Horror fans rejoice, Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th is here to scratch your itch for behind-the-scenes footage, production secrets and Friday lore. This nearly seven hour documentary is based on Peter M. Bracke's retrospective book, is directed by Daniel Farrands and produced by Thommy Hutson, who previously collaborated on the excellent Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, and encompasses all twelve films in the Friday the 13th arsenal plus the 1980s television series. This is a perfect companion to the recently released Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection, which failed to offer any newly produced bonus content. The documentary is beyond comprehensive, with over 150 interview participants that provide candid, interesting insight into the filming of the often MPAA-challenged series. Add in rare production photographs, artwork, narration by Corey Feldman and a bunch of actors genuinely appreciative of the series and you have one fantastic viewing experience. Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th easily earns my highest recommendation and belongs in the collection of every horror fan.
You can't have a truly great film documentary without ample participation from the filmmakers, actors and fans, and most studio-produced bonus content skips over any behind-the-scenes squabbling or internal fighting. That's why Crystal Lake Memories is so great; the filmmakers spent years compiling this footage and are completely free from pressure to sugarcoat the series' many flaws. I review a lot of Blu-rays and I've gotten downright sick of the featurettes passing as documentaries on recent releases. This EPK fluff is not only unenlightening; it's frequently uninteresting and tediously monotonous. I know seven hours sounds excessive for a documentary about a mostly low budget slasher series, but these seven hours are more interesting than 95 percent of the bonus content I've screened in the past few years (Shout Factory releases are a rare exception.). It's easy to watch long chunks of this entertaining documentary, and the segments are broken up by film so you easily watch a few parts and pick up the rest later if crunched for time.
As Adam Tyner noted in his Never Sleep Again review, it's best if you discover most of a documentary's surprises on your own. That said, there are a few highlights and oft-discussed topics that are worth examining. Fans of the series will probably find the first three segments the most familiar. I've heard most of the stories about the original Friday the 13th before, as it's the most documented of all the films. That's not to say Crystal Lake Memories skimps on these early segments. In fact, it does a nice job re-telling these familiar anecdotes while adding in new tidbits about the theatrical release and critical backlash over the film's violence and sex. Director Sean S. Cunningham appears throughout the documentary and proves an excellent orator, and the charming Betsy Palmer recalls her initial embarrassment over appearing in the film. The segments for Parts I-III discuss the evolution of Jason from victim to ruthless, hockey-masked killer, and writer Victor Miller recalls being stupefied at the decision to turn Jason into the villain.
One recurring topic of discussion is the near-constant battle with the MPAA over the gore in the films. Fans are well versed in the many trims and edits forced on the filmmakers by the ratings board, with Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday suffering some of the most intrusive trims. It's interesting to hear the comments about the cut footage, as many fans remain unhappy that Paramount and Warner Brothers have not made unrated versions available on Blu-ray. Apparently, most of this footage is either too damaged to insert seamlessly into an unrated version or has been lost to the ages (Jason Goes to Hell is another story...). Crystal Lake Memories provides glimpses of some required trims and it's too bad more of this footage isn't still available. The takeaway from these discussions is that the MPAA kind of hates the series - at least it did in the '80s - and forced edits without any overarching guidelines for what was too bloody or sexual.
Practical effects remain a highlight of the series, and even more recent films like Freddy vs. Jason used makeup and practical gags to achieve their goriest deaths. Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, Steve Kirshoff and others discuss these effects and reveal that the MPAA struck down some amazingly gory ideas, including a triple decapitation and plenty of sleeping bag bashing. Director Steve Miner says the scene in Part II where Jason impales a copulating couple with an arrow wasn't meant to rip-off an Italian giallo shocker, and Miner only found out about the similar scene years later. I got a kick out of each film's director and crew bragging that their film upped the body count and gore effects from the previous entry. One of the joys of this series is its unpretentious desire to entertain with near non-stop carnage, and these filmmakers clearly know what the audience wants.
I'm not going to bother with a laundry list of the actors and actresses who participate here, but some of the best interviews come from Palmer, Adrienne King, Amy Steel, Feldman, Melanie Kinnaman, Kane Hodder and the hilarious Travis Van Winkle. Sure, Kevin Bacon and a few others are apparently too cool for Friday the 13th, but it's great to hear these actors look back fondly on their time at Camp Crystal Lake. Horror films have long been the black sheep of Hollywood and only now are receiving the respect they deserve thanks to the passionate fans who attend conventions and screenings across the world. Even Palmer admits she is now happy to have been such an integral part of the series (though she refused to return for Freddy vs. Jason to deliver some truly dreadful lines). Many of the faces here aren't going to be household names but Friday faithful will love hearing from the forgotten bit players and scream queens of the Friday the 13th series.
I really wanted an explanation from Crystal Lake Memories for the worst films in the series: Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, Friday the 13th Part VII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Each film is discussed in detail and I got a better idea of what went wrong. The cast and crew of A New Beginning recall trying to do something different but understand the negative reaction to removing Jason Voorhees from the action. Jason Takes Manhattan might have been a better film had its budget not been slashed, leaving the crew to shoot in Canada and keeping Jason out of New York City for most of the film. The series' transition from Paramount to New Line was a rocky one, and Jason Goes to Hell did not please many fans. The crew discusses expanding a then-shallow mythology and turning viewer expectations upside down by killing Jason in the opening scene. Freddy vs. Jason was the film most anticipated after the studio swap, but was stuck in development hell. This creative black hole affected both Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X, which was left in limbo after a studio shake up at New Line.
Getting the whole story - warts and all - about these films made me one happy Friday the 13th fan. The sheer amount of personal anecdotes is impressive. This documentary is simultaneously polished and utterly personal, as if a giant group of friends sat down to discuss a collective experience. Did I mention the seven hours fly by? By the time Van Winkle is discussing what a douche his character is in the reboot and how director Marcus Nispel is a strange guy, over six hours had passed. It felt like two, tops. Fans of the series need little convincing to purchase this documentary. Casual viewers with an interest in film will find a lot to like, too. There's plenty of humor, technical discussions and untold stories to please Friday the 13th fans and the uninitiated alike. It's amazing that a schlocky, low-budget slasher would sow the seeds for a multi-million dollar horror empire. I can't think of a better way to look back on these blood-soaked adventures than Crystal Lake Memories.
This documentary looks great in high-definition. Some of the older footage is a bit rough, but the interviews, film clips and photographs are nicely composited in this 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. The film is spread across two, dual-layer Blu-ray discs and is given plenty of room to breathe. Compression artifacts are not an issue, and the interview footage features plenty of detail and texture. Sharpness is good, colors are well saturated and skin tones are accurate. There's a bit of crush and blooming here and there but overall this looks really good.
The audio track is not lossless, but it's really not an issue here. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is nicely balanced and although there are a few source anomalies, everything is combined into one cohesive aural experience. I noticed no hiss or distortion and all the interviews are perfectly audible. Film clips do receive some surround support. English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This four-disc set includes two Blu-ray discs and two DVDs, allowing viewers to choose between the HD and SD presentations. The discs are packed in a double-hinged Blu-ray case. For the time being, you can score a DVD bonus disc with four hours of additional interviews if you purchase this from 1428 Films' official Web site. The only extra here (this is not unexpected considering the scope of the feature) is a Commentary by Director Daniel Farrands, Author Peter M. Brake and Editor Luke Rafalowski. This is a surprisingly lively track considering its length, and the participants are both knowledgeable and passionate about all things Friday the 13th.
What are you waiting for, Jason? Mother says buy this documentary! Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th is a monumental undertaking, covering every aspect of the twelve-film series. Packed with interviews, production stories and behind-the-scenes photos, Crystal Lake Memories is aimed squarely at longtime series fans. That said, this seven-hour documentary is breezily entertaining and should appeal to casual fans of the series and aspiring filmmakers, too. Horror fans absolutely must add this to their collections. DVD Talk Collector Series.