Studio: Anchor Bay
Director: Daniel Farrands
Writer: Thommy Hutson, Anthony Masi
Producer: Anthony Masi, Thommy Hutson
Stars: Tom Savini, Sean S. Cunningham, Adam Green, Tom McLoughlin, Betsy Palmer, Kane Hodder, Seth Green
Cast and crew from three decades of “Friday the 13th” movies dissect the franchise with personal insights and anecdotes.
In fairness to “His Name Was Jason,” it deserves to be noted at the outset that this review of the “Friday the 13th” franchise documentary from 2009 comes after the release of the revised, improved, expanded, and five hours longer 2013 documentary “Crystal Lake Memories.” Under different conditions, “His Name Was Jason” might be viewed in a more favorable light, but with “Crystal Lake Memories” available as a superior alternative, “His Name Was Jason” is obsolete. And in the shadow of “Crystal Lake Memories,” it also becomes easier to pinpoint the earlier documentary’s weaknesses.
Fans who have gone a few years since their last trip to Crystal Lake may find the love letter tone of “His Name Was Jason” to be enough inspiration for revisiting one or more of the earlier chapters in the series. The focus here leans more towards airy nostalgia than towards historical preservation. The documentary has good intentions with its approach to fan service, evidenced by assigning hosting honors to FX maestro Tom Savini, even if narration duties are not his forte. His segments are even filmed on the set of the former “Friday the 13th” Halloween Horror Nights maze, although these bookends play as corny fluff rather than vital bridge pieces.
“Jeopardy” writers hoping to use the film as a reference tool for creating horror-themed trivia questions would come up empty. “His Name Was Jason” spends more time with actors recapping storylines and discussing their favorite kill sequences than it does with behind-the-scenes anecdotes or juicy tidbits about bringing the films to life. Want to know details about alternate endings, on set relationships, or creative conflicts? Unfortunately, there is not too much of that to chew on. But, want to known what Shawn Spencer, an actor on the TV series “Psych” who has no obvious connection to the “Friday the 13th” franchise, thinks about the slug in “Jason Goes to Hell?” Well now you are speaking this film’s language.
Just as curious as the subjects the movie chooses to cover are the people that it chooses to cover them. The onscreen personalities are an unbalanced blend of performers and crewmembers that worked on the series along with journalists and horror field celebrities that are only fans of the franchise. This strange assembly of talent is what drifts “His Name Was Jason” into a word soup of personalized takes on what Mrs. Voorhees’ motivations might be or opinions about why Jason kills when meaty informational insights would be more satisfying.
Hindering the pace is the film’s schizophrenic approach to structure. “Crystal Lake Memories” would correct this haphazard format by employing a chronological approach to tackling the series while “His Name Was Jason” lumps things in a manner where it is not always clear what a particular segment’s theme is. Turn away for a moment and you might miss the mention given to the television series, which is wedged into a segment on continuity errors. This is the same continuity gaffe topic that briefly covers the switch from Kane Hodder to Ken Kirzinger for the role of Jason in “Freddy vs. Jason.” It is an odd way to find a place in the film to fit key points.
Covering twelve films, a television series, and various multimedia tie-ins in 90 minutes in any adequate fashion is improbable, if not impossible. “His Name Was Jason” is more of a broad stroke retrospective on the series that can even be accused of glad-handing, as virtually nothing is mentioned about critical or commercial failures, much less personality tensions and production difficulties. The movie is well made and has its heart in the right place, but the format is so constrained that it never has a chance to amount to anything substantial as a documentary. The upside is that the parts of this movie that are of value are ultimately recycled in “Crystal Lake Memories.” Even as a Cliff’s Notes version of the expanded documentary, “His Name Was Jason” is still a Saltine cracker to the prime rib of “Crystal Lake Memories.” Skip this one and go straight for the kill. That is what Jason would do anyway.
Review Score: 50