Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection [Blu-ray review]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-09-12 20:02

Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection
Studio: Warner Brothers
Release date: September 13th, 2013

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

The movies:

Friday the 13th has come a long way on home video during the past fifteen years. Those of us who were around since the inception of DVD don’t have many fond memories of how Paramount treated the series, as they parceled out their eight entries over the course of four years, releasing two apiece each fall from 1999 to 2002. Along the way, we endured bare bones releases at premium prices ($25!) and even an inexplicable artwork change starting with A New Beginning (meanwhile, New Line released respectable SEs of Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X); however disgruntled we were, we still put up with it because this was the franchise’s lot as the “red-headed stepchild” of the Paramount vault (a turn of phrase that turned up frequently in fan circles).

The tide began to turn around 2003 thanks in no small part to Freddy vs. Jason, which suddenly made the franchise viable again (I can even recall Paramount shotgunning a website together boasting that before he battled “Freddie” (sic), Jason called their studio home). The resurgence led to the sort of box set that fans had been craving for years—for the most part (you’ll hear this refrain a few times in this review). While it featured an entire disc dedicated to “Killer Extras,” From Crystal Lake to Manhattan also split the movies over four discs and still contained some atrocious artwork that might as well have been churned out by a Photoshop 101 student (believe me, this sort of stuff really mattered, at least at the time).

That box set contained some neat retrospectives and even finally gave us a glimpse of some of the fabled excised gore, but the Friday the 13th fans are a ravenous bunch and craved even more. Once again piggybacking on a franchise resurgence to coincide with Platinum Dunes’s reboot/sequel/whatever, Paramount issued deluxe editions with commentaries and even more special features (but even worse cover art, somehow) and even brought the first three films to Blu-ray. Again, it was just about everything fans could ever want—for the most part. Some cut footage is probably still collecting dust somewhere on Paramount’s lot (and some of it may or may not have actually been found if you listen to hearsay), and the franchise’s rights issues always ensured that any box set would be incomplete since Jason’s later adventures would be segregated at Warner Brothers.

Until now. Last year, WB announced that it had acquired distribution rights to some of Paramount’s back catalogue, which immediately conjured up whispers of a complete Friday the 13th box set. Eleven months later, The Complete Collection has indeed bowed on Blu-ray to deliver all twelve Friday the 13th movies together for the first time, which, to its credit, is something fans thought to be impossible, so the set has that going for it right off the bat.

Before delving into the nuts and bolts of the set, let’s reflect on the series itself; I’ve said my piece on several of the installments here over the past five years, but I’ m not quite sure I’ve relayed my fondness for the franchise as a whole. Not to get all mushy and nostalgic, but Friday the 13th will always be pretty special since I’m eternally indebted for it acting as a gateway drug to slasher movies. Sure, it may have been the series that I grew out of the quickest (though that probably owes to wearing out those old VHS tapes), but, if not for Jason, I probably wouldn’t be writing for this site, which came together as a collaboration between members of the Friday the 13th forum. Even though I don’t watch these movies nearly as often as I once did, they’re definitely sentimental favorites, so let that act as a full disclaimer as I briefly run through the franchise.

Friday the 13th (1980)

But just so you know I’m not bullshitting, I’ll go no-holds barred with Sean Cunningham’s original film, which I actually find to be among the middle of the pack for this series. While there’s little doubt the film succeeds where it has to (the film boasts more than a few impressive gore gags), it’s pretty embryonic as far as body count movies go: the characters are dull almost to the point of interchangeability, and it’s a ludicrous whodunit that cheats by introducing its killer at the eleventh hour (in fact, Mrs. Voorhees’s reveal at the end only became a “twist” in retrospect for unsuspecting audiences expecting Jason years later). Taking Friday the 13th to task for its plot is like criticizing McDonald’s for its atmosphere, but the original is actually sillier and more thinly-sketched than most in this department (Alice truly feels like a Final Girl out of default for one thing—the movie wouldn’t be any different had Marcie or Brenda had survived).

The film isn’t without other merit, as Cunningham really conjures up some spooky, woodsy hole-in-the-wall atmosphere with the help of Harry Manfredini’s eerie score—it’s just that, by and large, most of the sequels took this template and ran with it in superior fashion.

Friday the 13th Part II (1981)

In fact, it only took a year for Steve Miner to come in and one-up Cunningham with a sequel that immediately announced the franchise’s gratuitous, devil-may-care approach to continuity. With headless old Pam Voorhees now resting in a grave, the series needed a new antagonist, so why not Jason, who was considered to be long-dead (or maybe some sort of spirit haunting Crystal Lake) in the first film? No matter, as Part II proceeds with the notion that Jason never actually died and even happened to witness his mother’s untimely demise, so he’s been roaming the surrounding woods waiting to take vengeance on any poor bastard that trespasses.

Remember what I said about taking the series to task about its plot? This is definitely one of those moments where it’s both futile and dumb because inexplicably bringing Jason into the picture was a masterstroke not only for the franchise’s viability, but also for this immediate sequel. Nothing beats a good local legend that’s whispered around the campfire, and Miner’s film draws you in even more effectively than its predecessor; his direction is more economical, and he’s aided by a script that actually bothers to paint some characters in the broadest of strokes.

Most importantly, the film doesn’t suffer from the absence of effects maestro Tom Savini, who opted to do The Burning instead of returning to Crystal Lake. Part II doesn’t exactly recapture the gory heights of the original (the climax especially can’t hold a candle to that film’s head-chopping finale), but it has some memorable dispatches of its own (well, sort of—one of the most noteworthy is actually lifted from Bava’s Bay of Blood). It should also be noted that this might have been through no fault of its own, as, like its Slasher Class of 1981 brethren, it really felt the wrath of the MPAA, so who knows what might have been (this cut footage has proven to be quite enigmatic--The New Blood was infamously cut, but Friday II might have suffered just as much).

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

When I reviewed this one a few years ago, I called it the quintessential Friday the 13th movie, and I’ll stand by that assertion; that’s not to say it’s the best the series has to offer, but it is the one you’d show someone if they wanted to get the gist of it all. It’s got Jason in the hockey mask killing some more unfortunate Crystal Lake vacationers—no more, no less, really. Aside from the obvious visual gimmick, it’s about as straightforward as a Friday the 13th gets; usually, such a plain-Jane entry wouldn’t be all that commendable, but, as later efforts would prove, this is a series that thrives on simplicity.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Aside from the obvious spectacle promised by the title, the fourth entry isn’t all that more complex than the third film from a story standpoint—again, it’s Jason in the woods making mincemeat out of yet another group of ill-fated teens. The key difference here is that no one ever did this formula better than Joe Zito; to date, The Final Chapter is still the high-point of the series, as it’s filled to the brim with incredible gore courtesy of the returning Savini, who figured he brought Jason into this world, so he might as well take him out in a blood spattered blaze of glory. There’s a palatable savagery and grittiness to this entry that’s become its calling card, but the film’s frat boy sense of humor shouldn’t go unnoticed; such a mash-up of tones is tough to pull off, but a movie that features the triumph of sexual conquest as a segue to a corkscrew to the face captures the series in a nutshell. In the past, Brett H. has referred to this one as Porky’s the 13th, which is a perfect description.

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

It didn’t take long for Paramount to renege on that Final Chapter business, as the series returned just a year later, albeit without its star. For years, A New Beginning was infamous as the entry featuring a Jason copycat, but it’s become something of an ugly duckling that’s turned into a swan. It’s an entry that’s easier to swallow once you accept that Jason isn’t around, especially since it’s such an unhinged, outrageous slasher filled with great characters (Miguel Nunez’s Demon is pretty much the most charismatic dude in the whole series with about five minutes of screen-time) and some of the franchise’s best backwoods atmosphere. Its whodunit angle is pretty laughable in retrospect (John McCarthy’s Official Splatter Movie Guide jokes about the film practically shining a neon light on its killer) but still more sound than the original’s, plus Danny Steinmann brings an ultra-sleazy flavor that rightfully sets this one apart.

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986)

The final entry in the “Tommy Jarvis trilogy” also stands as the last great Paramount entry; hell, it was the last great pure Friday the 13th movie for over twenty years until the 2009 film came along. This particular trio of films is a definite high-water mark, and, for years, I attributed that to the (admittedly loose) continuity that kept Jarvis around as a connective tissue. Looking back, these films stand out because they boasted the best talent behind the camera, and Tom McLoughlin especially injected this one with an offbeat personality that cemented its status as the silly entry that put Jason on the path towards comedy, a charge that willingly ignores the humor in earlier movies. Sure, this one was a little heightened in that respect and aimed to be more of a black comedy, but, more than anything, McLoughlin grasped that Friday the 13th should be fun, so it’s no surprise that Jason Lives is such a blast. There are times when I could just as easily dub this my favorite in the series.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

It’s at this point that the series starts to truly experience diminishing returns; with no place really to take Jason after resurrecting him as a zombie in the previous film, The New Blood was the first entry to rely on an overt gimmick. What if Jason finally met his supernatural match in the form of Carrie White wannabe Tina Shepherd? The concept is certainly intriguing (and the product of an aborted Freddy vs. Jason attempt), but it’s dulled by the hands of director John Carl Buechler and done no favors by the MPAA’s notorious trims, which left the film all but bereft of gore. Unfortunately, Buechler only seemed to have been invested in those sequences, as the just about any frame that doesn’t feature Jason is pretty listless. Save for a couple of fun side characters (such as super-bitch Mellissa), it’s a group that can’t be dispatched quickly enough, if only to spare us of their inanity. Even more unfortunate is the fact that Jason, here essayed for the first time by Kane Hodder, has never looked better—it’s just too bad nothing surrounding him measures up.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Jason’s jaunt to the Big Apple also served as his death knell at Paramount; given the maritime setting (it’s long been joked that the film should have been subtitled Jason Takes a Cruise), it’s easy to say this is when the franchise jumped the shark as it headed into its most absurd territory yet (which is really saying something when it revolves around a psychopathic manchild who can’t die). I won’t go that far; in fact, I actually find this installment to be an improvement over The New Blood because it at least has some color and personality strewn throughout. It still suffers from dull leads, but the supporting cast is a lot more fun this time out, so the film is tolerable even when Jason isn’t around.

When he is, Jason Takes Manhattan isn’t really all that more impressive than its predecessor because its gore isn’t quite as ambitious or memorable. Hodder returns as Jason, albeit under less impressive makeup effects, so he’s more of a water-logged goon this time out. Regardless, the film is still pretty fun in a charming, dopey sort of way, especially once it reaches New York, where Jason terrorizes everyone from high school kids to street thugs—and just about everyone in between, including an overzealous cook played by Hodder’s stunt double (and future full-time Jason) Ken Kirzinger.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Speaking of red-headed stepchildren, Jason’s first outing at New Line cinema is definitely the odd one out in this series, as this supposedly final entry also took a hard left into strange territory by introducing an all-new mythology to the Voorhees legend. Now longer confined to his own charred, mutilated hunk of flesh, Jason can body hop into his victims, so it’s Friday the 13th by way of The Hidden—and it’s absolutely awesome. Jason Goes to Hell might be a terrible Friday the 13th movie due to its bizarre trappings (and it’s even worse as a finale), but it’s the best pure splatter movie the franchise ever offered up. The film’s biggest misstep is that Jason doesn’t look like himself when perpetrating all the carnage.

Otherwise, it’s a really top-notch movie—I don’t know that director Adam Marcus brings as much style as personality as the likes of Zito or McLoughlin, but the final product is well-crafted and even has a few good performances sprinkled in. A highlight is Steven Williams’s Creighton Duke, an enigmatic bounty hunter who’s uncovered all the Voorhees family secrets, including the method to killing Jason once and for all (the fact that it involves a magical dagger gives you a good idea of just how far off the rails this one goes).

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the highlight of all highlights in the infamous tent sex scene that leaves a girl bisected just as she climaxes. Anyone reared on this series is a damn liar if they claim they didn’t rewind this at least a dozen times.

Jason X (2002)

Most would consider Jason X to be a real nadir for the series, and I would definitely have agreed with that sentiment when it was released. At the time, I was an 18 year old who so desperately wanted it to live up to the “Jason meets Aliens” pitch that I’d heard about for two years and all the grim and grittiness that entailed. Instead, I was met with a supremely silly and often cheesy slasher movie with little to no pretenses—which is exactly what Friday the 13th should be. It just so happens that this one is set on a spaceship complete with a Holodeck that eventually takes Jason back to 1980s Crystal Lake for a brief moment (if nothing else, this scene reveals that Jason X is in on its own joke).

Of course, that still doesn’t mean it’s without flaws—it’s sometimes irritatingly cornball, almost to the point of parody, and it’s far too ambitious for its limited budget, so it actually feels cheap (right down to Manfredini’s tinny, all-synth score), which is something other entries avoided by staying within their means. But at least it has a little ambition and a pulse, even if it does descend to eye-rolling levels of madness once Uber Jason enters the picture. It does just enough to keep itself out of the franchise basement, where it edges out The New Blood, if only because it’s damn fun at least.

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

I wrote a pretty lengthy love letter to this one back in 2008, and I’ll admit that I was pretty terrified to revisit the crossover a month ago (when it inexplicably turned ten years old—time flies!). The revisit only confirmed that Freddy vs. Jason still holds up in all the places it needs to: Robert Englund rules as Freddy (so it serves as a worthy swan-song), while Kirzinger tears it up as Jason by racking up an impressive body count that boasts a few great bits. When the two collide, it’s even easier to forgive the stuff that downright sucks, such as most of the acting (Katharine Isabelle being a notable exception) and the exposition-laden script that’s full of more clunkers than a used car lot.

Of course, we never gave a shit about that in the other Friday the 13th movies, so Freddy vs. Jason’s biggest crime is that it hews more towards that franchise than A Nightmare on Elm Street, which consistently boasted better acting and scripts. Still, it’s not a crime that’s worthy of total scorn because the movie works while tossing in some unobtrusive call-backs aimed right at the hearts of long-time fans. After ten years of anticipation, Freddy vs. Jason delivered, and it still does.

Friday the 13th (2009)

After really exploding onto the scene with its remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Platinum Dunes has had a pretty spotty track record, but their jaunt to Crystal Lake is a success. For over twenty years, Jason had been wandering in the wilderness, but this 2009 installment returns him home to Crystal Lake, where he’s back to doing what he does best. Just doing this alone doesn’t guarantee success, of course, but the fact that this was the first unadulterated Friday the 13th since Jason Lives is a pretty big deal.

Thankfully, the Dunes bothered to make it a fine return to form that’s best reflected by the newly reinvigorated and downright feral Jason (Derek Mears), now all sprightly and savage. The rest of the film follows suit, as it’s a blast once it gets past its perfunctory recap of Pam Voorhees’s demise (which is rendered redundant when a campfire tale recounts it a couple of minutes later). From there, it’s a lean, breakneck slasher that revels in all of the franchise tropes, particularly the 4 Ds: drinking, dope, douchebags, and D-cups. Are these elements cranked up to the point of near absurdity? Sure, but it’s in the spirit of the teen comedy trappings that especially defined The Final Chapter, so it’s tough to condemn it when it has a fresh coat of paint applied to it.

Had this one boasted some similarly impressive gore (don’t get me wrong—it’s good, but it’s not Savini good), it might have contended for the franchise crown; instead, it rests comfortably in the upper stratosphere.

The discs:

The Complete Collection moniker implies that this set gathers every single supplement to ever grace a Friday the 13th release, and it almost lives up to that. Some stuff didn’t make the cut, and their exclusion ranges from minor annoyance to downright disappointing.

Let’s start with the obvious: the first three films are the same Blu-ray releases that have been on the market since 2009, so the first film is presented in its uncut format (which isn’t as great as it might sound—Kevin Bacon’s death is even more phony looking in this iteration) and boasts the same special features: a Friday the 13th reunion, “Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th,” a retrospective interview with Cunningham, a “Secrets Behind the Gore” bit, a theatrical trailer, the first “Lost Tales from Camp Blood” entry (a series of short films), the “Friday the 13th Chronicles,” and a commentary featuring the cast and crew.

The supplements for Part II weren’t as robust the first time around, so this disc features a bunch of hodgepodge stuff, such as Peter Bracke discussing his book, Crystal Lake Memories and a bit that takes viewers onto the convention circuit, where Friday alum have been known to prowl. The theatrical trailer is also here along with another entry in “Lost Tales from Camp Blood,” and “Jason Forever,” a retrospective that originally served as a Best Buy exclusive for the original DVD box set.

Part III is once again presented in 3D, though WB didn’t bother to upgrade it to the Blu-ray 3D format, so it’s still anaglyph here. Your mileage may vary—I’ve never gotten it to work the couple of times I tried it, but, hey, at least the 3D glasses look nifty. The supplements are again the same as the previous Blu-ray: “Fresh Cuts: 3D Terror” delves into the 3D process and also includes the cast and crew discussing the film’s production, while “Legacy of the Mask” obviously focuses on Jason’s infamous hockey mask. “Slasher Films: Going For the Jugular” discusses the formula of splatter flicks and Friday the 13th in particular. A trailer and another “Lost Tales from Camp Blood” entry round out the disc, so the glaring omission here is the commentary that was featured on the 2004 DVD box set.

The Final Chapter comes to Blu-ray for the first time, so that’s the big deal here; otherwise, it features the same supplements from the Deluxe Edition DVD, which are admittedly bountiful. There’s two commentaries: one features Zito, screenwriter Barney Cohen, and editor Joel Goodman, while the other features Adam Green and Joe Lynch. “Friday the 13th Chronicles Part IV” features interviews with Zito and star Corey Feldman, and another “Secrets Behind the Gore” featurette has Tom Savini reminiscing on his decision to return. &襋Jason’s Unlucky Day” is another retrospective bit with Cohen and other cast members, and yet another “Lost Tales From Crystal Lake” pops up. Some sillier features include “Jimmy’s Dead Dance Moves,” which feature outtakes of Crispin Glover’s infamous gyrations, and “The Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited,” a mock TV documentary chronicling Jason’s carnage. The juiciest stuff here is the excised footage, as Zito presents some rough, raw dailies of some effects sequences and a lost entry.

Part V retains its Deluxe Edition features as well, so you’ve got a commentary from the recently deceased Steinmann and cast, plus another retrospective that delves into the making of the film. Another “Friday the 13th Chronicles” also appears along with the fifth “Lost Tales From Camp Blood” entry and the second “Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited” bit.

Jason Lives is another Deluxe Edition port that retains all of that release’s special features plus McLoughlin’s commentary from the original DVD box set (McLoughlin also appears on the newly commissioned track from 2009 featuring other cast and crew). You know the drill by now: another “Lost Tales From Crystal Lake,” another “Friday the 13th Chronicles,” another “Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited,” and another making-of retrospective appear in addition to some deleted scenes, the film’s trailer, and “Meeting Mr. Voorhees,” which gives fans a glimpse of the film’s original ending via storyboards.

Part VII is yet again more of the same in the way of Deluxe Edition ports, so it retains the commentary with Buechler, Hodder, and Lar Park Lincoln (it's missing the commentary found on the From Crystal Lake to Manhattan disc), Part VII in the “Friday the 13th Chronicles,” another “Secrets Behind the Gore” bit, a making-of retrospective, some deleted scenes, a short feature on telekinesis, the theatrical trailer, and “Makeover by Maddie.”

Jason Takes Manhattan also features two commentaries—one is a solo track with Hedden, while the other features Hodder, Scott Reeves, and Jensen Daggett. Another “Friday the 13th Chronicles and a making-of retrospective serve as the meat here, as a gag reel, the film’s trailer, and some deleted scenes round out the disc.

Now here comes the real disappointment in the box set, as Jason Goes to Hell is inexplicably presented in its theatrical version only, so a fair amount of KNB’s glorious effects work is gone. Since that’s the film’s main appeal, this is a crushing blow to an otherwise solid set. Given that this version of the film has been available since the VHS release, this is an inexcusable omission. Also missing is the commentary with Adam Marcus and Dean Lorey since it was recorded for the uncut version. You do get some alternate TV scenes and the film’s trailer, but you’ll want to hang on to your DVD for the superior cut of the film.

Jason X also bows on Blu-ray for the first time and retains all of the Platinum DVD supplements, including the commentary with Jim Isaac, Todd Farmer, and Noel Cunningham, “The Many Lives of Jason Voorhees” retrospective, “By Any Means Necessary: The Making of Jason X,” and the film’s trailer.

When it bowed in 2004, the Freddy vs. Jason Platinum Series DVD was one of the most impressive releases on the market, and it still holds up today since it’s full of special features. Originally spread out over two discs, they’re now housed on one Blu-ray and include a commentary with Ronny Yu, Englund, and Kirzinger, a “Development Hell” doc that discusses the film’s long path to production, two on-set location visits, a couple of make-up and visual effects featurettes, footage of the pre-fight press conference staged by New Line, deleted scenes (with Yu on commentary), an Ill Nino music video, TV spots, and the film’s theatrical trailer. My only complaint here is that the “Development Hell” feature still feels far too short given how long Freddy vs. Jason was in production, but it’s not like that hasn’t been expounded upon in other places.

Finally, Friday the 13th (2009) retains everything from its previous release and does include both the theatrical version and the killer cut that adds about ten minutes to the film. The supplements include Picture-in-Picture interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, “The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees,” deleted scenes, “Hacking Back/Slashing Forward,” and “The Seven Best Kills.”

If that weren’t enough, WB even tossed in the “Killer Extras” DVD from the old box set; some of the bits are redundant since some of the “Chronicles” and “Secrets Behind the Gore” show up on the individual discs, but it also features some “Tales From the Cutting Room Floor,” some trailers, and a look at some of the franchise’s artifacts and collectibles.

It all comes housed in a nice, sturdy tin box that could have used some better artwork; for one thing, WB has stuck with the generic font type here and stuck a random picture of Jason from JGTH on there. Inside, you’ll find the pair of 3D glasses, a neat Crystal Lake counselor patch, and a truncated version of Bracke’s Crystal Lake Memories that’ll be especially redundant for anyone who has the book already.

Overall, it’s more of the same for Friday fans. The Complete Collection is everything they could ever want—for the most part. Save for a few missing extras and the glaring omission of Jason Goes to Hell’s unrated cut, it does a fine job of cobbling everything together. Some other nitpicks might include WB’s decision to pair up everything from A New Beginning to Jason X on double feature discs, especially since it’s still priced at a premium rate (other 9 disc box sets have been cheaper anyway). As someone who feels like the Friday vaults have been exhausted, I’m not sure what else could have further satisfied me in the way of new supplements, but I suppose that’s what the upcoming Crystal Lake Memories documentary will provide anyway. Short of someone unearthing pristine footage of cut sequences (from Part II and A New Beginning, especially), I'd be surprised if anyone ever produces anything that could illuminate this franchise any further at this point.

Personally, I’m just happy to finally have the entire series on Blu-ray, especially since the presentations are impressive (each film features a lossless soundtrack and some sleek transfers that don’t show any apparent signs of digital tinkering). It also might have been nice if WB had been considerate of those fans who already bought the five films already on Blu-ray and released standalone discs for the other seven.

Again, this franchise has come a long, long way on home video, and it’s often been a frustrating journey for fans, and this isn’t really the final step in terms of being completely (the loss of the unrated JGTH really stings). However, it is as good as it gets right now, I suppose, and that could be bad news if WB never bothers to revisit this series, but we all know this franchise never dies. Weirdly enough, we’re living in a mirror universe where Paramount controls future films, while WB is in control of the library, so we’ll have to hope the former gets its act together in order to spur the latter into further action (though I would honestly be satisfied if they can just find a way to get that unrated Jason Goes to Hell cut onto Blu-ray).

One thing's for sure: your annual (or semi-annual) Friday the 13th marathon will have never looked or sounded any better. It sure beats watching VHS recordings dubbed from various Monstervision or USA Up All Night marathons, which is how I used to spend those magical Friday nights.
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