Friday, September 30, 2022

35 Years Ago: Friday the 13th: The Series

Friday the 13th: The Series ran for three seasons and seventy-one hour-long episodes...thirty-five years ago. The series involves two unlucky souls, Micki (Robey) and Ryan (John D. Le May), who inherit their dead uncle’s antique shop. 

They are unlucky because Uncle Lewis Vendredi (R.G. Armstrong) made a pact with the Devil to become immortal, but then attempted to back out on his end of the bargain. Dragged down to Hell, Vendredi leaves behind on Earth hundreds of cursed antiques in his shop.  Each one is imbued with a murderous, monstrous spirit.   

Alas, many of these cursed items are soon sold during a going-out-of-business sale held by Vendredi’s niece and nephew, meaning it is their responsibility -- with the help of occult expert Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) -- to retrieve them. 

For the buyers, it is literally a matter of life and death.

The Curious Goods Team

Thus, in most of the seventy or so episodes of the series, the action involves the team from “Curious Goods” attempting to recover an evil relic, collectible, or antique. During the run of the series, these objects came in all shapes and sizes, from an evil tea cup (“A Cup of Time”) and cursed make-up compact (“Vanity’s Mirror”) to sinister comic-books (“Tales of the Undead”) and even a diabolical weed-mulcher (“The Root of All Evil.”)

If this format sounds a little bit familiar, it may be because it echoes the details of an Amicus horror anthology film from the 1970s directed by Kevin Connor, From Beyond the Grave (1973). There, Peter Cushing was the antique shop owner selling dangerous goods.

Friday the 13th: The Series received mixed reviews during its original run, but has nonetheless become a cult treasure to horror aficionados today. Writing in 1987, Variety opined that the series was “a successful terror tease blissfully devoid of blood and full of the supernatural and imagination.”  

Meanwhile, Time Magazine’s Richard Zoglin concluded that “Friday the 13th’s worst sin “is an obsession with clunky, over-explanatory dialogue…but the show delivers a stronger dose of pure horror than anything else on TV.” (November 6, 1989).

“The Inheritance” is Friday the 13th’s premiere episode, and it first aired the week of October 3, 1987.  Written by William Taub and directed by William Fruet, “The Inheritance” quickly sets up the premise of the series by first introducing viewers to mean old Uncle Lewis, and then to his niece and nephew/odd couple, Micki Foster and Ryan Dallian.  

Micki is engaged to a wealthy (and snooty…) attorney, and sees Curious Goods as a detour from her appointed destiny. Ryan, meanwhile, is one of cult-television’s early “geeks,” a comic-book collector and science fiction fan. 

The first order of business for Ryan and Micki is the recovery of an evil doll, named Vita, who has fallen into the possession of a little girl, Mary, played by a very young Sarah Polley (Dawn of the Dead [2004]).  Before, Ryan and Micki can recover the doll, it murders her cruel stepmother.

Sarah Polley plays Mary in "The Inheritance."

While Ryan and Micki attempt to recover the doll (and place it safely in a locked vault in Curious Goods’ basement…), they must also countenance Jack Marshak’s belief that we are all surrounded by a “world of spirits, of a netherworld,” and that Vendredi tapped into that world to dabble in deviltry. For Micki and Ryan, this means a rude awakening about the nature of reality itself…

Looking back today, Friday the 13th and its series premise seem to comment deliberately on avaricious and materialistic nature of the late 1980s.  For instance, Lewis Vendredi is described as a man who is passionate about two things: wealth, and etrnal life.   

If you consider the “wealth” part of that equation as the era’s obsession with upward mobility and the “not growing old” part a comment on the pervasive 1980s aerobics/fitness craze, you see how the problems faced here stem from two central pillars of the yuppie movement. Micki herself seems a bit like a callow yuppie, though over the course of the series she grows and matures, and eventually leaves her judgmental and elitist beliefs behind. In some sense, the events of the series teach her how to care about other people, and not just herself.

There have been a plenty of evil dolls in cult-television history, and Vita makes a fine heir to The Twilight Zone’s Talking Tina. There is a truly horrifying quality to her porcelain white face – especially as it looms in the blackness -- and “The Inheritance” also imbues the monster with a horrible, raspy voice. During the course of the episode, the malevolent doll rips out a man’s throat, suffocates Mary’s stepmother, and pushes a heavy piece of furniture over on an elderly neighbor, proving herself a real menace.  

Evil Doll.

Many folks who remember Friday the 13th: The Series remember this scary doll well, and thus this particular episode. That seems about right given Vita’s monstrous nature. In terms of writing, acting and direction, however, “The Inheritance” seems somewhat primitive today, in some ways even more dated than older horror series such as Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (1972 – 1973) or Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974).

In part this may be so because the DVD prints are muddy and cheap-looking. A re-mastering would certainly seem to be in order.  

But contrarily, Friday the 13th: The Series in some moments feels like a gonzo low-budget horror movie.  That means that it sometimes takes detours into weird horror that feel far afield from homogenized television standards. I remember watching the series late at night when I was senior in high school, for example, and feeling that anything was possible, and that -- at any moment -- something truly horrible might happen.

Taken on a whole, “The Inheritance” is a solid start for Friday the 13th: The Series, and the presence of Vita as the cursed object of the week helps it rank a cut-above some of the other first season installments.  Also, the late R.G. Armstrong remains a delight in this series.

R.G. Armstrong as Uncle Lewis Vendredi.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the interesting review and personal perspective, John.

    In late 1988 I worked in the visual effects department on three episodes of this series. Exciting stuff: lots of bees ("The Sweetest Thing"), and painting-in black ink for holdout mattes ("Thirteen O'Clock"), and general work on one now forgotten.

    The series was shot here in Toronto and shared the studio lot with War of the Worlds, which a friend of mine worked on in makeup effects ― I visited him a couple of times and watched some shooting. By the way, I bumped into actor Jared Martin in the lunch room. Tall guy! I'm tall, but I'm used to looking down at the average actor. (My siblings and I were devoted viewers of Martin's Fantastic Journey.)

    Unfortunately I rarely watched Friday the Thirteenth - The Series, but I wish I had now. War of the Worlds I did watch, at least the first few episodes. I'm wondering what your take is on that series, John. I guess I could just do a search in your blog....

    "In part this may be so because the DVD prints are muddy and cheap-looking. A re-mastering would certainly seem to be in order."

    Unfortunately, this was one of many dramatic television series', which included Star Trek: The Next Generation, that were post-produced on (then standard-definition) video in order to save money. The problem is that now it's a major archival job to get these programs to HD. Nobody's going to pay for it due to the high cost.

    (On my blog I wrote about the financial dilemma of SD-to-HD remasterings, with a focus on ST:TNG. )


The Starlost 50th Anniversary: "Children of Methuselah"

  The Starlost,  “Children of Methuselah” is one that seems very familiar in terms of sci-fi TV tropes.   The idea of a society of wayward c...