23 May 2007

SUMMER OF BLOOD: IN YOUR FACE!

It seems likely that we are on the cusp of a new wave in three-dimensional cinema. The usual suspects (soulless technocrat George Lucas; the marketing genii at Disney; Zemeckis and Spielberg and their descendents) are convinced that this will give them new licence to create beautiful, immersive worlds, expand the limits of storytelling, and release another version of Star Wars.

Bullshit, I say. Have all of these bright lights forgotten the first two waves of 3-D, in 1953-55 and 1982-84, and the mangled corpses they left in their wake? From those six years, I can name one film, the original Creature from the Black Lagoon, that managed to use 3-D in a significant and appealing way (not even Hitchcock could manage that feat, in his otherwise fine Dial M for Murder). Otherwise, it was all just waggling crap towards the camera.

And look! We've got just such a crap-waggler headed down the pike right now!

The early-'80s wave of 3-D had a curious trait shared by neither of its siblings: every damn film that was third in a franchise was released in a 3-D print, and in two memorably barbaric examples, that fact was reflected not just in their advertising, but their very titles (Amityville 3-D and Jaws 3-D). The film to ignite this particular subtrend, as I suppose you've guessed, was 1982's Friday the 13th, Part 3 (saith the poster, but Part III according to the film print; tradition holds that Roman numerals accompanied the launch of the second phase of films, and I'll not break with tradition).

I'll bet you also could guess that this particular 3-D extravaganza fails to advance the Lucasian thesis that the technology can be used to great imaginative effect. Not, mind you, that I was able to watch the film in its intended three dimensions; but damn me if there didn't seem to be a whole lot of pointing knives at the camera and precious little in the way of carefully composed deep-focus setpieces.

In my review of Part 2, I came to the conclusion that the film was sorta kinda not terrible, that it might even be good and well-shot in a few places, and that maybe just maybe it justified the notoriety of the whole franchise. Well, I hope you all enjoyed that brief renaissance of quality, because Part 3 is a deeply stupid movie.

"Wait," I can hear you say, a quizzical and confused look on your face with your head cocked at a dubious angle. "Does that mean that the first two films weren't stupid?" No, my dears, that means that Friday the 13th, Part 3 is so appallingly, overwhelmingly stupid, it is stupid even by the standards of the Friday the 13th franchise.

That stupidity breaks right out of the gate: remember in Part 2, I complained that it had, and I quote, a "generous application of stock footage from part 1 crudely disguised as a dream sequence." I was not pleased then, and I meant my comments to reflect that; but if only I could have looked into the future to see what screenwriters Martin Kitrosser and Carol Watson had in store for their opening sequence, I would have praised that film to the highest heaven. Because Part 3 opens with the last five minutes of Part 2 just stuck right there on the front end of the print. With the exception that the weird-ass final scare gets cut in favor of a new scene of Jason pulling out the machete with which Ginny nearly severed his left arm. Also, the 1.85:1 image from the earlier film has been matted to match the new film's 2.35:1 'scope ratio, and it is powerful ugly, in the way of all compositions that cut people's heads off at the hairline.

Unhappily the recap footage manages to include my favorite single shot from that film, giving the most potent possible evidence that returning director Steve Miner just gave up, or something, because all of the directorial niceness that made Part 2 bearable is far gone now.

Anyway, the Parade of Horribly Stupid continues right on into the credits: you know how the film is in 3-D? Do you suspect that this means that the credits WHOOOSH out of the screen and then WHOOOSH back? Congratulations.

What you likely did not suspect was that the underscore for this happy little technical demonstration would be a Harry Manfredini-penned variation on his rather effective opening theme from the first two films. If you read the internet enough, you'll eventually find all of the gags out there, and I'm sad to say that I cannot think of a single way to jokingly describe this piece of music that hasn't already been used. So I'll just say that yes, it is undeniably a disco remix of the theme, and there is no better indication of the depths of this film's suckage than the way that it makes a total hash out of the one and only consistently good element of the series to that point.

Okay, there is a better indication of the film's suckage: the 9-minute opening scene starring Edna (Cheri Maugans) and Harold (Steve Susskind), the two least essential characters in the history of the cinema. I will spare you the endless litany of unfunny gags that unroll as these two doddering fools wander through their home and general store, while the TV news helpfully recaps that morning's discovery of a bloodbath at Camp Crystal Lake and reveals in the process that the town itself is also named Crystal Lake, which will be an aid and comfort to me going forward. Occasionally, they waggle things at the camera. Eventually they both die. It is a cathartic moment.

The next morning, we get our roll call of Expendable Meat, although I'll be damned if I can tell whether they're supposed to be teens or early twentysomethings. I'll begrudgingly confess that I'm a little grateful that this film doles out the cast in a slightly more ordered fashion than its predecessors, and so they are a bit easier to tell apart. Group 1: Debbie (Tracie Savage, who between then and now spent a bit of time as a news anchor for KFWB in Los Angeles, a fact that every last reviewer of this film sees fit to relate) and Andy (Jeffrey Rogers) who are dating and really, really, really like fucking; Shelly (Larry Zerner), this entry's requisite practical joker and a colossally overwhelming douche; and Chris (Dana Kimmell), who is more or less introduced with a cryptic remark about what happened at the lake a long time ago, and that bit of backstory plus her androgynous name means that she might as well have a nametag reading, "Hello, I'm going to be the Final Girl."

As we meet our Gallant Quartet, they are picking up their Hispanic friend Vera, who is played by Catherine Parks, who is very Caucasian, and I spent every moment until she died unable to get around that fact. It seems that this merry lot are going to spend a weekend at Chris's father's cabin on Crystal Lake, unaware of the attacks from the previous day. I would now like to defend the movie on one and only one point: it's usually said that the victim sets of these films are insanely stupid for returning over and over again to a known psycho killer's haunts, but this particular film makes a decent show of demonstrating how reasonable it is that they'd have no idea of what's going on. So, yeah.

When the Gallant Quintet returns to the car, they find it to be on fire, and by "on fire," they mean "populated by two pot-smoking hippies." These are Chili (Rachel Howard) and Chuck (David Katims), and they are undeniable old, and their presence makes no sense, and it allows for a dispiriting series of pot gags that are nearly as bad as the Edna and Harold Follies, and will be likewise ignored.

So! off drives the Gallant Septet, past the newest murder site (Chris looks pensive) and smack dab into a crazy old hitchhiker (David Wiley), who claims that he was given a gift by a mysterious "Him." This gift, we are helpfully informed by one of the meat, is a human eyeball, that looks a lot like a wadded-up paper towel with some blue dye on one side. The hitchhiker cackles weird things as the young people drive off in a fright, and he then completely confounds my expectations by never showing up again and therefore not becoming our first victim.

Also, he waggles the "eye" at the camera.

This is taking ages. Kicking it up a gear: they all arrive at the Higgins' Haven farm, where Chris finds her boyfriend Rick (Paul Kratka) who is a complete dick and reduces Chris herself to the status of a pre-feminist girl who would be all over a complete dick, although I don't think we're supposed to notice that. Meanwhile, Shelly and Vera incur the wrath of a trio of bikers (two black! The series' first minorities with speaking roles!) during a deeply obnoxious "I need money because I'm Hispanic and only have food stamps" bit. And now that we have an awe-inspiring eleven potential victims, the killin' can get started.

First, a shadowy figure dressed in Tedious Harold's workclothes kills the three bikers, who have come to the farm to teach those meddling kids a lesson about incurring the wrath of bikers. That's in the middle of the afternoon, mind you. As night falls, Chris and Rick are having a heart-to-heart about her experience two summers ago, when she was stalked in the woods by Jason (she doesn't know that yet, nor will she ever, given that the word "Jason" is never spoken in this film), who did something that was not rape, but damned if I or anyone else will ever know what it was, because this flashback is completely nonsensical. Meanwhile, Vera and Shelly are trying to have a heart-to-heart, in which Shelly confesses his Cliché-O-Matic backstory about how he's really shy and he's only a jackass because he needs attention, and Vera seems to accept this; so obviously he responds a few minutes later by jumping out at her with a spear gun and a hockey mask. I fucking hate Shelly. Thank the good Lord, Vera does not immediately forgive him as Chris did for Rick, and so he goes to sulk. And die. A few minutes later, while trying to fish Shelly's wallet out of the lake (don't ask), Vera notices a much larger man than Shelly wearing said hockey mask and brandishing said spear gun, and promptly shooting her in the eye, in the fakest-looking single 3-D effect of the whole goddamn movie (or so it seemed in 2-D).

I'll never get a better chance: having not grown up with Jason, indeed having not seen any Friday the 13th movie prior to my 20th year of life, I have no attachment to The Mask, and so I get to point out that it's really damn stupid. You know why there's a hockey mask? Because some Canadian crew members thought it would be a fun in-joke. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the whole ten-film series typified in one anecdote.

So, death-death-death, in two cases directly repeating deaths from earlier films in the series, and so we have the official tally: it took approximately 230 minutes for the F13 creative team to run out of ideas. Anyway, it's inevitably Chris and Jason, and she runs around, and it's not a terrible Final Girl sequence (much better than the first film had, anyway), but nor is it anywhere near as well-directed as its immediate predecessor. Chris eventually pulls that ass-stupid mask off, realizes that Jason is the same man she saw in the woods, and we the audience get completely confused by the fact that he looks nothing like he did in the big reveal in Part 2. Blah blah, Jason gets an axe to the face, Chris gets on a canoe, and paddles out. First she thinks she sees Jason in the window of the house; then poof he's gone, and in a nifty (read: not nifty, not at all) reversal of the absurd scare from the first film, a zombified Mrs. Voorhees jumps out of the lake to grab Chris-

-and she's being rescued by the cops and left for insane.

There's so much wrong here. SO MUCH FUCKING WRONG. There's the massive pileup of continuity errors, to start, an artifact of starting the film on the heels of the previous one. Then there's the mounds and mounds of backstory that puke out: why did Chris meet Jason before? It doesn't actually change anything, she doesn't use her knowledge of him to defeat him, nor does he seem to know or care who she is. How would she know who Mrs. Voorhees is, in order to hallucinate her? Why the throwaway line about Debbie's pregnancy? Etc. etc.

To me, though, the biggest question mark is this: why the hell does Jason Voorhees want to kill these people? They're not on Camp Crystal Lake, they didn't kill his mother. Psycho killers kill, I suppose.

At least the series figured out what it was about, in this film. Young people + edged weapons. Insofar as there is a plot, it exists only to support the 35 minutes of this 96-minute film in which people get stalked and killed. Insofar as there is a plot, it might be the most slapdash and sloppy one I've ever encountered.

Plus, there's the bitter recognition that Steve Miner's once-fine direction has been neutered by the constant need to waggle things in front of the camera.

My God, this was a terrible movie.

Body Count: 12, not counting Jason, who sure as hell looks dead...

Cheap 3-D Tricks Count: 24 that I noticed; I'm certain the true number is higher.

The F13 Dating Controversy: The film opens about 10 hours after Part 2 ends, and some 36 hours pass (if the first film began on Friday, this one ends on Tuesday morning, in other words). Hence this August, 1982 film takes place in the summer of 1985. Chris's first encounter with Jason was in 1983. As before, it is 28 years since Jason "drowned."

Reviews in this series
Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)
Friday the 13th, Part 2 (Miner, 1981)
Friday the 13th, Part 3 (Miner, 1982)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Zito, 1984)
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985)
Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (McLoughlin, 1986)
Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (Buechler, 1988)
Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Hedden, 1989)
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Marcus, 1993)
Jason X (Isaac, 2001)
Freddy vs. Jason (Yu, 2003)
Friday the 13th (Nispel, 2009)

3 comments:

Pat "Souljacker" King said...

Hooray! Anyways, my point is, SCTV does a brilliant job pointing out how awfully 3D is married into film. That is all.

Malte Ringer said...

I agree with the entirety with the review and would add, as you've hinted, that the quality of the gore effects is much lower than in the first two films: Rick's death takes the prize, but the "eyeball" is of course close...

KingKubrick said...

Tim,
I know it's been six years since you wrote this. But I come from the future where a 60 inch 3d tv exists to tell you I finally fulfilled a life long dream and watch Friday the 13 part 3 in 3D as god intended. It's hideously awful but I must say the filmmakers make better use of the 3d in this film than many of our modern day mega blockbusters.