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Thursday, February 12, 2009

His Name Was Jason

It’s important to take any criticism of a documentary chronicling thirty year’s worth of film with the appropriate grain of salt. After all, boiling down that much celluloid history into a tidy 90-minute running time is no small feat and one likely to leave something out.

Such is the case with His Name Was Jason, an ambitious new documentary about the iconic Friday the 13th film franchise from Anchor Bay. Produced by Anthony Masi and Thommy Hutson and directed by Daniel Farrands, His Name Was Jason is a love letter to fans of the hockey-masked, machete-wielding Jason Voorhees and his myriad victims. Beginning with the original 1980 film and its deceptively simple premise that pitted camp counselors against an unseen psychopath and continuing through its eleven subsequent sequels to the present on the eve of a franchise revamp, the documentary traces the extensive swath of Jason’s carnage, and includes interviews with everyone from final girls to film directors, from screenwriters to supporting players. It’s got the makings of a fanboy’s dream come true.

There is a litany of Friday the 13th denizens on hand to discuss, dissect, reminiscence, and recollect, and there are anecdotes and commentaries and analyses galore from those involved and a few (mostly) welcome guests. And while the F13 convention staples (Savini, Palmer, Hodder, King, Lehman, Zerner) are on hand to dole out some stories we’ve heard before, the primary joy here is having non-convention folks like Robbi Morgan (Annie, Part 1), Lauren Marie Taylor (Vicky, Part 2), Catherine Parks (Vera, Part 3), and Erich Anderson (Rob, Final Chapter) spin lesser-known campfire tales from their individual sets. Challenge: Just try to top spunky Morgan’s pure exuberance over being part of the film franchise — even if she erroneously stakes claim to being the first Camp Crystal Lake casualty. (Sorry, Annie…first victim honors belong to Willie Adams, whose Barry met with a machete to the gut after his make-out session with the nubile Claudette.)

First, the highlights:

  • Adrienne King, Amy Steel, and Lar Park Lincoln suggesting a survivors’ reunion movie(!).

  • Seeing how former Friday hunks like Bill Randolph (Jeff, Part 2), Russell Todd (Scott, Part 2), John Furey (Paul, Part 2), John Shepherd (Tommy, New Beginning), Kevin Spirtas (Nick, New Blood), and John D. LeMay (Steven, Jason Goes to Hell) have fared against the ravages of time. (Hint: Spirtas wins hands down! Yum!)

  • Peter Bracke’s (author of the sublime Crystal Lake Memories) surprising attestation that Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood was the most heavily edited by the MPAA, which is then eloquently confirmed by director John Carl Buechler. “The rating’s board raped my movie!”

  • Judie Aronson (Samantha, Final Chapter) recalling the challenge of shooting her death scene in dangerously icy waters and how that film’s Jason (Ted White) took director Joseph Zito to task for his overzealousness in what becomes a cautionary tale of actress exploitation.

  • Visiting the location where Friday the 13th, Part 3-D was shot 26 years earlier with the sassy Gloria Charles (Fox) serving as tour guide. Charles shares her recollections of the man-made lake and how water had to be continuously pumped in from a well on the property to keep it filled and evokes nostalgia when she revisits that film’s infamous barn in which she met with her three-dimensional demise. There is a real sense of the bittersweet passage of time when Charles points out the unrecognizable overgrown remains of the bridge Kimmel and company once drove across in flight from Jason and the now-dilapidated dock on which Jason first made his appearance in his legendary hockey mask. The clincher is when Charles stands on the burnt out ruins of the house used in the film, now reduced to rubble from a recent fire, and interviews current ranch owner Daniel Valuzat who shares the heart-tugging story of how fans wanted to send money to rebuild the house. It’s a simple, beautifully executed segment that really captures the affection that both those involved with the Friday films and the legions of fans have for the iconic franchise.

  • A second location tour, this time of the Jarvis House from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter with director Joseph Zito and actor Erich Anderson (Rob). High points here include an explanation of how the once-adjacent “teens’ house” was built specifically for the film and Zito (showing greater sensitivity than he once did with actress Aaronson) sharing his reasons for not showing Mrs. Jarvis’s death on screen.

  • Adrienne King sharing the intensely personal (and emotional) story of the real-life stalker that derailed her Hollywood career and sent her into years of seclusion.

  • The pure fun of “The Camp Crystal Lake Survival Guide” segment on the bonus disc, during which cast, crew, and commentators share their insights into what it takes to avoid becoming a statistic in the Friday body count.

  • Commentators who are logical and augment the proceedings: Bracke, How to Survive a Horror Movie author Seth Grahame-Smith (for the most part —see below), Fangoria editor Anthony Timpone, and Hatchet director Adam Green. Big props to Masi, Hutson, Farrands and company, too, for their inclusion of notable web journalists like Ryan Rotten (ShockTillYouDrop.com) and Brad Miska (Bloody Disgusting.com). It’s nice to see hard-working webitors getting recognition for the part they play in modern journalism.

  • The delightful end credits doubling as a quasi-blooper reel during which some of the cast re-enact their (in)famous movie lines. While Parks and Lerner hysterically revisit their Vera/Shelley banter after Lerner pranks Parks onscreen, it’s Steel – whose hilarious “There’s somebody in this fucking room!” redo is rivaled only by Green’s dead-on Crispin Glover “Ted, where’s the damn corkscrew” impersonation – who, well, steals the show.
Farrands maintains a playful, yet respectful, tone throughout the proceedings. I mean, it’s impossible to accord the Friday the 13th mythos – complete with its almost cartoonish serial killer who resurrects and reanimates and reincarnates more times than Lara Spencer changes dresses on The Insider – with overt academic seriousness. So there’s some snark. Plenty of it, in fact. But, for the most part, all involved tow the line admirably — with the exception of author Grahame-Smith, whose unnecessarily mean-spirited misstep is the only sour note in the double-disc set. In a bonus segment entitled “Worst Monologue Ever,” Smith suggests that actress Dana Kimmel’s monologue in the film’s 3-D installment should be shown at the Julliard School as a cautionary tale for actors. Ok, bad enough, but all’s fair in love and snark, right? But when Grahame-Smith further suggests that Kimmel actually visit the school “like recovering drug addicts talk to school children,” he crosses the tacky-with-a-capital-T line and the harshness of the suggestion is as gratuitous as the gore effects in a Friday film. At least the bonus feature isn’t part of the documentary proper.

Some other misfires:
  • The inexplicable proliferation of actor Shavar Ross (Reggie, New Beginning). He’s like an African-American version of Dustin Diamond...the Screech of the Friday films. And he’s everywhere here.

  • Too many MIA final Friday girls. No Dana Kimmel. No Kimberly Beck. No Melanie Kinnaman. No Jennifer Cooke. No Kari Keegan. No Lexa Doig. Where are all these ladies of the lake?

  • A surprisingly lackluster chapter on the upcoming 2009 reimagining with not a single clip or trailer.

  • Tom Savini’s corny hosting and the equally cornball amusement park Crystal Lake set pieces that connect the various chapters.

  • Commentators who are illogical and detract from the proceedings: Sleepaway Camp screamer Felissa Rose, Final Destination screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick, Seth Green(!), Psych’s James Roday, and some guy named Hugh Sterbakov. File all under “W” for “why?”

Finally, my biggest gripe – thus warranting its own non-bulleted, full-fledged paragraph proper – is with the “In Memory Of” section of the end credits. Rightfully, Laurie Bartram (Brenda, Part 1) leads a list of five that includes David Cohen (writer, New Beginning), George Hively (editor, Part 3), Robert Howland (production designer, New Beginning), and actor Steve Susskind (Harold, Part 3). Anyone want to venture a guess at how the passings of two of the franchise’s most notable actors – Tom McBride (Mark, Part 2, who died tragically of AIDS in 1995) and Walt Gorney (Crazy Ralph, Parts 1 and 2, who’s possibly the most recognizable Friday character next to Jason himself) – were left off the list? While we’re at it, how about Rex Everhart (ass-grabbing Enos from Part 1) or Sally Anne Golden (Sandy, Part 1’s drag queen-esque diner waitress) or Mark Venturini (Victor from Part 5, who died of Leukemia at the age of 35) or David Wiley (Abel from Part 3) or Antony Ponzini (Vincent from the Final Chapter) or Ric Mancini (Mayor Cobb from Part 5) or Vernon Washington (George from Part 5)? Small but important details that are indicative of the inevitable sense of incompleteness that His Name Was Jason is destined to leave viewers with after their exhilaration ebbs and critical thinking skills kick back in.

It’s natural to expect fans interested enough in watching a documentary about the film franchise to lament over what’s missing. While His Name Was Jason is far from definitive, it’s closer than we’ve ever gotten. And probably as close as we’re ever going to get. Warringtom Gillette (Jason, Part 2) sums it all up rather nicely: “Thanks to Friday the 13th, my 15 minutes just keeps going.” And at the heart of His Name Was Jason, there is a genuine sense of celebration over the franchise’s seemingly never-ending 15 minutes.

1 comment:

Pax Romano said...

Vince,
I have this disk from Netflix, have not watched it yet ... as for Sally Golden, I think she's due: "Her Name was Sandy, and She Served the best Cherry Pie in all of Crystal Lake!"