Tuesday, September 1, 2009

An Overview of Friday The Thirteenth Films.

Review By: Chris Ward

Being the age that I am (early thirties, if you must know), it's quite hard to remember a time before there were any 'Friday the 13th' movies, as they have been such an integral part of my movie viewing life. Back in the good ol' early eighties there was always a 'Friday...' video leering at me from the shelf of my local movie nirvana (in this case, Videographic in East Grinstead - no longer there but I managed to buy most of their stock when they closed down!), but as I was only a wee pup, I was only allowed to watch Hammer movies and the odd Freddy Krueger film (?); I think my mother went on the theory that as long as there were no weapons or graphic pictures on the box then it was okay - I could watch '...Elm Street 2' as it only had a drawing of Freddy and a school bus on the cover, but anything with a bloody machete on it was out.

Anyway, it was always the title that intrigued me and one day I managed to (with a bit of convincing the guy behind the counter that my mum would be okay with it as she'd let me watch '...Elm Street 2'!) get my hands on 'Friday the 13th Part 3' and that was it, I was hooked. From then on, it was my mission to seek out all the 'Friday...' films (bear in mind they were still making them regularly then), which I did, and I have been a massive fan of Jason and his Camp Crystal Lake world ever since, so here's one fan's critical eye giving an opinion over what is arguably the best slasher series.

Directed by Sean S.Cunningham (Last House on the Left), 1980's 'Friday the 13th' ushered in the new decade continuing the theme of holiday-based slashers set by 'Black Xmas' and 'Halloween' during the previous decade. The story involves a summer camp called Camp Crystal Lake, that has been closed for many years, reopening it's doors. A group of young camp counsellors looking for the camp are warned by the local village weirdo to keep away, but, of course, they choose to ignore his warnings about the 'death curse' and other townsfolks stories about a young boy who drowned there back in the fifties, and the murders that took place soon after. After arriving at the camp, though, they soon find something is up as one by one, the counsellors start disappearing. All hope seems lost as only one survivor remains, but help soon arrives in the shape of Mrs. Voorhees, a friend of the camp's owners, who may not be quite as helpful as she first makes out...
This original 'Friday...' still ranks as the best of the lot. Taking it's cue from Carpenter's 'Halloween', but with added gore, this really is a suspenseful little shocker that, although suffering from a slightly weak script, still holds up today. Starring Betsy Palmer as Mrs.Voorhees, plus an appearance from a young Kevin Bacon, special make-up effects by the genial Tom Savini, and featuring an ending borrowed straight from Brian DePalma's 'Carrie', this may not be the most original movie of all time, but it is one of the most effective.

The inevitable sequel, imaginatively titled 'Friday the 13th Part 2', followed a year later and carried on the story quite smoothly. Cunningham was no longer involved but the film follows the style of the original nicely, due to a lot of the original crew being used. This time, the camp next door to Crystal Lake is opening up and a new group of counselors are gathering to get ready for the new season. Again, they are warned about previous events that have happened but they ignore it all - will they ever learn? Although the killer was apprehended at the end of the first movie (oh alright, it was Mrs. Voorhees killing the councellors in revenge for letting her son Jason drown in 1957) we are now introduced to Jason properly for the first time, as apparently he saw his mother being slaughtered and wasn't too happy about it, so he now lives in the woods and kills anybody who dares enter. Whoooooa!

All in all, this isn't a bad movie at all. There's a nice pacing to it so it never gets boring, and the counselors are all fairly likeable characters, although maybe a bit more one-dimensional than the ones in the first movie. Jason isn't in it a great deal, but when he does finally fully appear he fills the screen (literally), and the legendary hockey mask is still nowhere to be seen! A decent stab (!) at a sequel that doesn't quite hit the mark of the first movie, but still has enough style and suspense to carry it along.

And pretty much the same could be said for 1982's 'Friday the 13th Part 3', as again a lot of the same crew were involved. Supposedly carrying on where part two left off, Jason moves from Crystal Lake to the nearby Higgins Haven, where he terrorizes a new bunch of youngsters who are staying at the property. One of the group, Chris, was attacked in the nearby woods a couple of years earlier by Jason and has returned to try and confront her fears - which, of course, she does. Big time!

By now, plot was giving way to formula as far as these sorts of movies go, so to add an extra bit of excitement this movie was originally done in 3-D. And it must have worked because '...Part 3' was the most successful of all the 'Friday...' movies (apart from 'Freddy Vs. Jason' but that isn't a fully-fledged 'Friday...' movie). This is the one where Jason first puts on the hockey mask, and he was yet to have been butchered beyond belief so his movements were quite fast, instead of the lumbering zombie he was to become. There's no standout performances and the ending was a little contrived, but it's still a lot better than the other imitation movies that were starting to appear and it's by no means the worst of this series. But all in all, it seemed that the makers were out of ideas on the originality front, so...

'Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter' appeared in 1984, proving that maybe the best thing to do was end it before it became a joke - ha! Different director, different writers and a returning Tom Savini (who came back as he thought it would be 'the final chapter') but still the same old Jason, whose body has been taken to the local morgue. Unfortunately, he isn't dead, so up he gets and carries on slaughtering. He returns to his old stomping ground of Camp Crystal Lake, where he finds the two properties on the site, one occupied by a group of sex-mad, partying teens (shocker!) and the other by horror movie mad Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman), his mother and sister. Naturally Jason gets pretty mad and starts hacking them all up - until young Tommy finds a way to stop him in his tracks.

Even though the plot was wearing a bit thin, and a whole flurry of similarly themed movies were appearing left, right and center, this fourth installment is actually pretty good. It may lack the feel of the earlier movies in terms of it's look, but the pacing is frenetic, the acting not too bad for this sort of movie and, naturally, Savini's effects are superb and easily the best so far. Still not too sure what the final shot is supposed to be suggesting, but all in all a great slasher film. So that's it then...

Oh no, I nearly forgot - we then get to 'Friday the 13th: A New Beginning'; looks like Mr. Savini got it wrong! As did the makers of this movie. We begin with a now grown up Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd) having a dream that Jason has risen from the grave and is out for revenge. We then learn that Tommy has been sent to live at a foster home for other disturbed young people in the middle of nowhere. Of course, it isn't long before bodies start piling up, but if Jason is dead, who is doing all the killing? Well, spoiler alert, it's...a paramedic, dressing up as Jason, whose son was murdered at the foster home by another patient who didn't want a candy bar! Durrh!

In an attempt to add a new twist to the bog-standard slasher formula, the makers decided that a 'whodunnit' was the way to go. Either this movie was ahead of it's time or it was just dumb - I'd opt for the latter. In all fairness, apart from the lame 'twist' and an awful performance from Shepherd as Tommy, there are some plus points to be had. The murders are still pretty good (love the guy getting his head strapped to a tree!), 'Tour of Duty' star Miguel A.Nunez puts in an amusing turn as a poor mans Michael Jackson called Demon, and there's more nudity than any other 'Friday...', so the key elements are there, but when the killer isn't Jason, and the connection to who it is is about as desperate as it gets, then it's time to look elsewhere for your slasher thrills. And again, the very last scene is a bit odd!

And it seems even odder when you see 'Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives' as Tommy (Thom 'Return of the Living Dead' Mathews) returns to Jason's grave to make sure he's dead. He is, so he should have just left it, but, in a sort of homage to 'Frankenstein', Jason is brought back to life by a bolt of lightening, and it's up to Tommy to convince the local sheriff that the young kiddies at Camp Crystal Lake need protecting. Sounds easy, but you know it never is in these movies.

There are two ways to look at part six- it's either writing off part five and attempting to bring the series back to some sort of basic level, carrying on from part four and bringing Tommy's story full circle, or...you can shut your brain off, put the ending of part five down to the writers not having a clue and carry on watching regardless. Either way, this is probably the dullest of them all. There's nothing inventive, the plot is boring, Thom Mathews does what he does in '...Living Dead' but without the charisma and Jason gets killed (!) in a very dull way. All in all, and I'll use the word again, very dull. Well, tell a lie, there is a slight bit of amusement to be had in the James Bond-style opening credits, and C.J. Graham is probably the most intimidating Jason yet (now that he is officially a zombie!), but in the year that gave us the excellent 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 2' and 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2', Jason's latest offering was looking very pedestrian.

So maybe another twist was needed - or not! Now seemingly desperate for ideas to make 'Friday...' stick out from the pack, we were given 'Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood', where this time Jason was brought back from his watery grave by a girl with telekinetic powers (yes, I know!), who has come back to Crystal Lake as that was where she used her powers to accidentally kill her abusive father many years before. Under pressure from her sinister doctor to try and harness her powers, she gets in a rage and - you''ll never guess - manages to unwrap Jason from his chains, and with the other house on the lake occupied by those 'sex-mad, partying teens' (TM) so begins another killing spree.

Of course, it's complete drivel but, strangely, time does seem to have been kind to it (this used to be my worst one, but after revisiting it again recently it wasn't too bad). The pacing is reminiscent of part four, and the murders are pretty cool to watch, particularly the infamous 'sleeping bag smacked against a tree' death (side note: has anybody else noticed that when Jason swings the sleeping bag, it is the feet end that hits the tree but when he opens the bag it's the head that's split open? Still cool, though!). This movie was also the first of the series to feature Kane Hodder as Jason, who went on to play him in next three movies and has since become synonymous with the role. Ignore the crass 'Carrie' rip-off plot and just enjoy Jason killing people in inventive ways again.

Which brings us up to 1989 and the excellently titled 'Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan'. By now, horror movies had moved on slightly, with the surrealist 'Hellraiser' and the just utterly bizarre Frank Henenlotter moving to the forefront of the genre, so I guess the makers of the 'Friday...' series decided to go all-out hokey and see what happens - and what happened was still a pretty decent slasher. Receiving another electric shock, Jason reanimates once again but this time he manages to steal his victim's boat (stay with me...) and travels upstream where he finds his way aboard a ship full of graduation students on their way to New York. One of the students, Rennie (Jensen Daggett), was pushed into Crystal Lake when she was a child by her strict uncle Charles (Peter Mark Richman), who was trying in his own way to teach her to swim. She was held under the water by a young Jason, who was still living in the lake (!), so obviously the big J is after her now. Rennie, Charles and a few stragglers escape the doomed voyage and manage to get to New York, unaware that Jason has followed. So the Big Apple had better beware, as there's a new psychopath in town...

Any sense of realism or even just sensible ideas had long gone by now, but based on it's basic merits, '...Manhattan is a pretty good slasher. Again, Kane Hodder is a very menacing screen presence and the deaths are still great - I still love it when Jason punches off the head of one of the kids who has just tried to take him on in a boxing match - and there really is very little credibility to this movie, but it's still fun. In a moronic way. Which doesn't say much about me, really...

And that was it - until 1993! Although many regard '...Manhattan' as the last proper 'Friday the 13th' movie, somebody thought a proper ending was still needed so, moving from Paramount to New Line (home of the 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' franchise), 'Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday' came forth to give us the definitive Jason movie. And did it work? Well, not really. The origins of Jason's longevity are revealed to be down to a supernatural demon that can travel from body to body, creating killer zombies as it goes - which begs the question, why did it stay in Jason's rotten, thirty-five year old corpse rather than seek out fresh new bodies? Is it a throwback to the ideas presented in part five? Anyway, the movie begins with Jason being blown up by a SWAT team (even though he was left as a child at the end of part eight - oh dear, I've spoiled it again!) and his body is taken to the morgue; he must have his own parking space by now! During the autopsy, the coroner, for some unexplained reason, gets the urge to bite Jason's heart and - lo and behold - he is now possessed by Jason's supernatural conscience, and off he goes on a killing spree. Meanwhile, bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), who has been tracking Jason for years (allegedly, 'cos I don't remember seeing him in any of the other movies!), has discovered Jason's secret and knows the only way to destroy him - 'Through a Voorhees he was born, and through a Voorhees he can be destroyed' - and, as luck would have it, Jason's last remaining relatives live nearby. Bet you didn't know there were any left! So cue lots of macho fight scenes and special He-Man swords to kill Jason with.

As you can probably tell, I'm not really taking this one too seriously. Much like part eight, this is a movie you put on for shits and giggles when you get the lads round for a few beers. Unlike the other movies, though, there is a really nasty tone throughout and overall it's a bit of a mess. Steven Williams (a poor man's Carl Weathers) is a fairly lame 'hero' and there's very little sympathy for any of the characters. The scene with the coroner (played by 'Rocky V' actor Richard Gant) is just odd, and the 'Frankenstein'-style walking that all the Jason-possessed zombies do is just plain laughable. It's actually a bit of a relief when Jason (again played by Kane Hodder) appears at the end for the final showdown, and you'll probably give a little cheer - even though he's the baddie! And any urges to shout 'BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL' when the magic sword appears should be kept in check! The very final shot of Jason's mask being dragged into the earth by Freddy Krueger's gloved hand (do you see what they did there?) is a nice touch, and gives an indication of what's to come, but a solid entry in the long-running series this is not, despite original 'Friday...' director Sean S.Cunningham coming in as producer.

But fear not, because it wasn't over just yet. In 2001, as the new millennium dawned and horror movies were garnering mainstream acceptance again, thanks to Wes Craven's self-knowing 'Scream' series and the influence of Japanese cinema, New Line gave us 'Jason X'. Now normally, when a series of movies gets to the 'set in space' stage, it means that all credibility will be thrown out of the window...but luckily the 'Friday...' series threw it's credibility out of the window sometime in the mid-eighties, so hardcore fans were quite prepared for this sort of nonsense. The movie begins in 2008 where Jason has been kept prisoner in a military research facility, so that scientists can try to find out why Jason won't die (they obviously didn't watch 'Jason Goes to Hell'!). Rowan (Lexa Doig) is preparing Jason to be cryogenically frozen so he'll pose no further threat, but Dr. Wimmer (a great cameo by David Cronenberg) attempts to override her, thus causing the main man to escape confinement. After a scuffle, Jason and Rowan end up getting frozen until they get discovered by a team of science students - five hundred years in the future! By now Earth has become inhabitable, so aboard their spacecraft the young scientists thaw out their discoveries, unaware of the danger that Jason will do aboard the confines of a spaceship.

No doubt you'll know by now whether you're going to watch this or not. Is it any good? No, but if you switch your brain off it is quite enjoyable in a 'drink lots and see what's on' kind of way. Being set in space gives the makers a chance to invent some new ways to die - look out for the virtual reality Camp Crystal Lake scene where there's a nice nod to part seven - and this is purely the only reason to enjoy this movie. Jason even gets a futuristic makeover when his corpse gets reanimated by the ship's computers, although he still prefers his trusty twentieth century machete when it comes to the job in hand. The acting throughout is fairly terrible - only Cronenberg's brief appearance and the reliable Kane Hodder being engaging in any sense - and the effects are good but not mind-blowing, as they could have been given the setting, but at least it's a bit more fun than the previous entry and it never takes itself seriously. At all.

Is that the end of it all? Of course not, because in 2003 there was the inevitable 'Freddy vs. Jason' that was hinted at back in 1993, but as that isn't a proper 'Friday...' movie it shall be scrutinized elsewhere. There has also been the obvious remake/reboot/re-imagining (delete as appropriate) released this year, but, again, that shall be looked at on another occasion, as there's not enough room to put down everything that's wrong with it here.

And there it is. All the original stories of Mrs. Voorhees little boy looked at under a microscope and given to you to investigate and make up your own minds. All are readily available on dvd and, if you're feeling naughty, I can recommend inviting closing the curtains, locking the doors and giving yourselves a weekend to enjoy them all. Happy camping!


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