Monday, October 3, 2022

Now The Real Terror Begins: Friday the 13th: The Series at 35


Premiering on October 3rd, 1987, Friday the 13th: The Series was an attempt to milk the successful Friday the 13th franchise further. But while the movie series traded in R-rated splatter with each entry seeing Jason Voorhees adding to his considerable body count, the standards of '80s TV demanded a different approach. Taking its cues (perhaps unintentionally) from the Amicus anthology From Beyond the Grave (1974), Friday the 13th: The Series centered on an antique shop and its cursed inventory. Unlike The Night Stalker, which already strained credibility by its second TV movie by having reporter Carl Kolchack just happen to stumble across another supernatural story (an issue that the Night Stalker-influenced X-Files overcame by having its FBI agents specifically assigned to bizarre, unexplained cases), Friday the 13th: The Series had the perfect set-up with its antique store of cursed items.

As created by Frank Mancuso, Jr. and Larry B. Williams, Friday the 13th: The Series introduced viewers to the owner of Vendredi's Antiques, Lewis Vendredi (played by genre regular R.G. Armstrong), who made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques out of his shop. When he tired of being Hell's puppet and tried to break the deal, Satan claimed both Vendredi's life and his soul, leaving the store in the hands of Vendredi's niece and nephew, Micki Foster (Louise Robey, sporting an iconic '80s hair-do) and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay). The two cousins unwittingly began selling off the shop's inventory in an effort to unload their obligations to the store before being told by an old, globe-trotting associate of Vendredi's - occult expert Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) - that the items contained in the store were all cursed. The three then devote themselves to retrieving the sold items, returning each to a vault in the basement where their evil can be contained. They rechristen the store Curious Goods and as the show's opening narration concluded each week "...they must get everything back and the real terror begins!"

While never especially scary, Friday the 13th: The Series was an often grisly and fast-paced series with a level of violence exceeding anything else on TV at the time (much to the concern of the Religious Right, who pressured Paramount to cancel the series). As the series developed, Friday the 13th often pushed the limits of its budget and rushed production schedule with episodes that strove for more ambitious visual flair. One episode (the Dracula-themed "The Baron's Bride") was filmed primarily in moody black and white, for example, years before The X-Files would do the same to critical acclaim with its Frankenstein homage, "The Post-Modern Prometheus." And "Tales of the Undead," the story of a cursed comic book aiding the revenge of a Jack Kirby-esque artist, featured crude but clever comic book transitions to depict that episode's curse in action.

Directors such as David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, William Fruet, Armand Mastroianni, Tom McLoughlin, and Rob Hedden all turned in solid work and many of the guest actors (including legends such as Ray Walston, Billy Drago and Fritz Weaver) contributed memorable performances - in some cases actors would return to play unrelated roles in later episodes (such as the late Denis Forest, who would appear in four of Friday's best - "Cupid's Quiver," "Brain Drain," "My Wife As A Dog" and "Mesphisto's Ring" - and Storm of the Century's Colm Feore who was featured in two notable episodes, "The Maestro" and "Mightier Than the Sword"). And while the main cast may not have always been able to match the charisma of some of the show's seasoned guest stars, they brought a sense of camaraderie to the series with Micki as the beauty of the show, Ryan as the resident geek with his love of comic books, and Jack as the sage father figure who'd already seen much of life's darkness (one memorable episode, "The Butcher," referenced Jack's brutal experiences in WWII).

Sadly, this trio's natural chemistry was broken up when LeMay left at the the end of Season Two and Steven Monarque joined the show in its third and final season to fill the role of a more traditionally handsome leading man as 'Johnny,' a character more predisposed to brooding (and with more romantic potential between him and Robey) than John D. LeMay's departing Ryan but yet some of the best episodes of the series - "Crippled Inside" (penned by L.A. Confidential's Brian Helgeland), "The Long Road Home," "Hate On Your Dial," and "Stick It In Your Ear" - can be found in Friday's final season, which took a more intense, mature turn.

Many fans and critics cite Cronenberg's "Faith Healer" as the series' finest installment but as good as that was (boasting a notable performance by Cronenberg regular Robert Silverman), Friday the 13th Part VI's Tom McLoughlin wrote and directed my own personal favorite, "The Playhouse." This poignant episode centered on two abused siblings who find refuge in the wonderland of a playhouse but only as long as they can provide the souls of children for the playhouse to feed on. This episode exemplified both the macabre atmosphere of the series as well as its prevailing sense of morality and courtesy of McLoughlin, it was as well crafted an hour as Friday the 13th: The Series ever saw.

With the show celebrating its anniversary, it must be said that it sadly feels a bit forgotten today. While Friday fans eagerly seize on any rumor that might suggest a return of Jason to the big screen, its small screen offspring doesn't have the same enthusiasm awaiting its comeback (even though its premise is prime material for an update). 

Appropriate for a show that revolved around an antique shop, Friday the 13th: The Series endures as a nostalgic keepsake of an earlier era. Unlike the items that bedeviled the Curious Goods crew, though, there is no curse attached to the low key chills and late night companionship that Friday the 13th: The Series provided to its loyal fans. Only the blessing of many fond memories. 

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