"I always remember the New York Times describing the young counselors as 'nubile'...I think that's the only good word they had to say about us."
- Adrienne King
With the upcoming reboot of the Friday the 13th franchise, Paramount has gone to the vault once again for yet another DVD release of its surprise smash (along with Part 2 and Part 3). When it hit theaters in May of 1980, Friday the 13th was trimmed of a few snippets of gore to ensure an R rating. Paramount released its first DVD in 1999, with two odd differences: the death of Annie was uncut, but the final machete death was even shorter than the trimmed theatrical version. In 2004, the studio released the first eight films in the "From Crystal Lake to Manhattan" box set. In that version of the original, the final kill was restored to its theatrical cut--but Annie's death was, too.
Until now, the only way to see the film in its full uncut version was through Warner's international release (in Regions 2 and 3) of the film (Paramount did not have rights overseas). So even though this print has existed on an official studio release for nearly seven years, Paramount failed to put it on the 2004 box set, which only showed the excised footage as a bonus feature. Now, North American audiences can finally see the full version of the film--which is great for franchise fans but probably no big deal to the rest of you (the footage is roughly 11 seconds--so the cuts aren't anywhere near My Bloody Valentine or Friday the 13th Part VII proportions).
Also included are a few new (and some not-so-new) bonus features--but not the same ones from the box set--and a new transfer and a 5.1 soundtrack. Confused yet? Let's try and sort it out. First things first...
It's hard to believe there was a time when the slasher genre--along with the concept of sequels and franchise horror--wasn't even on Hollywood's radar. In 1979, fresh off the success of Halloween--and many years after Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood, 1971), Last House on the Left (1972), Black Christmas (1974) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) made their mark--filmmaker Sean S. Cunningham wanted to make some money. And while his film owed a lot to Halloween, it was the one that single-handedly started a bloody revolution--one that exploded in the early '80s and never looked back. While not entirely original, Friday the 13th was unquestionably influential.
We begin at Camp Crystal Lake in 1958, when the brutal murder of two camp counselors closes the troubled facility's doors. Fast forward 20-plus years to Friday, June 13, when young Annie (Robbi Morgan) is making her way to the New Jersey camp grounds. The site is being re-opened, much to the dismay of the locals who have coined it "Camp Blood" and would love to forget its troubled past: In addition to the murders, the camp has been plagued by fires, a tampered water supply and the drowning death of a young boy. "It's got a death curse!" warns Crazy Ralph, the town's prophet of doom.
Unfazed by the legend, Annie hitches a ride to the crossroads by the cemetery, where she then makes her way on foot. Waiting for her are Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) and his six counselors: young couple Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) and Jack (Kevin Bacon, the real sole survivor of the franchise); jokester Ned (Mark Nelson); mild-mannered vegetarian Brenda (Laurie Bartram, who sadly passed away in 2007); laid-back guitar strummer Bill (Harry Crosby, son of Bing); and Alice (Adrienne King), who we soon learn has a fling with her boss.
Steve soon heads into town to run some errands, leaving his young workers in charge. But when Annie never shows up (we see her nasty fate) and a cop comes looking for Crazy Ralph (who soon puts a scare into the staff), the viewer starts to make a list of suspects. After a day of work and play, the six teenagers start to unwind as night (and a powerful thunderstorm) approaches. But just where has Ned run off to? Didn't he see someone lurking in the dark doorway of a cabin, the same one Marcie and Jack soon seek refuge in? While the counselors have two weeks to get the camp ready, it looks like they won't make it past Friday.
What unfolds is a violent night and a chilling film, one that still manages to unsettle us with its isolated setting and growing tension--aided by plenty of long shots that let us know these kids are being watched. Friday the 13th does so many things well, even if a lot of it has been seen before. Much of the credit goes to the young cast: Each of them turns in a natural performance; you almost feel like you're watching a documentary with regular teenagers on a standard summer day. The series (like the genre) often gets a rap for bad acting, but I don't see that here--they just come across as comfortable and realistic (since the script is basic, they can just be themselves).
Unlike any other film in the franchise--and virtually every other slasher movie--none of the kids here are annoying (Part VI comes cloest to matching that). They're all likeable, relatable characters, not the annoying archetypes that soon took over--and that makes their impending doom all the more tragic. Marci's brief monologue (where she relates a dream to Jack) is perfectly placed and performed, an effective touch of foreshadowing that helps sell the camp's mythology. And the set-up for the final conflict doesn't require much suspension of disbelief--this is how things could actually happen.
Also rising to the occasion is Harry Manfredini, whose stark score contributes to the film's discordant feel. The composer knows when to be quiet--letting natural sounds like the opening of a door, the crinkling of a raincoat or a child's plea for help do their job--and when to go for the jugular (and the infamous "Ki-ki-ki! Ma-ma-ma!" chime has become the franchise's calling card). There's a mood here that just works.
And while there isn't any crazy camerawork on display (the killer POV shots were hardly new), Cunningham and director of photography Barry Abrams have a few tricks up their sleeve--from subtle (those hands on the shower curtain get me every time) to not-so-subtle (the shadow of the ax) to downright dirty (Jack's demise benefits the most from the restored footage). And that brings me to the gore. For its time, Friday the 13th was a shock to the system, thanks in part to Tom Savini's unforgettable effects; by today's standards, the film is pretty tame (more than half of the kills are off camera, the carnage only shown--if at all--in aftermath).
That's one of the misconceptions about the film: It's more about mood than the few great "gotcha!" magic tricks. But those still stand up pretty well, probably because they're so basic (Annie's death has terrified me since I was a little kid; to this day, I still cover my neck). I've often been confused by a lot of the criticism leveled at Friday the 13th (much of which is addressed in the audio commentary). While bloodier than Halloween, the film is still pretty light on gore, doesn't exploit boobs (Halloween had more), isn't misogynistic and doesn't equate sex with death (Alice isn't like virginal Laurie Strode).
The film has gained added importance through the years--while audiences didn't know it at the time, they were witnessing the birth of a cinema icon, a villain that has stood the test of time and is about to be re-introduced (nearly 30 years later!) to a whole new generation. Friday the 13th is a simple scary tale, something you tell around a campfire--which is exactly what Cunningham wanted. And unlike any of the films it spawned, this one is presented as a mystery.
Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying the film is a masterpiece (for the record, I fully admit that Halloween is better). But it's just so darn fun--Friday the 13th singlehandedly gave summer camps a bad name, doing the same damage that Jaws did to beaches and Psycho did to showers. It's got the perfect setting, a memorable final chase and a few great jolts. And while its ending is often cited as a dirty trick, people never forget it. Simply put, it's a scary ride that has stood the test of time, and marks the beginning of a legendary franchise and villain that will outlive all of us.
"There was an innocence among the entire crew...I know that sounds weird, but there was some kind of realism and innocence that in most horror films is slick."
- Adrienne King
To help put my thoughts on the series and each film into perspective, let's take a look at my quality rankings (subject to shuffling within their groups at my leisure):
A Cut Above: The Top Tier
1. Friday the 13th (1980)
director: Sean S. Cunningham
leading lady: Adrienne King; Jason: Ari Lehman
The original and still the best, this low-budget indie started a slasher craze that hijacked horror in the early '80s. Singlehandedly giving summer camps a bad name, it's a perfectly crafted campfire tale with great gore from FX legend Tom Savini and a genuine sense of tension in its creepy, isolated setting. The only franchise film presented (a little deceptively) as a mystery, it's strengthened by likeable characters and natural performances--something none of its sequels (and very few slasher films) can claim. Adrienne King puts up a great fight, etching her name as one of the best "final girl" scream queens--and two iconic villains make a mark on horror history. The film owes a lot to Halloween, but still has its own flavor.
2. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
director: Joseph Zito
leading lady: Kimberly Beck; Jason: Ted White
Three years after directing The Prowler, Joseph Zito stepped in to inject a little nastiness back into the franchise. Savini also returned to up the gore quotient, topping his work on Part 1. The result is one of the leaner and meaner entries in the series, with some of my favorite kills (normally I'd love to hop in the shower with Peter Barton; not so much this time). While Parts 2 and 6 are stronger from a story perspective, there's something so attractive about this installment--it's just vicious (I have equal enthusiasm for all three of these top sequels, by far the best ones). The Final Chapter introduced Tommy Jarvis to the fold, tampering with the "one female survivor" formula, but the film still has one of the best end chases and "final girls"--Kimberly Beck was undoubtedly the strongest of all the Friday women at acting genuinely scared (listen to her voice crack: "Tommy! You were supposed to leave!"). On the bad side, a dog dies (oh, poor Gordon!), and the off-camera exit of mom is a little annoying. On the plus side: If you're annoyed by Crispin Glover, he gets it real good. And hey, it's those twins from Days of Our Lives!
3. Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986)
director: Tom McLoughlin
leading lady: Jennifer Cooke; Jason: C.J. Graham
Some diehards dislike this installment because it strays from the formula; it's probably one of the more enjoyable for casual fans, and critics were slightly kinder to it. That's because Tom McLoughlin (whose first film, One Dark Night, still holds a fond place in my heart) decided to inject a few laughs, making this one of the first genre films to successfully blend horror and humor. He does a damn good job--in many ways, this is the strongest film in the franchise, and is easily the strongest from a production standpoint. The self-awareness holds up well today, never hurting the fright factor. I also love the look and sound--Jason Lives is smooth and slick, the most professional of the first nine entries. Jason's resurrection is given a supernatural element for the first time--and it's the only time it works for me. But best of all is C.J. Graham, my favorite Jason ever--he has a commanding presence, and adds a few slight yet masterful touches (he was hired shortly after filming began; the paintball sequence is the only one without him). Add in a great opener with a memorable title sequence featuring a reinvigorated Harry Manfredini score (and the closing credits with that rockin' Alice Cooper theme song!) and this one always puts a smile on my face.
4. Friday the 13th (2009)
director: Marcus Nispel
leading lady: Danielle Panabaker; Jason: Derek Mears
No film in the franchise was put under the microscope like this one: With the series derailed long ago, hopes were high--with many fans holding expectations unheard of for the 11 previous films. Nonetheless, everyone was thrilled Friday finally got back to basics. Not a remake and not a re-imagining, this version takes place after the events in Part 1 (given quick reference during the opening credits) and uses pieces from the other films, most notably Parts 2 through 4. After a long opening sequence sets the tone--five campers meet a grisly fate--the film has a familiar set-up: a group of young horny friends visit a cabin for the weekend. Along comes Clay (Jared Padalecki) looking for sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti), who disappeared six weeks earlier in a spooky part of the woods near the long-abandoned Camp Crystal Lake. He gets help from Jenna (Danielle Panabaker), who sympathizes with his plight. What follows is the slickest entry in the series, with a number of killer sequences--I loved the opening, the lake stalking, the unfortunate fate of Lawrence and the last two set pieces. Director Marcus Nispel (also responsible for 2003's Texas Chainsaw reboot) throws in a few neat touches of his own (love the underground!), and he also messes with one of the formula's staples. The only thing that bothered me (and to a large degree) was the large number of highly annoying characters, primarily four of the supposed "friends" (led by Travis Van Winkle's Trent, who ruins every scene he's in). But this is easily the best sequel since Jason Lives, and one of the most re-watchable of the bunch. Not the perfection many were unfairly hoping for, but still a bloody good time--especially with Derek Mears' awesome Jason (the potato sack and the hockey mask both make appearances!) and Righetti's awesome lungs (damn that woman can scream!) leading the way. For now, I'll place this fourth--let's see how future viewings alter its legacy.
5. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
director: Steve Miner
leading lady: Amy Steel; Jason: Steve Dash/Warrington Gillette
Part 1 producer/production manager Steve Miner steps up to the director's chair for his first feature, which faithfully follows the original's framework (translation: it's pretty similar). A little time has passed since the original, and a nearby camp is set to open with new counselors. This is the first full role for Jason, and the only time he seems human and vulnerable, which I love. He's got a smaller frame, and Steve Dash (Warrington Gillette gets all the credit, but Dash did more work) does a great job. And screw the hockey mask--that sack is way creepier. Some gore cuts hurt the fun, but there are still some effective kills (my heart aches for Mark!) and a great location (like Part 1, this was shot on a real camp in the East Coast, not in California). And while it's a close call, I think I'd name Amy Steel as my favorite heroine of them all--Ginny is one smart, tough cookie. This film has a similar vibe as the first, with some scares that still hold up ("Paul, I think there's someone in this room..."). On the down side, what happened to Paul? And why the hell did you have to do that to Adrienne King?!
The Middle of the Machete
6. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
director: Steve Miner
leading lady: Dana Kimmell; Jason: Richard Brooker
Miner is the only director to helm two entries in the series, and this one was all about capitalizing on the 3-D craze. The production headed to California (it shows), and while I'd never count acting as a franchise strength, the performances here are worse than usual. This picks up immediately after Part 2, making Jason's sudden growth spurt an issue for continuity sticklers. But I'll suspend my disbelief because Richard Brooker does a great job of scaring the hell out of me (his Jason is visually the creepiest). His presence helps offset some of this entry's oddities, like those ridiculous bikers who are so not badass. Dana Kimmell may not be the best actress, but she makes up for it with a fun final chase--including one of my favorite sequences of the whole series (when those barn doors open, I still get the chills: "He can't be alive!"). But I'm not a fan of the jump scare that follows, a Part 1 rip-off that has another jarring continuity error. The gore is built around the 3-D effects, which don't hold up very well (the eyeball isn't anywhere close to realistic), and that opening funky new wave theme is sooo '80s. But with the debut of the hockey mask, Part 3 still holds significance.
7. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
director: Danny Steinmann
leading lady: Melanie Kinnaman; Jason: Tom Morga
Like Part 3, the fifth installment has some not-so-nuanced acting from a lot of the cast--but considering they're loony bin residents, it's not as jarring. Danny Steinmann was a year removed from directing the Linda Blair exploitation classic Savage Streets, and like The Final Chapter this entry is a little nasty. In retrospect, I love the idea behind the story--but it could have been done better, and the characters have zero connection with each other. The ending has a neat twist, and one murder makes me cringe (watch out for that ax!). John Shepherd does a good job as the brooding, disturbed Tommy, and Melanie Kinnaman has some good moments in the end (although the barn standoff is too similar to Part 3). Otherwise, the stalk sequences aren't very inspired, and the kills seem more flashy than frightening. I also loathe over-the-top Ethel and her dimwitted son, and there's something weird about watching Dudley from Diff'rent Strokes run around and scream in a red sweat suit. But this entry gets bonus points for the best Friday song ever: Psuedo Echo's "His Eyes", used to great effect during Violet's dance with death.
8. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
director: John Carl Buechler
leading lady: Lar Park-Lincoln; Jason: Kane Hodder
For a while, this was one of my favorites--but it hasn't aged well. The first gimmick film in the franchise, The New Blood pits a resurrected Jason (now looking more monster-like than before) against Tina, a Carrie in training. Lar Park-Lincoln pits her telekinetic powers against the villain, who stalks a cabin full of mostly annoying teenagers (the set-up is identical to The Final Chapter). It's hard to care about most of the stereotyped kids save for Tina and hunky Nick (Kevin Blair/Spirtas), but you will cheer for the demise of bitchy Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan). Kane Hodder is the only man to play Jason more than once--this was his first of four consecutive appearances behind the mask. He never stood out much for me, probably because he was weighed down in heavy makeup and costumes. This installment is the most butchered of the entire series, and fans have long been clamoring for the restored gore (seen in very rough form as an extra in Paramount's 2004 box set), which would help the choppy feel of the kills. But you have to admit the sleeping bag slam is still pretty cool!
Bottom of the Bloody Barrel
9. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
director: Ronny Yu
leading lady: Monica Keena; Jason: Ken Kirzinger
In theory, this is the film I should hate the most: 60 years after Frankenstein squared off with The Wolf Man, the genre's two modern icons finally met after years of speculation. I was never really a Freddy Kruger fan--after the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, he just became a wisecracking clown (Wes Craven's New Nightmare was the only other entry I really liked, although Dream Warriors had cheesy appeal at the time). This film is far better (and immensely more watchable) than the three travesties that preceded it--but it's not really a Friday film. This is a Freddy showcase with Jason as a sideshow, but at least it has a decent structure and is played relatively straight. Yes, the final showdown is super lame, but there are still some cool moments and a few good (intended) laughs...and that Destiny's Child chick cusses! (Note: This is the only film in the series that doesn't have a Harry Manfredini score.)
10. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
director: Rob Hedden
leading lady: Jensen Daggett; Jason: Kane Hodder
This is where things started to go really, really wrong. Convinced it needed to do something crazy, Paramount let director Rob Hedden (who helmed a few episodes of the TV show) send Jason to New York. But Manhattan looks an awful lot like Vancouver, and the first hour is set on a boat with the seniors of Crystal Lake High on their class trip. It's all ridiculous, starting with the sound of "The Darkest Side of the Night" by Metropolis playing over the glossier opening credits (and continuing with yet another underwater resurrection...shame on Parts 7 and 8 for zero creativity!). The kills are uninspired (why the hell is that poser playing a guitar in the ship's stairwell?!), and the "chases" are lame--so many victims just cower. Things get even worse when the survivors make it to land (followed by a Michael Phelps-like Jason, who now apparently swims very well). And if you can't shake Jason in Manhattan, you deserve to die. Jensen Daggett is lifeless as the heroine, and her silly back story (connecting her to Crystal Lake) just makes you wish for the good ol' days. The ending is perhaps my most hated of them all; the only thing I liked about this film was its "controversial" poster, which got some New Yorkers all up in arms. These last three films are equally awful; trying to rank them just gives me a headache.
11. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
director: Adam Marcus
leading lady: Kari Keegan; Jason: Kane Hodder
The first Friday under New Line's watch, this is also the first to completely ignore its predecessor (but with Part 8's awful ending, what choice did they have?). Long gone are camps, counselors and horny teenagers, abandoned in favor of a supernatural twist. After an explosive opening sequence (one of the few decent parts of the film), Jason's possessed innards attack the coroner. The Alien-esque plot has Jason's evil essence traveling from host to host, each doing his dirty deeds until he can be "reborn" through the body of another Voorhees. How the hell they got Erin Gray to do this, I have no idea. She's far too good for the material, and is wasted in a throwaway role (did they really have to have alien Jason crawl up her dead cooch?!). Save for Grey's class, a few bloody sequences (like the cool tent kill) and a badass waitress (Allison Smith), this feels like a long episode from Friday the 13th: The Series (fittingly, John D. LeMay has a role here). The film is a misguided mess, just like Halloween 5 and Halloween 6--it's like a bad comic book come to life (don't get me started on the bounty hunter). And yes, that is Beverly Leslie from Will & Grace (are you kidding me?!)--Leslie Jordan is cast alongside Rusty Schwimmer as a cartoonish redneck couple. Need I say more?
12. Jason X (2001)
director: James Isaac
leading lady: Lexa Doig; Jason: Kane Hodder
I keep telling myself, "Just accept the concept and have fun." But I can't...despite the fact that this entry is more similar in structure to the early efforts--with a spaceship in place of a camp and stupid horny space students in place of stupid horny counselors--it's astronomically asinine. It's also cheap in every way, including the costumes (apparently the '80s are back in style). Jason X is a slap in the face to Jason and franchise fans. Like Jason Goes to Hell, it ignores what came before it, starting with our madman locked up in the Crystal Lake Research Facility (?!), which looks like a giant empty warehouse with one light (way to stretch that budget!). He winds up frozen and on a cargo ship 455 years in the future, where he wakes up and stalks the utterly inept crew (if you thought the "soldiers" in 2007's The Hills Have Eyes 2 were bad, get ready for a new low). A few virtual reality scenes are snoozers (one even copies The New Blood's sleeping bag gag), and Jason also gets a ridiculous makeover before another dumb ending collapses on us like a giant turd. Yeah, I know it's supposed to be cheesy and stupid, but that doesn't excuse its excruciating awfulness--including Kay-Em 14 (she's the talking severed android head) and the nipple clamp scene ("Daddy likes it hard?!").
While the improvement isn't super drastic, this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is the best the film has looked in its three releases. The 1999 version was dark, full of film artifacts/specks and had that awful black line down the left side of the screen when Marcie searches the showers. The 2004 version got rid of that line, but was still a tad dark and had plenty of film specks. This image isn't nearly as dark, and everything looks more natural and balanced: watch as the cabin door is opened in the opening scenes, when Annie is first introduced as she crosses the bridge, as Alice works alone in the kitchen (her pants have more definition). In addition, Marcie isn't drowning in darkness during her death scene (ditto when Bill investigates the generator room). Skin tones also look a little better (I always thought Annie looked a little orange in her first scene). There's also a lot less dirt--the annoying blue specs around the 57:00 minute mark are gone, as are plenty of other intrusions (the odd light at the top of the picture in the opening shot with the "Camp Crystal Lake" text is also gone).
Included is the familiar English mono soundtrack (also available in French and Spanish)--but now we get a 5.1 mix. It isn't remarkably impressive (how good can this film sound?); dialogue still sounds a little distant in spots, but the music and some minor effects creep up behind you. Given the choice, I'd probably go with the 5.1 track, but don't expect to be blown away. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
In 1999, all Paramount gave us was a theatrical trailer. That's here, but the footage from the 2004 box set (save for the cut gore, now thankfully integrated back into the film) is not here: The 20-minute section from the "Friday the 13th Chronicles" featurette (including interviews with Sean Cunningham, Adrienne King and Betsy palmer), the 9-minute gore interview with Tom Savini and the relevant segments from the "Crystal Lake Victims Tell All!" featurette are all missing.
Instead, we get some brief extras that cover similar ground. That includes convention footage from a September 13, 2008 Friday the 13th Reunion panel discussion (16:22) with King, Palmer, Savini, composer Harry Manfredini, writer Victor Miller and Ari Lehman, the original Jason. "Sean called me up one day and said, 'Halloween is making a lot of money, let's rip it off,'" recalls Miller. "That's a direct quote. I will never lie to you." Topics cover casting, characters and the film's ending, and some repetition from the 2004 bonus features (and the rest of the features here) creeps up (such as Palmer's recollection of the script). As with the other extras here, King and Palmer steal the spotlight with their spirit and energy. Palmer notes that she was asked to be in at least three other sequels, including Freddy vs. Jason, which she turned down due to the lame dialogue: "I'm an actress for God's sake...don't give me some dumb line like that!" King is asked to show off her lung power again, and later discusses a scary period in her life--she became the target of a stalker after the original was released. She also clears the air about a misconception concerning her involvement with Part 2.
Next up is Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th (13:46), a collection of solo interviews (with some repetition of stories) clearly taped the same day as the convention. Miller, Lehman, Savini and Manfredini return, and are joined by actress Robbie Morgan (Annie). The most interesting bits come from the composer, who talks about his strategy with the score (which was only used when the killer was on screen): "I kept the score extremely, extremely tight, almost always the same pitches, the same material for the entire film...it had a certain power to it." Miller also recognizes the Carrie influence to the end of the film.
The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham (8:36) is a brief interview with the director at his home (or as he calls it, "The House that Jason Built"). "I don't deny any of my connections to Friday the 13th, but I'm not fascinated by them." He is grateful for the success the film had and the wealth it brought him, but notes that he rarely makes speaking appearances and keeps little memorabilia. He recalls how he had no idea at the time what was in store, noting that franchise horror: "No one could have imagined that there would be a need for yet another Friday the 13th...I'm delighted to say that I was completely wrong about not bringing Jason back" Also chiming in is son Noel, who was an extra in the original's opening campfire scene and has been groomed into the franchise as a producer.
Then there's the audio commentary hosted by Peter M. Bracke, a horror fan and author of the Friday Bible, Crystal Lake Memories (an essential for franchise fans, along with David Grove's Making Friday the 13th). He is joined (sort of) by Cunningham, Miller, King, Palmer, Manfredini, editor Bill Freda and assistant editor Jay Keuper. Each participant was recorded individually, their comments edited together (there's no interaction at all)--the thoughts have absolutely nothing to do with the scenes they accompany (video interviews would have made a lot more sense). And this isn't a new track--it was recorded while Freddy vs. Jason was in production (late 2002 or early 2003), and I'm assuming is the same audio commentary that was included on Warner's international DVD release that came out around that time. While not current, it's still an interesting listen (expect some repetition, including frequent acknowledgement of Halloween's influence).
"It almost feels like a documentary. There are just real, natural, average people. There's no lightening, no monster coming out of the ground," says Bracke, a great narrator and authority on the series (who has a clear love for horror and the franchise). "This could really happen. I think that's why it's so terrifying as a kid, because every kid goes to summer camp."
Bracke also does a great job addressing the film's critics, and talks about the director: "What I find fascinating about Sean Cunningham is...that he always saw filmmaking as a business proposition more than an artistic one. That's not to say that he didn't want to make a good movie, and a quality movie." Bracke notes that Cunningham just wanted to take advantage of the next big pop culture phenomena, following forays into porn and children's films (!).
He also points out how Part 1 and Part 2 were the only films in the series to be filmed on real East Coast campsites, adding to their authentic feel. I was also intrigued by Bracke's discussion of how the franchise has been embraced by certain subcultures, including gay men (I've never made a connection between my sexuality and my slasher love--I've always assumed I was just demented, but maybe there's something to his theory).
Palmer and King shine again--these two women are truly amazing! Palmer talks about her image at the time she agreed to do the film: "I was this girl next door, and of course I've always said that there wasn't a girl that ever lived next door to me that I wanted to be like." Bracke adds that caster Barry Moss thought Cunningham and company didn't utilize Palmer the right way, making her too butch from the beginning: "It's kind of ironic that they would cast her against type, and then not use that type." (An observation I agree with.) Palmer also notes that she was told by Cunningham to avoid any temptation to venture into over-the-top evil, ala Jack Nicholson in The Shining (apparently Cunningham told her, "Remember how bad that was?").
I was also enthralled by Palmer's devotion to the role and dedication as an actress, which she addresses here and in the Reunion clip--listening to her back story and justification for the character (which the script ignored) is fascinating. Equally compelling is Manfredini, who joins in around the 1-hour, 5-minute mark to talk about how he came up with the score (and the infamous "Ki-ki-ki! Ma-ma-ma!" chant). Rounding out the package is Lost Tales From Camp Blood: Part 1 (6:39), a short stalk-and-slash scene from Andrew Ceperley that doesn't really have much to do with anything.
All in all, it's a decent set of extras, but not what the fans really want or deserve. Paramount has now given us two releases with just moderately entertaining bonus features. With a fan base this large and a franchise this successful, it deserves a long, in-depth treatment that takes an expansive, all-inclusive look at the films--not scattershot interviews stitched together. It's great to hear from everyone involved (again, I can't reiterate enough how fantastic King and Palmer are), but you just get the sense there's something so much bigger and better waiting to get made, so many other stories waiting to be told. What about all of the other actors involved? I'll cross my fingers for the upcoming documentary His Name Was Jason, but as of now I'm still disappointed at the ho-hum treatment this landmark horror series has received.
While not really original, Friday the 13th was undoubtedly influential--and still holds up as a great campfire tale that's better than most people give it credit for, hence my slightly inflated "slasher scale" rating. With natural performances, likeable characters, a spooky isolated setting, genuine tension and just the right tough of gore, it's always been one of my genre favorites. This third release from Paramount has two things going for it: It offers the full uncut version of the film (the gory additions are short) and has a cleaner transfer. The new 5.1 track is just okay, and the new extras are nice yet meager--the film and the franchise deserve far more in-depth and expansive extras, not this scattershot treatment. Still, the improvements are just enough to make this Recommended...but I still hope for something bigger and better.