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…
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
When I was younger this entry quickly became my favorite of the series for the simple reason that it added a girl with telekinetic powers into the mix of what was otherwise a very straightforward slasher series. It’s an absolutely ridiculous concept, and subsequent rewatches have tarnished the charm more than a little, but it remains a fascinating and wholly unexpected zigzag. That said, good god is this a dumb movie. There’s not a single likable character here, and the writing is as idiotic as it comes thanks to an ending that posits that Tina’s father, who died in the lake a decade prior, would not only still be down there but would be in near perfect physical condition. And then it gets even dumber.
Best kill: Poor Judy gets slammed against a tree in her sleeping bag
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
The makers of part 8 saw a particular challenge set before them in trying to make a movie even more idiotic than part 7. They succeed wildly. Not only do we get a young woman haunted by the ghost of young Jason (who never died so what the what?), but we also get the least convincing portrayal of New York City ever captured on film. (And I’ve seen Rumble In the Bronx.) Five minutes in Times Square aside, the streets are all the same few back alleys, we’re asked to believe toxic waste flows through the sewers on a nightly basis, and the cop with dialogue sounds like the most Canadian police officer since Dudley Do-Right. You’d almost think this whole thing was filmed in Vancouver. Ahem. On the bright side, after seven films someone finally decides the best way to defeat Jason is to box with him.
Best kill: Julius gets his block knocked off with an uppercut
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
It’s almost impressive how much of a nosedive this film takes after what may be one of the best opening sequences of the series. Seriously. The initial setup seems to fall in line with everything we expect, but when the SWAT team’s sting operation is revealed and Jason is blown to bits it’s as absolutely bonkers as the introduction of a girl with psychic powers. And then the rest of the movie devolves into body swapping hijinx that fails to even reach Kirk Cameron/Dudley Moore levels of awful alongside a storyline that makes so little sense it’s not even laughable.
Best kill: Shelby gets burned in the deep fat fryer and on a sizzling skillet
Jason X (2001)
It’s four centuries into the future, and Ja-wait, WTF? Space! Sure, why not. And to be honest they had me with David Cronenberg appearing onscreen as yet another crazy as hell doctor. Now had he pulled out his own Dr. Decker mask and gone blade to blade with Jason we’d have the best entry in the series, but that was not to be, so instead we have a lesser effort that gets by on some fun kills, some cheesy effects, a fantastically self-aware visit to the holodeck, and the fact that it’s set four goddamn centuries into the future.
Best kill: Adrienne has her face frozen in a convenient pool of liquid nitrogen then smashed to pieces
Freddy vs Jason (2003)
Ten years after Freddy’s glove pulled Jason’s mask into the earth at the end of part 9, the two terror titans finally get to square off, and the result is pretty okay. Director Ronny Yu tries to bring the same sensibilities to this rebirth that he managed with Bride of Chucky, but it never reaches that film’s mix of smarts, laughs, and violence. It’s still good fun though.
Best kill: None of the kills here are all that great, but ripping off Freddy’s arm and then stabbing him with his own glove is pretty cool
Friday the 13th (2009)
Platinum Dunes is not a production company that should instill anything resembling confidence into people, but, and I know this puts me in the minority, they delivered a pretty great reboot here. Director Marcus Nispel finds the terror that’s been missing from the series since part 2 and delivers a truly scary Jason. Credit goes to Derek Mears, who dons the mask (and the sack) and creates a frighteningly formidable presence in the form of his quick-moving and highly imposing Jason. Kane Hodder seems to be everyone’s favorite, but Mears sell the terrifying nature of Jason like nobody else. The film is loaded with great kills, copious nudity, and some legitimate surprises along the way before faltering in literally its final minute.
Best kill: A topless Chelsea, thinking she’s escaped Jason’s wrath, is killed with a quick machete jab through the top of her skull that lifts her (conveniently) out of the water before letting her fall beneath the surface dead
Finally, just because it’s a thing people do, here’s my ranking of the original ten films in the series. (I’m excluding Freddy vs Jason and the 2009 reboot for reasons, but if the latter were included know that it would be towards the top.) From best to worst: 1 > 2 > 6 > 4 > 10 > 7 > 5 > 3 > 9 > 8
That seems right.
When it comes to special features on Blu-rays and DVDs behind the scenes segments rank down there with photo galleries as far as extras I usually couldn’t care less about. The longer the featurette, though, the more interested I get, and this is nowhere more evident than in the handful of truly excellent feature-length making-of documentaries floating around. From Lost In La Mancha to The Hamster Factory and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys (both made by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe), there are great and fascinating works of art that exist solely as examinations into other works of art and the artists behind them. Of course, a closer example to the documentary at hand would be the excellent four hour Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy.
The makers of that Freddy-centric doc, Daniel Farrands and Thommy Hutson, return with an equally in-depth look at the Friday the 13th films. Divided into chapters, one per film, this doc becomes an essential source of material and information for fans of the series. Interviews with dozens of players illustrate each film’s production covering details big and small. We learn how the whole thing got started and hear from everyone from directors to writers to effects guys to the cast, and the anecdotes are engrossing and consistently fun.
Information as innocuous as the fact that “Jason” was almost “Josh” exists alongside more serious revelations like that of Adrienne King’s brush with a violent stalker. Disagreements abound as participants let loose with their thoughts on the films’ logic, Jason’s hockey mask, and what they thought of each other. Not surprisingly most of them have nothing but love for everyone, but some are more candid than others. Ted White played Jason in Part 4, and he has some hilarious thoughts on little Corey Feldman. Their inclusion here is especially funny as Feldman actually narrates the entire doc.
It’s a treasure trove of information spread across two discs (the set contains two Blu-rays and two DVDs), and while certain parties declined to participate those who did more than make up for their absence. It is fun to hear Feldman talking about actors who treat their Friday the 13th past as if it was shadowy porn while images of Crispin Glover, Kevin Bacon, and Tony Goldwyn appear onscreen. (Their refusal to participate is dumb but understandable, but where’s Steve Miner?) Again though, even without them this nearly seven hour doc is never boring and consistently engaging and illustrative of the enthusiasm, creativity, and professionalism that both cast and crew put into the films.
The Bottom Line
As a big horror fan I love both of these releases, but only one of them is a must buy. Crystal Lake Memories is that one as it manages to both entertain and enlighten in equal measure as it answers questions you didn’t even know you had. There’s some fascinating history behind the Friday the 13th franchise, and this doc does a great job of ferreting most of it out from the participants. The Complete Collection though is a bit of a mixed bag, and while I personally think fans will want to pick it up its faults are understandably enough for anyone who decides to pass. It’s most likely the last and best collection the franchise will ever see though so plan accordingly.
Buy Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection from Amazon.
Buy Crystal Lake Memories from Amazon.