Friday, July 13, 2007

The Bodies Count: The Curious Value of Character in the Friday the 13th Flicks

From the time I was eight-years-old, not a single Friday the 13th has passed without my special observance, first in the form of caffeine-fueled adolescent sleepovers and USA’s Up All Night movie marathons, then later raucous Friday drinking games and illicit, hockey-masked runs through forested nooks and cemeteries, and, in the digital age, faux Jason interviews and ridiculously detailed and lengthy online articles on everything from the top 13 sex-related deaths to “those damn enchiladas” from Friday V.

Thus, though my interest in the series has waned over the last few years and it’s a little on the fringe of this joint’s thematic intent, when Final Girl Stacie Ponder issued an open call for Friday-centric blog posts, I couldn’t resist throwing something together and pimping what I feel is one of the more under-appreciated elements of the series, something this lingering saga of a lovable backwoods mamma’s boy and his bond with a severed head is not particularly well-known for: its characters.

In the slasher genre, where 95% of all individuals are quickly introduced specifically for the purpose of a sensationally graphic or even comic demise soon afterwards, first impressions are essential, but seldom lasting. In most traditional slashers, the killer is really the star, if not the killings themselves. Nobody remembers Mabel from My Bloody Valentine for her wholesome, small-town, apple-pie charm; they remember her for her death via tumble dryer. Understandably, as the Friday franchise was dragged into its teen years by Jason Goes to Hell and, with Jason X and Freddy Vs. Jason, into its early- to mid-20s, all attention was increasingly focused solely on Jason and some high-profile and highly illogical slayings (or, in the case of the latter example, Jason, Freddy, and Monica Keena’s irritating, nasally whine).

But over the last few years, as my thoughts returned to Crystal Lake with every Friday the 13th, and as I’ve tried to understand and explain to others why the early Paramount-era movies are so much fun while the later-day New Line ventures make Uwe Boll seem like the Orson Welles of horror, I’ve found myself remembering and caring less and less about Jason and his exploits and focusing more attention on the freaks, tramps, and bad dancers who’ve helped make the series so endearingly awful. These days, when I talk about the movies with friends, nobody mentions the infamous sleeping bag death from Part VII or the dimensionally popping eye from Part III; we talk about bicycle-riding soothsayers, post-coital handstands, and “Star Mummy.” We talk about screen-wide denim cut-offs, strip Monopoly, perverted morgue attendants, Crispin “Dead Fuck” Glover, and, of course, those damn enchiladas.

The Halloween movies are memorable for their palpable dread, their unsettling, genuine ambiance, and their stark approach to the concept of evil. The Nightmare series enraptures with fantastic visuals and an equally fantastic twist on the American dream, appealing to teenage audiences by catering to the idea of parents as an adversarial force responsible for their own progeny’s undoing. I think the Friday the 13th franchise stands out from the slasher pack because of its cast of inexplicably and yet irresistibly compelling anthropological sideshows – a collective group not too dissimilar from a bunch of Jerry Springer Show rejects gone to summer camp. The guy with the mask and the machete is just a bonus.

If your celebratory plans call for revisiting the series, as many will today, pay a little extra attention to the characters that populate its wacky world, the equally wacky things they do; just remember to stay away from those damn enchiladas.

Happy Friday the 13th!