Camp Crystal Lake Memories
Fangoria Bloody Best #9
By Marc Shapiro
Frank Mancuso Jr. has closed one door and opened another. The open door? Internal Affairs, a no genre thriller that racked up critical raves and box office loot, pointing to a future Mancuso discography of big-budget mainstream films. And the closing door? The producer’s recent announcement that there will be no more Friday The 13th movies, or new episodes of Friday The 13th: The Series. “Now, I don’t want to mislead you.” Hedges Mancuso. “I’m not going to say that if, in a year or two, a real good story were developed, we might not go back and do another one. But there’s nothing behind developed for 1990, nor for the immediate future.”
Mancuso, always prone to answering questions with a philosophical edge, is even more contemplative on the subject of Friday The 13th’s demise. He points to the films as “a true benchmark of the horror genre” and claims that the decision to retire Jason was based on his notion of “stepping away from a true asset before we grind it into the ground.”
The producer, who hasn’t been involved in the hands-on way with Jason’s slayathons since The Final Chapter, feels that the cycle’s swinging a different way contributed to the end of the Friday The 13th movies. “Much of it has to do with the climate in today’s society,” he elucidates. “The attitude of the people who go to see these movies may be changing. Much of that has to do with the fact that what you can do in a film like Friday The 13th is being dictated by the ratings board. Over the years, the Friday films have changed because of what has had to be. It’s basically reached a point where we no longer have the opportunity to do the kinds of special effects that we could once do.
“The whole idea behind what we’ve done effects-wise in the Friday films was to create alternate states of reality, since there is so little you can do in a realistic context. When the ratings board began to come down hard on these films, it made it very difficult to create that alternate reality.”
And while Mancuso does not lay the entire blame for Friday the 13th’s end on the MPAA, he does indicate that they were major players in ringing down the curtain. “I’m sure the MPAA would like to think they were responsible,” grins Mancuso, “but there’s really no way to absolutely say who or what did it. One theory is that people did not want to see the films anymore because they weren’t delivering on the visceral level. That would definitely be due to restrictions put on us by the ratings board. It’s common knowledge that we always had a hard time getting an R rating on these films.
“That’s not meant to be a value judgment on whether what the MPAA did was good or bad,” Mancuso stipulates. “They do the best they can, based on what they think their place is. It’s just that when you go back and look at the early Friday The 13th films and the later ones, there’s an obvious difference in what we could do.”
Questioned whether the fact that Friday VII and VIII’s failure to rake in the tons of money the previous films made, rather then the question of gore, was the main reason to pull the plug. Mancuso responds, “We made eight movies, and they were all successful. Sure, some made more money then others, but none of them lost money. I honestly believe that Part VIII was a creditable effort, though I don’t think I’m the best judge of whether it was an entertaining piece of work. I look at these films in a far different way then other people do.
“When problems occurred on Part VIII, I tried to address them, but I really wasn’t involved in the making of the film or putting it together. I saw a cut of the film, I gave them my comments, and they did the best they could to amend them with the footage they had. The fact that it didn’t set the world on fire was not a major consideration for me.”
The conversation moves on to Friday The 13th: The Series, whose future at presstime had been nixed via cancellation. Nevertheless, Mancuso asserts that he’s been very happy with the past. “The quality is still there, and it has become an even better show as the seasons have progressed.” Mancuso maintains. (His other syndicated Paramount television production, War of the Worlds, also bit the dust after two seasons.) “As an evolution, the idea was certainly there in the first year. In fact, I felt we had real moments of brilliance during the first season where I said, ‘God, this could really be great.’ We did shows during that first season that were cutting edge television.
“The second season was a process of further refining the show’s theme and improving our execution. In the third season, we’ve brought the concept out as far as we can. We’ve done a show without any of our regular characters; we’ve done shows that did not feature an object from the store. The series has become a lot looser in terms of the worlds we can take on. The psychology of the show has changed. It’s not as rigid.”
To speculate on where a fourth season of Friday The 13th: The Series might have gone, however, strikes Mancuso as pointless. “There’s no way to know,” he shrugs. “Ideas come up when they do. I wouldn’t think of sitting down and saying, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do next year.’ What you do is look back on what worked and what didn’t. By doing that, you get smarter about what it is that works.”
While there may not be any future Friday films, their presence on video would seem to insure their continuing place in our horror consciousness for years to come. Despite this, Mancuso sounds unsure whether the Jason flicks will truly stand the test of time.
“You have to understand what the Friday The 13th films were all about,” Mancuso explains. “These films were never intended as a set of horror films for all people. These films are formulaic in structure, simplistic in their level of execution and deliberately conceived to be viewed in a theater with other people. These films, like the Nightmare and Halloween films, function best in a situation that calls for a collective, visceral response.
“You don’t normally get that kind of response when you’re sitting home alone watching them on video. The phone rings, or you’ve got to get up and go to the bathroom. I believe that people will, through watching these movies over and over again on video, get to appreciate the way these films were conceived and made. The feeling toward them will be more technical then visceral. I just don’t know if the Friday films will ultimately stand the test of time. I do think they will come to be understood in a different way.”
Mancuso’s memories of Friday The 13th are fleeting. He vaguely recalls his first day on the set of Friday The 13th Part 2, when he made the fateful decision to learn filmmaking from the ground – or in this case, the mud – up.
“It’s going to be different, not having to concern myself with putting another Friday film together,” he muses. “I’m not looking at it in terms of an escape. I’ve never considered it a burden. I have considered it an opportunity to let other talented people go off and attempt their version of Friday The 13th, to add a growing body of work.
“The Friday The 13th films have served me well,” Mancuso declares. “They gave me a basic firsthand understanding of the filmmaking process. They’ve served their purpose, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.”
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