There has been little debate over what exactly caused the extinction of the newly reborn 3-D film in the ‘80s. Some claim it was climate change; others point the finger squarely at cheap, sloppy, apathetic filmmaking with cheap, sloppy and poorly realized 3-D effects. That’ll do it every time. FRIDAY THE 13th PART III is a film that in spite of the fact that it did good box office and is well liked among fans, is one of the movies that brought about a quick death to 3-D in the '80s.
Universal and Paramount have a history of making sequels to their franchises. Unfortunately they seem to have no faith in them. Even accounting for the law of diminishing returns, their sequels have been very low budget and poorly executed. They make just enough money to keep doing them, but don’t seem to think that they are worth putting any effort in. Warner Brother’s have adopted the tactic of making a sequel bigger and (hopefully) better. Whether it be the superlative DIRTY HARRY (1971) sequel, MAGNUM FORCE (1973) or the, again, superior sequel THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), Warner may not always succeed, but they can't be accused of making the effort to reap the rewards. Who dares wins. Universal and Paramount, stuck in their backward thinking, don’t put the money or the effort into theirs and then proclaim that there’s no money in it. The classic self-fulfilling prophecy. I firmly believe that Universal had no idea that PSYCHO II (1983) would be anything more than a cheap way to cash in on one of their old library titles.
The summer of 1982 saw the release of the film that really kicked off the 3-D revival. Charles Band’s indy flick PARASITE (1982) hit screens in March, but in August Paramount unloaded the marketing machine for their milestone 3-D flick, FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982). This was first studio 3-D movie in over 25 years (last one being Universal's REVENGE OF THE CREATURE in 1955), and it turned into the second highest grossing 3-D movie ever made until JAWS 3-D came out the following summer. For something so seminal to an era and indelibly marked in pop culture, it is amazing how low-rent and shoddy this film really is. Because it was such a draw, it brought in a lot of people who were interested in seeing a 3-D film from a big studio and a high-profile film like FRIDAY THE 13th PART III did just that. Got asses in seats that may not have been there otherwise. JAWS 3-D (1983) managed to do this also, and it is because of the sloppy, careless attitudes of these two studios that turned off a major portion of the movie-going population, leaving only the hard-core fans to throw-down the ducats. Any studio will tell you straight-up, they aren't in it for the hard-core fans. They don't want to appeal to you and me (I'm assuming you are as crazy as us if you are here reading our stuff), there isn't enough money in it. Sad, but that's the way they see it. And this is why I say that the death of '80s 3-D was caused by the two biggest hits from the two biggest studios.
There are many films of the era that rely on “stupid” 3-D gags (such as AMITYVILLE 3-D’s long sequence in which a boom mic is slowly pushed into the audience), as opposed to “bad” 3-D gags (such as things dangling on fishing-line), but for some reason the stuff here wears thinner than most just because of the lack of anything interesting happening in the first hour of the film. Even AMITYVILLE 3-D had more going on in the first hour; Rush Limbaugh and John Quaid’s lovechild chokes to death on evil, kamikaze flies fer cryin’ out loud. Here there is no “you’re doomed” guy, just a crazy coot who is only in the beginning of the film due to studio edits, no “banana girl” to provide a shock early on, not really much of anything to whet the appetite except the presumably comical white trash couple that provide more character annoyance, a cheap scare (courtesy of the white mouse from WILDCAT WOMEN), and a couple of weak, unimpressive deaths. Why is it I can see a teenage Rob Cummings (Rob Zombie) sitting in the theater thinking that this was the best part of the movie and dreaming that someday, after becoming a rich and famous rock star, he would make a series of film that would be just like that but with strippers! Yeah!
There’s a point at which you just might come to the conclusion that nobody really cared about this film. They just wanted to throw something up on the screen and get it the money while the getting’ was good. I can see a Paramount exec in a script meeting saying “who cares? The kind of people who go to see this will either be stoned or screwing in the back seat of their parent’s station wagon. Just get it done so we can shoot it!” The final 20 minutes is where this movie really musters up some iconic moments that will serve the series well for years to come. The scene where Jason, hanging from a noose, opens his eyes, lifts himself up, pulling the noose off and accidentally removing his mask to reveal his twisted fact, before quickly sliding it back on and dropping to the ground is classic. The scene where he takes an axe in the head and then raises his arms appearing to lunge right into the audience is without question a defining moment, not just in the series, but in cinema pop culture the world over. There are some other great moments as well, including Harry Manfredini’s notorious “disco” re-envisioning of the original score and the cheesy, but effective eye-popping scene, and the sadly edited split-torso bit, which keep me coming back to this film every now and again over the years in spite of its boneheaded lameness.