Released by: Paramount Studios
Released on: February 03, 2009.
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Cast: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartham, Mark Nelson, Jeannie Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon
Year: 1980 Purchase From Amazon
Everyone knows who Jason Vorhees is. Even my mother, who has never in her life sat through a Friday The 13th film, knows who Jason Vorhees is. His signature stalk and slash technique has been copied repeatedly and his hockey-masked visage is now universally recognized world wide as a symbol of horror. The character has made the transition over the years from disposable horror film character to international pop culture icon and despite the very obvious shortcomings of any or all of the Friday The 13th films, his popularity doesn’t seem to be waning much at all, even know, almost three decades since his genesis.
One of ‘Horrordoms’ most enduring franchises, still going strong after ten solo films and a team up with Freddy Kreuger, Friday The 13th stars are regular guests at genre conventions like Chiller Theater and Horrorfind and the films continue to get coverage in genre magazines like Rue Morgue and Fangoria but despite their obvious popularity they haven’t received the special edition treatment many of us have hoped they would. Now, timed to coincide with the big budget 2009 remake, Paramount changes that as they release a special edition of the uncut version of the first film.
A young Jason Vorhees (Ari Lehman) drowned while under the care of some camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake. When they should have been watching the child, they were instead getting it on and living it up. Now, years later, Steve and his gang of new camp counselors plans to reopen the camp, dubbed by the locals as Camp Blood after an unfortunate incident or two in the camps past. When Steve finally gets everything up and ready to go, the camp counselors start dying off one by one and there might be more to Mrs. Vorhees (Betsy Palmer), Jason’s mother, than everyone thinks. Now Alice (Adrienne King), Annie (Robbi Morgan) and the rest of the kids will be lucky to make it out alive.
More famous for a young Kevin Bacon getting speared through the neck from below than for a hockey masked madman (Jason isn’t really even in the movie much at all, let alone with a hockey mask on), Friday The 13th is a decent thriller/slasher that met with an insane amount of success and immediately spawned a sequel. Directed by Sean S. Cunningham (the man who produced Wes Craven’s notorious Last House On The Left, the movie doesn’t have much in the way of mood or true tension but it is an entertaining little film that obviously tapped into an audience that the studio knew wanted more. Special effects maestro Tom Savini supplies the blood and guts for this one and he proves to be more than up to the task. While he’d go on to provide better effects in pictures like The Burning, his work here was obviously incredibly influential.
And speaking of those very same special effects, it should be noted that this new DVD release presents Friday The 13th uncut for the very first time on home video in North America. Those splashy little scenes that you use to have to hunt down import or grey market copies of the movie to see are now presented on DVD in all their re-mastered glory. What does this entail? Approximately eleven seconds of blood and gore from the death scenes for Mrs. Vorhees (the most noticeable differenced is this scene), Annie, Marice and Jack. They’re not huge improvements, really just brief extensions, but it’s nice to see Paramount (who haven’t wanted much to do with unrated films in the past) including those excised bits in this unrated version.
As it was with the standard definition disc, this remastered version suffers from some odd zooming in certain scenes. On top of that, there are also issues with color and contrast – they don’t immediately jump out at you, but the contrast is actually better on the standard definition disc than it is on the Blu-ray for some reason, as is some of the color reproduction. That said, there’s a lot more depth and detail to the Blu-ray transfer than there is on the SD releases. It’s a strange trade off. Both of the newer uncut versions are misframed, though in many ways they look better than the previous DVD incarnations. What to do….
Audio options are supplied in a newly created Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround Sound track in English with Dolby Digital Mono options available in English, French and Spanish. Subtitles are also supplied in English, French and Spanish. While purists will be thankful for the Mono track, the TrueHD 5.1 mix does a nice job of spreading things out when it counts and it trumps the SD 5.1 mix that’s on the regular DVD in terms of clarity, punch, and resonance. The score in particular really sounds much better here, while dialogue and sound effects are all nice and crisp and levels remain properly balanced throughout.
Here’s where this disc really trumps the last release, kicking off the supplements with a nice commentary track courtesy of director Sean S. Cunningham, editors Bill Freda and Jay Keuper, composer Henry Manfredini, writer Victor Miller and cast members Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer and moderator/author Peter Bracke. This is a very active discussion with the participants recalling all manner of stories about the making of the picture from both the point of view of those in front of and behind the camera. Not all of the participants were in the same room at the same time but the audio is edited together nicely into a reasonably scene specific talk about the history of this film that fans will definitely enjoy. For those keeping track, this is the same commentary that appeared on the Warner Brothers European release that came out a few years back.
Up next is the new documentary, Fresh Cuts: New Tales From Friday The 13th, which features interviews with Ari Lehman, Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Victor Miller, Henry Manfredini, Robbie Morgan, and Tom Savini. Each participant gives a quick run down of what they did in the film and how they feel about it. There isn’t really much here that isn’t covered in the commentary or the reunion panel featurette save for Morgan’s input, but it’s a nicely made featurette, even if at nine minutes no one participant gets the spotlight for very long.
The Man Behind The Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham is an interesting talk with the film’s director who is quite frank about his feelings and thoughts on the film all these years after he originally made it. At just under ten minutes, this is a decent little talk with the man who made it all happen and it’s interesting to get his thoughts on why the film had the massive impact that it did when it kicked the shit out of box offices around the world in 1980.
A Friday The 13th Reunion (HD) is up next and it’s a round table discussion that was shot in 2008 with Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Ari Lehman, Victor Miller, Tom Savini and Harry Manfredini who discuss their work on the film and field questions from audience members about their work. Palmer is the one who makes this worth watching – she might be the oldest person on the panel but she’s got more enthusiasm here than anyone else and it’s fun to get her input on the film and its sequels.
The Blu-ray release features two featurettes that are not found on this SD release, the first of which is The Friday The 13th Chronicles – it essentially cuts the chunk of the documentary that was contained in the boxed set release that came out awhile ago and presents the portion that relates to the first film in the series on its own. It works – it’s interesting and Paramount did the right thing by including it here, even if a lot of fans will have seen it already. The second featurette, Secrets Galore Behind The Gore, is a quick nine minute segment that lets Tom Savini talk about how he created the effects for each murder set piece seen in the movie.
Last but not least is Lost Tales From Camp Blood- Part 1 (HD), a new short film directed by Andrew Ceperley that clocks in at about eight minutes in length and which is a fairly lame sort of tribute film (?) inspired by the Friday The 13th pictures. It’s gory, but it’s not very good.
Rounding out the extras are the film’s original theatrical trailer (in HD), some animated menus, and chapter selection
The Final Word:
Transfer quirks aside, this is still a very solid release. It’s not definitive at this point, but it’s a big step up from previous releases even if the image is a bit cropped and the contrast is… odd. The extras are very welcome and it’s nice to finally see the movie uncut in Region 1.