Jason Voorhees, This is Your Life! His Name Was Jason
Feb 9, 2009
It seems almost unfathomable that Friday the 13th is nearly 30 years old, but the numbers don't lie. What started back in 1980 as just another low budget horror flick has grown into one of the genre's stalwart franchises. Jason Voorhees, the hockey masked madman, has gone from a whispered legend (he's not even in the first film—except for that still excellent stinger at the very end) to a cultural icon (seriously—even non-horror folks know who Jason is. He's become so ingrained in our collective pop-culture consciousness that he's nearly as identifiable as Mickey Mouse). How did we get here? How did a little slasher film turn into a box office juggernaut (the films to date have earned nearly half a billion dollars…and that's before next week's Friday the 13threboot)? How did a drowned kid turn into a machete-wielding zombie killing machine? If you've ever wondered about the answers to any (or all) of these questions, then I highly recommend checking out His Name Was Jason.
His Name Was Jason is best thought of as a video companion piece to Peter Bracke's indispensible book Crystal Lake Memories. Between the two sources, one can build a formidable knowledge database concerning all things Friday the 13th. And while the book is certainly the better of the two offerings (the film documentary does have some shortcomings…more on those in a bit), fans who've read the book and want more will find His Name Was Jason a valuable supplement. Those who haven't read the book will gain even more from viewing the documentary.
Directed by Daniel Farrands, His Name Was Jason is a love letter to the series as a whole. Boasting some obscene number of guests (I've read it was 95…) it attempts to discuss and dissect pretty much everything to do with Jason and the Friday the 13thfilms—in a neat and tidy 90-minute package. Hosted by FX legend Tom Savini (who did special FX work on the first and fourth Friday films), His Name Was Jason talks to nearly everyone who was ever involved in the films—and other folks who've just developed a lifelong appreciation for the gory exploits of one of cinema's most prolific serial murderers. The documentary has it all—screenwriters, every Jason actor, final girls, supporting characters, directors, film journalists (the inimitable Uncle Creepy from Dread Central, Bloody-Disgusting's Brad Miska, the Icons of Fright crew, Ryan Rotten from Shock Till You Drop, and Staci Layne Wilson), directors from other films (Adam Green and Joe Lynch) and more. There are so many people and so many opinions running through the film that you'll often feel like you need a scorecard to remember who everyone is.
Yet, while the movie never lacks for a talking head to dispense knowledge and opinion, it's marked more by its absences than the people who showed up. Missing in action are Steve Miner (who directed Parts 2 and 3) and Ronny Yu (director of Freddy vs. Jason). Yu's absence is disappointing because I'd like to see him speak based solely on my appreciation for his Hong Kong cinema from years past. Miner is a more glaring omission because Parts 2 and 3 are the movies that really shaped the direction of Friday the 13thin general (and by association, American slasher cinema in particular). There are a lot of interesting stories about ideas that were tossed around for those films and it would have been really fascinating (at least to a horror geek like me) to hear from Miner and the screenwriters about why they went in the directions they did and how they decided to rule out other potential paths.
That being said, casual viewers will never realize they've missed anything. His Name Was Jason does a solid job of presenting everything you ever wanted to know about Friday the 13thin a very efficient manner. The only real complaints with the finished product tend to come from nerds like me who wanted something deeper than the standard approach the documentary takes in order to remain accessible. Take, for instance, my other complaint—that the movie mentions some of the kill sequences that had to be cut from various movies in order to get an R rating. Fans have long known that these alternate versions of kill scenes are out there, and this seems like a great place (aside from an uncut and restored DVD) to display them once and for all. We never see that stuff, though (and the closest we come is a still shot of A New Beginning's Tiffany Helm's vaginal impaling—minus the knife). To be fair, this is almost assuredly Paramount's fault and not the filmmaker's. I'm sure that footage is buried in a vault somewhere at the studio and no one seems to have any real interest in uncovering it.
Problems aside, the real joy of His Name Was Jason is in seeing the various actors/actresses/directors/writers come together and talk about the series they've helped create. In a lot of ways, watching the movie is like attending a Q&A session at a horror convention. Everyone's happy to talk about their part in creating this bit of horror history and it's fascinating to not only hear the stories, but see how some of these people look today, decades after their meeting with Jason.
If that were all His Name Was Jason gave you, I'd be pleased—but the package is even better when the supplemental material is factored in. This two disc set is loaded with extras, some of which are actually better than the main feature.
The first disc has a great feature entitled The Men Behind the Mask wherein everyone who's ever donned the hockey mask (or the burlap bag…) discusses the role and what it was like working on their particular film. There aren't a lot of groundbreaking revelations here (at least not for the hardcore fans), but it's nice to see the fraternity of Jasons all recorded for posterity's sake.
Other features include ones where the various screenwriters reminisce about the scripts (which is pretty interesting), Joe Zito's look back at the making of The Final Chapter, Fox Comes Home (Gloria Charles, Fox from part 3, takes us back to shooting locations for that film) a tour of the Jason themed Camp Blood attraction at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, and more. You could literally spend days just going through all of the extras on these discs, which makes owning it all the more of a win-win proposition.
If you've read this far, you're almost assuredly a Friday the 13thfan—and if you're one of those I shouldn't have to tell you that you need to check out His Name Was Jason. You're probably already checking it out, or were planning on it anyway. However, if you're still on the fence for some strange reason, allow me to assure you that this disc is well worth the price of admission. The fact that it gathers together so many Friday alums is cool enough (despite the few glaring omissions), that it's a fun trip down the list of one of slasher cinema's icons greatest hits is just icing on the cake.
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About the reviewer
Mike Bracken (Mike_Bracken)
I'm a 36-year-old film critic who specializes in Horror and Cult Cinema as well as Asian films. I spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture quiz show, Beat the Geeks. I'm also … more
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