With Marcus Nispel’s wondrous-looking “reimagining” of Friday the 13th slamming a meat-cleaver into our young, nubile, and unsuspecting faces this Friday, I thought - being a long-time huge fan of the big, dumb slasher franchise - that I’d give this little gem of a disposable documentary a decent once-over.
His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th likes to start things out by lying to us and telling us that the series is 30 years old. Good ol’ iMDb tells me that the first one hit theaters on May 9, 1980 (Really? No Friday the 13th opening? What a waste of the gimmick of the series that nothing ever came out of!) So, if my math skills are still operating on a first-grade level, then “Friday the 13th” is just now closing in on its 29th birthday. Now, I’ll admit to dwelling entirely too much on this, but would anyone really have had a tantrum if they titled the movie “29 Years of Friday the 13th?” Think about it.
The doc starts out with wonderfully cliche and poorly done slasher movie footage of a girl being chased around by an unseen killer…who we can only assume is Jason Vorhees because we’re not stupid. We see Jason’s tombstone, a Camp Crystal lake sign, and a dead teenager tied to a tree. All signs point to Jason. She runs off in a panic just in time for everyone’s favorite gore-effects-artist/actor Tom Savini to step out of the shadows and greet the audience. Ahh, it’s good to see him. Savini hosts the film and pops up between each segment as frightened teenagers flee from unholy terror.
We kick things off with a ten-minute run-through of all eleven (count ‘em–ELEVEN!) Jason Vorhees films, complete with interviews with most of the directors (but where’s Steve Miner?!) and many of the stars (but where’s Corey Feldman?!) and fans of the series (who hold at least a little clout), who all offer their insights and opinions about the conception and general worth of each of the films. It’s a fun and brisk retrospective, but if you’ve seen any of the documentaries on Paramount’s box set of the first eight films, then, for those entries at least, you’re not hearing much new. However, once we hit the underrated Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, we’re treated to saddening and lovely sentiment from director Adam Marcus, who tells us, “[A] lot of Jason fans, to this day, are pissed off at me for blowing up Jason.” Poor guy. I think you’re neat!
Now, I love Jason. I love him! And the Friday the 13th franchise is my favorite slasher series ever. As a young teenager, I watched all the movies during Halloween marathons on TNN (Remember that? Before it became Spike TV?). But I’m not about to kid myself that Jason is, as a character, an interesting, conflicted kind of guy. So, His Name Was… gets a little up its own ass in the section where people try to justify him without realizing that he’s just a big, dumb killing machine who needs no justification. Thankfully, someone seems to get it: “Jason is a kid who’s just too stupid to know that he’s dead.” Exactly!
The movie’s other sections include an analysis of the movies’ formula, discussions with the actors playing Jason, the hurdles jumped (and sometimes not) in making the films, and the survivors of the series (this is where we’d like to have some Corey Feldman, but alas, only one of the three actors to play Tommy Jarvis has show up). These are all fine and dandy and I always love to hear John Carl Buechler (director of Part 7) talk about how the MPAA raped his movie (my favorite of the series, regardless), but they’re all pretty disposable and fluffy and there’s nothing new and shocking to be had here. Still, it’s fun and if you love the series, then you’ll definitely enjoy it.
My favorite segment had to be “Jason’s Greatest Hits,” looking back on some of the best kills of the series. The Kevin Bacon arrow-through-throat, the Mrs. Vorhees decapitation, the machete in the head of the wheelchair guy in Pt. 2, the eye-popping in Pt. 3, all the hits are here. I was especially happy to see someone mention the shattering of the frozen head from Jason X. Although, my nerd-anger went off the charts when Felissa Rose (the chick-with-the-dick in the first Sleepaway Camp) called the double-impalement of the horny young teens in Pt. 2 “so original,” as this kill was stolen straight out of Mario Bava’s 1971 film, Twitch of the Death Nerve (as was much of the material in the first two films – especially Pt. 2. Maybe that’s why Steve Miner is M.I.A. here. The shame was just too much.)
The movie ends with the obligatory advertisement for this Friday’s remake. This section includes interviews with a bunch of people who, disturbingly, must not have had anything to say about the series that could have been used in any other part of the doc. “It’s made by people who love the franchise,” franchise creator (and director of the first film) Sean S. Cunningham assurees us, but I’m not so sure. The director, producer, and stars go on to talk about how this is a more “human” take on Jason and that he’s not just “sort of that supernatural zombie.” Well, friends, that’s simply not Jason Vorhees. I was wary when I saw the first still with the blonde mullet, and I was upset when I saw him run in the first trailer, and now this is blowing away any leftover “maybe it won’t suck” thoughts that I might have had rolling around. What makes Jason Jason is that he can walk faster than you can run. He doesn’t need to sharpen his damn knife because his knife is always sharp. He doesn’t cut off your electricity and fuck with you. He just kills you. Essentially, this whole documentary was one big build-up to get me superjazzed about the new movie. And frankly, it didn’t work.
The DVD is a hefty little 2-disc package with some pretty solid special features – mostly just extended interviews with directors, writers, and actors. Not all of the extras are as awesome as they should be. A promising-sounding little piece called ”Friday the 13th in 4 Minutes” isn’t the fast-paced editing-together of footage from all eleven films that I hoped it would be. Instead it’s just three of the interviewees, intercut together, recounting all eleven films, being sporadically funny and always energetic. They speak in sentences like “Bitch has a baby, baby’s fucked up, gets made fun of.” It’s ok, but I wanted something else. Once I made it to the “Yay, remake!” Comic-Con footage from last summer, I condeded that it’s really all just a great big ad for Nispel’s movie, but if you’re as big of a fan of the series as I am, you really should pick it up. It’s damn entertaining and very reasonably priced. Have at it!