Friday the 13th Part III

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The original “Friday the 13th” (1980) was fascinating because it was so unlike what I expected. It had a mystery plot in which the killer wasn’t revealed until the shocking twist ending; just enough cleverness to elevate what would otherwise be a cheap rip-off of “Halloween” (1978). The “Friday” sequel from 1981 offered a sympathetic (or at least humanizing) portrayal of Jason and a likable main character who used her education, of all things, to trick Jason in the end. Who would have predicted that?

And throughout both of these films, nary a hockey mask appears.

Enter “Friday the 13th Part III” (1982). Here is the film that fulfills my initial expectations for this franchise: horny camp counselors getting picked off by a Man In A Hockey Mask, cheap production values, bad acting, and some creatively over-the-top kills.

“Part III” has the feeling of a quick cash-in. You can almost sense how eager the filmmakers were to make more money off this franchise. What was in the film was incidental. As evidence, I offer the shot where two characters get into a car and no less than three crew members can be clearly seen reflected in the windows.

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That said, “Part III” played an important role in the evolution, or at least the endurance, of the franchise.

The last installment developed Jason as a character, but here’s he’s just a “force of nature.” This is sometimes how people describe Jason. He’s relentless, he has no apparent goal or purpose, and he just kills whoever is nearby him. According to “Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th” (2013), the director (Steve Miner) told the actor who plays Jason, “Don’t ever ask me what your motivation is.” Jason is just a killing machine.

Jason’s transformation from a character to an Iconic Horror Movie Monster was necessary though. Necessary in the sense that “Friday the 13th” wouldn’t have become an enduring series of films otherwise. The characters of Jason and Mother Voorhees had been substantive enough to sustain, barely, two films. At this point, the series needed a new hook.

So, they could have developed the camp counselors into more complete characters and tried to make a real movie or they could have pushed the camp factor and reveled in the franchise’s inherent stupidity. They made the wise choice.

For extra protection, the filmmakers turned to Hollywood’s favorite money-making gimmick, 3D, which had the nice effect of inspiring some creativity, as each kill had to be exploitable in 3D somehow. A simple machete to the face wouldn’t do for this film. Here we have harpoonings, eyeballs being ejected from their sockets, and one very clever shot filmed from below a glass floor in which a young man is cut in half while walking on his hands.

And at some point, someone put a hockey mask on Jason. It just looked neat.

While “Part III” pushes the franchise into campier territory than its predecessors, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s great fun. Most of this movie is bland and forgettable.

But “Part III” was a bridge. In a way, the series needed to regain its footing now that Jason was transitioned from a character to a Monster. At the very least, it set the stage for future installments to use Jason the Monster to greater effect.

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Friday the 13th

Friday_the_thirteenth_movie_poster“Friday the 13th” (1980) may be the unlikeliest kickoff to a major franchise in film history. Prior to this viewing, the only Jason movie I’d seen was “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003), and I’m not even sure if that counts. My expectations were thus: a bunch of horny teenagers at a remote lake camp would get killed one by one by someone wearing a hockey mask.

Already a thin premise, but imagine my surprise when the hockey mask didn’t even appear.

I was left wondering why this film resonated with audiences so strongly. The premise wasn’t new. The slasher had been seen before in John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978), and much more effectively too, since its killer was creepier and its main character more endearing.

“Friday the 13th” was just one of a number of “Halloween” rip-offs. Its characters are underdeveloped and the time between kills feels like filler. But it stuck with audiences, mainly I think, based on the strength its final moments.

The Reveal of the Killer. 

“Friday the 13th” depicts its killer with point-of-view shots. This type of shot was also used in “Halloween,” but there it was just a hook for the opening scene. Here, it’s used for almost the entire movie to hide the identity of the killer.

Throughout the film, we see other characters interacting with the killer. They smile. They’re warm and friendly. This is a clue. The killer doesn’t look threatening on the surface. And yet, after seeing so many teens stabbed and axed, we still expect some sort of menace. When she’s revealed, the killer is wearing a sensible cable-knit sweater and looks like the picture of an aged public school secretary. One gets the feeling that even if she did have a mind for murder, it would be a simple thing to escape from her by jogging lightly away.

She is, of course, Mrs. Voorhees, Jason’s mother. We learn that Jason drown in the lake years ago due to the negligence of his camp counselors who were busy humping and getting high. The camp had been closed since then, but is about to reopen, and Mrs. Voorhees, determined to cancel those plans, sets about murdering all the camp employees. And this all occurs on Jason’s birthday, Friday the 13th.

I think all of this works. Her non-threatening appearance plays as comedic, but unintentional comedy is always welcome in a B horror movie. Mrs. Voorhees may make you smile more than cringe, but she’s a memorable villain with a compelling motivation.

The Surprise Ending.

The way this film ends is ridiculous. It makes no sense, even within its own world. But it still gets you.

Inspired by the ending of “Carrie” (1976), the filmmakers tacked on this goofy epilogue hoping to leave the audience with one last fright. They succeeded, and as a bonus, a major film franchise was born.