Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Frank Review of "His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th" (2009)

The Short Version? Slasher flick icon gets discussed.
What Is It? Documentary.
Who Is In It? All the usual suspects, plus some completely random people, like that guy from Psych.
Should I See It? Probably.

Growing up in the 1980s, and I'm sure for decades prior, there were these TV specials featuring behind the scenes footage and interviews for upcoming movies. Even though they were essentially commercials, they were still heavily advertised 30-minute-to-half-hour events with their own hosts run on network television. At the same time, UHF channels and cable television were using similar material stripped to bare basics as bumpers between movies. The public generally became better educated about the mechanics of film production, so the "specials" seemed to fade away going into the '90s. They kind of got replaced by the geek documentary: fan/creators seeking to legitimize their dorky obsessions by getting deep into the sociopolitical relevance of Star Trek and such. Between the revelatory nature of the deeper meanings found in good docs and the amusement of someone pulling imagined weight out of their assholes in the bad ones, it was a really fun period for that type of material. Unfortunately, the rise of "reality television" economics has made the cheap ass pseudo-documentary exasperatingly common nowadays, so every pop culture dead end can be counted on to receive several feature length dedications to their dubious merits.

Take Jason Vorhees, for instance. The original Friday the 13th may have been a canny spin on Psycho that paid off the insinuated gore of Halloween, but by the third installment it was just a straight up Michael Myers knock-off in a rural locale. However, the character has turned up in twelve feature films and counting, so you'd think there must be something special to warrant that kind of longevity. Watching the direct-to-DVD His Name Was Jason, I suspect it's the same base, comforting, familiar formula that kept Married... With Children on the air for over a decade. It isn't that there's anything great about Jason Vorhees as a character, and his movies are fairly consistently lousy, but his potency as an iconic image is hard to deny.

Like your typical Friday flick, His Name Was Jason is crappy in the early going. Jumping quickly between film footage and an excess of interviewees, nobody is saying anything worthwhile. Tom Savini, who famously passed on Part 2 because he thought bringing back Jason was nonsense, comes off as as a bit of a low quote sellout as the host. He's also involved in interstitials depicting victims stalked/killed by Jason on a set. The cheesy devices used to cut everything together (CGI hatchets/blood spills/sound effects) are truly obnoxious, and there seems to be a real rush to cover each shitty, repetitive sequel as rapidly as possible. In fact, I switched the movie off after about twenty minutes and let it sit for a month before giving the flick another go.

The overly busy production eventually settled down, like an ADHD kid whose Ritalin starts kicking in. The interstitials start featuring actual kills and tits. Most of the stupid transitional effects get dropped. Individuals involved in the various productions start being given space to tell their stories. That last one especially makes the difference, because you start to realize part of the appeal is the shared experience of being in a Jason movie, and the usually positive impact that association has on their lives. There's a real feeling of community between fans and the decades of performs involved with the movies that seems to enrich their lives. The movies are still dumb formula, but the relationships are almost profound.

While the documentary itself may be too crassly commercial and mainstream, the special features more than make up for its faults.


  • The Men Behind The Mask Forty-six minutes of interviews with every actor to play Jason Vorhees. Without all the garbage and quick cuts, plus full of information, I enjoyed this more than the actual documentary.
  • Final Cuts Same as before, except an 1 1/4 hour with the directors. It's almost as if the documentarians knew their work was getting chopped to shit, so they indulged themselves by offering everything they could have possibly wanted in a real doc as extravagant special features. I had my favorite Jasons, and there are some directors with much more insight than others, but as a whole this is a robust pair of worthwhile features.
  • Dragged From The Lake Twenty minutes of stuff cut for being too long or extraneous. Not bad, but I don't want to hear about Alice's stalker or art ever again. Too creepy and sad, not necessarily as expected. Also, I never saw Part VII, but it seems to have been the Freddy's Revenge of the series, so I oughta.
  • Fan Films I had a knee jerk reaction at first glance, until I hit the sub-menu to check the marquee. Freddy vs. Jason in 30 Seconds With Bunnies and The Angry Video Game Nerd: Friday the 13th Episode have made the internet rounds for years, and are pretty good. Jason Hurts is a solid enough skit that runs a bit long. The only dud is Rupert Takes Manhattan, about Jason's unsuccessful brother who wears a catcher's mask. That gag is old as shit, and poorly executed besides.
  • Closing the Book on the Final Chapter About ten minutes spent at the Jarvis house from Part IV with the director and a pseudo-Jason. After everything else, this was a bit of a drag, but not so much through fault of its own.
  • Fox Comes Home I assumed this would be some lame Fox trailers, but it's actually the actress from the 3D one (which I also haven't seen) showing off the location from her film for four minutes. For the diehards only.
  • Friday the 13th in 4 Minutes Three accomplished fans separately give a loose summary of the entire original series and have it edited together into a narrative. Cute. Inessential.
  • Jason Takes Comic-Con Dread Central.Com interviews cast members from the reboot's marketing salvo at San Diego. Lame as it sounds.
  • The Camp Crystal Lake Survival Guide Everybody offers Scream-type advise for another four minutes, run though a cheesy "dated footage" filter.
  • Inside Halloween Horror Nights An tour of the Universal Studios Camp Blood attraction used extensively in the documentary.
  • Shelly Lives! Sketch comedy. No, it isn't.

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