DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: FRIDAY THE 13TH - PARTS 1-3

Friday 13 February 2009


Friday the 13th Parts 1, 2, 3 (1980-82) dir. Sean S. Cunningham, Steve Miner
Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Any Steel, Richard Brooker

*1/2 (Part 1)
*** (Part 2)
* (Part 3)

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ah-Ah-Ah. That familiar music sting used to bring chills to my spine and induce nightmares in my childhood. Watching these films back in the day, with its reputation of extreme depravity and gruesomeness, at least to a 5-8 year old was as illicit as watching porn. It couldn't be anything further than the truth. Little did I know they were just cheap Halloween knock offs made to exploit some teenage sex and death.

The first three films have been repackaged and re-released on DVD by Paramount Pictures. The third one, in 3-D, actually contains two pairs of 3-D glasses to watch it authentically at home with your partner. Let's take a look back at these first three films:

If "Halloween" birthed the genre of the masked slasher horror flick, “Friday the 13th” made it a cliché and quickly ruined it. Despite being one of cinema's venerable franchises (and the reboot version is released today) few of these films were actually very good. Unlike "Halloween", a series which started with perfection and gradually gave us lesser returns, “Friday the 13th” started with a bad film and contined to be consistently bad throughout the years.

If taken as intentional the original film can be quite hilarious. A group of 1980-era teenagers wearing ill fitting belly high jeans, bright red hot pants travel to derelict Camp Crystal Lake for some sex frolicking fun. Little do they know years ago a young boy drowned because some similarly aged, equally libidinous teenagers weren't paying attention. As a result a curse has continued to this day which will ensure the untimely death of all of them.

In the early part of the series there was a clear formula, in the first two acts, we only ever saw the murders from the killer's point of view, and only when there were one or two people left was the killer revealed. There’s actually very little suspense in the first film. Seeing the killer only from a POV with the victims looking straight down the barrel of the camera limits the options for scaring us. Foreshadowing includes the bicyle-riding god-fearing town crazy Ralph, a usual second act rainstorm, POV shots from the woods, and the weaponry which will be used by the killer later on the film. Whether its a someone chopping wood with an axe, or shooting a bow and arrow we know the kids will ironically by killed by their own instruments.

After being sorely disappointed rewatching the first film I was genuinely surprised by the second. "Friday the 13th Part 2" is legitamately a good film. Another franchise consistency we see born in the second film is the opening recap. We get to see the final 5mins of the original film replayed at the beginning of the second. While the set up is the same - sexpot camp counsellors go back to Crystal Lake and get slaughtered, the protagonist in the Part 2 is played by an actor who can actually act. 80's TV veteran Amy Steel is a solid anchor, someone we actually want to escape and survive her torturous adventure with Jason. Jason in the second film is at his scariest. He doesn't get his iconic hockey mask until midway through the third film, but in part 2 his mask is a simple white bag over his head. The final act, a lengthy chase through the woods and through the cabins is as intense as any horror film today. At the end we get a legitimately gruesome look into Jason's layer full of severed heads of his victims and a shrine to his dead mother.

Part 3 is just plain terrible - worse than Part 1. Director Steve Miner who elevated the series in part 2 takes it down a few notches by going with a 3-D gimmick. Miner seems to concentrate so much on the 3-D gags that he forgets to make a scary movie.

I recall Part IV with Corey Feldman as being a decent film, but that's my 25 year old memory. I'll need to revisit that one soon to see if holds up. Enjoy.

"Friday the 13th" on Blu-Ray features audio commentary from director Sean Cunningham, and a host fun and irreverant featurettes on the franchise.

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