When the original Friday the 13th hit theaters in 1980 it was expected by most everyone to be nothing more than a profitable blip on the genre landscape, but thirty three years later it sits as one of the longest running U.S. horror franchises in history. It was meant to be little more than a riff on John Carpenter’s Halloween, but while that series capped off at ten theatrical installments F13 reached twelve including both Freddy vs Jason and the 2009 reboot.
While 1980 may be the most important year for fans of the series, 2013 has quickly become the best thanks to two recent home video releases.
First up is Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection which collects all twelve films (across nine Blu-rays) plus an additional DVD of bonus material in a very cool tin case. The lid is heavily embossed with an image of Jason and his machete, while the discs are housed in book sleeves. It’s a controversial move to use the sleeve format instead of plastic trays, but it’s far from the only questionable choice made here by Paramount and WB.
The second release is Crystal Lake Memories, a whopping 400 minute-long making-of documentary that explores all twelve movies in depth. Filled with candid interviews, behind the scenes photos, and clips (both theatrical and cut scenes), this is an entertaining and informational doc that should delight both die-hard and casual fans.
Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection
The initial impressions of this set start off strong thanks to the slickly embossed artwork on the hinged lid and its overall sturdy construction. Inside you’ll find a forty page booklet featuring excerpts from the 2006 book, “Crystal Lake Memories” (which obviously inspired the documentary), two pairs of red/blue 3D glasses, a “Camp Crystal Lake Counselor” iron-on patch, and an elastic wristband that says “I told the others, they didn’t believe me, you’re all doomed.” So there’s that.
The book that houses the actual discs may be deal-breaker number one for some potential buyers. It’s hardbound and features pages illustrated with photos and the occasional factoid, but the choice of waxed sleeves is potentially troublesome. I myself have yet to experience an issue with this style, one also used in Fox’s Die Hard collection, but it seems most collectors prefer the plastic tray style seen in regular DVD releases (as well as Universal’s Jurassic Park collection and New Line’s Nightmare On Elm Street set) as the sleeves can damage the discs. Also, as you’ve probably deduced from the “twelve films on nine Blu-rays” thing, some of the movies are doubled up onto one disc. It doesn’t appear to affect their video/audio qualities, but it still feels like a cheap move.
The second issue for fans is in regard to the collection’s special features While nothing new is present the vast majority of past extras have found their way into this collection. Did you catch that? The “vast majority?” To be sure, there’s a lot here, and it’s entirely possible I’m missing something, but at the very least the set is absent the commentary track recorded for Part III (and available in a previous box-set) as well as the commentary track recorded for the unrated cut of Jason Goes to Hell.
Which brings us to the most egregious issue… the decision to include only the R-rated cut of Jason Goes to Hell when an unrated edition has previously been released. (The disc for the first Friday is also labeled ‘R’ but is actually the unrated cut.) A previous DVD release includes both cuts so it seems like a ridiculous oversight not to include the unrated version here as well. In addition to losing the aforementioned commentary viewers are also out four minutes of uncut gore and sexy time. So much for “The Complete Collection.”
As frustrating as these issues are though there’s still a lot to love here. For one thing, several of the films are making their Blu-ray debuts in the set, and while none of them are going to blow your skirts up with their video presentation, they all look solid and as good as they ever will.
So let’s get specific:
Friday the 13th (1980)
Sean S. Cunningham‘s original creation has stood the test of time and remains the best of the series, and that’s at least in part because it acts as a legitimate mystery in addition to being a gory slasher film. (Part V: A New Beginning aims for that same experience but misses the target.) Both Black Christmas and Halloween predate it, but the film made its mark through gory kills and its trend-setting shocker ending.
Best kill: Jack (Kevin Bacon!) gets a post-coital arrow through his neck from under the bed
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
The inevitable sequel to the surprise hit faced a bit of a challenge in that the killer was offed at the end of the first film. The series would go on to prove just how laughable of a problem that is these days, but at the time it was a bit of a stumbling block. Enter a grown up Jason seeking revenge for his mother’s beheading. Interestingly, it was this plot choice that made make-up artist Tom Savini pass on return duty for the film as it made little narrative sense to him. The bigger surprise though is that director Steve Miner‘s movie is actually pretty damn good and holds up just as well as the original. Not coincidentally, it’s also one of the scariest. Jason has the whole Town That Dreaded Sundown look going for him which will always be more frightening than a hockey mask, and the final jump scare is a wonderfully creepy doozy.
Best kill: Mark (the guy in the wheelchair!) takes a machete to the face then rolls down a long flight of stairs in the rain
Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
While this installment would have existed even without the introduction of 3D it feels from beginning to end like a cash grab meant to sucker fans of both Jason and the extra dimension of kills. Miner returns in the director’s chair, but he’s already a defeated man resulting in a bland rehash of ideas and scenes. We get five minutes of recap, a heroine who tries to fight Jason with the power of literacy by dumping a bookshelf on him, and visible strings on several of the items leaping toward the screen. And half the kills take place in the damn barn, contributing to an incredibly bland entry overall.
Best kill: Rick has his head squeezed until his eyeballs pop out
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
The hilariously titled part four features flash backs to parts 1 and 2, and in a bravuro move even manages to embed flashbacks into other flashbacks. Genius! That aside though it’s actually a noticeable step up from part 3 thanks to the arrival of the series’ first actual child (Corey Feldman) and the turn the story takes when Jason crosses paths with little Tommy Jarvis. Also, Crispin Glover dancing!
Best kill: Doctor Axel gets his throat sawed and head twisted into an uncomfortable position
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
Tommy’s all grown up and living in a home for special teens, but just because Jason was cremated after Part 4 doesn’t mean the masked madman is done yet. Or does it? The correct answer is yes and no, but while the film earns points for trying to revisit the mystery format used so much better in part 1 it loses them all again through poor execution. Who’s the killer?!?! If you guessed Dudley from Different Strokes then you’re my kind of film fan, but sadly that’s not the case. Add in a ridiculously cartoonish redneck mother and son, a sleazy atmosphere, and some damn enchiladas, and you have one of the weakest entries in the series.
Best kill: Eddie gets strapped to a tree with an ever-tightening leather strap over his eyes
Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986)
I’m all for changing up the formula, but no nudity? Not a single piece of legitimately naked female flesh? Not cool writer/director Tom McLoughlin, not cool. And if Jason was cremated after part 4 then isn’t the body here actually the distraught father from part 5? Whatever, there’s Horseshack! On the plus side there are plenty of fun, gory kills here alongside a fun sense of humor resulting in a middle of the road installment.
Best kill: Sheriff Garris (named for director Mick Garris who’s found fame as an extremely likable guy who directs mediocre Stephen King adaptations) is bent backwards to the point of messy breakage
But, yes, let’s keep going…