Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Series Report Card: Friday the 13th (1980-1984)

I'll be changing gears a little with this report card. Instead of reviewing all the major works from a certain director, I'll watch and review all of the entries in a movie series. This will also be my first multi-part report card. Enjoy!

1. Friday the 13th
One of the films responsible for starting up the slasher craze in the early eighties. But how good is it, really? Well, I enjoyed it but “Friday the 13th” is ultimately more notable for what it started then for what it actually is. The film is incredibly clichéd by this time as it seems seventy percent of the slasher films that came out afterward ripped it off. The revelation of the killer’s identity at the end will come as no surprise to in-the-know horror fans, but even if you didn’t know that going in, the ending isn’t exactly a big twist. There’s really no lead-up to it or any mystery.

Of course, to criticize this film for not having a great story seems a bit silly. Tom Savini’s gore is pretty good, though not quite as excellent as some of the other work he has done before and since. In particular, the first throat slitting is actually pretty startling in how it’s directed. Kevin Bacon’s death scene is definitely the best in the film. The final decapitation looks pretty fake, though.

If you watch the movie as a glossary of horror movie clichés, it does provide some entertainment beyond the gore. The performances are mostly flat though Betsey Palmer does have some fun with her part. Sean Cunningham’s direction is nothing to write home about really and the score is fairly derivative aside from the famous sound effects. The final jump scare is still effective, even after all these years. So, “Friday the 13th” is not a sterling masterpiece of the genre but it certainly does hold some enjoyment for fans of the series but its sequels would surpass it in quality and fun factor. [Grade: B-]

2. Friday the 13th Part 2
For the premier of a modern horror icon, “Friday the 13th Part 2” is pretty bland. I said how the first film felt derivative more because of what came after it then what came before, but Part 2 is actually even more derivative. It has been noted before by several other folks, that the two best death scenes in the film are actually swiped from Mario Bava’s “Twitch of the Death Nerve,” the original body count movie. Most of the rest of the proceedings feel pretty bland too as the rest of the gore is not all that impressive. Jason had not yet been developed as a character at this point so he doesn’t come off as a particularly interesting killer.

On the positive side, the opening scene is handled well enough and the final chase is at least more interesting then the film that proceeded it. If you are looking for a slasher fix and nothing else is available, this will do the job, but there are better things out there.
[Grade: C]

3. Friday the 13th Part 3
Right from the grooving disco scored opening, I knew we were on better ground then we were last time. I would have loved to have seen this in 3-D as the novelty of that is completely lost on all legally available copies now. The death scenes are the best the series has had so far and Jason, preformed here by the imposing Richard Brooker, begins to develop into the big guy we all know and love. Getting his trademark hockey mask probably has something to do with this, too. Maybe it’s just because they seem to be evening out the camp feel the series has when it’s at its best, but I found the performances here more likable then in the past two films. The story is still pretty copy and paste by the series’ standards but you do at least feel the writers and directors were trying to spice things up a bit, especially with the motorcycle gang and some of the dark humor sprinkled throughout.

Or maybe it’s just because this is the first time you feel that the carnage is taking center stage instead of the characters that makes this more enjoyable. Whatever the reason, “Friday the 13th Part 3” is the first really solid entry in the franchise.
[Grade: B]

4. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Certainly the best of the series. First off, this is the best written out of all the films. While the cast is still a bit too large to be fully developed, several of the characters do have enough quirks to stick out. Corey Feldman actually gives a pretty good performance as the overly excited and typically resourceful Tommy Jarvis, who would go on to become something of Jason’s nemesis. At the end of the film, you actually feel some pathos with his character. Crispin Glover is highly entertaining and he really puts his twitchy stamp on his character. Just watch the famous spaz dancing scene for further proof. Erich Anderson, though not much of an actor, does actually have a mildly interesting character and Kimberly Beck is a decent scream queen.

The sense of dark humor is even stronger here then in the last film. Director Joseph Zito, who previously made another excellent slasher, “The Prowler,” actually does bring some mood to the proceedings.

There are really two stars here though. First off, Tom Savini’s gore effects are outstanding. He’s allowed to be more creative here then in the first film and really goes nuts. Bone saws, corkscrews, harpoons, and farming equipment as well as the standards knives, axes, and machetes (of course) are all implemented in the destruction of the human body, and not always in the way you expected. Then there’s Jason, himself. I don’t care what anybody says, but Ted White is the best Jason ever. He’s hardcore, relentless, and unforgiving but still injects the character with the creativity and child-like awe we associate with him. Even though it wouldn’t be the end of the franchise, this entry would certainly serve its purpose as an excellent swan song. [Grade: A]

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