12 Things You May Or May Not Have Known About Friday the 13th!

As we all know, with one notable exception, the majority of the cast of the original Friday the 13th didn’t exactly go on to greater heights of stardom.  The movie may have made a lot of money but it didn’t lead to bigger roles for Laurie Bartram and Mark Nelson.  When the movie was released in 1980, Betsy Palmer was the best known member of the cast and, according to the book Crystal Lake Memories, the cast of Friday the 13th Part 2 used to joke that maybe the cast of the first film actually had been murdered in the woods because no one ever saw them again.

Of course, today, no one can watch Friday the 13th without saying, “Oh my God, Kevin Bacon’s wearing a speedo!” but, at the time he was cast as doomed Jack, he was just another struggling actor.  However, if things had gone as originally planned, today Bacon would not be the only respected actor with Friday the 13th on his resume.  When the film was in pre-production, director Sean Cunningham originally tried to get a star to play the role of Alice, the only camp counselor to make it out of Camp Crystal Lake alive.

Who was that star?

Sally Field.

The future multiple Oscar-winner was seriously pursued for the role of Alice.  She did not, as some sources claim, audition for the role.  Instead, she merely turned it down and went on to win her first Oscar for Norma Rae.  Once it became obvious that Field had no interest in going to Camp Crystal Lake, Cunningham decided to go with a cast of unknowns and Adrienne King was given the role of Alice.

Personally, I think that worked out for the best.  Not only was Adrienne King perfect for the role but the use of unknowns undoubtedly made the film more effective when it was released.  After all, everyone knows that a star is going to survive.  (That’s one reason why, when seen today, it’s still jarring to see Kevin Bacon get dispatched.)

Here’s a few more bits of trivia to make your Friday the 13th a good one:

2. After the success of Friday the 13th, Adrienne King was stalked by an obsessed fan and, when she was asked to return for 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2, she requested that her role be as small as possible.  As a result, Alice showed up just long enough to be killed off.  Amy Steel replaced King as the film’s heroine.  Steel would later go on to star in another classic slasher film, April Fool’s Day.

3. Originally, 1982’s Friday the 13th Part 3 was envisioned with Steel returning to play Ginny.  However, Steel turned down the chance to return, leading to the filmmakers instead simply remaking the first film (in 3D!).  After being cast in the lead role, Dana Kimmel requested that the sex and drugs featured in the original script be toned down.  That’s just one of many reasons why many consider Friday the 13th Part 3 to be the worst film in the series.

4. Even if she didn’t return for Part 3, Amy Steel was instrumental in convincing her friend, actor Peter Barton, to appear in 1984’s Friday the 13th — The Final Chapter.  Barton’s likable performance as the handsome but definitely doomed Doug was a highlight of the film.  Another highlight was Ted White’s performance as Jason.  As opposed to the character he played, White once threatened to quit the film because he didn’t like the way the director was treating the film’s cast.

5. The working title for 1985’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning was Repitition.  Having killed Jason at the end of The Final Chapter, Corey Feldman returned for a cameo that he shot at the same time that he was filming The Goonies for Richard Donner.  Along with the first film, this is the only one to not feature Jason Voorhees committing any murders (unless you count the ones that he committed in Tommy’s nightmare) and the film’s ending was specifically set up so that Tommy could take over Jason’s murderous ways.  However, the film’s disappointing box office reception led to Jason returning as a zombie in the next film.

6. With its intentional comedy and its emphasis on action over blood, 1986’s Friday the 13th: Jason’s Lives is a rarity in that it was a Friday the 13th film that actually got somewhat good reviews.  John Shepherd, who played Tommy in a New Beginning, was offered a chance to return to the role but turned it down, saying that the film’s went against his religious beliefs.  As a result, Thom Matthews was cast as Tommy.  Matthews also played the lead in another horror comedy, Return of the Living Dead.

7. 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was originally envisioned as being a cross-over with A Nightmare on Elm Street.  However, when Paramount (who held the rights to Jason) and New Line Cinema (who held the rights to Freddy) could not come to an agreement, the project was temporarily abandoned.  According to Crystal Lake Memories, the film’s executive producer, Barbara Sachs, wanted Friday the 13th Part VII to be the first Friday the 13th to win an Academy Award and came with an extremely ambitious storyline that she envisioned being directed by none other than Federico Fellini.  Cooler heads prevailed and, instead, The New Blood found Jason battling a young woman with psychic powers.

8. The initial working script for 1989’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan was entitled “Ashes to Ashes.”  The film’s anemic box office convinced Paramount to sell the franchise to New Line Cinema.

9. After New Line purchased the franchise, the first film’s director, Sean S. Cunningham, returned to produce 1993’s Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday.  Much like The New Blood, this was originally envisioned as being a Freddy vs. Jason film but that plan was, again, abandoned.  Freddy Krueger does make one brief appearance, when his clawed hand appears and drags Jason’s hockey mask to Hell.  Director Adam Marcus also included a shot of a book that was meant to be the Necronomicon as an attempt to link Jason to the Evil Dead universe as well.  Because New Line did not own the rights to Evil Dead, Marcus did not tell them what he was planning to do and instead asked Sam Raimi if he could borrow the prop.  Raimi thought it was a great idea.  Less amused was Tom Sullivan, the man who actually created the prop and who received no money for its use in Jason Goes To Hell.

10. The 8 year gap between the release of Jason Goes To Hell and 2001’s Jason X was a result of Freddy vs. Jason being stuck in development Hell.  Jason X was largely produced to keep audiences from forgetting about Jason.  Screenwriter Todd Farmer appeared in Jason X, playing a character named Dallas (a nod to the original Alien).

11. After spending two decades in development, 2003’s Freddy vs Jason finally brought the two infamous serial killers together.  Kane Hodder, who had played Jason in every film since New Blood, was not asked to return for Freddy vs. Jason, supposedly because the film’s director wanted Jason to tower over Freddy and it was felt that Hodder was not tall enough.  At one point, Freddy vs. Jason was envisioned as ending with Pinhead appearing and defeating both of them but New Line could not secure the rights to the Hellraiser character.

12. 2009’s Friday the 13th was meant to reboot the series.  Perhaps the less said about it, the better.  Plans for a sequel to the reboot are currently trapped in the same development Hell that once imprisoned Freddy vs. Jason.

Happy Friday the 13th!


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 Part VII: The New Blood (dir. by John Carl Buechler)

Hi, did everyone out there have a good Easter?  I did!  My entire family got together up at my Uncle’s place.  There was a big Easter egg hunt and me and Erin smuggled in extra Easter eggs which we then “helped” our niece and nephew discover.  Usually, going to my Uncle’s place means a day spent laying out near the pool in a bikini and trying to work on my tan.  (Though, to be honest, I’m a redhead so I don’t so much tan as I just burn.)  However, this Easter, it rained so most of the day was spent inside and watching figure skating with my sisters and cousins.  I hope everyone else had a good Easter as well and I hope you’ll forgive me for being a little late with my latest review in my series looking at the Friday the 13th franchise.  In this post, I review 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.

(Minor Spoilers Follow)

As I mentioned in my review of Jason Lives, The New Blood was the first of what I like to call Friday the 13th’s gimmick films.  In these films, Paramount Pictures (and later New Line Cinema) attempted to revive the franchise’s declining profits by adding a gimmick.  No longer would it be enough for Jason to simply show up and stalk unfortunate campers.  Previous installments had their gimmicks (such as Part 3 being filmed in 3D) but they all stuck with the same basic story and structure.  However, from now on, Jason would no longer just be a silent antagonist in a communal cinematic nightmare.  From now on, he would fight psychics and Freddy Krueger and go to both outer space and New York City.  (And don’t even get me started on the film where he was revealed to actually be some sort of weird space slug.  Not yet, anyway…) 

The problem with the gimmick films is that, along with dealing with the gimmick, they still had to deal with the business of killing summer counselors and other random campers.  Whereas previous film made at least a little effort to provide the viewers with interesting and/or attractive characters, the gimmick films are distinguished by a real laziness when it comes to characterization.  Ironically enough, surrounding the gimmick with such weak material only served to remind the viewer just how gimmicky the gimmick ultimately was.  That is why the gimmick films are my least favorite of the franchise.

That said, The New Blood is probably the best of the gimmick films.  Anyone who doesn’t think that being called the best of the worst is much of a compliment has obviously never been in a community theater production of Little Shop of Horrors

The New Blood of the title is a girl named Tina Shepherd.  When we first meet Tina, she’s ten years old and living in a house that sits on the shores of Crystal Lake.  (Apparently, the residents of Forrest Green decided to change the name of the town back to Crystal Lake sometime after Jason Lives.  If nothing else, these two films convinced me of the importance of zip codes.)  One night, as Tina listens to her father and her mother fight, she runs out to a nearby dock, gets in a canoe, and starts to float away.  Her father runs out onto the dock and shouts at her to return.  Tina yells back and suddenly, the entire dock collapses and her father drowns.  As all of this is going on, we discover that Jason just happens to be in the lake, chained to a rock below the dock.  (You have to wonder what having a zombie serial killer chained up a yard away from your house does to property values.  Nothing good, I imagine but then again, what do I know about real estate?)

Anyway, jump forward ten years.  Tina (now played by Lar Park Lincoln) has just been released from a mental asylum and returns to Crystal Lake with her psychiatrist Dr. “Bad News” Crews (played by a wonderfully evil Terry Kiser).  Dr. Crews claims to be helping her deal with her feelings of guilt but actually, he’s seeking to exploit the fact that Tina has latent psychic abilities.  What all can Tina do?  Well, that’s a good question because the film itself seems to be unsure of just what exactly Tina is capable of.  As a result, Tina often seems to have whatever psychic abilities are most convenient for whatever’s happening on-screen at the moment.  While most of the time Tina seems to be telekinetic, there are other times when she can see the future, set fires, and even raise the dead.

It’s this last power that gets everyone in trouble when, one night after getting annoyed with Dr. Crews, Tina runs out to the lake and attempts to bring her father back to life.  While she fails to bring back her dad, she does manage to free Jason (played here, for the first time, by Kane Hodder) from his chains.  By this action, Tina joins the long line of horror film heroines who are ultimately responsible for every death that occurs over the course of the movie.

That’s pretty bad news for the vapid collection of potential victims who are trying to throw a surprise birthday party in the house next door.  Among those potential victims: nice guy Nick (Kevin Butler) who falls in love with Tina, evil Melissa (Susan Jennifer Sullivan) who wants Nick, Eddie (Jeff Bennett) who spends his time talking about a sci-character called “Space Mummy,” and about a half-dozen other people whose names I didn’t manage to catch.  Seriously, this is the most empty-headed and shallow collection of dumbfug toadsuckers ever!  As opposed to previous installments (in which the actors at least had enough chemistry that you believed that they just might actually spend a weekend at the lake together), the victims in New Blood feel as if they were just randomly dropped in the house just so that Jason could kill them.  They’re such a vacous, spiteful collection of people that, for the first time in the series, you truly find yourself rooting for Jason. 

Anyway, the birthday boy never shows up for his party but that doesn’t really worry anyone at the house.  As one of them puts it. “You know Michael.  Guy probably got arrested for drunk driving and spent the night in jail.”  (Sounds like a great guy, no?)  No, Michael’s not in jail.  Michael’s dead because Tina brought Jason back to life and soon, so is just about everyone else.  It all leads to a final apocalyptic battle between Jason and Tina that manages to be both silly and exciting at the same time.  It also goes a long way towards making up for what we’ve had to sit through in order to reach it.

One of my favorite chapters of Peter M. Bracke’s excellent oral history of the franchise, Crystal Lake Memories, deals with the making of The New Blood.  Say whatever else you will about this film’s cast, they’re some of the most outspoken in the history in the history of the franchise.  Reading their memories about making this film, three things quickly become clear:

1) Everyone was scared of Kane Hodder.

2) Lar Park Lincoln didn’t like the majority of the cast.

3) The majority of the cast didn’t like Lar Park Lincoln.

In fact, quite a few really nasty things are said about Lar Park Lincoln but you know what?  Outside of Kane Hodder and Terry Kiser, Lar Park Lincoln probably comes the closest to giving an actual performance than anyone else in the cast and I think it can be argued that she makes Tina into one of the few truly strong female characters ever to be found in a Friday the 13th film.  Take it from a former community theatre ingenue: it takes as much talent to make a slasher film “final girl” credible as it does to play Margaret Thatcher.  As for the rest of the cast of disposable victims, they’re some of the most forgettable of the series.  In the role of Nick, Kevin Blair (who reportedly did not get along with Lincoln and who has absolutely no chemistry with her on-screen) is stiff but handsome and Susan Jennifer Sullivan has a lot of style as the bitchy Melissa.  Otherwise, they’re a pretty bland group and director Buechler doesn’t seem to have much use for them other than to make sure that they’re in the right position to be killed by Kane Hodder.

The New Blood is best remembered for introducing Kane Hodder in the role of Jason Voorhees.  Though I personally believe that The Final Chapter’s Ted White was the best Jason (he was certainly the most ruthless), it can’t be denied that Kane Hodder was the perfect embodiment of the version of Jason that came to dominate the last few films in the original series.  Whereas Ted White’s Jason was a calculating killer, Hodder’s Jason is a machine that happens to be designed for killing and little else.  He kills not so much out of anger or pain as much as he kills, like any good zombie, just because that’s the only thing he knows how to do.  One reason why this film’s final battle is actually exciting to watch is because it’s set up as a confrontation between the literally cerebral Lar Park Lincoln and the overwhelmingly physical Kane Hodder.  Hodder, famously, is the only actor have played Jason in multiple films and he earned that right with his performance here.

And make no mistake about it: Hodder gives a performance in this film and, as a result, The New Blood is a lot more watchable than it has any right to be.

(I would also suggest that if you do watch this movie on DVD, be sure to listen to Hodder and Buechler’s commentary track.  Both of them seem to be having so much fun watching the film that it actually makes the film more enjoyable.)

While The New Blood did, ultimately, make more money than the previous Jason Lives, it still failed the match the box office success of the first few films in the series.  Though Lar Park Lincoln apparently wrote a script for a sequel that would have featured Tina and Jason once again going to war (interestingly enough, it’s rumored that Lincoln’s script opened with Kevin Blair getting killed off), Paramount decided to try out another gimmick and abandoned the new blood for Manhattan.  The end result was one of the worst films in the series but we’ll deal with that in my next post.

Film Review: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (dir. by Joseph Zito)

(spoilers below)

Today, continuing our look at the Friday the 13th horror franchise, we consider the misnamed Friday the 13th — The Final ChapterOriginally released in 1984, this film apparently was really sold as being the final chapter and Tom Savini even returned to do the gore effects because, supposedly, he wanted to kill off his most famous creation.  To be honest, that all sounds like a lot of hype and hucksterism to me but, regardless of the title’s insincerity, The Final Chapter is one of the best (some would say the best) installments in the series.

The Final Chapter begins less than an hour after the end of Part 3.  (One of the curious things about the Friday the 13th series is that the 2nd, 3rd, and fourth films all occur during the same long weekend.  It never seems to disturb anyone in the 3rd or 4th film that a bunch of people have just been murdered in the same general area.)  Jason, who was killed by the terrible Chris Higgins at the end of Part 3, is taken down to the county morgue where he promptly turns out to not be dead after all.  He kills a nurse and an orderly and then, instead of continuing to seek vengeance on Chris (with whom he was pretty much obsessed in Part 3) , he decides to go kill a whole bunch of other people who have just shown up at Crystal Lake for the weekend. 

Those other people are a group of dorky but rather likable college students who have rented a house on the lake.  This is probably the most quirky group of vacationers ever to come to Crystal Lake and it’s a credit to an unusually strong (and unsung) ensemble cast that you actually do believe that these people are friends.  In the group, we have Doug (a dreamy Peter Barton), shy virgin Sarah (Barbara Howard, who is so believable as a nice girl that I felt bad for her when she died), Paul (Alan Hayes), Paul’s slutty girlfriend Samantha (Judie Aronson), and finally heterosexual life partners Jimmy (Crispin Glover) and Ted (Lawrence Monoson).  Jimmy and Ted provide the film with its “comic relief,” the majority of which is pretty weak but Crispin Glover gives such an odd performance that he’s enjoyable nonetheless.  Eventually, our vacationers meet two twins, Tina and Terri (Camilla and Carey Moore) and then they all go back to the house to watch old nudie films and Crispin Glover does a hilariously spastic dance before losing his virginity to one of the twins.  (“Was I a dead fuck?” he asks after, with an aching sincerity.)  And then Sarah gets ready to lose her virginity to Doug but then that defender of purity, Jason (played here by Ted White), pops up and kills everyone.  Seriously, Jason had a busy weekend.

Unfortunately for Jason, Trish Jarvis (Kimberly Beck) and her little brother Tommy (Corey Feldman, who gives a pretty good performance here even if Tommy is kind of a brat when you get right down to it), happen to live next door.  Trish is prepared for Jason because she has previously met yet another camper — Rob (Erich Anderson),who specifically came up to Crystal Lake to track down and kill Jason because Jason killed his sister Sandra in Part 2.  (Of course, by the series chronology, Sandra only died two days ago so I guess Rob moves pretty quickly.)  Also unfortunate for Jason, Tommy is an aspiring makeup artist who makes himself up to look like Jason and, in the surprisingly exciting finale, uses his skills to fool Jason and then hack him up while screaming, “DIE!” all the while.

Plotwise, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is a pretty standard slasher film and, at times, it asks the audience to suspend its disbelief just a little bit too much.  Whenever I see the scene where Tina is pulled out the second story window, I always find myself wondering 1) how Jason managed to climb up the side of the house in the rain, 2) why did he decide to do that when, in the previous scene, he was already inside the house, and 3) why didn’t anyone inside the house hear Tina crashing into the station wagon below.  And yet, despite this, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is considered by many (including me) to be the best of the series. 

To me, this film succeeds because of two men — Joseph Zito and Tom Savini.    Whereas later Friday the 13th directors often times seemed to be ashamed of the films they were making, Zito was an exploitation vet who had already directed one of the most brutal slashers of all time, The Prowler.  As a director, Zito specialized in telling simple stories as brutally and efficiently as possible.  That’s certainly what he does here and the end result is a fast-paced Friday the 13th that — as opposed to Part 3 — didn’t suffer from any excessive filler.  As well, Zito also does a good job in framing and executing the film’s many tracking and p.o.v. shots, continually keeping the audience off-balance as to whether we’re seeing the camera’s point-of-view or Jason’s. Meanwhile, Tom Savini’s gore effects are just as realistic and disturbing as in the first film.  This is an undeniably bloody film that, at the same time, never slips into tedious “torture porn,” and both Zito and Savini deserve a lot of credit for that.

(Incidentally, here’s a little trivia for all of you Maniac fans — did you know that Joe Spinell’s loathsome Frank Zito was actually named after Joe Zito, who was apparently friends with William Lustig.)

Of all the Friday the 13th films, The Final Chapter probably features the strongest cast.  It certainly features one of the best “final girls”, with Kimberly Beck giving the type of strong performance  that Dana Kimmell failed to supply in Part 3.  Though only Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover would go on to any greater fame, the entire cast is likable and, as opposed to previous and future installments, no one gives a weak performance.  (Even the gimmicky twins do well enough.)  Though I know several people will laugh at this, I sincerely believe that there is an art to giving an effective performance in a film like Friday the 13th.  The key, I think, is to be likable enough that people will watch you and wish you well yet, at the same time, to be bland enough that nobody will be traumatized by your eventual death.  If anything, the cast of The Final Chapter isn’t quite bland enough.  Everyone brings almost too much life to these thinly drawn characters and, as a result,  it’s hard not to feel a little bit traumatized when they start dying.  Crispin Glover, for instance, gave such a quirky and interesting performance that I was actually pretty depressed to see him get that meat cleaver buried in his face.  As well, Peter Barton and Barbara Howard make such a cute couple that it’s upsetting that neither one of them survives to the end of the film. 

Despite the film’s title, the fourth installment of the Friday the 13th franchise was hardly the final chapter and it’s pretty obvious that it was never meant to be.  While I know that some people do complain about the cynicism behind the film’s title, I happen to love it.  It’s like a throwback to the classic old exploitation films that were always sold with sordid titles — like Too Young To Die and Arrested at 17 — that in no way reflected the actual content of the film.  Slasher films are the direct descendants of movies like Reefer Madness and Dwain Esper’s Maniac and it’s nice to see that heritage honored with the false promise of a final chapter.

Though the film’s ending was clearly set up to allow Tommy to eventually take Jason’s place (and, seriously, imagine how disturbing that could have been), Jason would eventually return.  But first, the series would take a major detour with its most over-the-top chapter yet.  We’ll talk about the infamous Friday the 13th — A New Beginning tomorrow.