Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Film Appreciation - Documenting the Death Curse
Cody Hamman shows Film Appreciation for the 2013 documentary Crystal Lake Memories and celebrates the entire Friday the 13th franchise.
Back in 2005, fans of the Friday the 13th franchise received the greatest tribute to our beloved film series and its enduring popularity that we ever could have asked for when author Peter Bracke's book Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th hit bookshelves. A massive, 300+ page hardcover coffee table book, Crystal Lake Memories was a beautiful thing, its chapters focusing on the making of every movie in the series, filled with interviews with people involved both behind the scenes, in front of the camera, and under the masks of slasher Jason Voorhees.
2009 saw the release of the documentary His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th, and while it was a fine celebration of the franchise, it was certainly no video equivalent to Crystal Lake Memories. The inadequacy of His Name Was Jason was made even more clear the following year, when the A Nightmare on Elm Street series got a four hour documentary dedicated to it, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy.
Daniel Farrands had been a director on both His Name Was Jason and Never Sleep Again, and he wasn't satisfied with how the Jason doc had turned out. It had only been 90 minutes long, there was a lot more to the interviews with F13 alums that hadn't made it into the feature, and the studio had mandated that the documentary be full of interviews with celebrity guests who were fans of the movies but had absolutely nothing to do with them. Farrands knew something much better could be done, and F13 deserved it. So he partnered up with Peter Bracke to return to the interview footage already shot and conduct more interviews for the creation of a video extension of Crystal Lake Memories.
The documentary version of Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th is indeed miles better than His Name Was Jason, and a great companion piece to Bracke's epic hardcover. Elm Street had gotten four hours dedicated to its seven movies (not counting the remake), so it's only fitting that F13 get a longer running time than that for its twelve movies (plus an unrelated TV series). Crystal Lake Memories runs for a glorious seven hours.
Like the book, the documentary is split into chapters that focus on the making of each individual entry in the series.
The installment that gets the most time dedicated to it, around 40 minutes, is of course the 1980 original, as the documentary shows how producer/director Sean S. Cunningham and writer Victor Miller came up with the initial idea, landed financing, assembled the cast, and went into production in a small, picturesque New Jersey town, making the movie on a budget of around $550,000. Although the finished film and its bloody effects provided by FX wizard Tom Savini caught backlash from critics and prudes, that $550,000 investment was recouped many times over and a cinematic legend was born when Paramount, one of the top studios in Hollywood, distributed the movie out to theatres.
The decision was made to expand on the first film's nightmarish final jump scare for part 2, and while that idea was somewhat controversial - some couldn't wrap their heads around the idea that drowned little boy Jason could somehow be an adult slasher in the sequel - it turned out to be a genius move, bringing to the horror genre one of its most iconic villains.
My favorite aspect of the segment on part 2 are the moments with the former owner of the camp where the film was shot, an elderly fellow named Lloyd Albin. He's a very happy and friendly guy, and clearly has fond memories of the time when the Friday the 13th production was on his property. He took the documentarians around to various shooting locations, and I want a spin-off documentary consisting entirely of Lloyd Albin going through the movie scene-by-scene at every location. That old dude is awesome and endearing.
The chapter on part 3 (in 3D!) shows the installment as an important entry not just because it's my favorite, with my favorite Jason Voorhees performance (provided by the late Richard Brooker), not just because it has Jason donning his iconic hockey mask for the first time, but also because it marked the rise of Frank Mancuso Jr. into a producorial role on the series. Mancuso would shepherd the franchise through the rest of the 1980s.
As effective of a shepherd as Mancuso was, he was also someone who kept trying to kill off the horror icon under his care. He announced that Jason was dead for good at the end of part 3, capping the series off as a trilogy, but then decided that there should be a follow-up completely built around the fact that it would be the death of Jason. Part 4. The Final Chapter. Which was far from the final chapter, even though Tom Savini did come back to try to end the life of the character he had originally designed in the best way possible... or the best way the producers would allow...
Of course, most of the people involved in the making of The Final Chapter already knew that it wasn't truly going to be the last entry in the series. It was too profitable to end. Ideas for part 5 were already being thrown around before filming was finished on 4, and it was believed that even if Jason didn't return, the character that delivered the killing blows to him, young Tommy Jarvis, would. And so Tommy did come back for part 5, A New Beginning, to find himself facing off against a Jason Voorhees copycat.
Through this documentary and Peter Bracke's book, most of my questions about the series have been answered. But there's still one that I've never seen answered or even asked.
In parts 2 through 4, Jason Voorhees would run after his victims. As of part 6, Jason Lives, in which Jason Voorhees is resurrected by a lightning bolt Frankenstein style, the character started simply power walking after people he was chasing. Jason slowed down once he officially became one of the living dead, that makes sense. But why does the impostor pseudo-Jason in part 5 walk during chase scenes? Why is he slow instead of running like Jason did before him? Was it a conscious decision made as a way to differentiate the copycat from the real deal, like the blue chevrons on his hockey mask are different from the red ones on Jason's mask? Or was the killer slowed down at the advisement of stunt coordinator Dick Warlock, who had played the slow walking Michael Myers in Halloween II? My inquiring mind wants to know.
Following Jason's resurrection, the stories started getting more outlandish, with the character facing off with a telekinetic girl and taking a cruise to Manhattan. There was consideration given to having Jason do battle with fellow horror icon Freddy Krueger, but Paramount and Elm Street owner New Line Cinema couldn't come to an agreement... The studios having to agree was no longer an issue when Paramount and Mancuso felt they had taken the franchise as far as they could after the box office failure of Jason Takes Manhattan and the series ended up back in the hands of Sean S. Cunningham, who quickly landed a deal to have New Line distribute any new sequels he might make.
Now that New Line had both Jason and Freddy under their roof, the only problem was finding the right story to feature both characters. It took a decade of development hell before they had a satisfactory and filmable script, with the impatient Jason taking a trip to Hell itself and a journey through space 400 years in the future in the meantime. By the time Freddy vs. Jason arrived on screens, it was the most highly anticipated movie of my life. And I was not disappointed. The only disappointment came when it took another six years for Jason to get back on the big screen.
When he finally did come back, it was in a film that featured the triumphant return of the human, running Jason of the early installments.
Thankfully, the filmmakers did not feel the need to insert their own opinions about the movies into the documentary. Each film is covered with a straightforward, matter of fact collection of interviews with people who were involved with the making of it in some way reminiscing about their experience. So even if the director of the documentary wasn't himself a big fan of an entry, that doesn't come through in watching the doc. Each movie gets the same treatment. They took into account and respected the fact that every Friday the 13th is somebody's favorite Friday the 13th.
The dedication to delving into the entire franchise even extends to a short segment on the Friday the 13th television series, which ran for three seasons from 1987 to 1990. Even though the only connection the TV show, which was co-created by Frank Mancuso Jr., had to the films was the title and the studio backing it, it was still a Friday the 13th property of sorts, so it gets 9 minutes of attention. I never watched a single episode of the TV show because, even though I was a little kid when it was airing in syndication, I already thought it was a ripoff that there was a show with the F13 title that had nothing to do with Jason Voorhees. I never gave the series any consideration because of that, and never would have thought to have given it any attention in a book or documentary on the F13s, but for the fans of the movies who also watched and enjoyed the show (and I don't know of many of them), the filmmakers have it covered.
This documentary is a fantastic commemoration for fans to have of their beloved slasher franchise. I am very grateful to Daniel Farrands, Peter Bracke, and their collaborators for providing the fans with the Crystal Lake Memories book and documentary.
For me, the Friday the 13th movies are some of the most important films in existence, the series and Jason mean a lot to me, so this respectful examination of it all makes for seven hours of blissful viewing. Seven hours and I wish it longer. When the documentary first went up for pre-order, fans who jumped on the deal also got a bonus disc with another four and a half hours worth of interviews on it, so having that helps soothe the desire for a longer running time, but I'm still left wanting even more, just like I'm always left wanting to see more and more Friday the 13th sequels.
The Crystal Lake Memories book is not complete, as it ended where the franchise ended at the time of its release. Freddy vs. Jason. Soon, this documentary will not be complete, as there are always fresh chapters in the Friday the 13th saga in the works - even though attempts to get another feature film into production and another TV show off the ground (one that would actually be connected to the movies and feature Jason) have failed, I'm confident that we'll see more Friday the 13th eventually, and a new video game is going to be released later this year.
Looking back at the series' history is a lot of fun, and F13 fans always have something else to look forward to as well, even if we have to wait longer than we expected to. As Ari Lehman, who played Jason in his cameo in the original 1980 film, likes to say, Jason Never Dies!
I am very glad that he doesn't.