Oh my God, they killed Shelly!
Though a mere two summers had passed since Friday the 13th debuted and turned slashers into the de-facto teen film of the nascent 80s, the trend was on the verge of burning out in 1982. And so the producers of Friday the 13th decided to bring in a gimmick that was returning to theaters 30 years after it had first been discarded as a goofy novelty: anaglyph 3D effects. Viewers slap on those classic red-blue 3D glasses during a screening, and the film will periodically shoot something out at the audience.
The film has subsequently been released both in its original 3D form and in traditional 2D which just makes the obtrusive subject of 3D rendering seem like an odd bit of camera focus rather than a object flying out of the screen towards you. Shout! Factory’s well-regarded Friday the 13th box set also includes a transfer of this film in stereoscopic 3D, the technology used by the wave of 3D films that came another 30 years after this.
It’s certainly possible to use 3D as a storytelling tool rather than a vessel for cheap thrills and gee-whiz effects, but you won’t see it well-used here. Friday the 13th Part 3 is quite simply a film serving a gimmick, not vice versa, for 80+% of its runtime. It’s a shame, because there are a few nuggets of fun ideas that the film half-asses and burns through so we can get to the next shot of a yo-yo flying at the audience’s face. Seriously, though, the majority of the 3D effects are applied to harmless, inane things like broom handles. We inevitably get some slashing blades shot at us before the film closes, but why bother with the effect if you are going to waste it on pointless subjects so much of the time?
At this point, we know the drill well: A bunch of teens gather in a cabin on a lake for increasingly hand-waved reasons. They indulge in youthful excesses, especially sex, drugs, and alcohol, before getting hunted one-by-one by a mostly-unseen assailant. Then, one slightly more chaste and complex young woman manages to escape and eventually take down said killing force.
Among the crew of teens ready to be slashed, there are a bunch of forgettable faces, and one remarkably UNforgettable one: Shelly (Larry Zerner), a relentless prankster whose self-sabotaging puckishness is both a thorn in the side of his friends and what prevents him from getting laid (though he prefers to blame his ugliness and slight chubbiness). Shelly’s favorite prank is to pretend to be horribly murdered, which is a gag at both the expense of his friends and the audience, setting up a bunch of cheap fake scares but one excellent boy-who-cried-wolf payoff murder. I can see the case that Shelly is too cartoonish to enjoy spending time with, but in the case of Friday the 13th, standing out from the crowd is a good thing. He’s a mashup of every ’80s loser stereotype: fat virgin prankster with a white boy ‘fro. (He also is responsible for Jason’s iconic hockey mask, so he at least has that going for him.)
Even beyond Shelly’s shenanigans, Friday the 13th leans far too heavily on fake-out jump scares: something pops out, but it’s not Jason Voorhees, it’s some friendly face. It makes for a cheap and flimsy film, especially the first half. The pacing a real problem this time around: the actual kills take too long time to get going, and so much of the story until then is just wheel-spinning and half-assed gags. (The sleaze is toned down, too; like Part 1 there’s lots of suggestion of sex with very little of it on screen.)
There’s one fun wrinkle from the early stretch that I quite enjoyed: A biker gang who gets in a feud with the group of teens. When they finally come to take revenge on the teens and get slaughtered by Jason, it kicks off the significantly more compelling second half of the film, but it still feels a bit wasted by the film as a narrative thread that could have been the basis for a whole movie. Why introduce rivals and kill them off before any good back-and-forth escalating pranks?
From a craft perspective, this film is a big step down from Part 2: I’m actually surprised it’s the same director, Steven Miner. I’m guessing the crew was so focused on executing the 3D gimmick shots that they didn’t have much attention span for the usual lighting and blocking that a director would be thinking about. That, or he was just completely checked out on such an obvious cash-in.
I was ready to slap a really dire rating on this movie, but I must admit the final 25 minutes really pick up. With the last blast of intensity and a few fun murder set pieces, I ended not quite so moribund, but still have no hesitation calling it the worse than the first two parts. But it’s at least more fun than the gruesomely self-serious direction that Halloween drifted as it got deeper into franchise continuity. I’ll take goofy 3D broom handles over indulgent over-explained lore any day.
- Review Project: Friday the 13th Retrospective