Horror fans, like myself, are a funny bunch — we sit comfortably on the couch, happily eating popcorn while onscreen characters are tormented and terrorized. We devour film after film, most of them admittedly poor in quality, in the hopes of finding the diamond in the horror rough — the one film that manages to get under our skin, a film that actually terrifies us (because we’ve seen them all, and nothing scares us anymore). But what baffles the average moviegoer most is how we can sit through sequel after sequel after sequel with the same main (and at times supporting) characters, and, more times than not, the same storylines. I can’t explain it any better than the next person; all I can say is that there’s just something in these iconic characters that evokes excitement and anticipation with each and every new film.
So when you present a horror fan with a comprehensive 6+ hour-long documentary about one of the greatest horror franchises in history, well . . . you’ve got one happy critic. Based on Peter Bracke’s 2006 book of the same name, Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th collects stars, stories, and scenes from more than two decades of “Friday the 13th” titles. Our story begins with a campfire, and a scary story about a young boy who tragically drowned at camp one summer while his counselors were . . . ahem . . . otherwise engaged, and about his vengeful mother’s attack on the camp. Telling the story is the narrator of the documentary — none other than young Tommy Jarvis himself: Corey Feldman. From there, Feldman leads us on a journey through time to the very beginning of the series, back to the late 1970s when a young filmmaker, Sean S. Cunningham, was struggling to make his mark on the film business. After some work in short films and in soft core pornography, Cunningham witnessed the runaway success of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and decided to try his hand at what would become the new wave of horror — the slasher genre. With a bare-bones budget, a group of mostly unknown actors from New York, a masterful special effects make-up artist, and a surprise ending audiences never saw coming, an icon was brought up from the depths.
Director Daniel Farrands’ Crystal Lake Memories is loaded with interviews, stories, and never-before-seen screenshots and footage from the “Friday the 13th” franchise and each story is more fascinating than the last. Mistakes are acknowledged, such as problems in continuity from movie to movie and missteps in the storyline that new filmmakers tried to cover up (such as the transition from “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning” to “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives”), to regret from multiple actors who said no to starring in a second (or third or fourth or etc.) film. Praises are also sung from the Camp Crystal Lake treetops for bigwig producers who declined credit, writers who wrote and rewrote mythology, and most notably, for Kane Hodder, the experienced stunt man who played Jason Voorhees the most times of any other actor. Homages are also identified — the death of Annie in the original “Friday the 13th” was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” Jason’s “shocking” resurrection in “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” was inspired by Universal’s 1931 classic “Frankenstein,” and telekinetic Tina Shepard from “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” was inspired by 1973’s “Carrie.”
The curation of actors, producers, writers, and makeup artists is a veritable who’s who of more than twenty years of horror films, and Crystal Lake Memories (which also covers television’s “Friday the 13th: The Series” and the evolution of one fully-realized horror holy grail, 2003’s “Freddy vs. Jason”) leaves no stones unturned. Jason’s mythology is studied and explored, locations revisited, and personal anecdotes and memories shared. Creator Sean S. Cunningham muses, “It’s fun to think that Jason, who started off as this little surprise ending in the first [film] has turned into a pop icon . . .” and in her interview, actress Melanie Kinnaman (“Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning”) notes, “They [the audience] like Jason more than they like the survivors.”
How is it that horror fans continue to flock to these films sequel after sequel? Why on earth do we own copies of every film in the series, revisiting each kill over and over? Why is a monster in a hockey mask (after he dons it for the first time in “Friday the 13th Part III,” anyway) such an iconic character?
Since you asked, I’ll tell you.
What satisfies us is the anticipation of the jump scare, the curiosity about how Jason will dispatch his next victim, and, most importantly, the security of knowing that he’ll always, always return to his fans.