FRIDAY THE 13TH: GRUMP STYLE

Have you ever searched for Friday the 13th-themed films to watch on Friday the 13th that aren’t explicitly tied to the Friday the 13th franchise? Even if you have the patience (God bless you if you do) to weed through the countless listicles and generic F13 rankings to try and find your answer, you can virtually see the tumbleweeds blowing across your computer screen. So, since we’re always looking out for you, we Grumps racked our brains to compile a small group of suggestions for your alternative Friday the 13th viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

FROM BRIAN MILLER:

FREAKY FRIDAY (1976)

The concept of Friday the 13th being an unlucky day lends a strange nihilism to the titular film series. While Jason, as the victim of teen negligence, easily represents a force of vengeance, calling his teen targets simply “unlucky” undermines the idea of karma almost entirely. For the Disney film Freaky Friday (1976) though, this unluckiness yields an even grimmer moral in the end. Yes, the switch between mother and daughter does provide a learning lesson in empathy for both, but the trauma at least the daughter goes through does seem like a steep price to pay. Ultimately this switch is more about drawing the short cosmic straw than becoming better people. The daughter, in her mother’s body, now must deal with her father’s sexual advances. Simultaneously she enters into a flirtatious relationship with a neighbor boy, which ends up with him being head over heels with who he thinks is the mom. The veil of Disney over all this makes every taboo turn feel gentle and family-friendly; an extra level of disturbing for the film. None of this feels accidental though. It is a genuine black comedy perfect for a non-horror approach to celebrating Friday the 13th (yes, the Friday that is freaky in this film is explicitly on the 13th of some month). The sum of everything points at the bleak yet vaguely sweet moral that how we learn in life is through crisis. Crisis that most likely will scar us for life. Yet, as our shared human tragedy, we can at least laugh about it.

FROM ELBEE:

THE THREE CABALLEROS (U.S. Release 1945)

It seems the Walt Disney Company may have a bit of a thing for Friday the 13th; of all the kind of hard-to-find non-Voorheesian Friday the 13th films out there, two of them happen to belong to The Mouse. The Three Caballeros is a film you may remember from your childhood, but these days it’s one of the ones Disney likes to sweep under the rug. It’s not overtly controversial (at least not to a Song of the South level), but admittedly some of the choices made might leave your mouth slightly agape.

The Three Caballeros does take place on Friday the 13th; in fact, it reveals that this non-descript Friday the 13th is Donald Duck’s birthday. Donald receives a gift package from some friends from Latin America containing a couple of film strips and some magical books. Via what we can only suppose is some kind of Friday the 13th sorcery, Donald’s fine-feathered friends Jose Carioca and Panchito appear out from inside the books and the three of them embark on a journey through the tropical birds’ homelands of Brazil and Mexico.

That seems easy enough, but this is where the film gets a little iffy. We think of Disney animation as typically made for children, and at first, The Three Caballeros does seem like a cute way for kids to learn about Latin American cultures through the use of folk stories and traditional cultural celebrations. And if you think about what the world must have been like in 1944, most people in America probably didn’t have a lot of educational material available to them about the diverse cultures of the world. Add to that the implementation of FDR’s “Good Neighbor Policy” regarding U.S./Latin American relations, and The Three Caballeros perhaps served a kind of harmless educational purpose that appealed to both kids and adults, which was of course echoed later in the “It’s A Small World” project.

However, as the film progresses it turns less harmless. And that’s all Donald Duck’s fault. Halfway through, the Disney animators seem to just give up all restraint and let Donald’s animal urges take over, letting him loose as the horniest duck this side of Howard. In fact, he’s hornier than Howard. Donald’s girl-craziness has him chasing swimsuit-clad Latina beauties up and down Acapulco Beach, culminating in a weird kind of love-drunk acid trip sequence when he hears one of the ladies sing; which in hindsight seems like Disney trying to appeal to horny GIs coming home from WWII (“Good Neighbor,” indeed). And honestly, this odd time capsule is the only real reason you should watch this movie, aside from the beautiful classical animation.

1408 (2007)

Okay, so while 1408 doesn’t actually take place on a Friday the 13th, I still like it for a Friday the 13th viewing. Why? It’s a relatively forgotten Stephen King adaptation that serves as a “how-to” guide for haunted house stories, set in a notoriously haunted room in a grandiose historic hotel. John Cusack plays a skeptical paranormal travel writer who receives an anonymous postcard from the prestigious Dolphin Hotel warning him with the inscription: “Don’t enter 1408.” He briefly ponders the number sequence, realizing those single digits add up to a very superstitious “13.” “That’s cute,” he says, and not long afterward packs his bags and heads to New York for a one-night stay at The Dolphin.

What follows is a tumultuous night for Cusack’s character, wherein he’s hit with every possible scary story beat imaginable. King wrote “1408” as a sort of learning exercise in tension-building, and the film adaptation is faithful. 1408 hits us in the face with our fears — everything from claustrophobia to pyrophobia — and takes us through the writer’s battles with regret, grief, and loss. But what the story really supposes to us is that the only way we can overcome our fears is to power through them. So if Friday the 13th is the scariest day on the calendar for you (that’s paraskevidekatriaphobia, by the way), I heartily suggest 1408 as a means to cope.

FROM JAY ALARY:

friday the 13th: the orphan (1979)

Forget Camp Crystal Lake and a vengeful Mrs. Voorhees: the first Friday the 13th film isn’t a Halloween cash-in with Tom Savini gore effects and Kevin Bacon, but an arty horror-thriller that took its director, John Ballard, a decade to complete. Friday the 13th: The Orphan arrived in theaters in 1979, its title chosen by producers who wanted to jazz up the title (originally called Betrayal, the film also goes by The Orphan), playing up the horror elements despite cutting out some grisly scenes before its release. I had first heard of this unusual film when author Stephen Thrower highlighted it in his exploitation tome, Nightmare USA. Set in the early years of the Great Depression, Friday the 13th: The Orphan is a sad tale of an orphaned boy, David (Mark Owens), who struggles with his grief for his beloved adventurer father, while his aloof Aunt Martha (Peggy Feury) tries to control his every action, thinking this is the correct path to a loving familial relationship. Though his father was away in Africa a lot, he was a larger-than-life figure whom Davis idolized. As family friend Dr. Thompson (Stanley Church) tells Martha, “Oh hell, [David’s father] was away from David for years, but I’d be willing to bet that David has a better sense of his father than most boys have.” Martha reminisces about a possible romantic relationship with David’s father (he rejects her for her sister, David’s mother), so it’s her bitterness that fuels her desire to stamp out the child’s hero worship. David resists and it becomes a tête-à-tête between him and his aunt.

Many a viewer will be confused and perhaps dissuaded by the film’s opening credits, as jubilant ragtime music plays during a montage of still images of David’s father during his Roaring Twenties exploits. If you can survive this unusual start, the rest of the film is a delightful slow buildup of tension and dread; while there aren’t many horror elements (a fantasy sequence involving a tongue and stabbing do appear late in the film), it’s a fascinating film experience, as the viewer has to decide what’s real and what’s fantasy. Despite it being his only role, Mark Owens is excellent as a very confused ten-year-old boy suffering from loss, isolation (they live on a remote family estate with nary a child for miles), and Aunt Martha’s rigid discipline. Though the bulk of the film was shot in 1968, Ballard kept adding shots to it for over a decade, using stand-ins for Owens, now nearly an adult, and other actors who had passed away since 1968. Unfortunately, the newfound producers in 1977 made some drastic cuts to the film, removing nudity and gore, re-editing it, and slapping on the nonsensical title (at no time do events take place on or around Friday the 13th). While Paramount’s ridiculous slasher franchise would eclipse this little-known gem, cinephiles and purveyors of all things weird ought to check out the nearly-90-minute cut found online.

FROM ELBEE, A SPECIAL BONUS:

FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NUDE BEGINNING (1987)

Is Jason Voorhees a sex symbol? He certainly is big and abnormally strong, and he is known to carry a rather large knife. Also, admittedly the mommy issues are kind of intriguing, and he doesn’t really talk too much, so if you give him a chance, he might be everything you’d want in a man…well, if you can get over the smell.

Regardless of oddball sexual fantasy, though, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a satisfactory representation of the immortal Mr. Voorhees in your average, everyday hardcore pornography (did I say “hardcore pornography”?) The 2010 “official” porn parody of Friday the 13th revolves around a group of camp counselors who entertain an old “ghost story” about a drowned boy festering in the nearby lake and haunting the camp by ejaculating on his unsuspecting victims with “fermented” flesh-eating semen — it’s neither as fun nor as gross as you want it to be. But if you divorce yourself from your concept of Jason as a mindless, mass-murdering galoot, you might want to check out the title-in-spirit cash grab Friday the 13th: A Nude Beginning.

In this, um, film, Jason is a devious demon in Hell, doomed in eternal competition with a female counterpart to see who can corrupt the most souls up on Earth. The tie to Friday the 13th is even looser than the F13 television series — a dime-store hockey mask makes a brief appearance, but Jason here is a regular office-type Chad, sporting the polo-and-khakis look, and effectively smarming out his dialogue with the creepiest of theatrics. What’s perhaps surprising about A Nude Beginning is there is some care put into the characterization of Jason, but that might be because the actor who plays him had previously been a fairly successful stage actor. At any rate, this Jason is manipulative and menacing, a slick-talking legit asshole who’s probably going to convince you to do something you might not normally do…and like it.

Jason aside, the other surprising aspect of this porn is that it addresses a variety of moral quandaries as it goes along. The set-up is that these two demons are trying to out-demon each other by seeing who can corrupt with the most style and flair (a perverted take on C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters), which means the pornographic vignettes get more extreme each time. That’s not to say the sex is more extreme, but the “victims” become more complicated. One vignette addresses the hypocrisy of television evangelists, not only in the exploitation of their congregations but in how they may behave in their personal lives (ideas about racism and “screwing the lesbian out” of a woman are raised). Another vignette, Jason’s coup de gras in fact, shows him “corrupting” a well-known feminist (based on notorious feminist writer Andrea Dworkin) by telling her something like “you might be pretty if you made an effort.” And, as you may have guessed, the negging works.

So yeah, I never expected a porn movie to make me think critically, but here we are. If you’re the kind of person who gets off on complication, Friday the 13th: A Nude Beginning is definitely for you. And weirdly, you may feel smarter after it.

★★★