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FRIDAY THE 13TH: A LOVE STORY

Happy Friday the 13thBy Jason Lees, MoreHorror.com

Some movies are timeless, some are ageless. CASABLANCA and GONE WITH THE WIND. CITIZEN KANE. THE GODFATHER PART II.

Film has the ability to transport an audience to any place in history or any world in the heavens. Film is a medium that can take you back to a simpler time in your life. Your childhood is only a DVD away. Film, at its finest, is magic.

And some, well, they’re pretty much critic proof.

For every critic who (over)analyzes APOCOLYPSE NOW, there are a dozen who tear apart FRIDAY THE 13th and its sequels. Guess what, Mr. Ebert, it doesn’t matter. For every art house release junkie that slobbers over the next Swedish import, there are a dozen stone cold Jason fans who will defend their favorite F13 flick to the death. (Not their death, mind you, but someone’s death.)

These films are as timeless as they come. Actually, scratch that. One thing that the FRIDAY THE 13th films are is a product of their time. More than any other series I can think of, these films are like buoys marking the year in which they were made. You can’t think of the 80’s without thinking of hockey masks and Ronald Reagan. Sure, Freddy wound up being more popular, but everyone points at that the Elm Street series went downhill after Wes Craven’s original. With Jason, the follow-ups to the original were always hit and miss, so fans can pick and choose which they love.

And it’s a weird thing, our love of Jason. We all know that at its best, F13 was a knockoff of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, but it doesn’t matter. We know they’re bad. We know they’re bad for us, but damned if we don’t keep going back for more.

So, friends and family and Crystal Lake regulars, let’s not bitch about bloodless cuts and MPAA mandates, let’s not complain imposters and funky continuity, and I sure as hell don’t want to hear anyone snicker when we mention New York toxic waste. No, mommy-boys, let’s celebrate our favorite transient holiday with an all out love letter to Jason, Mother, Tommy, and every thirty year old actor pretending to be 17.

Let’s celebrate "Friday the 13th".

FRIDAY THE 13th
Camp Crystal Lake has been closed since the 50’s, ever since that little Voorhees boy drowned up there. Now, some guy named Christy sporting the best 70’s ‘stache this side of porn is trying to reopen the place. It isn’t the ‘bad’ water that’s going to keep the kids away this time, it’s all those pesky dead counselors.

Before the first Friday, the name Sean Cunningham was just a footnote on LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but when he went looking for ways to fund his mainstream aspirations with another horror flick, he made slasher movie history. His F13 may not have reinvented the wheel, but it brought Tom Savini, already a genre hero, to the rest of the world.

Gore connoisseurs may already have appreciated the man from his DAWN OF THE DEAD work, but it was his work on the little camp movie that let the world really see what he could do. When you sit down and really analyze the flick, it’s not the timing or the characters that made the original such a classic, it was the spectacle. Long before Jason showed up, Mother was there for us with open arms.

FRIDAY THE 13th Part II
Six months after the massacre at Camp Crystal Lake, the lone survivor is attacked in her apartment. Enough of that, so we jump ahead again, this time to five years later as someone else tries to open up a camp on Crystal Lake, this time as a school for training counselors. They allow all kinds of students, regardless of age, race, clothing preferences, mobility, or potato sack fashion sense.

Part II is one of the more maligned entries in the series, and also one that has aged the best. Amy Steel’s performance as Ginny is one of the greatest Final Girls in slasher history. She’s smart, quick, and you do believe that she could come out on top.

This film was cut to pieces by both the critics and the MPAA. Its best gore gags were yanked, but it still works as a complete film, if a little tame. It’s a damned shame that it doesn’t get more love from fans. Some of its shots are beautiful (Jason running up to the cabin being visible through the window is still jump inducing) and technically astounding. Too bad we’ll never see an uncut version. It’s the kind of thing that could give director Steve Miner some long overdue respect (and forgiveness for his DAY OF THE DEAD remake).

FRIDAY THE 13th Part III
The day after Part II, Jason is still on the loose, only with his head clean shaven and about a foot taller. He’s ditched the overalls and found his new look. This is the film, more than any other, that people picture in their minds when they think of Jason.

Part 3 has two important foot notes to the series. It was the biggest surprise success with its then state of the art 3D and it was the film that made the hockey mask the biggest selling Halloween costume for the underfunded.

Who knows who really thought up the addition of the goalie mask to the series? I’ve heard and read several different versions, each one really plausible, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. To me it’ll always be Shelly, the loser in the white kid ‘fro who first thought it’d be funny to scare the cute girl with that mask and a spear gun. Almost 30 years later, I’m still laughing.

It’s also become my favorite drinking game. Watch it with friends. Every time you spot an obvious shot that you were supposed to Oooh at in 3D (popcorn jumping out from the screen), take a drink.

And when a certain eyeball pops into the camera, finish the bottle.

FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINAL CHAPTER
Probably my favorite entry in the series, or at least the best made. Joseph Zito came on board to finish the series off with the help of Tom Savini and Mouth from THE GOONIES. It seems that Jason could survive anything except future teen heartthrobs (and even further future rehab heroes).

F134 is dark, mean, and nasty. It’s gory and smart, and just about everything you could want in a slasher movie. We have girls being good, girls being bad, boys being dumb, and geeks becoming studs. They don’t give Oscars for Best Dance numbers, but damned if Crispen Glover didn’t come close to making the Academy reconsider it. Ted White is viscous as the perpetually pissed off Jason. There’s just something about his body language here that just seems mean. It’s not just the way he stabs and maims, but there’s an anger in how he stares down Trish after blasting through a wall that just disturbed me as a kid. Hell, it still does.

FRIDAY THE 13th: Part V A NEW BEGINNING
Jason was dead, but people in and around Crystal Lake still had a weird habit of running up against sharp knives. Ten years after Part 4 (that means this one should have been set in about 1995, even though it came out in ’85) we find Tommy Jarvis at a halfway house on the way back to real life. Yea, right. Whatever. We know what’s going to happen, and points go to the filmmakers for not even trying to waste any more of our time. Fast bloody tragedy strikes and before the first reel is over, we’re set to wondering when Tommy is going to snap or is it Jason back from the dead.

Even more so than Part II, I think Part V gets more than its share of crap. Instead of just having Jason sit up in his coffin or body bag, director Danny Steinmann tried to throw in a little suspense and thought. Sure, it last about five seconds and yes, we all see the twist coming the minute it crouches down, but they at least tried.

Part V is even meaner than its direct predecessor. You get characters introduced and then killed within two minutes of screen time. Character arcs be damned, we’re here to see bipeds get bisected. This is ‘turn your brain off’ fun. If you’ve avoided Part V because you heard it was bad, go check it out. It’s aged better than it has any right to have.

JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13th Part VI
Part VI isn’t fair. It’s a cheat. It’s actually a pretty good movie that has decent acting, a thought out plot, funny moments, and an honest to God climax. It’s probably the perfect Jason movie, the most honest (bringing our favorite slasher back as a maggot faced zombie earns it some points), and the best made. With all that going for it, it’s too bad it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the series. It’s just too polished and, well, good. It’s like that healthy burger on the McMenu. Yeah, we know we SHOULD order it, but we didn’t go through the drive thru to eat healthy, we chose the drive thru so no one would catch us snarfing down more calories than some villages see in a week.

I love Tom McLoughlin’s film. I’ve seen it dozens of times and it has the notoriety of being the first of the F13’s I saw as a new release. I love the Alice Cooper soundtrack, and I love sense of humor to it. It’s a great movie, and a great gateway film to younger viewers of the series (no nudity and little swearing).

FRIDAY THE 13th: Part VII THE NEW BLOOD
KANE HODDER! A true Zombie Jason!!! That damned Bushmaster 5000!!! This was the film I was most anticipating as a kid (yea, I know, blame my parents). It was the first of the series that I followed in Fangoria. Chas. Balun’s articles on it and the photos they included had me damned near drooling, just dying to see it. It was going to be EPIC.

Remember, this is a love letter to Jason, so we’re not going to bitch about the MPAA cuts (which were the true butchers here) and we’re not going to complain about the script (which has dialogue that seems lifted right from the Sunday funnies) and we’re not going to even start with that flashback scene that takes us back to a point ten minutes earlier in the film. No, we’re going to be positive, and we’re going to focus on KANE HODDER!!!

Even if he’s not your favorite Jason, he sure has fun in this flick. This time around Jason punches through victims, bashes them against trees, and throws them over TV’s. It’s hard to be afraid of a Jason who uses a party favor as a weapon, but it’s even harder not to have fun watching this one. Forget logic, forget film etiquette, and forget continuity (if Part V took place in 1985, this one must be set in about 2000), just have fun, but make it RESPONSIBLE fun. No PART 7 “Missing Gore” Drinking Games where you take a shot whenever it’s blatantly obvious that the blood has been snipped. Please. The last thing Paramount needs is more alcohol poisoning wrongful death suits.

FRIDAY THE 13th: Part VIII JASON TAKES MANHATTAN
I don’t care. I like Part 8. Maybe it’s because I’ve always wanted to go to Canada, er, I mean New York. Or maybe it’s because, box office returns or not, this one penetrated the country’s awareness the most. This was the series entry that was the biggest gamble. It was released the same summer as BATMAN and ELM STREET 4, so Paramount pushed the hell out of it. Posters, tv ads, interviews.

We even had Kane Hodder in character on the Arsenio Hall show (hmmm, maybe that’s why it tanked). With a high concept of crossing Jason with New York, Paramount had to risk it all and push the market. Too bad the film itself was designed to be a simple little Jason chase that happened to end up far from home.

No it’s not that good, and it has so many plot holes in that even comparing them to the Lincoln Tunnel is just being mean, but it does try. And in the right mood, it can be fun. Hodder’s Jason looks great (until the unmasking) and the perpetual soggy footsteps is a fun aural addition.

And for those keeping track, when you add up all the FIVE YEARS LATERs, this flick (while made in ’89) should be set around 2005, which is all said and good, until you look at the backstory of the lead character Rennie. In the film, she’s just graduated from Crystal Lake High. Good for her. Congratulations, Rennie, but how long did it take you to pass Chemistry? According to your flashbacks you met Jason in the lake when you about ten, and he looked like he had just freshly drowned down. Problem is, Mr. Voorhees drowned in 1958. That makes you about 57.

Damn, I love these movies.

JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY
After MANHATTAN tanked, Paramount sold the sequel rights to the series to New Line and we started to get some really weird shit. JASON GOES TO HELL is just that. Weird. If you love it, you love it. If you hate it, well, then you’re not alone.
Part 9 is the bastard of the series. It has nothing to do with the previous ones and has even less to do with Part 10. Adam Marcus comes on a director trying to make everyone happy and gives them what they want. Well, damn it, I can’t hate him for trying.

HELL is part possession movie, and part HALLOWEEN rip off, but not in the way that the series began. Marcus doesn’t try to Ape any Carpenter stylings the way Cunningham did with the original, but he tries to add a family backstory akin to what JC did with HALLOWEEN II. Marcus gives Jason a sister, a neice, and even a house. It’s like he grew up in Haddonfield, not Crystal Lake. But again, we’re not supposed to pick the films apart here, we’re here to love them, and there’s still a lot to love with …GOES TO HELL.

Part 9 Love Checklist:
The opening stalk in the woods finale. It’s a quick taste of the the old, mixed with the new.
The title sequence autopsy. C’mon. Admit it, this is what all coroners do when they’re alone, isn’t it?
The diner shoot out, especially the unrated version.
The tent bisection. Again, especially the unrated version.
The WWF Smackdown fight at the end. No brains, just two guys punching each other. With jungle gyms.

JASON X
I dare you, I flipping dare you, to see this film and not smile at all the ALIEN references. No, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (did I really just type that?), but if you’re sitting down to watch a legitimate film about Jason Voorhees in space and you’re at all being analytical about the experience, then I implore you to seek help. Or take a walk. Something, but just don’t bring any preconceived notions to this, the most far left of the series.

Jason. Outer Space. I love that people still accept this one more readily than they do the whole ‘body swapping’ of 9 or imposter of 5. That makes me smile almost as much as liquid nitrogen facials.

Not only is this the film that kept the franchise alive (barely) during the lean years, it’s also the one with the biggest body count. Sure, purists will argue that JASON X wins with 28 kills, but that’s not even counting when he crashes a ship into a space station and wipes out about 20,000 more offscreen.

Top that, Leprechaun in Space.

FREDDY vs JASON
The match up that took over a decade to produce. New Line, the oweners of Freddy, picked up the rights to Jason with Part 9. This fan dream project sat around in development hell until the right script came along, or at least the right-ish script.

The story behind the story is easily more interesting than the onscreen plot, and its lovingly captured on the dvd. They reprint the ol’ Fango article that first told it (if you have the patience and eyesight to read it in screen captures) as a special feature, but it’s probably more respect than this film deserves.

FvsJ is barely a member of either series, but again, like Part 6, is a great way to introduce new viewers to the glory days of slasher films. Think of it as MovieMarijuana, a gateway drug, but without all that Republican interference.

With FvsJ, you get what you came for. You get Freddy versus Jason. You get a big bloody duel to the end. Sure it’s a safe ending, but much like JASON X, you’re not supposed to expect too much. Yea, I want fries with that. And blood. And one liners. And dumb teens.

I just kinda wanted some Kane to go with my Englund.

Still, it was worth it to see the aforementioned Mr. Englund on-screen one last time as Freddy. More so than SCREAM, I consider FREDDY VS JASON to be the final say on the Slasher sub-genre. It was the last of its kind. Other films since (whether they be remakes or homages) aren’t cut from the same cloth. They’re reflections of that experience, forever just a step apart. Not inferior, just a different generation.

FRIDAY THE 13th The Remake
As if to prove my point, Platinum Dunes remake of FRIDAY THE 13th came out swinging, trying to combine the grit of the CHAINSAW remake (also directed by Marcus Nispel) with the fun of the original slasher formula. It works more often than it doesn’t.

While it fails to balance logic with the absurd (don’t bother explaining how Jason appears from thin air by using tunnels if you’re just going to have him come back from the dead, again, at the end) it does remember that Jason is the star of the film.

This time played by Derek Mears, the FRIDAY THE 13th Remake is a good party DVD to put in and get a few laughs from. The gore is heavy, but not too much to gross out your girlfriend’s sister, and the jokes aren’t too inside to alienate those people you invited hoping they’d bring beer. It’s fun, light, and doesn’t insult the legacy it’s trying to uphold.

In a time when being an ageless film means that you can just click on it on Netflix, there’s not much more that you can ask of a remake. We wouldn’t want Nispel to reinvent FRIDAY and pay the price for that transgression, so let’s just select the best KILLS from the MENU and sit back and laugh. And scream.

Like I recently read on an IMDb message board: “Hey, it ain’t rocket surgery.”

HAPPY FRIDAY THE 13TH!

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