Paul Juser: The King Slasher

Blairstown, NJ, is roughly half an hour from the Pennsylvania border off I-80. From my home in Upstate NY, the trip is just under two hours depending on potholes and construction in Scranton. It’s a tiny town accessible by long country roads. The downtown streets are barely wide enough for two cars to pass, and the buildings have remained unchanged for years. Blairstown is the kind of place a person goes to not be found, a town known only to those who live there. A waterfall tumbles over a dam that holds back a quaint reservoir. Blairstown looks unassuming, but in 1980 this quiet little town scored its place eternally in movie history.

The film opens with a young woman named Annie strolling past the hotel mounted above the road, under the overhang of the stone building at the center of town. She stops in a diner to ask for a ride, and a friendly trucker agrees to take her half way. Before they leave, a crazed old man warns she is doomed, but the trucker chases the old man away. She is on her way to help reopen a summer camp that has been closed for years. When they reach the cemetery, the trucker warns her as well of the bad luck befalling the camp in the past. But Annie ignores his concern. As she hoofs her way toward the camp, the warnings come true. A marauder abducts Annie and slashes her throat in the forest.

I knew him from commercials, and he’d already been my costume the two previous Halloweens. The first time we met was Jason Lives! Friday the 13th Part 6. I was in the fifth grade, and the VHS had been rented for Matt Finch’s birthday party. Parents of the rest of the party-goers were unimpressed with the movie selection, and I lost touch with Matt Finch shortly after. Maybe one of you can tell him to look me up on Facebook. Another two years passed before I came in contact with Jason Voorhees again.

Most recognizable by his filthy, broken hockey mask and the rusty machete he favors, Jason is a Frankenstein re-imagined for the 1980s. No matter how he is killed, Jason returns as bloodthirsty and hateful as ever. Jason continues seeking vengeance against those that killed his mother, though that girl was killed at the beginning of the second movie. To be fair, that girl only committed the murder because Mrs. Voorhees already killed 12 other people and was trying for a baker’s dozen. The original canon ended with Jason burning up in the atmosphere of “Earth 2″ 500 years in the future, after already being rebuilt by nano-bots earlier in the film. That sounds much less impressive when it’s put to words on a page. In addition to a one-off fight against modern-Wolfman Freddy Krueger, the series has been re-booted once and was recently green-lit for a possible second reboot. Neither Jason nor Freddy has yet met Abbott or Costello.

I won’t mince words, Jason Lives! was probably the most well-crafted film in the series. While many installments seem to have been made by directors that didn’t even watch the previous films, Tom McLoughlin carefully maintained the story while including a number of tongue-in-cheek jokes self-aware to the slasher genre when Scream was just a twinkle in Kevin Williamson’s eye. I’m happy Jason Lives! was the first in the series I saw. But it was Part 7: A New Blood where Jason and I truly connected.

The film debuted on HBO, or Showtime, or Cinemax, when I was in the 7th grade, and I talked my Dad into recording it for me. Kane Hodder was the only actor to play Jason more than once, and this was his first outing. Bones protruded from his rotten corpse following the years Jason spent chained to the bottom of Crystal Lake. Never before or since has the killer looked so awe-inspiring and horrible. From there, I watched the previous films in reverse order, 5 4 3 2 1, and have maintained a fanatic love of slashers to the present day.

I knew stats on each marauder like other boys knew baseball players. Freddy grew quickly corny. And while Jason started his career as a deliberate rip-off of Michael Myers, by his own fifth film Myers was openly copying Jason. Oscar-winner Brad Dourif voiced Chucky, but was in the same caliber as the Leprechaun somewhere below the killers they stand knee-high to. I may have become a dedicated fan of Viggo Mortensen after Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, but after the first film the chainsaw-wielding killer himself became quite lame. Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger made their starts in a Texas Chainsaw that was even worse. Jason remained always at the top of the stack.

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Even today as an adult man, a screen-accurate rendition of “Part 7” Jason stands beside my computer monitor, machete raised. The figure sports two removable hockey masks, a tattered cloth shirt, and the axe and sickle he also employed in that movie. Not included were the butcher knife, tent spike, party horn, or weed whacker. I’m not a religious person by any means, and I view most major holidays as days I can’t get anything done. Friday the 13th has always been sacred, though.

Call us weird, but a tradition among my friends for years on that fateful day was to watch each film in order. There were nine when we started, which hurt but could be accomplished before dawn on the 14th if we got an early start. After the 10th movie, we instituted a policy of watching his trip to Manhattan in fast forward. Even among rabidly obsessed fans like myself this installment is considered unwatchable even for humor value. When it came time for Jason to fight Freddy, I was the single dissenting vote to watch Part 7 the same way. We have not attempted this feat since a 12th movie was added.

Blairstown was something of a Mecca for me. How much of a nerd would I be to admit the hours I’ve spent on Friday the 13th fan sites and forums? I noticed Blairstown on the sign while I drove through New Jersey on a job. My directions took me up through the hills and forest past the Land of Make-Believe, which I remembered from a childhood watching cartoon channels out of NYC. There on the right I recognized it immediately. The same diner where Steve Christie drank his final cup of coffee before he drove off in his red jeep to meet his doom.

Nothing in Blairstown commemorates its film history, but the locals I spoke with were all aware and proud to discuss the movie. The interior of the diner had been remodeled, but the owners were excited when I asked about the history. They let me take photos and sent me away with a placemat with their name on it.

Between flashbacks to his death and the twist ending where he rockets from the depths of Crystal Lake to avenge the death of his mother, Jason has less than a minute of screen time. Ari Lehman is clearly equal parts fan and celebrity. He resembles an evil Weird Al and circulates the conventions, meeting fans and playing with his metal band FIRST JASON.

A franchise had never been intended. Sean Cunningham and his cohorts were looking to make a quick buck for a kid’s soccer movie that was never made. They looked to ride the success of John Carpenter after Halloween and copied several scenes directly from an Italian movie called Bay of Blood. Mrs. Voorhees was beheaded and Jason resurrected for revenge in the first sequel. The hockey mask didn’t arrive until the third film. It was a Gus-Van-Sant-style remake of a movie called The Burning, notable as the first lead role of Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander. He played a jock. The movies were made on a shoestring budget on the good graces of Tom Savini at whatever location would agree to filming. Blairstown, NJ, and nearby Camp NoBeBoSco provided the setting for Mrs. Voorhees to claim her revenge and then lose her head.

Camp NoBeBoSco is where the lion’s share of the movie takes place and is still in operation as a Boy Scout camp. Current owners have offered tours in recent years, but previously the film had been a dirty secret. Either way, uninvited guests are not welcome. I will not encourage law breaking, nor will I admit to any crime. But allow me to presume that if one were unobtrusive as they drove through the camp, stopping only to snap a few pictures of the iconic lake backdrop, I doubt anyone would take notice. Again, this is purely conjecture and comes from absolutely no real-world experience.

June 13th is a Friday this year. That’s Jason’s birthday. Celebrate by chopping a machete in someone’s face.
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Dr. Filth is a superhero with the power to convince himself of anything. His alter ego is a cryptozoologist of the same name. Read “Dr. Filth” and more from Paul Juser at www.printisbetter.com.

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