Wednesday, February 11, 2009
HIS NAME WAS JASON (2009) d. Daniel Farrands
Reviewed by Rick Trottier
There are times when a first name becomes iconic in and of itself. Mention the name of “Elvis” or “The Babe” and people know exactly who you are talking about. However impressive the accomplishments of Elvis Presley and Babe Ruth were, and their achievements were legendary, there is something even more intriguing, possibly even disturbing about a fictional character attaining such a degree of “cult” status and name recognition that they become a lasting figure in the imaginations of the public. If you say “Lucy” or “Bart”, people know who you are talking about. Within the genre of horror films, there aren’t too many names that have that kind of cachet except some of the old classics like “Frankenstein” or “Dracula”, but one of the modern monikers to ring continually in the ears of fans is that of “Jason” from the FRIDAY THE 13th series of films. Jason’s unforgettable mask, brute force, creative killing techniques and implacable evil have taken root in the psyche of horror fans everywhere and whether you like the film series, dislike the movies intensely or feel a deep sense of division over this uneven franchise, an immediate visual recognition is sparked when you hear the name of “Jason”. HIS NAME WAS JASON is a two-disc documentary edition that sets down, once and for all, as much information as can be assembled about these many motion pictures, including the 2009 remake.
HIS NAME WAS JASON starts on Disc 1 with a roughly 90 minute documentary feature hosted by Tom Savini. These host segments were filmed at Universal Studios “Camp Blood” haunted house sets. Between the well-shot sequences that are reverential nods mixed with tongue in cheek barbs, Mr. Savini’s dry sense of humor that borders on “horror host” methodology and the first rate screams of the “damsel in distress”, the host links add a distinctly comedic charm to the generally informational format of the film. Broken into eleven parts, the main feature charts the history of the film from the initial concept begun in the 1970s to the modern day, and is followed by an analysis of the character “Jason” and his mythos, the successful components of the “Friday the 13th” formula, the science and art of the kills and the effects used to create the look of the films, the screenwriting background and concepts, a look at the characters who survive meeting “Jason”, the trials and tribulations experienced during filming, fan reactions to continuity problems with stories, costumes and props, “Jason’s” impact on pop culture, merchandising and marketing, the 2009 remake of FRIDAY THE 13th and finally the legacy that the actors have become a part of. On Disc 1, there is one bonus feature segment after the main feature. On Disc 2 there are other eleven extras to be found and all told, there are roughly 320 minutes of “Friday the 13th” content to be pondered on this two disc set, more than enough “Jason”-lore to thrill even the most ardent fan.
From a content standpoint, this is a richly in-depth and satisfying feature film supported by a jaw-dropping list of extras. There is an astounding lineup of “talking heads” for this documentary, from actors and actresses who played victims and survivors representing each and every movie, to the men who played “Jason” in his many incarnations. Among the luminaries are Amy Steel, Adrienne King, Kane Hodder and Steve Dash. There are all of the directors from every film in the series, as well as screenwriters, film editors and effects wizards who put in their “2 cents” including Sean Cunningham, Tom Savini himself and Greg Nicotero, but listing these few names does not do justice to the exhaustive lineup that is arrayed before the viewer. In a form of the classic “pig pile”, there is even more to be had from on-line and print journalists and editors, authors, and even directors and actors from other horror genre films. While there are moments where the parade of celebrities, cast & crew and aficionados does become a bit bewildering, it is a “Friday the 13th” lover’s paradise to see this ensemble brought together in such a comprehensive manner. All of this is packaged in a form that is dominated by classic interview clips and short anecdotes bolstered by film clips, TV promo clips and stills, newsprint stills, promotional art and photography stills, video box art, storyboard concept art, film test footage and multi-media presentation effects. The end result is a cascade and cavalcade of “Jason” nostalgia and historical footage that establishes a surprisingly high bar o informational excellence that it is likely never to be easily equaled if anyone was even so foolish as to try and “redo” this kind of documentary.
From a style standpoint, HIS NAME WAS JASON suffers from being a bit too glamorous and creative for its own good. Arranging and presenting such a daunting assortment of persons for this documentary must have been an overwhelming task and some of that can be seen in one of the largest bonus features caches I have ever observed, much of it being material that couldn’t be fit into the confines of the feature film. To keep the pace of the documentary brisk, many of the anecdotes of the varied cast & crew are exceedingly short, producing an effect of jumping very hastily from one person’s face to the next. This frantic style may appeal to younger viewers who are fans of modern music videos and their “attention deficit”-inspired structure or people who like Paul Greengrass films where the camera feels like it was strapped to a lithe and acrobatic gibbon and then chased up and down jungle trees by competing simian forest dwellers, but to the older viewers, the pace seemed unnecessarily rapid and it kept me from sinking into this documentary in the same way that I like to ease back into a leather lounge chair, comfortably and with a chance to savor what I am experiencing. To make matters less appealing, most of the fades, cuts, breaks and other transitions between scenes were often affected through the use of glitzy special effects that had a “video game” feel or at the very least a juvenile and frenetic quality that didn’t always set well. By the end, I can say that I enjoyed HIS NAME WAS JASON but my experience was much like that of a diner patron who gets an outstanding slab of meatloaf, with a mighty pile of real mashed potatoes accompanied by a towering glass of homemade root beer, all of which is satisfying and tasty but is served by a waitress whose mannerisms and style are so brusque and grating that somehow the final experience is not as pleasing as it should have been.
The extras on HIS NAME WAS JASON are simply astonishing in their variety and quantity. After the feature on Disc 1, there is the 47 minute “Men Behind the Mask” which features eleven full interviews with the actors who played “Jason” from Ari Lehman to Derek Means. The shortest segment is the 1 minute Tom Morga interview all the way up to the 7 minute Derek Means clip, which beat out Kane Hodder for the longest set of comments. For a lover of the past, having the newcomer be the longest interview segment felt a little “sell-y”, as it were. Most of the interviews were between 3 and 4 minutes and augmented the short clips you saw in the main feature nicely. On Disc 2 is the bulk of the bonus features, starting with the lengthy but fascinating 68 minute “Final Cuts”, a set of nine interviews with the “Friday the 13th” directors. While the longest of the extras, it is likely most will consider this mini-feature the most rewarding. Next up is the 31 minute “From Script to Screen”, four interview segments with “Friday the 13th” screenwriters, followed by a 21 minute section called “Dragged from the Lake”, which is 13 short segments where cast and crew relate stories and thoughts about memorable scenes and moments, both good and bad, from the film series. A segment of four “Fan Films” is next, these shorts ranging in length from 1 minute to 14 minutes and ranging the entire spectrum of creativity and quality. “Closing the Book on THE FINAL CHAPTER” is a 12 minute extended scene that goes through the entire sequence of this 4th “Friday the 13th” film location pair of interviews. The 4 minute “Fox Comes Home” is much the same idea, where we see the full segment with this actress’s location interview from Film #3. “Friday the 13th in Four Minutes” is a quirky interview summary of the basic premise of the original film principle. “Jason takes Comicon” is a 4 ½ minute 2009 remake cast and crew set of interviews on location at Comicon. The most original and creative installment in the extras is the 4 ½ minute “Camp Crystal Lake Survival Guide” which is constructed and engineered to play like a black & white educational short, complete with scratches and graininess, as cast and crew from the films describe over campy music how to survive a “Jason” experience. “Inside Halloween Horror Nights” is a 7 minute quasi-featurette/promotional for the Universal Studios Camp Blood haunted house/spook show exhibit. Finally there is the 2 minute “Shelly Lives”, which is a fun but ridiculous fake commercial starring the unforgettable Shelly character from the series. All told, there are few bonus feature lineups with this kind of weight in the horror genre and fans of the “Friday the 13th” motion pictures will most likely revel in this treasure trove of goodies.
It is hard to believe that it has been nearly 30 years since FRIDAY THE 13th first hit the Big Screen and then spawned its long lineage of sequels, serious and silly. While not the progenitor of the slasher film, since that title may be reserved for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1961 cult classic DEMENTIA 13, or even the modern version of the slasher genre since HALLOWEEN and the mask-wearing Michael Meyers preceded FRIDAY THE 13th by two years, “Jason” may have attained a loftier and far more enduring place in the pop culture collective spirit of our nation. For a mongoloid, demented, deformed monstrosity, who is a mayhem-minded murderer wearing a tattered gas-monkey uniform and a hockey mask that is a pretty incredible achievement. If you are a admirer of the “Friday the 13th” film franchise, whether young or old, you will probably enjoy this two disc set in one fashion or another, especially if you want to see a procession of people who feel pretty lucky to be part of something that has arrived at a station of somewhat mythic proportions. If I were in their shoes, I would feel fortunate too.