Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, February 22, 2009
      ( 2/22/2009 10:20:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I'LL NEVER FORGET THAT HORRIBLE FACE, NEVER!" With Friday the 13th -- Part 3, the popular, if critically maligned, horror series fully settled into its formula. Having set Jason Voorhees as its centerpiece slice-and-dicer, the only steps left were to 1.) establish his seeming indestructibility and 2.) get him a hockey mask so that makeup folks didn't have to work every day slathering on his demented creature face. The first is accomplished during the movie's final showdown between Jason (a somewhat slighter-looking Richard Brooker) and this outing's spunky heroine (Dana Kimmel). When Kimmel's Chris ties a noose around the killer's neck and knocks him off the upper loft of a barn, the act doesn't snap our stubborn psycho's neck. Instead, he lifts his arms and pulls himself up to get out of the noose. "You can't be alive!" Chris shouts, but we in the audience know differently.

The hockey mask gets donned about an hour into the film -- after Jason takes it from the movie's obligatory joker ("I beg your pardon," said prankster says at one point in the flick, "I'm not an asshole, I'm an actor!") who'd used it with a spear gun to frighten a girl he wishes to impress. Our joker gets it at the hands of Jason, of course, as does the girl, who proves victim to one of the movie's cooler 3-D moments: a face-on spear gun shot that definitely got folks in the original theater audience ducking. This 3-D buff knows because he was there.

The 3-D fx are Part Three's primary raisin d'etre, and returning director Steve Miner happily reupped the gore factor from the previous flick to accommodate 'em. Part Three wasn't the first horror movie to utilize three-dimensions to enhance its kill scenes -- that honor belongs to Paul Morrisey's campy Flesh for Frankenstein -- but it unsparingly took advantage of the technique. The film may look visually muddy, but when that spear comes your way, a hand-standing teen gets chopped in two or a victim's eyeball pops into the camera, it's undeniably effective. Watching it in regular dimensions, though, the stylized nature of the action becomes blatant. As the movie's actors hold pointy objects in your face for longer than they would in real-life, you can't help thinking of John Candy and Eugene Levy leaning back and forth into the camera with goofily menacing expressions on their faces.

Too, viewing Part Three after sitting through the recent DVD "deluxe editions" of the first two Fridays, there's a sense that once the filmmakers decided to make their picture in 3-D, they gave up any other pretense toward innovation. One of the killings proves a direct copy of Kevin Bacon's throaty demise from the first flick, while the movie's finish unapologetically swipes Adrienne King's memorable canoe hallucination, only this time replacing kiddie Jason with a rotting Mama Voorhees. Miner and company don't bother to deny what they're doing -- before the killing, they show our doomed victim reading an issue of Fangoria with an article devoted to makeup man Tom Savini -- but that can't eliminate the sense of overfamiliarity.

A couple of small story tweaks should be noted, though. In addition to slaying the usual horny teens and the occasional overly interested snoop, Jason has started to widen his overly moralistic path. First victims we see after a too-long intro using selected footage from the previous film are a pair of country storekeepers: a slovenly wife and an overeating husband. No longer content to settle with Lust as a primary factor in victim selection, Mr. Sinners-on-the Edge-of-an-Angry-Machete now slices the Gluttonous and Slothful. After he later dispatches a trio of Wrathful bikers, you half expect Kevin Spacey to pop up once the hockey mask's removed.

Paramount's new "deluxe edition" DVD reissue comes with the flick in both its 3-D and plain formats -- and helpfully includes two cardboard glasses for those who want to brave the former. I sincerely tried the 3-D version, but found the experience even murkier than I remembered on my old-fashioned 26-inch Toshiba. (I did jump ahead to the eyeball kick, though.) The plain version of the film looks dirtier in places than either of the previous reissued Fridays, but not distractingly so. Still, if you've never seen this rascal in 3-D and have a better home entertainment set-up than this writer, that's the way to go. More than anything, the addition of that extra dimension announced the series' full transition from a story series into a logic-bedamned plotless amusement park ride. For the largely uncritical audience that continued to make the formula a hit, the shift doubtless went unnoticed.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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