Everyone knows who Jason Voorhees is. Even my mother, who has never in her life sat through a Friday The 13th film, knows who Jason Vorhees is. His signature stalk and slash has been copied repeatedly and his hockey-masked visage is now universally recognized world wide as a symbol of horror. The character has made the transition over the years from disposable horror film character to international pop culture icon and despite the very obvious shortcomings of any or all of the Friday The 13th films, his popularity doesn't seem to be waning much at all, even now, twenty odd years since his genesis.
One of 'Horrordoms' most enduring franchises, Friday The 13th is still going strong after ten solo films and a team up with Freddy Kreuger. Friday The 13th stars are regular guests at genre conventions like Chiller Theater and Horrorfind and the films continue to get coverage in genre magazines like Rue Morgue and Fangoria but despite their obvious popularity they only ever received barebones releases from Paramount studios… until now. Dubbed the 'Ultimate Edition' presumably by some wise studio marketing exec somewhere in their offices, Paramount has finally decided to treat the eight films they own in the franchise with the respect that they should have received the first time in this new boxed set, Friday The 13th – From Crystal Lake To Manhattan.
Friday The 13th: (1980) A young Jason Voorhees (Ari Lehman) drowned while under the care of some camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake. When they should have been watching the child, they were instead getting it on and living it up. Now, years later, Steve and his gang of new camp counselors plans to reopen the camp, dubbed by the locals as Camp Blood after an unfortunate incident or two in the camps past. When Steve finally gets everything up and ready to go, the camp counselors start dying off one by one and there might be more to Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), Jason's mother, than everyone thinks. Now Alice (Adrienne King), Annie (Robbi Morgan) and the rest of the kids will be lucky to make it out alive.
More famous for a young Kevin Bacon getting speared through the neck from below than for a hockey masked madman (Jason isn't really even in the movie much at all, let alone with a hockey mask on), Friday The 13th is a decent thriller/slasher that met with an insane amount of success and immediately spawned a sequel. Directed by Sean S. Cunningham (the man who produced Wes Craven's notorious Last House On The Left, the movie doesn't have much in the way of mood or true tension but it is an entertaining little film that obviously tapped into an audience that the studio knew wanted more. Special effects maestro Tom Savini supplies the blood and guts for this one.
Friday The 13th Part 2: (1981) Jason (Warrington Gillette) gets some real screen time in this first installment, mainly because Betsy Palmer didn't want to come back for a second round. Ginny (Amy Steel) is going to work at a new camp not too far from where the events in the first film took place. Once again, camp counselors start getting offed one at a time until it becomes obvious that Jason Vorhees, who seems to have gotten really big really fast when compared to the end of the first movie, is not dead. Will Ginny be able to get inside Jason's head and trick him out of killing her or will she wind up like all the other no good horny teens?
While still sans hockey mask, Jason (clad with a burlap sack over his head) picks up the machete for the first time in this obviously rushed sequel. The storyline is almost exactly the same as it was in the first installment, but that doesn't really diminish the fun factor much at all – we get exactly what we expect out of the movie, that being teenagers killed in the woods in reasonably inventive ways and a little T&A thrown in just for kicks.
Friday The 13th Part 3: (1982) The catch for this third installment? It was shown in 3-D! Too bad Paramount doesn't give it to us that way on his set, as the obvious shots of anything and everything from a doobie to a pitchfork zooming into the camera really make it obvious that we should be watching this film with those headache inducing glasses on. Some more horny teens make their way to Crystal Lake where they spend some time on a farm. There are eight of them in total, four guys and four girls. One of the guys, Shelly (Larry Zerner) is an awkward sort of makes up for his lack of social skills by being a bit of a practical joker. He decides to scare his lady friend by donning a hockey mask which Jason Vorhees picks up and puts on for the first time after making short work of dear departed Shelly. Soon, not only does Jason kill off most of the kids but he lays waste to a tough talking gang of motorcycle thugs too. The lovely Chris (Dana Kimmell) will have to think her way out of this one because Jason is out for blood once again.
Sound familiar? It should, because aside from changing the camp to a farm house there's really not a whole lot of difference between this third film and the first two entries. But again, it delivers naked flesh and some fun gore, which by this point was all anyone really should have been expecting from the series.
Friday The 13th Part IV – The Final Chapter: (1984) Joseph Zito (The Prowler) gets in the director's chair for this fourth entry that ups the gore (once again supplied by Tom Savini) and the nudity just a little bit from the first three entries. When Jason snaps back into action after a brief stay at the county morgue, an amorous doctor and nurse get first dibs on death. Once he makes it out of the hospital he heads back the Crystal Lake where he finds a group of horny teens renting the house next to the Jarvis family, where young Tommy (your friend and mine, Corey Feldman) lives with his mother and his sister. Once again, Jason gets a hackin' and the teens get naked and die until the inevitable showdown between Tommy and Jason occurs.
The fourth entry is my personal favorite not only because it has a really weird Feldmanesque ending and more nudity than the first three films (hey, at least I'm honest) but also because Zito and Savini have widened the mean streak for this film. Dubbed 'The Final Chapter,' (obviously it wasn't) Zito's film has a faster pace, better and more inventive kills, and lots of breasts.
Friday The 13th Part V – A New Beginning: (1985) Tommy Jarvis returns (though this time played by John Shepherd, not Corey Feldman) when someone is using Jason's motives to kill off a group of horny teens holed up at a halfway house. This just so happens to be where Tommy, haunted in his nightmares by Vorhees' sinister visage, is also living. Will Tommy be able to able to stop the killer before it's too late? Or is he somehow involved even more than we first thought?
The blood and nudity quotient rises once again in the fifth film, which is almost over the top in its excess. While the script tries to add in a mystery element (though isn't all that successful at it) what we're really hear to see we do get in spades in what is definitely the goriest of the first eight films by a fairly noticeable margin. The kills are at their most creative and Jason becomes less a stalker/killer and more an unstoppable force from here on out.
Friday The 13th Part VI – Jason Lives: (1986) Tommy's back (Thom Matthews this time around) to make sure that Jason is not. He's fairly certain that Jason isn't going to stay dead and Holy Crap, he's right. How does he prove this? By heading to the cemetery with a buddy to dig up Jason's maggot infested corpse. Unfortunately for them and all involved, Tommy is right and Jason is back on a killing spree once again.
While there's really not much new added to the film save for a few self referential comedic touches here and there, the body count is pretty high and characters seem to be introduced basically to get offed with no real explanation as to who they are or why they're here. While this is good in that we get to see some more interesting bloodletting, it's bad in that it adds very little of anything to the story. It's one of the weaker entries in the series, though it does certainly have its moments (read: the kill scenes and some nudity – duh!).
Friday The 13th Part VII – The New Blood: (1988) Left chained to the bottom of Crystal Lake by Tommy Jarvis at the end of the sixth film, the locals figure it is safe once more to open yet another summer camp on her lovely shores. Enter a pretty young psychic girl named Tina Shephard (Lar Park Lincoln) who totally by accident frees Jason Voorhees (played by the incredibly imposing Kane Hodder) who of course sets about to slaughter anything and everything at the new camp ground. While pretty young Tina be able to stop the massive maniac from killing even more people by using her psychic powers?
Well, Hodder makes a great Jason. He kills with skill, grace, and almost a sense of glee. Whenever Jason is on screen doing his thing the movie is solid, even if it isn't overly original (though none of them really are, just ask Mario Bava). Whenever Hodder is off screen though, the movie does tend to drag thanks to some really bad dialogue, and a plot that tries hard but doesn't really go anywhere we haven't already been a few times by this point.
Friday The 13th Party VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan: (1989) Having more or less run out of ideas at this point (Paramount gave up on the franchise after this entry – sucks to be them as Freddy Vs. Jason made Jason's new parents, New Line Cinema, a whole load of green!) I guess they figured why not send Mr. Vorhees to New York City for a change? After returning from the dead once again, Jason gets on board a boat full of horny teens, kills a bunch of them, then sets out into Manhattan to ride the subway, see the sights, and kill some locals.
A slight improvement over the seventh film, once again the film works when Hodder is killing off teenagers and falls kind of flat when he's not. While the idea of putting Jason in Manhattan is an interesting one, and I'm one of the few people who seem to actually like the boat scenes, once again the film is plagued with bad dialogue and a pretty pedestrian story. Still, like all the other entries in the series, if you want to see pretty naked girls and inventive kill scenes the movie delivers and is a reasonably entertaining bigger budgeted b-movie that wears its heart on its sleeve.
Okay, so Paramount included all of the films from the franchise that they currently own the rights to in this set. Good job, right? Well, yes and no. Sadly, these are the same R-rated cuts of the films that have been made available for years by the studio. None of the excised gore that has been seen in work prints and bootlegs has made it into the 'movie' portion of this release. Despite the fact that the first film, distributed in foreign markets by Warner Brothers received an uncut release on DVD last year, Paramount has not budged. In fact, the first film has a strange cut that isn't on the single disc release, where Annie's death by throat slit fades to a white screen where it didn't used to. For some reason though, the death of Mrs. Vorhees at the end of the film is slightly longer. Go figure. At any rate, despite the fact that studio reps alluded to the possibility of uncut footage being integrated, we're stuck again with the R-rated versions of each and every one of these films, which will prove a disappointment to most fans I'm sure, myself included.
All eight films are shown in their original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85.1 and are enhanced for anamorphic sets (except for Part 3 which is 2.35.1, and also anamorphic). The transfers on this set are pretty close to the transfers that Paramount used when they issued the single disc releases of these films a while back though there are some very minor differences in terms of compression and softness. The original film looks a tiny bit brighter and there is just ever so slightly more noticeable edge enhancement but you're going to have to be paying really, really close attention to even notice any of this in the first place.
For the most part, mpeg compression artifacts are not a problem (you'll only notice them creeping up once or twice in the entire set) and edge enhancement is really not much of an issue at all. All eight films in the set look really nice and while there is some grain here and there (most noticeable in the first and fourth entries – the fourth film in particular has some very noticeable grain in a few of the night scenes) and all eight films do exhibit a little bit of print damage in the form of specks, everything is clean, clear, and sharp. There's a nice high level of detail present in each film, the colors look vibrant and natural, as do the skin tones, the black levels are pretty stable and usually deep and rich and even some of the trickier elements like smoke and water look sharp and crisp. Paramount has done a good job on the visuals.
If you have the single disc releases, the video alone is not reason to upgrade, but if you've had the films on VHS or some other format, then the difference in visual quality alone my spur your interest in the set.
Just like the video, it appears that Paramount has simply ported over the audio mixes from their previous single disc releases. The discs break down as follows: Parts 1 – 5 are presented in Dolby Digital Mono, Part 6 is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Part 7 is presented in either Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, and finally Part 8 is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound. All eight films have optional English and Spanish subtitles, and optional French language dubs as well.
The mono tracks on the first five films all sound nice and clean. There are no problems whatsoever with hiss or distortion of any kind and the scores, dialogue and sound effects all come through clear as a bell. While it might have been fun to have optional Surround Sound mixes included for all the films, these mono tracks are the original mixes and Paramount has ensured that they sound just fine.
The last three films sound quite good as well. While Part 7 does get a 5.1 Surround Sound mix, it's hardly anything to write home about. The rears are used only very sparingly and it isn't a particularly active remix. Levels and surround activity on the other mixes are good though, with some nice, distinct channel separation and plenty of bass rumble when needed. Just like the mono tracks on the first batch of films the dialogue is consistently clear and is mixed in at the right level against the sound effects and film score.
Before we get to the supplements on the fifth disc which is comprised solely of extra features (and unlike the feature films does not have a French language option – just English audio with Spanish subs), let's take a look at the four commentaries that are on Part 3, Part VI – Jason Lives, Part VII – The New Blood and Part VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan.
Friday The 13th – Part 3 features a commentary track from Larry Zerner, Paul Kratka, Richard Brooker and Dana Kimmell that is moderated by Peter Bracke. First off, the recording quality of this track is pretty bad. The levels are way too low and at times it's hard to hear what everyone is saying. That aside, this commentary track is a lot of fun. It ranges from the technical to the anecdotal and covers everything in between. Bracke does a good job of keeping everyone on track as they discuss making the film in 3-D, some of the effects work, and plenty of interesting stories. Everyone seems to look back on the movie pretty fondly, even if they're very well aware of its weaknesses.
Director Tom McLoughlin is on deck for a solo commentary over Friday The 13th Part VI – Jason Lives. The man is not once at a loss for words during this entire track and he speaks not only of his experiences working on the film and with some of the actors in it, but of his love for the genre and how it affected the movie that he was trying to make. McLoughlin comes across as a very likeable and knowledgeable man and while this track may not have the 'fun' factor that the one on the third film does, it sure has a ton of information packed into it and plays like a veritable crash course in his experiences on the movie.
Director John Carl Buechler is joined by Kane Hodder (who played Jason in this installment) for the commentary track on Friday The 13th Part VII – The New Blood. The two have got a lot of stories about how things went on set, about how many cuts were forced upon the film (an obvious bone of contention for Buechler – he has no qualms about telling everyone how he feels about the trims made to the movie as required by the MPAA) and the pair obviously enjoy working together. Hodder seems to like looking back on the 'kill scenes' and has some fun stories about how those were pulled off.
The last commentary, for the last film in Paramount's chapter of the series - Friday The 13th Part VII – Jason Takes Manhattan is another solo outing, this time from writer/director Rob Hedden. Again, there is a lot of good information in this track and while the movie may be one of the least popular in the franchise, Hedden is very gracious to the fans regardless and delivers another top notch commentary track that provides a nice balance between anecdotal and technical. Much like Buechler did before him on the previous installment, Hedden also mentions some alternate death scenes that were trimmed in order for the MPAA to award the film an R-rating.
Now on to the actual fifth disc itself, and what Paramount has assembled for it…
The biggest and best of the extra features out of this entire set is hands down the fantastic new documentary, The Friday The 13th Chronicles. This bad boy clocks in at a whopping hour and forty-three minutes in approximate length and is an entertaining and comprehensive look back on the first eight films playable in either individual featurettes on each film or as one mammoth 'making of' documentary. Breaking it down chapter by chapter, the documentary plays like this:
Friday The 13th: The longest and most comprehensive of the segments includes interviews with director Sean Cunningham, as well as special effects guru Tom Savini and cast members Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees), Adrianne King (Alice Hardy), and Ari Leham (Jason Voorhees). Cunningham dominates the piece and is more than happy to discuss everything from his prior experiences in the film industry to the eye-catching marketing used for the film to the exploitative elements that work so well in the movie. Savini discusses his effects work and the gore scenes in particular as well as the reactions that they caused. The cast mainly discuss their experiences on the film and are quite friendly about it all, save for Betsy Palmer who is obviously not too happy with the movie and admits to taking the role simply for the pay This featurette, like the rest to follow, is spread out between interview footage, behind the scenes stills and the like, and clips from the specific films being discussed.
Friday The 13th Part 2: Cunningham and King are back, joined this time by actors Amy Steel (Ginny) and Warrington Gillette (Jason). Cunningham fills us in on how Paramount wanted a sequel after the unexpected success of the first film, and how he had problems coming up with a decent idea to make it all work. King is featured only briefly discussing her cameo role in the film, while Gillette and Steel fill in the blanks with all manner of stories about the production from their prior film experience to stunts to why they took their respective roles.
Friday The 13th Part 3: Larry Zerner (Shelly) and Gerald Feil (cinematographer) discuss this third film, originally shown theatrically in 3-D. The clips here as well as the discussion all pertain to the way that the film was written, designed, and directed to be seen in 3-D but sadly, Paramount didn't give us the movie that way, which makes this segment more frustrating than anything else. Aside from the 3-D discussion, they talk about how the hockey mask is introduced for the first time and Shelly is quite proud of the fact that by doing so, his character essentially made horror movie history.
Friday The 13th Part IV – The Final Chapter: Director Joseph Zito and superstud actor extraordinaire Corey Feldman (Tommy) are on hand for this installment. Zito discusses how he was more or less given free reign to do what he wanted with the character as the studio planned to end the franchise with this installment as well as how some of the scenes were created, and why certain actors were cast in their roles. Feldman discusses how he got the part and how he thought at the time that he had taken a part in another long running horror franchise and didn't actually know what the Friday The 13th movies were. He was also impressed with the fact that he got to see breasts for the first time in his life – a moment no young man ever forgets.
Friday The 13th Part V – A New Beginning: Feldman and Zito return despite the fact that neither of them really had anything to do with this fifth installment. Feldman had to bow out as he was shooting The Goonies at the time, despite the fact that the producers wanted to make him the central protagonist. Zito discusses how the writers managed to segue from the supposed Final Chapter into this film based on the way he ended the last installment of the series.
Friday The 13th Part VI – Jason Lives: Director Tom McLoughlin and C. J. Graham (Jason) are on hand for this installment's segment. Topics discussed include the specific look and feel that McLoughlin wanted for the film, how certain specific stunts were handled, the audition process an actor has to go through to become Jason Voorhees, and more. They also go into detail on some changes that the studio mandated after McLoughlin submitted his final cut, as they wanted him to add in more death scenes.
Friday The 13th Part VII – The New Blood: Director John Carl Buechler joins Kane Hodder (Jason) and the still gorgeous Lar Park Lincoln (Tina) for this seventh chat session. Topics at hand include studio objection to Hodder's take on the now famous killing machine, stunt work, and Jason's physical evolution over the first few films to how he ends up looking in this one.
Friday The 13th Party VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan: The last part of the documentary brings in Director Rob Hedden and sees Hodder return as well as the pair give us some detail on some of the difficulties encountered shooting the film in the urban setting, alternate title ideas, and the serious money problems that they encountered while shooting. There are also some great storyboards included for alternate scenes that were to take place in the city but were never shot because of the aforementioned money woes.
Moving through the features in the order they're presented on the interactive menus we next encounter Secrets Galore Behind The Gore, which if you couldn't tell from the title is a 'how did they do that' style piece on the gore effects used and created for the series. Sadly, only three of the eight films in the set get any screen time, and those are Part 1, Part IV and Part VII. Savini gives the details on the earliest two while Kane Hodder and director John Carl Buechler cover the later entry. Savini's segment starts off great but soon turns into an advertisement for his make up school (which isn't uninteresting but does feel out of place). Buechler and Hodder mainly focus on the cuts that were made to the effects footage that they shot, These pieces can be watched one at a time or all at once, just like the Friday The 13th Chronicles feature, and it runs just over half an hour in length.
Following the effects piece is a segment entitled Crystal Lake Victims Tell All that is comprised mainly of interview footage that feels like it was cut from the larger Chronicles documentary. Sadly, there's no Kevin Bacon footage here but there is more footage of pretty much all of the victims that appear in the other documentary giving some more focus to their death scenes and the like. Not a bad piece, per se, but it feels like leftovers from the main course.
Moving right along, we find the highly anticipated Tales From The Cutting Room Floor segment. Again, if you couldn't tell from the title, this is a few minutes worth of alternate and cut footage from a few of the different chapters in the series. First up, for Part 1 we get to see Kevin Bacon's uncut death scene, an extended cut of Annie's axe vs. face scene, and the full version of Mrs. Voorhees' decapitation sequence which features a little more arterial spray. These sequences are shown with their R-rated counterparts above them in a sort of split screen format, which means that you're seeing the uncut footage in a much smaller window than you would be if they were incorporated into the film. For Part IV – The Final Chapter we see some slightly extended character scenes involving some of the kids as well some more footage of Tommy in his bedroom with the Jason-Hunter guy, and one involving Tommy's mother. There's not a whole lot of extra gore here and the scenes are shown fullframe and likely taken from a tape source (though they're more than watchable). For Part VI – Jason Lives we're treated to an alternate and slightly gorier take on the paintball gun team's death scene, and a considerably gorier take from the death scene where we see the woman in the car lose her credit card into the mud puddle and the preceding death of her husband. Again, these are taken from a tape source and we're back to the split screen format that they used to display the alternate cuts from Part 1. Finally, John Carl Beuchler and Kane Hodder provide a commentary over some of the extended scenes that were cut from the work print of Part VII – The New Blood. While Buechler says the word 'attractive' far too many times in such a short period to describe the excised gore, the two of them do a good job of explaining the details behind the scenes. While they're taken from a VHS source (and a time coded work print at that), they look really rough and are in terrible shape and it's a shame that a cleaner version of this material wasn't found for this release as we get to see the full version of the sleeping bag beating scene, a scene that the commentators refer to as the coochie face scene in which a split face ends up looking rather vaginal, a slightly longer version of Robin's death, the heretofore unseen version of Ben's death, and a few other extended cuts of a neck cutting, the mother's death, and the Doctor's death. There is also some footage from an alternate ending that works quite well and was fun to finally see.
After that, there's a rather unusual feature entitled Friday Artifacts And Collectables which is a quick look at some of the memorabilia and whatnot from the series. A representative from NECA toys shows off their Friday The 13th lunch box set as well as their 18" Jason Voorhees figure, a fan shows off a custom guitar featuring an air brushed picture of Jason on it that was signed by every actor to ever play the role. Tom McLoughlin has got one of the hockey masks used in his film, and a left over slate used on set. Tom McLoughlin has the tombstone from Part VI – Jason Lives resting in his backyard to scare the meter reader as well as the coffin used in the film. Finally, Buechler has the sculpted head of John Otrin from Part VII – The New Blood that the studio decided not to use.
Finally, Paramount has supplied the trailers for all eight of the films in the set, which is sure to annoy owners of the single disc releases of Part VII and Part VIII which were released without even that much on the disc.
It is a shame though that Paramount either didn't make the effort to or wasn't able to include the commentary track (with Sean Cunningham, Victor Miller, Peter Bracke and Betsy Palmer) and the twenty-five minute Return To Crystal Lake making of featurette from the overseas release of the original Friday The 13th as they are both quite interesting.
Is this truly an 'ultimate edition' as the box proclaims? No. Not even close. There was a lot more that Paramount could have and should have included on this set that is conspicuously absent. What is included is good though – the movies look and sound quite nice, the commentary tracks are informative and engaging, and the fifth disc of supplements is nicely done and does contain some great material. Despite the absence of uncut versions and my objections to the way that the 'cutting room' footage was included, this set does come recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.