Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday the 13th Part III

(No, I don’t understand the sudden change to Roman Numerals either.)

I wonder why no one ever parodies the cliché of old people dying first. It doesn’t happen in every horror movie, but right off the top of my head” this film, Halloween 2, Halloween 5, and You’re Next all feature one or more old people who appear for a scene or two at the beginning, and then get axed so the killer can stalk the sexy young cast. I kind of wish someone would do a subversion, where the older couple survives and fights the killer after the sexy young people have been sliced up.

The legacy of Jason Vorhees is really the legacy of this film. I remember being in High School when this movie came up in conversation during a math class, and the teacher excitedly recounted his viewing of this film in his youth. It wasn’t considered scandalous or racy that he was talking about this movie. It was as much as part of American culture as Easy Rider.

The first reaction is to say that it’s legacy comes from the hockey mask. This is the movie where Jason finally puts it on, and assumes his iconic look. However, I’m not convinced that the mask is a cause and not an effect. Sure, I doubt any film could have made Jason’s baghead look from Part 2 timeless. However, I also feel that the hockey mask would have been forgotten as well if it was in a more forgettable movie.

Above all, my theory is that this is the film in which the lunatics were officially running the asylum. It was only two years after the first film, so there certainly wasn’t time for a generation to grow up on Jason Vorhees. However, this was a film made for young people, by young people (director Steve Miner was 31 at the time of this film’s release). I feel like the talent behind the movie recognized the zeitgeist of the era they were entering, and they weren’t prepared to short change it.

Does that mean this is a “good” move? Hell no. Rather, it’s a movie that’s good at being what it is. The actors are charismatic, sexy, and seem to be speaking up to make sure the audience can hear them spout exposition. The scares are built up for a time, we get a few false scares, and then the blood comes. The music is both relaxing and haunting in a weird mix. While the movie makes no effort to be realistic, it also never attempts to wink at itself.

The characters, for the most part, fulfill their roles. You have the nice guys, the jerks, a desperate virgin (Larry Zerner), and we get an angry gang of bikers thrown in to give Jason a few more assholes to kill.

It also doesn’t hurt that the setting is very slightly altered. Jason leaves the lake, and journeys to a farm nearby where a group of teenagers are spending some time smoking pot and doing very brief periods of work. While I saw the film in 2D, many of the scenes likely intended to highlight the 3D actually ended up being more memorable precisely because of how weird they seemed for a group of random young people on a farm. We have a guy who walks to the kitchen on his hands, a scene of juggling, and a scene in which a hippie tries to catch popping popcorn in his mouth, just to name a few. Are we suddenly in the circus? Realistic or not, though, you remember it.

Jason in this film seems to overcome his relative weakness from the previous film. This movie treats him with nothing but awe. While Jason’s face is kept mostly obscured for much of the movie, even after the reveal of his mask, Richard Brooker’s body language exudes confidence. He isn’t invincible. One scene has him jump out of the way of a van, and a few moments after that his arms are trapped in the van window, but even then he seems more inconvenienced than afraid or angry. Most of his kills are straight-forward, bloody, and effective for the audience. You could argue that this persona is too fast, smart, and confident to be the tragic Jason who lost his mother, but I’d say this is definitely a persona people remember.

I’m not entirely sure what Jason is at this point in the series. I’m somewhat glad that Part VI made him explicitly undead, although that leads to great confusion about what he was before if he didn’t die from drowning, hanging, or taking an ax to the face. He certainly doesn’t seem like a traditional human.

This is the first time we get a final girl (Dana Kimmell) who was attacked by Jason prior to the film. Chris had moved away from the area after the attack, and she returns with her boyfriend and other friends in something of a show of bravado to prove to herself that she’s no longer afraid. It’s a motivation that makes her likable and understandable. She also gets points for fighting Jason in an almost exclusively physical manner. She never needs to invoke his mother to throw him off like our previous Final Girl did. Chris is just badass.

The film ends with an inversion of the original: when Chris attempts to escape Jason on the Lake, she’s attacked by the zombified Pamela Vorhees pulling her into the lake. I honestly take this to be a hallucination, since Pamela Vorhees being a zombie isn’t a continuing part of the franchise, although I have no idea what the filmmakers intended when the movie was released. We’re shown Jason apparently still dead at the end, why the cops just left his body there after escorting Chris away I don’t know.

If you’re going to watch only a single Friday the 13th film, I would say it should be either this one or Freddy vs Jason. The lore really starts here. It’s a fun, stupid, bloody movie. It may not be “good,” but it’s good at being bad.

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