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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Halloween Hoardefest: In Your Face!!! Friday the 13th Part III

The almost ridiculous popularity of the Friday the 13th films through the eighties became an addiction for teenage America and gorehounds alike. The first film in the interminable series (which is being remade and soon-to-be released in 2009, those selfish pricks) is the best of the entire lot with Mommy taking care of business. From the first sequel on, Friday the 13th as a franchise ended up pitting our undead serial killer Jason Voorhees against horny and besotted teens, not to mention vengeful attack survivors, imposters, a girl with ESP, soul transference, Freddy Kruger, The Big Apple, hell, even outer space!

As the annual Friday the 13th slaughter celebration became more and more gimmicky by the year, the best of the franchise novelties was the third film, assuming you were fortunate enough to catch it in the theater in 3-D. I used to lie when I was younger and tell people I saw Friday the 13th Part III in the movie theater, just because I wanted to be "cool enough" to have seen it in 3-D, when virutally just one single person I knew actually did. The truth was, I'd actually seen Jaws 3-D, a terrible film that was saved by the ultra-rad 3-D effects, in particular the gnawed-off arm and fish head. Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads, fish heads, eat them up, yum!

No, the first Friday the 13th film I'd actually gone to see in the theater was the fourth film, dubiously titled The Final Chapter, which we all know now ended up being total bullshit in name, if not at least one of the neatest of the sequels for Tom Savini's kickass chop 'n slop effects. At that point, I was 14 and somehow looked old enough to the box office of our old hick theater to get myself and my friends in to R rated films. Ahh, the glory days...

Still, the minor bitter pill remains that I never saw Friday the 13th Part III in the movies, which I certainly would've loved to, just to see how Rick's (Paul Kratka) eyeballs shooting out at the audience looked. I mean, seriously, how much better could you have gotten? It's amazing Paramount kept consigning Friday the 13th sequels thereafter, because how do you top that gonzo Grand Guinol moment?

That was precisely the point to the kabillion sequels, because we all showed up every damned time to see how much nastier and bloodier they were willing to get. Does that constitute good horror? Yes and no. Does that mean Friday the 13th Part III is guilty of taking things to a point of no return? Well, honestly, between George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and John Carpenter's Halloween, we were already pushed to our limits in different manners; everything else had to either measure up or exceed.

The fact Friday the 13th Part III originally came out in 3-D with plenty brutal bits of onscreen snuffing (honestly, how awesome was that harpoon shot, whether you saw it in 3-D or not?) was reportedly intended to actually end the series. Jason was supposed to die for real, once he'd taken the fateful axe to the head after surviving his spelunked hanging. When you stop and think about it, did they really need to keep going from that point? When your initial purpose is to complete a series and go out as much on top as you possibly can, wouldn't you think anything else beyond was overkill?

I mean, let's not call Friday the 13th Part III a masterpiece or anything. It's executed tidily even without the 3-D effects and the gore, but no Friday the 13th sequel was intended to be halfway serious or underhanded about creating something memorable beneath the tittie and kill scenes. Granted, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is one of the best sequels for its intentional humor, deliberate schlock and a wonderful film production. Still, high art these films are not. We know by now the purpose to the series: get a bunch hopeless teenagers high then inside each other's privates, let them get a final orgasm before their meangingless lives are extinguished in spectacular fashion.

For sake of the argument, let's quickly outline Friday the 13th Part III's plot, loose-ended as it is:

The film is supposed to pick up the day after Jason's hack 'n slash fiesta from Part 2 as Ginny (Amy Steel, still my vote for cutest Friday heroine) is carted off in an ambulance after taking a gruesome slash from Jason's rusted pickaxe--make sure you get a tetanus shot, Amy--and losing her boyfriend Paul (John Furey) in an over-the-top finale. I likely need not rehash that for you. Of course we're reintroduced to this sequence in the beginning of Part III as Jason slithers away and we get a funky post-disco opening theme and 3-D credits propelling straight from Pamela Voorhees' mummified head. Note, I used to think this opening theme was just dreadful, but now I'm actually quite fond of it, stupid as it is.

Amazing, though, how these events turn, because Jason (who, if we're to believe Ginny's nightmare) has long hair on one side and gross facial stubble amidst his chewed-up facade. He's also in suspenders and a flannel shirt. In Part III, only a day after his escape, Jason is herculean (now played by the massive Richard Brooker instead of Part 2's trimmer Warrington Gillette) and he's in an entirely new outfit with no hair, to boot! Screw continuity!

After dispatching a white trash couple in the boonies (with a cleaver and knitting needle), Jason makes his way to a lakeside property called Higgins Haven. Just his luck, a new batch of kids are on their way to party down and screw, only this time there's someone in their midst who's trigger shy about coming (Dana Kimmell), particularly since the last time she'd been to Higgins Haven, she was attacked by a large, ugly man until she improbably passed out and gasp! survived... Guess who jumped her? And guess who wasn't sporting long hair, suspenders and potato sack then, though the incident was supposed to be two years prior? Screw continuity!

The dumpy kid who keeps pranking everyone to the point of aggravation, Shelly (Larry Zerner), shambles a ride into town with his blind date Vera (Catherine Parks) and they manage to piss off a biker gang, who look more like rejects out of Beat Street. The gang trails Shelly and Vera back to Higgins Haven for revenge... Wowzers, look at all the potential corpses delecti for Jason to play with!

Before the kids even get there, we're informed that one of the sex-starved couples Debbie and Andy (Tracie Savage and Jeffrey Rogers) are pregnant. Now there's a first (and last, I believe) to this series. Of course, they're still humping like jackrabbits--in a hammock, no less--and Debbie is exposed to secondhand weed smoke and then takes up Andy's offer for a beer after sex and shower (though she changes her mind later). Remember, this is 1982 and studies on fetal alcohol sydrome had yet to change the birthing process. Also keep in mind that after Jason delivers the most painful death to Andy by smashing his machete down the middle of Andy's balls as Andy does a hand walk, he next tears a butcher knife through Debbie's chest from behind. For you kill count geeks, make sure you add her unborn to Jason's tally, sick as that may be.

With Friday the 13th Part III being originally presented in 3-D, there's a circus-like atmosphere much in the way the original House of Wax tinkers and plays with the audience. You know the scenes of Andy dropping his yo yo up and down near Debbie's face and then the bird's eye view of his juggling duel with Shelly is an homage to Vincent Price's classic. Of course, Steve Miner, Sean S. Cunningham and company make this film their grand toy, whether they're dragging a hay bale into your face repeatedly or they're sticking poles, baseball bats, hot iron pokers, chained fists and the eyeball from one of Friday the 13th Part 2's victims (reportedly John Furey) out of the screen. The numerous 3-D visuals they get out of pitchforks as Jason snuffs the bikers Fox (Gloria Charles) and Loco (Kevin O'Brien) translates effectively even on the tube.

Dana Kimmell deserves top honors for kicking Jason's ass the most severely in the series. Forget that tripe of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood and Lar Park Lincoln's preposterous telekinetic assault on Jason. Kimmell shrieks like a newborn in Part III but at the same time, she puts Jason through the damned wringer by stabbing his hand, dumping a shelf load of books on him, whacking him from behind with firewood as well as a shovel five minutes later. Then she hangs the stubborn bastard and when that's not enough and she realizes he's the one who pounced on her two years prior (ahem ahem) she puts an axe in his head. All the while, she looks mighty hot in those tight designer jeans while putting a hepcat whoopin' on ol' Voorhees.

And there Jason lies, flumped in the barn, finally licked, despite Kimmell's dream sequence, which is just wrong on all accounts. But is he finally licked for real? The dissippating camera pan from his unmoving form into the eerie solitude of the nearby lake hints both the end as well as another possible sequel. Given the fact Friday the 13th Part III struck gold, you know what happened next. Pick the story up from the barn, Jason's "corpse" is moved to the local morgue, the idiotic (and naturally perverted) intake doctor leaves the meat locker unclosed and bang, Jason has little more than a smarting headache as he goes on yet another rampage. Put together, that's three days in a row of solid killing...that's assuming you're a stickler for continuity.

The other notable about Friday the 13th Part III is this is where Jason first acquires his trademark hockey mask. Considering they don't make hockey masks in the traditional face shield mold with the eye and air holes anymore, how Jason has been able to constantly procure new ones in the subsequent films (it's literally shattered in half in Part VIII) is as nutty as Michael Myers being able to continuously have access to rubber William Shatner masks. Guess they both shop at the same Kill Mart...

All nitpickings aside, Friday the 13th Part III is just as much fun as it is idiotic. The fact you can predict when Rick's body is going to come crashing through the window to terrorize Dana Kimmell is the same as knowing a corpse is going to suddenly drop and dangle from a tree in the closest frame as she's running towards you. There's a formula to the Friday the 13th films with the only air of mystery being how gross their respective characters are going to get chopped to pieces. Ditto for who's going to show some skin and who's not. You're almost wondering why Steve Miner didn't order a 3-D shot of Tracie Savage's boobs during the shower scene. Now there's a concept; softcore porn in 3-D...beware if it's XXX.


Metal Mark said...

This is one of the better ones of the series for whatever that's worth. Very simple plot, decent locations and plenty of bad acting. It probably benefits a lot from being only the second time where Jason goes on a killing spree. So that way the whole blood lust isn't quite as old as it would become in most of the other sequels.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

I agree. This one and the sixth are my favorite sequels, with the fourth being tolerable only because of Savini's effects. I'm not sure why I always come to Part III as much as I do. It's terrible, but comfortably so and you're right, I too like the locations.

Metal Mark said...

Ray, I like six as well. It has much more likable characters than usual plus Arnold Horshack gets killed like five minutes into the movie. Jason seems a lot tougher than normal in that one as well. Four and five are alright, but dull. Eight works if you look at it as a dark comedy. Seven was just a downright bad idea.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Oh yeah, I forgot that was Horschack in VI, the one who gets his heart plunged out. Part five sucks the big one but I'll watch it. Seven sucks the big one, but I watch it very rarely anymore, just because the sleeping bag kill is so brutal it ranks as one of Jason's more colorful ones, but the premise is just awful. Didn't we see that one together in theater? I know what you mean about Part 8 as being comedic, but I just don't dig it all that much. Jason Goes to Hell is better than some of the other ones, but blah overall. Jason X is surprisingly entertaining despite its ridiculous plot. Jason vs. Freddy is cool from a novelty standpoint, but just bad period.