Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)

Only 3 films in and the Friday the 13th series has taken a nose dive in quality. If you gave up on the series after this entry I wouldn’t blame you. But am I ready to throw in the towel? Nope. I mean Jason doesn’t even get his iconic hockey mask until this movie so it seems like the series still could go in some interesting places (like hell!). That being said, this entry into the series fails to be compelling, interesting or even noteworthy (beyond the aforementioned hockey mask).

Once again, slutty teens are out camping again, this time in some cabin in the woods. And where there are slutty teens, Jason Voorhees (Richard Brooker) is sure to follow. These interchangeable teens are in for one wicked surprise when once again the mute Voorhees begins a killing spree. Between getting stoned, playing pranks on each other and making love, the teens are oblivious to the looming threat of Jason Voorhees.

And who can blame them? The film itself does a poor job of establishing the voyeuristic gaze of Jason. Instead, it leaves the characters and the audience with little oddities, a door that was closed that is now opened, the rustle of brush and a swinging barn door. It doesn’t have the same malice behind it as the point of view gaze. Furthermore, you could even say that these are simply oddities and coincidences and don’t even have anything to do with Jason’s presence. They simply exist to put the audience on edge.

It also doesn’t help the film that the best sequence is actually the opening which is stock footage from Friday the 13th Part II. Once again, the film feels the need to fill us in on previous events. I assume most people who went to see this movie have seen the first two, rendering this regurgitation of information completely useless. At least in Part II the archived footage used set up a sequence at the beginning of the film. Here, the archived footage has absolutely no bearing on the plot as it’s a distant location and a completely new cast of characters.

Unfortunately, this new cast now moves us into the kind of cast where we can’t wait for them to die because of how annoying they are. At least the first two films had a rather neutral and bland pallet of personalities. Here, the characters are actively grating. The usual prankster is no longer amusing but simply pesky; likewise, most of the females have headache inducing screams.

And the characters that aren’t annoying are jerks. There’s this crazy biker gang that is inexplicably placed in the movie. They show up, act like jerks and then get picked off by Jason. The scene where the three are killed could be tense and suspenseful but we want to see these characters die so we don’t particularly care about their fate. In fact, once they die, the film gets slightly better.

What about the final girl? In this case it’s Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell), a character we’ve never heard of who has a past with Jason. In my opinion, it would be more interesting if the final girl of Part II was placed in this role instead. As it stands, the connection feels a bit too forced. A lot of people theorize that the final girl and the killer are connected on a subconscious level. By having the killer actually have a previous connection to the final girl, this connection is in a way undermined and not as effective.

That being said, I like how the final girl in this series has gradually progressed to being more and more competent when facing the villain. Chris puts up a hell of a fight against Jason, in part because she sees him coming. She, stabs, bruises and beats him, knocking him cold, not once but twice, and actually tries to kill him. Clever girl. Of course, being Jason, he’ll probably come in the sequel.

And it’s this film where Jason dons the iconic hockey mask. But once he’s behind the mask, the presentation of his character shifts. Before, he kept mostly to the shadows, but the first time we see him with the mask, he’s well lit and clearly visible. Now that we see him clearly, Jason looks silly and lacks the menacing feel he had in the shadows.  He no longer is some mysterious and malevolent force, he’s just a tall, dark stranger in a goofy hockey mask.

And speaking of goofy, how goofy is it that the ending of this film is exactly the ending of Friday the 13th? As if that isn’t bad enough, the film plays two jump scares within 5 second of each other. Seriously? It’s not as if anything in this film is particularly good or smart to begin with, but the ending descends even farther into the annoying and stupid.

Also stupid is the 3D gimmick that this film builds itself around. Now I didn’t actually see it in 3D, but it’s clear from the 2D print that there are a number of shots that exits purely to have things pop out at the screen. For example, there’s a shot in the film where some random kid has his baseball bat at a strange angle so that it can bulge out towards the screen. Likewise, there’s a shot of a yo-yo that flies towards the camera.

If you wanted to get over-analytical, you could say that the use of this kind of 3D in a slasher film adds an extra dimension to the violence (figuratively speaking). Slasher films are known for being oppressive towards its audience. By having things actually come out of the screen towards the audience, it’s as if the film itself is now reaching out to attack the audience (which is part of the reason while traditional 3D is so annoying). However, it’s still a breach of the fourth wall and even took me out of the moment when I was watching the 2D version.

This is particularly annoying, because the opening (after the archived footage) is an effective suspense piece that returns to the original pacing and visual tone of the first film. It works fantastically, but once the obvious 3D effects pop up, the moment is ruined. From that point on, the film is more interested in using the violence as a way to attack the audience via 3D than it is in crafting tension and suspense.

As a result, the film has a loose and sloppy structure. A lot of the buildup to the scares isn’t effective because the buildup is either too short, nonexistent or involves a character we actually want to see die. But beyond the pieces leading up to the violence, the overall pace of the film is all over the place. The beginning is this taut suspense piece that is dissipated by the lengthy setup of the cabin. Once the bikers show up, the killings are just spattered here and there. It doesn’t ever feel as if Jason is deliberately hunting these people down one by one which means that there isn’t that great ratcheting of tension like in the previous two films in the last act.

The sad part is that I have a feeling that this is probably one of the better entries in the series. As bad as this film is, at least it has that one good beginning sequence and a final girl that actually has a bit of fight in her. Beyond that, everything else ranges from mediocre to bad. And it’s the mediocre elements that let me know that this is probably one of the better ones, going forward, I know there are probably far worse entries in the series.

I’m setting the bar for my expectations for the rest of the series here and I have the sickening feeling that plenty of other films will be able to easily do the limbo under it whilst hopping backwards on one foot playing the kazoo. Jason X is in space, right? There’s no way that film can be better than this one. And then there’s that one where he goes to Manhattan. That one could be good if he killed the cast of Sex and the City. O wait, that show didn’t appear till 1998, ten years after Jason’s New York visit. In any case, like Jason Voorhees, no matter how many times the poor quality of these films kills my spirit, I will come back, and the world count will continue.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing