It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Friday the 13th movie here; in fact, it’s been a little more than a year. But then, that’s how long it’s been since it was Friday the 13th. But that reputedly jinxed day is here again, and so, once again, is Jason Voorhees — this time finally donning the now-iconic hockey mask.
Friday the 13th Part III was released just one year after the second film, and like the second film, was directed by Steve Miner. Also like the second film, it apes the original film to such an extent that it’s to the detriment of the sequel. However, there’s still some fun to be had here, and overall it’s a stronger movie than Part II.
It also apes Halloween a little. Well, if you’re going to steal from a horror movie…
This film is set right on the heels of the second one, with a group of young adults heading to a cabin that one of them owns on the lake. The town of Crystal Lake is still reeling from the latest bout of murders, which are “the worst in the town’s history” — and supposedly the town has never seen anything like it, which suggests they have a really short memory, as that was the second film. Most of the young adults are pretty nondescript, as cannon fodder tends to be, with a few young lovers, and a couple pot smokers, and only two characters who could be said to have anything resembling a real personality. One of them is Shelley, played by Larry Zerner, who fulfills the apparently obligatory role of the practical joker with poor taste. Shelley pulls several stunts that involve him either faking his death or faking an attack on somebody else; of course, he’s unaware of the earlier carnage, but that doesn’t help much towards building sympathy for him.
In fact, for those who recall the earlier F13 reviews, there’s been that lingering question of when your reviewer would start to root for the villain. With the first film, I put the over/under at 3. That’s about right. It’s not complete, but at this point, there are definitely characters where the audience — or at least this member of the audience — is looking forward to them getting what’s coming to them. The key, of course, is that it is coming to them in some way. I’m still largely indifferent to most of the victims, but Shelley was getting on my nerves fast, and the film also provides some outright antagonistic characters in the form of a biker gang that takes a disliking to the vacationers. We all know how long they are for the world.
We bad. We bad. We dead meat. But we bad.
However, not every character is unsympathetic. The main character — and as usual the one which will be the final survivor is obvious from minute one — is Chris, played by Dana Kimmell. Chris is a survivor of a previous Jason attack, two years prior (thus after Part I and before Part II). Why she survived is unknown, but I’m starting to get the feeling that Jason isn’t very good about checking pulses. At any rate, Chris has returned to try and get over her fears. Her wariness makes her a little more interesting than the cyphers that make up the other characters, but there’s also an added wrinkle that makes it easier to root for her. In a rarity for slasher films, Chris knows how to fight. Once she’s finally aware of the danger, she’s picking up improvised weapons left and right and making good use of them. It’s a smart move in characterization.
There are a few other things the film does well. First, it preserves the “unknowing” aspect of the first film, where the victims-to-be are kept unaware of the impending danger until it’s too late for most of them. It goes a little too far in this, in that the final girl is almost the first to know there’s a problem, but it’s better than having the panic start immediately. Secondly, it provides a reasonable excuse for why the vehicles fail to work when needed; one of those reasons is a boneheaded move on the part of a character, but it’s still better than the car having a plot-sensitive starter. And third, the hockey mask. It’s introduced in a semi-logical fashion, and it really does go a long way toward creating a distinctive “look” for the villain (in this film played by Richard Brooker). It’s no wonder that this is the design they went with for the subsequent films; it works a lot better than the bag, and it also works better than keeping Jason off-screen for another movie.
That said, the film has its flaws as well. As implied above, it’s hard to care about most of the characters, good or bad. They don’t get enough development to be personalities, and so there’s little reason to care when they get killed. Additionally, the film is a little too dedicated to recreating certain elements of the past. As with the second film, it starts with a flashback to the previous film that lasts a little too long. And as with the first film, it utilizes a hallucination sequence to provide a final scare… far too close to the original, in fact.
Being a horror movie, and the third film in the series, and released in the 1980s, Friday the 13th Part III was naturally released in 3D. This was not the version I watched — lacking a nice pair of anaglyph glasses — but it’s obvious where the director was trying to take advantage of the 3D. Mostly this is just plain silly, such as an overhead shot of a couple characters juggling, but it’s also used to try and elicit a few jump scares out of the audience. Some of them might be successful. Of course, some of those are silly as well; when Jason squeezes one person’s head so hard their eyeball pops out, it’s very hard to take the gore attempt seriously.
Friday the 13th Part III is a film that is primarily for the existing fans. People who liked the first film will probably enjoy it reasonably well. Horror fans in general will probably want to see it simply because it introduces the hockey mask. But it’s not strong enough on its own that it would interest somebody who isn’t already into the series. While an improvement over the second film, it’s still not as good as the first.