In 1972, Sean S. Cunningham was looking for a way to transition out of the softcore porn industry and into Hollywood. Seeing that the market was moving towards horror, he took this as his next logical move. Teaming up with the co-editor on his prior film — an unknown name at the time time but one who, alongside the likes of Cunningham, would change horror forever — Wes Craven, he set out to produce a modern twist on the classic film by Igmar Bergman Virgin Spring. By now, everyone knows this would go on to become the still infamous and controversial The Last House on Left, a film that not only cemeted both figures names in horror history but launched two monstrous careers.
Following Last House, Wes and Sean would go separate ways. Cunningham diverted back to sexploitation with a horror tinge and then found himself working on two consecutive “kids” films, which were modestly sucessful but far from lucrative. For his next film, Cunninham was hoping to reignite the same furor he scored with Last House. He started only with the captivating name, Friday the 13th, and began immediately marketing it as “the most terrifying film ever made” — the “terrifying” story, of course, would have to come later. Eventually, Cunningham was able to finance the film and upon its release it proved to be an immense success. But no one, not even Cunningham himself, would see what that success would lead to.
Cut to: 35 years later. Friday the 13th is not just a sucessful cult franchise, it’s a horror institution. Its hard to say that any other film has had as important or lucrative an impact on the horror industry, spawning movies, a television series, comics, clothing, toys, video games. F13 is everywhere, it’s become a brand almost as recognizable as Coca-Cola.
But these 35 years have not been all fun and games for Jason Voorhees and his murderess mother. Its been a long road, one guided by numerous creative voices. There have been many highs but also many lows, some almost putting Jason to dead for good. But like the character, the series manages to always return from the grave. This is where Daniel Farrands documentary Crystal Lake Memories comes into the mix. Based on Peter M. Bracke’s book of the same name, the documentary tracks the entire torrid history of Friday the 13th; from the original story of a grief-stricken mother to Jason’s outer space fiasco, from 3D kills to the Michael Bay-produced reboot. The 2012 film was originally released as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack by 1428 Films but it went out of print in 2014. Thankfully, Image Entertainment and RJL Entertainment saw the demand for another release and responded with a brand new 2-Disc release, which is now available for purchase.
The film’s promise that it will “be the definitive look at the making of the iconic horror franchise,” is hard to argue with. It’s, quite frankly, one of the most exhaustive retrospectives on a series that the horror world has ever seen. Farrands is crafty in the way that he develops the film’s narrative. The documentary’s runtime may scare you away but it shouldn’t, because split up into 13 chapters it moves quickly and makes it extremely simple to skip undesirable chapters. What is most admirable about the film however, is that, regardless of the film (or TV show) in question, Farrand’s subjects weave fascinating stories from the set. So even the franchise’s (let’s call them) lesser efforts are still packed with riveting stories and anecdotes. In fact, the most lauded of them all, the dreaded reboot (remake, whatever you’d like to call it), turns out to be one of the more engaging chapters from the film.
In our former review of the set, Lacey Paige called the series “one of the most awe-inspiring horror documentaries ever made, and one that deserves a spot in every Friday the 13th enthusiast’s collection.” I stand by her sentiment but I will add that its also unassuming. Farrands doesn’t attempt to turn the film into a critical reappreciation anymore than he tries to create a simple fluff piece. The film, rather, balances aspects of both. Perhaps, the film could do with a few more interviewees outside of principle cast and crew to help balance the informed but highly subjective stories but organizing over 100 subjects from the franchise’s history is quite impressive.
As far as technical merits are concerned, the film could benefit from more visual flare. Its predominantly a talking heads piece that, at 6-plus hours, can start to feel a bit monotonous. The only real creative move Farrands takes is to bookend the film with a scene around a campfire, where Cory Feldman tells the fabled tale of Camp Crystal Lake’s favorite killers. Feldman continues as the film’s narrator, which may grate those who are turned off by the former child star, but Feldman should be praised. He does a fine job leading the film through the chapters in an amusing but still measured tone. As for the disc itself, Image Entertainment have, for better or worse, mostly re-presented the former release, so this disc serves more as a means for those unable to attain the former release. That means that, while the video and audio is finely handled and the feature length commentary track (a feat in itself) is present, there is a lack of extra features. However, for a documentary that is nearing seven hours it shouldn’t be a requisite that more would be needed. If you missed out on this disc two years ago, don’t make the mistake twice. This is a gem for fans of the series and even offers a fresh perspective for those who aren’t die hards, although its hard to say that many who don’t at least enjoy the films will find the six hours necessary viewing. All-in-all, like Farrands’ similar documentary, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, Crystal Lake Memories is a captivating watch — one that will warrant return viewings.