Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon's Jugular - Friday The 13th Uncut

It's funny how things change over time. Twenty-five years ago, an uncut Friday The 13th would have been at the top of my must-see list. At the top of a different list, the one having to do with shit, would have been the MPAA, whom I held personally responsible for my inability to watch Friday The 13th and other films of a similar nature in their unadulterated form. You kids nowadays have no idea what I'm talking about, but believe it or not, filmmakers used to have to cut all of the gore out of their movies or they'd be threatened with an X rating. What's an X rating? Do I have to explain everything? Fine.

Long ago, an X was the only rating higher than an R. It was initi
ally created to apply to films that were considered too mature for children of any age to see. Several well-respected films received the X rating, including the 1969 Oscar winner for Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy. Eventually, though, the X was appropriated by the adult film industry and became irrevocably associated with porno. (Now, of course, its counterpart is the NC-17 rating. What? You've never heard of that one, either? Kids these days...)

While the MPAA never forced anyone to edit their films, the X rating became the kiss of death for a mainstream movie, as most theaters wouldn't show movies that were rated X and most newspapers wouldn't accept advertising for them, so if the MPAA said "lose this scene here and that scene there or you'll get an X," the studios did what they were told. A few independent films, such as Dawn Of The Dead, were brave enough to bypass the MPAA and go out unrated, but by and large, the MPAA effectively neutered the American horror film for quite some time.

This little history lesson leads us back to Friday The 13th. As an avid reader of horror film magazines at the time, I was painfully aware of the elaborate gore effects that were concocted by talented FX artists for films like Friday the 13th and its sequels, but inevitably, they would be drastically trimmed or cut out altogether by the time the films were released. This was long before the days of special unrate
d DVD releases, so horror fans like myself could only sit there and stew, cursing Jack Valenti's name in our frustration. I even wrote a paper trashing the MPAA for a college writing class. Although he gave me an A, the professor remarked in his notes, "Your tone seems a bit hysterical." I'll never forget that.

Finally, in 2008, the uncut version of the original Friday was released on DVD. You'd think after all these years, I'd have jumped at the chance to finally see it, but as I said before, things change, and it just wasn't a priority at the time. About a month ago, out of the blue, I had an urge to see it, so I checked out a copy from the library. (If you'd have told my younger self that the uncut version of Friday The 13th would one day be available on a disc the size of a CD at my local library, I'd have shit a brick.)

So, was it worth the wait? I'd say yes. While Friday The 13th is not a particularly good film, it is a fun one. As inexperienced as they may have been, the filmmakers made a few wise decisions. They hired Tom Savini to create the gruesome special makeup effects. They added a now legendary shock to the end of the film that still makes people jump, even when they know it's coming. And perhaps most importantly, they hired Harry Manfredini to compose the score. I can't imagine the film being nearly as effective without its superb musical accompaniment. As much as I love John Carpenter's chilling synthesizer score for Halloween, nothing adds a layer of class to a film such as this like a symphonic score, and Manfredini's iconic music is still great. As far as the uncut version goes, it was fun to see the extra few seconds of blood squirting out of Kevin Bacon's neck, and the restored axe-to-the-face effect was pretty cool, too, but in all honestly, the first film made it through the ratings process relatively unscathed, and the film is just as effective either way. Anticlimactic? A little, yeah, but it's always good to have the version of the film that someone told you you weren't supposed to see. Take that, MPAA.

One last thing. Watching this film again made me wonder how is it that the killers in these movies manage to string up the dead bodies so that they'll come flopping down right when someone is running by. Is there some sort of special knot? A triggering mechanism? Do they teach these things in slasher school?

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