Friday the 13th: The Series: The Final Season (DVD)

Both curious and good.

As most everyone knows by now, Friday the 13th: The Series had nothing to do with Jason Voorhees, Camp Crystal Lake, or anything else from the Friday the 13th movies. Instead, this show is about antiques that have been cursed by the devil. If you think that sounds ridiculous, you’re right. It is ridiculous, but in a wonderfully entertaining way. This season is the one when regular character Ryan left the show, to be replaced by newcomer Johnny. It’s also the season that the gore and dark themes finally got to be too much for censors, leading to the greatest of all TV evils—cancellation.

Scary old Uncle Lewis once sold a bunch of cursed antiques from his store, Curious Goods. Lewis is long gone now, and the task of finding and recovering all the evil objects falls to his niece Micki (Robey, The Money Pit), his nephew Ryan (John D. Le May, The Couch Trip), their occultist friend Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins, Franklin’s Magic Christmas) and streetwise tough guy Johnny (Steven Monarque, Sixteen Candles).

This episode list is safely locked away inside the vault:

• “The Prophecies” Parts One and Two
Evil antique: Lucifer’s bible (an ancient book)
What it does: Fulfills six prophecies that will allow Satan himself to walk the Earth in physical form
The two-hour season premiere has the characters traveling to a small village in France, where they confront a devil worshipper with supernatural powers, murderous nuns, a building full of violent mental patients, and more. All the while, signs point to doom in Ryan’s future.

• “Demon Hunter”
Evil antique: A dagger
What it does: Allows the owner to summon and control a demon
The bulk of this episode is spent with a family of paramilitary/mercenary types (backdoor pilot, maybe?) hunting and tracking a demon that looks like some kind of caveman. Back at the store, Micki and Jack explore a huge, mysterious chamber found hidden under the building.

• “Crippled Inside”
Evil antique: A wicker wheelchair
What it does: The more people die, the healthier the chair’s owner gets
Written by Brian Helgeland (Mystic River)! With Micki and Jack out of town, Johnny has his first solo adventure. His morals are put to the test when he learns a teen girl is using the chair to enact revenge against the boys who hurt her, and that she might walk again once she’s killed them all.

• “Stick it in Your Ear”
Evil antique: A hearing aid
What it does: Gives its wearer the power to read minds
Normally on this show, the antique owner has to kill someone in order to get the antique to work its magic. In this case, though, the owner, a mentalist with a cheesy nightclub act, is so bombarded with others’ thoughts that he has to kill in order to turn it off.

• “Bad Penny”
Evil antique: A coin
What it does: Brings people back from the dead
This one’s a direct sequel to the second season episode “Heads You Live, Tails You Die.” Instead of megalomaniacal cultists, though, this time the coin ends up with Johnny, who’s tempted to use it to bring his father back to life.

• “Hate on Your Dial”
Evil antique: A car radio
What it does: Time travel!
This infamously controversial episode has our heroes tracking down an imbecilic racist car mechanic who’s using the radio to drive his car back to 1954 and finish a Klan-related hate crime his father started.

• “Night Prey”
Evil antique: A cross
What it does: Kills vampires, but only if it’s used to kill an innocent human first
Do two wrongs make a right? That’s the question Jack struggles with as he, Micki, and Johnny face an obsessive vampire hunter who’s killing people in exchange for slaying those pesky bloodsuckers.

• “Femme Fatale”
Evil antique: A film print
What it does: Brings a fictional movie character to life, by having it temporarily switch places with someone watching
An aging filmmaker with a dying wife is our killer this week, in this homage to classic film noir. Naturally, Micki becomes his latest target, and ends up trapped in an alternate world with fedora-wearing cops and tough-talking gangsters.

• “Mightier Than the Sword”
Evil antique: A pen
What it does: It works like a syringe by injecting victims with its ink, and this allows its owner to control their actions with his writing
Another one written by Brian Helgeland! The pen is owned by a famous true crime writer, who’s turning ordinary people into serial killers just for the sake of his bestsellers. When Micki gets too close, she ends up as the murderous star of his next book.

• “Year of the Monkey”
Evil antique: Three small monkey statues, in the see/hear/speak no evil poses
What it does: Enhances the senses of its owners
Guest starring Tia Carrere (True Lies)! To get a cursed tea set back from a martial arts master, Micki, Jack, and Johnny must first collect the three monkey statues. In Japan, a dying millionaire is using the three monkey statues to test the loyalty of his three children. I bet you never would have guessed that this show would do its own twisted version of Kurosawa’s Ran.

• “Epitaph for a Lonely Soul”
Evil antique: An embalmer’s aspirator
What it does: Brings people back from the dead, kind of like that coin
How’s this for creepy—a mortician brings a beautiful woman back to life in the hopes of making her his bride. They even “get it on” while she’s in a half-dead, half-alive state. The Curious Goods gang helps her husband track down what’s happened to her.

• “Midnight Riders”
Evil antique: Check it out—this is the only episode of the series that doesn’t have an evil antique
A bunch of undead motorcyclists are tearing through the countryside, wreaking havoc. The ghost of Jack’s father is running around, as well. It turns out that not every supernatural occurrence has to do with Uncle Lewis’s store.

• “Repetition”
Evil antique: A child’s necklace
What it does: Holds a killer’s victim’s soul inside it
Written by Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena)! What happens to the little girl at the start of this episode is another one of this show’s famous “Holy crap, I can’t believe they aired that” moments. So a successful newspaper columnist is being haunted by a spirit inside the necklace, and must kill to set it free.

• “The Long Road Home”
Evil antique: An amulet with the yin-yang symbol
What it does: Allows the owner’s soul to inhabit the body of anyone he kills
This one starts off right in the middle of the action, with the killer right in the middle of duking it out with Johnny and Micki. The body-swapping antics continue after our heroes are confronted by two psychotic brothers during a huge storm.

• “My Wife as a Dog”
Evil antique: A dog leash
What it does: Turns people into animals
If I hadn’t seen this episode, I never would have believed someone actually put this premise on screen—a guy uses the leash to combine his wife and his dog into a single creature, one he believes will be “perfectly loyal.” Meanwhile, the fire marshal is threatening to close Curious Goods, which could mean emptying out the vault.

• “Spirit of Television”
Evil antique: A 1950s television
What it does: Summons vengeful spirits
A fraudulent psychic is using the TV set during séances to wow customers. These customers later die due to exploding televisions. When the psychic kills one of Micki’s favorite singers, she and the others investigate.

• “Jack-in-the-Box”
Evil antique: A jack-in-the-box
What it does: Summons the dead, again
Time for another “little kids in peril” episode that this show does so well. A little girl is able to spend time with her dead father, but daddy’s time comes with a grisly price.

• “Tree of Life”
Evil antique: A small Celtic idol
What it does: Supplies druid magic
A new age-y fertility clinic has an unnaturally high success rate. When Johnny suspects it might be up to no good, he looks into it. The mystery involves baby-swapping, druid blood rituals, and trees that eat people.

• “The Charnel Pit”
Evil antique: A painting
What it does: Time travel, again!
The series ends with Micki going back to the year 1790, where she becomes a prisoner of the Marquis de Sade, who is depicted here as a torture-happy serial-killing madman. Trapped in his dungeon, so far from home, is there any hope left inside Micki, or will she give herself over to the darkness, forever?

After two seasons of gore, murder, terror, and darkness, the creators of Friday the 13th: The Series went for broke, pushing the envelope as far as they could. It must have been a cursed Curious Goods envelope, because it pushed back. Allegedly, the show wasn’t cancelled because of ratings or budgets, but because of censors freaking out over some of the gruesomeness seen early on in this third season. I have no evidence of this outside of Internet rumors, but after revisiting this series on disc, I can see how that argument could be made.

The two-hour season premiere borrows heavily from the likes of The Exorcist, The Omen, and those other “satanic thrillers” of the 1970s. There’s a lot of talk about the devil, possession, faith, prayer, martyrdom, and so on. It’s a lot of serious business, especially considering this show once did an episode about people shrunk down and trapped inside a snow globe. There have been episodes about sinister devil worshippers before, but this season opener takes us a lot farther into the world of God versus Satan than the series has ever gone. It’s not the perfect—I can’t believe no one noticed the villain walking around in public in his black robes—but it is more intense and less “fun horror” than this show usually provides. Add to this the fact that it’s Ryan’s last episode, and the episode gets even darker. There are various hints throughout that Ryan is doomed. Then, when the devil takes a personal interest in Ryan, the episode gets even darker. Ryan’s final exit from the series is strange, to say the least, but no stranger than anything else on this strange show.

This Satan-tastic episode doesn’t change the show that radically, though. It’s still Friday the 13: The Series, and that means it’s cheesier than the hike up Cheese Mountain during Cheesetoberfest in the mythical nation of Cheesetopia. Here’s another season full of crazed killers, zombified corpses, brutal stabbings, gooey slime, windows spontaneously flying open during thunderstorms, and all the rest of the trappings that the fans enjoy. Most of these episodes follow the show’s usual formula, in which someone uses an antique’s power for personal gain, often in exchange for killing. What’s fun, then, is when other episodes mess with that formula. This happens when some Predator rip-off characters take center stage in “Demon Hunter,” and when there’s no antique at all in “Midnight Riders.”

The writers really put Micki through the cursed wringer in this season. In “Bad Penny,” she not only has to deal with losing Ryan, but she’s also confronted with the traumatizing memories of what happened to her the last time she encountered the evil coin. Robey makes with the dramatics big time, crying and freaking out all over the place, especially when confronting the coin’s new owner. At other times, Micki is too often placed in “damsel in distress” mode, as she’s the one captured and/or terrorized by the villain of the week. In some of these cases, though, it’s nice to see her use her wits to get herself out of trouble. Chris Wiggins continues to bring his excellent professionalism to the brainy role of Jack. It’s hard to imagine him as any other character.

As the newcomer to the Curious Goods store and its world, Johnny is more than just Ryan version 2.0. By this point, Micki and Jack have the whole “searching for evil antiques” thing down to a science. Johnny, however, hasn’t gone through everything they’ve gone through, so this frees him up to question how they do things, and some of the decisions they make. Johnny often argues in favor of using one of the antiques to get out of a jam, in the hopes they can be used for good, and that he can fight the temptation to turn it around and use them for evil. This doesn’t go as planned, obviously. Johnny also has his first solo attempt at getting one of the antiques away from its owner, and this too does not go as smoothly as he hoped. Having a character go through the ropes for the first time makes the show still feel new and exciting.

This season’s top five best gross-outs:

5: That one lady’s fingernails falling off
4: The wrinkly old man with no upper teeth and all-white eyeballs shouting “Lucifer is coming!”
3: An up-close and very slimy look at how bodies are embalmed
2: A guy reaches into his own ear and pulls out what I’m assuming is the eardrum, represented by a long, slimy worm-looking thing
1: The racism

Going back to those Internet rumors, the “Hate on Your Dial” episode is allegedly what got the show cancelled, thanks to horrific images of Klansmen doing awful things to African Americans. The episode has a lot of offensive language, which is intentional to reflect the villains’ evil, but I have to wonder if some is not, and merely pushing 1980s’ boundaries, not 1950s’ boundaries. It’s possible, of course, that I’m taking the episode far too seriously, and that the show’s creators needed a monster of the week, and decided on “racists.” It’s more strange than it is uncomfortable. There’s a lot of strangeness this season, such as the guy turning his dog into his wife, the out-of-nowhere Kurosawa homage, the other guys with their dead stuffed parents, and more. There are a lot fewer traditional “horror movie” moments, and a lot more moments that are just plain weird. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your own sensibilities.

The picture and audio on this five-disc set is hit or miss. The visuals are soft throughout, but there are times when they look far too rough than they should be, and are hard on the eyes. The audio suffers as well, as many times I strained to hear what the actors were saying. There aren’t a ton of extras, but most of the episodes come with their original “next week on” promo, which is a nice little treat for fans.

During this season, the minds behind Friday the 13th: The Series experimented with new types of stories and took risks too see how much they could get away with on TV. These choices got their show cancelled, but it also made for some crazy watching. It’s cheesy and laughable, but it’s also unpredictable and over-the-top. The “fun” quality of the series outweighs the cheese.

The Verdict

Not guilty. Cheesy, yes, but not guilty.

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