“Oh, they said they were going skinny-dipping. I’m not skinny enough…”
Firstly, for all your pedants out there, it hasn’t escaped my notice that today is in fact Sunday the 15th, not Friday the 13th. In an interesting quirk however, this film actually mostly takes place on Sunday the 15th, following on, as it does, directly from Part II.
The popularity of the Friday the 13th franchise is difficult to explain. Despite being loathed by critics, the films have elevated antagonist Jason Vorhees to the role of one of the most prominent and recognisable villains in horror history. The series is unique in as much as even the film that kicked the story off was hated by the press but it still made a fortune at the box office. Part III is much the same with a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes clashing with the box office takings of $36 million from a budget of $2.3 million.
So why has this series endured where so many others have been lost to the annuls of time? Well, it’s mainly because they are a whole load of fun. In Part III we have the most tragic example of comic relief ever in the form of Shelly played like a complete ass hat by Larry Zerner in one of his only film roles. Shelly is such an abysmal character that it is actually quite bleak and depressing at times. He is notable however for being the original owner of the Jason’s famous hockey mask, thus altering horror movie history forever.
Before we even get to Jason we have an obligatory gang of teenagers eating loads of weed because they mistakenly think the cops are after them, they then encounter a madman in the middle of the road who is carrying a human eyeball around with him and a biker gang that are about as menacing as Dave Grohl handing out ice creams on a sunny day. When Jason does finally join the party he is on form of course. This third instalment marks the film where Jason retired from running all together and vowed to only ever move at the rate of brisk stroll. This obviously doesn’t inhibit him from butchering all and sundry in a variety of weird and wonderful ways.
The thing that actually makes Part III a genuinely effective movie is the ending. The main female protagonist, Chris, played gamely by Dana Kimmell, has an epic, one on one battle with Jason that takes up nearly the entire final third of the movie. In this, we see Jason stabbed, hung and eventually killed by a blow to the head with his own axe. The denouement sees Chris driven away laughing in a cop car having gone completely mad. Interestingly, director Steve Miner meant for Part III to be the final part of a trilogy and the audience presumably agreed that we had said all we needed to say with three movies that are basically just a poor mans Halloween. The studio obviously had other ideas however as a further nine sequels followed this one.
For more on Jason Vorhees, here is my list of the greatest horror movie killers.