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Monday, November 5, 2012

FRIDAY THE 13TH - THE SERIES: THE FIRST SEASON -- DVD review by porfle




Here's the original prologue that used to begin each episode of "Friday the 13th - The Series":  "Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store... and with it, the curse. Now they must get everything back and the real terror begins."

For some reason this prologue is omitted from the 6-disc DVD set FRIDAY THE 13TH - THE SERIES: THE FIRST SEASON, but I figured it would be a good way to start my synopsis.  In the first episode, veteran character actor R.G. Armstrong plays Uncle Lewis, whose sudden relocation to Hell leaves Micki and Ryan as proprietors of his antique store, Curious Goods.  Lewis' former partner, a sage old sorceror named Jack, shows up and warns the two that all the cursed items that have been sold from the store will cause untold death and destruction if they don't track them all down and lock them in the vault downstairs. 

After witnessing some supernatural shenanigans firsthand, it doesn't take long for our heroes to get over their initial "yeah, right" attitude and dedicate themselves to this monumental task.

The main characters are likable and fun.  First, there's Robey ("Louise" when she's at home) as Micki, the fiery redhead who's lots of fun to look at.  Micki sacrifices her upcoming marriage to some Mr. Perfect-type to become a cursed antique tracker-downer, because she knows people will die if she doesn't.  Then there's her cousin Ryan (John D. LeMay), who comes off as a bit of a doofus at first--in fact, I thought he was going to be the bumbling comedy-relief until his character began to develop considerably as the season went on. 

Not unlike Mulder and Scully, or Steed and Mrs. Peel, Micki and Ryan have a lighthearted relationship that can also have its serious and dramatic moments.  At times, their characters are given a surprising amount of depth and often suffer sizeable personal tragedies.  Rounding things off is Chris Wiggins as their mentor, Jack, whose wisdom and knowledge of the black arts are indispensible. 

The thing that makes this unlikely trio of do-gooders so endearing is that they aren't professionals--they risk their lives in every episode out of concern for others.  (All together now:  "Awwwww...")

To me, the series has that distinctive look of 80s low-budget Canadian cinema, like RABID or one of the SCANNERS movies.  I've heard complaints about the picture quality, and indeed much of the photography is somewhat muted and murky.  But this is true mainly of the earlier episodes, and as the season progresses so does the look of the series (although the video FX are consistently fake-looking).  The same can also be said for the stories themselves, which start out a little on the hokey side and then keep getting better and better. 

For example, episode 4, "Cup of Time", is delightfully cheesy.  Familiar B-movie babe Hilary Shepherd plays a rock star whose youthful appearance depends on a teacup that emits leafy tendrils which suck the lifeforce from anyone who drinks from it.  We see decadent punk rocker-types standing in line for one of her concerts, but when we hear her sing it's so typically 80s spandex-glitter-pop awful you'll wonder why these fans aren't lobbing molotov cocktails at her. 

Another "more cheese, please" episode is "Shadow Boxer", in which a pair of evil boxing gloves helps a down-and-out palooka by enabling his bobbin' and weavin' shadow to run around beating people to death.

Things really start getting good when David Cronenberg steps in to direct "Faith Healer", starring SCANNERS alumnus Robert Silverman as a man with a horrible disease looking for someone with the power to cure it.  That someone, unfortunately, gets his power from a cursed glove that must be recharged by, you guessed it, sucking the lifeforce from some hapless victim.  Along the way Cronenberg gets to indulge his fondness for "body horror" with some grisly makeup effects.

"Scarecrow" is a nifty Halloween-tinged episode that plays like a creepy low-budget movie, with a wonderfully sinister, eye-rolling performance by Patricia Phillips as a woman who eliminates her smalltown enemies with the help of a scythe-wielding scarecrow.  In one scene, the scarecrow lops off some poor old lady's head and we actually see it bobbling on the floor, her face still contorted in terror.  Pretty cool for a TV show!  Like many other episodes, "Scarecrow" is like a mini version of the cheap 80s horror flicks that many of us remember so fondly.

"Vanity's Mirror" is a delightful anti-Carrie story about a really vile high school geek-girl who uses her cursed item, an antique gold compact that makes any female irresistible to men, to lure various tormentors to horrible, gory deaths.  Eventually, she steals her beautiful sister's boyfriend from her and orders him to beat and then string up the hapless lass before whisking her away to the prom!  Awesome.

I could go on about how good various episodes are, but for me, the two-part "Quilt of Hathor" is the highlight.  Amidst a stark, snowy setting, we meet an ultra-strict religious community known as the Penetites who eschew technology and live much like they did back in the old Salem witchhunt days.  Scott Paulin (THE RIGHT STUFF) plays their leader, Reverend Josiah, who is, by law, required to take a wife.  But his prospective brides keep dying off thanks to a homely woman who has the hots for him and possesses a quilt which allows her to kill people by dreaming their violent deaths. 

Micki and Ryan go undercover with the Penetites and try to recover the quilt, but in the process Ryan falls in love with Reverend Josiah's daughter and ends up in a death duel with the jealous geek-boy to whom she's betrothed.  The set-up for this fight looks just like something out of the wackier side of STAR TREK--I almost expected to hear someone say "One thousand quatloos on the newcomer!"  During this richly atmospheric double-episode, several people suffer an unpleasant demise before the suspenseful finale.

Besides those already mentioned, some other interesting guest stars pop up here and there.  The first episode features the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake's Sarah Polley as a little girl.  In "Cup of Time" we also get to see what Lisa Jakub (Randy Quaid's daughter in INDEPENDENCE DAY) looked like as a wee tyke.  One of the victims of anti-Carrie in "Vanity's Mirror" is an older Zack Ward, who was A CHRISTMAS STORY's memorable bully Scut Farkus.  Ray Walston plays a renowned comic book artist in "Tales of the Undead." 

Other notable guest stars include Carrie Snodgress, Cliff Gorman, Gary Frank, Val Avery, David Proval, and Michael Constantine (as Ryan's estranged father in the emotional episode "Pipe Dream.")  Oh, and R.G. Armstrong's "Uncle Lewis" character may have died in the first episode, but that's hardly the last we see of his evil, cackling mug.

Back in the 80s when FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES was new, I never watched it because of its association with the Jason movies, which I've always regarded as junk.  But thanks to this season one DVD collection, I've discovered it to be a highly worthwhile horror series that's loads of fun to watch.



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Read our review of "Friday the 13th: The Final Season"




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