What do you do when you’re quarantined in your apartment? You watch all of the Friday the 13th films, of course.
When looking back at the Friday the 13th franchise, it’s fairly easy to get the various volumes tangled up and intertwined. A series with twelve entries has clearly cast well over one hundred victims for both Mrs. Voorhees and her son Jason to slash their way through. As a favorite franchise of mine, it is easy for me to distinguish one film from the next, however. This is due to narrative differences between the films, the performances of the many final girls and the victims, and the technical elements of the films themselves. When examining the films from a purely visual perspective, the third entry in the series clearly stands out as the most technically engaging due to its use of 3D technology. This quarantine period presented itself as the perfect opportunity to rewatch this franchise. And during this rewatch, Friday the 13th: Part III (Steve Miner, 1982) stood out to me more than it has in the past. While I’ve always really enjoyed this film, as it is where Jason sheds the potato sack for the iconic hockey mask, the fourth entry has always eclipsed it for me.
This rewatch presented me with a film that while certainly not perfect, tries much harder than some of its peers to give the audience a memorable horror experience. 3D, in the original blue and red glasses sense, is generally regarded as a gimmick connected to the cheesy but fun films of producers like William Castle in the 50s that were made to attract audiences to the theatre after television began entertaining folks at home. To add this extra dimension to the Crystal Lake universe, “Paramount executive Al Lo Presti spent nearly a year researching projection equipment in U.S. theaters in order to develop a 3-D lens and projection system exclusively for the studio” (AFI Catalog). This made Part III the first widely released 3D film ever. With the exception of drive-in theatres and the occasional theatre that was not willing to upgrade their equipment, the film was shown in 3D in nearly every theatre in the country. Paramount had not released a 3D film since Jivaro (Edward Ludwig, 1954).
For this piece, I made gifs of every direct 3D moment in the film. Instead of including the blue and red tinted images, I decided to show the 2D images for clarity here. It is still quite easy to see if the image is particularly effective when shown in 3D or not. As the first several images show, director Steve Miner uses some funny moments of the couple that owns the film’s introductory general store, i.e. the mouse, the snake in the rabbit hutch, the clothes line pole, and the television antenna, to show how 3D will enhance the world of Jason. For those of you you that haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Part III, I would be cautious proceeding any further, as the gifs here will definitely spoil the kills and the ending of the film.
Part III opened on 1,079 screens on August 13th, 1982 (813 of which screened the film in 3D). Despite a couple of lawsuits from companies like Marks Polarized Corp. (which was claiming that Paramount was trying to singularize the exhibition of 3D by lowering the exhibition fee for theatres if they showed the film in 3D with the lens they offered) and a couple others that were also tossed aside, the film made $9.6 million on it’s opening weekend on its $2.2 million budget (AFI Catalog). The film would go on to earn $36.7 million. Paramount had spent an additional $2 million on the lenses for the theatres to project the film.
In the special features on the blu-ray of the film, the cast members talk frankly about how the 3D technology of the film was easily the major focal point of the production, leaving them to work on their performances without the normal focus of the director. Often times, Friday the 13th fans seem to think that the cast of this film is rather forgettable. I think that judgment does a great disservice to this cast. Considering that they alone were mainly responsible for their characters and their performance decisions, I think each member of the cast gives a memorable turn as a slasher film victim. One of the film’s strongest elements, however, is Dana Kimmel’s turn as Part III‘s final girl Chris Higgins.
Chris Higgins is probably one of the most well-developed final girls of the slasher films of the 80s, in that she has a backstory that involves a previous encounter with the killer. Throughout Part III, we are given small glimpses into Chris’ first escape from Jason. The Higgins family naturally owns property on Crystal Lake, meaning that she grew up knowing all about the disturbing events that transpired at Camp Crystal Lake. In this film, Chris is returning to Higgins Haven, after some time away due to her traumatic encounter and escape from nearly being killed in the woods by an unknown man. Unlike the other final girls in this franchise who are simply introduced to the viewer without any knowledge of their previous life, Chris is presented to the audience as a young woman already on edge, instead of a girl who is later thrust into a dangerous and horrifying situation. This change in characterization is a refreshing take on the concept of the final girl.
Like many slasher films, the group of victims of Part III is made up of four pairs. Three of which are legitimate romantic couples and the fourth is the blind date pairing of Shelly Finkelstein (Larry Zerner) and Vera Sanchez (Catherine Parks), shown in the wallet-throwing and car window-breaking gifs above, which is obviously not going to work out. Zerner’s Shelly is the prankster of the bunch, which puts him towards the top of the killer’s list of victims. Credit where credit is due, however, as it is Shelly who provides Jason with his iconic hockey mask, as he uses it on a prank to scare Vera, foolishly thinking that scaring a girl will make her fall into his arms. Debbie Klein (Tracie Savage) and Andy (Jeffrey Rogers), as shown in the fun yo-yo gif above, add another disturbing element to the film. When Debbie is introduced, we are quickly made aware that she is pregnant, proving that no life is safe when it comes to Jason.
Returning to Chris, the above image shows one of her FIVE moments where she causes physical harm to the killer, a number which goes above the average blows dealt to the killer from a final girl. Her developed relationship with Rick (Paul Kratka), whose eye is popped out in the gif above, that is introduced at the beginning of the film proves that she and her peers are also a bit older than the average high school-aged victims of the slasher genre. This is also made apparent by the adult stoner couple Chuck and Chili (David Catims and Rachel Howard) that Chris is friends with.
Friday the 13th: Part III is the perfect representation of the slasher film. Chris proves to be an incredibly effective final girl. The group of victims features the stereotypical characterizations of the jock, the stoners, and the prankster. There is a creepy prophetic man (the older man with the eyeball in his hand). The Higgins Haven barn is the perfect location for the killer’s cat and mouse games, as shown in the earlier gifs with the biker gang members above. It features the trope of the city vs. the country as the victims leave the city for their quiet Crystal Lake weekend. Miner’s film (his second Jason effort, as he also directed Part II) is definitely one of the strongest entries in the Friday the 13th canon. As with many of the slashers of the time, Part III also unfortunately features the trope of the black characters in the film being killed very early on. Fox (Gloria Charles) is a member of the biker gang, shown climbing the later in the above gif, that Jason kills one-by-one as they plan on burning the Higgins barn down after their encounter with Shelly and Vera in town. Charles gives a very charismatic and fun performance in the film, and it would have been so fun to see her character given more time on screen as she would be forced to pair up and combine forces with Shelly and Vera, but it was sadly just not meant to be. In the few moments she has on screen, Gloria Charles commands every second of them, giving more energy and life to her role than the majority of the other cast members. Charles sadly passed away in 2016. The biker gang’s other member Ali (Nick Savage) does live long enough to help Chris during the final barn showdown.
This re-watch of Friday the 13th: Part III proved to be very rewarding, as I gained an even deeper appreciation for this entry in the franchise. Chris is probably my favorite of the final girls in this series now, which I thought that spot would always belong to Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) from the first film. Chris has proven to be even more engaging, more resourceful, and more aggressive in her confrontations with the killer. Also, in making all of these gifs, I have a better appreciation for all of the fun 3D moments that the film captured. While a lot of them definitely fall on the gimmick side, several of them are very effective and add a very fun touch to a series that relies on pretty traditional scare tactics in each entry. In this regard, Part III stands out as the Friday the 13th film that tried something new visually. While Jason may be a zombie after the 6th entry, and The New Blood might feature a final girl with telekinetic powers, Part III does everything that you want a slasher film to do and it does it all very well. This one is definitely worth your time if you’re currently trapped in your house or apartment and are looking for a return to Crystal Lake.
It also features a fun take on the classic young Jason jumping out of the lake at Alice in the original, as shown below.
Until next time, folks!
AFI Catalog Entry on Friday the 13th: Part III: https://catalog.afi.com/Catalog/moviedetails/56785