Judge Christopher Kulik plans to make 12 films about a psychotic film critic in a Roger Ebert mask.
Twelve Films. Three Decades. Bad luck was never so bloody!
Actually, it's been 29 years since the demonic tyke with a ghoulish face was introduced to movie audiences, but no matter. The original 1980 version of Friday The 13th was a schlocky, skillful little shocker which wrote new rules, as far as the impact of independents. Of course, Black Christmas and Halloween had already broken the modern horror mold, but Friday The 13th is credited as the true, original slasher film, a title which only matters to horror buffs. Critics largely spat on it, calling it degrading, gory garbage with no redeeming values whatsoever. Audiences didn't listen, as they turned Friday The 13th into a box office smash, knocking George Lucas' exquisite The Empire Strikes Back off its theatrical run perch. Teenagers were terrified and distributor Paramount had green-lit a sequel even before discussions of a script. Eleven films followed, and now Anchor Bay celebrates this phenomenon with His Name Was Jason, a 2-disc documentary which machetes its way through the mythos of this hockey-mask wearing mongoloid.
I've always considered myself a casual fan of the series. Half of them are good (for what they are), and half are bad. The original, no matter how you slice or dice it, is a classic. Most die-hards love the gore, but I love the woodsy atmosphere, the chilling sound effects, and the knockout climax with deranged momma Betsy Palmer. Considering its roots and sources, producer-director Sean S. Cunningham crafted something special and unique, teetering more on mystery than horror. The death scenes, as sick as they are, are groundbreaking and have a verisimilitude to them which is hard to deny, even if they were simple tricks created by make-up wizard Tom Savini (1978's Dawn Of The Dead). In many ways, time has been kind to this exercise, but a never-ending onslaught of sequels has muted its power. With Jason Voorhees now picking up the murderous reigns from his mother, the series has slowly, but surely, hacked itself to death, although there has been some fun along the way (say what you want, but I liked Part VIII…a lot).
Paramount eventually grew tired, even ashamed, of the Friday The 13th franchise, despite the fact it was raking in millions more with each film. After eight adventures, the studio had enough and sold the rights to New Line, who has churned out three films since then: Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday, Jason X, and Freddy Vs. Jason. The last one was arguably the most goofy and laughable of all, but it still played like gangbusters to its intended audience, who got exactly what they wanted and then some. I had a blast watching it in the theater, and was relieved with Jason coming out "ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma"-ing as the victor. Unlike the genuinely evil, joke-cracking Freddy, Jason actually has long had an aura of melancholy attached to his character.
Now, a redux/reboot of Friday The 13th has emerged from New Line and Paramount, joining forces with producer Cunningham to deliver something more lean, mean, and faithful to the original, borrowing elements from the first four films. As I sat in the sold-out theater on opening night, there were screams, laughs, jolts, flying popcorn and, at the end, massive applause. This should be a vindication to anyone still damning these films. Unsurprisingly, critics have already done their usual bashing, citing this as an ignorant indictment of all of Western society. Sure, there may not be much depth to a bunch of good-looking teenagers being killed by a maniac, but to some it serves as a secret, moralistic fantasy, as kids who partake in drugs and sex face the consequences. Jason's motivation has always been ignored or misjudged, though admittedly it's only been subtle enough to franchise fans.
Even though Jason and his many cinematic cousins were verbally eviscerated in the '80s, he still became a virtual hero on VHS. This emergence of one the world's most iconic characters called for something more than a pathetic video game or the odd novelization or comic book. Up until now, the best informational source on the series was a book by DVD File's Peter Bracke, which boasted over 200 interviews to provide a "complete history." Otherwise, all we had was a mildly stimulating featurette on the Jason X DVD. The problem was Paramount, still embarrassed by their involvement in the series, refused to participate, explaining why no footage from the first eight films were used. Thanks to the success of Freddy Vs. Jason, there is now a re-birth of the character, one in which Paramount has finally let their guard down and get involved, even if they have chickened out on giving fans what they truly want. Case in point: The 2004 box set tried very hard, but missed the point. Where was the extra footage? Why the same transfers? Why the limited interviews??? Fans will be pleased to know His Name Was Jason seeks to be last word, when it comes to all things Jason. While nitpicks are still warranted, this 2-disc "splatter edition" has much to munch on.
The first disc has the full-length 90-minute documentary, as well as individual interviews with every single actor who has played the man behind the mask. Hosted by Tom Savini, with tongue delightfully-in-cheek, His Name Was Jason does an excellent job of interviewing subjects, overviewing the series' history, showcasing the passion of convention members, et al. The sheer number of interviewees is mind-boggling; aside from famaliar stories from Cunningham, Palmer, and Kane Hodder (who played Jason four times), we also have provocative, cumulative points given by Adrienne King (star of the original), the sexy twins from Part IV, Thom Matthews (director Part VI), and Damien Shannon & Mark Swift (writers of the last two films). King elaborates on a stalker which changed her life forever, inspiring her to create darkly beautiful paintings. Separate interviews with the actors/stuntmen (including both from Part 2 & Part V) who played Jason are equally fascinating, including Ron White, who confesses his aggravation Part 4's director. Hodder has always been an ingratiating commentator, especially with his thrills on invading Times Square.
The bonus material on the second disc is largely composed of extended interviews. "Final Cuts" puts the microphone on all the directors, beginning with Cunningham and culminating with Marcus Nispel, the redux director who guided the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre back in 2003. My favorite is with Adam Marcus, who was 23 when he did Jason Goes To Hell. He shares stories of working with Kane and throwing out ideas for a follow-up. Marcus is so down-to-earth in his observations and vivid in his recollections, it makes me question why he hasn't written and directed more films (he's currently working on a remake of I Walked With A Zombie). What's disappoining are the absence of two directors, including Steve Miner, who not only served as associate producer on the first film but also directed the second and third. Still, the real blow is "From Script to Screen," which only features writers from five of the films, including Damian Shannon & Mark Swift, who wrote Freddy Vs. Jason and the new Friday The 13th (the duo are fun to listen too). "Dragged From The Lake" features various aspects of the series which are discussed, such as the homoerotic shaving scene from Jason Goes To Hell, and the actress who nearly froze to death on the lake in Part 4. Good stuff, even if things get a little repetitive.
The rest of the extras run hot-and-cold, but are plentiful nonetheless. There is a small collection of fan films which are an absolute riot, whether you are a fan of the series or not. One is commercial-like in its approach in how Jason combats his depression, and another has an internet filmmaker being threatened by Jason to play his Nintendo video game. Two travelogues include Director Joseph Zito & star Erich Anderson returning to the cabin and land they filmed for Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter, and Gloria Charles (who played gang member Fox) returns to the barn which Jason hung out in Friday The 13th Part III. "Jason Takes Comic-Con," "Friday The 13th in 4 Minutes," and "The Camp Crystal Lake Survival Guide" are self-explanatory and rather negligible. Best of all is "Shelly Lives," in which is a short, semi-sequel of sorts to Friday The 13th Part III, in which nerd Shelly (played by Larry Zerner) has become a lawyer and promises to represent you when you get slashed by Jason. The ingenious in-joke is Zerner himself is now an entertainment lawyer, and Catherine Parks (who played his love interest Vera) is now his wife, even though she is still missing an eye after being shot by Jason with an arrow.
Things on the technical side are nothing to brag about. Interviews are rendered well in 1.78:1 anamorphic and DD 5.1 Surround sound. English subtitles are also provided.
His Name Was Jason is a must-own for horror and Jason fans. Casual
viewers would benefit more from a rental before purchasing, unless you really
want a $5 coupon to see the new Friday The 13th. Jason is
free to go despite his reputation, while this documentary is found Not Guilty.
Court is adjourned!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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