Crystal Lake Memories (US - BD)
Gabe watches a Friday the 13th doc that's almost as long as Shoah...
Digital home video is mostly notable for changing the image and sound quality of movies over the last couple of decades, but Laserdisc and DVD also changed the way people learn about the movies they love, thanks to filmmaker commentaries, deleted scenes, alternate cuts, and, of course, behind-the-scenes documentaries. Major Blu-ray/DVD releases have started cutting back on the length of their documentaries and featurettes, but, recently, a market for extra-long, in-depth docs that are released apart from the original movies they cover has opened. It’s a limited market, even more limited when we take into account the docs that have had official DVD/Blu-ray releases, not the ones languishing on YouTube or torrent sites. In fact, the only three such movies I can think of are writer/director Daniel Farrands’ Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, writer/director Bill Philputt’s (Farrands’ Never Sleep Again producer) More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead, and, well, this one – Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. It was also written and directed by Farrands, by the way.
I haven’t read the semi-basis for the film, Peter M. Bracke’s mammoth tome, conveniently titled Crystal Lake Memories, but I have seen His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th, Farrands’ first attempt at covering the history of the Friday the 13th. I’ve also owned every R1 DVD version of these films, read different books on slasher movie culture, and seen similar documentary features that cover broader subject matter, like Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film and Andrew Monument’s Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue. I’m not bragging (because who would brag about such things?) – I’m merely establishing that I am awfully familiar with the behind-the-scenes tales of these films. I approached Crystal Lake Memories, expecting to be more entertained than educated. Of course, four hundred minutes is an awfully long time, so I ended up learning quite a bit, specifically about the later sequels – Jason Goes to Hell (director Adam Marcus’ enthusiasm made me wish I didn’t find his movie dull), Jason X, and the remake ( Freddy vs. Jason was previously covered in Never Sleep Again and much of that footage ends up here). The descriptions of the various early drafts are all particularly valuable, because almost every sequel seems to have begun its life with some kind of interesting twist on the formula before it was inevitably reeled in by producers that wanted more of the same. I also knew generally nothing about Friday the 13th: The Series, outside of catching a couple of episodes when they originally aired.
Even when I wasn’t learning something, I was perpetually impressed by the footage, original documents, and stills that Farrands and his crew were able to find. This includes clips from Sean Cunningham’s pre- Last House on the Left porn films, clips from unrelated films that are used for illustrative purposes, and plenty of unseen stills/footage from some censored scenes, deleted scenes, alternate endings, and outtakes from the other movies, alongside previously available MPAA trims from The New Blood, this time in HD (or at least as HD as possible, based on the state of some of the footage). The lack of censored footage from movie two in particular is disappointing, but there’s no reason to blame Farrands for its absence. I’m sure he looked for it and I’m sure it is still missing. Farrands secures so many interviews from the series cast and crew (more than 150 people) that it’s actually easier to mention the people missing (though I should note that getting producer Frank Mancuso to talk about Friday the 13th is a really big deal). This short list includes actors that are a little too famous/busy/crazy to be bothered, like Kevin Bacon, Crispin Glover, Jared Padalecki, and one big surprise – Steve Miner, director of the second and third films in the series. Apparently he was predisposed making horrible remake/sequels to George Romero movies.
Following a cheesy framing device where narrator Corey Feldman tells the legend of Jason Voorhees around a campfire, things unravel very, very, quickly, so quickly that sometimes it’s hard to keep up. The extended runtime doesn’t seem excessive once you realize they’re only spending about 30 minutes on each of the sequels, the TV series, and the reboot – most of these could’ve topped an hour, easily. Obviously, any documentary movie about the Friday the 13th series is going to be a bit biased and there’s something to be said for maintaining focus, but I was a bit disappointed by how quickly Crystal Lake Memories glazes over Cunningham’s most obvious influences by mentioning only Halloween, Carrie, and Psycho. For an obnoxiously didactic horror nerd such as myself, a brief mention of Agatha Christie’s books, pre- Halloween slashers, like Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, or Italy’s pre-slasher gialli would’ve gone a long way. They do acknowledge Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka: Bay of Blood), but only for its ‘spear through the lovers’ kill scene (including a clip), not for the half dozen other ‘borrowed’ elements. But these complaints are just me searching for nits to pick. I should be thankful that Farrands makes room to acknowledge the franchise’s unworkably convoluted continuity. Then again, I could probably relish a three-hour seminar on the timeline of the Friday the 13th movies.
Previous super-long horror docs have only been released on DVD format, so this 1080p, 1.78:1 Blu-ray is something of a trivial landmark (a very trivial landmark). Like many interview and archive-driven documentaries, Crystal Lake Memories isn’t exactly the ideal arena for the HD format. The results here are inconsistent and not just the predictable inconsistencies between film clips to interviews – there’s also quite a bit of variation from interview to interview. This clearly has more to do with how the interviews were shot (I suppose Farrands used different digital cameras and lighting rigs) and little to do with the disc’s production/compression. Some of the interviews are simply darker, while others are noticeably blocky or at least noisier than the others. The green screens behind the interviewees are filled-in with subject-appropriate images and these are the most common source of compression issues, mostly banding effects. Some of these are stylized with scanning lines that might be vague representation of the Crystal Lake waves. These are clearly intentional, but look like aliasing issues. Outside of the interviews, things look pretty good, especially the title graphics and bits recorded on the various locations. Some stills are not hi-res and these feature some jaggies and Gibbs effects. The footage from the films themselves looks pretty good, basically comparable to the Blu-rays I have, plus some minor compression effects, like edge enhancement (kind of like the Netflix HD transfers). There’s also some decent looking HD footage from the non-franchise movies the doc references. I’m particularly interested by a brief glimpse of George Romero’s Martin.
Crystal Lake Memories is presented in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (448 kbps) and that’s just fine for what basically amounts to 400 minutes of talking heads. The interviews are a mixed bag. Most of the recordings are clean and crisp, but some were apparently recorded either under duress or with sub-par equipment. These are a bit crackly and rough, but, aside from A New Beginning director Danny Steinmann’s interview (which was recorded just before he died, I suppose), there’s plenty of basic consistency. I did notice some quick lip-sync issues during the first 20 or 30 minutes of the film and was slightly bothered by the fact that the film footage has notably quieter volume levels than the interview footage. Stereo and surround effects are limited to the original film clips and music. The doc uses mainly uses Harry Manfredini’s seminal compositions to underscore the interviews, where it sits nicely and warmly without overwhelming the dialogue.
Fans that reserved a copy of Crystal Lake Memories on the film’s official website before September 30th were able to secure a copy of an exclusive disc of bonus interviews (I apologize that my screener arrived too late for this information to be vital), but my review copy didn’t include that disc, so the only extra I was able to review was the commentary track with Farrands, Crystal Lake Memories author Peter M. Bracke, and one of three editors, Luke Rafalowski. I’ll be honest, after six and a half hours of documentary, I didn’t have the stamina for the entire commentary (I know, I know…), but I did sample to get a taste of their commitment to their film. From what I heard, they appear to talk without any major breaks for six and a half hours. The discussion covers a lot more of the cultural impact of the franchise and slashers in general, which, I suppose, makes it something of an additional movie. Or perhaps more like a podcast. Actually, now I wish it was available as a podcast. The subject matter is rarely so screen-specific that you’d need to watch it along with the movie. Besides being an full-bodied and entertaining track, the whole thing was worth it for verifications that one of the original producers had not only seen Bay of Blood, but that he was involved with its US release. The second disc also features trailers for Never Sleep Again, More Brains!, and an ad for Adrienne King’s Crystal Lake-themed wine.
Crystal Lake Memories is a massive undertaking and will probably end up being the last word on the subject of the Friday the 13th franchise, at least in a documentary capacity. There’s always the minute possibility that Warner Bros (or Paramount or whoever the hell owns these movies over the next couple of years) will approach director Daniel Farrands to make standalone, feature-length docs for every film in the series with his deleted material, but, until that unlikely day arrives, this will have to hold us over. Of course, the best thing I can say about Crystal Lake Memories is that watching it really makes me want to revisit these movies for the millionth time. Well, maybe not all of them. Highly recommended to anyone with an abiding love, or even interest for all things Friday the 13th.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 13th September 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Filmmaker Commentary, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Daniel Farrands
Cast: Jason Voorhees and all of his friends
Length: 400 minutes
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