Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982)

Today I did a FRIDAY THE 13TH mini-marathon - starting with the original Friday the 13th, then watching FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II (my personal favorite), and then FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III. When watching them back-to-back, its easy to see how Part 1 and Part II are companion pieces; they share the same tone, the same visual style, and basically the same plot. Both movies feature a mysterious killer hunting down camp counselors in the woods of Crystal Lake. But then there's Part III, a movie that's completely different in tone, visual style, and plot (not that there's much plot to begin with in Part III). While it is a different movie - and a truly unique slasher film - Friday the 13th Part III is by no means a bad flick. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It succeeds in what it sets out to do - give its audiences a frighteningly fun time!

Friday the 13th Part III is definitely cheesier than the first two movies, and is a lighter toned film overall. It is even obvious by the film's visual design - this movie is colorful with playful lighting, choosing not to stick with the dark shadows of the first two movies. What this lighter tone does is create an atmosphere that encourages audiences to have fun - laugh, jump, and scream - rather than being horrified. Really, Friday the 13th Part III is about as much fun as a slasher film can possibly be. It has all the right ingredients; the expected gore, doses of suspense, and laughs that never skip a beat.

Most horror fans would not argue that this entry in the series is best known for one thing - the hockey mask. Yes, Jason snags his now iconic hockey mask off some poor victim, and it is that image of a hockey masked killer that has become one of the most recognized images in horror. Aside from the hockey mask, Jason remains a prominent threat throughout the movie, always lurking in barns, rooms, and the forest. Because of this, he remains a surprisingly scary villain, as he chooses to stalk his victims before finally killing them. Richard Brooker, who plays the killer this time around, lacks the creepiness of Friday the 13th Part 2, but is still an intimidating killer - he's not the goofy walking zombie of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES or the over-the-top anti-hero in FREDDY VS. JASON or JASON X.

Like the first two entries, the entire movie's appeal is built around its death scenes. There are more victims here than in the first two movies, and pretty much anyone who crosses paths with Jason winds up on the slab. But Friday the 13th Part III doesn't rush it, either, choosing to still spend a good amount of time getting to know the victims before slicing them up. And then, when Jason does set his sights on the unfortunate souls, he spends amount of time stalking them and waiting for the right moment. Fans will enjoy a lot of machete murders, but Jason also gets inventive with an axe, knitting needle, pitchfork, electric box, fire poker, harpoon, and even his bare hands. There is no shortage of gore and guts in this entry, despite the film's lighter approach.

Because of the change in visual approach, there is a change in atmosphere, too. The atmosphere is lighter this time around, but it still retains the essentials: eerie ominous woods surrounding an isolated, alienated location at Crystal Lake. This time, the main setting is the summer home Higgins Haven, a nice change of pace from the summer camp setting of Part I and Part II. Friday the 13th Part III is definitely a movie of its time, representing what was popular in the early 80's. Aside from the slasher film craze of the early 80's, there was a fading love for disco, and Friday the 13th Part III's corny disco theme only enhances the nostalgia for the movie. While the music might generate a few laughs today, it's also a nice slice of history and a trip back to a time that was very different from today.

However, Friday the 13th Part III is not without its negatives. It adds absolutely nothing new to the franchise's overall story. There really is not much a plot to even speak of: it takes place the day after Part II and pretty much features Jason taking refuge at Higgins Haven and killing off the college kids who are vacationing there. That's it. There is no growth or discoveries made throughout the film. It is a collection of random characters being brought to Higgins Haven for slaughter. And on top of that, there is no reference to Jason by name or to Crystal Lake. The film is oddly uninterested with continuity or story, choosing instead to make a movie that acts as a filler between Part II and the next entry, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER.

The movie's one significant plot point revolves around heroine Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell) who has brought her friends to her parent's summer home. But Chris has not been there in two years, because she was attacked by a mysterious figure in the woods. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to guess that Jason is the one that attacked Chris, but this subplot leaves more unanswered than it explains; why did Jason leave Chris alive when he could have killed her? A deeper history between Jason and Chris would have enhanced the story, and probably made the movie as great as an experience as Part II, if not better.

Chris has a great ending chase scene, where she battles Jason throughout Higgins Haven. Just like Alice's chase in Part I and Ginny's in Part II, the entire second act of the movie leads up to this point. In slasher films, the catharsis that the audience wants is generally found within the final climactic chase, where the heroine overpowers the villain. And Friday the 13th Part III might have the best chase scene in the entire series (yes, even better than my beloved Part II). Jason is at his absolute best here, and Chris puts up on hell of a fight.

The cliche "final scare" of the movie is a weak point in the film, and really does not work on any level. After Chris has defeated Jason, she takes a canoe out into the lake and falls asleep. When she wakes up in the morning, she thinks she sees Jason still alive and walking... and then is attacked by Mrs. Voorhees' corpse. Of course its a dream/hallucination, but still. Why would Chris be dreaming of Mrs. Voorhees' corpse? And isn't it too similar to the ending of the first film? A different, more original approach would have made all the difference.

But ultimately, none of that matters, because Friday the 13th Part III is a fun-filled slasher film that's just a good time. It has wonderful, dynamic characters. Chris is a great heroine; my second favorite in the series (behind Ginny). Her friends are great, too, and create the most likable characters in the series. You've got your potheads, your sexually active couple, your ugly dude, and your super sexy hispanic girl. Plus, Chris' boyfriend Rick (Paul Kratka) is surprisingly enjoyable, despite being set-up as a boring country boy. But the best characters are definitely the members of the biker gang, who comes to Higgins Haven to get revenge on the kids for an earlier event but end up meeting Jason.

So can it be argued that Friday the 13th Part III is a good movie? No, absolutely not. But can it be argued that Friday the 13th Part III is a fun, entertaining movie? Yes, and that's really the most important thing for a slasher movie, isn't it? To entertain it's audience? When watching Friday the 13th Part III and having a blast, you can't help but appreciate it. There's a reason why Friday the 13th Part III is the highest grossing sequel in the series, and as it stands Friday the 13th Part III is the second best entry in Jason's franchise.

The Burning (1981)
Madman (1982)
The Slumber Party Massacre (1984)

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