This past Friday the 13th was a little more eventful than most. Warner Bros. finally got their act together and delivered a box set of the complete Friday the 13th franchise, but something else was afoot on the home video front. From the makers of Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy came a new documentary of sorts — more fittingly called a retrospective/tribute in the audio commentary — Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. Running a whopping 400 minutes (or 6.66 hours), comes everything you never knew you wanted to know about Friday the 13th.
Narrated by Corey Feldman, it opens with him surrounded by a bunch of young folk, where Feldman re-enacts the campfire tale of Jason Vorhees from Part II. Packed with interviews from the cast and crew from the entire series, we get a loving look back at what the franchise means for fans and those involved in the production. Considering the documentary doesn’t have any kind of agenda, or try to convince you these are any kind of masterpieces, director/writer Daniel Farrands clearly loves these films as much as the rest of us. Everyone from Sean S. Cunningham, Noel Cunningham, Jeff Katz, and all of the Jasons, return to wax nostalgic.
The film is spread across two Blu-ray discs and two DVDs, broken up into 13 chapters, with the first 12 discussing each individual film from pre-production to its box office winnings and failures. “Chapter 1 – Long Night Camp Blood” tells us how the first film was made for under $500,000 with great insight from director Sean Cunningham, writer Victor Miller, and Jason’s mommy, Betsy Palmer. Palmer fills us in on the backlash created by her starring in the film, while composer Henry Manfredini also puts another nail in the coffin as to what exactly is heard in the famous theme and Adrienne King talks about her ordeal with a real-life stalker.
“Chapter II – The Body Count Continues” brings in showrunner Frank Mancuso, Jr. whose father was president of Paramount Pictures at the time. King returns and we find out that her opening scene was filmed in one night and that the filmmakers wanted her to come back, but her agent wanted too much money for her to return as the star. Phil Scuderi talks about being brought in to come up with the film’s more creative kills while Cunningham still defends that he had never seen Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood before making the film. The same can’t be said about Miller, but it doesn’t seem like he was ever asked.
“Chapter III – A New Dimension in Terror” gives us insight to where the film’s shooting titles came from — this one being “Crystal Japan” — while the filmmakers talk about how they wanted Jason to be “the living version of Jaws.” This is all too fitting as Part 3 was filmed in 3D and ushered in a new wave of 3D productions including Jaws 3-D. The cast and crew all take credit for coming up with Jason donning the iconic hockey mask in this installment, but everyone also admits that no one has a clue as to who really came up with it. This was also supposed to be the last film of the series, but we all know that wasn’t the case.
“Chapter IV – Jason’s Unlucky Day” dives into what was then the real end to Jason’s murderous rampage of revenge. Here, Feldman provides the most insight as he talks about how it was his big summer at the box office with the release of both Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter and Gremlins. The man behind the mask, Ted White, talks about his dislike of Feldman on set, which only made his scenes of terrorizing the poor child in the film ring all too real. The cast of teens all just wanted to know how they were going to die, and were more excited the more gruesome their death. Unfortunately, Crispin Glover is the one person who I wanted to see interviewed, but was not. This was also the first film released after E.T. in the summer of ’84 to finally knock it from the #1 spot at the box office.
“Chapter V – Repetition” is interesting to listen to the filmmakers try to explain that they were hoping to pass the torch from Jason to Feldman’s character of Tommy Jarvis and wanted Feldman to return. Unfortunately, Feldman was too busy filming The Goonies and he blames Spielberg for not being able to participate in anything more than a cameo. Here is where the MPAA also began to really start having its way with the series.
“Chapter VI – Resurrection” finds writer/director Tom McLoughlin being brought in to literally resurrect Jason and get the series back on track for Paramount. McLoughlin talks about how he wanted to infuse Jason Lives with his love of gothic horror and the Universal monsters. I feel like McLoughlin did just that. Now seen as a pre-Scream tongue-in-cheek approach — Kevin Williamson even admits that this film’s tone had an effect on his series — this entry had some amazing kills up its sleeve, but was butchered by the MPAA. The infamous triple beheading got the axe before it was even filmed, and it was supposed to end on a cliffhanger that would introduce a Mr. Vorhees. This was also never filmed. There’s a quick section called “Curious Goods: The Series” that discusses the television show that has nothing to do with the film series aside from the name.
Disc Two kicks off with “Chapter VII – Jason’s Destroyer” which was the film’s original title as it introduces the only character to ever have any kind of supernatural abilities to stand up to the series anti-hero. Director John Carl Buechler exclaims “The MPAA raped my movie!” and it couldn’t be more true. Featuring far more onscreen carnage than what wound up in the neutered theatrical release, we fans have to accept the fact that The New Blood will never be released in an uncut version as the footage was destroyed. Buechler also discusses his bouts with producer Barbara Sachs who had nothing but disdain for the genre, causing serious clashing on set. There’s also jokes about how talk began about having Part VIII feature a return of the women from the series to take Jason down and titling it Jason’s Devils.
“Chapter VIII – Terror in Times Square” dives headfirst into the flat-out worst film in the series. It doesn’t help that the cast referred to it as the “Disney version of Friday the 13th,” but that’s far from what was really wrong with the final film. Writer/director Rob Hedden appears to have nothing but love for his entry. He does let us know that Jason Takes Manhattan was supposed to contain more New York City mayhem. Due to budget restrictions they wound up on a cruise ship. Hedden also leaves it up to the audience to decide exactly how the boat wound up in the New York harbor when it left from Crystal Lake.
“The Nine Lives of Jason Vorhees” informs us that the ninth entry had to be titled Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday due to title rights between Paramount and New Line Cinema. Only the Jason character was handed over, which is why the full Friday the 13th title is not used. Director Adam Marcus loves the series and set out to make what he wanted to see in a Friday the 13th film. He always saw Jason as one of Hell’s assassins and that is how he came up with the idea of the body swapping. Jason’s body was just the one he liked the most. Marcus informs us that he filmed with a director’s cut already planned for home video, which is why that version is more grotesque.
“Chapter X – Evil Gets an Upgrade” jokes about how sending Jason to space wasn’t the best idea from the beginning. Someone says, “Space is where film series go to die.” While it wasn’t exactly true for Jason, it wrung true for the likes of Leprechaun and Critters. Here is where Friday the 13th started to bleed out into the mainstream, with even the TV show MythBusters attempting to find out if the frozen face smash could be done in real life. This also wound up being the cast and crews favorite kill, who all gathered on set when it was shot to watch Jason in action. It really is one of the whole series’ most imaginative kills. New Line also kept feeding director James Isaac notes that they wanted Jason X to be more like Scream which is why it’s more comical.
“Chapter XI – Winner Kills All” discusses the film that had been talked about since the final scene of Jason Goes to Hell, where we finally get the long-awaited showdown between Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger. Unfortunately for us fans, Kane Hodder was not asked to return as Jason. To this day, Hodder still can’t figure out why he wasn’t asked to come back, especially when we fans had taken to him as the quintessential Jason after having donned the hockey mask in the last four films. Up until then, Hodder had been the only person to play Jason more than once, but alas, Ken Kirzinger was brought on and still wound up doing a bang up job.
“Chapter XII – Reboot” sheds light on the reboot/reimagining/homage/greatest hits that was the 2009 version of Friday the 13th. It still remains the highest grossing entry, at least of the direct Friday the 13th films. Nispel jokingly calls it the “Reader’s Digest of the Friday the 13ths” and in a way it is. They didn’t want to totally remake the original because they knew audiences came to see Jason. Quickly dispatching his mother in the opening scene, Jason makes his way from the bag-over-the-head look of Part II and III to the hockey mask wearing, machete wielding butcher we all know and love, over the course of one film. “Chapter XIII – Reflections on the Water” is a nice wrap up to the series as we say farewell to everyone involved.
The video of Crystal Lake Memories hacks its way onto Blu-ray in a screen-filling 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Every video anomaly you can think of makes its way through the film. Banding, crush, DNR, aliasing, noise, flicker, you name it, you got it. However, it still looks really good for what it is and you would never expect something like this to look like a million bucks. The audio comes in a lackluster 5.1 Dolby Digital track, but considering the length of the documentary, it certainly makes due. The surrounds kick in appropriately, lending a creepy vibe here and there, but sometimes the voices sound a little muffled or as if the interviewee is talking into a tin can.
The only real special feature is a full-length audio commentary featuring writer/director Daniel Farrands, editor Luke Rafalowski, and author Peter Bracke. Bracke’s book of the same name is basis for this documentary. Usually, these commentaries don’t seem to be very recent, but they make mention that they are recording this the same weekend that The Conjuring was opening. And if you thought their knowledge of the series was limited to what’s in the film, the commentary makes for even better behind the scenes info. Hearing them talk about how these films were more of an event back before the internet, should conjure memories for anyone — myself included — who used to rely on information sources like Fangoria magazine to find out what was coming soon.
There are also trailers for the filmmakers’ other documentaries: Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy and More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead. As well as a commercial-esque piece promoting Adrienne King’s line of Crystal Lake Wines, the likes of which I am dying to try.
To really sum this up, Adam Marcus states: “For me, every time I see somebody blogging about Jason Goes to Hell – or quite frankly, about any of the Friday the 13ths – I feel really lucky that they care enough to spend the time and energy talking about this character”; which is exactly what I’m doing. I would never have asked to review this size of a documentary had I not loved the series. I still remember recording The New Blood on HBO late one night and it was my true introduction to the series. I used to also record the Friday the 13th marathons off USA or TBS and edit out all of the commercials to get as many of them to fit on one tape as I could. I think I still have this somewhere. Sure, they were all the television edits, but at the time, it was all I could get my hands. Now that they’re all readily available — and on Blu-ray no less — is a cause for celebration for all fans. And Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th is a no-brainer for any fan — or even for someone who simply wants to find out what why we love these films so much.