RavensFilm Productions presents the Forever Cinematic Friday The 13th movie retrospective covering all twelve films in the slasher franchise. Reviews by Nick Michalak.
Friday The 13th (1980)
Friday The 13th, Part 2 (1981)
Friday The 13th, Part 3 (1982)
Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Friday The 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985)
Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Friday The 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
This purported “Final Chapter” of the franchise would not be the last, but it made for a convincing conclusion. However, as is the way in Hollywood, if it makes money, make more of it! So, they did. Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is arguably the best of what I call the classic formula before Jason rose from the grave or any self-aware satire crept into the films. However, I do have one terribly stinging point with this film that has actually forced me to turn it off time and again. Now that I have you intrigued, let me break down the premise for this fourth film.
The film begins, again, where the last one left off. Jason’s supposedly dead body is carted off to the Wessex County morgue, but it is only a matter of time before Jason Voorhees is back on his feet killing his way back to Crystal Lake. Arriving at the lake is the Jarvis family which include the mother (Joan Freeman) along with daughter Trish (Kimberly Beck) and the pre-teen Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman). Of course, there is a whole station wagon full of teens on the way, and soon after, there is also a man named Rob Dire (Erich Anderson) camped out in the woods who is on the hunt for Jason. He has caught word that Jason’s body is missing from the morgue, and believes that Jason is alive and headed back to Crystal Lake. His sister was a victim of a previous massacre, and he’s out to stop Jason himself. He crosses paths with the Jarvis family, and becomes an instant friend with young Tommy who shows him his collection of personally created horror monster masks. Shortly after Rob departs back into the woods, Jason begins to pick off the fun-loving teens next door one-by-one, as usual. However, the climax of the film shows Jason getting the tables turned on him in the worst way, despite how madly he fights to off these final few potential victims.
Okay, the positives here are many. First off, Tom Savini returned as special make-up effects artist to kill off Jason. His talent and quality elevate the film very high up beyond the previous two films. It’s not just the quality of the effects, but the dynamic ideas that Savini can put into practical execution that make for more inventive kills and scenarios. This only gets better and more graphic as the film goes on. They don’t hold back in the climax, and really drive home the “death of Jason” intent with highly convincing and elaborate make-up and physical effects. It’s one of the most successfully graphic films of the series being able to put more of the unsettling violence on screen than ever before.
Director Joseph Zito does a wonderful job to make this a more cohesive piece than the previous entry, and also brings along some character depth. Screenwriter Barney Cohen develops the characters well giving them strong introductions with distinct personality. As with Part 2, we get actors with some charisma, energy, talent, and rich personality. They jump into their roles fully, and have an enjoyable time in front of the camera. Among the young talents featured are Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman. Both of which turn in solid work. Glover is mostly known as George McFly from Back to the Future as well as the Thin Man from McG’s Charlie’s Angels films. Director Zito clearly knows how to work well with actors, and how to bring some entertaining qualities out of their performances. He also crafts some of the best suspense of the series using Manfredini’s music, smart camera work, and nicely plotted scenes to create a tense atmosphere for Jason to thrive in.
This is one of Manfredini’s most tense scores, yet. I think it tends to depend on the director he’s working with on how good his scores end up being. On the films where the directors have a strong, vivid vision for the film, and know how to craft horror with suspense, we get his musical talents at their best. This is a prime example of what Manfredini can do when collaborating with the right filmmakers.
Focusing back on the cast, Feldman richly demonstrates the potential he had as a young actor here. He’s essentially a lead actor, but an unexpectedly so. He surely charms an audience, and is highly relatable. Still, one would not focus on him as the real forefront character of the film until they see where the story weaves itself in the third act. As Tommy Jarvis, he starts out like any young kid – fun, energetic, and imaginative. However, when the story finally takes a more dangerous turn near the end, Feldman shows his diversity with a very intense and dramatic performance. It sells the ending of the film entirely, and could have been a gross failure with any lesser of an acting talent.
Ted White has never been a standout Jason performance for me. From many accounts, it seemed like he didn’t care for the job himself, and was just collecting a paycheck. How accurate that is, I’m not sure, but where Richard Brooker seemed to have a definite and distinct personality for his portrayal, White’s seems less distinct and more generic. There’s nothing particularly bad about what he does, it has just never made much of an impression on me. However, he does do a quality job that some fans do appreciate and enjoy.
Now, the big negative mark I personally put against this film is the character of Trish Jarvis. In the latter end of the film, she becomes so painfully DUMB that it literally becomes a chore to continue watching the film. Now, this is a bit of a spoiler, so, avert your eyes for until the next paragraph if you wish to avoid such things. It’s the dead of night, Rob Dire goes down into the pitch black basement, and gets bludgeoned to DEATH by Jason! So, what does Trish do? She runs away, but then, changes her mind – as if she suddenly came to her senses (when she really takes all leave of them) – and goes back to find Rob in that basement where Jason is undoubtedly still lurking around! This is moronic beyond comprehension! Anyone who would get anywhere NEAR believing this to be a good idea deserves to have their brains bashed in! Sorry, but this level of moronic incompetence just pisses me off, and I think Barney Cohen owes me an explanation for writing the character like this. Unless you’re doing a horror movie parody, this sort of writing is just ridiculous, and is reflective of the worst, most clichéd writing in the horror genre. It’s dumbing down the characters to the point where they are just short of brain dead to service some idiotic need in the storytelling. Furthermore, she continues on from this point being a total moronic idiot making the stupidest decisions in the midst of an attack from a homicidal madman, and it is only a total shame that it’s her who embeds that machete in Jason’s cranium!
This is all just sad because the film is filled with smartly written characters. The cast has great chemistry, and make for a very entertaining film. Zito balances the light-hearted moments out well with the hard hitting horror elements. It’s all solid examples of what the genre can offer at its best, which many films don’t tend to strive for, or don’t have the talent involved to make happen. So, it baffles and angers me to see such a dumbass character be given the run of the third act of the film. Actress Kimberly Beck does nothing in her performance to make it any more bearable. He flashes these dumbfounded expressions over and over again throughout the movie further instilling no confidence in Trish’s intelligence.
If you ever wonder why I don’t tend to post numerical ratings on my reviews, it’s because of maddening conflicts like this. It’s a great, excellent film except for this one terrible element. I should look on The Final Chapter as a crowning achievement in the franchise, its high point, but because I have to spend a third of the film watching a badly written character run around like she’s looking to get killed, I can’t do that. I have literally turned this movie off after that basement scene and not gone back to it. It’s at that point where the film takes a nose dive for me, but that’s just me. For whatever reason, other fans can look past that, or just never viewed it in the same light as me. I just can’t tolerate a stupid character unless there’s something endearing about them, but there’s none of that here for me with Trish Jarvis.
Aside from that, this really has all the best elements the franchise has always strived to bring together in a cohesive whole. The previous three laid the ground work, some doing a better job than others, but this entry got it right in spades – suspenseful tension, high quality make-up effects, and a solid story with wonderful, memorable characters. Regardless of my sole gripe with the film, you can hardly pass this one up because Joe Bob Briggs says, “it’s got important plot points,” in regards to the following two sequels. This begins the Tommy Jarvis trilogy of the Friday The 13th franchise, each film starring a different actor in the role Feldman originated, and I have contrasting opinions on the following two films.
Sometimes, the first film in a franchise is the best and all sequels are just watered down retreads. Other times, the first film is merely a rugged blueprint for future installments to build upon to create better films. I believe the original Friday The 13th fits into the latter category. That is not to say it doesn’t have admirable qualities, but the formula and execution is not as refined as some of the other films in the franchise later became. There are numerous elements that downgrade this even in comparison to the first sequel, and the difference in who the killer is does not factor into my opinion here.
Camp Crystal Lake used to be an idyllic summer camp for kids, but for over twenty years, it has had a supposed death curse upon it. Camp counselors found dead, the water gone bad, and various accidents of sorts have plagued it. Even the local prophet of doom, Crazy Ralph, tries to warn all comers to the danger ahead. However, Steve Christie is determined to re-open the camp and mend its reputation. The teenage counselors feel safe and comfortable in the deep woods, but soon, on this Friday the 13th, an unseen killer stalks them all intent on seeing their bloody corpses litter the campgrounds.
First off, the positives. You can never deny the high quality talents of Tom Savini. He’s a master make-up effects artist, and he had honed his skills most notably on George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead prior to this film. Here, he created some of the best gore effects and special make-up of the series. They are seamless, and that only enhances the surprise elements of the movie. I believe the success of this Friday The 13th owes a lot to what Savini accomplished as it raised the bar for gore very high, and that gave it something different than the more atmosphere-driven Halloween. This film really started the bloody slasher film craze, and it is due to the effectiveness of these physical effects.
The score by Harry Manfredini has always been a divided issue for me. In some ways, it is suspenseful, but in others, it is just wild strings shrieking on the soundtrack with no sense of tension or rhythm at all. However, it rarely feels like a Friday The 13th movie without his signature style, but there are exceptions. For what Manfredini offers, his first foray with the franchise is a solid effort. It creates a good atmosphere that services the film’s style of horror.
The acting from our two leads is very admirable in a subgenre known for a lot of cringable performances, to say the least. Adrienne King is a fresh faced, likable talent here, and reflects a lot of vulnerability and sympathy. Yet, she is able to demonstrate some strong will in the more intense fight-for-your-life sequences. The other talent I mention is who portrays the killer, and that acting talent really elevates the film above its unrefined shortcomings.
What truly detracts from this movie are two things. The first is the pace. Even by my patient standards, the film drags along at a very slow pace. By modern cinematic standards, it’s terribly sluggish. This is mainly due to the fact that very little occurs in the story. People slowly arrive in town, and it goes along like a slow, calming weekend until the killings really pick up the pace. That doesn’t start happening until about halfway through the movie. The characters don’t offer up much personality or charisma to maintain interest or momentum in the first half of the movie. By the time the film really gets a good stride going, it’s almost over.
The second issue is that Sean Cunningham is not a very inventive or dynamic filmmaker. There is nothing outright bad about what he does, but there’s also nothing exceptional or impressive about it either. The incessant use of the killer’s point of view shots tend to take away from the tension and mystery since you always know where the killer is, and who the killer is stalking. Some sequels would lay off of this idea, and create suspense and tension through more clever methods. Here, it works for a little while, but ultimately, it overstays its welcome by wearing thin quickly. It’s almost as if Cunningham saw the opening scene of Halloween, and wanted to recapture that idea and feeling for this entire film. I don’t feel it works to that extent. Hiding the killer’s identity was key to the story, but better filmmakers later demonstrated a more diverse approach to maintaining that idea.
If, by chance, you have not had the identity of the film’s killer revealed to you by now, I won’t be the spoiler. Let’s just say, it is an unexpected twist in the story that is probably the most intelligent part of the screenwriting and casting. This is before Jason Voorhees began his killing spree under a burlap sack or a hockey mask. So, it has a different sort of ending as we get a killer with dialogue who can showcase their madness without a mask. There is a further twist ending beyond this that captivated and terrified audiences in 1980, and gave the franchise a jumping off point to actually become a franchise. It truly is nightmarish.
Friday The 13th does deliver some good scares that remain effective to this day, and again, Savini’s work has been key to maintaining that effectiveness. However, there’s little beyond that to hold the film together through its run time, and even then, the scares are not spread out enough to keep that heightened tension going for the majority of the film. It was not a film written with compelling characters, and not vastly cast with charismatic acting talents. So, it shouldn’t have been plotted out where the performances or characters needed to carry the movie for a hefty distance before the horror aspects took over. Again, this works as a template for future installments to build upon to make more well balanced and tighter films. The Friday The 13th franchise is my favorite slasher film series, and just because Jason is not the killer in this film does not affect my opinion of it. At one time, I had hoped that a remake could take this film, and re-manufacture it into a more evenly paced and tighter movie. Bring it up to the more intense and entertaining levels of the better sequels. Sadly, the 2009 remake from Platinum Dunes was an utter failure, and like many horror remakes, put a death nail in the franchise. I will give credit that this 1980 film was a horror milestone, and it launched the entire slasher subgenre that ran rampant through most of the decade. However, it was not the best of the genre, and there are better films within the franchise than Sean Cunningham’s original.