I just finished watching the Blu-ray of a 400 minute documentary on the Friday the 13th series called Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. 400 minutes. That’s almost seven hours. Of a documentary about twelve movies about a guy in a hockey mask killing horny teenagers.
In itself, the length is not a bad or good thing. But most viewers will fall squarely into one of two camps: the average moviegoers who say, “Who the hell would want to watch 7 hours of a documentary about Jason?!” and the Friday fanatics who go to horror conventions and dress their kids in Jason cosplay who say, “Us! That’s who!”
Where along this spectrum do I fall? Somewhere in the middle, and because of that I think I’m in a pretty good position to write a fair review. On one hand, I am not only a horror buff but also a fan of all things 80s, and the Friday the 13th franchise is indisputably one of the most iconic movie series of the 80s. On the other hand, even as a horror buff I am only a casual fan at best of the Friday franchise and as far as the slasher sub-genre goes, I think there are only a handful of films that are truly worthy of note for the average viewer on both a technical and artistic level: Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Black Christmas and maybe the first Friday the 13th.
Crystal Lake Memories is divided into 13 sections, appropriately, with each section corresponding to a movie and then the thirteenth section serving as a kind of coda. Each section clocks in roughly somewhere around half an hour or so.
Taken individually, each chapter for each movie is quite watchable, even if you’re not necessarily a big fan of the franchise. This will be especially true if you have an interest in the technical, business, political and interpersonal aspects of filmmaking. I venture to say that most people interested in the process of filmmaking at all will surely find something of interest in this film. Crystal Lake Memories also goes into the cultural zeitgeist of the time and the ways in which the Friday films became of the absolute most influential properties in horror cinema (whether deservedly or not is a different issue).
Throughout its twelve films, the Friday the 13th series has had an extensive array of talent working for it: writers, directors, actors, producers, editors, composers, special effects crew, makeup artists, stunt people – you name it. The makers of Crystal Lake Memories have interviewed, impressively, just about every major individual who falls into one of the aforementioned categories. There are some noticeable absences such as Kevin Bacon (from the first movie) and Crispin Glover (the fourth movie, The Final Chapter). My guess is these actors who didn’t grace the documentary with their presence weren’t terribly proud of their past associations with the franchise. I can imagine and understand their reasons for not wanting to appear in this documentary (or maybe they were just too busy with current projects), but personally I find this to be a bit ungracious considering the fact that the Friday movies arguably gave these actors their start in the industry. In this respect I appreciated the way actor Corey Feldman (The Final Chapter) not only agreed to be interviewed but went so far as to narrate the film. A documentary narrator’s job is to be informative but invisible, and Feldman does such a good job with this that you often forget it’s him talking. And in his interview, when he says that he’s grateful for his part in the franchise and enjoys being associated with it, it comes across as classy and sincere.
Many of these interviews are quite fascinating and hold your attention which is good considering that this is a talking heads-style documentary. Sean Cunningham, director of the first film, seems like an enthused kid and is refreshingly self-effacing (he says he still has no idea how the franchise became so successful). Frank Mancuso, Jr., who produced a number of the sequels, looks back on the films with a level of fair-minded objectivity, acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of each film as well as the spinoff TV series he co-created, Friday the 13th: The Series. Wes Craven doesn’t get much screen time for his comments about Freddy vs. Jason, but in light of his recent passing, it’s somewhat moving to see him on the screen and talking.
Many of the actors are also a joy to listen to, particularly Derek Mears (Friday the 13th reboot) whose humility and reverence for the entire franchise and his fellow actors and crew is admirable. Devout Friday fans will love seeing Kane Hodder talk about his definitive interpretation of the character. Monica Keena (Freddy vs. Jason) does her whole interview with a figurative wink and tongue-in-cheek which I found delightful. And, hey, far as I’m concerned, actresses like Keena, Amanda Righetti, Danielle Panabaker and Julianna Guill are so hot they could have just sat there and said nothing for their portion of the interviews.
I also appreciated how a number of the interviewed actors were able to honestly admit that the final product of their respective movies didn’t turn out as well as they would have liked but that they had tried their best nevertheless – just owning up to it with humor and class.
Coupled with the impressive range of interviewees is the epic editing job by the editing team who must have slogged their way through lord knows how much footage.
This is not really the kind of Blu-ray that you buy to have a definitive home theater experience – if that’s what you want, the Interstellar Blu-ray or something like that would probably be better suited. So I think nitpicking over the image and audio on a disc like this is a bit besides the point.
Having said that, Crystal Lake Memories carries itself at the technical level quite well for what it is, a documentary. The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) is clean and pleasant to look at, revealing the interviewees in great detail. There are some variations in quality such as in the footage of interviews that took place at different times and locations but you’re always going to get a bit of that with any documentary project this exhaustive. Footage from the movies are all taken from HD sources except for Part VI, but you’re not really watching this documentary for the clips of the Friday the 13th movies otherwise you’d be better off with discs of the movies themselves.
In terms of audio the emphasis is where it should be, on the interviews, which sound crisp and clear. Never once was I unable to understand something an interviewee said, and for nearly seven hours of interviews that shows an impressive level of control both on the technical side and in terms of the interviewees’ enunciation while speaking. Audio for footage from the movies is well modulated so that it serves as reference material and doesn’t distract from the real focus, which are the interviews. And the background music, borrowing heavily from Harry Manfredini’s famous scores for the movies, add to mood and atmosphere also without obscuring the interviews or narration.
Technically, there’s only one special feature: an audio commentary by the filmmakers: writer/director Daniel Ferrands, co-editor Luke Rafalowski and author of the Crystal Lake Memories book, Peter Bracke. Now, you have to understand I was just coming away from watching seven hours of the documentary itself, so the idea of sitting through the entire film again with the commentary track on was daunting to say the least. So I compromised and skipped around just to try to get a sense for it. Ferrands, Rafalowski and Bracke are engaging commentators and clearly passionate about the material and reveal a lot of extra tidbits of interest, but apparently the track was recorded in one marathon session and in some of the latter parts of the film you can detect some fatigue in their voices.
Basically, you should really just think of the entire Crystal Lake Memories documentary as one gigantic set of special features for all the Friday the 13th movies combined. There should be more than enough interviews, behind-the-scene peeks, anecdotes and factoids to keep any die-hard fan of the Friday movies gleefully happy.
It’s hard to give an umbrella rating for this movie because, like I started this review out by saying, it really depends on the audience we’re talking about (much more than the average movie). So I’ve decided to give this Blu-ray an overall positive score of 3.5 stars with two different ratings on which category below you fall into:
• Horror fans / aspiring filmmakers: 4.5 stars
For fans of horror and especially Friday the 13th, this Blu-ray contains packed with more info about every aspect of the entire series than you’ll find anywhere else, and you can see the ways in which this series became one of the most influential horror franchise of all time. For budding indie or studio filmmakers, even if the kind of movie you want to make is Citizen Kane and not Friday the 13th, you will learn much about what’s really involved in making films on a limited budget and all the things that go into it. And for the true Friday the 13th fanatics, trust me, just get this Blu-ray.
• Average viewer: 2.5 stars
While the documentary itself is well made, and while both the Friday franchise’s place in horror cinema and the trials of low-budget filmmaking might be of passing interest to you, the sheer length of the film and the level of minute detail it goes into will test the endurance of all but the most fervid fans.
• Overall: 3.5 stars