I was born in 1985, just a few years after the first “Friday the 13th” film hit American theaters and freaked audiences out something awful. I remember watching most of the films in this series on networks like USA and TNT when a Friday the 13th would roll around on the calendar, encouraged by my older brother and his motivation for fear. As a kid, I remember thinking only that they’d made a whole bunch of these movies and that they scared the you know what out of me, despite being edited for television.
Fast forward to the present, and we’ve got 12 total “Friday the 13th” titles spanning 30 years. The series is financially more successful than “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Halloween” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” series. And the films that turned psycho killer Jason Voorhees and his infamous hockey mask into a pop culture icon has also bested the horror competition as the number one home entertainment seller, totaling $119.7 million to date. In this spirit, Warner Bros. proudly puts forward “Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection” on Blu-ray disc.
I’ll take a shot in the dark and wager than if you’re even casually familiar with the horror genre, you’ve heard of the “Friday the 13th” films. You probably know the story at least on a surface level, where a young boy drowns at a summer camp in the late 1950s while the teenage counselors were sexually goofing around instead of watching over him, prompting his sadistic and vengeance driven mother to take revenge and the boy himself to return to life so he can take out a fresh batch of slow moving, horny and just not that bright young people. It’s a simple formula, mind you, but it works because you start to root for the bad guy after three or four films, and eventually can’t stop watching because you want to see the morons get taken out by the bad guy for simply being morons.
Okay, I digress. But, c’mon, if you’ve seen one “Friday the 13th” film, you’ve seen most of them. I’ve seen them all, in some form or another, and I’d feel confident that if you popped one into my Blu-ray player and didn’t prompt me, I could come within one film above or below of guessing which one you’d chosen. Why, then, keep making essentially the same movie over and over again? Well, why not? The formula worked, it turned a profit and it made the bad guy more popular with each iteration.
Some casual internet research has revealed that hardcore “Friday the 13th” fans aren’t exactly happy with this latest release. According to the press release, Warner Bros and Paramount signed a “strategic distribution alliance” last Fall that granted Warner exclusive video distribution rights to over 600 Paramount titles. The relevance for “Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection” here is that this set is offered with, according to the press release, “11 hours of previously released special features.” Internet blogs and fan commentary sections on purchasing web pages are not pleased, suggesting that even though the series has become dormant, the fans remain in possession of very high expectations. To be brutally honest, there’s no way in a million years I would have paid to own “Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection” on Blu-ray, but when it arrived for review purposes, I couldn’t help but smile, even though the extras aren’t brand spanking new.
What is new are a few of the films in HD, plus a 40-page soft cover book excerpted from ‘Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of ‘Friday the 13th’’ and a few other tidbits I’ll save for the Extras section. You might also wonder if the studios are plotting another film in the coming year or two, as they’re notorious for telling you something is all wrapped up, only to ruin it and give you a new title to anxiously await.
Discs one, two, three and four house “Friday the 13th” (1980), “Friday the 13th: Part 2” (1981), “Friday the 13th: Part 3 in 3D” (1982) and “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (1984). I pause here because there are important things to note, primarily that it isn’t until the second film that Jason himself appears, that it isn’t until the third film that he first dawns the now iconic hockey mask, and that the fourth film was supposed to be the end of the series. In fact, Jason gets it in the fourth film. I mean really gets it, to the point where they could have wrapped it all up and called it good. That old adage of less being more could have been true with this series, but alas, we’ll never know.
Disc five houses both “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning” from 1985 and “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” from 1986. The fifth film is probably the poorest of them all, while the sixth film is likely the one with the best, sharpest script. Disc 6 possesses “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (1988) and the popular among series fanatics but low box office grossing “Friday the 13th Part VII: Jason Takes Manhattan” (1989).
Disc 7 steps in a new direction, with “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” from 1993 and “Jason X” from 2002. I appreciated the energy that “Jason Goes to Hell” breathed into the series (especially with its interesting attempt to deepen the characters and its pretty wicked sweet final scene), but strongly disliked “Jason X” because even it was so far outside the lines that I got more depressed after seeing it than all the other films combined.
The most popular film in the entire series (financially, at least) is parked on disc 8. “Freddy vs. Jason” from 2003 was 100% irrelevant for its silly plot about adults drugging their children to keep them asleep and away from dream warrior Freddy Krueger, but it mattered big time because it combined the Hollywood horror juggernauts together for perhaps the most epic 35 minute climactic fight I’ve ever seen between two very undead dudes. Finally, fans from two separate but equal series could battle each other for supremacy. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s safe to skip the bulk of the film and just watch Freddy and Jason go at each other, though. You wouldn’t want to waste your time.
Disc 9 holds the 2009 remake, titled “Friday the 13th.” It’s fine, and I suppose you can appreciate how old meets new if you’re looking for it. Depending on your perspective, this is also a nice break from the ‘torture porn’ direction the horror genre was taking with the “Saw” and “Hostel” films. Disc 10 is the bonus DVD, which fans online have already hung out to dry with little chance for reconciliation.
Understand that we’re not talking about groundbreaking cinematic achievements with “Friday the 13th: The Complete Series.” Most of these films aren’t all that well made, and they tend to suffer from lackluster performances with crummy scripts that leave little fear, let alone plot, on the table. My father, who often sat a room or two away while my brother and I watched these titles on edited cable TV, would tell you that films like the “Friday the 13th” films were made and marketed specifically at teenage boys. Most reviewers would tell you that gullible fans could have ended the series years ago by just not going to see the latest release. But I’ll tell you that even though most of these are plain old, flat out not so great, I’m kind of pleased to have the set on my shelf. I don’t really intend to watch most of the films ever again, but it doesn’t mean they don’t hold some minor significance.
As a set, this is a good package, with every film, from start to finish, included. Extras aside, you’ve got them all, with some in better shape than others and four titles (“The Final Chapter,” “Jason Lives,” “Jason Takes Manhattan” and “Jason X”) all new to Blu-ray disc. Say what you will about film quality, repetitiveness and the violence. These were popular movies that hold a role in American horror history. That role’s location, of course, is, as it should be, up to the individual to decide.
If I read the box art correctly, all the films are presented in 1080p High Definition 1.85:1 screen aspect ratios except for part 3, “Freddy vs. Jason” and the remake from 2009 (they’re presented in 2.40:1). If you’ve ever seen a “Friday the 13th” film, you know they’re dark, bloody and regularly feature things like storms, boats overturning in Crystal Lake and explosions. Unsurprisingly, the video quality improves as the titles grow younger, but the quality for the first three or four films is pretty decent, with a little grain evident but not so much you’re completely distracted. The visuals are powerful in the final four titles thanks to much more modern technology, but the makeup effects in the earlier releases look pretty sharp in HD despite their age. Collectively, I was more impressed with the video transfers than I anticipated, which might be the second or third time anything related to “Friday the 13th” has exceeded an expectation I had.
The first three titles come with English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio soundtracks, and from there we see parts 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, “Jason Goes to Hell” and “Jason X” presented with English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtracks. “Freddy vs. Jason” and the 2009 remake revisit the English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio format. I’ll be honest and state that I paid minimal attention at best to the audio during these films, save for the music, which is often well placed and appropriate for the time its offered during the respective films. Rest assured that the things you’d expect to be good in a slasher flick are, including a machete cutting flesh, tree branches cracking under one’s weight as they flee from Jason and blood-curdling screams from teenage girls who get hacked apart following pre-marital sex. Most of the films include French and/or Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 audio offerings, and everything is subtitled in English and Spanish, with all but three of the 12 titles also featuring French subtitles.
I alluded to the issues many seem to have with the special features earlier on, and it’s true that there isn’t much new here. I do like the packaging (a cool metal case and slip sleeves), as well as the 3D glasses provided to watch the third title and the Camp Crystal Lake patch. Because I’ve never owned a “Friday the 13th” set before and don’t follow the series religiously, I can’t compare or contrast what is provided here with prior versions, but since the press release clearly states there isn’t anything new, I’m allowed to be disappointed. True fans should be able to find some value here, while casual fans like me will just skim through the offering with the occasional, “That’s rad!” remark.
A Final Word:
While a great distance away from being culturally significant, “Friday the 13th: The Complete Series” is an impressive collection that brings together some of the most recognizable horror titles from the past three decades. Economically, you’re getting 12 films for less than $10 each if you buy it online, but you’ll have to really, REALLY like Jason and his murderous ways to want to invest at that level. If you like the genre and the series, and can carve out room on your home movie shelf, go for it. My gut tells me that if you can’t, or choose not to, you’ll somehow be able to get up the next morning a-okay. Provided your address isn’t anywhere near Crystal Lake, that is.