Steve Miner’s “Friday the 13th Part III” (also known as “Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D”) has a few milestones to declare, the first of which being that Miner is the only director to make more than one of these films.
It begins with Amy Steel running through the woods, as she did in the final scenes of the Miner-helmed “Friday the 13th Part 2” (1981). It’s a smart place to start a recap, as its one of the best scenes in that sequel.
Steel’s plucky and intelligent heroine is cornered in a cabin by Jason; with only Jason’s Mother’s decapitated head as a weapon, a remarkable deception takes place. It seems that, just by Steel donning Jason’s Mother’s sweater, she can impersonate his mother and even summon Betsy Palmer for an eerie cameo.
Watch Steel closely as she quickly puts the deception together.
She observes the decapitated head and attempts to mimic the hairstyle. It’s a hilarious touch and, while perhaps not Oscar worthy, certainly deserving of a Fangoria Lifetime Achievement Chainsaw Award.
An attempt to mimic the opening credits of “Superman – the Movie,” blended with a glorious, one-time-only disco version of the iconic Harry Manfredini theme music, makes for a gloriously cheesy title credit sequence.
Here’s why “Friday the 13th Part III” is a horror movie landmark:
- This was the first 3-D hit that encouraged a slew of 3-D movies to flood theaters the following year (yes, we can thank the hefty box office of this movie for “Jaws 3-D”).
- The first time Jason dons his hockey mask is in this movie.
- Until the release of “Freddy Vs. Jason” in 2003, this was the top-grossing film in the franchise and the most popular of the original installments.
The actual story (“story” being a loose term here) begins with an obnoxious couple who own a Crystal Lake convenience store and have an initial run in with Jason. In addition to Miner’s cameo as a newscaster, the scene also features a visible movie poster for “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) (!) and the actors unnaturally holding and thrusting things into the camera lens.
Remember, it’s in 3-D.
Among the items that are pushed into our faces are a baseball bat, a pole, a joint, a mouse and an eyeball; the latter is a bad retread of the Crazy Ralph character, who needs actor Walt Gorney to work.
Replacing Gorney with a random old man was a bad idea, though at least the series brought Gorney back on as the narrator of “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” six years later.
Other items that fly in our faces (if we’re watching this with cardboard glasses with red and blue lenses) are a yo-yo, apples, a machete, popcorn, a hot poker and breasts. The camera ogles its female cast, in this very-’80s teen-baiting film.
The young teen actors perform on the level of a bad high school skit (Steel is missed this time around). The male lead is Rick, played by Paul Kratka, and there’s no better way to say this: he’s an a—hole.
Among the highlights of his playful banter with the female lead: “There’s only so many cold showers I can take,” and “I think you’ve gained some weight since last summer.”
I liked the Cheech and Chong joke, which is a nod to another popular Paramount Pictures franchise at the time.
Then, a motorcycle gang enters the film, presumably because Paramount had a controversial hit with Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” (1979).
Miner’s film is cleverly made and staged, with Jason’s face carefully left out of view for the entire first act.
Although it was Part 3, it stands alone enough for newcomers, though the entire franchise would later consist of stand-alone entries with no real connective thread, aside from the Camp Crystal legend and concept of the undead Jason.
— Retro Reels (@reels_retro) August 13, 2022
An intriguing and uncomfortable bit of subtext arises in the form of a flashback: Dana Kimmel plays Chris, who becomes the film’s lead character. Chris’ recollection of previously getting attacked and surviving an encounter with Jason in the woods looks and sounds like a sexual assault, though the movie (perhaps wisely) shies away from this.
Jason’s first appearance wearing the hockey mask is a great introduction to the iconic look of the character, followed with a speargun to the eye effect. The gory gag still impresses, even without 3-D.
A victim is actually seen reading Fangoria, when blood drips onto the pages, a great touch. Then there’s Rick’s eyeballs popping out, a welcome exit to a loathsome character.
To give Kimmel’s lead protagonist a break – she really fights back at the end and comes slashing away at her literal and figurative demon. If Jason is (as the film mildly suggests) a literal manifestation of her childhood trauma, then she ably fights back and faces the beast.
What was dread-inducing in 1982 now plays like an unintentional and consistently hilarious comedy today. I love the moment where a character momentarily stops Jason from attacking her by manually rolling up her car window.
Even minus the awful dialogue, this is one dopey screenplay.
In the end, Jason gets a frontal lobotomy with an axe and is stabbed multiple times. In other words, he’ll be fine.
“Friday the 13th Part III” ends just like the original, with the lead drifting in a boat on Crystal Lake; its kind of effective but overdone and demonstrates how the original (and, for that matter, Brian De Palma’s “Carrie”) did this better.
A good wrap-up makes this actually feel like The End and not the start of a series with no end in sight. Miner admittedly brings skill to what could have just been devoid of showmanship. Add the 3-D effects and you have a notable entry though, at best, this is still just tasty junk food…in 3-D.