Betsy PalmerFriday the 13th
Friday the 13th Part III
Medium: film
Year: 1982
Director: Steve Miner
Writer: Martin Kitrosser, Carol Watson
Keywords: horror, slasher, rubbish
Country: USA
Actor: Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Nick Savage, Rachel Howard, David Katims, Larry Zerner, Tracie Savage, Jeffrey Rogers, Richard Brooker, Anne Gaybis, Catherine Parks, Kevin O'Brien, Gloria Charles, Cheri Maugans, Steve Susskind, David Wiley, Perla Walter, Charlie Messenger, Terry Ballard, Terence McCorry, Gianni Standaart, Amy Steel, John Furey, Betsy Palmer
Format: 95 minutes
Series: << Friday the 13th >>
Website category: Horror 1970/80s
Review date: 28 November 2009
They're getting worse! I can't pretend to be a fan of the first two, but in their favour at least they had all that loopy psychological stuff from the Vorheeses. Part 3 though is pretty much worthless. I can imagine the series getting worse by all conventional measures (plotting, characters, acting, etc.), but I'm finding it hard to imagine it getting much more creatively bankrupt and self-plagiarising.
To put it even more bluntly, this film isn't being produced by professional filmmakers. They're getting paid for their work, yes, but they don't understand what they're doing. These days the screenwriter will openly admit it. He says they were just sort of making it up as they went along on these first three films. This isn't a movie, but instead a cargo-cult bastardisation of stuff from the original, which itself struck me as a hollow shell that was merely doing a passable impression of a proper film rather than actually being one. So far only Part 2 out of the first three films in this series has managed to raise its game high enough to reach the level of "yes, this is a film". It's going to get worse, by the way. Similarly Larry Zerner got the role of Shelly because the producers saw him handing out fliers for a horror movie and asked him if he'd like to act in one. By the standards of this series, he even gives an above-average performance. I can put up with a lot of rubbish if a film also has some nugget of originality, quality or even just entertaining schlock, but Part 3 has almost nothing. The only actual actors in this movie get killed in what might as well have been an extended pre-credits sequence.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TITS AND GORE? They're cool, right? Nope, sorry. Even on that most neanderthal of levels, it's sub-standard. Yet again the film was cut to avoid an X-rating, so out went lots of lovely blood. Meanwhile there's only one nude scene that you'd notice and that's a girl showering with no camera shots below the ribcage and hardly even any nipples. It works quite well, mind you. Sometimes it's better to tease. Nevertheless if you've come in search of exploitation, this is tame stuff. There's skinny-dipping, but it's offscreen! Most of the nudity here is actually from the men, who keep taking off their shirts to show us their muscles.
What makes the film really silly though is the fact that it's in 3D. You could turn it into a drinking game. Look, guys, something else just stabbed slowly towards the camera! Admittedly I can imagine this working quite well in a cinema if you've had a few beers, dragged along some friends and carefully sat among the girls who looked as if they'd scream the loudest. However on a TV screen, it's risible. Some people will probably laugh their heads off, but personally I found it tiresome. The opening credits are hilariously cheesy, zooming up to the camera in bright red lettering like the Superman logo, but the 3D-friendly kills are abysmal. When you've got sharp things coming towards you that slowly, it makes you wonder why the victim doesn't just step out of the way.
The gore has its moments, though. There's one magnificent kill, in which some guy's walking upside-down on his hands and Jason pretty much cuts him in two. That machete enters at the groin and comes out at the shoulder, baby! (Well, actually it doesn't at all, but that was the impression I went away with.) Also noteworthy is the infamous "squeezing someone's head until his eye pops out" scene, which is ridiculous but funny. That's one seriously soft skull. I have to wonder about the pregnant girl who gets impaled by a hot poker, though, since the film makes a point of mentioning her pregnancy early on and then never does anything with it. Had the plan at one point been to show her foetus wriggling on the end of the poker, then? It's quite a good kill anyway, though.
In fairness most of the film isn't "point and laugh" bad, apart from the 3D kills and that trio of 1980s punks who reminded me of the BBC's similar efforts in Silver Nemesis. It's not horrible, just poor and uninspired. The fake scares are so pathetic that they damage the film, making the 15-30 minute stretch in particular seem amateurish. Larry Zerner's a fat prankster who plays three "look, Jason!" practical jokes. Yes, I said three. Naturally he's not believed when he really dies, but which could have been a great bit of irony but just sort of happens, without any sense of fun or flair. Steve Miner seems almost Pennant Roberts-esque in the standards of line delivery he's willing to accept, with his chosen take of "what is that" for some reason standing out for me as the selection of someone who either didn't know shit or wasn't giving one. As for the story, it's negligible. The first fifteen minutes are given over to: (a) a recap sequence edited together from the end of Part 2, and (b) Jason killing two locals who are never mentioned again. The main group of teenagers again don't start dying until the second half, with Jason before then being so kind as to murder the 1980s punks instead. The film lurches between its different stories to another without any real attempt at melding them together, so for instance the teenagers split into pairs and then hardly talk to each other again for the rest of the film.
This narrative has no spine. No one's filling the role of a Pleasence, an Englund or a Jamie Lee Curtis. The characters are interchangeable and played by actors slightly worse even than in the last two films, so you can hardly even remember who the randomly chosen Last Survivor even is. Obviously you don't care what happens to her, although at least she's not irritating. That's an improvement on Part 2. Meanwhile Jason is dull, even without the fact that they've given up all that freaky psychology. For a while he just stands around with his back to the camera, wearing bland clothes that make him look like someone who accidentally wandered on to the set. Things improve when he finds his hockey mask, because this encourages Steve Miner to start showing him from the front too. I liked it when he took his mask off at the end and became a mutant from The Hills Have Eyes, but this is the first Friday the 13th film in which the killer is unmemorable. You could search-and-replace him with a runaway bear and it would hardly make any difference to the film.
The punks are laughably bad, though. The black one's cool when he grins before putting a length of chain through someone's windscreen, but otherwise they're written and acted as if they were pre-teens who've escaped from the playground. When Zerner deliberately runs over one of their bikes, their revenge is to steal the petrol from his van, reassuring each other that "no-one will get hurt".
I did wonder if the homages to Psycho were becoming deliberate. It seems unlikely that this production team would have noticed the similarities, but maybe someone explained it to them. We've got a version of Hitchcock's shower scene and a man on the toilet. Admittedly that last one probably wasn't on purpose since only film geeks would be likely to realise why that could be seen as a nod to Psycho in the first place, but no one ever said subtext had to be intentional. In this series, even the actual text feels cobbled together.
What I really object to though is the self-plagiarism. The only reason we've got Old Man Able is because they'd killed off Crazy Ralph. Debbie's knife through the throat is the same as Kevin Bacon's in the first film. There has to be a flashback sequence, so apparently the Last Survivor met Jason two years ago and he... um, didn't kill or even hurt anyone. Well, that was pointless. (Apparently in early script drafts he was going to have raped her, but the producers decided it didn't fit with the rest of the film.) The plot structure is cloned from its predecessors, so the Last Survivor goes through the usual rigamarole of "Jason's dead, no, he's alive, no, he's dead, no, he's alive in a dream sequence in which I'm asleep in a boat on the lake because I'm about to get grabbed by someone who jumps out of the water and OH BUGGER OFF." In the original film, that worked. On its third iteration, not so much. It's the same scene reshot with different actors, except with Mrs Vorhees's shrivelled zombie instead of Jason. This might have counted as a twist if it hadn't taken place in a dream sequence, although with hindsight one might suggest that this scene might after all be real if Jason's body-hopping alien slug from part 9 had been meant to be the explanation for the rampage of non-Jasons in parts 1 and 5. Maybe at this point in the franchise, she's the unkillable one rather than her son? Part 2 had been going to end with the opening of the severed head's eyes, after all.
I like Mrs Vorhees's continued presence in these films, which I hadn't expected. However I'd like it more if I thought it was going somewhere, or was even likely to continue.
There are little details which theoretically could have been adding character, but too often they're either irritating or merely odd. What was the point of the circus tricks? Then I swore aloud when someone opened a copy of Fangoria to an article about Tom Savini. I liked the moment where we see photos in Zerner's wallet, though, which provided an unexpected spark of humanity. Overall, this is a barely competent, disjointed film which only adds one thing to the franchise. That would be the hockey mask, which we don't even see Jason pick up. I've been told that this series has worse films than part 3 and I can believe it, but it's very possible that despite being technically worse I'll prefer them anyway. How in the name of Satan's hairy armpits did the Friday the 13th films make more money than the Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street ones?