The Friday the 13th franchise is, by its very nature, a goofy franchise. After the first couple of entries, they stopped trying to make themselves into traditional horror movies and embraced what they were: cheap schlock that people will file into just to see how creative and over-the-top they’re going to make the death scenes. As a series with as many true stinkers as it has classics, this is a double-edged sword. Go too goofy, and you get a movie that’s impossible to take seriously. Go too serious, and you’ve got a movie that bores the audience to tears. It’s finding that right balance of horror and ludicrousness that makes the best Friday the 13th films possible, and I believe none do it better than Friday the 13th Part 3D.
I could go into the plot of this film, but really that would do no good as like any Friday the 13th film, there is very little plot. Young people go to a cabin off Crystal Lake. Jason enters the scene. Everyone but one girl is killed in a series of progressively insane and over the top manners. Jason is almost killed. Cue the need for a sequel with one final jump scare.
What works so well about this movie is that, for the first time, they don’t take themselves 100% seriously. The first two Friday the 13th films are pure horror films, and actually do a pretty damn good job. When it came time to make a third film, the mid-80’s 3D fad was in full swing, and Friday the 13th didn’t want to miss out on it. Of course, instead of just making a movie and filming it in 3D, they wanted to take full advantage of the fad by constantly having things flying out at your face. You’d think this would be limited to flying spears and pitchfork points, but pretty much everything that could fly out at you does. Guy playing with a yoyo? LET’S THROW IT AT THE AUDIENCE! Juggling contest? LET’S THROW THOSE APPLES INTO THE AUDIENCE! Guy gets his head crushed? LET’S SHOOT HIS EYE AT THE AUDIENCE! These effects are so silly and so over the top that they’re almost endearing, especially when you only have a 2D version of this film to watch at home. The actors, for their part, all look like they’re having fun with these silly camera set pieces, barely restraining laughter as they throw yet another object at the camera.
Silliness aside, this one also works quite well as a horror movie. This was one of the last films where Jason Voorhees was actually scary. He still manages to stalk teenagers from the darkness with the classic, creepy soundtrack of the first two movies, and pulls off some of the creepiest images of the series during the film’s final battle. After being hung from a barn, seeing Jason pull himself from the noose in a one-handed pull-up is truly the stuff of nightmares. Instead of just putting a random guy in a mask and calling it a day, they actually cast former circus trapeze artist Richard Brooker in the part, and his physicality really adds an extra dimension to Jason as a threat. The fact that this is also the first film where Jason wears his now-trademark hockey mask also makes this one for the books.
From a personal standpoint, I also could not go on about this movie without mentioning my favorite victim character in a Friday the 13th movie: Shelley. Played by Larry Zerner as the pudgy, practical joker of the group, Shelley is one of the most sympathetic characters the series had to offer. Just wanting to be liked but not knowing how to go about it, he’s the kind of awkward guy that I can really relate to. A couple years ago, Fiona and I went with Mario Lanza to a screening of this movie in 3D at Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It was an awesome experience all around, with lots of fans of the movie cheering and quoting loudly, and more than a few cast members in attendance for a post-film Q&A. However, none of them got louder cheers than Shelley; he was perhaps even a bigger star than Jason. Gotta love that these movies could create a character that the fans could relate to for once, mourning his death instead of cheering it on.
The Friday the 13th series may embody all the best and worst that 80’s horror had to offer, but it has reached the point now where it is a cultural institution. I look forward to a future when I can show this movie to my kids just as my dad showed me Hitchcock.
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-- Matt Carter
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