On Second Thought: Reassessing Jason in FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982)

One of the beautiful things about re-watching movies is the opportunity for new discovery. Re-evaluation is integral to cinema because art should be an ongoing discussion. You could be watching a film you’ve seen a thousand times and suddenly the lightbulb pops on – there’s a new element you caught that you never thought about one single time in the previous 999 watches.

And sometimes it’s just an inconsequential detail. Recently a friend texted me to point out he was in the middle of re-watching Good Will Hunting and he’d just heard a line of dialogue he’d never caught before despite having seen the film dozens of times. It wasn’t important to the story, but he was stunned he’d never heard the line any of the countless times he’d re-watched that particular movie.

A similar revelation happened to me when I was re-watching Friday the 13th Part III this past week and I wanted to make sure this thought in my head was given some space to breathe.

First off, I unabashedly love this entry. I find myself returning to it more frequently than any of the other films in the series. It’s certainly not the “best” film in the franchise, and I do love the two films preceding this one, but I enjoy that we get to wander away from the campgrounds and expand Jason’s kill zone (which will eventually swell to Manhattan and finally, the cosmos). The film is no longer tethered to the original blueprint, which allows it the freedom to explore some new ideas, including the detail that I glommed onto for this post.

My epiphany is as simple as this: the Jason Voorhees in Part III uses very specific traits from each character in order to expunge them from this planet in a way that no other variation of the character does. There’s a premeditated, methodical nature to each kill that goes deeper than foreshadowing.

There are innumerable examples of foreshadowing deaths in cinema, and since horror is responsible for many cinematic deaths, it’s a frequent tool used within the genre. Filmmakers employ many devices used to convey the inevitable: a prop, a line of dialogue, a character choice, music/sound, lighting….and the list goes on.

For example, take a gander at this drop of testicle sweat from Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) who adorns the DEAD bandana after being “killed” in a company paintball game. Ostensibly, the bandana is part of the rules of the game they’re playing, but it’s also a flashing neon sign pointing to his imminent demise.

That’s a simple and obvious example, but by Part VI Jason had been officially dead and buried for several Crystal Lake years (things don’t age properly at this place, so I assume they’re not Earth years). We simply mustn’t expect a resurrected corpse to be brimming with creative ways to kill. He’s no longer even remotely human, and humans are the best at coming up with inventive ways to eradicate each other.

This is important for the argument I’m making, and part of the reason I ride-or-die for the earlier installments of this franchise – the Jason in Part III is alive, albeit with some battle wounds that would cripple an average human. But he’s sneakier than the undead zombie he becomes, and he thinks his way through his kills instead of going T-1000 on them.

Recently I was listening to a podcast that was covering Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) and one of the hosts proposed a theory that there’s an undercurrent of the mentally and physically handicapped character (Jason) lashing out at the attractive, “normal” people who exhibit no apparent mental incapacities (until Part V: A New Beginning (1985), which is an aspect of that film that can go fuck itself). Even the physically disabled character, Mark, is targeted because despite being wheelchair-bound, he’s attractive and he’s potentially the most physically capable character in the entire film. So Jason ruins Mark’s handsome face with a machete and sends him and his wheelchair rolling down a flight of stairs for good measure.

In short, these are the actions of a living being with human impulses. That was the first spark that got me thinking about Jason’s motivations. Of all the 80’s era horror icons (Freddy, Michael, Pinhead, etc) Jason was the one that seemed the most primitive or animalistic. He kills at will, and at random. He is a predator and anyone in his territory is prey.

Certainly in the later entries that becomes Jason’s entire modus operandi. But, not in Part III.

It’s worth noting that Jason was originally positioned as a punisher of camp counselors in Part 2, just like mama Voorhees. But from a logical standpoint, it was clearly an untenable position to maintain through the countless movies that followed.

(How many times can they keep re-opening Camp Crystal Lake after so many massacres?? WHO is sending their kids to this camp???)

Once upon a time there was a long-held belief that all characters who die in horror films were being punished for one reason or another, and usually it was for disobeying puritanical no-no’s such as doing drugs, engaging in pre-marital sex, drinking, skinny dipping, etc. Pamela Voorhees punished camp counselors who were partaking in these activities because negligent counselors led to Jason’s drowning.

Narrative set-ups such as these bore the near-sighted idea of the virginal final girl, an idea based more on superficial qualities (such as shyness and a bookish appearance) than actual prudence. The final girl was thought to be “less distracted” by drugs, booze, and boys and therefore able to recognize danger and outsmart the killer. So horror filmmakers focused on this archetype and surrounded them with a cacophony of horrible characters that are merely fodder for the beast.

Alice from FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

But take a gander at the very first Friday the 13th, which came out super early in the slasher craze (1980), leading to its iconic status as a major influence on the slashers to follow. Of note is the franchise’s OG final girl, Alice, who has already slept with the camp owner before we even meet her, and then later she partakes in casual weed smoking and plays strip Monopoly with two of her co-workers. And yet she’s still the hero of the movie!

So much for “virtue”.

Part III is the first in the franchise that doesn’t fall under the disciplinary principle. These victims are neither camp counselors nor representatives of the people responsible for Jason’s “drowning” or Mrs. Voorhees’ death. These are just vacationers.

And Jason’s motivation isn’t to pass judgement – he’s more sinister than that.

This version of Jason is a stalk ‘n’ slash type, with an emphasis on the stalking. Director Steve Miner utilizes several shots throughout the film showing Jason standing just out of sight of the characters (either partially obstructed, or on the edges of the frame or in the background), patiently creeping on his soon-to-be victims. But he’s not only waiting for the right time to attack, he’s also observing character behaviors to use when he strikes.

This is in stark contrast to how other variations of Jason behave, who are much less discerning. For instance, in Part VII when he comes across a victim trying to hide in a sleeping bag (?) he just grabs it and raps her against the closest tree. In Part VI he finds himself battling a spunky young lady in a rockin’ RV bathroom, so he rearranges the bathroom wall with her face.

You get the idea. The difference being that the version of Jason who wraps an occupied sleeping bag around a tree trunk is acting out of spontaneity. Dumb victim + sleeping bag + tree = cool kill. And there is nothing wrong with the undead Jason. He has his place in the series and stands tall among his horror peers, but the Jason in Part III is my guy.

Every victim in this film is imbued with one layer of depth (at most), and these singular traits are the fuel for Jason’s methods of dispatching. Admittedly one or two are a stretch, but I’m going to explain how my theory applies to every character killed in the film.

Chronologically, in order of death:

Harold

The proprietor of a very sad Crystal Lake convenience store (and train museum?) is a disheveled, listless human being with one redeeming quality – he loves his bunnies. Health code violations aside, Harold holding and petting his runaway bunny rabbit is the best part of this opening.

Other gems from Harold’s highlight reel to choose from: clumsily knocking over a clothesline pole, getting yelled at, eating and drinking items off of his own store shelves and then putting them back on the shelf, getting yelled at again, tasting fish food, getting yelled at one last time, and swigging whiskey straight out of the bottle while moving his bowels in three dimensions. A true amalgamation of abhorrent human behaviors.

While this opening sequence holds little narrative value, it’s useful in demostrating Jason’s methods. Because aside from establishing time and place, the entire scene essentially serves to re-introduce and reveal the new Jason character and provide a set-up for the 3D visuals and the feel of the rest of the film, which diverts significantly from the first two films. It feels very intentional that Jason barely resembles the character we literally saw moments earlier from the end of Part 2. This guy is different, and not just physically.

When Harold’s partner, Edna, catches him with the bunny in their shop she orders him to stop eating food behind her back and to put the filthy critter back in its cage. Which Harold does, but upon doing so he discovers all the rest of the bunnies are dead. This moment is merely a set-up for another 3D gag – a snake on a string lunges out at Harold from inside the cage, causing him to run straight for the bathroom (for reasons unknown).

After all of this set-up, Harold opens a door in his dilapidated garage (where his toilet is as well) and meets none other than Crystal Lake’s premier resident, Jason Voorhees. As it turns out, Jason has seen enough of this disgusting human being and promptly buries a meat cleaver in Harold’s chest. Based on the primitive behavior Harold exhibited prior to his death, Jason chose to end him like the slab of feral animal meat he is. A proper death for the bunny-loving convenience store owner.

Edna

The lady of the manor is another useless pawn in the grand scheme of things. For the purposes of the film, her role is the badgering wife (so progressive). Edna’s scenes consist of collecting the laundry, watching the news so we can be reminded that the murders from Part 2 have just been discovered, yelling at Harold multiple times, and losing a knitting needle (hello, foreshadowing!)

She’s a nag on two legs.

(We’ve met Harold already, so can you blame her?)

She carries all of this off with aplomb, and a headful of hair curlers. But sadly, her defining feature will be her ultimate undoing.

Edna keeps hearing noises outside and heads to the garage, presumably to yell at Harold some more. She briefly combs the area but before she’s able to find Harold, Jason finds her. Edna gets scared by a rat and as she recoils Jason’s hand bursts through the screening behind her and rams that knitting needle right through the back of her head and comes out of – her mouth! The kill is punctuated with the image above, wherein we see that Jason has not only mortally wounded her, but also covered Edna’s mouth with his hand as if to silence her for good. Because, you know, a woman’s mouth is what gets her in trouble (I just tried to roll my eyes so hard I rolled my whole body off the sofa).

Fox

Being the lone female in a very small motorcycle gang in the barren lands of Crystal Lake, NJ is probably a difficult position to be in. And being Black on top of it must lead to several altercations and lots of nasty looks from local residents who likely wouldn’t be too welcoming.

When we meet Fox she is assailing one of our main characters, Vera (another person of color), at a convenience store. Fox intercepts Shelly’s wallet and humiliates Vera by demanding she use pleasantries like “May I please….?”, and terms of respect like “ma’am” before Fox will hand the wallet over. This demeaning act is telling because we learn that Fox is a bully looking for respect and she will demand it if she senses contempt or disrespect.

This altercation between Vera, Shelly and the biker trio ends in violence, and the bikers devise a plan for retaliation – they follow them back to Higgins’ Haven with the intention of burning down their barn.

While the gentlemen bikers, Ali and Loco, are siphoning gas from the main characters’ van, Fox enters the barn to check it out.

She investigates the barn, gleefully inventorying all the items without knowing she’s in the same room as our sly killer. Eventually, Loco approaches to start dumping gas and sees Fox playfully swinging on a rope attached to a pulley in the upper level of the barn. The imagery here is key because Fox is physically located above everyone, flying like the majestic bird she is. She’s free when she’s swinging on the rope and goes so far as to say, “Woo! This feels good!” As it turns out, Fox likes looking down on people in many ways.

Loco admonishes her for playing around when they have serious work to do (turns out committing arson isn’t ALL fun and games), but then he looks back up and Fox is gone. The empty rope continues eerily swaying back-and-forth, but no sign of Fox.

It seems Fox swinging on that rope sparked Jason’s killer imagination, because Loco enters the barn looking for her and finds her pinned to a cross-beam with a pitchfork through her throat. Jason took one look at her swinging on that rope and ensured that Fox’s final breath would be taken while she dangled freely in air, high above everyone else.

Loco

The lone Caucasian in the biker group has one memorable moment in the whole movie – when he offers to siphon gas out of the van with a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Loco wants his mouth on “something”. Or just things that burn.

This scene is where Jason gains some efficiency. Having just dispatched Fox in the barn, Jason conveniently finds Loco at the moment he comes across Fox’s dead body. Jason proceeds to grab another pitchfork and plunge it right through Loco’s midsection, penetrating his stomach and coming out his back (for the awesome 3D effect, ya know). Amongst his last gasps of life, Loco finally drops the lit cigarette from his mouth. For the guy with an obvious oral fixation, Jason was simply emptying him out for further consumption.

Also, Jason seems content in that barn and doesn’t want his hiding spot burnt to the ground.

Shelly

The prankster king of Higgins’ Haven. Now that we’ve reached the main cast, the methods of destruction become even more apparently tied to their specific characterizations.

Shelly winds up being the boy who cried wolf, like his character was always intended. His constant cries for attention are both irritating and so blatantly misguided, yet prove to be a perfect set-up for Jason.

As our resident jokester and all-around pain in the ass who you’d NEVER want to spend a weekend getaway with, Shelly gets it from Jason in the best way possible: slowly bled dry from a throat slash, ensuring that Shelly would be able to cry for help one last time. Except, for real this time.

Much to the audience’s chagrin, we don’t see Jason attack Shelly on-screen. And if you consider that we never see Shelly as he’s devising his machinations, it makes sense. Instead of applying all of his horror effects make-up for a “hilarious” ruse, Shelly simply has his throat slashed by Jason, creating a more natural looking gash than Shelly could ever do with his make-up appliances.

The best part of this kill is Jason slashing Shelly just shallow enough for him to stumble around for awhile bleeding out. Eventually he comes across Chili so we can finally see the pay-off. Chili, of course, thinks Shelly is playing another joke, and he dies without anyone believing him.

Some people may be disappointed for being deprived of an on-screen kill for this divisive character (for the record – Shelly has definite issues, but I don’t find him as off-putting as I used to), but it was by design.

Vera

Vera is, by far, the character who absorbs the most abuse in this flick. She’s introduced as her mother is screaming at her and telling her she can’t go on the trip with her friends, which Vera gives zero fucks about as this is apparently a common occurrence in her house. Later she is racially stereotyped at the convenience store (“We don’t accept no food stamps”, the cashier idiotically blurts out), which is only moments before her unpleasant encounter with Fox.

This is all without mentioning that her friends essentially handcuffed her to Shelly to be her “blind date” for the weekend, because everyone else in the group is paired up. So she also has the constant annoyance of being left alone with Shelly and his sophomoric pranks and boyish advances, all while her friends are off enjoying hammock sex or harmoniously smoking weed together.

While I applaud the filmmakers for including representation of multiple races (especially for an 80’s slasher), Vera is given almost no character traits. She’s spunky and maintains a great attitude despite the BS she has to endure, but her role is mainly dependent on the actions of the other characters. You’d think a character like this might lash out or get fed-up dealing with the woefully immature Shelly, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t lead him on, but she doesn’t tell him to buzz off despite a colossal difference in attractiveness and Shelly’s utter lack of self-confidence and exhausting attitude.

These are great character traits to have, no doubt, and they make Vera a more endearing character than most in movies like this. But why doesn’t she DO anything? When the going gets tough with the biker gang she asks Shelly to drive them out of trouble (which only causes more trouble). Basically, her main role in this film is to play off of Shelly (for the “humorous” juxtaposition of attractiveness?) and to be looked at – the cashier is prejudiced because Vera is Hispanic, Shelly stares at her butt as she bends down to poke the fire, etc.

To make a very long story short, later on when Vera is fishing Shelly’s wallet out of the lake (after he pulled another prank on her – she’s a saint) Jason saunters out onto the dock with his shiny new mask and blasts Vera right in the eye with a harpoon. While this could be considered a mercy killing, what Jason does is disfigure her beautiful face by destroying her eye, which is also an obvious symbol of looking.

Another reading of this kill could be that when Jason observes Vera’s attitude toward Shelly it reminds him of how people reacted to his own physical appearance when he was a child, so he removes her organ of sight. Either way you decipher it, Vera’s death is sad and Jason went for this nasty kill with a purpose.

Andy

Every group needs an acrobat, and this group has Andy. Most of Andy’s screen time is spent doing physical bits, especially for the purposes of highlighting the 3D effects. He juggles fruit with Shelly, he spins a yo-yo directly into camera and his pregnant girlfriend’s (Debbie) face, has sex with her in a hammock, and repeatedly walks around on his hands.

Both his physicality and his impending fatherhood play into his death scene, which happens to be one of my favorite in the franchise.

Debbie hops in the shower after their hammock sex and Andy proceeds to walk from room to room on his hands for whatever reason. Eventually he comes across Jason in the hallway, who’s mischievously standing against the wall in anticipation with his machete.

It’s almost too easy. Jason steps to the center of the hallway, and Andy catches one glimpse of his assailant before Jason raises that machete and crashes it down into Andy’s crotch.

Initially it appears that this is the end of Andy in the film, but then we see him later stuffed up in the rafters above the hammock, neatly sliced in two halves for Debbie to find. In the most irreparable way possible, Jason has severely disfigured the one thing Andy exhibited total control over, his body, while also ensuring that his reproductive organs would never be used again.

Debbie

Debbie’s a pretty decent, if not a little bland, character whose sole defining trait is her body and what is contained therein.

Most slashers have a pair or more of doomed lovers, and Debbie and Andy are the lovers of this group. So of course she is the character who walks around in a bikini, has sex in the hammock with Andy, has a topless scene in the shower, etc. Like Vera, she’s another object to be looked at but, also like Vera, she’s not the bimbo character we’re used to seeing in these movies. For Debbie, it’s the pregnancy that ultimately determines her fate.

After Jason dispatches Andy, Debbie gets out of the shower and heads over to the hammock to read a Fangoria magazine. As she flips through it, a few drops of blood plop on the magazine from above. She glances upward and sees Andy’s lifeless, halved body peering down at her from the rafters, and before she can freak out Jason’s hand grabs her head from beneath the hammock and the tip of his hunting knife erupts from her chest in a clear homage to Kevin Bacon’s death scene in the original Friday the 13th.

It’s also a macabre way of boiling down the birthing process. Jason’s knife pushing out of her chest is the surrogate for her unborn child. Aside from mentioning the pregnancy very early in the film, it’s never discussed or even mentioned again. And as I stated earlier, Debbie’s body is on display more than anyone else in this film. So the sole purpose of having a pregnant character would be to set-up this metaphor of life/death passing through and out of your body. Unfortunately for Debbie and the baby, Jason takes his metaphors seriously.

Chuck and Chili

I refuse to give these two characters separate entries. Their bond goes deeper then love. It’s chemistry – and by that I mean actual chemical bonds. I don’t know the molecular construction of THC, but these two could walk past one another and the molecule would form itself and they’d be spontaneously high.

They spend the entire movie either passed out from being high, wandering around outside the cabin (with a joint), or failing miserably at the mundane task of making popcorn. The latter undertaking ends with burnt popcorn, so at every turn these two are engaged in burning things: weed, popcorn, brain cells.

Is there any wonder why they’re both named for things you heat up to cook/eat?

And, of course, they both meet an appropriately fiery demise.

The power goes out while they’re roasting their doomed popcorn, so naturally Chuck descends into the leaky basement to check the circuit breaker. He succeeds in turning the power on, but his prize is a surprise meeting with Jason, who is revealed to be standing in the basement behind Chuck. He promptly tosses Chuck across the room, causing him to make contact with the circuit breaker and get terminally “fried”.

Then we cut back to Chili still working on the popcorn. Suddenly Shelly emerges through the door with that fatal neck slash, which Chili assumes is another prank. Once she realizes it isn’t a joke, she (very casually) freaks out and meanders around the cabin looking for anyone who might help. After unsuccessfully finding anyone upstairs, she heads downstairs only to meet up with Jason and his red-hot fire poker. He thrusts that fiery poker right through her abdomen, and once again Chili is burnt out.

Rick

Calling him the meat-head of the group really tips Jason’s cap here. He’s all brawn and no brains. Rick is the largest and most grown-up of the group (he appears considerably older than everyone else), and he’s also horny as hell for Chris. (You just know his name was supposed to be “Dick” but the filmmakers deemed it a little toooooo on the nose).

Rick has a flight path charted out with one destination only – the bone zone.

His foremost character trait is his incessant libido and inability to comprehend Chris’ trauma from being assaulted by Jason years before, an experience she details in flashback. She is constantly referring to a fear she’s trying to conquer and tries to get this point across to Rick, but he repeatedly steers the subject back to sex or their relationship.

About half-way through the movie, Rick and Chris leave the group to spend some time together out in the woods. This is where Chris tells Rick the tale of her traumatic experience through flashback, though it mostly falls on deaf ears.

When they get back to the cabin, no one appears to be home and there’s a burning smell (an odiferous mixture of charred Chuck, Chili, and popcorn kernels, perhaps?) They briefly look around inside the cabin before Rick goes outside to investigate, leaving Chris alone inside.

After a few moments, Chris steps outside and calls for Rick but she doesn’t get a response. The camera pulls back on Chris pleading for him to answer and we see Rick struggling in the clutches of Jason’s inescapable grasp. When Chris gives up and heads back inside, Jason uses his hands like a vice-grip and crushes Rick’s head, causing his eyeball to pop out in an embarrassingly dated 3D gag.

For a character that exhibited zero mental comprehension throughout the entire film, Rick getting his empty head popped like a circus balloon is a legit way for Jason to dispatch the airhead of the group.

Ali

The final member of the biker trio is strangely the last person to die in the film, but that can mostly be attributed to him being unconscious in the barn for several hours.

The first time we really see Ali is outside the convenience store tussling with Shelly and Vera in their little yellow VW Beetle. Shelly accidentally backs the car into the gang’s motorcycles, and while they’re trying to escape Ali smashes the car windows with a chain wrapped around his fist (for yet another 3D gag – but this is important for this kill).

Then we next see Ali at Higgins’ Haven with his biker brethren, Fox and Loco, as they’re working on burning down the barn. Ali is the third to enter the cursed barn, and actually takes a swipe at Jason with a machete after Jason pushes Loco’s dead body on top of him. Sadly for poor Ali, Jason dodges his lone swing with the machete and cracks Ali in the head with a club/pipe/wrench (it’s impossible to tell).

Despite absorbing several extra head blows while he was unconscious, Ali survives Jason’s attack. Or did Jason leave him alive? Whatever the case, he remains dormant until the very end when he chooses to reappear like a superhero as Chris is squaring off with Jason.

However, his plan to save the day was poorly thought out. Ali grabs Jason just as he’s going to finish off Chris, to which Jason responds by spinning around and lopping off Ali’s hand. And wouldn’t you know it, the hand Jason kindly removes was the same one Ali wrapped in chains to batter the VW Beetle windows. Jason concludes Ali’s time on Earth with a recreation of the earlier scene between these two, but instead of a blunt object Jason repeatedly hacks into Ali’s lifeless body with his machete.

Wonderful symmetry.

Even as a thought experiment, I love this little wrinkle and I’ve tried to apply it to other films in this franchise, but it’s really only present in this one. The following sequels would portray the character like a great white shark and not the plotting, systematic killer he is in Part III. Again, I enjoy the later sequels to varying degrees, but it’s still fun thinking about where they could have gone with this of framework and character motivation.

That being said, the beauty of this franchise is, perhaps, not in its continuity but in the chaos – a Jason Voorhees specialty.

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