“‘Oh shit’ is right! Let’s get out of here!”
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III, a.k.a. FRIDAY THE 13TH 3-D, picks up near the end of part II. It replays much of the climax, but at the part where he seems to be dead (before the whole thing where he comes back with no mask on) he sits back up and suddenly THE MOVIE BECOMES THREE-DIMENSIONAL! At least if you’re seeing it in 3D, which is how I fortunately got to see it on two occasions at all-night horror marathons in the ‘90s and early 2000s. (Man do I wish I had the equipment now that that version is available on blu-ray.)
In the tradition of the first two, the opening titles are what are known in the parlance of our times as “absolute bangers.” The logo looks really cool flat, and even better in the proper format, where it emerges from the screen at you. But the excellent graphic design almost doesn’t matter because the topper here is the synthy-disco-ish theme song, honestly one of the most badass horror themes of all time, at least if you like them danceable (which I absolutely do). It’s credited to “Hot Ice,” but it’s Harry Manfredini with Michael Zager, a producer who worked with The Spinners, among others.
Steve Miner returned as director, but with new screenwriters – the husband and wife team of Martin Kitrosser (writer/director of SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOYMAKER) & Carol Watson (MEATBALLS PART II), with an uncredited rewrite by Petru Popescu (Peter Weir’s THE LAST WAVE – no shit). And they got a new Jason (Richard Brooker, DEATHSTALKER) and new makeup crew headed by Doug White (THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, C.H.U.D. II, DESPERADO), who gave Jason a new look. It’s the next day and the hair’s completely gone, so I guess we gotta infer he stopped somewhere to shave himself bald.
Crystal Lake has also changed, since for the third time they moved the filming to a different state. The opening was shot in New Jersey, but the rest in California. The credits shout out Veluzat Movie Ranch, Saugas, California. From what I can gather, they filmed the main cabin scenes there. Other movies filmed partly on the ranch include HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and LAST MAN STANDING.
I like slasher sequels that start the next morning. This also worked well in HALLOWEEN II and HALLOWEEN REMAKE II. We’re with Harold (Steve Susskind, A GNOME NAMED GNORM) and Edna (Cheri Maugans, Archie Bunker’s Place), the eccentric proprietors of a train-themed produce market, as news about the events of part II – the “most brutal and heinous crime in local history,” which is saying alot in Crystal Lake! – hits the news. But of course it’s just background noise to them. They don’t know it’s important because they don’t know they’re in a horror movie.
I like this slasher tradition of a character who’s clearly not going to last long, but we spend a little time with them being themselves. We see that when alone in the store Harold does things like nibble on his own products, taste fish food, swig from the whiskey bottle he hides next to the john, and talk to one of his large pet rabbits. So this poor guy and his wife are doomed, but we get to kinda like them in that short time because they’re goofballs.
I have a very important theory to present here. I don’t know if anyone has hit on this before, but I definitely hadn’t until now. Harold notices his rabbit acting strange and asks what she’s “so nervous about, huh?” It could be because there’s literally a snake in the barn (we find that out in a bit), or because one of the other rabbits has been killed (either by the snake or by Jason). But it could also be that Jason is nearby and about to attack.
A little later we see a different rabbit dead on the road. Maybe it’s just for scenery, like the dead armadillo in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. But this guy is not roadkill. Doesn’t it seem like Jason is supposed to have killed him? What I am proposing is that rabbits can sense Jason, and Jason knows it. They’re like dogs to Terminators. If he doesn’t want people to see him coming, he has to kill all the rabbits in the area. And if so that means the best way to be safe from Jason is to carry a rabbit around in a cage, like Jean-Claude Van Damme in THE SHEPHERD: BORDER PATROL. Think about it.
Anyway, that opening gives us some kills and gets Jason a new outfit, but the movie proper begins as young Chris (Dana Kimmell, SWEET SIXTEEN, LONE WOLF McQUADE) heads to her family’s cabin (apparently called “Higgins Haven”) with friends Debbie (Tracie Savage, later a news anchor in Dayton and L.A.), Andy (Jeffrey Rogers, SURF II), Shelly (Larry Zerner, now an entertainment lawyer representing many horror fans who want to know Shelly), Vera (Catherine Parks, WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S), Chuck (David Katims, “Man in Parking Structure,” THE FIRST POWER) and Chili (Rachel Howard, DEEP SPACE), and they’re meeting up with Chris’ boyfriend Rick (Paul Kratka).
The thing we know about Chris is that she’s been away from the cabin for two years while trying to deal with something traumatic that happened there: “What happened to me at the lake happened a long time ago.” Debbie’s thing is that she’s newly pregnant, Andy is her boyfriend, Shelly is an awkward nerd with low self esteem who considers himself an actor and juggler and likes to do pranks even though they only annoy and anger everybody, Vera has been set up as a blind date for Shelly which is very uncool, and Chuck and Chili are stoners who love marijuana more than most people love anything. There’s a joke about how cop cars are coming up behind them so they all decide they have to eat their pot to hide the evidence, but then the cars zoom past them. Ha ha, but the nice touch is that those cars are reporting to the scene of the opening murders. Simultaneously funny and ominous.
Vera has to defy her mother, who doesn’t want her to go. Unlike the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, where the parents are often wrong and the threat is in fact caused by their past choices, this is someone who would not have been killed if she had listened to Mom.
In the absence of dear departed Crazy Ralph there is a new doomsayer named Abel (David Wiley, SOCIETY), a mentally ill and religiously obsessed homeless man who the kids meet because he’s passed out in the road and they have to wake him up to get him to move out of their way. He starts babbling about someone who we must assume is Jason, and says, “He wanted me to have this,” showing them an eyeball he found! I’m not sure who’s eyeball it is. Abel never gets killed by Jason as far as we see. Good for him.
As always, the young people do their young people stuff, including skinny-dipping.
I love what Minder does with the barn next to the cabin. There’s a pulley for lifting up hay bales that some characters play around with, lifting each other. Miner really messes with us, knowing we’re waiting for a scare, knowing we’ll think any character being lifted outside of the frame is gonna be a dead body by the time they get to the top. But really he’s getting us tense while establishing the geography and potential weaponry for a much later scene. Unnecessary, but appreciated.
Shelly and Vera start to hit it off a little more in a goofy-ass scene where they go to a convenience store and get into a vehicle altercation with three bikers named Ali (Nick Savage, “Bouncer #1,” FRIGHT NIGHT), Loco (Kevin O’Brien, WARLOCK) and Fox (Gloria Charles, BREWSTER’S MILLIONS). The bikers follow them back to the ol’ Haven because “Hey, we gotta even the score.” Their payback includes siphoning the gas out of the van (oh shit, this is gonna come up again later – in fact, at the same time as a rickety bridge established in another scene comes up again) and burning down the barn (except Jason is in there and he gets them).
I’m of two minds about these biker characters. On the negative side, I think they mark the shift in the series from characters who are pretty natural, relatable people to cartoonish stereotypes. On the positive side, I like these particular cartoonish stereotypes and they are a fun addition to Crystal Lake. And then back on the negative side if you’re gonna have them they should team up with the others against Jason, they shouldn’t just be bad guys. It’s exciting when Ali turns out to still be alive, but then Jason immediately finishes the job.
The makeup director this time is Douglas J. White (CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH), and (as is tradition) the gore and the lead up to it are well executed. In a sign of the growing popularity of the genre, one victim’s blood is seen dripping onto an issue of Fangoria. But there’s alot of the types of things that will quickly become old hat in these movies: in the shower, talking about beer to the boyfriend you don’t realize has already been killed; “I don’t know what kind of game you guys are playing, but I don’t like it!”; that questionable idea that if someone is thrown against a fusebox they will be electrocuted.
Of course this one’s claim to fame is that it introduced the accidentally iconic hockey mask. But they clearly weren’t thinking “We’re gonna make a bunch more of these and for now on this is what he wears!” It was random both in the movie and behind the scenes. In the movie Shelly has the mask and wears it for a fake scare (but how was it scary before it became associated with Jason?) and then Jason finds it and puts it on. Behind the scenes, 3-D supervisor Martin Sadoff (visual effects supervisor of MIRACLE MILE, director of the Evel Knievel documentary THE LAST OF THE GLADIATORS) happened to have a goalie mask because he was a Red Wings fan. They realized it was a cool idea but the real mask looked goofily small on Jason, so White made an enlarged version and added the holes and triangles. That’s why actual hockey masks never look quite like Jason’s hockey mask. He only wears bespoke.
Anyway, yeah, Jason putting on the mask is important to cinematic history, but we all know the coolest thing about that scene is him shooting the fucking spear gun! The way he tilts his head and the weird way that thing arcs at the camera – especially if you’ve seen it in 3D. One of the best shots in the whole series.
There are other good scares. I absolutely love the part where Chris comes out the door looking for Rick and doesn’t see what we see: he’s right around the corner, Jason holding him, hand over his mouth. Jason ends up crushing Rick’s skull with his bare hands, causing an eyeball to pop out. This was always my favorite part because it’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen in 3D, but also it’s just so wonderful that Jason has super strength.
Also scary: Jason just hurling Rick’s body through the window like a threatening note tied to a brick. It serves to terrorize his prey and also to create an entry, which he then uses. In my opinion Chris is not as memorable as Alice or Ginny, but god damn, she pulls a knife out of Debbie’s body to use on Jason! And she hits him over the head with a shovel and hangs him from the pulley in the barn. She’s a badass. Respect.
There’s one aspect of this movie that seems very strange in retrospect, since they thankfully never did anything else like it in subsequent sequels. Chris eventually explains to Rick the horrible thing that happened to her here two years ago. It turns out she went out on a date with him, against her parents’ commands, had a great time. When she got home her mom slapped her, and she was so mad she stormed out and hid in the woods, where a strange man attacked her and she blacked out. It was of course Jason, as we see in flashbacks, and though it’s not explicitly said that he raped her or intended to rape her, it is certainly implied by the way he grabs and drags her, completely unlike the killing machine Jason we’re familiar with.
On the timeline I guess this flashback scene would’ve been after he killed Alice in her apartment, but before the rest of the events of part II. Why would his m.o. have changed so much since then? I don’t know, but I’m glad it did. I know murder is terrible, but I think most of us agree that, sensible or not, murder can be fun in movies while sexual assault just can’t. That doesn’t mean it can’t be depicted in movies, including horror movies, but that’s definitely not the type of horror I want from Jason.
I’m not trying to dredge up Jason’s past and get him cancelled, but this scene happened and there’s an admission of guilt: when he attacks her in the present he pulls up his mask to make sure she remembers he’s the weird fucked up guy from the woods two years ago! What the fuck, man. So I think it’s unfair how often people claim that Freddy Krueger is a child molester, something that is not indicated in the movies (remake doesn’t count as a movie), but they completely gloss over Jason’s past here.
Anyway, it’s fucked up, and it makes it so terrible that right after we hear this story there’s a part where Shelly tells Vera, “A beautiful girl like you should never go out in the dark alone, ha ha ha.” She rightfully scolds him for that bullshit.
The end of the movie is a variation on the end of part I. I like that. She hides in a canoe and falls asleep in it and has a terrifying dream about maskless Jason running at her. When she apparently wakes up, instead of little boy Jason coming out of the water to grab her it’s a maggoty, decomposing Pamela Voorhees corpse. That would be cool if in the next sequel it turned out she never was beheaded and has been living in the woods.
Another thing about this scene is she gets frightened when the canoe bumps into a big knotty log. And I know this is not the intent, but it looks like the log that they had to move out of the road when they were driving into town. I wish it was the same log. I don’t know what that would mean, but I know I would enjoy puzzling over it.
I would also like to point out that Chris is another one who gets away. She’s giggling like TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE’s Sally as they drive her off in the police car, but we can hope she recovered, and not by trying to come back again.
I never realized it before, but I have decided on this viewing that this is my favorite portrayal of Jason. I was always partial to the bag head in part II, but I just think the way Richard Brooker (stunt coordinator and “Oghris” in DEATHSTALKER) looks is the best. He has broad, sort of hunched shoulders, but a narrow waist, so he’s intimidating without the beefiness of later Jasons. Weirder and more crooked looking. I like the makeup of his head and ears behind the mask, which looks deformed, but not as exaggerated as most other versions. And then whenever we see his face it unleashes a manic energy in him. He seems to be smiling at how horrified you are by his face.
Seeing this movie in 3D with an audience was an absolute blast – that’s the best way to see a slasher movie anyway, and it’s powerfully enhanced by Miner’s fervor for “comin’ at ya” shots. Tell me if I missed any, but here’s a list: sheets on a clothesline blowing in the wind, Harold holding a wooden pole pointed right at the camera, Edna adjusting the TV antenna, a snake striking, a rat walking on a plank toward the camera (weirdly that also happens in the 3D western COMIN’ AT YA!), a kid’s baseball bat, a joint being passed (obviously a huge crowdpleaser), Abel holding out the eyeball Jason gave him, a hay bale swinging on the rope pulley, Ali’s chain-covered fist punching through the car window, a yoyo, Fox swinging on the rope, a pitchfork stabbed at the camera, the handle of the same pitchfork pointing at the camera, the firing of the harpoon gun, popcorn popping out of a pan, a hot fire poker, Rick’s left eye popping out (possibly the most applauded 3D gimmick I have experienced), books dropping from a tipped-over shelf onto Jason, a tossed knife, Chris dropping from the rafter onto Jason, Jason dropping on the rope and kicking his feet around, Jason reaching with both hands with the ax handle protruding from his mask (iconic), and finally Jason dead on the ground, the ax in his mask/head, the handle pointed right at the camera.
By all accounts, Miner was so wrapped up in making the cameras work that the actors felt neglected. But man, did he pull it off. I don’t think he’s ever gotten enough credit for doing such a good slasher movie while trying to figure out how to use brand new, very difficult technology. Interestingly, his followup project was to obtain the rights from Toho for an American Godzilla film shot the same way. GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS 3D was scripted by Fred Dekker (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, THE MONSTER SQUAD), with creature design by William Stout (PAN’S LABYRINTH, THE MIST), who storyboarded along with Jonny Quest creator Doug Wildey and THE ROCKETEER creator Dave Stevens. Along with the traditional suitmation, it was planned to use stop motion and a full scale animatronic head to be built by Rick Baker. But Miner couldn’t find an American studio to fund it before the rights reverted to Toho, and they used some of his ideas on GODZILLA 1985. Man, that’s a shame that that didn’t happen.
I think Miner went on to have an admirable filmography anyway. Though I won’t vouch for some of his comedies (especially SOUL MAN) and I hated his 2008 remake of DAY OF THE DEAD, there are plenty of officially sanctioned “masters of horror” without a filmography as impressive as FRIDAY THE 13TH II and III, HOUSE, WARLOCK and LAKE PLACID. And then he brought back those FRIDAY slasher sequel chops for HALLOWEEN H20: TWENTY YEARS LATER, which I think is one of the best HALLOWEEN sequels and I think even those who don’t like it will admit there’s a good chase and slaying at the end. Thank you for your service, Steve Miner.
CRYSTAL LAKE WORLD BUILDING NOTES:
If you’re a Shang-Chi fan, you should know they have two different issues of Master of Kung Fu at the mini-mart, Green Valley’s Waterhole.
WORM ON A HOOK NOTES:
Although it’s a general cliche, Shelly is the character I most associate with prankster characters in horror. I had that tradition in mind when I had my character Reese annoy Adam with a talking frog toy, though the whole subplot is inspired by a long-running joke I was involved with in the workplace. I don’t consider “prankster” to be Reese’s defining characteristic, though. Making him an ex-stoner who now prefers sensory deprivation tanks and still recites hemp facts post-legalization was my jokey twist on stoner characters like Chuck and Chili.