This post does contain spoilers for the film, so please stop here if you have not seen the film and do not wish to ruin it for yourself.
Friday the 13th: Part III departs somewhat from the franchise’s previous two instalments by not setting Jason’s rampage at a camp site, and also by moving away from Jason’s obsession with his mother. Although Mrs Voorhees does pop up (literally) at the end of the film. This instalment takes place on a farm in the Crystal Lake area, where a group of teenagers are spending the weekend. The group consists of Chris, whose parents own the farm, Chris’ best friend Debbie and Debbie’s boyfriend, Andy, as well as Andy’s awkward, practical joker friend, Shelly, another friend of Chris’, Vera, and the alliterative stoners, Chuck and Chilli.
The film’s credits introduce Jason’s theme as if the film is going to be about Jason being in a disco of death and murder. Harry Manfredini doesn’t leave out the signature screeching tones or echoes of the score, but introduces a disco imbued piano and synth sound that seems to belong in a dance party for the undead. It’s strangely jivey and unsettling at the same time, and encapsulates the crux of the series: young people are somewhere to have a good time, but this goal will lead to their death at Jason’s spade-like hands.
The film begins with a recap of Friday the 13th: Part II, either to introduce new viewers to what has come before or to ensure that amnesia victims are catered for. According to the Wikipedia page dedicated to this instalment of the twelve part franchise, the third film was supposed to be about Jason stalking Ginny, the final girl from Part II, in the mental hospital that she is convalescing in after the traumatic experience of having to wear Mrs Voorhees’ mouldy old jersey, and watch her boyfriend and all of her friend’s die. This was abandoned after Amy Steel, who played Ginny, chose to leave Jason and the mouldy sweater behind her.
The film was released in 3-D when the glut of films in the same format, such as the third instalments of Jaws and Amityville Horror, were foisted upon the unsuspecting moviegoing audience of the early 1980’s. As noted by Dino and Andrew of the AWhaat? Podcast, the 3-D aspect of the film is entirely pointless and not particularly well done. Most of the deaths in the film are 3-D orientated, with the whiny wife of the grocery store owner at the beginning of the film receiving a knitting needle to the skull, which protrudes out of her widened eye. The most striking of these 3-D deaths are Vera and Rick’s. Both of their deaths also focus on eyes, but are more impactful than a botched lobotomy. Vera is shot in the eye with a speargun after somehow mistaking the tall, imposing Jason for the chubby, medium height Shelly. The speargun zooms towards the screen before embedding itself in Vera’s shattered eye socket. Rick’s head is crushed by Jason’s ham hands, and his eye springs from his head as if he is a clockwork doll. If the entirety of the film’s 3-D had been utilised in this way, then perhaps it would have seemed more worthwhile. But popcorn popping towards the screen when the two stoner friends get the munchies, is hardly a good use of the format, especially in a horror film, even one as knowingly almost-camp as this one.
The growing self awareness of the Friday the 13th universe, is introduced in the news report at the beginning of the film, which details the massacre of the camp councillors in the second film. This shows Jason’s growing notoriety, something which is lacking in the first two films to this degree. Jason straying from camp grounds and being a danger to all of the residents of the Crystal Lake area, makes his character seem more threatening. This is perhaps best communicated by his unsettling presence amongst the grocer’s wife’s washing lines. No one is safe anywhere. There is little connection between the grocery store and the rest of the film, except as a warning of Jason’s deadly presence to the main characters, who, of course, ignore said warning. The grocery store is perhaps referenced in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, when Megan picks Tommy up outside an abandoned looking store that looks similar. This is perhaps another example of the wider universe which Jason comes to occupy as the central villain.
As with the previous two films, the crazy old man trope appears, warning the teenagers of their impending death. Another warning, which, they, of course, ignore. There is quite a bit of foreshadowing with the bridge planks shifting as Chris drives her van over them, signalling their crucial collapse later, and Rick being shown standing at one of the farmhouse’s windows, in a similar voyeuristic posture to Jason, as he observes the other characters’ arrival at Chris’ parents’ place, Higgin’s Haven. This representation of Rick perhaps acts an outward manifestation of Chris’ paranoia, which is made clearer during the first half of the film. Rick seems to be Jason, but is not, which represents Chris as being overly imaginative. Shelly’s practical jokes also foreshadow the group’s impending demise, but also acts to lower their attentiveness to the warnings of this fate. This is shown when Chris shows Debbie her room, where Chris seemingly momentarily forgets how to open curtains and awkwardly claws at them, before observing the barn door opening and closing. She fails to investigate this, and suppresses her “paranoia”. The audience, of course, knows that Chris is suffering from neither paranoia nor an overactive imagination, as Jason has taken residence in the barn and is observing his future victims.
The character of Rick is presented as a skeeve. He foists himself on Chris from the moment she arrives at the farm by forcefully kissing her. He also makes a very creepy, and pressure inducing comment, about only being able to take so many cold showers while he waits for Chris to “put out”. This is repeated when he is bailing hay, and once again suggests that he and Chris should have sex by entering into a set routine whereby they tend to their “needs”. While Chris does not seem adverse to Rick’s attention, and asks him to stay when he wants to leave, Rick does not seem very concerned with finding out the motivations behind Chris’ reluctance to enter into a sexual relationship with him. When she recounts her encounter with Jason to Rick, he seems impatient with her rather than sympathetic to the trauma she has experienced. Chris’ encounter with Jason, shown through a flashback which is narrated by Chris, seems to have thwarted her sexual maturation, as it took place on the night she had a fight with her parents over her breaking curfew to be with Rick, who was her boyfriend at the time. Chris is portrayed similarly to a rape victim: her attacker stalked and violated her, she has repressed the exact details of how she was violated, and her parents and friends seem content to either pretend that this traumatising event did not take place or to minimise its affect on Chris’ life. Chris even partakes in this minimising by repeatedly assuring her friend’s of her stable mental state, and by endeavouring to reenter into a relationship with Rick. Although neither is entirely convincing or successful, once again due to Jason. Jason as a sexual predator is rather incongruous because, as pointed out by Dino and Andrew, Jason seems sexless, as his murdering of others is due to his own pseudo death, and his obsession with his mother. He may have died or nearly died due to the sexual promiscuity of camp counsellors, and he may often kill teenagers in post coital situations, but he himself lacks any kind of sexual identity or urges. Chris’ survival of Jason’s assault is as incongruous as the attack itself, as Jason never leaves any victims alive so easily. Especially victims who were rendered utterly helpless by a lack of consciousness during the attack.
Another rather incongruous aspect of the film is the inclusion of the biker gang. As noted, once again by Dino and Andrew, their sole purpose seems to be to ensure that Chris cannot escape Jason at the film’s climax, and must confront him despite her terror, by removing the petrol from her van. They also allow for a higher body count, an observance about alternative lifestyles being aimless or stupid, as shown by their confrontation with Vera and Shelly in the general store, and one of them smoking a cigarette whilst carrying containers of petrol. The manner in which each of them is murdered is not very imaginative or memorable, although the leader’s death does allow for Chris’ survival through distracting Jason’s attention.
Jason’s representation in the film is markedly different from the previous two films. While he is a deformed, helpless child in Part I and a rather average, almost wimpy, looking man in Part II, aside from his sack headwear, in Part III, he is extremely physically imposing. Richard Brooker, the stuntman who played Jason in the film, was six foot three and had the bulk to match his height. He is dressed in clothes that seem too small for him, which accentuates his large stature, and he kills many of the victims in the film with brute force, most memorably Rick, who is quite physically impressive himself. This casting choice seemed to establish Jason as the hulking killing machine that would become his trademark, along with the introduction of his signature hockey mask. The introduction of Jason’s hockey mask in the third film is interesting, as it sets him apart from his contemporaries, Michael Meyers and Freddy Krueger, who have their signature looks from the first films of their respective franchises. However, like Meyers’, Jason’s look is ordinary but iconic. The Captain Kirk and hockey masks are items that are readily available to the public, and it is this connection with the mundane that perhaps makes these characters even more terrifying. Although, like Freddy, Jason seems to be supernatural in his ability to survive all the ways in which his would be victims kill him. This becomes more apparent in Jason Lives. For much of Part III, Jason is seen through glimpses, which intensifies the voyeuristic aspects of his character, his ability, almost animal-like, to stalk his victims, or prey. He also seems to be even more hideous in this film than the last two. His strangely long hair in Part II is completely gone, to be replaced by the bald look he will sport for the rest of the franchise. And his deformity renders him less human in this instalment, and more monstrously alien.
Chris, the final girl of Part III, deserves special attention. The tenacity with which she fights to survive Jason’s singular murderous focus, is quite staggering. While she initially pleads with an absent, and already dead Rick, to help her, she proves herself to be fully able of outwitting and outlasting Jason on her own. Upon discovering Debbie’s corpse in the passage cupboard, she pulls the knife Jason used to murder the other girl out of her friend’s back, and uses it to fend Jason off so she can escape the confines of the house. Once in the barn, Chris manages to knock Jason out and hang him. When he somehow manages to survive this form of execution, she delivers a fatal blow (for now) to Jason’s head. Chris’ status as the final girl of the film is solidified by her connection to Alice in Part I. Like Alice, she seeks refuge in a boat on the lake, but hallucinations shatter this, as they did for Alice. This time it is Mrs Voorhees who rises from the lake and seemingly pulls Chris back into the water to her death. Chris survives this imagined demise, but she is driven mad by her experiences, and ends the film screaming and laughing hysterically as she is driven away in a police vehicle. It seems that like with almost every final girl in almost every horror film, she is not truly triumphant. She may have survived death, but she has been driven mad by what was necessary for her survival.