Laserblast: Jason lives on DVD – again

This year the remake stars finally aligned and the Michael Bay-produced remake of Friday the 13th opens nationally on, fittingly, Friday, February 13th. Cashing in on the free publicity, Paramount has re-released the first 3 Friday films from the ’80s on DVD, with the original also getting a Bluray release. There is also a new documentary and a box set of “Jason” sequels produced at New Line Cinema after aquiring the character from Paramount.  Paramount has previously released their Friday titles on individual DVDs, in two-movie sets, and in a large box set (the first release to include any value-added content). What makes the new release of the original special is that it represents America’s first chance to see the film in its complete, unrated version, restoring roughly 10 seconds of bloodshed. We had so much to say on the topic that our comments have been sliced off into a separate stand-alone review of the film and its new incarnation on Bluray disc, which you can read here. For the rest, read on below…
Friday The 13th: Part 2: Deluxe Edition (Paramount DVD)
Paramount hadn’t even finished counting the profits from Friday the 13th when a sequel was ordered. The directing chores for Part II went to Steve Miner who had worked for Cunningham as an editor as far back as Last House on the Left, and apparently Paramount liked what they saw, because Miner remained on board for the third installment as well. Though of less historical import than the original, 1981’s Friday the 13th Part II is actually superior in many ways; the production budget was significantly higher allowing for more shooting time, a larger cast, and a generally more polished look. Since we all saw Mrs. Voorhees decapitated at the end of the previous installment, a new killer was found in her not-really-drowned-after-all son, Jason. The ‘Jason dream’ was a last minute addition to the first film to give it a Carrie-style closing moment shock and never with the intention to hand the reigns over to him as the killer in a subsequent film, but the idea that a fully grown monster would be looking to kill anyone in the area that reminds him of the young girl that killed his mother makes for a nice reverse dovetail with his mother’s revenge motive in the first film. And since Jason wouldn’t get his ubiquitous hockey mask until Part III, the producers decided to hide his hideously deformed visage under a burlap sack for the majority of the film. I’ve not heard too many comments on exactly how much more frightening this particular image is than the aforementioned mask; it lends Jason a raw, backwoods savagery that is missing from the rest of the series (it’s likely that the idea came from the real-life mass murderer depicted in Charles B Pierce’s southern fried docudrama The Town that Dreaded Sundown).
Speaking of idea theft, the film’s bravura moment – when Jason simultaneously dispatches a lovemaking couple – is also “borrowed” from Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve. The philosophy of Part II seems to be ‘more of the same, in higher quantity’: more kids, more kills, more nudity, etc. Unfortunately, the MPAA had the final say and much of the blood hit the cutting room floor to secure an ‘R’ rating, and unlike the Friday the 13th deluxe edition, nothing had been restored to the new DVD (it’s possible that the deleted footage from this, along with all the Paramount Fridays, has been lost). Picture-wise, the new DVD appears to be the same transfer used on the previous edition, and save for a multi-million dollar, “call in Robert Harris” restoration, this is just about the best that the title will look in standard definition. Extras include “Inside Crystal Lake,” an interview with “Crystal Lake Memories” author Peter M Bracke. “Friday’s Legacy: Horror Conventions” is exactly what it sounds like – more panel discussions. “Tales from Camp Blood-Part II” is a continuation of the same baffling short found on the Friday the 13th disc, and there is another lengthy panel discussion from a horror convention, “Jason Forever.”
Friday The 13th: Part 3 – 3D Deluxe Edition (Paramount DVD)
The very next year, Paramount lowered the bucket into the well once again for a third go-round, this time with the added attraction of 3D. The early ’80s saw the emergence of numerous unusual trends in the entertainment biz, but few were as unusual as the brief resurgence of 3D films. Dismissed as a fad in the ’50s, only the occasional genre title like The Stewardesses in ’71 appeared to remind people of the memorable gimmick. Comin’ at Ya!, an Italian-made western is generally credited with restarting the trend in 1981 by comin’ at exhibitors with an inexpensive-to-show 3D process that wound up grossing a tidy sum against its low budget. In very short order came Parasite, Metalstorm, Treasure of the Four Crowns, and several major-studio genre efforts like Jaws 3D and Amityville 3D for a slice of the profits. Friday the 13th Part III 3D proves why horror movies have always best utilized the process: of all genres, horror films will traditionally have the least amount of shame in regards to 3D presentation. The recent 3D remake of My Bloody Valentine is a perfect example of application and technique, and though Valentine’s 3D process is light years ahead of what was being used in the early ’80s, the makers of Friday the 13th Part 3 also knew how to have fun with it. Scene after scene throws everything imaginable at the screen, from eyeballs to spear guns to errant Jiffy Pop kernels – all to superb effect. Jason himself would pick up more than just his famous hockey mask in this installment, as the third film showed the character moving beyond being merely a murderous mongoloid into something supernatural, surviving dozens upon dozens of mortal wounds. The series lost something here; audiences stopped rooting for the victims and began rooting for Jason himself – faceless mayhem wins out over actual human feeling. This isn’t to say that the Friday films were the only perpetrations, but I never witnessed cheering for Michael Myers. The new DVD release does contain one very special feature: a 3D version of the film (with two sets of logo-embossed glasses) is included along with the standard, 2D edition, featuring what seems like the same transfer as the previous editions. The 3D effect is decent enough – and gets better depending on the size of the monitor – but it can be a bit headache-inducing if viewed for extended periods.
New Line Jason Slasher Collection (New Line DVD)
Nothing new here, just a box set of the 3 previously-released films produced by New Line after acquiring rights to the Jason character: Jason Goes to Hell, Jason X, and Jason vs. Freddy. The discs, image, and extras are identical to the previous DVD editions. You’re unlikely to find horror fans without a solid opinion on these films, one way or the other: some feel that they’re little more than over-produced cash-ins, devoid of what popularized the character in the first place; others are happy for the new blood injected into a series that was growing stale on the Paramount lot. Jason Goes to Hell is the closest in structure to a traditional Friday film, retaining the familiar setting, and Jason vs. Freddy is certainly the most handsomely produced film of either series with Hong Kong ace Ronny Yu at the helm. Sometimes we feel like that only person who liked Jason X, which might as well change its name to “The One in Space;” if there’s a scene half as clever as the one where the crew of the ship try to distract Jason by placing him in a virtual Crystal Lake (circa 1980, hairstyles and all), I haven’t seen it. If you haven’t already invested – and you have more than a passing interest in the series – it’s an extraordinary value.
His Name Was Jason: 2 Disc Splatter Edition (Starz/Anchor Bay DVD).
The centerpiece of this expansive release is a feature-length documentary on the Friday the 13th phenomenon, which also features numerous mini-docus on the actors who’ve played Jason over the years, along with the directors and screenwriters, in addition to more than a half-dozen other featurettes. The completist will find much of interest here, but one can’t help the feeling that much of this should have been presented as supplemental features on disc for actual Friday films.
Assault on Precinct 13: Restored Collector’s Edition (Image Bluray/DVD)
John Carpenter’s first real artistic statement after the student film, Dark Star, Assault is a near perfect example of a stripped-down, lean exploitation film directed with style and wit by a filmmaker schooled in the past but with both eyes trained on the future. Cherry picking elements from Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, Carpenter’s film finds Ethan Bishop (a magnetic performance by Austin Stoker) getting command of an L.A. precinct the evening before it will be closed down forever. With only a skeleton crew on board to answer phones and direct people to the new location, a man staggers into the station after killing a gang member who had murdered his young daughter. Within moments, the station (actually Precinct 9, Division 13) is under siege from the rest of the gang. Cut off from outside aid, and refusing to hand the man over to the gang, Bishop turns to prisoner Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) for help in defending the crumbling station. Carpenter lays his cards on the table during the opening credits, by giving himself the editor pseudonym “John T. Chance”, which was John Wayne’s character in Rio Bravo. Assault is, at its heart, more than just an homage to westerns, but a breakdown of their very essence made at a time when the genre was in deep public disfavor. Filmed in long, slow, deliberate takes to make the most out of the insanely limited 20 day shooting schedule, the show never drags, and watching Carpenter create a tension-filled action scene with little but flying debris and the ‘snip…snip’ sound effect of silenced automatic weapons is exhilarating. This new edition of Assault arrives on both DVD and Bluray this week sporting a new high def transfer which we are very much looking forward to getting our grubby mitts on. We assume that the commentary is the same one recorded ages ago by the director (how long ago? It was originally for the Laserdisc release) but it’s still fun to hear how appalled he is by the leisurely pacing. Assault on Precinct 13 was the warm-up for Halloween, and the makings of Carpenter’s visual vocabulary are well on display. Highly recommended.
Brainstorm: Deluxe Edition (Warner Bros DVD)
An interesting Sci-Fi effort that would unfortunately be forever linked to the drowning death of star Natalie Wood. Filmed in 1982 at Duke University, the film stars Christopher Walken (long before entering into the knowing, self-mockery phase that he seems stuck in now), Louise Fletcher (back when her Cuckoo’s Nest Oscar could still open studio doors), the always dependable Cliff Robertson, and the luminous Miss Wood. The second directorial effort of special effects master Douglas Trumbull following 1972’s Silent Running, Brainstorm uses extremely convincing electronic machinery to convey a device through which one individual can transmit senses remotely – everything that the wearer of the device sees, feels, hears, etc., can be transmitted directly to another person or even recorded onto a special tape. For scientist Dr. Brice (Walken) it’s also a window unto himself when he experiences the memories of estranged wife Karen (Wood) which include all the tense domestic moments that led to their separation. Things turn south when a scientist on the project suffers a fatal heart attack, and manages to record the experience, convincing the powers that be that the device has some decidedly juicy military applications. Brainstorm was meant to christen an expensive new IMAX-like process (seen in the ‘brainstorm’ sequences, which appear much sharper than the rest of the film because they were filmed in 70mm at a higher frame rate) but after sitting on the shelf for 2 years following the death of Natalie Wood, the studio was no longer interesting in making a heavy investment in new technology. We may be no closer to the sort of technological breakthrough seen in the film, but Trumbull manages to wrangle a difficult-to-sell concept, and with the help of a fine cast, give it some emotional resonance. The packaging of Warner Bros new DVD of Brainstorm labels it as a “Remastered Edition” that preserves the multiple aspect ratios of the theatrical showings, and it will be a treat to see this film on a decent sized monitor. Of all the films that get drudged up for a remake, redoing Brainstorm in IMAX 3D would actually make sense.
Also appearing this week:

  • Dragonslayer: I Love the ’80s Edition
  • Five (Sony DVD)
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 14 (Shout Factory DVD)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (Unrated, 2007) on Bluray
  • Oliver and Company 20th Anniversary Edition
  • Paura – Lucio Fulci Remembered, Vol 1
  • Space Buddies
  • The Wiz 30th Anniversary Edition
  • Xanadu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *