By Ray Schwetz
The infamous "Friday the 13th" film series began with a little controversy and boffo box office. Which is kind of funny considering that, by today's standards, the film is rather tame. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel found the film so repugnant, that they revealed the ending to steer audiences away from it. Instead, the film thrived with the drive-in set.
Although Mario Bava's "Bay of Blood" predates "Friday the 13th" by roughly a decade, both films have oversexed teenagers, or older actors posing as teenagers, dispatched by a madman with various weapons. "Friday the 13th," obviously inspired by Bava's film, is also often dismissed as a Halloween knock off. I agree that the film was definitely made and marketed to cash in on the same crowd, the same way "I Know What You Did Last Summer" was made to cash in on the post "Scream" crowd. However, "Friday the 13th" eschewed the stylishly directed "Halloween's" classy suspense, pushed the gore envelope with Tom Savini?ealistic special effects, and established itself as a crudely effective horror classic.
In this first installment, Camp Crystal Lake is being re-opened after it has been shut down for roughly a quarter century following the murder of two counselors. One by one, they start to disappear until Alice (Adrienne King) is the only one left. She discovers several bodies and prepares for the worst, until she finds safety with a mysterious woman named Pamela Voorhees...
"Friday" fans looking to see Ol' Hockey Mask will be disappointed, as he is not the killer in the original (remember the Drew Barrymore scene in "Scream?") But, I assure you that this film is much better than
Part 5 (the only other installment with a no show for the big J). In fact, thanks to Harry Manfredini's memorably screechy score (no doubt a nod to Bernard Hermann) and director Sean Cunningham's use of the camp ground setting, "Friday the 13th" is quite atmospheric. It also generates enough thrills and unintentional laughs (strip monopoly, anyone?) to provide a fun and spooky night's entertainment.
Paramount's DVD of "Friday the 13th" is a mixed blessing. On the positive side, the film has never, ever looked better. The video presentation is absolutely stunning. Throw out those old laser and VHS copies! Colors are strong and the film print is almost totally devoid of blemishes. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital mono. The sound is quite good, but a 5.1 remix is certainly preferable. However, no complaints here as the sound is more than adequate.
The trailer is included on the DVD, but nothing else. Considering the fact that this film series used to be a dependable cash cow for Paramount, it's a shame there weren?ore extras. Also, it's interesting to note that the content of the film is different than previous home video releases. The murder of the female cook about ten minutes into the film is bloodier. On the down side, the decapitation scene at the conclusion is now cut. All of the other murder scenes appear as they did in the original theatrical version. The Japanese laserdisc has both scenes uncut, as well as a longer death of Kevin Bacon scene. Since the horrific murders are the film's highlights, it's a shame that the DVD is not completely uncut. However, Paramount has done such a fine job with the picture quality, that it's hard not to recommend this one.
Anyone who has read my past reviews on this website already know I have a very forgiving attitude towards horror films. Lets face it, I like a lot of cinematic junk food. If movies had calories, I'd be Fat Albert's long lost white twin brother. The "Friday the 13th" series is most definitely junk food. But, cinematically speaking, it's a Snickers. And what does Snickers do? It satisfies.
Part 2 is pretty much a stripped down version of Mario Bava's "Bay of Blood." Plot is minimal. Jason Voorhees, believed to be dead at the bottom of Crystal Lake in Part 1, is actually alive and pretty pissed off at nubile young camp counselors. But, I guess you would be too, if one of them had beheaded your mama. Thus, he dispatches them at regular intervals, to keep the audience from becoming bored. And, to mix things up, he uses various weapons, garden tools, and other paraphernalia to murder his hapless victims. Critics were outraged at the seemingly callous violence directed at the youthful stars, but I disagree. Once you see them act, you?be rooting for Jason, too.
It may sound like I'm knocking the film, and I am I guess. But, I'm doing it in an affectionate manner. The early "Friday" films may lack finesse, but they are fun. As a kid, I was actually quite terrified of Jason. Now, in this film, he just looks like a mentally challenged cross between a hillbilly and the Elephant Man.
Part 2 delivers more gory thrills than the first chapter, although the film was (no pun intended) cut to ribbons by the censors. Jason meets him match in Ginny, played by fresh-faced Amy Steel. Part 1's perky heroine, Adrienne King, is disposed of early on in this film, in an admittedly effective and shocking prologue. Steel can also be seen in a 1985 guilty pleasure entitled "April Fool's Day," and also in the short lived TV series "The Powers of Matthew Star," also starring Lou Gossett, Jr. and Peter Barton (of "Hell Night" and "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter").
Director Steve Miner, who later helmed Part 3 in 3-D, the Mel Gibson/Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle "Forever Young," and the self-aware "Halloween H20," keeps things moving at an even pace. The film sets up some creative murders, notably a double spearing and an un-PC wheelchair death, as well as an extremely gratuitous skinny dipping scene for male viewers. All in all, the film delivers for slasher fans.
The Paramount DVD of Part 2 is stunning in the video presentation department. The film has never looked better. It is matted at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which appears accurate. There is some minor grain in darker scenes, but overall this is a vast improvement over previous transfers. Colors are good and the picture is quite sharp during day scenes. The audio is dolby digital mono, which is in decent shape.A new sound mix would be great, but this film isn't the cash cow it used to be for Paramount, so this is probably the best it will sound.
The only extra is the trailer which is kind of beat up, but it is cool. There were rumors that a possible box set of the "Friday" films is on the horizon. These rumors were seemingly confirmed when they were followed by an announcement by Sean Cunningham at last year's Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. But, there have been no announcements. Maybe Paramount will consider this if the next installment "Jason X" is successful. One can dream. Until then, Friday fans will be happy with the transfer, but unhappy that the presentation is not uncut and lacking significant extras.