In its tone, atmosphere and spatial imagination, Friday the 13th is every bit worthy of Friday the 13th Part 2. Together, they work more to fulfil or complete the first film than to extend it, although Part 3 also gestures beyond the splendid isolation of Camp Crystal Lake as well. As with Friday the 13th Part 2, Part 3 opens with a recap, although the previously used footage isn’t interwoven quite as imaginatively here, and feels a bit more like a scene from the second film transplanted to the third film. Then again, Part 2 had such an elliptical ending that this kind of replay seems almost necessary, and to Part 3’s credit the replay doesn’t really clarify or explain that ending, which is instead only indirectly evoked and addressed halfway through the film, making the the first two films in the franchise feel like a suddenly remembered nightmare, before plunging us into yet another bravura opening sequence.
From this opening, sequence, however, it is clear that Part 3 is going to be a very different kind of beast from Parts 1 and 2. That makes sense, in a way, since Part 2 felt so organic with Part 1, but given that Steve Miner is directing again the transitions in Part 3 never feel abrupt or sudden either. Once again, we’re back at Camp Crystal Lake – nominally – but where five years had elapsed between Part 1 and Part 2, Part 3 appears to open in the immediate aftermath of the previous film. In many ways, that five-year lapse was critical to the reflective, contemplative, atmospheric quality of Part 2, gesturing towards the even greater lapse between the original film and Jason’s own past, the deep time that elapsed between the child he once was and the slasher he turned out to be. Given how inextricable that deep time was from the woods around Camp Crystal Lake, it’s fitting that Part 3 doesn’t really feel shot at the Lake anymore, even though we’re supposedly in the same universe.
As with Part 2, the opening takes place away from the Lake proper, albeit not so far away, as Jason returns to the Lake store – a space never really explored in the franchise so far – to take out its two owners, a husband-and-wife team who set the scene for the more comic, irreverent and grotesque atmosphere this time around. Although this is much closer to the Lake than the suburban house at the beginning of Part 2, the mise-en-scene nevertheless feels much more suburban in Part 3, with Jason stalking his prey through a panoply of suburban iconography – clothesline, garage, front door – that often feels as attuned to Halloween as Parts 1 and 2. It also sets the scene for a film that tends to be more about eluding Jason in the built environment – albeit the rural built environment – than within the more amorphous space of the “woods,” as well as marking the first opening in the franchise in which teenagers aren’t the victims (as well as the most attention devoted to any single non-teenager in the franchise so far). Given that this is also the opening that seems most designed to appeal to teenagers in its pulpy, lurid, campy sense of humour, the result is a sense of absurdity that cuts – slightly – against the sublimity and austerity of the Jason we’ve known so far.
In keeping with that focus on the built environment, there is much more of a focus on the texture of suburbia before the inevitable group of teenagers descends upon Camp Crystal Lake, while the “lake” is really more of a farm, just as we’re in the country more than the “woods” per se. Suffused with hay bales, paddocks and barns, Part 3 is drenched in raw hard sunlight that feels light years away from the occluded forest floors of Parts 1 and 2, while Jason is also more domesticated, appearing – for all intents and purposes – to reside in the barn adjoining the farmhouse where most of the action takes place. In keeping with that urban feel, the teenagers are initially set upon by what appears to be a gang of African-American street kids, whose incongruity with the surrounding environment contributes in no small way to the film’s overall sense of absurdity – they could be straight out of Death Wish II – but who also form part of a tour de force sequence in which Jason disposes of them in the barn in one fell swoop, in a savage parody of white flight.
As with Part 2, that all culminates with an incredible final act, a standoff between Jason and one last victim, but this time around the focus is less on sustained pursuit – and sustained tracking-shots – than in trying to escape the house and then the barn as Jason engineers doors, windows and other parts of the building into a giant slasher-machine. Despite a brief chase through the woods, the action finally returns to the barn again – and the nested spaces in the barn – as Jason demonstrates much more of a mechanical, logistical, architectural ingenuity than in previous films – it’s almost an action-horror aesthetic at times – in what feels more and more like a sustained act of home invasion, as the lake recedes and recedes until it is beautifully brought back again for the very last scene to tie up the loose ends in what suddenly feels like the third part in a fully-fledged trilogy.
Nevertheless, although only two years have passed since Part 2 and Part 3 – and no time at all within the film’s own world – this very much feels like the “next generation” of teenagers, which makes Part 3 also seem like something of a revision of Parts 1 and 2 as well. In the first two films, the main characters were camp counselors, soulful custodians of the forest who managed to feel wholesome even at their most lascivious. In Part 3, however, we’re presented with a ragtag gang of misfits who only head to the country because they need a weekend of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. While there is still a bit of a “camp” vibe, it’s the more in the tradition of the loose, promiscuous collectivity of Animal House, Porky’s and other frat grossout exercises than the community-minded spirit of the first two groups of teenagers. As a result, the film seems to be encouraging a different kind of glee in seeing these bratty, urbane and quite unlikeable suburbanites meeting their various grisly ends, if only because they seem destined to disrespect and desecrate the woods that prompted the exquisite aesthetic of the franchise in the first place. It’s the first point in the franchise, then, at which you really feel the cruelty of youth – it’s quite similar to The Burning in that respect – as well as the first film in which the teenagers really feel like the true descendants of those who tortured Jason in the first place.
It’s cruelly ironic then, that this time around the teenagers are no longer curious or quizzical – let alone haunted – by what has preceded them at Camp Crystal Lake. Although they all seem more or less aware of the Jason legend, their response is ironic, irreverent and detached – they’re regular readers of Fangoria – which often makes the film curiously prescient of the kinds of self-referential humour and metacommentary that characterised the 90s slasher craze. Indeed, Jason’s iconic slasher mask makes its first appearance as part of a practical joke about horror film expectations. The result is kind of a party vibe, so it makes sense that this is the first and only film in the franchise constructed as a 3D experience, with objects protruding towards the viewer from the opening credits onwards.
At one level, the use of 3D feels like a natural extension of Jason’s own protruding, prehensile, penetrative gaze – the kill shots are undoubtedly more phallic this time around – but it also seems to identify the viewer with the victims as well. In many ways, Parts 1 and 2 are driven by a fear of sex – and especially a fear of penetration – that suffuses the film and is more or less attributed to Jason. As the camera weaves in and out of his perspective and the collective voyeurism of Crystal Lake, there is an increasingly urgent sense that his gaze needs to penetrate the camp leaders before they penetrate each other, a goal that is particularly difficult given that every single encounter feels on the verge of devolving into foreplay of one kind or another. In fact, it’s foreplay that the first two films fear most – a slippery slope that could turn into full-blown intercourse at any moment – especially oral foreplay, which hangs around the fringes of the action as a possibility that is too transgressive to be fully formulated, as well as a particular sexual practice that is implicitly identified with the more relaxed mores and proclivities of the campers, imbuing every single collective moment with a paranoid proto-orgiastic potential.
By equating Jason’s gaze with 3D cinematography, then, Part 3 provides an extraordinary evocation of its phallic urgency. Moreover, just as Jason is in some sense both the agent and object of the camera, so the audience is both identified with and targeted by this penetrative gaze as never before. From the earliest silent outings, horror films have subsisted on formulating perverse and almost unspeakable metaphors for cinema itself, and as Part 3 proceeds and the 3D grows in intensity and phallic audacity, it starts to feel as if the audience are being asked to fellate the camera with their eye, or allow the camera to make love to their eye, with the result that this quickly comes to feel like the darkest and most twisted instalment in the franchise so far, even if the farm initially presents as much more clean cut and comforting than Camp Crystal Lake proper. It’s no coincidence, then, that there is a great deal of actual violence done to the eye across the course of the film, from a vagrant who welcomes the teenagers to the camp with the spectacle of a disembodied eyeball, to Jason’s decision to shoot one of teenagers in the eye to debut his new hockey mask, to the most extravagant prosthetic moment in the film, when the final victim’s eyeballs are squeezed out of his head.
With Jason’s gaze fully externalised and identified with a cinematic effect, then, Jason himself is free to become a little more corporealised this time around. Not only do we see his entire body in the first five minutes – and regularly thereafter – but he’s just that little bit more closer to being a “character” too, if only because of how sadistically he targets the most vulnerable or excluded characters instead of making his way through the campers with the steely indifference and inhumanism of Parts 1 and 2. In that sense, there is less austerity and sublimity to his presence than in the first two films – it is deflected into the 3D technology – just as the teenagers are much more corporeal as well, with more moments of sexual contact and suggestion than occurred previously, but more graphic, brutal and prosthetically-inclined kill shots as well. Even if he is less protean generally, there is a different kind of creepiness as well as a different kind of mobility to Jason in this incarnation – he always seems to be walking around, perusing the house as if it’s his property. Whereas in Part 2 his “home” was way off in the woods, here he lives within eyeshot of the teenagers, and there is a new proprietorial intensity to the way he circumnavigates and entraps them over the course of the film.
In that sense, the most powerful moment in the film occurs when Jason finally dons his iconic hockey mask and truly sets a serial slasher mythology in motion. I’d always assumed that there was some elaborate back story to explain the mask, but in fact Jason only puts it on because one of his victims happens to be wearing it. Admittedly, this victim plays a special role in the film – on the one hand, he is always pretending to be the victim of a serial killer; on the other hand, he is the first real example of a genuine “loser-geek” to populate the franchise. By taking the hockey mask after he kills him – or killing him to take the hockey mask – Jason both puts the ironic knowingness of the teenagers and the film to rest as well as appearing to commune with the closest approximation of his own childhood self that we’ve seen throughout the franchise so far.
At the same time, however, it feels as if Jason’s co-option of the mask may be his most protean moment in the whole series. In the first two films, his killings almost seemed to materialise out of whatever environment they happened to occur in, and there is an element of contingency to the way he takes on his signature image that is beautifully in keeping with that. Indeed, the killing required to get the mask is elided – a first for the series – in one of the most elegantly understated instances of Jason’s brutality so far, just as he makes his debut in the mask with the single most brutal and pointed instance of 3D cinematography in the entire film. So far, the kill shots have had a peculiarly penetrative character, but from this point on Jason’s crimes become utterly and ingeniously inextricable from 3D, just as Jason’s more “three-dimensional” character is offset by the dehumanising impact of the 3D glasses and apparatus itself.
It feels right, then, that Part 3 is the high water mark in the franchise’s indebtedness to Psycho, with the final sequence once again framing Jason’s relationship with his mother as a descendent of Norman Bates’ relationship with his mother. Whereas Parts 1 and 2 actually featured Jason’s mother – the first as antagonist, the second as ceremonial corpse – Part 3 takes a more spatial approach, gradually gathering the farm and its environs into a standoff between the barn and the house that pays homage to the standoff between the motel and the house in Psycho. Combined with a series of incredible and intensifying homages to Hitchcock’s masterpiece – and to the shower sequence in particular – Part 3 feels more and more like a sequel – or a prequel – to Psycho disguised as a slasher film; or, rather, offers up the slasher genre as the place where Hitchcock’s legacy was truly being honoured in the early 1980s. And, combined with his work on Halloween H20, that confirms Miner as one of cinema’s great para-auteurs, peculiarly gifted at continuing and even fulfilling the vision of horror auteurs, while always stamping their mise-en-scenes with his own distinctive and prodigious spatial imagination as well.