When the crazed killer(s) from Wes Craven’s Scream call to harass Drew Barrymore on a school night, the pretty young thing’s knowledge of horror films past determines the fate of her football-playing boyfriend. That she forgets that the psychopath from the first Friday the 13th film was not Jason Voorhees but his vindictive mother is proof that no horror franchise has meant so much yet so little to the public than the Friday the 13th films. Collected inside Paramount Home Entertainment’s Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan DVD box set are the first eight parts of the series, beginning with 1980’s Friday the 13th and ending with 1989’s Jason Takes Manhattan (starting with the release of 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, the Jason films were released by New Line).
From Mario Bava to John Carpenter, many great filmmakers have used the horror genre to chart complex social and spiritual issues, an inquisitiveness and generosity critics have often confused for a transmission of conservative values. The Friday the 13th films are largely responsible for this misconception, but to say that this franchise preaches forgiveness, or teaches teenagers to wear condoms, is like saying George Lucas’s horrendous Star Wars films aren’t interested in selling light sabers. If there’s one thing deader than Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th franchise, it’s irony. Jason is a senseless shock-jock: Because he doesn’t kill to connect people to his past or their social anxieties, he comes across as the retarded little brother to Carpenter’s Michael Myers and Craven’s Freddy Krueger.
In the first Friday the 13th film, a group of teenagers gather at Crystal Lake where they’re picked off one by one by a mysterious killer. Some 20 years ago, a young boy, Jason Voorhees, was allowed to drown in the lake by malicious kids, and now he’s presumably returned from the dead to get even. Director Sean S. Cunningham and writer Victor Miller steal whole sequences from great ‘70s films like Halloween and Black Christmas, but they’re hardly concerned with addressing the social and sexual anxieties summoned by Brian De Palma and Mario Bava in films like Carrie and Bay of Blood, respectively. Some enjoy Friday the 13th as a shlocky spectacle of gore, but even the one truly fabulous death in the film—Jason, err, Jason’s mother sticks a spear through a pot-stoked Kevin Bacon’s throat—is slim pickings.
Maybe it was all the cocaine, but films like Friday the 13th Part 2 and 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 would have us believe that attention spans were at a record low during the ‘80s. The former begins with an unnecessary lengthy recap of the first film before someone—ostensibly Jason—kills Adrienne King’s character. Already a trend: At least one character, preferably a pretty young blonde, must carry over to the next film. For maximum cheese, this character must be in a hospital (or on their way to an emergency room) by the time the credits roll. The film is lousy to the core, but Amy Steel’s character seems to have a working brain (the weightiest psychological moment in the entire franchise may be when she appeals to Jason while dressed as his mother). Too bad the same thing can’t be said for anyone else. Then again, who needs a brain—especially if you’re in a wheelchair—if you have a functioning penis?
Somewhere between the second and third Friday the 13th (or, as I like to call it, “the one with the barn”), Jason has packed on a few pounds, perhaps during midnight screenings of Halloween or one too many nights on the couch watching NHL matches. How else to explain his sudden fondness for a conveniently discarded hockey mask? The film begins with the requisite recap of the previous film and ends with the mandatory Carrie-inspired psychotic episode. Because the film was shot on 3-D and can no longer be enjoyed as such, the endless shots of idiots and stoners randomly thrusting long and/or sharp objects directly into the camera lens are absolutely hysterical, but not quite as funny as Dana Kimmell’s preposterous memory recall, which features an unusually timid Jason wearing his signature mask.
Slowly but surely Jason is beginning to conduct his killing sprees further and further away from Crystal Lake. (If you’re thinking, “At this rate, he’ll be in New York City by, say, the eighth film,” you’d be right.) In Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (yeah, right!), Jason is taken to the hospital but makes his way out of the morgue and back to the vicinity surrounding Crystal Lake, where a hot mom lives with her hot daughter and her nerdy son (Corey Feldman). This fourth entry is somewhat of a fan favorite, if only because Tom Savini (Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) did the make-up and Feldman and a hunky (and dancing) Crispin Glover get to share screen time together. Of note: Little Tommy’s fascination with Jason and horror movies may as well be the germ for Scream.
In Friday the 13th Part 5, Tommy Jarvis (John Shepard) is considerably older and making his way to a halfway house, where he resides with children of all colors and musical affiliations. The spiciest entry in the entire franchise, A New Beginning (of course it is!) boasts the most T&A, an incredible double homicide in the woods involving a tree trunk and a belt strap, yokels violently cutting into chickens, and a witty reference to A Place in the Sun (starring a whimpering Shelly Winters and a homicidal Montgomery Clift). Though Jason isn’t the killer in this one (some guy named Roy is), director Danny Steinmann (like Joseph Zito before him and Tom McLoughlin after) fails to evoke how the torch carries over from one killer to the next.
At the end of the fifth Friday the 13th, it looks as if Tommy is finally going to start tearing shit up when he sneaks up behind a pretty young blonde with a steak knife in his hand. It must have been a dream, because in Jason Lives, Tommy and a friend take a trip to the cemetery where Jason is buried in order to fuck with his body. After Tommy (now played by Thom Mathews) sticks a piece of broken fence into the corpse, a lightening bolt resuscitates Jason, who dutifully returns to Crystal Lake for more random crimes against humanity (fret not: none of the little kids die). Of note: Electricity will figure prominently in just about every Friday the 13th entry from this point onward.
I have a special place in my heart for Friday the 13th: A New Blood because I snuck into the film with a friend in a theater in Hoboken when I was 12. It didn’t hold up at the time, and though it still seems to be stealing in distracting measures from both Carrie and Firestarter, director John Carl Buechler has a strong visual style, and the anxieties suffered by Tina (Lar Park-Lincoln) throughout the film are well thought-out by the franchise’s typically one-dimensional standards. Daddy issues also figure prominently in Jason Takes Manhattan, which takes entirely too long to get Jason to the Big Apple. I don’t know what’s more ridiculous: the outdated evocation of New York (think Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”) or that Jason is killed when the city flushes the toilet. Then again, maybe director Rob Hedden was on to something: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan, the series itself was always drowning in shit.
Paramount Home Entertainment slowly released the first seven films of the Friday the 13th franchise on DVD between 1999 and 2002. For the first time, all the films in the series owned by Paramount (including Jason Takes Manhattan) are collected in one box set. The video and sound transfers on these eight discs look no different than they did on earlier DVD editions, which shouldn't be a problem since the previous discs were top-of-the-line. Black levels and color saturation are remarkable on every disc, with very little sign of edge enhancement throughout. The worst thing that can be said is that dirt and specks are occasionally noticeable, especially during the third film, but that can be blamed on the polarized imaging process used to shoot the picture in 3-D. In the end, it's not exactly distracting. The mixes, which range from the mono to ultra-stereo, are all surprisingly enveloping and range from good to excellent (surprisingly, some of the earlier films fare better).
On the third disc, author Peter Bracke and stars Larry Zerner, Paul Kratka, Dana Kimmell, and Richard Brooker share their thoughts on the making of the third film. It's a fun track, as is Kane Hodder and John Carl Buechler's on the fourth disc (for The New Blood). Tom McLoughlin's track for Jason Lives and Rob Hedden's track for Jason Takes Manhattan are a little more serious but Hedden has some great things to say about the ending of his film and the franchise in general. Collected on a fifth discs are "killer extras": an eight-part featurette that runs almost two hours and includes interviews from the cast and crew of each film (including, yes, Corey Feldman); a three-part behind-the-gore featurette featuring Tom Savani and Buechler; the 15-minute "Crystal Lake Victims Tell All!" (the title speaks for itself); the punchy "Tales from the Cutting Room" (ditto); and a featurette about the films' artifacts and collectibles (some kept by the stars and filmmakers); and a theatrical trailer for all of the films.
Bad films. Great transfers and features. Strictly for the fans.