The slasher sub-genre really came into its own in the early ‘80s thanks to the film that spawned this franchise - the much maligned by mainstream critics yet phenomenal box office performer and crowd pleaser Friday the 13th (1980) with director Sean S. Cunningham getting the ball rolling on the gore factor. Shamelessly exploiting the success of John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (1978) by aping the shit out of its template, everyone with even just an ounce of filmmaking knowhow was capitalizing on the slasher boom that Friday the 13th induced. Most were terrible but there were a handful of good ones and even a few great ones. It was an easy format to follow and sometimes due to fluking it or sometimes because of actual talent behind the camera there was a genuine sleazy vision that came through the cinematography and framing, lighting and SFX work. The sub-genre is quintessential comfort zone horror; it is the most basic of horror and it can often be very enjoyable horror. Its simplicity and predictability is its main draw and nearing towards the end of the early ‘80s, many entries started to veer towards campiness and cheesy shenanigans.
1982’s ‘Friday the 13th Part III’ is a slasher sequel that is a perfect example of all this. The director of the previous year’s Friday the 13th Part 2, Steve Miner returns and like every instalment the plot is a retread of the same formula but tweaked a little to give it its own unique identity. Instead of young camp concealers in the setting of a campsite, this time around we have a group of teenaged college friends on a weekend getaway at a Crystal Lake farmhouse. This entry is well known for a few elements. Jason Voorhees is given his iconic hockey mask for the first time, the hulking stuntman the late Richard Brooker’s portrayal of the backwoods maniac man-child set the template for everybody who would don the mask here after, Harry Manfredini’s theme music is a corny funky disco track and it is one of the most famous 3D movies of the ‘80s.
After a recap of the climax of Part 2 there is a retcon leading into the opening events here that possibly renders that previous instalment’s final jump scare ending as a dream sequence much like the original film’s closing moments. We now see a wounded Jason with his face out of frame lying on the ground dropping his blood-stained machete that was embedded in his left shoulder by final girl Ginny and leaving it there along with the burlap sack that concealed his grotesque visage as he crawls away. The retcon and Voorhees’ face out of picture is because he is given a new look here to give him a more intimidating presence and to add more surprise and shock at his reveal in the climax facing off against the final girl. The camera then slowly zooms in on Mrs. Voorhees mummified severed head. As it reaches an extreme close-up and freeze frames, we hear Manfredini’s electro disco-esque score come in with its synth bass and drum beat along with the title card flying out from the macabre image in bright red to let the audience know this is in 3D with the effects of which as such as is the credits.
There is then a flash forwards to the night after the events of Part 2 with the opening stalk n’ slash sequence. Jason Voorhees has found his way to a local lakefront grocery store where he steals clothes to replace his blood-stained and torn rags from Ginny’s machete attack. He has somehow miraculously healed from his wound though with the screenwriters not giving a damn about continuity and throwing all logic out of the window. Here he dispatches in expected grisly fashion the undesirable husband and wife running the store but only after we are subjected to the man’s bowl movements, as we witness him sitting on the toilet complete with disgusting pooping and farting sounds and he does not even wipe his arse, flush and wash his hands after… the dirty bastard. This entry uses three times the common horror trope of exploiting our most private moments when we are vulnerable to add to the fear factor with twice answering the call of nature and once naked while taking a shower. The latter of which is also used here to show us wet naked female flesh juxtaposing titillation with a simultaneous gruesome death of the woman’s boyfriend and in leading up to the next immediate horrific set-piece.
Cutting to the next scene, we are introduced to the young group of slasher fodder and their personality traits and relationships are established as they head off in a van to the family farmhouse of final girl Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell) - Higgin’s Haven. This continues the stereotypical teen characters of the series and the sub-genre in general. There is the horny couple Chris’ best friend the pregnant Debbie (Tracie Savage) and Andy (Jeffrey Rogers), Hippy stoner couple Chuck (David Katims) and Chili (Rachel Howard), fat fuck prankster Shelly (Larry Zerner) that they all hate but we pity and his way out of league love interest Vera (the beautiful Catherine Parks). Arriving at Higgin’s Haven, we also meet Chris’ boyfriend Rick (Paul Kratka). Unbeknownst to this group of friends Jason is hiding out in the barn.
After Shelly and Vera get into an altercation with a gang of three bikers visiting a grocery store, the bikers go to Higgin’s Haven to get revenge by siphoning the gas from their van with the intention of burning down the barn that sets up a set-piece during the chase in the climax. Voorhees inevitably murders all three of them. We learn later as Chris explains to Rick while they spend some time alone together away from the farmhouse why she moved away two years ago; we see in her flashback that a “horrible, disfigured man” attacked her with an implication he may have raped her. After Shelly plays a prank on Vera, wearing a hockey mask and using a speargun he ventures into the barn when he hears a noise. A large man comes out of the barn wearing the hockey mask and carrying the speargun but it sure is not Shelly.
That is it. That is as far as the narrative goes as Jason Voorhees picks off everyone in explicit detail until Chris remains for a thrilling chase and face off for the last 20 minutes that is the strongest part of the proceedings that includes the usual throwing of bodies through windows and the final girl discovering her dead friends’ bodies. The screenplay is of course terrible serving simply as just an excuse to get a bunch of kids together in one location to be sliced n’ diced. The screenwriters do not give a fuck about logic. When the kids are on their way to Higgin’s Haven and come across a crazy old man lying in the middle of the road holding a human eyeball they forget all about it straight after not thinking to call the police. The old man takes the place of Crazy Ralph who was offed in Part 2, as the older generation warning the young is a common sub-genre trope. Not one police officer drops by the farmhouse to warn them that a madman is on the loose and there is not one TV or radio in the place to watch and listen to the news; being oblivious to what is going on around them is just fucking ridiculous. Yet despite being so moronic this still manages to be very entertaining stuff ticking most the right boxes for a serviceable slasher outing.
One of my main criticisms the slasher sub-genre are the characterizations of one-dimensional obnoxious and annoying teenaged characters. While this instalment is a slight step down from the likable set of characters in Part 1 and especially Part 2, they are written and acted here in such an over the top manner it adds a campy and cheesy charm. The awful acting of Kimmell though ruins Chris. Although her character’s plight due to her past trauma of being attacked and possibly even raped by Jason, her realization that the masked nutcase who is terrorizing her and who has murdered all her friends is the same man and her descent into madness in the closing moments make her a sympathetic protagonist. The kills are really hit and miss in this one as being shot in 3D, most are executed for such effect and not only are they ineffective watching the movie in 2D but they are for the most part uninspired creatively anyway. The Friday the 13th series has always been at its weakest when it comes to rely on gimmicks.
SPOILERS ALERT - There are a couple of great exceptions though most notably Vera’s death via a speargun shot to the eye. With or without the 3D it works very well and is one of the best kills of the entire franchise. Harry Manfredini’s more traditional F13 part of his soundtrack ushers it in as Voorhees appears in the hockey mask slowly walking while carrying the speargun in both hands. He then stops to look at Vera now holding it in his right hand and then slowly raises it carefully taking aim with Brooker aiming directly towards the camera, the spear flies out hitting the screen, we feel the impact as it goes through Vera's left eye and then the masked lunatic drops the speargun as if it does not mean shit. The build-up thanks largely to Manfredini’s score, seeing Jason Voorhees don the mask for the first time, the precision of this set-piece’s execution and actress Park’s reaction when the spear hits is one of the most memorable moments in slasher history. This is followed up nicely by the nastiness of Andy’s bisection; its disturbing nature of which is only rivalled by the brutal bisecting of a man in Ruggero Deodato’s Cut and Run (1985). There are also many memorably creepy and eerie moments littered throughout including at the end with homage to the first movie’s classic climatic jump scare ending. - END OF SPOILERS.
‘Friday the 13th Part III’ is arguably the lesser of the first four instalments I genuinely like; the characters are generally not quite as good as in the other three including one of the worst final girls of the series and the kills are mostly lacklustre. At the end of the day though, I still really like it because despite these shortcomings it still has enough highly memorable and very entertaining moments and despite its injection of campiness and cheesiness it still has that mean spirited feel with the encapsulation of a giallo-esque twitchy atmosphere that transcends through these first four. Still serviceable slasher goodness doing what it says on the tin.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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