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.
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.