31 Days to Scare ~ Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th

The Facts:

Synopsis: A chronicle of the history of the Friday the 13th franchise.

Stars: Kane Hodder, Monica Keena, Greg Nicotero, Wes Craven, Robert Englund, Betsy Palmer, Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Kirsten Baker, Stuart Charno, Warrington Gillette, Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves, Kelly Hu, Todd Caldecott, Tiffany Paulsen, John Shepherd, Shavar Ross, Melanie Kinnaman, Richard Young, Marco St. John, Juliette Cummins, Lar Park-Lincoln, Susan Blu, Terry Kiser, Kevin Spirtas, Elizabeth Kaitan, Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Vincent Guastaferro, Renée Jones, Kerry Noonan, Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover, Lawrence Monoson, Lisa Freeman, Kimberly Beck, Peter Barton, Kane Hodder, John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Steven Williams, Steven Culp, Erin Gray, Dana Kimmell, Richard Brooker, Catherine Parks, Paul Kratka, Jeffrey Rogers, Larry Zerner, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby

Director: Daniel Farrands

Rated: NR

Running Length: 400 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: There are documentaries on the making of films and then there’s Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. Based off the excellent coffee table book published in 2005, this documentary from 2009 is the Holy Grail for fans of the Friday the 13th series and all its many, many…many sequels. Though I had already pored over the book several times and knew many of the behind-the-scenes info about the making of the films, the documentary brings these and so much more to life in a watchable format that you’ll be hard-pressed not to devour in one sitting. The first time I watched it I actually had to stop myself from taking in all 6 hours and 40 minutes at once, opting to break it into three segments and extend the fun.

Each movie gets its own chapter and so does the short-lived TV series, all put in chronological order. Often the discussions of the individual films are supported by events going on in the world at the time they were made and released so it’s helpful to watch this in order without skipping around too much. What surprised me was while the first film obviously gets a little more time spent on its genesis and production, the subsequent sequels are exceedingly well-represented by cast members and the different filmmakers that were involved. Often these specific types of genre documentaries are padded with nerds (ahem, fans) that fill in many of the gaps but here there are enough of the key players involved that the fan representation is blessedly kept to a minimum.

Another positive is that there’s little to no sugarcoating the discussion of the films and the logic gaps each new entry brought. Bad acting, tepid scripts, and production difficulties are put out there for public consumption and everyone seems to own their part of the good and the bad. It’s all largely kept light and airy; so while there are some instances where you can tell there’s more to the story, the point is not to do a deep dive into the wrongs of the series but instead to keep the focus on how the franchise was a miracle money monster of its own.

Usually around this time of year I get the urge to throw this one in again and revisit some of the segments that may not be as fresh in my mind or to follow-up after watching one of the sequels to get more insider info. For horror fans, this a must watch, if not an outright must own. Filled with great extras and deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut, it’s a whopper of a documentary and worth having in your collection.

Check out my reviews of Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and Jason Lives: Friday the 13h Part VI!

31 Days to Scare ~ Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

The Facts:

Synopsis: After being mortally wounded and taken to the morgue, murderer Jason Voorhees spontaneously revives and embarks on a killing spree as he makes his way back to his home at Camp Crystal Lake.

Stars: Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover, Lawrence Monoson, E. Erich Anderson,  Judi Aronson, Joan Freeman, Barbara Howard, Clyde Hayes, Camilla More, Carey More, Ted White, Lisa Freeman, Kimberly Beck, Peter Barton

Director: Joseph Zito

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: It’s laughable now to think that upon its release in April of 1984 this was actually intended to be the swan song for masked maniac Jason Voorhees. I mean, the old guy still had six sequels, a spin-off with Freddy Krueger, and a remake yet to go before hanging up his machete…for now, at least. Remember, this was an era when multiple sequels were all but unheard of so for the Friday the 13th series to survive up until the fourth chapter was a bit of a miracle. Remarkably, instead of immediately seeing years into the future and the possible profits to be made, the producers made the conscious decision to close up shop and give the audience the finale they were owed.

After Friday the 13th became such an unexpected hit and spawned a quickie sequel followed by an otherwise lame-o 3D threequel, there didn’t seem to be much more to do with the story of a deformed killer offing nubile teens that are unlucky enough to enter his woods. So to tie up the loose ends, Joseph Zito was brought in as a new director and original make-up maestro Tom Savini was enlisted to make the film’s kills and their aftermath extra ooey and gooey. Zito had already directed the similarly themed The Prowler (check that one out, it’s a cult favorite) so he knew his way around the stalk and slash genre. Often called the father of Jason, Savini brought his superlative A-game to the screen, making some realistic effects jump off the screen with bloody delight.

Picking up right after the events of Friday the 13th Part 3, The Final Chapter takes its time in setting its star loose. First he’s brought to the morgue where he doesn’t stay on the slab for long and then he cuts his way back to his beloved Crystal Lake. Standing in his way is a house full of partying teens (including a young Crispin Glover and former Double Mint twins Camilla and Carey More) and a mother with two children, once of which will play a part in several of the sequels. It’s never explained why he targets this group, there’s no reference to the Camp Crystal Lake Jason called home nor do any of the characters have any relation to previous installments.

At 91 minutes, there’s not much time for character development and what little there is revolves around which guy is hornier and which girl is easiest. It has a relatively reserved pacing in the first act that gives way to multiple vignettes where victims find themselves alone and horrifically killed by the hockey-masked hellion. Though the movie was significantly cut to avoid an X rating, Savini leaves little to the imagination, culminating in a finale that ups the ante for gross out gore. Fans of the series that had been waiting for Jason to get his due must have gotten a total thrill out of seeing him hacked and whacked.

Previous entries of the franchise came off as retreads of the original or copies of other famous horror films but The Final Chapter felt like it strove to be better than the rest. With its effort to, ahem, flesh out its characters and take its time getting to the good stuff, there’s a reason why this one is held in high regard by fans. The success of this one at the box office meant there was an much reviled fifth installment greenlit and released barely a year after The Final Chapter but the series would get back into a fun groove with Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI before careening downward fast again. Anytime I’m doing a Friday the 13th marathon I’ll watch the first four and, depending on my mood, throw on the sixth one for fun. Also a positive thing about The Final Chapter is that if you’ve never seen any previous film you could watch this without being too lost.

31 Days to Scare ~ Hell Night

The Facts:

Synopsis: Four college pledges are forced to spend the night in a deserted old mansion where they get killed off one by one by the monstrous surviving members of a family massacre years earlier for trespassing on their living grounds.

Stars: Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton

Director: Tom DeSimone

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  In 1981, horror movies were still figuring out ‘the rules’ to their formula.  With the double-barreled shotgun successes of 1978’s Halloween and 1980’s Friday the 13th, the slasher film was on the brink of an all out attack on the box office with countless imitators being filmed and released in short order.  August of 1981 saw the release of Hell Night which, while falling into most of the trappings of the genre, still manages to come off as well-intentioned and (mostly) well made.

The plot of Hell Night reads along the same lines as the Mad Lib-ed nature of wannabe horror films.  Basically it’s a fill in the blank set-up: Nubile teens are stalked by a BLANK at a BLANK.  Just fill in your killer and location and you’re good to go.  Here the nubile teens (really college freshmen) are stalked by a half-breed crazy at a supposedly haunted mansion which was the site of a family homicide years before.  Every year the local college fraternities and sororities haze a selected group of incoming pledges by forcing them to do something crazy…and this time it’s to spend the night in said mansion.   It’s safe to say that the mansion isn’t as deserted as they think and it becomes a cat and monster game to see who will survive the night.

After making a splash with her Oscar nominated performance in The Exorcist (which, to be fair, was greatly aided by make-up and special effects), Blair was at an awkward stage of growing up.  She always looked more mature than she actually is and hasn’t changed a whole heckuva lot since.  In Hell Night she looks more like an upperclassman rather than a freshman…try as the film may to give her a young appearance.  It may be mean but I have to say that I also didn’t buy the notion that she was one of the more comely lasses at this college, making most of the men that see her go googly-eyed.  She’s not a conventional beauty like other scream queens…but come to think of it, neither were the leads of Halloween and Friday the 13th. Still, Blair makes for a nice lead and aside from her mature appearance is otherwise totally convincing in conveying her terror.

She’s joined by a group of non-memorable supporting players that only exist to get the axe at some point.  Van Patten is kinda funny as a lothario that gets put through the ringer and stages a head-shaker of a robbery from a police station later in the film.  Barton is the sensitive college guy that probably would end up with Blair if they can just get out of the locked gates around the perimeter of the house.

So…to the blood and gore…I mean, that’s what you’re ultimately here for, right?  Well…director De Simone goes light on the red stuff in favor of drawing out the dread as long as he can.  Remember, this was a time when it was still OK to not bathe the audience in boobs and blood so if you’re looking for a film with those elements you’ll need to look later in the 80’s and to cheaper movies.

At 101 minutes, the film is much too long for its own good.  There are several endless sequences where the actors just look around the mansion trying not to get killed.  It’s a lot of s-l-o-w walking around…and it feels like it’s filmed in real time.  At one point, two actors were ascending a flight of stairs when I got up to grab something to drink.  When I returned they hadn’t made it to the top of the stairs.  I’m not joking.  A good 10-15 minutes could have been trimmed out to keep things moving, enhancing the pace and not letting the action drift.

If the wrought iron fence around the mansion was were as wide as the plot holes the actors could have escaped in no time flat.  You’ll be incredulous at the amount of times someone will escape the house only to go right back in to find a missing friend.  It’s the noble thing to do, yeah…but I can honestly say if a maniac was trying to kill me you’d see only a dust cloud behind me if I had the chance.

One of the lesser known horror films of the 80’s, Hell Night is still enjoyable for its pre-mass imitation attack on its tale.  It’s not very original and not quite scary…but something about it works well enough to keep it memorable in my brain several days after viewing it.  If you can track it down, try it out and see if you agree.