Will this Blu-ray debut for the legendary 80s slasher prove unlucky for fans?
Before Jason Voorhees donned a hockey mask (or even the burlap sack he wore for one film) and started his epic killing spree there was another murderer killing promiscuous teens at Camp Crystal Lake. While the villain is different, the modus operandi is exactly the same - watch horny teenagers get it on with each other and then butcher them with an inventive array of weapons. As you can probably guess, it's not the most elaborate plot ever devised, but director Sean S. Cunningham's 1980 classic is still a tremendous model of economy, ditching anything like characterisation in favour of cutting straight to the good stuff (Tom Savini's wonderful makeup effects and the odd bit of partial nudity).
Even taken on this most basic level, the film still has some problems though - not least of which the identity of its killer. It's one thing to try and generate some suspense by having your cast picked off one-by-one by an unseen killer. As the numbers start to dwindle and the red herrings begin to pile up you inevitably start to try and figure out which of them is the murderer. But, Friday the 13th cheats it audience in this regard by finally revealing the identity of the killer to be a character that has never been seen in the movie before.
Still, for all of its flaws, the original Friday the 13th remains an extremely watchable piece of exploitation cinema. As touched upon above Tom Savini's makeup effects are simply wonderful, plus the film's direction and cinematography is surprisingly atmospheric, lending the film's isolated locations a truly unnerving quality. There were better slashers before, and there have been plenty since, but taken on its own merits the original Friday the 13th is still well worth a watch.
Cause for concern?
Die-hard fans of the film will probably be aware that it was already released on a region-free Blu-ray in the US earlier this year by its domestic distributor Paramount. Expectations were that this new Warner Home Video UK Blu-ray would be a simple port of that disc, but upon closer examination that isn't quite the case.
A early cause for concern was the running times of the two discs, with the US release clocking in at 95mins27secs, and this version running just 95mins17secs. Friday the 13th has had a bit of a spotty history when it comes to video and DVD releases on both sides of the Atlantic. The US BD and DVD from this year marked the first time the flick had ever been released uncut over there. Meanwhile, here in the UK, the film had been passed uncut for VHS back in the 1980s, but a subsequent video release in the '90s accidentally used the edited US version. This was only corrected on Warner's 2003 UK DVD release. Given the ten-second difference in running times, the hunt was on to learn why the new UK Blu-ray was shorter - had Warner Home Video cocked things up again? Thankfully, no. Timed from the appearance of the Sean S Cunningham credit that opens the film to the final fade to black at its end, both versions of the movie run exactly 92mins54secs - so there's nothing missing from the UK cut. Whew!
Rough around the edges
When it comes to the hi-def encode itself, despite using VC-1 and AVC encodes respectively, both the UK and US discs look identical - which is no bad thing. Okay, the prologue sequence looks a bit rough around the edges with washed out blacks evident throughout, but after that things improve significantly. Colours are bright, detailing is good (especially during the daylight exteriors that typify the early part of the film) and there's a reasonable amount of native grain present in the image. The source material isn't quite perfect - there are still some traces of speckles, dust and other minor print imperfections - but on the whole this is a very commendable job for a low budget flick that celebrates its 30th birthday next year.
Unlike the US Blu-ray, there's no sign of the original mono soundtrack on Warner's UK Blu-ray release. However, the new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is a perfectly acceptable alternative. Rather than try and force the material into surround sound applications that it simply couldn't sustain, the new mix is primarily content to just open up the audio across the front L/C/R spread, with the rears ocassionally employed for ambient effect. Due the limitations of the original audio, the sound seems a touch thin at times and lacking in bass, but overall there's nothing more that could really be done with it.
Plenty of good stuff
Warner's hi-def disc ports across all of the extras from Paramount's US release, and there's plenty of good stuff to please the film's legion of fans. Best of the bunch, by some distance, is the feature-length audio commentary (which also featured on the old UK DVD release). It's a piecemeal affair edited together from separate interviews and linked by critic Peter Bracke (author of the sensational coffee-table tome Crystal Lake Memories), but it still manages to provide a very thorough and detailed acount of the film's creation.
A Friday the 13th Reunion (17mins/1080p) is a panel discussion with actors Ari Lehman, Betsy Palmer and Adrienne King, screenwriter Victor Miller, composer Harry Manfredini and makeup effects legend Tom Savini (weirdly Lehamn and Savini are not listed amongst the participants on the disc's Special Features menu screen). While there's obviously some cross-over with the commentary and other featurettes, it's still pleasing to see the gang back together and having fun at each others' expense. Missing from the panel is the film's director, but that's okay because he takes centre stage in The Man Behind the Legacy: Sean S Cunningham (9mins/1080p), where he discusses the film's impact on his life and his memories of making it.
Fresh Cuts: New Tales from Friday the 13th (14mins/1080p) is a compilation of various little interview snippets about the special effects, music and influence of Halloween on the film, which you get the feeling the disc producers didn't really know what to do with. Brought across from Paramount's old R1 Friday the 13th: From Crystal Lake to Manhattan DVD boxset are the retrospective featurette The Friday the 13th Chronicles (21mins/480p) and Secrets Galore Behiind the Gore (10mins/480p), which takes a look at the film's death scenes. Also included in 480p standard definition is the film's theatrical trailer.
Crappy little slasher
The one real dud on the disc is Lost Tales from Camp Blood: Part 1 (8mins/1080p), the first part of a crappy little slasher that seemingly has bugger all to do with the Friday the 13th movies, but which Paramount split across its DVD and Blu-ray releases of the franchise in the US this year. Clearly having no idea what it is or how to market it, the Special Features menu on Warner's disc describes this waste of space as 'Newly produced vignette (aka deleted scene) in the same style as the original feature'.
However, there is one surprise amongst the extras on this UK release - the inclusion of Return to Crystal Lake: The Making of Friday the 13th (22mins/480p), a retrospective featurette included on Warner's old UK DVD release of the film. Okay, so much of the material is covered elsewhere in the new extras brought across from Paramount's US Blu-ray, but it's still rather pleasing to find Warner Home Video adding extra value to the UK release with this additional piece of bonus material.
Warner Home Video, All-region Blu-ray, £18 approx, On sale now
HCC VERDICT: 3/5
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