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

This show is curiously good.

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones”
Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2

For those new to this party, Friday the 13th: The Series had nothing to do with Jason Voorhees, or his mom, or Camp Crystal Lake, or anything from any of the Friday the 13th movies. No, this Friday is the one about the evil antique store.

I don’t know whose idea it was to combine antiquing and vicious murders—not to mention whatever brave producer greenlit it—but thank goodness this insane show exists, because it is wildly entertaining.

Years ago, Lewis Vendredi (R.G. Armstrong, Predator) sold his soul to the devil, and, having turned totally evil, he sold a bunch of cursed antiques from his store, Curious Goods. The devil betrayed Lewis and killed him, but Lewis still hangs around in ghostly form from time to time. Now, cousins Micki (Robey, The Money Pit) and Ryan (John D. Le May, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday) have inherited the store from dear Uncle Lewis. They’re joined by their occult expert friend Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins, Franklin’s Magic Christmas) and, later, by tough guy Johnny (Steven Monarque, Sixteen Candles).

They evil antiques compel their owners to become killers, so our heroes have to get them all back, one by one.

This episode list was found on page 743 of the manifest:

• “Doorway to Hell”
Evil antique: A mirror
What it does: Opens the titular doorway to Hell
Micki and Ryan learn Uncle Lewis owned a home, and inside it is this mirror he’s planning on using to come back to life. Or something. This is a confusing one. But it’s fun to see Lewis being truly evil in what is essentially an old-fashioned haunted house tale.

• “The Voodoo Mambo”
Evil antique: A voodoo mask
What it does: It contains the spirit of an old voodoo priestess, who gives her voodoo powers to its owner
During a voodoo festival, Jack is reunited with an old friend, a voodoo expert, just in time for a spoiled rich kid to get ahold of the voodoo mask and start unleashing voodoo evil on everyone. In case you haven’t guessed, this is the series’ genre-mandated voodoo episode.

• “And Now the News”
Evil antique: A radio
What it does: An old-timey news announcer comes on and “reports” on how the owner’s victims are about to die
Micki and Ryan must infiltrate an insane asylum where a doctor is using the radio to “cure” patients with extreme phobias. Fans might remember this as the one with the electric-fence-zaps-the-groin gag.

• “Heads You Live, Tails You Die”
Evil antique: A coin
What it does: One side kills with a laser beam-like effect, the other side brings the dead back to life
A group of Satanic cultists are using the coin to bring its leaders back to life, with big plans for ruling the world. Ryan’s faith is shaken to the core after Micki’s encounter with the coin.

• “Symphony in B#”
Evil antique: A violin
What it does: The owner can play it like a virtuoso, but only with his victim’s blood on it
We’re in Phantom of the Opera mode, where a masked mystery man uses his music to seduce a young violin star, one whom Ryan has recently fallen for.

• “Master of Disguise”
Evil antique: A makeup kit
What it does: Provides its owner good looks, but only if its owner keeps killing
Micki falls for a super-studly movie star, only to discover that he’s the owner of the cursed antique. Now, the normally pure-of-heart Micki finds her loyalties tested.

• “Wax Magic”
Evil antique: A wax sculpture
What it does: It comes to life and perpetuates many killings
Ryan meets an unusual young woman during a visit to a carnival, leading to the series’ take on House of Wax, but with a darkly romantic twist.

• “Read My Lips”
Evil antique: A creepy ventriloquist dummy
What it does: Take a wild guess
When murders and weirdness start occurring around the creepy dummy, it’s a no-brainer as to what evil antique is behind it. However, Uncle Lewis’s records showed that he never owned or sold a dummy. Can our heroes figure this one out before the little guy goes all Chucky on everyone?

• “13 O’clock”
Evil antique: A pocket watch
What it does: Stops time for 60 minutes
It’s time for a visit to the city’s seedy underbelly, when a gold-digging wife and her sleazy criminal lover use the watch to commit various crimes. Micki and Ryan enlist the help of some homeless teens to save the day.

• “Night Hunger”
Evil antique: A keychain
What it does: It helps its owner win any car race
An old friend’s son has received the keychain, and is involved in illegal street racing as a way to act out against his abusive father. After a terrible crash, though, the antique ends up in a place where Micki and Ryan might never get their hands on it.

• “The Sweetest Sting”
Evil antique: A wood and glass beehive
What it does: The bees’ honey can make people younger, but only after someone else gets the ol’ death-by-stinging treatment
This is why I admire the creativity of this show’s writers. The easy way out would have been to craft another revenge plot, with the bees as the murder weapon, but they have instead gone in a different route with a plastic surgery-as-addiction metaphor.

• “The Playhouse”
Evil antique: A child’s backyard playhouse
What it does: Traps children in a surreal reality-bending world
This total mind-f*** episode. This one takes the one-two punch of “kids in peril” and “evil kids” and pushes them to limit. Two children condemn a nice kid into a hellish nightmare world by shouting “We hate you! We hate you!” It’s one of those I-can’t-believe-they-aired-this moments.

• “Eye of Death”
Evil antique: A slide projector
What it does: Time travel!
A rival antiques dealer wows Micki, Jack, and Ryan with mint condition Civil War artifacts, until Ryan discovers his secret by following him back to one of the war’s bloodiest battles. Can Ryan find a way home, or will he be stuck in the past forever?

• “Face of Evil”
Evil antique: A compact mirror
What it does: Mutilates the faces of its owner’s enemies when they’re caught in its reflection
This one’s a direct sequel to the season one episode “Vanity’s Mirror,” which was notable for being the first time our heroes failed to get the antique back at the end of the episode. Now, the mirror has returned, with new powers and a new owner. Will Micki and company succeed this time, or will the mirror continue to be the one that got away?

• “Better Off Dead”
Evil antique: A syringe
What it does: Takes the humanity away from its victims, turning them into animalistic killers
Now we’re in the “mad scientist” subgenre. A doctor is using the syringe to help his psychologically unstable daughter, targeting Micki and a friend of hers. Despite the episode’s title, no one is seen throwing away a perfectly good white boy.

• “Scarlet Cinema”
Evil antique: A handheld movie camera
What it does: Turns its owner into any movie character
A dweeby film student obsessed with The Wolf Man uses the camera to turn himself into a black and white wolfie of his own. This one’s a total love letter to the 1941 classic, nicely recreating Lon Cheney Jr.’s memorable makeup job.

• “The Mephisto Ring”
Evil antique: A World Series ring
What it does: Allows its owner to foresee gambling results and rake in the cash, but not before killing someone first
The plot here is more straightforward, with a loser guy making it big by cheating. The special effects are nifty, though, with a glowing whip like weapon coming out of the ring and throwing people around.

• “A Friend to the End”
Evil antique: It’s two times the evil with a coffin and a piece of sculpture
What it does: The coffin raises children from the dead, and the sculpture turns people into stone
Micki and Ryan play babysitter to Micki’s troubled young nephew, who runs off and makes friends with a creepy little kid who lives alone in a dark, gloomy house. Mickey and Ryan are busy tracking down the sculpture piece, unable to realize that the kid with the coffin has to kill in order to survive. It’s a return to the “evil kids/kids in peril” dynamic.

• “The Butcher”
Evil antique: An amulet with a swastika symbol
What it does: Brings a Nazi leader back to life
It’s a Jack solo adventure, which reveals he is a World War II veteran. The titular Butcher is a figure from Jack’s past, who’s out for both revenge and to reestablish the ways of Nazi Germany in he modern age. Pretty dark stuff.

• “Mesmer’s Bauble”
Evil antique: A necklace once owned by a famous hypnotist
What it does: It can grant any wish, but only after its owner mind-tricks people into killing themselves
A greasy guy is obsessed with pop sensation Angelica (played by pop sensation Vanity) and uses the antique to get closer and closer to her—closer than you might think. The episode’s finale is one of the show’s all-time best death scenes.

• “Wedding in Black”
Evil antique: A snow globe
What it does: Traps people inside it and preys upon their weaknesses
Micki, Ryan, and Jack have done such a good job recovering all the cursed antiques that the devil himself steps in with a plot to trap them and destroy their souls. This involves temptation for Ryan, helplessness for Jack, and potential motherhood for Micki.

• “Wedding Bell Blues”
Evil antique: A pool cue
What it does: You can win any pool game you play, but only if you impale someone on it first
Two “wedding” episodes in a row? This is another “dangers of gambling addiction” plot, with a murderous/supernatural twist, of course. The big deal about this one is that it’s the first time we meet Johnny, who becomes a regular member of the Curious Goods team from here on out.

• “The Maestro”
Evil antique: A music box
What it does: Drives dancers to their deaths, then gives the choreographer great success
If I may get highbrow for a moment, many cultures have the “person who died when he/she couldn’t stop dancing” story in their folklore, so it was only a matter of time before this show brought it out. (Remember that Buffy the Vampire Slayer also once played with this myth.) This one has a memorable ending, in which the stress of hunting these antiques finally gets to Jack.

• “The Shaman’s Apprentice”
Evil antique: A Native American rattle
What it does: Kills one person so that another can be healed
A young doctor uses the rattle to perform miraculous cures for his patients, while moving up in the hospital ranks. Along the way, there’s a lot of talk from Native Americans about the crimes of the white man and the importance of the tribe, etc.

• “The Prisoner”
Evil antique: A World War II bomber jacket
What it does: Turns its owner invisible
A jailbird uses the jacket to sneak out of the big house, take revenge on those who wronged him, and sneak back in—the perfect alibi. After Johnny gets himself locked up due to a misunderstanding, it’s up to him to get the jacket back. Sadly, Rover does not have a cameo.

• “Coven of Darkness”
Evil antique: The “Witch’s Ladder,” a hand-made knotted necklace
What it does: Increases a witch’s powers to near-unstoppable levels
That Uncle Lewis sure got around. Turns out he was once a member of a coven of witches, who have decided they want the necklace back, claiming that it is the most powerful of all of Lewis’s antiques. They’ve targeted Ryan, driving him to the brink of death. Will Micki’s newfound magical powers be able to help him? Talk about ending the season with a bang.

When I reviewed the first season’s DVDs, I made the case that this show is cheesier than a cheese parade down Cheddar Street in mythical Cheese Town. Then, a nice e-mail from a reader argued that the show is not so cheesy, because it has a lot of heart. While I’m not willing to concede on the cheesy part of the debate, I agree that, yes, this show has heart. That’s actually a big part of what makes it so enjoyable. We horror fans love the gory deaths and supernatural freakiness and music video fog, but a weekly series has to have characters we enjoy as well, to keep us tuning in every week. For a show about psycho killers and Satanic evil, the forces of good turn out to be just as strong. Despite the gloom and doom, there’s a moralistic center to these stories. Those who take the easy way out by hurting others eventually have their evil come back to haunt them—or worse. Micki, Ryan, and Jack aren’t exactly rewarded for their devotion to recovering all the antiques, but they are unwavering in their dedication. They’re driven to do the right thing, to be the good guys, simply because that’s who they are.

Another reason the show works so well is because of its genuineness. There are no so-called “meta” scenes, where the characters practically wink at the camera. There is some humor in the series, but it’s character-based and relevant to the scene, as opposed to over-the-top wisecracks and snarky dialogue. I’m not saying witty, stylized dialogue is a bad thing; just that it wouldn’t be the right thing for this particular show. Searching for cursed antiques is a pretty silly idea if you take a few seconds and think about it, so do the characters really need to go all post-modern and be sarcastic about it? I say no. That’s just not the world that these characters inhabit.

Of course, this is still a horror series at heart, and there are plenty of ghoulish thrills. This series aired at a time in the late 1980s when violence on television was quite the controversy, and the creators of Friday the 13th: The Series were on the front lines, by pushing the blood and gore as far as they could.

This season’s top five best gross-outs:

5: When a dead guy comes back to life, he opens his mouth by parting this sticky film holding his lips together
4: A woman whose wrists won’t stop bleeding
3: Slimy face meltings galore inside the house of wax
2: A woman vomits up her own still-beating heart
1: Jack in his pink bathrobe (shudder…)

This brings us back to the whole “cheesiness” argument. The main cast plays their roles with earnestness, which is appreciated, but even they can overdo it at times. Meanwhile, most of the various villain and/or victim characters in one-off episodes ham it up big time. Storywise, a lot of the episodes follow the usual slasher formula, where we meet the villain and then the potential victims, and it’s immediately obvious which victims will get picked off in which order. Fortunately, though, not every episode sticks to this formula, so you never know when the writers will pull a fast one on you.

Continuity is all over the place. There are a lot of fun references to past episodes, and these are great fun for fans to watch for. On the other hand, how many times have we seen Ryan fall madly in love with a woman, only to have forgotten her by the time the next episode comes around and he’s introduced to a new love interest? Also, too many episodes begin with an old friend and/or long-lost family member paying a surprise visit to the store. How many random old friends do these people have?

All 26 episodes are here on this six-disc set. The full frame picture is mostly good, although some dark scenes can look grey and washed out. The stereo sound is more hit or miss. The sound effects and score sound good, but they tend to overwhelm the actors’ dialogue at times. The lack of subtitles doesn’t help, either. There are no extras, making this another disappointment. Seriously, I can find promotional materials, vintage actor interviews, and even the blooper reel on YouTube, but not on the actual DVDs? Shame.

Yes, this show is cheesy, low budget horror. But, it’s fun cheesy low budget horror. It’s just goofy enough to put a smile on your face, but, at the same time, it’s just smart enough so that you won’t hate yourself for watching it.

The Verdict

Everyone involved with Friday the 13th: The Series is not guilty and free to go, except of course for Uncle Lewis, who is guilty and must be cast into the fiery depths of Hell. What’s that? He’s there already? Well, OK then.

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