”Have You Checked The Children?”: Beyond The Opening Act Of ‘When A Stranger Calls’ (1979)

”Have You Checked The Children?”: Beyond The Opening Act Of ‘When A Stranger Calls’ (1979)

I first learnt of the film When A Stranger Calls (1979) from watching the excellent horror compilation film Terror in the Aisles on VHS in the 80s. The clips featured in the film dwelt exclusively on the first 20 minutes of the movie and were the ultimate in tension and almost unmanageable levels of ‘edge of your seat’ suspense.

Terror in the Aisles- the horror film clip compilation movie

The first part of the movie are based on the popular and very well known urban legend of ‘The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs’. In fact, the director of When A Stranger Calls Fred Walton had made a short film already of this tall tale which was called ‘The Sitter’.

In When A Stranger Calls, a young babysitter named Jill Johnson goes to babysit for a couple shes never babysat for before- Dr Mandrakis and his wife. On arriving she is told that the children are upstairs and just getting over colds and so if possible they are not to be disturbed. Shortly after the couple leave Jill starts to receive phone calls from a man asking her to ‘check the children’. She starts to feel disturbed by these calls and even calls the police who rather annoyingly tell her that the city is full of obscene callers and has she thought about using a dog whistle when the man next calls.

However when he does next call, Jill tries to keep him on the phone to learn more about him so that the police can trace where hes calling from and to find out what he actually wants. Unfortunately for Jill what he wants is her blood and ‘all over me!’ at that. The man on the other end of the phone hangs up.

An original New York newspaper ad for the movie

When the phone rings again Jill answers with a mixture of rage and fear. ‘Look leave me alone!’ she barks into the receiver but it isn’t the man who had been calling her. Its the policeman she had spoken to earlier. ‘We’ve traced the calls and they’re coming from inside the house. For God’s sake, you need to get out of that house!’ Jill tiptoes to the front door whilst watching the top of the stairs as a door up there starts to open. She tries to open the front door but shes locked it earlier by using the doorchain. She swiftly unlocks the door and unslides the chain as a dark figure starts to come down the stairs. She opens the door to find a stranger’s rather scary looking face on the other side.

This actually turns out to be a cop. Jill has narrowly escaped with her life.

(JamieF)__WhenAStrangerCalls(1) 2
The UK quad for the movie

This is the first act of the movie and its expertly directed so that every iota of tension, terror and sweat can be milked from the situation. The fact that Jill is in an unfamiliar house is emphasised as is her isolation and ultimately her vulnerability.

Most of this opener was shown in Terror in the Aisles (and even in the film’s trailer and TV spots) and was so brilliantly taut and twisted that I had to see the whole film. A trip to my local video store was in order.

The original UK Guild Video sleeve for the film

How would the film follow up such a strong and tense opening? And this is what most critics of the film focus on. In most reviews of the film hacks and casual viewers extol the    opinion that the film never reaches the dizzying heights of the film’s first act. They voice the view that after the first 20 minutes the film is a turgid and rather boring excuse to pad out the rest of the running time. Whilst the closing act of the film is a reprise of the initial scenario which takes place with the same characters (more on the ending of the film later) most think that the middle scenes of the film are lacking in the impetus, urgency and sheer tension which the start of the film oozes copiously.

But dear reader, I disagree with this. And I’m here to show you why ALL of When A Stranger Calls is masterful.

Its true that after I saw the film in its entirety I thought that the first and last 20 minutes were amazing with the rest of the film being a very different beast. I never thought that it was inferior to the rest of the film but just, well, different. But after seeing the film it was scenes from the middle act of the film which I found myself dwelling on as they lingered in my psyche so much.

The first thing that I love about the films core is the killer himself. Tony Beckley’s depiction is one of horror cinema’s finest.

We learn through John Clifford’s (the Private Investigator who worked on the original case and is now pursuing the killer after he has escaped from a mental facility 6 years after the events depicted in the first part of the movie) visit to the mental institution that the killer (here named for the first time as Curt Duncan) has escaped from is extremely unstable to put it mildly, in fact dangerously so. When Clifford asks why the treatment he was administered in the hospital was so brutal (ECG was one example given) the hospital head plays him a tape of Duncan in which he appears to be completely psychotic and chillingly out of control. This tape recording is one of the eeriest things I’ve ever experienced when watching a horror film.

We are then introduced to Duncan as, of all things, he tries to pick up the character of Tracy in a bar (more about Tracy later). He doesn’t succeed because shes clearly not interested but he pesters her to such a degree that other drinkers in the bar intervene and proceed to beat up Duncan. After this he follows her home and enters her apartment even after she again says that shes not interested in his advances. After she somehow manages to get him to leave there is another tense moment where Curt keeps knocking on the locked door and then tries the handle whilst Tracy watches defenselessly.

Tony Beckley’s Curt in these scenes is shown to be unhinged but somewhat pathetic also. In the first moments of the scene in which he approaches Tracy he appears almost vulnerable and in need of protection.

Duncan is also seen begging for money and staying in a homeless hostel which only reinforces this depiction of his character being somewhat pathetic and down at heel.


But the viewer can see through this bluff. We know that Duncan had killed the children being babysat in cold blood. In a later scene we learn that in fact he ripped them apart with his bare hands and that they required 6 days of constant work by mortuary staff in preparation for their funeral. This fact is disclosed by Clifford when he goes to interview Tracy when he learns she was in the same bar as him.

Duncan visits Tracy again in her apartment but this time the mask of being vulnerable has slipped. He is hiding in her apartment when she arrives home and is threatened by Duncan who presses a hand over her mouth whilst ironically saying that he wants her to be his friend. How to win friends and influence people, Curt Duncan style. The beginning of this scene before Duncan shows himself to Tracy is extremely tense with the audience knowing that he is in Tracy’s space but with Tracy being blissfully unaware. She thinks she is home and hence safe. Little does she know that this isn’t the case.

Possibly the most disturbing scene involving Duncan takes place in the homeless shelter bathroom. We see Duncan naked and looking at his reflection in a scratched mirror as recollections go through his mind that we are shown- Duncan in the Mandrakis’ children’s room and covered in blood whilst phoning Jill downstairs, Curt attacking Tracy in her apartment, Curt in a straitjacket in a padded cell within the hospital hes been committed to.

The homeless hostel scene
A flashback to Duncan’s treatment in the psychiatric hospital
Duncan in the bedroom of the Mandrakis’ children

Clifford tracks Curt down to the homeless hostel he has been staying in and going through the dormatory with a torch checking inhabitants faces looking for Duncan. This leads to a tense chase scene. Duncan is seen manically running down the hostel’s main corridor knocking on random doors to wake people up. Duncan is shown to be completely manic, insanely so.

Clifford loses Duncan outside but not before we hear Curt talking to himself whilst hidden in the dark. Mantra like he repeats ‘No one can see me. No one touches me. I don’t exist…’ This is chillingly unnerving and played with maniacal brilliance by Beckley.

Beckley’s depiction of Curt Duncan is extrordinary- a see-sawing performance between vulnerability tinged with sadness that tips into full-on crazydom on an almost Grand Guignol scale. This is a major factor why the middle act of the film can’t be written off or seen as mediocre.

Another remarkable and striking aspect about the main part of the movie is the way the city backdrop of Los Angeles is shot. This is a movie that not only loves L.A. but knows how to use some of it’s locations to startling effect.

This is exemplified to its fullest in the sequences in which Tracy walks home from the bar she frequents. Her first walk home is tense for the viewer but not for Tracy as she doesn’t know that Curt Duncan is following her home but we do. Tracy’s second walk home is nervewracking for both character and audience: Tracy has been told by John Clifford what he has done in the past and that he actually escaped from a psychiatric hospital. Theres a very real possibility that Duncan could follow her but Clifford is also following unbeknowst to Duncan. Tracy is being used as human bait.

The locations that Tracy passes on this walk are eerie to say the least. She first leaves Torchy’s Bar

and walks past this tunnel

before climbing these stairs at the top of which she is scared by a hobo hidden in the shadows

There is also the gorgeously photographed neon lit skyline at the top of these stairs which is awe-inspiring.
Add to this the daytime shot of Tracy’s apartment building

and the nocturnal creepiness of the homeless shelter that Duncan stays in and its clear the film has a very specific vision in mind- the city as the perfect sphere for these thoroughly disturbing events to take place in.

There is also the sense that the film has perfectly captured the late 70s/early 80s era of the city. All things change as do cityscapes. The film captures this- on Tracy’s second walk home she passes another similar tunnel to the first one. But this one is actually in the process of being demolished. And somehow the film also captures this as strangely disturbing. Just as the wrecking ball destroys the tunnel, Duncan aims to destroy the lives of the women he comes into contact with.

A major factor in the brilliance of the film’s middle section is the character of Tracy played in all her raspy glory by Colleen Dewhurst. She appears to be a barfly whos a regular at Torchy’s Bar even though she doesn’t appear to enjoy being there. Its not established if she has a job although the fact that she can spend a lot of her freetime drinking suggests she must be financially bouyant. Her appearance and apartment also display that she is comfortable if not well off.


The fact that a barfly such as Tracy has been written as a character in a movie was both brave and interesting. Shes not your average supporting character in a 1970s horror movie.

She also appears to be very independent and self sufficient. When Duncan hits on her in the bar she first silently moves away and then verbally rebuffs him when he perseveres.

Tracy’s character is also shown to be extremely strong. She is later told of Duncan’s crimes and the vicious nature of them by Clifford and is used as human bait as she walks home from the bar a second time. This is one gutsy lady.

Dewhurst was considered an actress of prestige before and after this film and so her role adds a certain gravitas to proceedings.

In fact all of the film’s performances are stellar. The overall tone of the film is one of the seriousness because of the crimes undertaken by Duncan and how important it is to apprehend him. This lends an air of real tension to the movie that you can cut with a knife (pun not intended). There is not one sequence that is jokey or less than utterly deadpan. No cinematic winks to the camera with this film.

The seriousness of the situation that the characters find themselves is emphasised by the scene in which Clifford goes to see his old police friend and tells him that he intends to kill Duncan rather than merely capture him. Clifford substantiates that the magnitude of Duncan’s crimes calls for nothing less.

After the middle act of the film comes the ending that seeks to replicate the kind of edge of your seat tension and terror that was generated so brilliantly during the opening sequence. Jill is now married and has children of her own. Duncan tracks her down after reading about her successful husband in a newspaper and rings the restaurant where they are eating to ask if she has ‘checked the children’. Jill and her hubby rush home after ringing their babysitter to literally check the children. When she gets home to find everyone safe she then prepares for bed but the person beside her is actually Duncan and not her husband. Just as he attacks her he is shot dead by Clifford.

Again Beckley’s unhinged performance comes to the fore in this scene as he unnervingly hisses whilst revealing that it is him in bed with Jill rather than her husband.


Please ignore the naysayers who say that its only the first 20 mins of When A Stranger Calls that are worthy of your attention. ALL of the film is brilliant. Just prepare yourself for the change of pace after the film’s first act. To deny the brilliance of this film is to miss out on an amazing cinematic experience.

The film is here. Judge for yourselves.


Strike A Pose

Strike A Pose

I love the fact that a movie can be so original and iconic that it can inspire other films to be made. Think of Halloween (1978) and the tidal wave of slasher films that were unleashed in its wake.

This can also happen with movie posters and a film’s iconography. The Breakfast Club is a perfect example.

The original poster from 1985

Take a pose that encapsulated the zeitgeist and not only is it ripe for analysis…

The famous pose analysed

…but it is also open to being imitated and parodied by other movies. I love that films can nudge and wink knowingly at an audience from a movie poster or from a film magazine and know that they are in on the joke. The audience may not get the reference straightaway but eventually they will. And when they do they will marvel at the filmmaker’s ingenuity.

It took many years before I got the in-joke that these two films were making.

Below is the pose used by the cast on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) poster- a movie that was released the year after The Breakfast Club.

Same pose- very different characters

Similarly, here is a publicity shot from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987).

Freddy Krueger shows Judd Nelson how its done

In this case the teens who went to see The Breakfast Club could very well have also constituted the demographic who went to see the two films shown above.

I also love the fact that a teen movie has been homaged by two movies as deranged and demented as TCM2 and Nightmare 3. These references to The Breakfast Club feel like, on one hand, a playful co-opting of the original movie and its iconography but also a loving homage to it at the same time. These movies were as far away from John Hughes as possible and yet they still tipped the hat to the filmmaker of all things teen whilst showing that Hughes didn’t speak for all teens with his films. Some teens wanted more twisted thrills for their money. And thats exactly what they got.

This never happened in a John Hughes movie

Dirty Harry (1971) *****

Dirty Harry (1971) *****

A film I know word for word as my brother and I were obsessed with it when we were growing up.

A classic but a problematic one. The cop who flaunts the law and the rules to catch his prey. Hes proud of hating everyone and all groups (the character in this film and in so many Clint Eastwood movies seems to be politically incorrect decades before political correctness became an actual concept). Hes a one man lynch mob who follows his instincts and isn’t afraid of blowing away a suspect and asking questions later (I wonder if one of these questions is ‘Was the dead actually guilty?!’) This character is a right-winger’s wet dream- who cares about a fair trial and the law when these things take so long and might not (seemingly) provide actual justice. The Daily Mail’s readership must love Harry.



Harry’s policing would also include beating interviewees for confessions and said victims somehow developing breathing problems whilst in police custody.

Of course in this and subsequent films Harry is always shown to be right. Its a wasted opportunity that a Dirty Harry film wasn’t made that shows that Harry blew away an actual innocent person. At the films climax there could be a scene after that shows that the wrong person was killed and that the crimes being committed beforehand were actually continuing. Its not late for such a movie to be made. It would have the ‘Bring back hanging’ mob in uproar.

But for all of the bending of rules and trigger happy exploits of the main protagonist during the course of the film it is established that whilst he may be an authority hating maverick its because he actually wants law and order and for the citizens of San Francisco to be safe. The scene in which he runs from phone booth to phone booth to save the kidnap victim shows his willingness to undertake near impossible feats if there is a chance of a saved life at the end of his toils. There is also the scene of the kidnapped girl’s lifeless and naked body being dragged from its underground lair which Harry watches from the distance. This scene is a rare moment of tenderness in such a rough and tumble movie and is genuinely moving. Harry is established as having his priorities right even if they are accomplished in questionable ways.


But to quote Last House on the Left this is only a movie. Aside from the films politics this a rollicking good ride. It perfectly captures its time effortlessly and can be seen as some kind of American time capsule regarding the era it portrays. This was a divisive and fractious period in American history which manifests itself throughout the film. Whilst this was the time of hippies and peace and love this was also the time of Charles Manson and Altamont with more dark times ahead for America.

Whilst Clint may be the star of the film there is another star that is just as important and that is the city of San Francisco itself. It is photographed to perfection with every scene being memorable due to the amazing locales. The neon ‘Jesus Saves’ sign, the huge crucifix monument, the grandeur of City Hall…the list is endless. All beautiful and integral to the film to such a degree that they feel like an actual breathing entity. This film would have been inferior or cliched if filmed in New York for instance.


An anti-hero as hard boiled and gritty as Harry Callahan deserves a villain just as idiosyncratic. Thankfully this film provides just that and then some. The character of Scorpio (named as Charles Davis in the film’s novelisation) is brilliantly depicted by Andrew Robinson as utterly unhinged, homicidal and completely batshit crazy. This character is obviously based on the Zodiac Killer who was operating in the Bay Area at the time of the films conception. In fact this is one of those performances that not only goes the extra mile but goes considerably beyond that. Watch the scene in which Scorpio hijacks a busload of schoolchildren and gets them to sing ‘Row Your Boat’ whilst saying that hes taking them to the ice cream factory. This level of insanity reminds me of Betsy Palmer’s turn as Pamela Voorhees at the end of Friday the 13th in terms of getting into ‘the zone’.


Add to this a barrage of brilliant and quirky supporting characters (shouts go out to Inspector Frank “Fatso” DiGiorgio and Hot Mary) and the stage is set for a blast of a film.

Lalo Schifrin’s score is both funky and also very, very disturbing. The music is just as brilliant as the rest of film. Thankfully the full soundtrack is available to buy both physically and as a download.

Everything is in place to make this movie a masterpiece- iconic, quotable and career defining. There was also a rash of vigilante/maverick cop movies influenced by Dirty Harry led by Michael Winner’s Death Wish (also highly recommended).


Just don’t start wishing for the kind of justice Dirty Harry or the sub-genre it spawned seem to condone.

Joan Collins vs Santa Claus

Joan Collins vs Santa Claus

Tales From The Crypt was released in 1972- a horror movie made up of five different tales of terror.

One of these vignettes was ‘…And All Through The House’ a Christmas based story regarding a woman who has just bumped off her hubby for his insurance. But she has more to content with…You can watch it here.

This segment is noteworthy for many reasons. The fabulous story with a twist in the tail, the gaudy and quite fantastic 70s decor, the Tales From The Unexpected on crack feel to the proceedings.


But the best ingredient is the casting of The Very Ms Joan Collins in the lead role. She is perfect in this (shes pretty much perfect in everything). Never has anyone looked so exquisite- even when shes being throttled by a maniac Father Christmas.


For more 70s Joanie horror fun check out The Within Her aka I Don’t Want To Be Born aka Sharon’s Baby. One of the best movies of the 70s. And one of the most demented. But I’ll save that for a future blog post.





Life Imitates Art

Life Imitates Art

Its amazing the similarities between different sources I see in my research for this page.

Here is a comparison I’ve made between Wes Craven’s gritty masterpiece Last House on the Left (1972) and a women’s self defence video called Rapist Beware! (1990).

Another accolade that can be attached to the legacy of Wes Craven- his pioneering vision of women’s rights.


My Life With Jason Voorhees

My Life With Jason Voorhees

I feel like I’ve grown up with the Friday the 13th movies. Jason and his lovingly psychotic mother feel like friends to me. Through the many twists and turns of life they have remained a constant. Even if that constant is stalk, kill, repeat. Yet it would seem that the British board of Film Classification (BBFC) didn’t share my love of this misunderstood film hero. Watching the films when they were first released on video in Britain was a frustrating experience.

My first foray into the series was when I watched Part 3 which had just been released on video. I saw a poster for the film in the window of my local corner shop/off licence which would rent out any film to any person of any age (because of this I had a great relationship with them). Originally shot in 3D I watched it on video in 2D and cut by the BBFC but its brilliance still shone through. Jason acquired his trademark hockey mask and was dispatching of irritating teens in ingenious and brilliant ways. All was right with the world. I was 12 years old and already obsessed with Jason.


A little later Part 4: The Final Chapter was released in which Jason meets his maker and is killed off for good (yeah right!). I rented this at a video store near my friends house so that we could watch it together. We both loved it. The film loses the somewhat camp tone of Part 3 and gets down to the serious business of murders committed in the nastiest ways possible. However there was the issue of walking home in the dark after watching the film. I hadn’t figured on how scary the film would be. One whiff of a hockey mask wearing psycho and I’d actually become catatonic. My friends Dad gallantly offered to walk me home. Not cool- but I’m still alive.

Again as with the previous film, this entry was cut by the BBFC. As this film was more serious in tone and because make-up legend Tom Savini was back onboard the kills really were something to behold. Even with the more graphic killings being trimmed by the censors or cut out altogether (no machete slide!) the film was still very nasty indeed. Which is how a horror movie should be.


What I didn’t realise at the time was that the release of Parts 3 and 4 were actually delayed by their video company CIC. They were due to be unleashed earlier but by then the video Nasties furore had taken hold. CIC Video must have foreseen that if Mary Whitehouse had been introduced to Jason in his hockey mask at this time there would be a good chance that she would have made him and the movies that he appeared in the main focus of her puritanical destruction of other people’s fun. Jason would have been represented as Public Enemy Number 1. Jason is so iconic and terrifying in his hockey mask that Old Maid Whitehouse would have thought all of her Christmases had come at once. Great publicity but not so great if the films were banned. CIC even went so far as to issue a statement saying that in the current climate they would wait to release further Friday the 13th films. Very wise.

Almost the poster boy for the Video Nasties furore. Instead Herr Whitehouse aimed her sights on The Evil Dead and Driller Killer.

Whilst in 1987 things were seeming to settle down regarding horror videos a new version of the original film was released by Warners. Longer gore scenes and completely uncut, the previous version had been the cut US version which was released as a sell through video in 1983. The uncut version that was released on rental VHS the year before had been seized by the police and so Warners used the cut US version instead. This may also explain CIC’s decision to delay the release of the film’s sequels until Mrs Whitehouse and her cronies found something else to try and ban. This was possibly the only good reason for Warners having distribution rights of the original film in CIC’s eyes.

The cut precert video
The uncut 1987 release

I then went and sought out the first two films. I devoured both Parts 1 and 2 and loved them unreservedly. The first was like some kind of whodunnit- like an American giallo film that was bloodfilled and only revealed the killer at the end. And boy, what a reveal! Betsy Palmer goes the extra five miles in her role as Pamela Voorhees and is one of the best performances in horror history. The second film introduced Jason to the world- sack over his head with only one eyehole as a tip of the hat to The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Friday Part 2 was an amazing film and nasty as hell. Machete to the face anyone?! I also loved the equally nasty and ominous video artwork- an electric blue outline of an anonymous malevalent figure carrying an axe against a black background.


CIC Video then got down to the task in hand- releasing the new Friday the 13th installments uninterrupted. Watching the CIC ident before watching the movies became a forewarning that we were in for a treat.

When I first heard that the next film would be called A New Beginning I imagined a TV movie style affair with family members of past victims coming together, sitting on chairs in a circle and consoling each other whilst sharing memories, hands held, about their dead loved ones. I still think my idea for the movie is better than the actual end product.  It was a departure not just because the killer wasn’t Jason but the feel of the film is different from that of the first four. It felt more stylised and slick- a Friday the 13th that was trying to capture the attention of the MTV demographic. Gone was the innocence of the first four that appealed to the Fangoria reading audience.You got the impression that the series was now trying to appeal to the wider teenage moviegoers who would be happier going to see the latest John Hughes fare.


Years later I’ve warmed to this film- kinda. Just as many Halloween fans hated Halloween 3: Season of the Witch there are also many who love this. Being a fan of the runt of a franchise’s litter makes it’s fans who actually like it more passionate and extol its virtues even louder. Apprently this is Quentin Tarantino’s favourite entry. Which says so much…

I stole a standee for this film from my local video store at the time. Just sayin’. Whilst this has been lost in the sands of time there are pictures on the internet still of this valuable artefact.

Part 6 rightfully saw the resurrection of Jason with a great homage to Frankenstein and an even better homage to James Bond in it’s title sequence. The film is still as gruesome as ever but the humour, early examples of metacinema and title song by Alice Cooper (Paramount must have been feeling generous) make this an entry that makes changes to what came before but doesn’t stray far enough away to alienate fans like they had with Part 5. Whilst this film is a fan favourite this film will never be one of my favourites in the series.


Part 7 in my opinion is so much better than the just OK Part 6. Its basically Carrie (named Tina in the movie) vs Jason- and it works really well. Kane Hodder really did feel like the ultimate Jason as he brought a physicality to Jason that the previous actors hadn’t really mastered. He also had a great way of making the kills look as brutal as possible but whilst being delivered with a flourish. Its within this film that bizarrely enough Jason uses a lot of gardening impliments to kill his victims. A nice touch- objects intended to make the lives of the normal folk being used to kill them instead.

I had high hopes for Part 8 which was called Jason Takes Manhattan. I used to get a glossy film magazine imported from America at this time called Premiere and they carried a feature on the filming of the movie. My appetite was well and truly whetted.


However when I came to see the film I was left thinking ‘What the fuck was that?!’ Only the last third of the film was based in New York (*cough* CANADA! *cough*) whilst the rest of the film takes place on a boat. And the worst ending of the whole franchise- Jason is melted in toxic waste to become a boy again. And not even the hydrocephalic child Jason who is seen in the first film. Don’t you just hate it when a director makes a franchise entry but doesn’t even bother watching the original film or any of the films in the series?! My opinion of this film was changed at a screening I attended about 20 years after first seeing the film. But as they say, more about that later…

Jason- Part 1
Jason at the end of part 8. ‘I’m making a franchise entry but haven’t seen the other films!!!’ Jackass.

Next followed the terrible Jason Goes To Hell : The Final Friday. After an inspired first ten minutes this film falls flat on its face. Jason’s evil soul inhabits different characters in the film so that they commit murders for him. Its Part 5 all over again but with different people acting as a surrogate Jason and a supernatural element thrown in for good measure. Not what I wanted from a Friday the 13th movie.  The rights for the franchise had just been bought by New Line Cinema resulting in a very cheesey Freddy Krueger’s glove cameo in the movie.

These comics are better than the actual movie they’re based on

In 1997 I had the priviledge of seeing Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D at a cinema. The National Film Theatre is probably the most highly esteemed cinema in the UK as its the official cinema of the British Film Institute. It was showing a series of films in their original 3D. The cinema would be packed with Friday 13th fans and also cineastes who who normally be watching the work of some highfalutin auteur.

If proof be needed

The cinema snobs laughed at the ending of Part 2 which acts as a recap for Part 3. This prologue was of course filmed in 2D. I thought that these purveyors of fine film might ruin the whole film watching experience for me by laughing at the whole film. But then the impossible happened- the 3D kicked in and everyone howled with delight. The 3D process used on this film is amazing! The filmmakers really went all out with what the audience member sees when watching the film and expolits the 3D medium to its fullest. As soon as the titles started ever single person in the sold out cinema crowd started gasping, laughing and screaming.


This lasted until the end credits. People were leaving the theatre smiling and commenting on how brilliant the film had been. This is probably the best cinemagoing experience I’ve ever sat through. The NFT repeated the screening the year after and I dutifully attended. The experience was just as brilliant.

It was then several years before there was another Friday 13th movie. Maybe the stench of Jason Goes To Hell lingered on. Jason X arrived in 2001. It was basically Jason In Space and worked brilliantly! I went to see the film three times on its initial release. The filmmakers obviously knew the demographics they were aiming for- the fans of the series, sci fi fans and geeks who were inro Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lexx, Deep Space Nine and their ilk. The kills were graphic, the film was great in its use of atmosphere and tongue was firmly in cheek. This could have failed miserably but it didn’t. It worked wonderfully. And their was even a David Cronenberg cameo.

Uber Jason. A badass gets an upgrade

Jason X continues to be derided by many franchise fans. But the Friday fans who like the film do so with real passion just like with Part 5.

It was also around this time that I got to see what I had been missing out on. All previous cuts to the films by the BBFC were suddenly waived meaning that the film would now be completely uncut. I had seen a screening of The Final Chapter uncut by accident when it was shown on Sky Movies a few years before this. They could show films uncut even when they were still cut on video. Bizarre logic there. I was unaware of the proper ending to the film and actually screamed in both horror and glee at unexpectedly seeing the notorious ‘machete slide’ scene for the first time. It was poetry in motion.

Now that all cuts were waived I started to buy the films for the first time on DVD. The transfers were amazing and showed that in fact the films looked beautiful when presented in their correct aspect ratios and in pristine prints. I was so glad that finally common sense prevailed and we could see what the Tory Government and Herr Thatcher hadn’t allowed us to before.


I knew Freddy vs Jason would be terrible. And I was right. I lasted about 20 minutes before I left the cinema. I desperately wanted to see Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child beng slaughtered (any music fan would) but just couldn’t hold on. I’ve since seen the scene I was trying to stay in my seat for. The fact that Kelly’s character calls Freddy a ‘faggot’ just makes me applaud my decision to leave anymore. It was Hollywood crap which held nothing for true Friday fans. Whats more Jason wasn’t played by the brilliant Kane Hodder. No dice.

The remake of Friday the 13th was inevitable. Even though it wasn’t a straight remake of the first film. Why waste a whole film on a mystery killer like the original when you can just jump to what the studio thought everyone wanted- Jason. The film was better than I thought it would be and was genuinely scary and innovative. Jason was portrayed as a kind of survivalist which was interesting and a nice twist.

In 2012 was a very special event that I travelled all the way over from Leeds (where I was now living) to London for. At the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square they were showing the first 8 Friday the 13th films in a row. This would take 16 hours and start at 18:30 and then finish at 08:30 the following day. The event itself was more than awesome. In the queue waiting for the cinema to open was someone that the cinema had employed to dress up as Jason resplendent with machete. Nice touch.

The cinema had managed to get most of the original 35mm prints of the films and so they had their original old school BBFC X certificate cards before the actual films. Between each film there was a break of 15 mins in which people could go outside and have a cigarette, grab a can of Red Bull to try and stay awake or just stay seated to be entertained by all manner of old trailers. I only fell asleep during Part 5 (thats telling!) and got to reappraise Part 8. Its a pretty good movie- great humour and I had forgot about the scene with the boxer. The crowd roared when they saw it.

When I eventually left the cinema I thought I was Jason Voorhees as sleep deprivation kicked in and I wondered off in search of breakfast. What an amazing event and a wish on my wish list was well and truly fulfiled.

Theres a great account of the marathon here.

My life with Jason Voorhees has been an incredible journey. From the days of cut VHS tapes through to uncut DVDs and finally through to the films looking betting than ever on Blu ray. Growing up with these films means that watching them holds so many memories as I can trace back to when I first watched them on ther initial releases. Whilst Paramount Pictures might be embarrassed by them and horror snobs may sneer and deride them they’re clearly missing out on a brilliant and very evocative franchise.

But Mr Meathook Cinema- what are your Top 10 Friday the 13th movies? Thanks for asking dear reader. It just so happens that I’ve made a video answering your question. It contains trailers, rare TV spots, my favourite kills and a scene that was shot but not used. You’ll find it here.

Also check out the reviews of the series by two of my favourite YouTube channels- Drumdums and The Cinema Snob.

Stay safe campers.