Friday, 13 October 2017

October Nightmares III #13: Friday the 13th: The Series (1987 - 1990) - Not-So-Little Shop of Horrors

"Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store... and with it, the curse. Now they must get everything back, and the real terror begins."

In this day and age of studios and their endless pursuit of fans' money, it's easy to forget there was a time when every story didn't have to be a multi-media franchise. You had your seemingly never-ending movie series, which churned out instalment after instalment like a Mormon family and their kids, but this was usually self-contained. Nowadays, a story can't just be contained to movies - there has to be TV spin-offs, books, games, and even fucking apps. 

I'm not suggesting that there were no series based on movies - The Dukes of Hazzard, M*A*S*H, and Stargate SG-1 are a few notable examples - but this was usually as natural progression, or due to the ideas mill running dry. Now it's just routine, part of the process to milk every last bit of profit out of a half decent story. Practically every movie that anyone had any fond memories of in the last thirty years (even if that memory was just from copping a feel in the cinema) has been turned, or is in the running, into a series. 

Friday the 13th: The Series belongs to the same school of television adaptation as the variety show, or the animated version. The type of series which has bugger all to do with the movie it is based upon - beyond the title anyway. This is like when someone has an incredibly complicated job title which in no way reflects the actual work that they do. You'd be forgiven for thinking that a TV series based on the Friday the 13th would at least have teenagers shagging by a campfire and Corey Feldman crawling out of the woodwork. Only one episode even takes place during a Friday the 13th!

Mummy's boy Jason Voorhees doesn't even show up in the series. Which casts the series in a bad light immediately: but let's not forget Voorhees isn't exactly a hallmark of quality. We've all seen Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason X.

Whilst the films were out and out slashers - which saw a variety of teenaged stereotypes creatively slaughtered by a giant undead serial killer and his mother - the series is a mystery-of-the-week show which can best be described as Supernatural for the Eighties. An evil old antique dealer, Lewis Vendredi (R.G. Armstrong), has a Faustian deal with Satan in which he sells cursed antiques to the innocent customers of his hokey store, in exchange for wealth, power, magic powers, and a badass voice. Lewis, who obviously has balls of brass, decides to renege on his deal and his ass is promptly dragged to Hell by Satan.

After Lewis' death his niece Micki (Louise Robey), and her cousin Ryan (John D. LeMay), inherit the antiques store and discover, through the magic of Lewis' exposition-spouting friend Jack (Chris Wiggins), that the objects Lewis sold were cursed. Instead of gypping Lewis' customers with some no receipt, no return bullshit, Micki, Ryan, and Jack decide to put matters right and reclaim the cursed artefacts. Occasionally their dead uncle comes back with a new nefarious scheme to express his disapproval. Yes, Micki and Ryan have 99 problems, but a 30-day return limit isn't one of them.

This is the type of format tailor-made for television: you have a vague set-up, the trio must collect an unspecified number of objects before those who own them can misuse their power, and an even vaguer limit which can be lengthened or shortened when needed. Each episode could tackle a brand new antique and supernatural occurrence, providing new settings and characters each week - like Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Warehouse 13The X-Files, and Supernatural. Speaking of The X-Files, there is more than a passing coincidence between these two series. Both are about a dullard and hot red head tackling strange creatures at the behest of a curmudgeonly older man.

Friday the 13th: The Series is better than you might think for a cash grab series. It's Supernatural with a Creepshow attitude. David Cronenberg even directed an episode of this small low-budget series - and this was post Videodrome and The Fly fame. Make of that what you will. As is the case with most 'X-of-the-week' shows, the quality of the episodes is up and down like shares in a yo-yo company. There are fantastic episodes about eerie possessed dolls, murderous scarecrows, ritual daggers which summon demons, and a magical quilt which lets the owner kill others in their dreams. Then there are the crap episodes about magicians, life-stealing teacups, comic book which turns the reader into a killer robot, and Jack the Ripper's possessed scalpel.

Basing the format around cursed objects was always going to be a risky move. Because yes, amulets, tomes, daggers, and mirrors can carry the suggestion of the ancient or occult, but then you're going to be stuck when you get to thimbles and handkerchiefs. The writers mostly manage to make it work. If you ask me, the worst possible decision they made was naming it after an ongoing series which had seven pre-existing instalments known for a specific format and had a figurehead in Jason Voorhees. It's Friday the 13th's Halloween III. Perhaps they had a crystal ball in that antiques shop and saw shit like Jason Goes to Hell and Freddy vs. Jason was coming up. Or maybe they were just afraid Corey Feldman would come around sniffing for work. Christ.

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