Yikes! A little glimpse behind the curtain here; when a publicist asked if I’d be interested in a documentary about the Friday the 13th franchise, I thought it sounded worth a whirl. What I didn’t immediately get was that this was something more than a keen fan’s document, but clocks in at a whopping 620 minutes. Ignoring all warnings from grizzled gas-station attendants, I plunged ahead, but with a vague anxiety that the film-makers may have over estimated my interest in the subject. Oddly, that proved not to be true; Crystal Lake Memories is a marathon, not a sprint, but the story of the development of the Friday the 13th movies actually sheds a great deal of light on the development of movies, past and present.
If you’ve not been paying attention, there have been twelve Friday the 13th movies, a 50+ episode tv show, comics, books, video games and all kinds of merchandise; until the Halloween reboot, it was the most lucrative horror franchise to date. While the first film had an undeniable impact back in 1980, critics never got what audiences liked about the bare-bones slasher format, and as the sequels repeated and rehashed the Jason/serial killer formula, the fans stayed loyal. Paramount’s Frank Mancuso Jr was something of an eminence grise of the Friday films, steering it through changing times and to a new home at New Line, and eventually towards a 2009 reboot, so there’s a good thirty years to cover over 13 chapters.
Crystal Lake Memories is an advert for the franchise, but it’s also a record of a sequence of films that came off the rails repeatedly; the central characters change, supernatural elements come and go, other franchises get mixed in, battles with the censor are more often lost than one, and it’s remarkable that fans stayed the pace. This doc feels ‘by fans for fans’, but it’s also a remarkable record of the process of keeping the franchise alive; over 150 of the cast and crew contribute first hand accounts of the making of these films. There’s no Kevin Bacon to connect everything up to six degrees, but plenty of weird connections and familiar faces, from Erin Grey to Alice Cooper. And there’s not much in the way of highbrow critical analysis, but there’s plenty of revealing stories about how the films were made (cheaply!) and how the grisly effects were achieved.
As with the book its based on, Crystal Lake Memories is somehow more than its parts; it becomes an Altman-esque epic of low-rent enterprise with a huge cast caught up in pursuit of the teenage dollar. By sticking to the granular detail, Crystal Lake Memories offers a detailed picture of the life, death and never-ending return of the Jason franchise. To my surprise, it’s 620 minutes well spent.
101 Films present this UK release on digital 14th March and 2-disc Blu-ray 11th April 2022