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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Friday The 13th - The Series: The First Season
Friday The 13th - The Series: The First Season
Paramount // Unrated // September 23, 2008
List Price: $54.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Cameron McGaughy | posted November 17, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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"I wonder what kind of curse there could possibly be on a foghorn..." - Micki

The Series
I remember how giddy I was in 1987 when I first heard the news that a new Friday the 13th television series would be hitting the airwaves. The mere thought of seeing my beloved Jason Voorhees on the prowl every week was almost too much to handle, especially after Tom McLoughlin's Jason Lives--the sixth installment in the film series--breathed new life into the iconic killer a year before. Alas, my excitement was short lived when I realized that the show's only connection with my favorite franchise was its name and producer, Frank Mancuso Jr. (and if you watch closely, you can see a few hockey masks in the opening credits).

Because I was young and hardheaded, I wasn't willing to give the show much of a chance. After 20 years and a lot of growing up--and with the 2009 re-launch of the film series ensuring my Jason fix will be satisfied--I was now able to watch the series with a fresh perspective. This syndicated program--launched a year before Freddy's Nightmares--debuted before many shows it has a lot in common with. It plays like a mixture of Tales from the Crypt, The X Files and Scooby-Doo (with a very small does of Charlie's Angels thrown in).

The first episode introduces us to two distant cousins (by marriage, enabling the writers to hint at a romance)--Micki Foster (Louise Robey, going by just Robey here), an engaged, educated, well-to-do socialite who talks like the Howells from Gilligan's Island and has a giant wall of red hair; and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay, who went on to appear in Jason Goes to Hell), the wise-cracking, Illinois State-loving wannabe artist with a collection of loud sweaters that would do Bill Cosby proud. When their uncle dies, they inherit his antique store in an undisclosed U.S. city (but like Masters of Horror, this series was filmed in Canada--and has the accents to prove it) and start to sell off the shop's stock.

But when a mysterious man stumbles into the store, the cousins soon realize they've made a grave mistake. Jack Marshack (Chris Wiggins), a childhood friend of Lewis Vendredi, spills the beans on their uncle's devil worshipping: "Lewis was always telling me that he'd done his research and that he was ready to make a pact with the devil, something to do with his antiques. In exchange for which he wanted immense wealth and immortality!" With the world now in danger from countless possessed antiques, the trio renames the shop Curious Goods and vows to track down each item and secure them in the store's vault (once cursed, the items can't be destroyed).

That sets up the series' basic formula: Each episode, we meet an emotionally unstable antique owner, with death and destruction soon unleashed. When the trio hears of the chaos (often through the newspaper), they set out to track down the item before it can cause more harm. Micki and Ryan sometimes adopt new personas to help the cause, with the unflappable Jack often crashing the party (he reminds me a bit of Bosley from Charlie's Angels, but has more in common with Halloween's Dr. Loomis and Seinfeld's J. Peterman). Surprisingly, not a lot of the people involved here went on to bigger and better ventures (a young Sarah Polley appears in the first episode as a bad seed with an unhealthy attachment to her doll, while directors Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg helm two of the 26 episodes).

Move over, Bill Cosby!

It took me a while to get into the groove of the series, and the early episodes aren't the best (Robey in particular is a little too affected in her performance early on). But once the series gets going, a good time can be had if you're willing to buy into some bad acting, cheesy stories and cheap effects. It's impossible not to compare this series to Tales from the Crypt, a far better show that had the advantage of top-name directors and actors--and the ability to take advantage of its cable TV freedom. Friday the 13th was a standard service program that anyone could tune into, and for its time was perhaps a tad risky and violent for the regular TV airwaves.

Depending on your ability to appreciate bargain basement effects, many of the show's exclamation points will have you laughing or rolling your eyes. Some of the computer-generated wizardry is awfully eye opening: A flying blade in Episode 2 takes the cake, but you also get a murderous shadow, a comic book robot come to life, animated orange smoke, killer bees and countless other objects that have a cartoonish demeanor, constantly forcing the actors to comically shake in pain. You never see anything too graphic (most of the carnage is off camera, with shots of the bloody aftermath), but considering the show's time and place, I'm surprised it got away with as much as it did (although some religious groups weren't too pleased).

My favorite episode of the season is "Scarecrow", a spooky chiller that plays it straighter than most episodes as it builds a genuinely creepy atmosphere (it's also apparently a fan favorite, having been voted the show's top episode during the Chiller channel's viewer choice marathon in 2007). I also loved "Bedazzled", where Micki is left alone at the shop and is soon at the mercy of two baddies looking for a magic lantern; "Double Exposure", where a TV anchorman knows a little too much about a machete-wielding murderer; and "What a Mother Wouldn't Do", where a magical cradle from the Titanic has parents going to extremes to save their baby.

I also enjoyed "The Baron's Bride", where Micki and Ryan travel back in time to hunt a vampire. The most outlandish episodes are "Root of All Evil", where a mulch machine turns flesh into money; and "Brain Drain", where a machine swaps brain matter. A few of the episodes become quite talky, which will either bore you to tears or have you appreciating the greater attention to story development (like Cronenberg's "Faith Healer" and the only two-parter of the season, "The Quilt of Hathor"), while others stray from the horror roots and delve into crime drama (like "Badge of Honor"). I was severely disappointed with "Hellowe'en", the seasonal tribute that was mostly a snoozer (although you may get a kick out of the menacing dwarf). But the worst episode by far is the season finale: "Bottle of Dreams" is a clip show (!) with a weak connecting story.

Logic frequently takes a vacation in the scripts, and Jack's explanations often have a made-up-along-the-way feel to them, like they were transcribed from the writers' brainstorming sessions: "I think the scalpel acts as a sort of recharge battery, and if it doesn't kill for a certain period of time, I think it runs down, loses its ability to heal!" and "As near as I can figure it, the mulcher is somehow producing currency for every person killed it in. It seems to be exponential...the wealthier the victim, the higher the denomination!" were a few of my favorites.

The series experiments a little more as it progresses, straying from its standard structure (the second half of the season is a lot stronger). While the bulk of the show is made up of self-contained stories, the three main characters are given some minor development sub-plots along the way, usually revolving around their relationships with loved ones. Wiggins disappears for a handful of episodes (appearing minimally in many others), while the two leads take occasional turns with a bigger solo spotlight.

My biggest problem with the series is its pacing. Each episode runs nearly 45 minutes, and you can just see the actors and scripts stretching out the material--the show would have a lot more punch as a half-hour series. Chases and stalking scenes are often clumsily choreographed; characters spend a lot of time staring and acting scared as the music blares (it's fun to watch the actors react to horrifying sites and dangerous situations, their faces usually too slow and subdued); and there's a bounty of repetitive sequences where the criminals temporarily avoid capture. The show features cliffhanger cuts to commercials, and many of the final epilogue scenes are typical of bad '80s shows, ending with awful punch lines and freeze-frames of the characters laughing, which often feels out of place.

Still, you can't help but fall in love with the show (watch for plenty of winks to horror influences throughout the season), at least a little bit. The characters grow on you (for me, LeMay is the heart of the show), and everyone is having such a fun time trying to scare you with a smile, a nice mix of spooks and silliness. The show isn't nearly as fun as Tales from the Crypt, but Friday the 13th: The Series still manages to be a hearty slice of cheap cheese.

Episode Guide:
The 26 episodes (about 45 minutes each) arrive on six discs:

1. The Inheritance (aired 9-28-1987) Distant cousins Ryan Dallion and Micki Foster discover they've inherited their uncle's antiques shop, but the place comes with a disturbing curse that will force them to retrieve all the goods they've sold off.
2. The Poison Pen (aired 10-5-1987) The cousins and Jack must track an antique quill pen that grants wishes in exchange for someone's life. The search leads them to a monastery that is famed for its eerily accurate prophecies.
3. Cupid's Quiver (aired 10-12-1987) Love knows no bounds when an unappealing slob gets hold of an ancient Cupid statue that has women fallimng down dead at his feet.
4. A Cup of Time (aired 10-19-1987) One sip from a haunted tea cup lets the user take youth and talent from an unfortunate victim. But will one senior citizen take her thirst for fame too far?

5. Hellowe'en (aired 10-26-1987) Micki and Ryan throw a Halloween party in order to meet the neighbors, but they end up with a guest they didn't expect--the evil spirit of their uncle.
6. The Great Montarro (aired 11-2-1987) Magic makes mischief when the cousins and Jack try to uncover who is using some cursed magic boxes to make one person invincible while another suffers all the harm.
7. Doctor Jack (aired 11-9-1987) The scalpel of Jack the Ripper falls into the hands of a physician who discovers he can use it to miraculously heal one of his patients--as long as another pays the ultimate price.
8. Shadow Boxer (aired 11-21-1987) It's a total knockout when a boxer uses haunted gloves to make himself invincible in the ring, and it's up to Jack and Ryan to figure out how to stop the menace and his devious shadow.
9. Root of All Evil (aired 11-28-1987) Evil sprouts in the form of a mulcher that turns human flesh into money, and Micki is forced into making a big decision in her relationship with Lloyd.

10. Tales of the Undead (aired 1-25-1988) It's vengeance superhero-style when an embittered comic book writer gets hold of a cursed comic that turns him into Ferrus the Invincible.
11. Scarecrow (aired 2-1-1988) A killer sceracrow makes sure the harvest of one small town is trimmed perfectly--as long as three heads are lopped off as well.
12. Faith Healer (aired 2-8-1988) Jack is faced with a life-and-death decision when a friend dying of cancer asks him to look into a faith healer with a glove that can transfer all physical ills to another person.
13. The Baron's Bride (aired 2-15-1988) Micki and Ryan take a frightening trip back in time to track a bloodthirsty vampire and a brooch with deadly transformation powers.
14. Bedazzled (aired 2-22-1988) A cursed lantern shines alight on two wicked treasure hunters who are using the item to kill divers involved in their finds, but Micki's not about to let the crime get washed away.

15. Vanity's Mirror (aired 2-29-1988) Cupid's arrows kill when a disgruntled high school student uses a sinister compact to make everyone reflected in it die for love.
16. Tattoo (aired 3-7-1988) A set of tattoo needles leave a permanently lethal mark on its victims when a compulsive gambler uses them to increase his winnings.
17. Brain Drain (aired 4-25-1988) A torture device hidden away in a museum warehouse gets a second life when a dim-witted mans uses it to suck the intelligence from others for his own devious purposes.
18. The Electrocutioner (aired 4-18-1988) After a condemned man mysteriously survives a trip to the electric chair, he escapes jail and seeks vengeance on those who put him behind bars--as well as anyone who gets in his way.

19. The Quilt of Hathor (aired 5-2-1988) A cursed quilt that allows whoever sleeps under it to dream their enemies to death appears in a secluded community, and Ryan's romance with a woman there may put him under wraps for good.
20. Quilt of Hathor: The Awakening (aired 5-9-1988) Jack and Micki discover that Ryan's future father-in-law is using the quilt to frame Ryan for some mysterious deaths, and he must engage in brutal combat to prove his innocence.
21. Double Exposure (aired 5-16-1988) A TV anchorman is getting amazing ratings for his exclusive contact with the Machete Killer, but a cursed camera may expose why the two have such a close relationship.
22. The Pirate's Promise (aired 6-27-1988) Micki and Ryan are drawn by a haunted foghorn to a small community where someone is using it to summon the ghost of a pirate in order to find where his bloody treasure lies.

23. Badge of Honor (aired 7-5-1988) It's the ultimate showdown when Micki's ex-boyfriend shows up to track a vigilante-style killer, while a jealous Ryan suspects him of yet another sinister crime.
24. Pipe Dream (aired 7-11-1988) Ryan's father reveals that he's recently found phenomenal success for his inventions, but the trio is suspicious when his rivals are shut down in a particularly gruesome manner.
25. What a Mother Wouldn't Do (aired 7-18-1988) A cursed cradle form the Titanic carries a terrible legacy that has two parents doing the unthinkable in order to save their baby.
26. Bottle of Dreams (aired 7-25-1988) An urn puts Micki and Ryan in a terrifying trance that forces them to relive their most horrifying moments over and over until they die--unless Jack can find a way to shatter the spell.

The DVD

Video:
The series arrives in its original full-frame presentation. The bad news is that it looks like not much has been done to clean up the video. I'm guessing it wasn't a pristine effort to begin with, but I have a hard time believing this is the best the show can look. Most of the episodes look like they were taped off your old TV, with excessive grain and noise. The image lacks sharpness and detail, and frequently approaches blurriness. It's often way too dark for its own good, while many of the scenes in the antique shop are drowning in fog (some of which is probably intentional). Colors are drab, and there's plenty of aliasing shimmer, occasional image flicker and dirt. It's certainly watchable, but will be a disappointment to fans hoping for something special.

Audio:
The mono soundtrack is equally underwhelming. While it's not as distracting as the poor video quality, it still doesn't have quite the right balance between the dialogue and the sometimes overpowering music.

Extras:
Also disappointing are the extremely meager extras. All you get are two extremely short original network launch promos (totaling 43 seconds) and a sales presentation (9:25), which is pretty much a long commercial/clip show for advertisers. Trailers round out the set.

Final Thoughts:
While it isn't as good as Tales from the Crypt, Friday the 13th: The Series still manages to entertain you as its three likable heroes try to save the world from haunted antiques. It's cheap and cheesy, and while it's often too slow and formulaic, some episodes rise above to create a spooky (yet still silly) atmosphere. The technical presentation and extras are a bummer, but fans of the series will still want to add it to their collection. Everyone else may want to Rent It first and see if they like the show's flavor.

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