Release Date: February 3, 2009
Starring: Tom Savini, Sean Cunningham, Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Victor Miller, and many others
Written by: Thommy Hutson and Anthony Masi
Directed by: Daniel Farrands
”His Name Was Jason,
And He Was Funky,
His Name Was Jason,
The One and Only...”
(with apologies to Prince and to Jason)
His Name Was Jason is a new DVD retrospective documentary/interview collection concerning the Friday the 13th movie franchise. Fans of the series, or of the new “reboot” film that premiered yesterday, will certainly enjoy this DVD set for the documentary itself and the bountiful extras included on the second disc. This isn’t really something that lay observers will want to watch, but it should satisfy most fans of Jason Voorhees. For the uninitiated, I can say that the movie series has always been a low-budget affair, with attractive young casts straying out into the woods and the dark only to encounter spectacularly gory death scenes. The action has tended to stay in the area of the Camp Crystal Lake summer camp, where a young boy named Jason Voorhees is supposed to have drowned back in ’58 because the counsellors weren’t paying attention. And every time would-be counsellors or young people or really ANYONE wanders into the area, that creepy music starts up and the fun begins. I should note that it took three films for the franchise to evolve into the image most people associate with it – that of undead Jason stalking his prey from behind a battered hockey mask. (The first film actually doesn’t feature Jason as the villain – you’ll need that information in case you ever get a phone call from a killer out of the Scream franchise, but that’s another movie...) Over the years, the Friday the 13th films expanded a bit from the brutal simplicity of the original into more and more outlandish concepts – taking Jason to Manhattan for the end of one film, and then to Hell and after that, yes, to outer space. But the essential formula has always been the same – attractive twenty-somethings plus Jason Voorhees equals scares and gore.
The documentary included here is a collection of interviews with many of the creative people behind the movies, intercut with some clips from the films, some video footage and photos from the sets, and a few lovably cheesy bridging sections with Tom Savini happily wandering through Universal Studios Hollywood’s Friday the 13th attraction. There isn’t anything especially deep here (although Adrienne King does reveal a bit more substance than one would expect), but that’s not a problem since the films themselves don’t lend themselves to much analysis. There is at least one book available commercially that delves much deeper into the machinations of each production, but for a 90 minute talkfest, the simpler approach feels better. I should also note that while there is an extensive line of interviewees on display here, not everyone was available for comment. Steve Miner, the director of the 2nd and 3rd films in the franchise before moving on to more mainstream fare, does not appear here. Neither does Kevin Bacon or any of the other stars who made appearances in the various sequels. On the other hand, we do get to hear from almost all the other directors, from both Sean Cunningham and Victor Miller in particular, and from every actor or stuntman who has played the role of Jason Voorhees. Is this Hearts of Darkness or Burden of Dreams? No. But given the subject matter, it doesn’t have to be. I SHOULD ALSO GIVE A SPOILER WARNING HERE. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILMS BEFORE, THIS DOCUMENTARY WILL LIKELY SPOIL MOST, IF NOT ALL, OF THEM.
His Name Was Jason spreads its goodies over two discs. The first disc contains the documentary itself, along with an additional section of interviews with all the men who played him. The second disc weighs in with interview sections with the directors (all but two) and writers of the films in the franchise, along with additional documentary material that didn’t make it to the final cut, and several additional features, including a helpful “Survival Guide” for those foolish enough to venture out to Crystal Lake. Topping everything off in the package is a poster for the documentary and a $5.00 coupon for attending the new “reboot” of the series.
VIDEO QUALITY: 2 ½/5 ½
His Name Was Jason has an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer that isn’t particularly fancy. The Tom Savini bridging sequences look a bit grungy, but I believe that’s an intended effect. Unless I’m mistaken, this was shot as cheaply as possible on high definition cameras – which is probably appropriate, given the low budget nature of the film series itself.
AUDIO QUALITY: 2 ½/5 ½
His Name Was Jason has a single audio track – a 5.1 mix in English. There isn’t much to it, given that this is really just an interview film. So the voices come out of the front channels, and some of the music filters to the back channels. On the other hand, the voices are clear and the music doesn’t grate too much.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 4/5
His Name Was Jason really comes alive in the “Special Features” department, pun intended. The documentary is buttressed with additional interview material with the various Jasons on the first disc. And the second disc is packed with additional material with the directors and writers, along with more stories from the sets and plentiful extra goodies to boot.
On Disc 1:
The Men Behind the Mask (46:41 Total, Anamorphic) – Here we have a plentiful amount of interview material with all the actors and stuntmen who played the role of Jason Voorhees over the years. These can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” function. If you have a favourite Jason, you can simply choose that actor’s discussion. Some of this material was included in the documentary, but the rest of it is only to be found here.
When the disc is initially put into the player, anamorphic trailers are presented for the following Anchor Bay Entertainment releases: Laid to Rest, Hatchet, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, and Red Mist.
On Disc 2:
Final Cuts (1:17:38 Total, Anamorphic) – Here we have almost 80 minutes of interview material with all the directors of the various films in the franchise, save Steve Miner and Ronny Yu. As with the “Jason” interviews, some of the material was included in the actual documentary. The majority of the discussions are exclusive to this section. And as with the “Jason” interviews, these can be viewed individually or via a “Play All” function.
From Script to Screen (31:12 Total, Anamorphic) – This is a collection of interviews with several of the screenwriters who worked on different films in the franchise. The most important of these is with Victor Miller, who wrote the initial film and who has some interesting comments about the origin of the film’s elements, including Jason’s name. As a refreshing touch, he openly admits attending Halloween so he could learn the formula and copy it for this franchise.
Dragged From The Lake – (20:50 Total, Anamorphic) - This is a compilation of stories from the set that either weren’t included in the documentary or have additional material in this section. There are some really interesting pieces here, including Adrienne King’s admission to being attacked by a stalker after the first film came out. (We not only see her lose her composure while trying to discuss this, but also see the various paintings she created as part of her path out of that dark place.) There is also a brief mention of a curious moment from the making of the fourth film (the “Final” chapter...), in which the stuntman playing Jason stopped the filming of a night lake scene when it became clear that his “victim” was really suffering from hypothermia. In this case, Jason literally can be seen as having rescued the actress – a complete reversal of what one would expect from the series.
Fan Films – (14:09 Total, Non-Anamorphic and Anamorphic) – Here we have a collection of four fan films based on the series. First we have the Starz Bunny Theater presenting a non-anamorphic edition of Freddy vs Jason in 30 seconds. Then there’s the Friday the 13th episode of The Angry Video Game Nerd. Then we have Jason Hurts, a mock ad for anti-depressants that even Jason could use. Finally, we get Rupert Takes Manhattan.
Closing the Book on The Final Chapter (12:39, Anamorphic) – This is a video of director Joseph Zito and actor Erich Anderson revisiting the primary house location of the fourth film in the series. The two men have a good time reliving the old memories of the shoot (including Crispin Glover arriving late via cab and then asking for someone to pay the cabbie!).
Fox Comes Home (3:48, Anamorphic) – This is a video of Gloria Charles, who played “Fox” in Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D, visiting the barn where that film was made. Ranch owner Daniel Veluzet appears briefly as well.
Friday the 13th in 4 Minutes – (4:07, Anamorphic) – This is an increasingly outrageous and profane summary of the events of the various films in the series, delivered by Adam Green, Joe Lynch and Steve Barton. I give it points for the throwaway references to other movies and TV shows from the time.
Jason Takes ComiCon (4:29, Anamorphic) – This is a brief video of interviews with people involved in the making of the new “reboot” film from last year’s ComiCon in San Diego. Based on the moniker at the beginning and end of the featurette, I believe this was taken from the Dread Central website.
Camp Crystal Lake Survival Guide (4:34, Anamorphic) – This is a very helpful bunch of hints from the various actors and creative folk from the films, along with some fans. Presented in deliberately distressed black and white, our friends offer some really good advice for those who would like to avoid a horrifying fate at Crystal Lake. Such as “Don’t go down the stairs, don’t go up the stairs, stay in the light, don’t go out to your car”, etc. Kane Hodder tops it off by reminding viewers that if they somehow kill Jason, “Don’t say ‘He’s dead’ or ‘I killed him’, or worst of all, ‘It’s over’ because, trust me, it’s NOT.” This is great stuff, and they’ve lovingly scored it with one of those 1950s “Happy Homemaker” soundtracks.
Inside Halloween Horror Nights – (7:01, Anamorphic) – This is an advance tour of the attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood seen in the Tom Savini segments of the documentary. It’s fun material, particularly if you’re fluent in the various films and can pick up the references to the various gags and kills.
Shelly Lives! (2:19, Anamorphic) – Finally, we have a helpful commercial for the law offices of Sheldon Finklestein, who was slashed to death in the third film. Somehow, he’s been restored to life and is now representing recently slashed victims of Jason Voorhees. This bit features appearances by actors Larry Zerner and Catherine Parks. And if you pay attention to the fine print, you’ll see that there’s a disclaimer that “Shelly is entitled to 95.6% of all client’s money. Actual odds of winning 0.35 in 80 million. If you can read this, you don’t need glasses.”
There are also two easter eggs on the second disc main menu, which can be found by clicking on the red cheekbone stripes on Jason’s mask. The left hand one sends you to a mandolin performance by actor Stuart Charno about who is to blame for the world’s woes. The right hand one sends you to two takes of a horrifying ska performance by Ari Lehman.
Subtitles are available in English for the documentary but not the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference on the documentary. And, as we discussed, the packaging includes a poster for the documentary and a $5.00 coupon for admission to the new film.
IN THE END...
His Name Was Jason will definitely appeal to fans of the Friday the 13th series with its generous helping of extra material, and its obvious fondness for both the films and Jason Voorhees himself. Casual viewers probably will not be attracted to this, but horror fans will have a lot of fun here.
For myself, I can only provide this caution to viewers: If you are walking around a lake in the dark, and you happen to see a big guy wearing grubby clothes and a hockey mask, turn around and WALK AWAY. Because you really don’t need to know what that was. You don’t want to know what that was. In fact, you could live your whole life and never know what that was, and that would be okay, right?
Februay 14, 2009.