The good news is that Paramount have served up the original Friday The 13th in a much cleaner and more detailed transfer than ever before. Encoded via MPEG-4, the 1.85:1 image now contains sharper delineation, deeper shadows, more depth and is certainly a lot more stable than I have seen it in the past. However, this was never exactly filmed on the best stock and is a product of low-budget intentions and aspirations - so, don't go thinking that this will, in any way, shape or form, compare with newer movies on Blu-ray. To be honest, once you've been watching primarily hi-def pictures for quite some time - like me - you may suddenly feel that you've gone back to soft-focus VHS days again. I exaggerate, of course. Friday The 13th's grain is enhanced by the higher resolution, but never distractingly so. The print bears a few nicks and tears and there is some wobble and judder now and again, a little curly hair flickers contentedly in the lower corner for a second or two at one point, but this soon becomes part of the hazy old nostalgic value of the film, itself. You've got more detail, you've got better colour and an image that is more vivid than it has ever been before now, but you've still got the little imperfections of yesteryear putting in an appearance, too.
However, some colours have been boosted to the point where they can seem out of place in the frame. Reds can appear too bright, for example, with certain vehicles and clothing jumping from the screen. Blood, on the other hand, has been wisely restrained from following suite and, even though it is still on the more audacious Hollywood side of the fence, it is nowhere near as Day-glo as it could have been presented. The greens of the forest and around the town at the start of the film proper are pretty well presented, and skin-tones are actually quite convincing. Adrienne King, especially, has a genuinely pale complexion that flits through various shades of milky pink according to the amount of day-shooting that she has done.
Close-ups are actually amazingly good. There are a few shots of Betsy Palmer's face as Mrs. Vorhees in which her eyes definitely sparkle and skin texture is extremely apparent. Sadly, this new definition also allows us to see the little black specks on her teeth, too, which I'm sure she won't find too flattering to have revealed. In fact, there are many times when the image is actually quite wowing in terms of finite detail, such as the clinical edges on the gashed throats and, even more so, on the bubbling blood surrounding the arrow thrust through Bacon's neck. Those dubious black hairs on the back of a pair of supposedly female hands are also much more apparent. Background detail can vary. Some day-lit shots of the surrounding woods are nice and achieve a sense of depth and clarity that has never been available before but, at other times, the further back we look, the less distinct things become. But this is the nature of the beast and something to blame the dated film and photography for, and not the transfer.
Now, there is some noise present in the image and we also get that horrible fuzzing-about in some - definitely not all - of the darker portions of the screen. Contrast can also be seen to waver, though, once again, I would lay the blame squarely at the feet of the original source material. Sadly, however, when you combine the hazing contrast with the grain fluctuations and noise, some shots can appear quite shabby indeed. Thankfully this isn't too often and, on the whole, the image supplies better black levels and detail than you may have expected.
And, on a final note, and a reassuring one at that, I didn't perceive of any irritating DNR having been applied.
Considering how poor this has looked in the past, this is a vast improvement - therefore, I am awarding this new incarnation a 7 out of 10. But this should, in no way, be judged against more recent material on the format ... only against its previous standards.
Now, let's get one thing straight. Friday The 13th was originally just in bog-standard mono, so upgrading its audio to full lossless 5.1 surround may seem like a huge stretch. Horror fans all know of the frequent debacles that the likes of Anchor Bay kept on making when releasing old genre titles in bogus DTS and DD 5.1 mixes, simply throwing out the odd rehashed, remixed effect and employing copious use of delays and stretched signals to have us believe that the track was actually emanating from all around us. Well, you could be forgiven for assuming that exactly the same sort of thing was going on here too. I mean, what can you do with a track that is predominantly screams, musical and FX stingers and the above signature cue?
And the answer is - not a lot.
Don't go expecting anything special from this surround track, folks. For a kick off there is precious little in the way of surround activity. Perhaps some rainfall and some vague ambience is all, but there is nothing like approaching footsteps, creaking doors or cries for help to have you looking over your shoulder. On a couple of occasions the stereo spread across the front delivers a sweeping pan, but even this is hardly going to convince, either. The action is front and centre and whatever extra dimensions can be thrown further out are done so without razzle-dazzle.
But, and this is the important thing, the TrueHD track boosts the dialogue (in clarity and presence, though not quality) and enhances Manfredini's clichéd-but-irresistible music. It is true that some of the speech still sounds flat and murmuring, but it is definitely a bit more distinct in the newer mix. And, for the purists out there, the original mono track is reproduced on the disc as well. Naturally more subdued and dated-sounding, this, at least, makes no attempts to dazzle or surprise you, and, perhaps, to some ears, actually sounds better than the remixed track. For me, I'll stick with the TrueHD simply because it sounds brighter and clearer and, in a kitschy way, brings out the best in Manfredini's panto-horror score ... which is definitely good for a giggle.
Some fine anecdote and amusing trivia comes courtesy of the chat-track from Sean S. Cunningham, himself, and several of the original cast and crew members. He talks about how the film was borne of the seventies culture and Victor Miller is quick to confess that the idea was purely to “rip off Halloween” all along. Harry Manfredini explains his scoring ethic and editor Bill Frieda tells us how he maintained pace and atmosphere. Stars Adrienne King and Betsy Palmer reminisce with Palmer, especially, having some interesting things to say about the reception she received for having taken on such an atypical role. But what makes this track stand out a little more, especially for forum-fans like us, is the fact that this is hosted by HDDigest regular reviewer Peter M. Bracke. Being the author of a book on the Friday The 13th franchise, “Crystal Lake Memories”, this becomes less of a surprise and his own knowledge of the material is wealthy indeed. A collection of re-used interview soundbites, this is still very good stuff and Bracke does a fine job of steering it all.
Why can't I do a commentary track, then? I'd better hurry up and get those books on Spaghetti Westerns and the horror genre written, eh?
Fresh Cuts: New Tales From Friday The 13th in HD (14.07) is a retrospective look at the film, its inspiration and its legacy. Manfredini tells us again about his style - scoring only the moments when the killer is around and leaving many of the more conventionally music-smothered bits sans his input. Tom Savini talks about his involvement in the blood and stunt department - he and his buddy Taso actually stopped and helped choreograph the final fight sequences just when they were about to leave the location. We also hear from Robbie Morgan who, as the unfortunate hitch-hiking camp cook, is pleased to be renowned for being the franchise's first victim. Erm, actually, we do see a couple slain in the prologue from 1958, so she's not entirely correct about that claim to fame. And we get to meet the guy who played young, deformed Jason Vorhees and hear a few anecdotes about his watery debut.
The Man Behind The Legacy: Sean S. Cunningham in HD (8.58). Surprisingly this little featurette is not merely an overview of the filmmaker's career, it is actually a meeting with him in his production office, whereupon he takes us on a tour of his franchise memorabilia and talks frankly about the baffling success and longevity that his creation spawned. A fair little piece, folks, that has no airs and graces and is pleasantly matter-of-fact.
Friday The 13th Reunion in HD (16.45). Victor Miller, Harry Manfredini, Adrienne King, Ari Lehman (young Jason) and Betsy Palmer sit and talk about much the same things that we have already heard but do so in a convention panel. Once again, the mood is nostalgic, warm and fondly reminiscent.
The Friday The 13th Chronicles (20.34) sees us in the company of some, by now, very familiar faces and voices - Sean Cunningham, Tom Savini, Adrienne King, Ari Lehman and Betsy Palmer as we hear some production tales and conceptual aspirations. We have actually heard most of this sort of thing before, but there are still some new snippets to be gleaned about how the phenomenon came to be.
Lost Tales From Camp Blood - Part 1 in HD (7.31). This is terrible, folks. Across the slew of Friday 13th disc releases will be added these daft little vignettes attempting to capture the mood and gore of the movies with some out-of-context murder sequences specially filmed for us. You can easily believe how this probably sounded like a good thing at the brainstorming session, but the acting is worse than in the movies, the staging of the set-piece and the effects just kindergarten stuff and the whole affair really rather naffly done. A neat idea, but badly executed.
Secrets Galore Behind The Gore (9.32). Well, this is something that I had been looking forward to. I love Tom Savini and his bloody business and I've always found him to be a very interesting, enthusiastic and affable character. After a brief intro from Cunningham, the makeup-maestro then divulges how he came up with and performed the effects for the film, kill by kill. We see the finished footage, of course, but we also get to see some behind the scenes stills and get to hear him talk us, animatedly, through their creation. He points out the course black hairs on the flailing hands of a supposedly female decapitation victim - this is actually a very famous gaff, with the hands belonging to his long-time friend and assistant Taso N. Stavrakis (a disembowelled biker in Dawn and the poor soldier whose head is ripped-off in Day Of The Dead). What he doesn't discuss or show any footage of is the original shot of the axe to the head effect which, first time around, was actually a dummy-head taking the full hit from the real blade. The shot was omitted because the dummy-noggin was deemed to move too unrealistically. But, to me, the effect as we see it now, looks like both a cop-out and a censor-cut. Call me sick, but I'd kill to see Savini's uncut footage ... it is in his contract that he gets to keep a full uncut version of every film that he works on.
And finally, we get the film's Theatrical Trailer in HD.
This is a fairly comprehensive and enjoyable selection of bonus features, folks. Shame that Kevin Bacon couldn't be persuaded to join in the festivities.
Cunningham's slasher-opus has not aged well. Arguably, of course, it was never meant to. This was a cheap exploitationer that was designed to titillate and excite for a brief run only. The floodgates had opened on horror's most crowded sub-genre and there was no going back - but, as each and almost every entry made abundantly clear, they were not created for longevity but rather immediacy of effect. The pattern and template was tried and trusted and no real deviation could be tolerated. Friday The 13th was audacious at the time purely because of Savini's ground-breaking makeup fx. But, even here, such things would improve almost exponentially with each new stalk 'n' slash offering, often leaving the inspiration that was contained herein far, far behind.
But, even with a risible script, poor acting and a concept that was worn-out even by the half-way mark, Friday The 13th deserves its place in the pop-cultural pantheon of cinematic innovation and excess. Immensely popular when it arrived in the UK, especially on home video - where it had always been uncut - the film is usually mentioned in the same sentence as Halloween, Suspiria, Zombie Flesheaters and The Evil Dead, although we all know that it was merely clutching onto their bloodied shirt-tails.
Paramount's disc offers a fairly solid transfer - certainly looking and sounding better than you will have experienced it before - and is stuffed with extras, more extras, you could argue, than a cheap horror-quickie like this actually deserves. Although there is some repetition across the selection, the added value is fun, informative and nostalgic, and the overall package is a very good one.
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