Sunday, January 5, 2014

Finishing Off Friday The 13th: The Series With “The Final Season” And A Little Monotony.

The Good: Some clever episodes, Genuine horror, Good use of new character
The Bad: Still a sense of monotony while the group works their cases, Light on DVD features.
The Basics: Entertaining, but holding up somewhat less well upon multiple viewings, Friday The 13th: The Series comes to a gruesome end on DVD!

There are few memories from my young adulthood that I still look back on with genuine amusement, but virtually all of the memories I enjoy returning to have a real sense of irony to them. For example, my father and step-mother tried very hard to be involved with what I was watching as a child and young adult. When 2010 came out, my father was adamant that we wouldn’t see it until he screened it first because early reviews said it had moments that were scary and he took the “PG” rating very seriously. But when I was in high school and we had a VCR, my father and step-mother were miffed at what I might be taping on Fox late Saturday nights and watching early on Sunday mornings. Well, it was Friday The 13th: The Series and my step mother was instantly put on edge by this. I assured her that it had absolutely no connection to the movie franchise and it was just a cool, weird show. So, she insisted on watching an episode with me. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s the episode Satan actually shows up. I wasn’t allowed to watch it again (though somehow I did manage to continue to tape it and sneak watching it in during the week). The episode that got Friday The 13th: The Series officially banned in the household was “The Prophecies, Part II” and that is the second episode on the new DVD set for the third season of Friday The 13th: The Series.

Friday The 13th: The Series “The Final Season” picks up following as closely in the tradition of Friday The 13th: The Series Season 1 (reviewed here!) and Season 2 (reviewed here!) as it can, considering that it loses one of the three main characters almost immediately. Released on DVD with little fanfare, this is the final set for a neglected science fiction-horror television show which was fairly clever at the time. Even so, as the episodes progressed, there was an increasingly formulaic feel to the episodes and the series was terminated after the twenty episodes of the third season aired. It is actually something of as coup for horror fans that this occasionally campy, sometimes disturbing, series made it onto DVD.

Like the prior seasons, Friday The 13th: The Series has nothing to do with the masked killer from the films, Jason Voorhees. Instead, this is a smarter horror which is more suspense and conceptual horror than gore or violence. The premise is simple: Micki and Ryan are trying to recover the cursed objects from their uncle’s antique shop to prevent the spread of evil in the world with the help of an occult expert, Jack. In this season, though, Ryan is replaced by Johnny Ventura, which opens up to some character conflicts and chemistry between Micki and her partner in the investigations. The thing is, as the cursed objects are recovered, the writing becomes more and more formulaic as they figure out what the cursed object they need to get back is, encounter an obstacle to its recovery and then manage to get it back. But, there’s always another cursed object . . .

In this season, Jack hunts down Lucifer’s Bible, which is being used by a satanic priest to help bring about prophecies which will allow Satan to come to Earth and take over. Jack is wounded, which prompts Micki, Ryan and Johnny Ventura to join him in France. Ryan, unfortunately, becomes possessed by the devil and transformed into a boy, which takes him out of the weekly search for cursed artifacts. Returning to the States, Micki, Jack and Johnny look for the remaining cursed objects from Curious Goods.

This takes the form of hunting down a cursed wheelchair that makes a quadriplegic into a killer, a hearing aid that can hear thoughts, and a coin that resurrects the dead. The show goes for surprisingly smart and social commentary with episodes like “Hate On Your Dial,” where an old car radio allows a racist to time travel to save his Klan father. There’s also a cursed crucifix, film reel and locket. The show is smart enough to make some of the characters truly empathetic, even with the gore, most notably a mortician in “Epitaph For A Lonely Soul” who is using a cursed embalming tool to try to bring his dead wife back to him.

Even so, some of the episodes start with pretty campy premises and are predictable in their executions. So, for example, a pen makes a hack writer into a bestseller in “Mightier Than The Sword” and “My Wife As A Dog” has a man turn his wife into a dog. The season (and series) culminate in a deliciously weird episode which puts Micki back with the Marquis de Sade in an episode that could only (at the time) be played late at night.

This is both the strength and weakness of Friday The 13th: The Series. The show alternates drastically between the droll and predictable and the original and clever and episode to episode this is very erratic. So, despite a strong beginning and a strong ending to this season, the episodes in between are often hit-or-miss. Even so, directors do have some creative approaches, like a past episode shot in black-and-white and the lush use of lighting and color in “The Charnel Pit” (which has some scenes which seem like they were shot from an erotica director). The special effects are more mediocre than incredible, but this was a show trading more on the cerebral horror and suspense (a la The Twilight Zone) than it was physical horror (gore).

Like most worthwhile television, it helps to know who the characters are. In the final season of Friday The 13th: The Series, the principles are:

Micki Foster – Smart and sassy, she hunts for cursed objects and is knowledgeable in the occult. Having lost her cousin to a freak accident with Satan, she now works with Johnny and grows reasonably close with him. She is able to take care of herself, though she often needs Jack’s help to actually recover the cursed objects left by her uncle,

Johnny Ventura – Replacing the cursed Ryan, he stumbles along getting used to recovering the objects at Curious Goods. He does not entirely believe in all he sees and often needs to be told what to do on the various missions. Still, he is young and strong and that comes in handy when hunting down the devil’s weapons on earth,

and Jack Marshak – Smart and educated, Jack is an expert in the occult who researches the objects sold by Curious Goods which need to be recovered and works to get them back. He is erudite and despite getting wounded by one of Satan’s minions, he continues to prove himself indispensible to Mickey and the cause of getting the artifacts out of the hands of the corrupt.

As for the acting, Chris Wiggins remains the strongest performer of the bunch as the educated Jack. Wiggings has a dignity which he lends to the character which makes his occasional tongue-in-cheek line truly resonate. He also makes the whole venture seem plausible. Still, Louise Robey is good as Micki and she is plausible chasing down the artifacts for Jack. As for newcomer to the series, Steve Monarque, he does the best with the character he can, but Johnny is poorly written and so much of Monarque’s performance is playing dumb so Micki and Jack can explain things to Johnny. It gets tiresome quickly and there are moments when Monarque looks like he’s tired of standing listening to all of the exposition.

On DVD, the twenty episodes of the third season of Friday The Thirteenth The Series are presented with minimal bonus features. In fact, some of the episodes have the television promotional spots, others do not and that’s it. This is a pretty anemic bonus feature for a series that was so original at the time.

Even so, there is enough here to enthusiastically recommend the final season of Friday The 13th: The Series and for those who might not want the entire series, this is arguably the best season to pick up.

For the final seasons of other television horrors, please check out my reviews of:
Millennium - Season 3
Twin Peaks - Season 2
Carnivale - Season 2


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2014, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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