"Same day, different year," sighs Judge Dennis Prince as he dives into another examination of that certain cinematic Friday.
Our reviews of Friday The 13th (published December 24th, 1999), Friday The 13th: Region 2 Edition (published August 13th, 2004), Friday The 13th: The Ultimate Collection (published October 13th, 2011), and Friday The 13th: Deluxe Edition (published February 3rd, 2009) are also available.
"I can't imagine that I'm talking about making this little film twenty years later."—Sean S. Cunningham
It seems the original case of Camp Crystal Lake, the site of six grisly murders dating back to the summer of 1981, simply will not remain closed. While plenty of evidence has been presented over the decades and judgments, largely exonerations, have been handed down, certain details seem to trouble those who believe all facts have not yet surfaced. Even though an exhaustive 5-disc DVD release, incorporating eight films plus volumes of additional material, was offered in 2004, those who relish all things Friday still appear dissatisfied. Therefore, Paramount Home Entertainment offers this newest release, a Blu-ray edition of Friday the 13th Uncut, to settle the masses. But will this supposed complete version of the long-standing horror classic finally resolve cries and concerns that fans haven't been given all that Paramount has to offer?
Please be seated. Court is again in session.
Facts of the Case
While this courtroom has previously heard the case of Friday the 13th in the examination of the 2003 Region 2 DVD release, here's a recap of the events under scrutiny:
A group of young people convenes at Camp Crystal Lake, an East Coast retreat that has been out of commission since some shocking murders in 1958 and subsequent unexplained "accidents." Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), son of the camp's original owner, has returned to the site, determined to restore and reinvigorate it, making it fit once again to welcome and entertain troupes of new campers. Aided by Alice (Adrienne King), Bill (Harry Crosby) and Brenda (Laurie Bartram), and soon joined by Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), Jack (Kevin Bacon), and Ned (Mark Nelson), the new camp counselors labor to reopen the once-regarded Camp Crystal Lake. Never mind Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) who spits and sputters his warnings of a death curse that hangs over the camp and all who inhabit it. Yet, how crazy are the old coot's prophecies of doom in light of the brutal daytime murder of Annie, the final counselor en route whose agonized last gasp is at the hands of a mysterious knife-wielding killer. The others continue to toil, unaware that the killer is now nearby, watching and waiting, methodically slaughtering the young counselors one by one in numbingly vicious fashion. Who will survive the bloodbath and what will they learn about the truth behind the legend of "Camp Blood?"
The facts remain unchanged, so what new evidence is being presented this time around?
As a film, Friday the 13th has been analyzed to death (sorry). It started as a low-budget offering from young director Sean S. Cunningham (Spring Break) and screenwriter Victor Miller (A Stranger Is Watching), who admit they announced the picture with only a title yet no actual concept. The two stumbled into launching a cultural phenomenon. This film, intended as a simple one-shot endeavor, cemented the foundation of the oncoming 1980s "splatter movie" genre. Audiences flocked to theaters, got the frights of their lives, and demanded more.
For as much as it has been vaunted as an iconic breakthrough in screen horror, the fact remains Friday the 13th is a cobbling of elements presented by key terror films that had gone before. It began with John Carpenter's original Halloween of 1978, a story of a stalking killer exacting a revenge on young people engaged in fun, flirting, and sex. From there we can point to the heavy breathing of Carpenter's unstoppable Shape as inspiration for the "ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma" hiss of this film's perpetrator (vis-a-vis the immediately recognizable soundtrack cue, one that's incorrectly mimicked by fans as "ch-ch-ch, ka-ka-ka" to composer Harry Manfredini's ongoing disappointment). Filming in the killer's point-of-view was also offered in Carpenter's thriller, used to equal effect here. The ambush scare, coming at the end of the film, was most closely used a year earlier in Don Coscarelli's Phantasm and even three years prior to that in Brian DePalma's Carrie. Of course, this leveraging of effective horror elements is not being raised here in an effort to allege plagiarism, mainly because Cunningham had been clearly quoted by screenwriter Miller as saying, "let's rip off Halloween." Miller studied the elements of Carpenter's work then folded in additional plot devices as needed (citing Carrie by name). All of this is fine, however, because the splatter genre was in its infancy and needed a few successive deliveries of the same cinematic punch to determine if audiences were buying this act. As history has proven, they bought it, time and time again. It wasn't uncommon for fans to return to the theater five, ten, or more times for repeat viewings (the film having been released just prior to the home video boom of the same decade). Even though the character of Jason didn't figure prominently in this initial outing, he was easily leveraged as a marauding murderer for a subsequent ten films (and likely still counting).
But it's not so much the film itself under the microscope here as it is this new Blu-ray edition, touted as being a definitive "uncut" version, available at last (also available in a concurrent standard definition release). Well, for Friday fans, there's really nothing new to reveal since this same cut has been available since 2003 by way of the aforementioned Region 2 Edition. Again, as was previously examined in this courtroom, that edition was special indeed because if offered fans an opportunity to view about 10 additional seconds of gore effects that had been trimmed from the U.S. theatrical cut as well as the subsequent barebones DVD released by Paramount in 1999. The only sequence of significance here is that of Jack's death, here offering an additional overhead view of his demise (and, frankly, it's a poor setup that is clumsily executed in that the arm and hand on his forehead is impossibly angled upward if we're to believe the killer is truly situated underneath his victim's bed). As noted, this is nothing new to Friday fans since they likely snapped up imported copies of the disc from across the pond years ago, securing region-free DVD players to enjoy the frightful festivities. Yes, it's a U.S. first, but not a digital video first. What is new and very worthwhile is the terrific new transfer on display, this one sparkling clean and visibly richer thanks to the superior AVC-encoded presentation. The source material is surprisingly blemish-free (you'd have to seriously fixate to detect any noticeable print damage). This isn't to suggest the remastering has been able to wipe away problems inherent in the filming itself. The color palette is frequently muted (though sometimes quite vivid without becoming oversaturated) and grain appears often though not to the level that it becomes a serious distraction. Even though shadow detail is not as precise as we've come to expect from the new HD format, this is by far the best handling of the film's many contrast difficulties endured by fans over the years (see the sequence where Ned, from a distance, spies someone atop his cabin landing; previously, this has just been a blob of lighter-toned movement but here we actually see the partially-obscured face of the killer beneath a dark raincoat). As far as HD details, crispness, and "pop," well there's only a bit of that visible here (the close-ups of Mrs. Voorhees face are very nice) but no matter since what we do get is a very clean image with a faithful film-like quality. Truly, this is the best that Friday the 13th has looked on video.
Audio also gets a big boost here, making the most of the original soundtrack while still confined to the limits of the source material. Gone are the previous mono tracks of old, upgraded here to an expanded Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround mix. While you shouldn't expect blazing action from all around the room, you will enjoy a noticeably widened soundstage that effectively pushes some ambient effects to an appropriate surround channel and also maximizes the enveloping dread delivered by Manfredini's imposing score. Dialog isn't particular bold from the center channel but it is always clear and intelligible from start to finish. Technically, this is a worthwhile investment for those eager to squeeze every drop of goodness out of this film. If you're a purist, take heart because the film's original mono track is also here for those who require absolute authenticity.
As for extras, there are plenty here, most hits, some misses. First up is the commentary track, previously found only on that Region 2 disc and noticeably absent from the pricey 5-disc boxed set of 2004. Moderated by author Peter Bracke, this track splices together separately recorded interview snippets from Cunningham, Miller, editor Bill Freda, Adrienne King, and Betsy Palmer. Their comments and anecdotes are enjoyable and the track never lapses into silence though it would have been interesting to have had regrouped these folks for an interactive discussion captured as they actually viewed the film. Yes, this is a quibble since the track is informative but, given these folks were together in a panel discussion as recently as September 2008, it would have seemed an easy achievement, especially since each seems proud of their work here. That said, you will find 16 minutes of footage from that 2008 panel discussion, presented in the disc's Friday the 13th Reunion, here in HD. Editor Freda isn't present but composer Manfredini is on hand as is gore effects master Tom Savini and original Jason, Ari Lehman. Next up is Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th, a 9-minute HD presentation where Miller, Manfredini, and Savini are back for additional recollections (plus a rehash of a few we've just heard). Notable here is the appearance of Robbi Morgan as she tells of her experiences as first-victim Annie. Then it's more time with the director in The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham, another 9-minute HD presentation where we tour the Cunningham estate and reminisce more about the film and its subsequent "branding." Last of the HD-enhanced extras is the throwaway mini-drama, Lost Tales from Camp Blood—Part 1, an 8-minute film in which a Jason-like brute stalks a young couple previously asleep in bed. As a recovery to this undesirable misstep, The Friday the 13th Chronicles bring another 20 minutes of anecdotal content from Cunningham, Miller, Palmer, King, and Savini. As welcome as all this extra content is, by this point it's becoming somewhat repetitive and even a bit tiresome. Don't nod off yet, though, because there is a juicy nine minutes of gore school with Tom Savini in Secrets Galore Behind the Gore; well worth the watching. Last up is the original theatrical trailer, presented in widescreen and remastered in HD. Though you might be a bit saddle sore by this time, it's proves to be a well-rounded collection of extra material.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Now, for those who have been closely keeping score, you might wonder how this can be the same cut as the Region 2 disc, especially since there's an obvious disparity in the specified running time of the feature film. If this new "Uncut" edition is identical to the previous Region 2 feature, how do we account for the three-minute discrepancy? After close, side-by-side, examination of both discs, all content is equal, frame for frame. The difference can be explained by the well-known 4-percent playback speed increase of Region 2 discs. A simple mathematical computation validates this. Audibly, there is also a slight but detectable pitch increase in the audio track, most noticeable in voices. That's right—if you've seen the Region 2 cut, you've seen this one, too. Again, the benefit here is the playback compatibility with U.S. Blu-ray players and the accurate playback speed.
So, as Friday the 13th Uncut has been brought before us once again, we still find this particular defendant not guilty. Paramount is duly pardoned of the offenses committed in past releases, those addressed in this complete and improved release. Easily, this is worth inclusion in your Friday library.
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