Book Review: Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th by Peter M. Bracke

A few years ago, when I reviewed the entire Friday the 13th film franchise for this site, one of the main resources that I used in my research was the 2006 book, Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th.

As you can probably guess from the title, the book is a nearly complete history of the Friday the 13th franchise.  (I say nearly complete because the book was published to coincide with the release of Freddy vs. Jason so there’s no information about the later reboot.  That’s okay, though, because the reboot sucks and deserves to be forgotten.)  What sets this book apart is that it’s an oral history so you’re learning about the history of the Friday the 13th films from the people who were actually involved.

It makes for compelling and interesting reading, providing a portrait not just of the franchise but also of what it was like to be involved in the world of low-budget, genre film making.  Friday the 13th may have started out as an independent American giallo just to then become a studio slasher franchise but the one thing that remained consistent was that, no matter how much money the films made, they weren’t ever given much respect.  One of the recurring themes in the book is that the actors who were cast in the films were often happy for the work but it was rare that getting killed in a Friday the 13th film ever led to stardom.  (Kevin Bacon, of course, is the exception to that rule.  Though Bacon isn’t interviewed in the book, everyone who worked on the first film seems to agree that he was fun to work with.)  Some of the actors interviewed are just happy to have been a part of an iconic franchise.  Some of them display a commendable sense of humor while other seem rather annoyed to know that they’ll be forever associated with Friday the 13th.  Some, like New Beginning‘s Jerry Pavlon, worry about the franchise’s subtext while actress Barbara Howard jokes that she calls her annual Final Chapter residual check her “blood money.”

Another recurring theme in Crystal Lake Memories is that of the bitter screenwriter.  For the most part, the people assigned to write the scripts for these films come across as being a uniformly bitter lot.  It’s actually understandable, as the majority of them attempted to add a new twist to the franchise just to be told that the studio just wanted more scenes of Jason killing camp counselors.  That gets at a larger frustration shared by almost everyone interviewed.  How do you add your own personal touch to a set of films that are specifically designed to be as impersonal as possible?  That’s the question that everyone involved with the franchise had to answer for themselves and it makes for an interesting and relatable read.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book deals with the lengthy development of the Freddy vs. Jason film.  We’re told that one of the executives involved with the film believed that, if she added an environmental subtext to the story, Freddy vs. Jason would be the first slasher film to win an Academy Award.  As for the films themselves, it sounds like Friday The 13th: A New Beginning had the most out-of-control set while Friday the 13th Part 2 was the fun set.  The set I would have wanted to avoid would have been Friday the 13th 3D, where everyone was apparently too stressed out over the special effects to actually have any fun.

This book is a must not just for Friday the 13th fans but for movie lovers in general.

In Conclusion: 10 Final Thoughts on The Friday the 13th Franchise

Over the previous two weeks, I reviewed all 11 films in the Friday the 13th franchise.  I reviewed the final film, appropriately enough, on Friday the 13th.  Now that I’ve sat through all 11 of these films, I’d like to provide just ten thoughts in conclusion:

1) Have you seen Cabin In The Woods yet?  While that brilliant film is obviously influenced by a lot of films, the Friday the 13th influence was especially obvious, right down to the crazy old man trying to let everyone know that they were doomed.

2) As for the Friday the 13th franchise itself, what is left to be said?  I think my interest in these films comes from the fact that even though their critically reviled and utterly dismissed by many, they’ve managed to survive and they’re still being watched by viewers (like me) who weren’t even born and/or weren’t old enough to see the majority of them when they were first released in theaters.  Like it or not — and again, this is a point that should be obvious to anyone who truly appreciated Cabin In The Woods — these films appeal to something primal in human nature.

3) The most frequent complaint made against the Friday the 13th franchise is that the films are anti-female.  I don’t agree.  I think that, unfortunately, a lot of people who watch these films are anti-female but I don’t think that the same can be said of the films themselves.  Quite frankly, if I was ever cast in Friday the 13th, I would rather play a victim than a survivor because the victims are the ones that are remembered afterwards.

4) Instead of seeing the Friday the 13th films as some sort of attempt to punish women, I see them as simply being updated bits of American folklore.  Those famous urban legends — the escaped mental patient with the hook hand, the vanishing hitchhiker — are about as close as America can get to having its own mythology and the Friday the 13th franchise (and similar horror films) are a reflection of that mythology.

5) Much like the scary story told at slumber party or around a campfire (not that I’ve been near a campfire though I have been to a few thousand slumber parties), Friday the 13th is meant to be a communal experience.  It’s a chance to admit that we’re all scared of the dark.  We scream and jump because, ultimately, it’s fun to do that in the safety of a theater or your own home.

6) Friday the 13th, as a franchise, was at its best when it kept things simple.  As you may have noticed from my reviews, I struggled more with the gimmicky later films in the series than I did with the originals.

7) The first two Friday the 13th scenes are both excellent examples of how to use a low budget and a largely unknown cast to your best advantage.  There is a lesson there for all aspiring filmmakers.

8) Having now rewatched the 11 films in the franchise, I have to say that I think that Part 4 is the best, followed by Part 2Part 3 remains the worst while Jason Takes Manhattan is perhaps the most pointless.  Ted White was the best Jason but Kane Hodder is a close second.

9) When I was reviewing these films, Peter M. Bracke’s book Crystal Lake Memories proved to be an invaluable resource.  I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in film, horror, or both.

10) Finally, did you all enjoy me devoting two weeks to reviewing one film franchise or were you thinking to yourself, “Oh my God, Lisa, give it a rest already!”  I enjoyed writing them but, to be honest, I’m really in the mood for a romantic comedy now.

Well, that does it for Friday the 13th.  Again, I hope everyone enjoyed revisiting this franchise with me and I hope that everyone will enjoy revisiting the James Bond films with me in October.  As always, stay supple!

Film Review: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (dir. by Danny Steinmann)

(Spoilers Ahead.  So there.)

So, imagine that you’ve got a huge film franchise that was built around one iconic character.  And guess what?  In the previous installment of your huge film franchise, that iconic character was killed so graphically that there’s no possible way that he could just pop up and go, “It was just a flesh wound.”  What do you do?

This is the problem that was facing Paramount Pictures when it came to making a fifth Friday the 13th film.  The previous installment made a lot of money but it also ended with Jason pretty decisively dead.  Paramount’s solution?   Friday the 13th without Jason.  Released (much like me) in 1985 and directed by Danny Steinmann, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning remains a controversial film among fans of the franchise.  A lot of people claim that it’s the worst installment.  Myself, I consider it to be one of the best.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning opens (like many great B-movies) with a cemetery in the rain.  Wearing a yellow raincoat,   Tommy Jarvis (played in a cameo by Corey Feldman) approaches a grave that is marked “Jason Voorhees.”  Suddenly, two rather moronic gravediggers come running up.  While Tommy hides in the nearby bushes, the gravediggers dig Jason up.  “Yee-haw!” one of them shouts.

(I know this because I turned on the close captioning as I watched the film.  It’s one thing to hear the dialogue in a Friday the 13th film being spoken.  It’s another thing to see it actually written out at the bottom of your screen.)

Suddenly, Jason — complete with hockey mask and machete — pops out of the grave and kills the two grave robbers.  He walks over to where Tommy is hiding, lifts up his machete, and — suddenly, Tommy(now played by a brooding and sexy John Shepherd) wakes up!  It turns out that several years have passed and Tommy, after spending five years in a mental asylum, is now on his way to Pinehurst, a halfway house that just happens to be located in the Crystal Lake area.

A New Beginning has such a bad reputation that it’s often forgotten that this opening sequence is one of the few genuinely scary sequences to be found in the entire franchise.  Everything from the ominous dark skies to the lushly green bushes that Tommy hides in to the artful way the lightning storm is used to punctuate the sense of danger contributes to making this sequence feel very ominous and genuinely nightmarish.  It’s a bit shocking (yet undeniably effective) to go from the impressionistic lushness of Tommy’s dream to the rather harsh and grainy look of the rest of the film. 

(For those of you who are familiar with Italian horror, it almost feels like the dream was directed by Dario Argento while the rest of the film was done by Joe D’Amato.)  

Anyway, Tommy gets dropped off at Pinehurst where he meets the two liberal do-gooders who are in charge of the facility, Matt (Richard Young) and Pam (Melanie Kinnaman).   He also meets “Reggie the Reckless” (Shavar Ross), the bratty little grandson of Pinehurst’s cook, as well as the other residents of Pinehurst.  Pam and Matt inform Tommy that Pinehurst has no rules.  Or as they inform him, “It’s an honor system.”

It quickly becomes apparent that they might want to reconsider that honor system because not only do Eddie (John Robert Dixon) and Tina (DebbiSue Voorhees) get caught having sex on the neighbor’s property but Vic (played by Mark Venturini, who was all sexy and dangerous in his 2 minutes of screen time) ends up hacking the annoying Joey (Dominick Brascia) up into little pieces with an axe. 

(In Vic’s defense, he looked really good with an axe and Joey was really annoying.)

While Vic is whisked off to jail (Sadly, never to be seen again) two paramedics scoop up remains of Joey.  One of the paramedics — Roy (Dick Wieand) — stares at the body for a long time and doesn’t seem to find his coworkers jokes humorous.  Hmmm…wonder what’s up with that?

As tragic as the death of Joey is, it does lead to one of my favorite lines of all time when, the morning after the murders, the remaining residents of Pinehurst gather for breakfast and they notice that two extra places have been set for the dead Joey and the incarcerated Vic.  Stuttering Jake (Jerry Pavlon) exclaims, “You don’t set a place for a dead person!”  And you know what?  He’s right.

Soon, people all over town are getting murdered.  The guys who talks to himself while snorting cocaine (played, in a rather funny performance, by Bob DeSimone) gets an axe to the forehead.  The waitress (Rebecca Wood-Sharkey) who flashes her boobs at a mirror and goes, “It’s showtime!” gets murdered as she leaves work.  Two Jersey Shore wannabes are killed when their car stalls.  The Sheriff (Marco St. John) looks over one crime scene and says, “What the Hell’s going on here?”  Roy, standing behind him, says, “You talking to me, Sheriff?”  Hmmm…it’s odd how Roy keeps popping up in the movie for no reason…

The Mayor (played by Ric Mancini) confronts the Sheriff and demands to know who is killing everyone in town.  “Jason Voorhees,” the Sheriff slowly responds.  “Jason Voorhees is dead!  He was cremated” the Mayor screams as he empties on ashtray on the sheriff, “THIS IS JASON VOORHEES!”  This is probably my favorite scene in the entire movie because St. John underplays his entire role while Mancini overplays and delivers every line as if he’s in a community theater production of Lost in Yonkers.

That gets to the heart of what I really enjoy about A New Beginning — not only does this film have the largest body count of any film in the series, it also has the most genuinely eccentric cast of characters.  Absolutely nobody in this film behaves like a conventional human being.  It goes beyond just the normal odd slasher movie behavior.  Instead, watching this film is like peering into some sort of parallel universe where some minor shift in the Earth’s tilt has caused everyone to go a little crazy.  Probably the closest the film comes to a normal person is poor traumatized Tommy and he only says about ten lines in the entire film.  (That said, John Shepherd did a really good job and had a lot of presence of Tommy.  There’s an oddly eerie scene about halfway through the film where Tommy stares up at a neon sign and, as I looked at his face illuminated by the glowing blue of the sign, I realized that what I had always heard about good acting — that it all starts with expressive eyes — was true.) 

(In a perfect world, Tommy would have eventually ended up with Vi — played by Tiffany Helm — the new wave girl who spends almost the entire movie dancing in her room.  Seriously, they would have made a cute couple.)

Anyway, once our killer has gotten through killing random townspeople, he starts to kill off the residents at Pinehurst.  After taking part in one of the most explicit sex scene in the history of the franchise, Eddie and Tina are rather brutally killed off.  (That’s a shame because Voorhees and Dixon both had a really good and fun chemistry together and were both likable actors.  Unfortunately, their characters were sex-crazed and you know what that means…)  While Matt goes off to try to find the missing Eddie and Tina, Tommy, Pam, and Reggie go off to hang out with Reggie’s rather odd brother Demon (played by Miguel Nunez, Jr.) who wears more jewelry than I do and sings a duet with his girlfriend while he’s sitting on the most disgusting toilet in the history of film.  (Seriously, I had to look away…) 

Anyway, the remaining residents of Pinehurst are all killed by a seemingly resurrected Jason (however, Jake and Robin — played by Juliette Cummins —  do get to watch A Place In The Sun before they die so at least something good happened to them that night) and Pam ends up spending almost the entire rest of the movie running around in the rain and tripping in the mud whenever Jason shows up.  Jason eventually corners Pam, Tommy, and Reggie in a barn but then ends up falling out of a window and landing on some conveniently placed spikes.  Jason’s hockey mask falls off and — surprise! — it wasn’t Jason after all.  Instead, it was Roy, the weird Paramedic who kept showing up randomly and looking around kinda guilty-like whenever anyone mentioned anything about the murders.  Wow!

One of my favorite films book is Peter M. Bracke’s Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th.  Taking on the series on a film-by-film basis, Crystal Lake Memories is a fascinating oral history that is full of all sorts of interesting behind-the-scenes facts.  Reading the chapter on Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, one is left with the impression that 1) everyone on the film was constantly snorting cocaine and 2) director Danny Steinmann is perhaps the most enigmatic figure in the history of the films.

In Crystal Lake Memories, depending on who is being interviewed, Danny Steinman comes across as either a maniac, a bully, or an underappreciated genius.  Quite a few people claim that Steinmann was out-of-control.  However, actress DebiSue Voorhees (who you would expect to have all sorts of unpleasant stories about the film since she’s the one who had to spend an entire shooting day laying on the ground naked in front of a bunch of strangers) is a lot more complimentary, saying that Steinmann was a “gentleman” throughout the entire shoot.  What everyone seems to agree on is that he was the son of wealthy art dealer and that he got his start as a director by making a hardcore porn film before moving on to make two wonderfully trashy exploitation films — The Unseen and Savage Streets.  Steinmann was apparently hired to bring a certain rough edginess to A New Beginning and he obviously did just that as A New Beginning had more violent deaths and more nudity than any previous installment of the series.  Because of the need to get an R rating, a lot of bloody footage hit the cutting room floor but what was left is surprisingly effective.   (Pictures of what was cut can be found on several sites online and yes, it’s all pretty gruesome.)

Unlike most people, I actually think that A New Beginning is one of the best films in the franchise, precisely because it is so ludicrous and over-the-top.  What Danny Steinmann did with this film was that he took everything that one expected from a Friday the 13th film and he pushed it all to its most logical extreme.  Everyone knew that, regardless of whether the film was being made by a major studio or not, the Friday the 13th films were meant to trashy, ludicrous, sleazy, and fun.  Steinmann was just the only one who had the guts to admit it by making a film that not only admitted what it was but celebrated it as well.  Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is the most openly grindhouse of all of the Friday the 13th films and for that, it deserves more credit than it’s gotten.   

Despite upsetting a lot of fans (not to mention the critics), Friday the 13th: A New Beginning was a box office success which could only mean that there would be another installment in the franchise.  Coming tomorrow: my review of Friday the 13th: Jason Lives.

Film Review: Friday the 13th Part 2 (dir. by Steve Miner)

(Spoilers Below)

This the one where the nice guy in the wheelchair gets a machete to the face.

There’s a lot of different ways that you can describe Friday the 13th Part 2.  It’s a horror movie, a slasher flick, and a sequel.  It’s the first Friday the 13th movie to feature Jason Voorhees as the killer.  It’s also one the best installments in the franchise.  However, to me, this will always be the movie where the nice guy in the wheelchair gets a machete to the face.

Originally released in 1981, Friday the 13th Part 2 is, of course, about more than just the nice guy in the wheel chair getting a machete to the face.  The film opens with Alice (Adrienne King), the sole survivor from the first film, struggling to get on with her life a year after the massacre.  She has a small apartment that, in a nice touch, is full of drawings of the disfigured boy who attacked her at the end of the previous film.  One night, Alice’s cat startles her by jumping out of a closet and shouting, “Watch out, there’s a mysterious killer in here.”  Foolishly, Alice ignores her cat and ends up getting an ice pick rammed into her head. 

(If only people listened to their cats…)

Five years later, Camp Crystal Lake is once again reopening, this time under the direction of alpha male Paul Holt (John Furey).  Paul and his annoying sidekick Ted (Stu Charro) tell everyone not to worry about any old rumors about some mysterious murderer killing anyone who goes to Crystal Lake.  Meanwhile, Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) is wandering around, going all “You’re all doomed!” and then watching as Paul’s girlfriend Ginny (Amy Steel) undresses in her cabin.  Bad Crazy Ralph!  Luckily, Crazy Ralph then gets strangled with barbed wire.  (Ouch!  I guess he was the one who was doomed, huh?  Get it?  Anyway…)

Paul, Ginny, annoying Ted, and the rest of the counselors decide to head into town so they can spend the night getting drunk.  However, a few counselors decide to remain at the camp.  (Again, this just goes to prove that slasher films are not only about punishing people for having sex and doing drugs.  If the majority of this installment’s victims had simply been willing to go get drunk, they would have survived.)  Remaining at the camp: horny couple Jeff and Sandra (Bill Randolph and Marta Kober),  Terry (Kirsten Baker), who for some reason refuses to wear underwear, Scott (Russell Todd), who is obsessed with Terry but could do so much better, sweet-natured Vicki (Lauren-Marie Taylor), and finally Mark (Tom McBride), the nice guy in the wheelchair.

Anyway, if you’ve ever seen a slasher film than you can guess what pretty much happens.  Jason (played here by Steve Daskawisz) shows up and kills everyone until eventually Ginny and Paul return to the camp.  (Annoying Ted stays behind to keep drinking and somehow manages to survive the film.  It’s an odd slasher film where the nice guy in the wheelchair gets killed but the obnoxious, dorky guy somehow makes it through.)  There’s a big, genuinely exciting final battle with Ginny and Paul on one side and Jason on the other.  Ginny survives, Jason escapes, and Paul … well, who knows?  One moment, Paul’s there and the next he’s gone.  I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is controversial among many horror fans because so many of the killings are identical to the killings from an earlier slasher film, Mario Bava’s brilliant Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve).  One especially obvious example is the double impalement of Jeff and Sandra and when I say obvious, I mean that the exact same scene can be found in Bay of Blood.  In Peter M. Bracke’s history of the franchise, Crystal Lake Memories, Part 2’s self-important screenwriter, Ron Kurz, claims to have never heard of Bay of Blood.  And to that, I say, “Whatever, Ron Kurz.  You’re either a liar or you actually don’t know who Mario Bava is.  Either way, you suck.”

Though Friday the 13th Part 2 is obviously a rather derivative film and frequently doesn’t make much sense, it’s also a personal favorite of mine as far as 80s slasher films are concerned.  The cast is likable and attractive (especially Russell Todd, who gets killed way too early as far as I’m concerned) and some of the kill scenes are genuinely well done.  Amy Steel, much like Adrienne King before her, make for a strong heroine and her final battle with Jason is actually pretty exciting.  The true star of the film, however, is director Steve Miner who fills each scene with a sense of genuine menace that goes a long way to making up for Ron Kurz’s sloppy script.  As opposed to Sean Cunningham (who directed the first film), Miner shows a genuinely inventive visual sense.  My favorite shot in the film is a rather minor one of a bunch of cars driving down a shadowy road.  The scene doesn’t really add anything to the story and it almost feels like filler but it’s still effectively eerie.

It could be argued that Friday the 13th Part 2 is the first true Friday the 13th because it’s the first film to actually feature Jason Voorhees killing camp counselors.  The character of Jason makes even less sense in this film than he did when he was just some kid living underwater in the first film.  It’s impossible to watch the film and not wonder how 1) Jason suddenly went from being a 13 year-old living in a lake to a 40 year-old living in a shack in the woods, 2) how Jason managed to track down Alice, 3) how Jason managed to then walk all the way to Alice’s new home and then all the way back to Crystal Lake without anyone noticing him, and 4) why exactly has Jason been hiding in the woods all this time and apparently allowing his mother to believe that he was dead.  That said, I actually think that Jason is probably at his scariest in Friday the 13th Part 2.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that, instead of wearing that famous hockey mask, Jason spends most of the movie with a burlap sack over his head.  As opposed to the hockey mask (which makes Jason look rather Canadian), both the sack and Jason’s odd overalls make him look like a faceless demon that’s sprung, full of fury, out of rural folklore.

Though it made less than the first film, Friday the 13th Part 2 was a financial success.  Audiences ignored the film’s many critics and they flocked to see it.  Not surprisingly, Paramount Pictures immediately called for a sequel.

The end result — Friday the 13th Part 3 — would be one of the worst horror films ever made.

We’ll deal with that tomorrow.