Friday the 13th (1980)
As a direct descendant of John Carpenter's Halloween (something writer Victor Miller freely admits in interviews), Friday the 13th may not be as frightening, attempting to make up for less atmosphere with blood and Tom Savini's prosthetic wizardry, and its teenagers aren't quite as memorable as some of its contemporaries (I'd say that's where Nightmare on Elm Street has it beat). Even so, watching it more than 30 years later, it's pretty easy to pick out the bits that captured enough of the public's imagination to result in the other seven films in this box set.
For one, Friday the 13th has got a memorable villain...or at least, a menace that gets under the skin. For more than an hour, the mystery killer is only hinted at by Sean S. Cunningham and cinematographer Barry Abrams using a silent, voyeuristic camera that stares at each one of the victims. John Carpenter may have done it better, but Cunningham is able to capture some of that eeriness and repeat it for more than an hour, all while getting a little boost from the audience's increasing desire to know who the POV belongs to. As one of what would eventually be 12 movies in the franchise, it's also easy to forget that Miller starts far from the supernatural, offering a character with decent motivation and just enough believability to get under the audience's skin.
To that end, it doesn't hurt that Cunningham has Betsy Palmer in his cast, who gives Mrs. Voorhees just the right amount of crazy over the course of an extended finale that the audience can't help but be unnerved even if it comes off as over the top. The rest of the cast (which includes future star Kevin Bacon) is also pretty good, injecting personality where the script comes up short. Adrienne King's Alice, who slowly becomes the movie's heroine, is saddled with a part that seems very lightly developed (a bit of backstory is mentioned and then never mentioned again), yet she projects enough mood to help the character seem rounded. There's also the movie's big finale (which totally got me the first time I saw the movie), which is the final (and perhaps most important) element when it comes to what made Friday the 13th stick in the collective consciousness. (***)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
The absolute best aspect of Part 2 is the way the teenagers feel authentic. According to the book that comes with the set, 122 characters get slaughtered over the course of the first eight movies, and Part 2 has the highest number of characters I'd have liked to see more of. The cast basically breaks down into four relationships, between Ginny (Amy Steel) and Paul (John Furey), Mark (Tom McBride) and Vicky (Lauren-Marie Taylor), Jeff (Bill Randolph) and Sandra (Marta Kober), and Terri (Kirsten Baker) and Scott (Russell Todd), and although these kids also cover many of the standard slasher-movie "types," only Amy Steel has to do any dramatic heavy lifting, leaving the rest of the gang free to goof off and have fun, allowing the actors' natural energy to come through.
This isn't to say that Ginny's a drag; in fact, she's interesting as one of the only horror movie protagonists to have a bit of sympathy for the killer in question. Certainly Laurie and Nancy never feel bad for Michael or Freddy, but Ginny spends a night out at the bar trying to rationalize Jason's perspective on everything, which is actually pretty interesting. It gives the scenes where Jason's trying to cut her head off a unique twist, because even though her life is in danger, you can tell her heart kinda goes out to the old baghead. The gore effects are on the tame side compared to what would come later, but there are still a couple of classic kills, like the double-impaling of two campers in bed, and the kid in the wheelchair that not only takes a slash to the face, but then rolls backwards down a whole flight of stairs. (***½)
Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)
When it comes to Friday the 13th, the last thing I need is even a semi-serious exploration of someone's traumatic past. To be fair, Part 3's dramatic ambition isn't that extensive, but the film still manages to devote an excessive amount of screen time to the reasons Chris is all mopey and cold towards her boyfriend (Paul Kratka), which aren't particularly interesting even if they do involve Jason. Meanwhile, Shelly's inability to do anything right becomes an unintentional downer. Usually, characters like Shelly rise up and take charge at a pivotal moment, but Shelly's one moment of victory is both minor and in the middle of the movie. Afterward, he goes right back to pulling obnoxious pranks on people who insistently tell him they don't like it, eventually prompting him to take a whiny, "love-me-for-me" stance that also feels like a grab at pathos. Adding insult to injury is the way returning director Steve Miner, who did much better with the previous sequel, resorts to half-heartedly cribbing from the original (the hammock kill, the ending) and exaggerating the 3D effect to a ludicrous degree. A couple of moments, like the attached photo of Jason, axe in head, arms outstretched, have a real comic book look to them, and the headstand kill is admittedly pretty sweet (also attached at the bottom of the review), but on the whole, Part 3 is a lame entry gimped by its gimmick and an inferior heroine. (*½)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
It's weird: in the past, I've always named The Final Chapter as my favorite of the Friday films, but watching for this review, I found myself less jazzed by it than I remember. The brightest spot in the film is Feldman, whose enthusiasm (both for his creations and for the more adult things happening around him) make him a fun character. It'd be easy for a kid to become an annoyance in a film like this, but Zito and writer Barney Cohen play him nicely off of his older sister Trish (Kimberly Beck). Crispin Glover makes the most out of a standard slasher movie character by being Crispin Glover, and the character of Sara (Barbara Howard) also has a pleasant innocence that feels fresh for Friday machete fodder. Given all of these entertaining characters, the script could probably stand to lose Paul (Clyde Hayes) and Sam (Judie Aronson), since neither character is particularly developed beyond the fact that they're together, yet they take up ten to fifteen minutes of screen time for one kill that isn't anything special and another that feels edited by the MPAA.
What still works for me here is the gore. After the opening, Zito takes a pretty long time to get to the real bloodletting, but when it arrives, he delivers. The effects, by returning maestro Tom Savini, are really the star of the picture, designed with glee and staged with energy. Despite the aforementioned sense of tinkering, Zito does still spill plenty of blood with saws to necks and butcher knives to faces. He also tosses in some memorable moments beyond the splatter with a couple of cool slow-motion stunt falls, and a hat tip or two to the original film (fading to white). As for the big moment the whole film is ostensibly leading up to, it's...well, not bad (and Savini's animatronic head is great), but it's not hard to see why Jason failed to stay dead (regardless of how supernatural his resurrection is), especially considering other options included "splitting his head from the top of his skull to his Adam's apple" and actually having his head explode. (***)
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
>Although Friday V is 26 years old, I won't spoil it, except to say fans expecting for some truly satisfying Jason Voorhees action will find themselves quite disappointed by this entry in the series. It feels like a movie the studio was reluctant to make the right way, and the concession was this half-assed compromise, which tries to follow the series formula without really playing by the rules. Shepherd's Tommy is also a real empty void; although plenty of things are happening to him, he rarely translates that into, say, an emotion that would appear on his face.
Director Danny Steinmann's sense of tone is all over the map. Half of the movie consists of more totally unremarkable victims, while the other half is way out there. A pair of mom-and-son farmers shriek at each other like banshees while delivering performances that are exaggerated on a level that defies explanation. One guy living at the home suddenly hacks up a fat guy with an axe. Two biker hoods out of another decade stop in the woods when their car breaks down. Weird is certainly more interesting than boring, but the movie is horribly inconsistent. The only character who feels like a standard Friday character is a minor one named Demon, played by Return of the Living Dead's Miguel A. Núñez Jr. The film's gore effects are underwhelming, and things get sillier as the movie drags on (like Melanie Kinnaman's inability to get up during a short chase). A chainsaw-vs.-machete fight and a weird bed-of-nails farm contraption are nice last-minute touches, but neither can prevent Friday V from being a half-baked sequel. (**)
Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986)
Where some of the other chapters have hinted or vaguely winked at fans of the series, McLoughlin practically puts them in a headlock and noogies them. Not only is his version of Jason a fully exaggerated, unstoppable killing machine, chopping heads off three at a time, blasting through doors like a walking explosive charge, and barely slowing down when characters start putting bullets in him, he's also the star of the movie -- even getting a parody of the classic James Bond intro when the title comes up. Kills are often the appeal of slasher movies, but McLoughlin extends that anticipation to Jason himself, and the character goes from the face of a franchise to a piece of pop culture before the viewer's eyes. Adding to the effect, C.J. Graham's towering, aggressive performance as the character is wonderful, fitting in perfectly with McLoughlin's vision.
Mathews makes for an okay Tommy, although the character, thanks to the total lack of development offered by V, is pretty one-note. Although it makes sense that Tommy would be entirely focused on Jason, the few moments of romance he has with the sheriff's daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) have a spirit missing from the rest of his material. Then again, Megan herself is pretty insufferable; she's attracted to Tommy's "wild side" (i.e., the totally sensible side that Tommy takes very seriously) for the "fun" of it, but the moment the killing starts in earnest, she becomes totally useless, standing around and yelling for either her father or Tommy. She even almost ruins Tommy's plan by luring Jason back to her because she won't shut up. Her camp counselor friends Sissy (Renée Jones), Paula (Kerry Noonan) and Cort (Tom Fridley) are much more entertaining. (***)
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Unlike other attempts to shake up the Friday formula, VII really feels like a movie about a telekinetic girl first and a Jason movie second, with the two stories slowly converging to form the big finale. Although some fans might lose patience with a movie that takes so long to turn Jason into a significant presence, I'd say it's preferable to the films that include characters like Chris in Part 3 or the antics of A New Beginning, which just feel like a distraction from the real star of the show. Plus, the payoff to the movie's build is great -- the third act is a pretty awesome brains-vs.-brawn battle between Tina and Jason packed with impressive physical stuntwork. Not all of director John Carl Buechler's direction is as effective as the version he has in his head (the worst being the last big moment between Tina and Jason, which is totally underwhelming), but he also gets plenty right. The telekinetic stuff is far more effective than one has any right to expect from a Friday film, and some of Buechler's effects shots are really great, like Jason going up in flames or the house exploding.
The music in the film is quite different; IMDb notes that Fred Mollen did most of the music and only a few elements of unused Manfredini score were dropped in. Although Manfredini's work on the series is undeniably iconic, the shake-up re-invigorates the classic elements of the score, which can't help but get a bit repetitive after six movies. The film also marks the first entry for Kane Hodder, easily the series' most popular Jason. I'm sure I'll catch some flak when I say Graham is still my personal favorite, but Hodder's performance is an easy second-best, exuding more personality as the setups get larger, and of course he's capable of doing most of those elaborate stunts himself. As the cherry on top, Diana Barrows might have the best, most ear-piercing scream in any of the first eight films, and who'd want to miss that? I have little memory of my reaction seeing this entry for the first time years ago, but watching this box set, it's safe to say it became my new favorite entry. (***½)
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
As a director, Hedden is pretty awful, staging scenes without logic or reason. One example: near the end of the movie, after our supposed lead Rennie (Jensen Daggett) has just crashed a cop car directly into a metal barrier trying to escape Jason, causing it to explode in flames, killing her mother, the movie grinds to a halt so she can have a boring story-related flashback. Even if the reveal was information we actually cared to know about Rennie, the characters have been pursued by Jason long enough to know standing around is a terrible idea, but nobody says a word. The kills are remarkably uninspired (a stabbing with a piece of mirror, choking some girl, half-heartedly tossing a thug into the side of a pipe) and mostly bloodless (a throat slitting doesn't even match the one in the original). The only moments of interest include Jason shoving a sauna rock into a guy's stomach and the way a kid thrown onto a sparking control panel has his crotch burst into flames before any other part of his body (seemingly unintentional). Even the sight of Jason literally punching a kid's head off of his body and into a dumpster isn't all that exciting, because Hedden lacks any of the flair that Zito, McLouglin, or Buechler brought to the kills. Hedden also fails to take advantage of half of the scenarios Jason encounters in the city -- he gets on a subway and doesn't kill a single person, and he actually scares a bunch punks away by taking off his mask.
Adding insult to injury, Manhattan has the series' most baffling finale, involving toxic waste in the city sewers, and the worst-looking unmasked Jason of all (bargain Halloween stores wouldn't sell a mask that looked as dumb). About the only entertaining thing in the entire movie is watching Rennie's love interest Sean (Scott Reeves) try to be masculine; he's hilariously whiny whenever he tries to stand up for her. After this, it's no surprise that both audiences and Paramount chose to give up on the franchise, sending the set off with less than a whimper instead of a bang. (½)
The Video and Audio
Friday the 13th Part 3
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning through Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
As far as the disc-based extras go, they're the same as they were when the Deluxe Editions came out a few years ago. Glancing over the first three discs, I have to agree with fellow DVDTalker Cameron McGaughy in saying that these are not the "definitive" extras fans are looking for. On the original and Part 2, a mass of footage recorded at a convention is spread around, which not only lacks the focus provided by a normal interview environment, but really short-changes Part 2, which is poorly served by a panel consisting of cast and crew from the first movie. The two discs also kick off a series of made-for-DVD shorts (Tales from Camp Blood) and news reports ("The Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited") that are a straight-up a waste of space and money; all DVD producers take note: jokey gag extras are never, ever appreciated. As for Part 3, all the extra disc space is eaten up by the anaglyph 3D version of the movie, turning all the other material for that chapter (aside the trailer) into Blu-Ray exclusives. Thankfully, from The Final Chapter onward, the discs shift toward standard making-of materials like retrospective featurettes and audio commentaries.