With the release of the abysmal JAWS 3D in 1983, the short-lived 3D fad of the early ’80s had finally burned itself out with a whimper. But the previous year had given us perhaps the best 3D film of the era: a romp of special effects and atmosphere that proved why horror is still the first, best choice for a 3D production – FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3 – 3-D. Put into production less than a year after Part 2 had wrapped, it’s unknown (at least to us) when it was decided to incorporate 3D into the picture, but it was a likely factor in retaining Steve Miner for the director’s chair, as it no doubt helped to smooth over a technically difficult shoot. Even under luxurious circumstances, making a 3D picture is a complex, and technically tedious process; necessitating a Kubrickian number of takes of even the simplest actions. But working with only a few million dollars (large by the franchise’s standard, certainly) made the shoot a grueling experience – not just for the crew, but for actors who felt neglected while the bulk of attention went to the technical aspects. The resulting film looked completely different than previous FRIDAY THE 13TH films, not just because of the 3D, but because the show was the only film in the series to be shot in an anamorphic 2:35 aspect ratio, giving it a distinctly cinematic feel.
Friday the 13th, Part 3 picks up literally moments after the end of Friday the 13th, Part 2, with the first reports of the latest massacre at Crystal Lake going out over the local news. The show is being watched by a middle-aged couple who appear to run a local convenience store, and quickly give us a good indication of the lack of attention given to performance. The hideously abrasive duo represents the typical Hollywood idea of rural folk: filthy, unshaven cussaoholics that spit dime store abuse at each other like short-bus Tennessee Williams characters. The direction given the actors clearly stopped at “act gross” and they proceed, as if to curry favor with a director that was likely unconcerned with their actions, to bury the needle in the red. Perhaps we’re overreacting, but there’s just something so dismaying low-rent and lazy about this level of stereotyping (and Miner had shown just the previous year that he could be better that that sort of back-row pandering).
Fortunately, this sequence, like the rest of Friday the 13th, Part 3, is saved by the superb use of 3D; nearly every shot – from incidental camera movements to laundry poles right in your lap – conveys both a depth of field and a sense of fun. Unfortunately, characterization doesn’t get much better once we get to the main group of teens; abandoning the notion of camp counselors, we have a party hosted by Chris (Dana Kimmell) at her family’s cabin. Other guests along for the weekend include the hunky Rick (Paul Kratka); a spare, disposable couple, Debbie and Andy (Tracie Savage and Jeffrey Rogers); sad, overweight prankster, Shelly (Larry Zerner); the lets-have-one-more-girl-in-the-cast Vera (Catherine Parks); and a pair of aging, dope-addled hippies (Rachel Howard and David Katims), who appear straight out of a Groove Tube sketch. For variety sake we also get a trio of trouble-making bikers (Crystal Lake is getting worse than Gary, Indiana) as grist for the killing wheel.
The evidence on screen points to a group of young, hungry actors who were given brief character notes and then left largely to their own devices. In some cases, this results in utter blandness; Chris, Vera, and Debbie are utterly interchangeable, and the only defining trait given to poor Andy is the ability to walk on his hands (which does, however, result in the film’s best kill). Too often this results in a replay of the hayseed couple from the opening, with stereotyping as broad as an L.A. freeway and just as unpleasant to encounter. Chubby loser Shelly (not the fault of Zerner) wears out his welcome almost instantly, constantly faking his own murder with homemade SFX makeup from an enormous kit (which he refers to as “my life”) and telegraphing his own demise so forcefully that there’s no surprise when it finally happens. There’s just no way that any of the other characters would be hanging out with this guy, much less the High Times centerfold couple, who seem to be along for the ride because Paramount counted up their Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams receipts and decided that America’s love affair with aging hippie dopers was still going strong.
On home video – without the novelty of Friday the 13th, Part 3 became notable only for containing the moment when Jason first dons his trademark hockey mask – iconic, for sure, but a slender thread on which to hang an entire movie.
Paramount has gone a long way towards restoring the film’s reputation with next week’s Blu-Ray release, however. As with Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray edition of My Bloody Valentine 3D, the disc contains both the 3D and flat versions of the film (2 sets of 3D glasses are included, and don’t make the same mistake we did and think you can just use the glasses that came with My Bloody Valentine 3-D – the red and blue lenses are reversed.) The flat transfer is superior to previous home video editions, but not as demonstrably so as the Friday the 13th, Part 2 Blu-Ray release.
The print appears to have weaker colors and somewhat more dirt and print damage than the other titles in the series, though this could easily be a side effect of the 3D photography that more technical savvy people might be able to confirm. It’s not a quite a bad transfer, but if the 3D version were not included it would be difficult to recommend an upgrade from the standard DVD edition.
The 3D version actually has a reasonably stable image that is easily comparable to My Bloody Valentine 3-D; unfortunately, the polarized-lens gasses that made the theatrical experience so special have been subbed out for the inferior anaglyph type for home viewing. Fortunately, the effects translate decently to home viewing, and we found the image less headache-inducing than most 3D films on disc.
Don’t throw out Paramount’s old box set, as the cast commentary track hasn’t been ported over to this release; as with Friday the 13th, Part 2, a Steve Miner commentary track is sorely missed, but there’s still plenty to chew on:
- Fresh Cuts: 3D Terror (HD) features the affable Larry Zerner and gives an entertaining overview of the difficult shoot.
- Legacy of the Mask (HD) is devoted to the iconic hockey mask and its almost immediate resonance with the public.
- Slasher Films: Going for the Jugular is a bit of a ramshackle look at the genre that is too slight to make much of a ripple.
- Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 3 (HD) is yet another chapter in the apparently endless series of loosely connected, fan-made tribute shorts that simply have no business being here while older extras are being left off.
The original theatrical trailer is also included (HD). Paramount has righted numerous past wrongs with this release, establishing a standard to which other major studios should be looking to when it comes to genre releases on Blu-Ray.