Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Steve Miner
Writer: Martin Kitrosser, Carol Watson
Producer: Frank Mancuso, Jr.
Stars: Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Tracie Savage, Jeffrey Rogers, Catherine Parks, Larry Zerner, David Katims, Rachel Howard, Richard Brooker
Relocated to the Higgins Haven campsite, Jason Voorhees continues his deadly rampage on a new group of teenagers.
At a mini-marathon screening of the first four “Friday the 13th” movies in Santa Monica’s Aero Theater on September 13, 2013, “Jason X” screenwriter Todd Farmer mentioned that “Friday the 13th” was his favorite horror film franchise because “they are all different.” He elaborated by running through each series entry one by one and pointing out what made each film unique. For the original, it was Mrs. Voorhees being the killer. For the first sequel, it was the switch to Jason. Receiving the hockey mask set apart the third movie, while the introduction of Tommy Jarvis separated the fourth.
All due respect to Todd Farmer, but none of those things make the movies different from each other. In fact, a counterargument can be made that the first three “Friday the 13th” movies specifically are nearly identical. “Part 2” and its predecessor swap mother and son as the antagonists. Otherwise, they are both uncomplicated scripts about the butchering of teenagers coupling up at a summer camp. Concerned lawmen, a cryptic warning from the town loony, and a strained relationship between the leading lady and the head counselor all see themselves mirrored. Both films even climax in similar ways, with the Final Girl experiencing a dream sequence that leaves the ending purposefully vague and unresolved.
Yet it is “Friday the 13th Part III” that is the biggest offender when it comes to borrowing from what came before by recycling several kills and miscellaneous moments sometimes shot for shot. A few examples include: the killer grabbing the victim from beneath the bed and puncturing a pointed object through the chest, tossing a body through a cabin window while the Final Girl tries to hide, and the heroine’s escape being impeded by the well timed swing of a body hanging upside down from a tree. Each final reel also includes an extended chase that culminates in the killer taking an ax to a door while in hot pursuit. Things go so far that “Part 3” can be viewed as a remake of the first film, reestablishing the series on the footpath it would follow in subsequent films with Jason in his most familiar appearance committing mass murder on teenagers without things like soul transferring slugs and spaceships standing in his way.
Similar to the previous two films, only enough plot exists in “Part III” to motivate why the unfortunate victims are in a position to die in the first place. Aside from Jason’s desire to kill everyone he sees, no one has any real goal in mind to accomplish anything of substance during the hour and a half runtime. Because the movie was originally shown in 3-D, the purpose of some of that time is solely to give characters a reason for jamming things into the camera lens.
In light of how many elements of the film are derivative, how is it that “Friday the 13th Part III” can be recommended as well as cited as a hallmark entry in the overall franchise? Because in spite of its structural flaws, “Part III” is perhaps the most quintessential “Friday the 13th” of the series in that it best represents what makes the movies popular with fans.
After a seven-minute recap accompanied by title credits, “Part III” spends another seven minutes setting up the first two kills of characters only seen again when their bodies are being carted away. With the slovenly appearance of Crystal Lake shopkeeper Harold and his domineering wife Edna shuffling about in a bathrobe and curlers, Jason’s second complete outing kicks off with a more casual vibe than the serious tone of the first two movies. The most cartoonish disco-era biker gang of all time and a Tommy Chong lookalike add to the complete roster of intentionally light personalities. For better or for worse, had “Friday the 13th” not curved down this path of more tongue in its cheek, later storylines that took Jason to New York City, into Hell, over to Elm Street, and off planet Earth entirely would never have been possible in a strictly serious universe.
This is the movie where the series first fully realized its true DNA as a slasher with atmosphere fantastical enough that siding with the masked maniac was okay. More importantly, it was wiling to add fun to its frights. If at all possible, see the film in 3-D at a revival screening with a live audience and what the film accomplishes will be thoroughly evident. With Jason’s character and behavior relatively settled at this point, and with the familiar mask finally adorning his face, “Friday the 13th” was free to be more comfortable in its identity and surer of its stride as the saga continued to develop.
There is definitely a sense of déjà vu with the third chapter, in both the kills and in several mundane moments. But entrenched in its own formula, there is enough blood, enough brutality, enough comedy, and enough “Friday the 13th” to make “Part III” one of the most memorable installments, and the first real benchmark for everything that fans would come to expect from the series.
Review Score: 75