Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (Blu-ray/DVD)
Directed by Dan Farrands
Distributed by CAV Distributing Corp
Jason has always been number one in my heart. And like every fan on the planet, I felt completely burned by 2009’s dismal documentary His Name Was Jason. It went through the trouble of amassing a roster of participants only to wedge them all into a 90 minute run time of banal sound bites. And thanks to the addition of TV personalities and horror webmasters, the whole thing felt more like a VH1 “I Love Friday the 13th” special than an appropriate retrospective.
When it was announced that the people behind Never Sleep Again (review) were taking a stab at chronicling the world of Jason Voorhees (including two Dread Central staffers), I was more than giddy. Their work is tried, tested and well-received from both fans and critics, and it was long past time someone documented the definitive word on Friday the 13th.
That’s Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. It leaves virtually no stone unturned when it comes to dissecting the franchise, and the best thing I can say is that it taught me a thing or two about the series. Sure, we all know the origins of Harry Manfredini’s “ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” score, and how Sean Cunningham took out a promotional ad in Variety when all he had was a title and nothing else. But for every well-worn nugget of information comes some equally obscure trivia. Everything is traversed, from a truly bizarre and ill-conceived special effect planned for the end of Jason Takes Manhattan, to a misguided, right wing religious assault on the television series of the same name.
Those who’ve seen His Name Was Jason might find familiarity with a good chunk of these interviews. That’s because Crystal Lake Memories was assembled from much of the unused footage cut from that 90 minute fluff piece. This time around we’ve got a documentary that runs almost seven hours, so there is considerable extrapolation here. I don’t bring up the reuse of footage as a detriment, because I have long wanted to see all the material that was excised from the previous documentary. It might have taken a few years, but someone has finally done right by the fans.
In no way am I suggesting that this new film is just a bunch of unused footage, either, because there are plenty of new additions to the cast. Corey Feldman does a fun little wraparound while also narrating and appearing throughout, while other participants like Tracie Savage, Thom Mathews, Susan Blu, and Erin Grey are welcome additions to the documentary as well.
My favorite thing about Crystal Lake Memories is the inclusion of longtime Friday producer Frank Mancuso Jr., who was involved with the franchise from Parts II to VIII. Mancuso is enjoyable and informative, chronicling his early involvement in the series (Part II) and how he worked his way up the ladder to mainstay producer (for the very next film). I’ve always enjoyed Mancuso’s handling of the series, and one of the coolest things here is glimpsing some of his internal studio memorandums. Because Friday the 13th was the redheaded stepchild for Paramount Pictures throughout the 1980s, it’s fun to see how these things were addressed behind closed doors (with the kind of self-deprecation you would probably expect). It’s also interesting to hear how his approach would change from one movie to the next, encouraging his creative team to run wild in one movie while clamping down on another.
As was the case with Never Sleep Again, Crystal Lake Memories’ biggest accomplishment is in its pacing. It must’ve been a Herculean effort to assemble this footage in a way that’s both well paced and coherent, and it flows nicely—not only from one segment to the next, but also from each anecdote. I know it’s clichéd to praise a really long film by saying it never feels its length, but I consumed this in two sittings without ever thinking about the amount of time I was investing in this content.
My only qualm with this documentary is that it leaves a few more questions than perhaps a seven-hour “complete history” should. For example, we know that Sean Cunningham receded into the background of the franchise after Part 2 (where he isn’t credited), and did not officially return to the series until 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell. But was he involved with the franchise in the interim in any capacity? We can infer that the creator of the series might’ve continued to enjoy a payday each time a Friday got made, but the issue is never addressed, and I found that somewhat disappointing. The same can be said of the production troubles that plagued 2009’s Friday the 13th. Producer Brad Fuller and director Marcus Nispel readily acknowledge there was tension on the set, but we never understand exactly what caused it—only that it was there.
Of course, it goes without saying that this will be of primary interest to those who’ve already spent years learning all there is to know about their favorite horror franchise. Much of the crew behind this documentary already produced some genuinely enjoyable supplementary material for the “Deluxe Edition” DVDs that Paramount released in 2009, so it’s no surprise that they know their way around Friday the 13th. But this is every bit the loving tribute to the series, and it’s a genuine joy to sit through—all the way down to the end credits that left me with the dopiest of grins. I loved every second of this one, and if you have even a passing interest in these memories, then you’ll love it too.
The only supplement included in this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is a feature length commentary track by writer/director Dan Farrands, author of the Crystal Lake Memories book Peter Bracke, and co-editor Luke Rafalowski. This is the reason this review is so late, because I had to listen to every last word. The most surprising thing about this track is how compulsively enjoyable it is. It’s jovial and packed with great information. These guys aren’t afraid to let loose and get their digs in on the movies, but it’s always good-natured and fun. They sound like excited and passionate fans, and I wouldn’t want to listen to anyone but. There was also an exclusive bonus disc that went out to those who pre-ordered this from the official website, but it was not included in the package I reviewed.
It hasn’t always been easy being a Friday the 13th fan, but thanks to Crystal Lake Memories we have an excellent documentary that absolves all future home video releases of needing retrospective featurettes. This history of Jason Voorhees is well-worn territory, and while it’s long, I could’ve watched another seven hours without breaking a sweat.
4 out of 5
3 out of 5