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Friday the 13th Part 3: Still the Franchise’s Best Sequel

Collider logo Collider 6/24/2022 Shawn Van Horn
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In the early 1980s, the horror film scene was undergoing a dramatic change. While most of the 70s were dominated by the supernatural and monsters in movies like The Exorcist, Carrie, The Omen, Alien, and Jaws, we also saw the birth of the modern slasher. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the underrated Black Christmas came first, but it was 1978’s Halloween that would alter the course of film history. John Carpenter found horror in our own backyards through the silent, white masked Michael Myers.

The 80s saw the rise of several Halloween clones and became known as the slasher era. Tops among these copycats was 1980’s Friday the 13th. Director Sean Cunningham has admitted that he was ripping off Halloween, still he created something original, a thrilling whodunit with a shocking twist ending. If Halloween made you fear your own backyard, Friday the 13th made you afraid of the dark woods behind that backyard.

RELATED: 10 Best Slashers That Aren't 'Friday the 13th' or 'Halloween'

A year later there would be a sequel, Friday the 13th, Part 2. With the killer from the original very much deceased, there was no way Pamela Voorhees was coming back from a decapitation, we would be introduced to her son, Jason. A man in overalls who wore a bag over his head with one eyehole cut out, this wasn’t the Jason Voorhees you think of now.

It was in 1982, in Friday the 13th, Part 3, that the infamous hockey masked killer we know was created. Gone was the hokey bag over the head look, replaced by a more menacing version of Jason. In was the use of 3-D, perhaps even more hokey than whatever Jason chose to dress up in. That collision of the scary and the absurdly fun, with an updated villain and a quirky filming trick, combined to make this entry the best sequel in the franchise.

The first thing the film does is get rid of the cumbersome bag. When Jason awakes, after being presumed dead from the events that ended the second film, he removes his mask and leaves it on the ground. Even though the bag made for a creepy looking The Town That Dreaded Sundown like Jason, it didn’t make for a distinctive look. Jason needed a look all his own.

It takes a while to get to Jason’s next look. For most of the film he’s unmasked, filmed in the shadows, from behind, or the neck down. We can still see that he’s different though. The Jason with the long, unkempt red hair and the flannel shirt and overalls seen in the previous entry is now a bald man dressed in dark gray. Seeing as how the third film continues right after the second one ends, you have to suspend your disbelief that somehow Jason took a very quick break to change his clothes and shave his head. Instead, focus on how he is scarier now that he is a dark figure haunting the shadows. He’s more Michael Myers than The Hills Have Eyes.

While the creep factor had been upped with our antagonist, that doesn’t mean Friday the 13th, Part 3 is completely serious. This film knows how to have fun, but also not make fun of its killer. No matter how goofy things get, Jason never falls into that trap. Outside the hockey mask, what most remember about this film is its use of 3-D. It was Paramount’s first 3-D film in decades and a wink to the cheesiness that came with three-dimensional monster movies of the past.

Some of the 3-D used isn’t necessary. Did we really need a yo-yo dropped repeatedly at the camera? But at other times it intensifies the on-screen action, such as when the character of Steve is killed. Going into the climax of the film, final girl Chris and Rick are on the run. When they get separated, Chris steps out of the cabin, calling for him, unaware that he’s only feet away, Jason’s hand clamped over his mouth. When Chris goes back inside Jason places both hands around Rick’s head and squeezes, popping out one of Rick’s eyes. It shoots toward the screen, and you can’t help but jump, even if you’re laughing at the obvious fake head and the visible wire the eye glides across.

That sense of fun is found throughout the film, from the wonky intro music to the playfulness of the characters. There’s the pot smoking man and woman who are obviously playing on the stoner comedy duo Cheech & Chong. There’s the leather clad biker gang, who live up to every bit of the tough and mean biker stereotype. There’s Shelley, the heavy set kid with the curly hair, who is the prankster of the group. He’s constantly trying to scare his friends, but only succeeds in angering them.

There’s more to them than you might imagine from a slasher film. These are not two-dimensional, cookie cutter characters used only as props for inventive kills like so many sequels became. That biker gang? One of them is going to fight back against Jason with our heroine at the end. Shelley might be insensitive to others feelings, but he also stands up for himself when the bikers attack him. We can also see where that insensitivity comes from. He doesn’t have much confidence in himself and playing pranks is the only way he knows to get girls to pay attention to him. The girl who was supposed to be Shelley’s blind date, Vera, might be too attractive for someone like him, but she isn’t mean to Shelley. She treats him like a friend and encourages him to be better.

These people are real and likable. You care about them. You don’t want them to die. It’s horrible when Jason attacks them, not fun. Where in the latter films Jason comes across almost like the hero, with the audience rooting for him, here you are scared of him. You want his victims to get away.

Two characters stand out above the rest for the powerful punch they pack in what could have been a run-of-the-mill slasher. First is Debbie. She seems like just another pretty face to fall prey to the man in the mask, except there’s a twist. Debbie is pregnant. The film doesn’t go in depth about it outside a few lines, but we don’t see a scared Debbie who doesn’t want to be a mom. She’s happy. Better yet, her boyfriend, Andy, is present, right there by her side. Even if the film doesn’t address the destructive consequences when she along with Andy is eventually killed, we can feel the loss in our gut. It hurts.

The final girl, Chris, serves more of a purpose than following the predictable slasher trope. She tells Rick that two years ago a man (who we already know and later get confirmation is Jason) attacked her in these very woods. It left her unconscious, and when she woke up the man was gone. Chris has come back to face her fears. That gives more meaning to her inclusion, and also adds to Jason’s character. Why did Jason attack Chris? Why did he let her live? There are also implications that maybe he sexually assaulted her. Did he? Would Jason do that? Those questions turn Jason into something more than a bland hulk in a mask.

The Jason we get in this film is the most in depth. Besides the questions about his past, we get a more human killer in other ways. He grunts and groans when frustrated or attacked. You can see his eyes through the mask. He runs, but it’s not at a smooth pace. When he finally gets the mask, transforming the mysterious unseen into the frighteningly visible, and shoots kind Vera through the eye with a speargun, there is even character depth in what Jason does next. He drops the speargun and immediately turns away, Vera already forgotten, as he goes for his next victim. Jason lumbers away, his arms hanging at his side at an odd angle, proof that this isn’t a supernatural creature but a suffering, deformed man.

The ending contains its own power, as we see a woman in Chris fight back against not only the present threat but the past that has haunted her. The final scenes play out with Jason chasing her through a barn. Even though she is struggling to keep it together, she summons the strength to attack Jason and hang him. When he removes his noose, the mask comes with it, revealing his ghastly face. “It’s you!” Chris shouts. She has come face to face with the man who attacked and perhaps even raped her. Where the recent Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels saw their final girls fighting their attacker forty and fifty decades later, Chris gets her chance only two year later without even knowing it’s him.

Chris conquers her past in the end, defeating Jason. Of course, we know there are more films after showing that he lived, but here he is dead. We don’t get a happy ending with our final girl, though. There’s no shot of her, head held high. Instead, Chris has a complete mental breakdown, screaming as she’s placed into the back of the police car. Friday the 13th, Part 3 may have not been the end for Jason, but it also showed us that it would not be the end for Chris either. She wasn’t going to live happily ever after. Her trauma was only going to get worse now. Jason would continue to kill that very night, as shown in the fourth film, but Chris had been broken. She would not be the one to kill him.

Friday the 13th, Part 3 was so successful in its presentation of Jason that they would never again alter his look through the eight films of the Paramount owned franchise. The formula worked, and the true Jason was born. Still, other Friday the 13th entries would forget that he was more than just a hockey mask. What made him scary was the man behind that mask. What made him scary is that we cared about the people he chased. Other films would try to be cheesy and fun, but few remembered how to make us fear Jason as well. Friday the 13th, Part 3 did all of that, all while having eyeballs pop out at the screen.

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