Back in 1987, Paramount was looking to get into the syndicated television business and wanted to pick some of their properties that had strong followings and could be realized on the small screen without the need of big star power (in other words, a small budget). One of those projects ended up being STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, which became one of the biggest and most recognizable syndicated shows of all time, alongside BAYWATCH and OPRAH. It spawned new STAR TREK films, tons of merchandise and made a few of its cast members household names.
The other production became FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES. Paramount Television approached Frank Mancuso Jr. (who had produced every FRIDAY film except for the original at that point) to create the series but they didn’t necessarily want it to be about Jason. They basically just wanted to use the name to lure in the built-in audience of the film franchise. That’s a tough road to take, considering that people who loved the films would be pissed that there was no Jason and people who hated the films wouldn’t want to watch the show based on the title.
According to an interview in Crystal Lake Memories with series co-creator Larry B. Williams, who apparently decided to ignore where Jason got his mask from and why he is the way he is, the series’ premise stemmed from the idea that whoever wore Jason’s mask would become evil and that the mask originally came from a store where the down-on-his-luck owner had sold his soul to the devil, causing every item sold to be cursed. After realizing they couldn’t use any Jason references without buying the rights, which wasn’t in the show’s budget, the producers crusaded to get the title changed time and time again, each time being shot down by Paramount.
I can’t even begin to imagine the anguish I would’ve felt as a fan of the film franchise when this show debuted. The advertisements for the show (which I’ll get to a little later on) made no indication that it wasn’t about Jason and it even used a font very similar to the film’s title screens. But here was this show called FRIDAY THE 13th and there’s not a campground in site.
The show kept a premise close to what Williams had originally envisioned. Lewis Vendredi (R.G. Armstrong), an antique store owner, made a pact with the devil to sell cursed items to unsuspecting shoppers in exchange for immortality and a lucrative business. Feeling a little guilty, he decides to give Old Scratch the slip, which ends up with him being chased into a bottomless elevator shaft by ghostly antiques (a clock and crucifix among the floating apparitions). With Vendredi (which conveniently means Friday in French) dead, the store is left in the care of his niece Micki Foster (Louise Robey) and his nephew Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay, who went on to star in JASON GOES TO HELL and became the only actor to star in the show and film series), both of whom have never met each other nor their uncle. After being stuck in the store overnight, the two decide to sell all the existing merchandise, pocket the money and get back to their lives.
The two are well on their way to liquidating the entire store when Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) breaks in one night and informs the two cousins that their uncle sold cursed items, which he went and found for him, and by having a closeout sale, they’ve just damned a lot of people. Now, if I was them, I would’ve hit this guy over the head with a large, blunt object lying around and called the police about an intruder, but Mick and Ryan decide to give him the benefit of the doubt and after digging through the store’s records for a little while, they realize that a lot of the people who bought knickknacks from the store ended up dead. Seeing that as more than a mere coincidence, the two are off to retrieve a possessed doll, given as a gift to a very young Sarah Polley. Every subsequent episode has the cousins and their new friend off in search of all the items they sold and they more often than not end up being retrieved, though there are a few instances in the series where it takes more than one episode.
Speaking of Sarah Polley, FRIDAY has quite a few guest stars in season one, both in front of and behind the camera. Zack Ward, of POSTAL and A CHRISTMAS STORY fame, shows up in an episode titled Vanity’s Mirror, in which a compact mirror allows its owners to make everyone adore them. One of the biggest surprises for me was David Cronenberg, who directed episode twelve, Faith Healer, that centers on a mystical healer that can transfer the illness of one person to another with the help of a glove. The episode is known for being the first to not focus on the main characters as much as the object and owner, as well as being Cronenberg’s last entry into the horror genre before moving onto character studies, science fiction and William S. Burroughs. Last but not least, Alfred Sole, writer and director of ALICE SWEET ALICE, wrote two episodes, Tales of the Undead and Bedazzled. The most noteworthy entry in the season is Scarecrow, where a killer scarecrow terrorizes a small town, collecting its inhabitants heads. The episode was voted the best of the entire series during Chiller’s marathon, and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s just well put together, with a classic story, a creepy location and a generally frightening villain.
I think if you can get past the fact that it has nothing to do with Jason or Camp Crystal Lake, you’ll find that FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES is a fairly solid anthology production. In fact, during its first season, it became the second-highest-rated syndicated show on television after, you guessed it, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. Having not seen the show since it was in heavy rotation on The Sci-Fi Channel a few years back, I was actually surprised to find that there is quite a bit of blood, murder and mayhem in the series, with some of the episodes being on par with the violence in a few R-rated films from the same time period. It’s cheesy and dated, the acting is melodramatic at times, it has some big plot holes and even bigger hair, but FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES is just flat-out enjoyable and entertaining. I only wish that Ryan would stop hitting on Micki. I don’t care if she does spend most of the season running around in tight shirts with no bra on, they’re cousins and that makes the show creepy… but not in the way I wanted it to be.
Original Network Launch Promos (0:44) – Two promo spots, one featuring a miniature set of a house sinking into the ground with a tombstone rising up in its place, with the series title emblazoned across it. Done in a way that could’ve only been acceptable during the 80s. The audio on the second ad is a lot lower than the first, causing me to have to turn up the volume to make out what the announcer was saying.
Sales Presentation (09:27) – Features a few quotes from The Hollywood Reporter and other news outlets, praising the show, while clips from episodes five through nine play in the background play in the background.
I normally don’t comment on technical aspects but the video on this set is terrible. Really terrible. It reminds me of some of the early DVD titles where the distributor was too lazy to remaster the picture and just did a VHS to DVD transfer. The video is murky and whenever there’s a lot of dark colors in a shot, it looks like someone threw tar across the screen. The show probably looks the same way it did when it was originally broadcast so if you’re really looking to get a nostalgic kick out of this, you just got your wish.