1982 – The day after the events of Part 2, a group of friends journeys to a lakefront cabin, unaware that killer Jason Voorhees is still alive and seeking shelter in the area.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
This is “the one where Jason gets his hockey mask.” Also “the one in 3-D” and therefore “the one where random stuff gets thrown at the camera.” I had seen this movie (or at least parts of it) years ago on television. Maybe something of my more vulnerable childhood was sparked by watching it again, because I found this installment to be the most frightening.
There’s an eerie sense of unrelenting menace. Jason moves around in broad daylight, peering into homes, hiding among the laundry. You may not be sure where he is, but you know he’s always around. A barn door slowly swinging on its hinges on a sunny afternoon was never so unsettling. The late Richard Brooker, who portrays Jason in this film, does a superb job, combining moments of inhuman motionlessness with explosions of violent action.
The movie starts out with a flashback to Part 2, and it’s slightly re-shot to indicate that the bizarre ending really was a dream. Viewed through the lens of Part 3, I’m going to say that Muffin and Paul really did survive, and Jason attacking Ginny through the window was just one of the series’ trademark “scary dream endings.”
There are two really outstanding characters this time around. The first is our final girl, Chris. She’s returning to her family’s cabin for the first time since a deformed, knife-wielding man (gee, who could that be?) attacked her in the nearby woods. She’s vulnerable and painfully straight-laced for the first part of the film – but when she squares off against Jason, she really comes to life. She batters him with a bookshelf, stabs him, hits him with a log, bashes him with a shovel, and hangs him. Jason just keeps getting up, but Chris keeps fighting back, just as indefatigable as her antagonist. When she grabs an ax to finish him off for good, I wanted to shout at the screen like an obnoxious black woman in a movie theater.
This girl is amazing – Dana Kimmell is outstanding in the role. When Jason lifts his mask and grins, revealing himself to be the same man who menaced her years before, her horrified “You!” rings completely true. I love the backstory they gave the character, even if it doesn’t make much sense.
The other great character is the iconic slasher movie prankster, Shelly. The way the writers flesh this guy out is especially touching: Shelly is an aspiring actor who loves creating false scares for his friends, much to their annoyance… but he’s also shy and insecure while trying to impress his spunky “date,” Vera. When she gently turns away his advances, he sadly describes himself as “a nothing.” “I never said you’re a nothing!” she protests. “You didn’t have to say it,” he replies, “I can tell.” Jeez, don’t kill this poor guy! His life is hard enough already!
There’s one moment that has always haunted me from Part 3: after the final showdown, Chris gets into a boat and pushes herself out onto the lake. She wakes up the next morning and gets a few more false scares, courtesy of a log (come on, now) and a duck. Then she looks up and SWEET MOTHER OF MOSES:
Chris just can’t catch a break! It turns out to be yet another dream, but the scene absolutely terrified me as a kid – the idea that this lunatic could just be hanging out inside, happen to look out the window, and spot you. Then, just to add insult to injury, Mrs. Voorhees pops out of the water and drags Chris in. Is it any wonder she comes completely unhinged and starts laughing as the police drive her away?
Despite some antiquated 3-D gimmicks, Part 3 holds up very well. It’s got the best final girl, the best Jason so far, and some of the more inventive kills (the scene where Jason crushes Rick’s head with his bare hands, popping his eyeball out… sheer genius). They could have ended the series right here, with those last lingering shots of Jason’s body in the barn and the still, murky lake… but for the sake of my Friday night, I’m glad they didn’t. On to the poorly-named and downright depressing “The Final Chapter”!