Friday the 13th Part III was released theatrically in the United States on Friday, August 13, 1982. 36 years ago tonight. Does that make you feel as old as Pamela Vorhees’ grey sweater? If the answer is a resounding ‘No, you fool – I was born in the 80’s, I had to wait at least a decade until I watched Jason mutilating camp counselors’, then welcome to this special look back on one of the more divisive Friday the 13th films. Grab your machetes, pull down your ice-hockey masks and don your wacky green/red 3-D spectacles, because we’re heading to Higgins Haven for some stabby-stabby fun with Jason Voorhees.
By the time Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) came around in theaters, audiences had become swamped with low-quality slasher titles. Slasher film fatigue had set in hard, and although Jason’s second outing grossed over $21.7 million in the United States on a budget of $1.25 million, fans were disappointed with a rehashing of the original story, and it failed to pull in the original’s box office success. The fact that they gave no explanation to the ridiculous ending of Part II showed that the people in charge didn’t really put much value in the continuity or story progression. One thing everyone could agree on though: Jason needed to be scarier. He needed to be a real boogeyman. And to get there, there were going to need a gimmick to get that cold hard cash-vein open again. They needed…3D.
A New Dimension In Terror
The titles jumped out at you like Superman’s cosmic intro, only….cheaper looking. Not to mention a bombastic funky 70’s inspired theme that I totally dug, man. What you have to remember is that in 1982 although 3D film-making was still in its infancy (Jaws 3D anyone?) by 2010, it had become almost commonplace for any film released to be retrofitted for a new dimension of sight and sound. Friday the 13th Part III, however, paved the way for future 3D films. You may have a strong fondness for everything three dimensional, but for all the people that love donning plastic visors on their head the other bemoan the comically irritating ploy to cough up more money at the box office. I wear glasses and absolutely hate 3D films becuase it feels like I’m wearing glasses on top of glasses…which I am!
Unless you have your own pair of flimsy pre-revolutionary 3D glasses, (which I doubt you have) you’re going to see a lot of shots of people waggling sticks at the camera, having yo-yo’s thrown at them. You’ll also be treated to an overly long lingering shot of a crazy old man sticking an eyeball uncomfortably close to the screen. Steve Miner (who also directed Part II) returned to the director’s post to helm Friday the 13th: Part III and this new dimension of terror that continues straight after the events of Part 2.
The Higgins Haven Massacre
Just like its predecessor, the film opens with an extraordinarily long recap of the previous film. We see final girl Ginny (Amy Steel) running away from ‘Baghead Jason,’ trapped in the makeshift cabin Jason has been holed up in with his mother’s severed head lovingly affixed to a small alter. Ginny tricks Jason into thinking she’s his mother, by donning her sweater and generally berating the child-like minded serial killer. Before she can use her machete on him however, Jason sees his mummified mumma’s head and avoids her killing blow. Paul (John Furey) appears and begins wrestling with Jason. While Jason is distracted, Ginny hacks him in slow-motion with his own machete. They assume he’s dead, but we see Jason slowly moving off the screen. Cue: Opening Credits.
Originally, Friday the 13th Part III was supposed to focus on lone survivor Ginny Field, (Sorry, Paul) who checks herself into a mental institution after her traumatic escapade with the pillow-wearing, dungaree killer. The film would have been similar in that vein to the popular Halloween II (1981), with Jason tracking down Ginny in the hospital, but that idea was abandoned when actress Amy Steel declined to reprise her role. Perhaps she didn’t want to be typecast as the scream queen for this particular franchise, but by 1986 she was again up on screen evading a knife-wielding killer in the slasher parody April’s Fool Day (1986). There was also speculation that producers were worried fans would reject a Friday the 13th which didn’t follow the established formula.
I would love to find a script with this narrative, because the franchise may have steered in a different direction (or it could have died a horrible death right there and then). Every good franchise needs a protagonist the audience can root for. Alien (1979) had Ripley, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) had Nancy and Halloween (1978) had Laurie. You could argue that Friday the 13th had Tommy Jarvis, but he didn’t appear until the fourth installment. Looks like Steel missed the boat on this one if the powers that be really wanted her as the series’ Final Girl. With 12 films, a whole bunch of novels, video games, and the short-lived television series under their belt though. it looks like they went the right way.
Our new group of young victims are as follows: New Final Girl Chris (Dana Kimmell), ‘Spanish Phoebe Cates’ Vera (Catherine Parks), hot and steamy couple Debbie (Tracie Savage) and Andy (Jeffrey Rogers), hippie potheads Chili (Rachel Howard) and Chuck (David Katims), and franchise favourite, the lovable self-deprecating prankster Shelly Finkelstein (Larry Zerner).
The group arrives at Higgins Haven, a cottage (with a barn!) a mere stones-throw away from Packanack cabin, where the previous slaughter took place. The Scooby Doo/Cheech and Chong gang meet up with country farm boy Rick (Paul Kratka). It’s quickly established that he and Chris had a romantic tryst during their last summer at the lakeside cottage, and Rick instantly tries to get back to where things left off by feeling her up. Not cool, man. Not. Cool.
Chris explains that she wants to get to know him again but he responds that there are only so many ‘cold showers’ he could take. Wowzer. He essentially behaves like this for the entirety of the movie (bar one scene when Chris recounts a traumatic experience) but the weird thing is the filmmakers seem to want you to empathize with this guy – like he’s the hero of the movie. Film of the time, I guess?
After some tomfoolery from Shelley (and without the slightest irony of axe-wielding maniac foreshadowing), we’re introduced to a group of bikers that marks the first time in the franchise we’re introduced to black actors. It’s just a shame that they turn out to be scumbags. All the while, Jason’s been hiding in the barn, looking menacing from an over the shoulder perspective. He dispatches of the bikers when they arrive at the cottage to take their revenge on Shelley and the gang, following an altercation at a shop in town. Don’t assume that Jason is here to protect anyone though. He quickly sets his sights on the college co-eds and, of course, things really ramp up when he dons the now iconic ice hockey mask for the first time.
People will argue what their favourite Friday the 13th movie is until the end of days. Did you like the characterization of the teenagers in Part 2 or 4? Did you simply enjoy the hack n’ slash nature of the original? Were you excited when Jason went to Hell? Some people just want to watch cheesy 80’s effects and have some popcorn while devouring grisly death sequences with their eyes. But something doesn’t sit right with the third outing. They could have gone a much deeper, darker route with Chris‘ that might have lead Mr. Vorohees‘ down a very sketchy road. I’m obviously talking about…
The Final Girl
Late in the film, we see Chris and Rick sharing some quality catch-up time together. Up until this point Chris has been hinting that something terrible happened to her but now she’s finally ready to share her story. Even after Amy Steel declined to return, it’s safe to assume that some fragments from earlier drafts were kept to highlight Ginny’s (now Chris’s) trauma from the previous movie.
Chris explains that, while on vacation, she came home late one night which caused her to have an argument with her folks. She fled her house and ran into the woods where she fell asleep under a tree. Some time later, she was awoken by the sound of footsteps. The footsteps belong to none other than Jason and he grabs at her legs as she struggles to get away. She goes on to explain that she woke up in her own bed the following morning, without any recollection of what transpired after she was captured.
So what happened here? It’s unlikely that she would have survived an attack by Jason, so how did she escape? The series has been known for its nonsensical dream sequences and poorly crafted plot devices, but this is a pretty big moment for Jason. There are theories that she was raped by Jason and there are novels that further explain the story, but some people on the film claim this ambiguous resolution was always planned since actually outright calling it a rape would be too much for audiences to take at the time. Others say Dana Kimmell who played Chris, was a devout Mormon and forced the producer’s hand since she was uncomfortable with going so far as to call it a rape scene. However, at the start of the film, a reporter states that “Reports of cannibalism and sexual mutilations are still unconfirmed, at this hour.” It would seem that someone in the production wanted Jason to have a much darker streak than his previous appearances.
There are many articles and essays about The Final Girl in horror films, but this one scene could have changed the balance of how viewers perceived Jason Voorhees as a child-like killing machine with mommy issues, into something far more dangerous and disturbing.
Friday the 13th Part III is a divisive film. The franchise needed a shot to the arm and ultimately it would be 3D effects supervisor Martin Jay Sadoff that inadvertently created a movie monster boogeyman. As it happens, Sadoff kept a bag full of hockey gear with him and the crew wanted a mask to avoid applying prosthetic make up on actor Richard Brooker all the time. This is the first film where we see Jason for an extended period of time, as opposed to keeping him in the shadows constantly. The plot is nonsensical, sure – the characters are paper thin and forgettable, the 3D effects are mostly a gimmick – but in the cannon of the series, it catapulted Jason to an iconic status. And for that, Part 3 will forever remain ingrained in fan’s minds.
How do you rank Friday The 13th Part III. Is it one of your favourites, or do you consider it one of the weaker additions to the franchise? Let us know in the comments below, over on Twitter, or in our Horror Group on Facebook!
You can also take a look behind the scenes of Friday the 13th Part 3D with host, Paul Kratka, in this insightful fan driven documentary featuring untold stories and interviews with several franchise favorites, never-before-seen location footage and set photography, as well as a touching look back on the life of Richard Brooker.