"I have found that a movie I really didn't give two cents for in the beginning has brought me into the world and into the lives of people
who have viewed it in a very special way."
- Betsy Palmer
For Friday the 13th fans, patience is a virtue wearing thinner by the second. It wasn't until 2004 that any DVD bonus features were created for the franchise, but they proved to be a disappointment. Five years later, "deluxe" editions of the first three films were also underwhelming, and a little repetitive. But hopes remained high for the documentary His Name Was Jason, partly because Paramount wasn't responsible for it. Featuring interviews with 97 people--including cast, crew, horror journalists and "famous" fans--it comes closer than any other effort to taking a more comprehensive, all-encompassing look at the series and its iconic villain. Sadly, that isn't saying much.
Co-written and co-produced by Anthony Masi (who held the same responsibilities for the similar Halloween retrospective 25 Years of Terror) and directed by Daniel Farrands (who wrote Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers), the film is hosted by special effects maestro Tim Savini and is divided into 10 sections, some of which overlap. After an introduction gives a quick overview of each film's plot, the attention turns to uncovering Jason's mind and motivation. That's followed by a slasher formula breakdown, discussion of memorable kills and how they were created, exploration of Jason's look and back story, a tribute to the survivors, a look at how some of the victims were butchered by Jason and the ratings board, a lighthearted chat about some of the series' inconsistencies, how Jason has infiltrated pop culture (Nintendo!) and a preview of the 2009 reboot.
Anyone expecting an in-depth look behind the scenes of each film is going to be disappointed. The documentary recites far too much plot and other obvious ideas, along with previously shared stories. It's a glossy character study, a commentary on the franchise with a focus on the popularity of the man behind the mask. Friday addicts will be familiar with a lot of the information presented here (the film is more appropriate for casual horror fans), with a lot of the material stretching our tedium tolerance (like this "revelation" from actor John D. Lemay: "There has to be teenagers having sex and getting killed while they're having sex").
You'll also become frustrated by the film's tone, exacerbated by the sometimes smart-ass demeanor of some contributors. His Name Was Jason frequently comes across like an episode of VH1's I Love the '80s. The film's biggest mistake is giving so much screen time to the so-called "expert" fans and horror journalists (not all of them are a waste of airtime).
You get genre directors like Adam Green (Hatchet) and Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2); writers/journalists like Seth Grahame-Smith (How to Survive a Horror Movie), Dread Central's Steve Barton, comic book writer Jeff Katz and genre screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick; and completely random people like Jared Rivet (who has one screenwriter/producing credit to his name), actress Felissa Rose (better known as Angela from Sleepaway Camp), and actor/producer Seth Green (along with Robot Chicken cohort/Freshmen comic co-creator Hugh Sterbakov). Perhaps the oddest addition is Psych actor James Roday (?!). I'm guessing he's just a big fan, but it's never addressed.
By and large, these contributors don't add much to the proceedings. The ones that try to be cute and clever fail miserably with their stand-up schtick. They're not funny--and even worse, they frequently show a lack of knowledge about the franchise (or intentionally dumb themselves down for the sake of a laugh). Either way, it's a big insult to fans and a waste of valuable screen time. Here's just a sampling of the lazy (and sometimes inaccurate) observations that had me groaning:
- Says Katz of Jason in Part 3: "That's the one where he runs! Jason's a bit of like a manic hillbilly in [Part] 3, still got a little of that left over. After that, he becomes sort of the slow, methodical stalker." Huh?! No Jeff...Jason runs in Part 2 and Part 4.
- Lynch shares that he "didn't have sex until I was 30 because of Jason. That motherfucker was the best contraception that a guy like me could have." I call shenanigans on you, Joe.
- Rose notes of Part 2: "That shish kebob scene is so original!" (The emphasis is hers, not mine.) Uh, Felissa, did you see Bay of Blood?
- Of the "final girls", Grahame-Smith says "whether it's Alice or it's Ginny or it's Chris...they usually have some common characteristics--the most important is their chastity." Wrong again! Alice refers to sex with Steve in Part 1, Ginny had sex with Paul in Part 2. This is a misconception often cited by critics who haven't seen the films, not the so-called fans.
- Green adds fuel to the fire: "It was usually the good girl, the one who didn't smoke pot, the one who didn't have premarital sex. She was always the one who was able to take him on." Remember the strip Monopoly game? Alice took a toke.
- Green also talks about Jason Goes to Hell: "The best part was when he was this little worm thing and he went into the girl from Buck Rogers...is that who she was? Yeah! He went into her pussy and that was awesome." Really, Adam?! Setting aside the 12-year-old language, I'm still bothered by the faux fact check: Any franchise fan knows the actress was Erin Gray, and also knows damn well that she was in Buck Rogers.
Couldn't these people have brushed up their brains before sitting in front of the camera? Throw a few discs in the player and do your damn homework! Author Peter M. Bracke, who knows his shit, is unfortunately given very little time to talk, leaving it up to the amateurs to try and impress us with their frat-boy speak. There's an ever-present "boys club" mentality to much of the fanboy segments, with "dudes!" and "oh mans!" thrown into comments about breasts and getting laid, all interspersed with random cuss words for good measure [Barton notes that "it's like (Jason) takes your sexual energy and then he fucks you with his machete!"].
And something just doesn't feel right when Green describes the death of Debisue Voorhees in Part 5: "The hedge clippers to the eyes...that girl had the best rack, the best death and her last name had Voorhees in it." The comment seems even less tasteful (is that possible?) given the presence of Voorhees in the documentary (uh, Adam...she's right there. Show some class!).
Savini's script for the interludes--where he walks through the Crystal Lake Cabin at Universal Studios' Hollywood Horror Nights attraction--doesn't help. The generic statements come straight out of a bad high school essay, and are accompanied by cheesy scenes that play out in front of him (including some gratuitous breast flashing): "For some of us, the problems we have as adults go back to our mothers. In the case or Jason, truer words were never spoken." Or how about this deep thought: "If there's one thing we've learned, it's that escaping Jason is a rarity. In fact, it's clear that Jason has done more than take Manhattan: I'd say he's conquered he world."
So much time is wasted, and it's aggravating considering all of the ingredients are here for something much better. Where His Name Was Jason excels is in the stories from the cast and crew--why the filmmakers didn't hand the narrative over to them is a mystery to me. Get rid of all these bozos that don't have anything unique to share and let us hear from our favorites. How can you screw that up? (They've rounded up so many of them, and that's the hard part!)
You'll get an adrenaline rush from seeing a lot of the talent, especially the actors that haven't contributed to previous extras. I was particularly giddy to see Lauren-Marie Taylor, Russell Todd, John Furey, Camilla and Carey More (love their attempts at reciting the "Ki-ki-ki! Ma-ma-ma!" chant), Lawrence Monoson, Kevin Spirtas, Catherine Parks (who no one had an update on in Part 3's previous audio commentary), John Shepherd (who shares some of the more interesting thoughts), Bill Randolph, Paul Kratka (he did contribute to Part 3's commentary) and Judie Aronson, who--along with Jensen Daggett and Taylor--has aged beautifully (and in the interest of equal time for all attractions, so have Spirtas, Monoson and Todd).
And the usual greats like Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Amy Steel and Lar Park Lincoln are also here, and as fabulous as ever--I particularly loved hearing about Steel's idea for a "survivors" installment, something I've dreamed about for decades: "If they were to ask me to do sort of the Friday the 13th survivors take on Jason, would I do it? Hell yeah! Wouldn't it be great if the strong women of the series came back to take him on?" King, Lincoln and Daggett are equally enthusiastic: "I would probably go back and do another Friday the 13th...if nothing else than just to make my boys happy," says Daggett, later adding: "This was the best first acting gig I could have gotten, because when you have a knife coming at you, you really learn how to hit your mark."
There are also a few odd moments, like Monoson talking about how he got stoned for his death scene (can someone tell me why they created a dummy for that shot in Part 4?), and Peter Mark Richman expressing his disappointment about his boner being edited out of Part 8: "I was very keyed up...they didn't show any of that and I was pissed off! I was really having it effect me!"
But so many of the actors (including a lot I didn't mention) are given so little time, it's pointless--they flash on and off the screen in the blink of an eye. His Name Was Jason is far more concerned with style than substance. Why bother putting Randolph in front of the camera if he's just given seconds to talk?! This is the more interesting stuff, but the documentary wastes the opportunity. (Randolph's co-star Stu Charno doesn't even appear until 84 minutes in!) Some of the funniest moments come in the closing credits, where we get random clips of the participants having fun: Spirtas can't recite a line without laughing, Larry Zerner is reunited with Parks...this is what we want to see!
I've come to the conclusion that has a Friday freak, I may never be satisfied with any bonus features or documentaries--maybe they'll never be good enough for me. In my dream world, Dana Kimmell and Kimberly Beck would be here, along with Jeannine Taylor, Harry Crosby, Mark Nelson, Tracie Savage, Peter Barton, Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, Melanie Kinnamon, Susan Jennifer Sullivan...the list goes on.
But there's still a lot to rejoice over, including comments from all of the Jasons (save for Dan Bradley, who had one scene in Part 6) and all of the directors (save for Steve Miner and Ronny Yu). The documentary picks up a little steam near the 40-minute mark, and some of the more interesting observations are shared--including how some of the Jason actors got into character: "When you out that costume on, you really project it," notes C.J. Graham, whose shirtless pic leaves no doubt he wears the "Sexiest Jason" label. "And the projection had to be through the body--100 percent through the body. Just a simplistic little movement would create fear. As soon as the mask comes down, it's very simple to get into the character." Ken Kirzinger also talks about replacing four-timer Kane Hodder: "They were big shoes to fill, but I'm a big guy."
It's also great to hear from Part 4's Ted White, who initially was embarrassed by the role but has since come to embrace it. And Part 2's Steve Daskawisz also shares some fun stories. In the director chairs, the biggest catch is Part 5's Danny Steinmann. He hasn't directed since, so it's nice to see him return--and his mention of 47 seconds of cut footage will further frustrate fans eager to see it (including the infamous alternate Violet kill: "Almost every kill was either off camera or minimized."). We also get a brief attempt at uncovering who came up with the hockey mask idea, a mystery that isn't really solved (3-D supervisor Martin Jay Sadoff and Richard Brooker have different takes).
But overall, the documentary still stands as a disappointment. Once you get past the novelty of seeing so many of your favorite cast members on camera, there's surprisingly little substance left to maintain your interest. Short on fresh insights, His Name Was Jason is more of a tease than anything else. Friday fans are getting closer to seeing what they want...but it's not quite there yet.
"He's become iconic in our lives...Jason has no expiration date." - Diana Barrows
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 presentation, the documentary is decent yet very (intentionally) dark. Some of the black levels aren't even during Savini's segments, and the image isn't quite as sharp as it could be.
The 5.1 track is underwhelming--but what do you expect from a DTV documentary? The voices are always crisp and clear, which is all you can really ask for.
"It's this seeking righteous vengeance that defines the Jason character, and also separates Jason Voorhees from all the other horror icons." - Ari Lehman
While the documentary itself is a underwhelming, some of the bonus features on this two-disc set make the package far more attractive. Up first is the only extra on Disc 1: The Men Behind the Mask (46:41), a collection of 11 interviews with the men who have played Jason (save for now highly acclaimed stuntman Dan Bradley, who had one memorable scene in Jason Lives). Like most of the interviews presented as bonus features, this is leftover footage, with some clips re-used from the main documentary.
The best segments include Steve Dash/Daskawicz (4:21), who marvels at the character's popularity and talks candidly about the confusion many people have with his role: "I had no idea for 25 years that anybody even knew who I was. I had no idea that Warrington Gillette was running around to all of these conventions saying that he was me, that he did the stunts. He was getting all the credits, he was on the NECA toys, he got all the hoopla for everything that I did." Daskawicz speaks with refreshing candor, as does Ted White (5:17), perhaps my favorite clip of the bunch. White was initially embarrassed of the role, but has since changed his tune (we love 'ya, Ted!). He talks about how he wanted Jason to move differently, and mentions how he never got along with director Joseph Zito. He also shares some hysterical comments about Corey Feldman that are worth the price of the DVD ("I wanted to kill him desperately...").
Also providing great listens are the three enthusiastic Jasons: C.J. Graham (5:20), Ken Kirzinger (4:27) and newbie Derek Mears (7:05). These are the three most likeable guys you'll find, the ones you'd want to hang out with over a beer. Graham has always spoken fondly of the experience, and talks about the camaraderie on set; Kirzinger speaks about the pressure he faced from Kane Hodder fans: "I think Kane has come to terms with it..." (more on that in a second!); while Mears is a riot--he makes a great Daniel Craig/James Bond analogy, and when forced to pick his favorite Jason goes with White (the new Jason is in excellent hands!).
Dick Weiand (3:03) has a few interesting thoughts, and notes how he wanted to do more behind the mask (his "Dick head" gag made me laugh), but his counterpart Tom Morga gets only 55 seconds of screen time, far too little. Richard Brooker (2:21) shares some boring makeup thoughts, while Ari Lehman (3:39) shares the same stories we've heard before; ditto Gillette (3:42), who doesn't address Daskawicz's claims.
And then there's Kane Hodder (6:22), an interesting guy who talks about his makeup for each of his four films and about getting into character: "I'm kind of maybe a violent guy inside...to get to those violent points didn't take long." While I appreciate some of the touches he gave to the character (love the deep breath!), I'm tired of the whole "Cult of Kane" that insists he is the best Jason ever. Hodder (and plenty other "experts" in the documentary) proves he's still sore about not getting the role in Freddy vs. Jason. Like some of his pals in this 2-disc set, he comes across a little too bitter: "After seeing the movie, I guess I was kind of hoping that I would see a scene to say, 'Oh, that's why!'...honestly, there's nothing in the movie that I saw that I wouldn't have been able to do. I think I would have put a little more energy into most of the killings." (Keep in mind that Hodder has worked with Kirzinger, who was a stunt coordinator on Part VIII.)
So no, Ken...Kane is not over it, and neither are many of his fans. Far too much time is given to the issue in the documentary and the extras, and it gets tiring to listen to. Coming from a longtime franchise fan who knows just as much about the films as the "journalists" and Hodder's friends who voice their Kane-mania here (including Hodder's directors, John Carl Buechler and Hatchet's Adam Green), y'all need to chill. Freddy vs. Jason wasn't Citizen Kane. He didn't miss out on the role of a lifetime. Kirzinger did a fine job, so lay off him. And while Hodder was in four franchise films, three of them sucked big time and are easily the worst of the series--The New Blood is the only one that matters (and even that I'd only place as eighth-best). Graham has always been my favorite Jason, with Brooker, White and Daskawicz also standing out--so everyone just needs to relax and stop whining.
Leading the way on Disc 2 is Final Cuts (1:17:38), a collection of interviews with all of the franchise directors save for Steve Miner (Parts 2 and 3) and Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason). Sean S. Cunningham (8:10) has long professed that his vision was more for money than art; he doesn't show the same passion for the series that most of the other directors do. But he always helps out with the extras, so you gotta love him. Most of what Cunningham shares here we've heard before (in the bonus footage for the DVD releases of Part 1), but it's interesting to hear him address the so-called influence of Italian filmmakers, primarily Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve/Bay of Blood. Cunningham says that not only had he not seen the film, he wasn't even aware of it. As for the influence Friday the 13th had: "People often sort of imitated my mistakes rather than the stuff I got right...I think it was meant to be flattering."
Joseph Zito (11:45) has a nice energy, and talks about how thrilled he was to take a stab at the franchise. He talks about how he wanted to tackle his version, including Jason and the teenagers--and also notes that he motivated his actors to take the work seriously. He shares some funny ideas that didn't make it into the final cut, although the brief mention of unseen extra footage (like Sam's death) will just frustrate fans who want to see it. Zito never talks about his relationship with White, or the infamous argument the two had over the treatment of actress Judie Aronson.
Perhaps the most interesting watch is Danny Steinmann (3:38), mostly because of his awkward comment about Jason (I don't dare spoil it here). Of all the directors, he's the one I wanted to hear from the most. But he doesn't share much in his brief screen time, so it's a lost opportunity for those wanting some insights into his vision for Part V (and will just make fans angry that Paramount hasn't given us the 47 seconds of deleted footage).
Like Graham, Jason Lives director Tom McLoughlin (14:27) is enthusiastic, and has passion shows. He talks about his influences (gothic horror, classic Universal monsters) and purpose with the film. He's the best listen here, whether he's talking about his stamp on the franchise or his work researching serial killers for other films. He also talks about his initial idea for the ending of Part 6, which initially had a different name (apparently studio execs didn't think "Jason Has Risen" was in good taste; I think it's hysterical).
John Carl Buechler (8:49) spends a lot of time talking about being raped by the ratings board, and his clash with a producer who hated some of his ideas. He also hops on the bitter Hodder bandwagon, noting it was disappointing that Hodder didn't get the role in Freddy vs. Jason, denying fans the "ultimate battle" with "the" Jason. Yawn!
Rob Hedden (6:08) was one of the few contributors on Paramount's 2004 box set "From Crystal Lake to Manhattan", so his segment doesn't feel as fresh. Adam Marcus (11:34) notes that he was right out of film school and "didn't know one thing" about making a major film, calling the franchise "the cinematic equivalent of mac and cheese." He shares a nice story about Hodder and a young child on the set, and notes that he wishes they could have pushed the envelope more in his film. He has a nice energy, and notes how he loves that people care enough to still talk about Jason Goes to Hell and the franchise, regardless of their opinion.
James Isaac (7:52) talks about how seriously Hodder took his role, and notes that many scrip changes dampened the final product: "I should have fought harder for the script I fell in love with originally." Finally, Marcus Nispel (5:04) talks about the mythology of the series and how he wanted to tackle a more modern take on it for the 2009 version.
Now it's time for another rant: It's a real shame that Steve Miner has steadfastly refused to take part in the DVD extras for the first three films, and for this documentary. He directed Parts 2 and 3, which are highly significant to the franchise--they gave birth to Jason as a killer and introduced the iconic hockey mask. It would have been wonderful to hear how he and the writers went about crafting their stories and continuing the series. But Miner clearly isn't interested in talking about the films that made his directing career possible. I guess he's too busy making crap like the direct-to-video Day of the Dead remake to care. Thanks for being a good sport and thanking the fans, Steve!
The screenwriters are up next in From Script to Screen (31:12). Victor Miller (8:28) has been a frequent contributor to Friday extras, so you'll be familiar with a lot of his comments. But I always love his bluntness, primarily in admitting how the original ripped off Halloween and Carrie (of the film's jump ending: "It's almost shot for shot. You can call it an homage, I call it a theft: Grand Theft Cinema."). Barney Cohen (7:36) talks about how he tried to make Part 4 stand out, while Todd Farmer (6:15) notes that the magic was rewritten out of Jason X, and talks about a scene left on the cutting room floor ("How do you let somebody who grabs Jason's dick not die?"). Finally, Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (8:49) discuss both Freddy vs. Jason (it got "too cartoony"; they wanted Betsy Palmer; Jason isn't afraid of water) and about their 2009 reboot. The two play well off each other and offer a few comedic musings.
Dragged from the Lake (20:50) is a collection of 13 quick interviews with various contributors about completely random tidbits, most of which aim to be funny. They range from the hysterical (Amy Steel and Adam Green muse about "Rat Pee") to mildly amusing (Adam Marcus talks about "Homoerotic Shaving" and giving female viewers their due; Dana Kimmell gets skewered in "Worst Monologue Ever") to the serious (Adrienne King shares more about "The Stalker"). Also interesting is hearing Judie Aronson talking about the infamous "Hypothermia" she experienced in the raft scene ("In retrospect, it probably would have been a good idea for the crew to not let me drive home that night, because I have no recollection of driving home"). But there are a few duds, especially when DreadCentral's Steve Barta goes on a pointless "I'm a Proud Freak!" diatribe that's more for his own well being than our entertainment.
Closing the Book on The Final Chapter (12:37) is a Part 4 set visit by director Zito and actor Erich Anderson (Rob), who walk through the Jarvis cabin (watch for the framed John Wayne letter!) and through the woods to tell some stories, while Fox Comes Home (3:47) has Part 3's Gloria Charles (who has a nice sense of humor and looks great 25 years later!) visiting the ranch set.
The rest will lose your interest fast. Four fan films are included: "Freddy vs. Jason in 30 Seconds with Bunnies" (:41) is cute but you've probably seen it; "The Angry Video Game Nerd: Friday the 13th Episode" (7:52) has James Rolfe trashing Nintendo's awful game (it's amusing but gets old, especially when he feels the need to explain some of the humor); "Jason Hurts" (1:59) is a mock commercial for the drug Voorexia; while "Rupert Takes Manhattan" (3:28) looks at Jason's forgotten brother.
Friday the 13th in 4 Minutes (4:06) is a snoozer summary from Joe Lynch, Steve Barta and Adam Green, who continue the annoying Kane Hodder whining: "Everyone knows that he was the best Jason that ever was," Green says, later complaining about Freddy vs. Jason: "It wasn't Kane Hodder as Jason anymore, and that kind of sucked." Adds Barta: "For the last 10 fucking years, all we wanted to see was Robert Englund fight Kane Hodder...and we didn't get that." Really, guys? You're still harping on that? Please make it stop!
Jason Takes Comic-Con (4:24) is a set of interviews for Dread Central with some of the people involved with the 2009 release, while The Camp Crystal Lake Guide (4:31) has various people providing helpful hints to stay alive at Camp Blood. It's mostly pointless, but two people made me laugh: Judie Aronson ("Never show your breasts!") and Elizabeth Kaitan ("Always use the buddy system. Also, make sure that your buddy is slower, weaker or dumber than you are...").
Inside Halloween Horror Nights (7:00) has creative director John Murdy walking us through the Universal Studios Friday the 13th haunted house, while Shelly Lives! (2:16) is a mock commercial for attorney Sheldon P. Finklestein. It's stupid--until Catherine Parks joins in at the end and proves she has a great sense of humor.
Two Easter Eggs also await on the main menu of Disc 2: If you highlight the two triangles flaking the nose on the hockey mask, you'll get clips of Ari Lehman and Stuart Charno singing (neither is entertaining).
Sigh...so close, yet so far away. When this documentary lets the Friday the 13th actors and directors just talk about their thoughts and experiences, it's an entertaining watch. But these people flash by far too quickly and are wasted in favor of plot recitation, cheesy interludes and the musings of some "expert fans" who are trying too hard to be cool. His Name Was Jason is more of a character study than a behind-the-scenes look at the making of each film, and plays like an installment of VH1's I Love the '80s; it's more concerned with style than substance. But the moments with the cast and crew are worth a look, and some great extras make the package more attractive. Recommended, but only for Friday freaks.