, the intention was for an anthology series that would play on the superstitions about Friday the 13th. However, similar to Halloween, which intended a similar approach with their third installment, the series opted to think other-wise, reprising the Jason Voorhees character again and, this time, having him as the central antagonist. Part Two is set five years after the last film, and boy, oh, boy, has Jason been eating his Wheaties since the last time we saw him. In this film, a training camp built nearby Crystal Lake, different from the last films, is where camp counselors find themselves offed left-and-right by a sack-faced murderer. In-terms of run-time, Friday the 13th: Part Two is shorter than the last film, sitting at about eighty-seven minutes, with the first six minutes recapping the events of the first film and a few minutes for intro and outro credits, this film could’ve and, I think, should’ve been edited down to an eighty-minute length.
I’ll say from the get-go that I liked Friday the 13th: Part Two considerably more than I liked the first film. Although a lot of the criticisms I had in-regards to its predecessor remain accurate, I find something more endearing about this film. Whereas I found little I enjoyed about the last, Part Two carries a vibe closer to The Burning, a slasher film also released the same year. The character lack in development, but I would say I think the scenes that involved them were more amicably, coherently built. Although their dynamics are straightforward, I feel the difference in this film is that they actually have dynamic, whereas, in the first film, it seemed a lot like characters running around with little actual characterization to speak of. This film offers sub-lots, and even if they aren’t insightful, characterizations can be a central part in making a slasher film work. A classic slasher film approach is to introduce unlikable characters who, frankly, you want to see offed, because this is a film and the veil of that fact is very thin, or characters you want to see survive. While this film isn’t necessarily meticulous, it’s a small, but distinctive improvement.
The scenes in which the victims are attacked are also a little more memorable, and, while I would say creative, I won’t, because some of them are snipped out of other horror films, like, for instance, 1971’s Italian horror film Bay of Blood. Some might call it a tribute, but, in this context, when it’s a larger series that’s built from the ground-up with death-scenes being a large selling point, doing a shot-for-shot recycling of another film that most in the theater wouldn’t have heard of, I think I will go ahead and bite the bullet and call it question in nature. One of the final scenes in this film with an unmasked Jason making his attack is memorable, like the first film, but, once again, for some reason, they decided the character survived, and, once more, I found it a peculiar choice.
For Friday the 13th: Part Two, I’d say that, while I still firmly regard it as a below-average film, it makes for better entertainment than the film that came prior. For lack of a more depth analysis, this film feels like a lot of other horror films released in the same time, a series of films that sometimes feels like a bottomless pit. Neither better or horribly worse, it feels very run-of-the-mill. And, although, it’s irrelevant, in case you’re wondering, I would recommend The Burning before this film. Although, if I was recommending horror from 1981, I’d be more likely to recommend Evil Dead, Werewolf in London, or Halloween II.
Friday the 13th: Part III (1982 film)
Friday the 13th: Part Three is an important increment in the Jason Voorhees’ mythos, particularly because it is the first film in the franchise to feature our antagonist with the signature hockey mask, a fashion decision that is a trademark for the series hereafter.
This film, like Part Two, is directed by Steve Miner, and also, like Part Two, opens with a strenuous six-minute recap of its predecessor, using footage from said film, followed by another minute-and-a-half spent on the opening credits. The film is also in 3-D, as demonstrated particularly from said opening credits, which are backed by a funky background music. This music will also appear occasionally throughout the film, sprinkled into scenes without any real reason behind it, it just kind-of creeps until randomly in scenes in the early off-set. Once that’s out of the way, the proceeding ten minutes of the film is a prelude to the main-story as well. It isn’t uncommon for a slasher film to have no-name characters snuffed out in the early-going, and, in a way, it has come to be expected and loved. It gets the blood boiling and lets you know you’re in for a slasher flick. But, unlike, say, a film like Scream, this isn’t executed in a way that benefits the overall film. The characters, a husband and a wife, aren’t likable and they aren’t unlikable enough to root for their demise, they overstay their welcome, with the film, even with its already short run-time, allowing them to goof off and waste time before their inevitable demise. It doesn’t feel suspenseful and it doesn’t feel like it’s accomplishing anything in that time, goading the viewer to think one way or the other, no question of what’s inevitably set to happen. It feels more like the entire first sixteen minutes of the film was an attempt to pad the run-time to a feature length.
For the most part, 3-D is a gimmick that jacks up ticket-prices but doesn’t really accomplish much in-terms of immersing the audience into most films. This is especially true when a film obnoxiously uses the novelty, like having a camera-shot with someone playing with a yoyo, which is exactly what can be seen in Friday the 13th: Part 3.
This film feels like more of the same having seen Friday the 13th and Part Two, a cast of characters that are neither particularly likable nor truly worthy of significant disdain. The characters are cartoony and goofy, which goes with a lot of the film as subscribing to a zany B-movie type approach. Although the concept of a light-heart slasher film has been done on numerous occasions, very few times has it been accomplished well. Characters can be cartoony and goofy, and feel like a parody or they can feel like a trash-fire, more often than not, Part Three’s characters have that odorous aroma of not a lot of development or thought put into them, and, as I’ve said many times, an approach that feels like it is trying to stretch what’s, at best, a short film’s worth of material, into a feature length film.
The eventual action is straightforward at best. I consider myself as a die-heart horror-fan through and through, but I’ve never really walked away from a slasher film and felt the “kills” in a film righted the ship, so to speak. And, I hear that a lot, “bad film, but it’s got some really great kills, so it’s a real classic,” and, I think to myself, while I certainly enjoy the use of practical effects and I have an appreciation for them, nothing so far that I’ve reviewed in Friday the 13th particularly bolsters a real spectacular execution from everyone’s favorite hockey-player. For the most part, it’s all very standard, he stabs or shoots people with things, and that’s all these films are so far. This film features stupid-characters making stupid-choices and finding themselves killed. Rinse and repeat, I don’t really have anything very complimentary about the Friday films right now.
I think I will go ahead and say that Friday the 13th: Part Three is, so far, my least favorite of the series, which was something I had to debate on. At first, I wanted to say I liked it more than the original installment because it actually developed the characters, albeit, not very well, but, at the same time, I did enjoy the concept of the first film more than I did the third film. In other-words, both films are bad, and while Friday the 13th: Part Two is below-average as well, I’d say it’s my favorite film of the series right now.