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Long before movie franchising and shared cinematic universes became normal in modern day Hollywood, the very low-budget Friday The 13th movie of 1980 became a very profitable success and paved the way for sequels throughout the decade. Really, the first movie was just a standalone, self-contained story of horror set in the American summer camp. There really was no plan back then to turn that particular film into a series of movies that showcased people getting killed in slasher horror style.
Because Friday The 13th grossed almost $60 million worldwide, its first sequel Friday The 13th Part 2 was rushed into production (with more than double its predecessor’s budget) and eventually got released less than a year later. Part 2 made $21.7 million in America (note: overseas ticket sales remain unavailable) which was barely half that of its predecessor ($39.7 million) in the same market.
Creatively, Part 2 was made with Jason Voorhees as the antagonist because (SPOILER) his mother was the killer in the first movie. While Jason was indeed a victim in the 1980 movie, the Part 2 filmmakers had to make hard changes to establish him as the new killer and expand on the previous film’s concept. The result was that, within Friday The 13th’s version of history, Jason somehow witnessed his mother’s death from a distance and motivated him to become a territorial killer at Crystal Lake (note: the first movie established him as having drowned to death because the summer camp counselors did not watch him). This paved the way into introducing a grown-up Jason (wearing a potato sack as mask) as the new killer in the sequel.
Even though the box office reception for Part 2 was weaker, this did not stop the filmmakers and Paramount Pictures from pushing through with a sequel: Friday The 13th Part 3. To say the least, the business model on making Friday The 13th movies with very low budgets and raking big profits was too good for the filmmakers to stop doing. At the same time, the 1980s saw a huge demand for slasher horror. As if that was not enough, there was a short-lived revival of 3D cinematic viewing (moviegoers wore the old-style red-and-blue 3D visors to see the 3D effects on the screen) which the Part 3 filmmakers (led by director Steve Miner and producer Frank Mancuso, Jr.) decided to capitalize on. As such, they used special cameras and lenses to make Part 3.
Enough with the history of the Friday The 13th film franchise for now. This is my retro movie review of 1982’s Friday The 13th Part 3.
The movie opens (SPOILER for Part 2) with a recap of the final conflict in Part 2 showing Ginny (Amy Steel) in Jason’s shack in the forest. After some struggle near the makeshift shrine which had the decapitated head of Jason’s dead mother, Ginny’s boyfriend Paul arrived to save her from Jason. As Jason focused on fighting Paul, Ginny struck the killer with a blade on his left shoulder putting him down. After Ginny and Paul left the shack, it turns out that Jason (in brand new footage for the movie, a creative attempt to revise key story elements) was still alive and slowly moved.
The next day – Saturday the 14th – at a small town store (with a private residence), Jason (still wearing his clothes from Part 2) arrives and kills the couple (the owners) in the evening. Before getting killed, the wife saw TV news footage of Ginny being moved into an ambulance (using daytime footage from the ending of Part 2) establishing the current day as Saturday.
And yet the next day – Sunday the 15th – a group of teenagers travel together in a van heading towards the private property of Higgins Haven which is located by Crystal Lake. Due to the lack of security, Jason moved there in secret becoming a danger to them…
With a budget that was much bigger than that of Part 2, Friday The 13th Part 3 has better production values. Higgins Haven in the film was a nice physical set that was actually constructed from scratch in California. The vacation house, the barn and even Crystal Lake (which looked radically different from the first two films) were all made on location. Of course, money had to be spent on making tracks and setting up the cameras which had special lenses for filming in 3D. I also noticed that Part 3’s visuals are a lot more colorful to look at than in Part 2 which is the result of using the cameras with special lenses. The downside of this is the constant lack of sharpness on the visuals when compared to Part 1 and 2.
In terms of storytelling, this movie looked generic on face value when compared to not only the other Friday The 13th films but also with the many other slasher horror movies that were released. There is a group of people who don’t realize they were being stalked by a killer. The killings are done in secret. Some people either have sex or use illegal drugs. The film’s protagonist encounters the killer and somehow survives. The storytelling is shallow and the characters were designed to be mostly killed off by the antagonist. Of course, there was no real room for any character development.
The good news about this particular movie is that it was nicely paced, there were no boring moments, the on-screen kills were visceral enough, there was an amount of humor to balance the tone enough, and most of all, Part 3 is a lot more fun to watch than any of its predecessors.
Adding more to the fun factor was that the cast of characters was pretty good. Dana Kimmell as Chris Higgins is charming, romantic, physically capable and also sympathetic. Larry Zerner meanwhile is funny to watch as Shelly who is an overweight guy trying hard to gain attention and friendship. Zerner has a certain appeal of being funny without ever becoming an on-screen annoyance. Like Chris, Shelly is also sympathetic.
Similar character traits are also found in Debbie played by Tracie Savage, and Vera played by Catherine Parks. Vera is the lady on a blind date willing to have fun as she goes on a journey of discovery with her friend. Debbie is pretty, sweet and loves to have fun with her boyfriend even though she is already pregnant. By the way, Tracie Savage acted early as a little girl and her performance her shows it. In real life, Savage went on to become a credible journalist and she was involved in covering the O.J. Simpson murder story of the mid-1990s. Check out Tracie Savage in these embedded videos below.
And then there are the arrogant, leather-wearing bikers who were written only to cause trouble. Kevin O’Brien as Loco is tough, Gloria Charles as Fox is rude and yet has a weakness for doing something fun, while Nick Savage as Ali is both savage and even funny.
As for Rick played by Paul Kratka is the least interesting character as the good-intentioned boyfriend of Chris. Rick is bland not because of Kratka’s performance but rather the way he was written for the film.
Richard Brooker, a circus performer, excelled in his portrayal as Jason Voorhees and he provided the template on how the icon should act on screen. Not only was he physically imposing, he had to endure the tough procedure of going through several hours of movie makeup (for Jason’s distorted face) before even wearing the hockey mask. Brooker’s Jason is a major improvement over than of Part 2 and it’s too bad we never got to see him reprise the villain.
When it comes to on-screen spectacle, the killings by Jason were creative and visceral at the same time. Apart from a few on-screen kills that paid homage to key kills in the 1980 movie, Brooker and the filmmakers delivered a good job on showing how deadly Jason is as the killer. We also get to see that Jason is not only unstoppable but also is very strong (look at what happened to Rick) and even agile (look at his first encounter with Ali). It was also in this film where moviegoers got to see for the first time how visceral a hockey mask-wearing killer could be on the big screen.
Dana Kimmell proved to be capable with the stunts she was given and the action during the encounters between Chris and Jason. Her attempts to fight back at Jason with the knife was believable in terms of character desperation. She is comparable with Amy Steel (Part 2’s Ginny) but is ahead in terms of doing the stunts. Kimmell even had an accident during a chase in which she tripped and fell down face-first.
On storytelling, Part 3’s fimmakers made the right gamble by having the film set immediately after the events of Part 2. Originally there was a plan to make Part 3 feature Ginny in a new story setting her up with another encounter with Jason. Because Amy Steel turned the role down, this particular movie became the result. Part 3’s filmmakers scored a right move having the story set at a private vacation property by Crystal Lake which is a nice change from the summer camp settings of its predecessors.
When it comes to cinematic style, I just love the way director Steve Miner had Jason appear discreetly on screen long before he gets the hockey mask. To see Jason standing on the foreground (no head shown) looking at the characters in the background remains creepy and stylish, slowly adding to the build-up of suspense. To see Jason slowly creeping in the background was also creepy. These are cinematic moves that were not used that much anymore in the sequels that followed.
If there is anything lack here, it definitely is the 3D cinematography which involved a process that is crude and ineffective by today’s standards. The old-style 3D (with 3d visors of red and blue) visuals can be viewed on an HDTV when selected but such visuals have not aged well. I personally prefer to watch it in old-fashioned 2D even though the sharpness of the pictures is lacking and even though the key on-screen moments originally filmed for 3D (with objects captured close to the camera) look out of place. Back to storytelling, I felt that Chris Higgin’s recall of a past incident in the woods felt like an afterthought on the part of the screenwriters.
Overall, Friday The 13th Part 3 is a fun horror movie to watch again. It is not only one of the best ever Friday The 13th films released, but also one of the strongest among all slasher horror movies released in the 1980s. That being said, it made the original Friday The 13th look more of a bore and it made Friday The 13th Part 2 look half-baked. Truly, Part 3 was the film that had the standards of fun and engagement of its film franchise raised higher. Of all the Friday The 13th movies I saw in my life, I declare that Part 3 is the 2nd best film of the franchise.
In terms of cinematic artistry, Part 3 serves as the template on storytelling and structuring for the franchise similar to how Goldfinger became a standard for the James Bond film franchise. To make things clear, this film not only showed Jason wearing for the first time an ice hockey mask (now iconic in American pop culture) but also showed why he is so dangerous whether he stalks people or strikes them down. This film marked the true beginning of the now iconic Jason Voorhees and the filmmakers did a nice job in showcasing him as a horrifying antagonist, easily blowing away the Part 2 potato sack hermit Jason.
The film has, in my view, the most appealing cast of characters. There are key characters worth caring for and when you see the most likable characters killed off, you will feel very sorry for them.
What struck me most was what happened to Chris at the very, very end of the film. Granted, she is the final girl of this movie but what I saw when this film ended will always stick me. Without spoiling anything, I should say that Dana Kimmell’s Chris is creatively a standout among all the many slasher horror movie final girls that were presented. I really felt sorry for Chris and Dana Kimmell was very convincing with her performance.
Back to Friday The 13th Part 3’s quality and overall fun factor, I can boldly declare that without this film, the filmmakers of the sequel Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (Part 4) would not even have the foundation and concepts to make their own film great. Really, Part 3 is really good and it’s even intriguing to learn that it was originally made to mark the end of its franchise.
Overall, Friday The 13th Part 3 is highly recommended. To those who are about to watch it for the first time, remember that this movie is a part of 1980s Hollywood history.
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