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Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History Of Friday The 13th
Peter M. Bracke
Titan hardcover £35 / $39.95

review by Steven Hampton

Arguably the most successful horror franchise of the last quarter century, Friday The 13th is has long since attained a cult status reaching far beyond its initial downmarket notoriety, and is fully deserving of this lavishly presented study. In the wake of John Carpenter's seminal thriller Halloween (1978), and before Wes Craven's imaginative A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), it was Sean S. Cunningham's Friday The 13th (1980) that helped cement the frightful reputation and enduring commercial appeal of the 'slasher movie' as blatantly contrived narrative for putting ordinary kids, young rebels, and teenage sinners alike, through a cinematic meat-grinder.

Jason Voorhees combines the gruesomely fascinating aspects of Halloween's Michael Myers (the masked mute with homicidal intent), and Elm Street's Freddy Krueger (machetes, cleavers, spears and other weaponry pre-empt cackling Freddy's infamous glove, and outdo the hunting knives or toolbox implements of the sub-genre's lesser known spree or serial killers). Jason has long since become a figure of murderous rage incarnate, a persistent legend in his own right (albeit one played by various actors and/or stuntmen over the years), and he's also helped to establish the iconography of the un-killable killer for a whole generation of horror movie fans.

The stats of this book's content are impressive. Its main text is edited from more than 200 interviews with various members of the film series' casts and crews, sumptuously illustrated with about 600 rarely seen pictures (stills, artwork, etc). And, despite the hefty price tag, you do get a fairly hefty coffee-table-sized book for your money! The snippets of commentary from author Bracke (tagged here as the foremost authority on the Fridays franchise... well, after three years of painstaking research, he'd better be!) mesh almost perfectly with the reminiscences and insightful musings of the filmmakers, creative individuals and studio executives. This offers a satisfyingly coherent picture of the horror films' ongoing - well, will it ever truly end? - thematic meta-narrative, limited but nonetheless discernable artistic merits, and explores the over-exposed (partly due to magazines such as Fangoria) technical accomplishments of its necessarily frequent violent action sequences and moments of extreme gore.

Since the series' rather modest beginnings, these movies have consistently tested the acceptable boundaries of what seems utterly obscene and what is merely offensive. Successive Fridays have unashamedly courted tabloid controversy with American and British censors. Steve Miner's Friday The 13th Part II (1981) boldly challenged the stamina of gore-hound audiences with its blatant tagline "the body count continues..." Friday The 13th Part III (1982), also directed by the industrious Miner, boasted nifty 3D visuals for the ultimate in-your-face experience of bloody exploitation cinema. After Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984), helmed by Joseph Zito, Bracke identifies the resurrection of Jason in Danny Steinmann's Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985), as the determining factor which elevated this already lucrative franchise into a full-blown screen-horror phenomenon. Of course, all the filmmakers knew any straightforward repetition of a popular formula was never going to be sufficient to ensure adequate box office returns, favourable critical responses, or the enduring appreciation and loyalty of a fickle genre fandom.

Although at first these Friday 13th films were annual events on the blue-collar movie fans' calendar, Frank Mancuso Jr (Paramount's overseer of the Friday series) realised the firmly established lore needed steering into unexplored territory. Tom McLoughlin's greatly enjoyable Jason Lives: Friday The 13th Part VI (1986) accomplished this spectacularly; wisely mimicking the relentless action of James Cameron's sci-fi hit The Terminator (1984), while foreshadowing Wes Craven's underrated Shocker (1989). Launching in 1987, TV spin-off Friday The 13th: The Series, actually had no direct connection to Jason, or the 'mythology' of the films, and was concerned instead with the inheritors of a mysterious and creepy antiques shop, but its traditional approach to TV anthology storytelling made it a welcome departure.

What revitalised the franchise yet again, starting with John Buechler's Friday The 13th Part VII - The New Blood (1988), was casting the hulking Kane Hodder as the increasingly monstrous Jason. At last, the producers had found a star worthy of the hockey mask. Now there was no turning back. Rob Hedden's urban thriller, Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), left the rural locale of Crystal Lake far behind, and it would be difficult to return. The next movie would show the unstoppable Voorhees visiting another realm altogether.

For some fans, director Adam Marcus gave Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993) too much backstory, and mired his instalment of the franchise in whimsically reverential humour. It seemed as if Jason's nine lives had all been used up, but there was a twist in the tale, albeit hardly a unique one, and Jason faced a showdown with subgenre marketplace nemesis Freddy Krueger. But that did not happen immediately. Numerous draft scripts, doctoring re-writes, and production wrangles in development hell (ironic considering the previous movie's title) meant that our favourite masked maniac's adventures were on hiatus until Jason X (2002), a radical yet entertaining sci-fi variation, directed by James Isaac. When it finally appeared, the $25 million Freddy Vs Jason (2003), was certainly worth the long wait. Ronny Yu's fantasy horror is a lively teen flick that mixes scenes of tremendous fun with steadily escalating suspense, while avoiding the 'mythic' pretensions that could have derailed the grudge match scenario.

Bracke's highly readable and surprisingly interesting book is a valuable contribution to the largely neglected field of documenting modern horror cinema's history. Even if you generally deplore the gratuitous bloodshed of these movies, it's still possible to become enthusiastic about their deadpan sense of humour (oh, what a carve up!). The book also reminds us how innovative special effects - by the likes of Tom Savini - that many found to be such formidably gruelling viewing, have come to represent a 1980s' watershed for latex prosthetics, rod-puppets, and remote-controlled animatronics (not to mention skilled camerawork and clever editing) which contrasts so vividly with today's hi-tech field of obsessively tricksy, yet too-often comparatively mediocre, CGI virtuality.
Crystal Lake Memories

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