Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Series to Reboot: Pushing the Envelope of Credibility with Friday the 13th (Part 1)

The second of the Series to Reboot articles is perhaps the series with the most entries of any slasher film series, the Friday the 13th franchise.  For the background on this concept read the series intro: Series to Reboot: The Intro.  Assuming you've done that and are prepared, and without further ado, here is Friday the 13th.

Series Overview:  Beginning in 1980 the Friday the 13th franchise is, more or less, the story of disfigured, special needs mass murderer Jason Voorhees and his continuing quest to rid his lakefront home of loitering teenage pests.  At present the series has had 12 entries (counting the crossover Freddy vs. Jason) with its latest installment a 2009 reboot.  Historians disagree about whether or not Halloween started the Slasher genre.  Joe Bob Briggs has stated on film that he prefers Friday the 13th.  Be that as it may, I argue that Halloween inspired the Slasher genre but it was Friday the 13th  that defined it.  Looking at Slasher films made after 1980 we see a definite pattern that is based on Friday the 13th, not Halloween.  The series moved from a realistic beginning that had full credibility to a supernatural horror series with no possibility of being real, much less plausible credibility.  Arguably after taking the franchise antagonist into space in 2002 it was high time for a reboot.

Friday the 13th (1980)- The first film of the series set the pattern for the films to come and for Slasher imitators for years to come.  As any horror fan should know, the plot concerns an attempt to re-open a camp on Crystal Lake that closed decades before after some killings.  The formula for slashers was set with this film.  Get teenagers into isolated spot, further isolate victims, stealth kill, hide bodies, lead up to final girl chase sequence, denouement and out.  TRIVIA FUN:  The killer in the first film is Pamela Voorhees, mother of the more famous Jason.
Overall Credibility: 10 (nothing supernatural occurs, and the ending with Jason is a dream sequence, so it doesn't count; Pamela Voorhees stalks and kills by surprise tactics, so it's all pretty credible)
Series Credibility: N/A (first installment)
Killer: Pamela Voorhees (the mother of Jason Voorhees, whose death is established as her motivation)
Ending: Pamela's exposition to Alice explains why she kills.  Alice decapitates Pamela, has Jason dream sequence, is taken away by authorities with a distant stare.

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)- The first sequel followed up the financial success of the first (10755% profit) film with a modest return of 1969% profit.  It was due to the unexpected financial hit that the first film became that the second was produced so quickly.  It was also due to the success of the first F13 that Halloween 2 was made in the same year (3 years after its predecessor).  As slasher films go it is fairly formula (following the formula set by its predecessor) but entertaining all the same.  Jason is presented as the killer, the story being that he did not die as a child by drowning but has grown to manhood, possibly in the woods.  What does that say about his mother?  No matter.  Jason wears a burlap sack over his misshapen head, dispatches the teen sacrifices in a variety of creative ways and keeps the mummified head and dirty sweater of his mother in a shrine in his woodsy home.  Final girl Ginny uses her considerable acting skills and the late Pamela's sweater to fool Jason, but eventually he sees through it (with his one good eye).  There is an unmasking shock and the twist on the original ending (Jason bursts through a window not up from the lake) and Ginny is taken away in an ambulance, apparently out of it.
Overall Credibility: 9 (nothing supernatural occurs, but the loose end wrap-up killing of Alice at the beginning seems a bit contrived)
Series Credibility: 9 (this film asks that we accept that rather than Jason being a dead child, he is an adult who grew up isolated from society.  Which pretty much makes Pamela Voorhees a crap mom for abandoning her boy thinking he was dead in a lake.)
Killer: Jason Voorhees (the first appearance of Jason, canonically, who apparently did not drown as a child)
Ending: Jason is wounded, but crashes into a cabin to grab the final girl, we cut away to see her, disoriented, being put into an ambulance.

Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982):  Building on the continued success of the franchise, the 3rd installment is famous for two reasons: Jason gets his iconic hockey mask and the film was shown in the theaters in 3-D.  There was a small 3-D revival during the early 80s (Jaws 3 in 1983 is the other shining example I can think of) and Paramount Pictures used that for this installment.  What this means, in a practical sense, is a load of 3-D gags and kills that face the camera.  So naturally these kills are not really gruesome, at least not too gruesome.  The film ends when the final girl, Chris, puts an axe in Jason's noggin and flees to the lake and falls asleep in a canoe.  She dreams that Jason still lives and that Pamela Voorhees rises up and pulls her under the lake.  Cheap shot ending calling back to first film.
Overall Credibility: 9 (nothing supernatural occurs)
Series Credibility: 9 (Nothing has happened, at this point, to ruin the credibility set up in Part 2, where Jason was revealed to have not died before Part 1)
Killer: Jason Voorhees (the first appearance of the hockey mask)
Ending: Final girl, Chris, puts an axe in Jason's noggin and flees to the lake and falls asleep in a canoe.  She dreams that Jason still lives and that Pamela Voorhees rises up and pulls her under the lake.  Cheap shot ending calling back to first film. Jason is seemingly dead as credits roll.
TRIVIAL NOTE: This makes 3 times that the final girl has been taken away by authorities of some kind, staring vacantly, clearly snapped in the headmeat department.  
This shot from Part 3 is possibly the least monstrous Jason face, essentially he has a lazy eye, bad teeth and a strange nose.  In all other unmasking scenes he's seen with a head like the elephant man, one eye WAY out of place and bad skin.  Honestly, I think this face is scarier as it looks more plausible.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984): The fourth installment in the series was intended to be the last installment, as suggested by its title and plot, which ending with, categorically, the killing of the franchise villain.  The plot is the basic F13 plot at heart, teenagers at the lake get stalked and killed.  Include a young Corey Feldman as a monster mask making young geek and a brother looking for revenge for his slaughtered sister (from Part 2) and you have the variation on the theme.  The ending is what sets this film apart from the previous sequels; it feels a bit psychological-art school.  There is plenty of gore and violence between the beginning and the end and although nothing supernatural occurs the beginning is a bit unbelievable as Jason simply "wakes up" in the local morgue and kills a few staff before sodding off back to his lake.  Apparently morgues are poorly guarded in New Jersey.
Overall Credibility: 7 (nothing supernatural occurs, but the Jason morgue wake up seems a bit too convenient.  I also ask how Jason manages to get from an urban morgue to his woodsy home without raising any suspicions, I mean the cops have been to that camp how many times now?  I also whack off a point for the ending, detailed below)
Series Credibility: 8 (The factors noted above lower the credibility a point and I question the Jarvis family never having Jason problems before now)
Killer: Jason Voorhees
Ending: Pre-teen Tommy Jarvis uses his quick wit and monster make-up skills to shave his head to look like pre-teen Jason V at the time of his alleged drowning.  Somehow this causes Jason to stop his relentless drive to kill to observe young Tommy looking NOTHING LIKE HIM.  Seriously, Jason has a deformed face with his eyes all offset and a lumpy head and all Tommy has is a poorly shaved head and his polo shirt collar flipped up.  Jason just stands there, clearly mystified that anyone would be so stupid.  This allows Tommy and older sister Trish to tag team and chop him to bits with a machete (taken from pseudo-protagonist Rob earlier).  In the post denouement scene at the hospital Tommy is staring blankly.  Couldn't avoid that old cliche; it's tradition.
Oh, if only there were another Corey that I might have a gimmick to become a teen idol...
Rotten Tomatoes gives the 4th film a 24% rating and is similarly unkind to the rest of the series, for the most part.  Of course, since Rotten Tomatoes aggregates scores and people are more likely to provide a negative than a positive, and because people are, by and large, sheep-like douchenozzles, I don't let such as R.T. tell me whether a work is good or bad.  So there.

We'll pick up with the 5th installment in our next post.

TIMELINE NOTE: F13 part 2 is primarily set in 1984, which is canonically 5 years after the setting of the first film.  F13 part 3 picks up the day after part 2 ends.  Final Chapter picks up the day after the events of part 3.  Since Final Chapter was released in 1984, this means that real time had finally caught up with the film timeline.  It also means that people in part 2 were living in a 1984 that was still hip to disco.  See?  HORROR MOVIE!

See you next time.  Keep your pumpkins lit.

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