Gateway Film Center, Columbus, Ohio – Friday, October 13, 2017*
To celebrate the most recent Friday the 13th falling in October, Columbus, Ohio’s Gateway Film Center pulled off a wonderful idea in high style: a back-to-back screening of the first four Friday the 13th films – known colloquially by many fans as “the good ones” – starting at 7:00 on the night itself and ending in Saturday the 14th’s wee hours, just like Friday the 13th Part 3 technically began. Naturally, I was second row aisle for all the carnage, and what follow are breathless, fragmented field reports from the scene, covering all the scenes that I saw fit. Read on if you’re maybe not above a little trespassing on condemned property, definitely not afraid of 3-D yo-yos, if you instinctively shrug off obscure talk downtown of a “death curse”, and know enough to come in out of the rain. We’re gonna party like Ted (Part 2) was bringing the booze and Ted (Part 4) was picking the entertainment…
*Obviously embellished after the screening, much as Kiss’ “Alive!” was later augmented (allegedly) with studio tricks – increased and/or focused crowd noise and the like. No way was I going to further disturb my already disturbed fellow patrons by whipping out my cell phone, or deny myself the pleasure of absorbing “Friday the 13th” on the big screen. I did, however, jot down big ticket items in between showings, and made sure to take copious mental notes throughout. It was a blast.
9:10 PM (approx.) – So GFC structured this event as a series of individual showings that the particularly hearty/foolhardy among us could also see on a single ticket. Apparently, a number of folks thought that seeing Part 1 was sufficient homage to pay, because approximately one-third of what had been a pretty impressively packed room cleared out immediately afterward. No skin off my ashtabula. Fewer people in the theater means fewer people inexplicably moving around at all times and making noise rather than watching the movies (although, happily, that seemed to work itself out as the night progressed as well – ed.). In retrospect, I could see there being plenty of kids who think the way to celebrate Friday the 13th is to catch the original, laugh about/kind of goof on it with the significant other they dragged along, and then bolt for the door as soon as Alice says, “then he’s still there.” I figure the folks who knew what they were missing were the ones that actually stuck around. Fine people to spend the better part of a night with, those.
9:11 PM – My, what an unreasonably large and spooky haunted house you live in, Alice – albeit one whose interior, it turns out, is decked out in faux-Parisian street posters like that girl you had a crush on in college.
9:13 PM – Alice, a vision in checked green overalls, tosses and turns in the throes of a nightmare, essentially recounting all of the sauciest bits of Friday the 13th’s climax as an involuntary extended flashback. Those folks who left after Part 1 ended should’ve come for this one instead. It feels like 1.5 movies for the price of one!
9:17 PM – As if surviving the nightmare within her nightmare wasn’t enough, the phone rings immediately with an awkward call from home. Alice has literal mother issues in multiple senses, it seems…including the one waiting in her kitchen.
9:19 PM – Kinda remarkable that in a pre-title sequence routinely singled out for its excessive length, Alice still manages to pull off what, at seven seconds, I would say is by far the shortest complete shower in the history of cinematic hygiene.
9:21 PM – No explanation offered (or, let’s face it, possible) on how exactly Farmer Jason got Alice’s phone number, or called her from inside the house in 1981, or knew, as a backwoods bumpkin, how to work a phone, or even where she lived, or why she didn’t see him obviously throw a cat through the window at her in arguably the prototypical jump scare of the entire slasher sub-genre. This was one hastily conceived sequence.
9:22 PM – So that was an all time great horror reveal, and a real tone setter, since it took the original more than half its runtime to offer anything much more bracing than a slit throat. We’ll miss you, Alice. For being my third favorite “final girl” in series history – it’s a close call…the top two are still to be met tonight – you receive a lovely icepick as a parting gift from our new master of ceremonies, and our thanks.
9:22:30 PM – Take a good look at Mrs. Voorhees’ severed head, btw, sharing space with the leftovers in Alice’s fridge, and tell me, with a straight face, that that’s supposed to be the same woman we see later. I dare you. Meanwhile, Jason moves the whistling tea kettle to a different eye since Alice is in no condition to do it herself. NOW THAT’S A GOOD BOY!
9:23 PM – While Manfredini’s opening titles slash and shriek, and the film’s actual stars are given billing for the first time in the series, a brief word on presentation: wherever possible, Gateway arranges special showings or engagements of classic older movies presented not digitally but projected on warm, grainy, actual film. Part of the hook for the Voorheesian cinephile contingent here assembled was that Part 2 and Part 3 were to be shown on 35-millimeter film. Film, rather than digital projection, is, of course, the movie lover’s equivalent of a music fan extolling the sonic virtues of vinyl albums, though maybe not in quite the same hushed tones. As someone who owns several thousand albums but sadly no vinyl, I can both understand and appreciate its appeal without a full-throated endorsement. I would see these movies anyway because they’re great – or at least great fun – and because I so value the venue – both GFC and movie theaters in general – but the format isn’t incidental. Seeing a 35mm print after decades of Big Brother-style conditioning to embrace the pristine/sterile joys of digital can be a truly eye-opening experience. This print, however, was definitely one of the roughest I’ve seen, washed out a good bit in terms of color and far more aggressive than usual in its various pops and scratches, including a big orange fault line bisecting the frame vertically and just wiggling there like a EEG measuring negligible brain activity. I still love the movie, and I still enjoy 35mm, but this was a major distraction in spots.
9:25 PM – I’m a bit too young to remember being active in a world where phone booths were a constant presence. The one Jeff and Sandra run to call Ted from at the Exxon station looks like an obvious stage prop to me – something The Doctor would refuse to pop out of on principle – but still kinda charming.
9:25:30 PM – Hey, a Crazy Ralph sighting! This must be the place after all. Apparently, he warned the others, but they didn’t believe him, and…we’re all DOOMED! How delightful. Cherish these moments, kids, for soon our collective innocence will be doused by grim reality.
9:26 PM – Ted’s insidious phone booth repo prank is just a joy to behold, and by far the supreme practical joke of the series. The best part is watching it unfold in the background in real time, with the tow truck immediately hitting the scene the moment Jeff and Sandra are otherwise engaged, the driver wasting no time chaining up Jeff’s truck, even as Ted distracts him with inane directions, and then the two sprinting after the repo man for a good half mile down a dirt road, exhausted and exasperated, only to find something they weren’t expecting at journey’s end. You can practically feel Ted laughing hysterically well before you can hear or see him.
9:27 PM – So besides being a level-headed court jester with a surprising amount of practical knowledge, people skills, and many of its best lines, the movie is also heavily implying that Ted actually wrote the old “bear and rabbit take a $*%( in the woods” joke…you know, the one Eddie Murphy told on stage in Delirious. I get that Ned was a total tire fire as the comic relief in the first movie, but Ted, great a character as he is, is almost an overcorrection too far in response.
9:28 PM – Sandra, casually, to no one in particular: “This place is spooky”…then immediately strolls off into the woods to explore. That’s basically all you need to know about her character.
9:29 PM – Okay, okay, okay, there’s the long Exorcist staircase that Mark will tumble down later, seen in passing just after Paul rings the dinner bell and the counselors begin assembling. The few of you who once read my complete F13 series ranking post (certificates of achievement for finishing will be mailed one of these days) might remember me spinning off that way on an unnecessary tangential rant when discussing Mark’s demise.
9:29:30 PM – I’ll refrain from making direct comparisons in an effort to avoid trivializing current events, but it must be said that self-styled rakish rogue Scott – he of the sensual eyebrows, Travoltesque good looks, and heat/butt-seeking slingshot – is a type of character the Friday the 13th series and similar films did an unfortunate lot to popularize – the horny teenaged male who seeks to pester his way into the, ahem, good graces of a sensibly uncooperative female. As the second such lizard brain to feature prominently in as many movies, he becomes an unwitting case study in a way that his predecessor Ned wasn’t. Ned was just an untethered clown who didn’t know when to quit, or even that quitting was an option. Scott’s single-minded pursuit of hot pants enthusiast Terri, however, is more than a little creepy from the start.
9:30 PM – So Packanack Lodge is not Camp Crystal Lake but, rather, Crystal Lake adjacent, sharing only a long, trespassable border with the infamous, cordoned off killing ground. I’d say the rent is at least affordable. Instead of a working camp, it is a camp counselor training center, run by the enterprising Paul Holt (Ted called him “macho” on the ride over, and it wasn’t exactly meant as a compliment), who definitely does talk a good game re: archery, first aid, coexistence with bears, etc. Shame it wasn’t around five years earlier, since some of the cast of Part 1 really might’ve benefitted from attending.
9:31 PM – Behold the unbreakable Ginny Fields, played by Amy Steel, the series’ greatest “final girl”, and a smart, sarcastic, sexy young lady who knows how to apply child psychology to oversized adult children and definitely knows how to make an entrance. She’s great at ferreting out ulterior motives, keeping the overbearing in check and the homicidal at bay, and knows more than you do about both cars and chess. Her weird little red Volkswagen convertible produces smoke-belching backfires with the crackerjack timing of an insult comic. Paul is punching well above his romantic weight class with her. That he so clearly sees the worth in pursuing her, and noticeably tries to temper his chauvinistic impulses around her, is probably the main thing that keeps him on the green side of insufferable overall.
9:34 PM – Paul gathers the troops ‘round a campfire to finally verbalize the twisted, nonsensical legend of Jason, the pre-pubescent mongoloid mommy’s boy whose negligent drowning one summer at camp set Pamela Voorhees off on a multi-decade path of vengeance that would’ve culminated with the events of the first Friday the 13th, but for the kicker that only the Paramount Pictures brass and Sean Cunningham’s accountants could’ve known at the time: Jason hadn’t drowned at all, see! Rather, he had simply been lost in the forest for twenty years or whatever in a totally wacky misunderstanding. All those POV shots in the first movie of nubile campers being watched from behind trees? Who said those were all Mrs. Voorhees? Some of them might just have been her mute mountain man of a son, who, rather than saying a casual hi and, in so doing, putting an end to all this mayhem, skulked around long enough to see her get decapitated by a shrinking violet…which appears to have miffed him somewhat.
9:36 PM – Ted, batting clean-up, springs screaming from behind the campfire, wearing a mask and loincloth and wielding a big, incredibly lethal looking spear, to punctuate Paul’s yarn, and clears the room. The two will later drunkenly debate all things Jason with Ginny at a nearby dive bar and Paul’s narration will even serve as the pre-title sequence of The Final Chapter a few real world hours from now. Like all legends, it’s a tale that gains potency in the retelling, especially with a terrific editor and three movies’ worth of peril sufficient to fashion into a literally killer montage.
9:37 PM – Scott gains a momentary measure of redemption when he attempts an off-speed pitch in his “courtship” of Terri, slow-dancing with her Shih Tzu, Muffin, and narrating the story of his life for her benefit with all the gravitas of Nick in The Great Gatsby.
9:38 PM – Hand-held hockey, arm-wrestling contests, and some of the whitest dancing you’ve ever seen. These kids know how to party.
9:41 PM – R.I.P., Crazy Ralph. He crossed the line from street-corner mad prophet to run-of-the-mill Peeping Tom, and Jason made an arguably extreme value judgment in response. Still, the series wouldn’t be nearly the same going forward.
9:43 PM – Hard to know what the highlight of the counselors’ trek through the woods on the morning of day two was: the runners getting cheerfully berated by a guy in a wheelchair, Ted’s striped exercise gear and headband making him look like an emaciated Olivia Newton John (‘twas the style at the time), director Steve Miner’s clunky POV camerawork making Jason appear incapable of basic decision making processes or simple movement, or the famous quick cut from Muffin, sitting at Jason’s feet and looking up at him, to a shot of a hot dog sizzling on the grill. Foreshadowing is an art form.
9:46 PM – “What’s green and red and goes a hundred miles an hour?” Good one, Ginny/your move, Ted. Amazing how many of the gross-out jokes apparently coined in this hard-R horror movie I heard innocently in the bathrooms at my elementary school.
9:47 PM – Budding SFX padawan Carl Fullerton probably didn’t need to do quite that much justice to rendering the corpse of Muffin, Terri’s wayward Shih Tzu. What little we see of the old girl’s remains look like either a) her fur was repurposed as a DIY toilet seat cover, or b) a pile of melted Shih Tzu with a pair of novelty teeth floating in it. Leave it to the effects guy to work overtime and upset an audience full of grizzled, mid-grade misanthropes with the heavy suggestion of animal cruelty. Grrr.
9:48 PM – Prissy and generally harmless, with a pervasive though unearned sense of superiority…yeah, it kinda makes sense Paul would be a Yankees fan.
9:50 PM – So the policeman, upon encountering Jason running across his field of vision and ducking back into the woods, stops dead in the middle of a one-lane road and leaves his police car with its driver-side door wide open to join the pursuit on foot. Good thing he apparently wasn’t planning on coming back. A couple dozen huffs and/or puffs later, he happens upon the plywood and aluminum siding shack that composer Harry Manfredini once dubbed “Chez Jason”, which will, of course, be a prominent component in the film’s climax. I always wondered why Chez Jason never made a return appearance in either of the remaining O.G. Fridays – perhaps because it makes too much sense? Someone obviously just decided along the way that Jason should spend the limited downtime one naturally accrues in the middle of a forest bereft of any creature comforts like an off-duty paparazzo, perpetually ready to strike at all times. Sounds exhausting.
9:53 PM – For trespassing into Crystal Lake proper, Jeff and Sandra’s punishment is having to stay behind at Packanack while their reprobate friends run off to the nearby dive casino to get hammered…well, that, and no seconds on dessert. A surprising lot of the ulterior motivated, plus Terri – pure and nude as the driven snow – decide to stick around as well.
9:56 PM – Terri’s skinny-dipping expedition is, oddly enough, the first significant nudity in the not just the movie but the series. Part 1 teased its hormonal audience rather mercilessly, of course, but in the end you still saw about 1000% more Kevin Bacon nippage than you did, say, his girlfriend.
9:57 PM – My sincere hope for you, dear reader, and, indeed, for all of us, is that at some point in your life, someone as attractive to you as Vickie is to me flirts as absurdly and transparently with you as she does here with Mark…just, you know, without all the death at the end.
10:00 PM – Scott getting hung out to dry by the rope snare after stealing Terri’s clothes (seriously, get that man a job in Hollywood talent development while his odious interpersonal skill set still has advocates) was a fun table-turning maneuver by the script for as long as it lasted. Can’t help but think of the missed opportunity that might’ve come, say, if Jason had killed Terri on her way back to help Scott down, but spared Scott instead of taking him out as well. Jason laid his trap pretty far off the beaten path. It’s entirely possible the massacre could’ve happened in total, including the police coming and going, and he’d still be hanging helpless by lunch of the next day, just so much grade A, polyester-clad bear-bait.
10:00:30 PM – Just confirming for the 807th time that Scott’s throat was, in fact, slit by the dull edge of the machete. Okay, as you were.
10:02 PM – Ted can sure put away the Heineken, just sayin’. His observation that, “two of our kids got run in today, all because five years ago some girl panicked and fell out of a canoe” is pretty astute for drunken wisdom, however much it might minimize Alice’s original ordeal. Ginny steps into the breach of the Jason discussion with some real empathy, and it’s here that the character really cements herself as arguably the closest approximation of a 360-degree human being in series history.
10:06 PM – As the male half of the movie’s de facto conjugal couple, rapidly dimming bulb Jeff was clearly imagined to be the Kevin Bacon breakout beefcake star this time around, but weird things can happen on a negligible budget and tight schedule. With his trademark derby hat, surprisingly soulful harmonica chops, and apparently irresistible Adam’s Apple, Jeff is a noble failed experiment, and, in his good-natured desire to just be, a different breed of early ‘80s renaissance man. Vaya con dios in advance.
10:08 PM – Let me amend my earlier wish for world peace by saying that I also hope the object of your affection in that flirting scenario is so hopelessly into you that he or she procures special underwear just for the occasion. Jason sure was a dependable buzzkill in his formative days.
10:09 PM – Seems Vickie also has a touch of the “Crystal Lake Fever” that afflicted Marcie and Brenda in Part 1. It’s amazing, on some level, that this film can comfortably stand on its own merits, because on another level it is a near carbon copy of its predecessor.
10:10 PM – No, dude, that’s not Vickie; that’s the rain.
10:11 PM – My god, what else can really be said about Mark’s wheelchair staircase demise? This kill, upon which I waxed rhapsodic in my full series rankings piece a few years ago, is possibly the single most memorable in series history, and it’s all due to framing and context and the patent unfairness of a guy just waiting on a girl who gets the business end of a blade instead, and hard. Neil Degrasse-Tyson, who is tough but fair, rates the Physics on display a hard C-minus.
10:12 PM – Somewhere, legend has it, the famous coital shish kebob kill exists in its original, unedited version. I’d like to see it just to see it – genre buffs have long shaded the scene over its similarity to a famous set piece in Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve – but in no way should that imply I feel like the MPAA-approved finished product here lacks in impact or horrific effect.
10:15 PM – It’s the Bag-Head! It’s the Bag-Head! Vickie, meet Farmer Jason. F.J., meet Vickie, and, holy crap, listen to her scream.
10:16 PM – “These kids smoke better dope than I do.” Nobody thinks you smoke weed, Paul.
10:17 PM – While Paul and Ginny explore the now-deserted camp, I’ll pause for a few big-picture observations. Despite my extreme familiarity with it going in, watching Friday the 13th a couple hours ago was still one of the better, and more surprising, pure moviegoing experiences I’ve had this year. Part 2 is the only one of this evening’s selections I’d seen in the theater before, and it hits me a bit differently, both at home and away. The pairing of Cunningham’s deliberate pacing and restless camera finds a real ally in terms of a big screen presentation. His is the defter hand for sure, and the clearer eye for noticing difference-making detail. I still like Part 2 better on the whole in terms of character and carnage, and as kind of a pure distillation of everything the series is about, but comparatively it’s a blunt instrument. The difference in craft between Steve Miner’s direction and Sean Cunningham’s is kind of stark.
(cont.) In terms of character, however, Part 2 is a near-runaway success comparatively, however closely overall it hews to the original’s established formula. Ginny is Alice given extra dimension, reconfigured and refined. Paul is Steve Christie, only slightly improved. Ted is Ned (shudder), except with a few millennia worth of evolution applied, still a jokester but hardly a buffoon. Elsewhere, I’d give Jack and Marcie in Part 1 the slight edge as a memorable couple over Jeff and Sandra, but Part 2 stacks that particular deck with the late introduction of Mark and Vickie, who are utterly adorable in addition to being doomed. Where Part 2 finally falters is in the realm of utility players – Scott and Terri’s passive-aggressive then aggressive-aggressive will they/won’t they/please don’t routine is nothing compared to the contributions of Part 1’s Brenda, Bill, and Annie – and intangibles – Part 2’s cat and mouse ending is a little tenser and whole lot less chatty, but the movie has nothing to compare as a climax with either Mrs. Voorhees’ decapitation or Alice’s dreamtime reveal out on the lake.
10:18 PM – I love the psychology of the scenes where Ginny finds herself trapped in the bathroom and looking for a way out while guarding against Jason’s way in, then transitions to the temporarily locked kitchen, brandishing a carving knife as she watches the doorknob violently shake. Simple set ups, effective escalations.
10:21 PM – Glad your convertible bug has a top, Ginny.
10:24 PM – Conversely, I hate, hate, hate the sequence where the close encounter with a cabin rat literally scares the piss out of Ginny, allowing Farmer Jason to notice and ambush her. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King railed against Ellen Ripley’s eleventh hour decision in the original Alien to return for her cat even as the Nostromo counted down toward detonation and an unkillable nightmare-beast stalked its corridors, saying it was a moment designed for the patriarchy to look down on an otherwise strong character for, “acting like a stereotypical woman”. I would argue this sequence with Ginny and the rat is an even more egregious example, not to mention completely unnecessary in the final analysis.
10:26 PM – Allowing for the ravages of five years of mummification, I must again go on record complaining that the head of Mrs. Voorhees Ginny encounters in the shrine at Chez Jason bears absolutely no resemblance to the one Alice finds in her refrigerator. Was there a mix-up in catering? Did he just take the first head he came to at the Halloween store? Way to honor your momma, pal.
10:29 PM – More applied child psychology from Ginny, this time of the literal, lifesaving sort. No, I don’t buy that tucked hair, a dirty sweater, and a loving but imperious manner should be able to transform Ginny into an avatar of the late Mrs. Voorhees – complete with a sweet, hallucinatory Betsy Palmer cameo – but, then again, Jason is clearly damaged goods. Who knows how many mental spark plugs are firing for him at any given moment? Paul’s last second return is also a little too convenient, but it allows Ginny enough time to bury that machete in Jason’s shoulder…which, it’s no iconic decapitation but, yeah, it’d still take me down.
10:32 PM – As for the final freakout, where Paul and Ginny, upon hearing rustling outside, steel themselves against one last deadly encounter only to find a miraculously unhurt Muffin at the door before the unmasked Jason hurtles himself through the window at Ginny, it’s always struck me as a little underwhelming. Fullerton’s makeup is an overworked train wreck, though I suppose reverent enough to the spirit of Tom Savini’s original design of Jason as moss-eaten, malformed little kid. I just don’t understand the context. Was this part and no other supposed to be a dream? It sure plays that way afterward. If Jason’s intent was to grab Ginny, how/why did she survive? It’s a clumsy if not fatal sequence, included to approximate the huge moments that ended the original, but a whiff of stale air comparatively, and I’d say the only part of the movie that objectively falls flat. Of course, sticking the landing was once considered crucial for a Friday, as would be unfortunately confirmed by Part 2’s successor, who in its zeal to correct course instead steers an otherwise decent movie straight off the three-dimensional cliff. But that’s a story for another time…roughly half an hour from now.
10:35 PM – Jason’s final tally is impressive, though not without room for improvement. He’d polish his act in subsequent movies, of course. Just in terms of the two films left tonight, he might as well be a lawnmower in human form. Still, of our three intrepid barflies, Paul alone is technically M.I.A. at film’s end, and maybe not even dead either (Ginny articulates the question that, sadly, few of us besides her were thinking). Ginny makes it out scarred but alive, and, for all we know, Ted may still be cutting a path of destruction through the “after hours joints” of the Eastern Seaboard thirty-five years later. Never has being an incorrigible drunk paid off quite so handsomely. Hell, even Muffin has at least two lives that we know of, and, therefore, probably more. I feel like the producers missed a name recognition opportunity to have the supernatural Shih Tzu headline her own series.
Next Up: 11:10 PM (approximately), and Friday the 13th Part 3…That goalie sure seems pissed about something…
For more fun at camp, 1980-style, click HERE.
For my worthless but considered previous opinions on the Friday the 13th series as a whole, pack a lunch and then click HERE.