Thursday, June 17, 2010

Revenge of 3-D: FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982)

There has been little debate over what exactly caused the extinction of the newly reborn 3-D film in the ‘80s. Some claim it was climate change; others point the finger squarely at cheap, sloppy, apathetic filmmaking with cheap, sloppy and poorly realized 3-D effects. That’ll do it every time. FRIDAY THE 13th PART III is a film that in spite of the fact that it did good box office and is well liked among fans, is one of the movies that brought about a quick death to 3-D in the '80s.

Paramount and Universal, much like the dinosaurs, have always lead the pack in stogy resistance to anything new. They were the hold-out studios that refused to accept DVD as a new format back in the ‘90s. They called it a “fad” and insisted that it would die a quick consumer death, like Beta, but faster. After studios like Warner Brother’s who had quickly adopted the new format started seeing booming sales, only then did Paramount and Universal grudgingly adopt the new format, but flat out refused to release anything other than barebones theatrical releases. This attitude mirrors their feelings about exploitation films. Don’t get me wrong, they are more than happy to exploit their cash-cow franchises and I suppose they should be given credit for even sticking their crusty toe in the tri-dimensional waters, but their approach is cynical at best.

Universal and Paramount have a history of making sequels to their franchises. Unfortunately they seem to have no faith in them. Even accounting for the law of diminishing returns, their sequels have been very low budget and poorly executed. They make just enough money to keep doing them, but don’t seem to think that they are worth putting any effort in.  Warner Brother’s have adopted the tactic of making a sequel bigger and (hopefully) better. Whether it be the superlative DIRTY HARRY (1971) sequel, MAGNUM FORCE (1973) or the, again, superior sequel THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), Warner may not always succeed, but they can't be accused of making the effort to reap the rewards. Who dares wins. Universal and Paramount, stuck in their backward thinking, don’t put the money or the effort into theirs and then proclaim that there’s no money in it. The classic self-fulfilling prophecy. I firmly believe that Universal had no idea that PSYCHO II (1983) would be anything more than a cheap way to cash in on one of their old library titles.

The summer of 1982 saw the release of the film that really kicked off the 3-D revival. Charles Band’s indy flick PARASITE (1982) hit screens in March, but in August Paramount unloaded the marketing machine for their milestone 3-D flick, FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982). This was first studio 3-D movie in over 25 years (last one being Universal's REVENGE OF THE CREATURE in 1955), and it turned into the second highest grossing 3-D movie ever made until JAWS 3-D came out the following summer. For something so seminal to an era and indelibly marked in pop culture, it is amazing how low-rent and shoddy this film really is. Because it was such a draw, it brought in a lot of people who were interested in seeing a 3-D film from a big studio and a high-profile film like FRIDAY THE 13th PART III did just that. Got asses in seats that may not have been there otherwise. JAWS 3-D (1983) managed to do this also, and it is because of the sloppy, careless attitudes of these two studios that turned off a major portion of the movie-going population, leaving only the hard-core fans to throw-down the ducats. Any studio will tell you straight-up, they aren't in it for the hard-core fans. They don't want to appeal to you and me (I'm assuming you are as crazy as us if you are here reading our stuff), there isn't enough money in it. Sad, but that's the way they see it. And this is why I say that the death of '80s 3-D was caused by the two biggest hits from the two biggest studios.

I have a real soft spot of this movie, but let’s be honest here. It’s terrible. Cheap as hell and twice as dumb. However it has its moments and it was the movie that really solidified the slasher film as a genre in the ‘80s, made the hockey mask an icon and hell, it was in 3-D! What more could you want? Ummmm… where should I start? The FRIDAY films have never been known for a high caliber of acting, though they tried a little bit more earnest than modern horror films that know they are campy trash cinema and because of that fail to be entertaining at all. Even so, the cast of mostly TV actors here is painfully uninteresting; granted their parts are dull clichés, but none of them even tries to rise above the flimsy material. As I said, the acting on the whole is not the highlight of the series. Even so, this group is really more tedious than usual, possibly because of the lack of anything else going on in the film.

With only a handful of shooting locations, most of them being studio sets, you’d think they might be able to muster some claustrophobic atmosphere, but Steve Miner cranks out a workman-like film about some “teens” (who are of course twentysomething) who go to a cabin to do… well, not really much of anything. Miner and company seem to be more interested in making a sex and nudity-free sequel to PORKY’S (1982) rather than a sequel to his own heavily censored FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 (1981). The movie features two scenes of guys getting attacked while in toilets, weed-smokin’ hippies, a two-man, one woman biker gang, a dude who looks like Scott Baio, a snarky sex-pot, the generic latina (who speaks Spanish, but is in all other respects behaves totally white) and a chubby Jewish kid that just wants to be liked to the point where the audience is ready to kill his annoying ass after his very first scene. All we need now is a slide-whistle and some fart jokes. The movie seems to be plotted in a way to go from one 3-D gag to another, which would be fine if the 3-D gags were even somewhat horror-ish. Instead we get yo-yo’s (which, I’ll admit, did make me flinch), apples, popcorn, joints, wallets, baseball bats, bales of hay, swinging ropes, etc.

There are many films of the era that rely on “stupid” 3-D gags (such as AMITYVILLE 3-D’s long sequence in which a boom mic is slowly pushed into the audience), as opposed to “bad” 3-D gags (such as things dangling on fishing-line), but for some reason the stuff here wears thinner than most just because of the lack of anything interesting happening in the first hour of the film. Even AMITYVILLE 3-D had more going on in the first hour; Rush Limbaugh and John Quaid’s lovechild chokes to death on evil, kamikaze flies fer cryin’ out loud. Here there is no “you’re doomed” guy, just a crazy coot who is only in the beginning of the film due to studio edits, no “banana girl” to provide a shock early on, not really much of anything to whet the appetite except the presumably comical white trash couple that provide more character annoyance, a cheap scare (courtesy of the white mouse from WILDCAT WOMEN), and a couple of weak, unimpressive deaths. Why is it I can see a teenage Rob Cummings (Rob Zombie) sitting in the theater thinking that this was the best part of the movie and dreaming that someday, after becoming a rich and famous rock star, he would make a series of film that would be just like that but with strippers! Yeah!

There’s a point at which you just might come to the conclusion that nobody really cared about this film. They just wanted to throw something up on the screen and get it the money while the getting’ was good. I can see a Paramount exec in a script meeting saying “who cares? The kind of people who go to see this will either be stoned or screwing in the back seat of their parent’s station wagon. Just get it done so we can shoot it!” The final 20 minutes is where this movie really musters up some iconic moments that will serve the series well for years to come. The scene where Jason, hanging from a noose, opens his eyes, lifts himself up, pulling the noose off and accidentally removing his mask to reveal his twisted fact, before quickly sliding it back on and dropping to the ground is classic. The scene where he takes an axe in the head and then raises his arms appearing to lunge right into the audience is without question a defining moment, not just in the series, but in cinema pop culture the world over. There are some other great moments as well, including Harry Manfredini’s notorious “disco” re-envisioning of the original score and the cheesy, but effective eye-popping scene, and the sadly edited split-torso bit, which keep me coming back to this film every now and again over the years in spite of its boneheaded lameness.

I give Paramount a bit more leniency than Universal as they actually come around and realize that sequels don’t necessarily need to be completely budget starved. FRIDAY THE 13th PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985) fumbled the ball by offering a super-cheap, ill-conceived cash-in that did great the opening weekend since nobody knew they were going to see what was essentially a side-story in the series. After taking a lot of flack from fans (and, of course, critics) they got their heads screwed on straight and laid out a significantly improved budget for a solid cast and great premise that completely brought the series back to life (so to speak) with FRIDAY THE 13th PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986), though in fairness, it wasn’t as successful at the box office. Maybe there was still a sting of resentment from audiences being duped the last time. Still, for this they get some credit. Before I start giving them too much credit however, they are still refusing to put out uncut versions of the series on DVD, though in an unprecedented shocker, Paramount did release an uncut DVD of the original film to coincide with the pointless Michael Bay remake. It's definitely a step in the right direction, but seriously they have released the series three times on DVD and still only one is uncut. If there comes a day where Steve Miner gets to release his director's cut (for this and part 2), I'm sure I'll have much more than a soft spot for it. Paramount may may be slightly better than Universal, but when it came to screwing up in 3-D, they decimated the competition. A month after the release of JAWS 3-D, Paramount released their true 3-D killer, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (1983).

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