“I’m a messenger of God. You’re doomed if you stay here!”- Crazy Ralph (Friday the 13th)
In both Books, there are some common elements that place the viewer firmly in Friday the 13th-land. The various kids who come to counsel camp or vacation usually receive some sort of ominous warning about their fate, preferably by an old coot. Crazy Ralph was the alpha character in this series, although he owes a debt to the legendary Sam Loomis of the Halloween franchise, who’s role was to basically warn everyone within earshot that “evil was coming to Haddonfield!” Crazy Ralph doesn’t get quite so much screen time or get to kill the bad guy, but he does get to rattle off a few “It’s got a death curse!”-type warnings. Chapter I also throws in Enos, the truck driver who gives Annie a ride to the camp to back up Crazy Ralph’s proclamations. In fact, the mere mention of Camp Crystal Lake in the first chapter functions in much the same way as the mention of the moors in American Werewolf in London– it’s a conversation-stopper. They may as well have thrown in a scratch on the record playing or someone missing a dart to let us know that, yes, something is indeed spooky with the camp.
After Crazy Ralph is dispatched in Chapter II, the “ominous warning bearers” lose some of their charm. You’ve got Crazy Abel in Chapter III, who lies in the middle of the road holding an eyeball to warn the kids that something is amiss (which begs the question, if you were Abel, would you not have picked a different part of the dead body than an eyeball? Maybe a shin? A finger? It just seems that an eyeball would be a bit slimy, but I guess that’s what makes Abel an ominous warning bearer and me a teacher).
The Second Book contains very little in the way of ominous warning bearers with the exception of Chapter VIII, which contains a character who I call Crazy Deckhand. By this point, we were a long way from the innocence of Crazy Ralph.
“I’m not an asshole, I’m an actor.”- Shelly (Friday the 13th Part III)
In the First Book, a recurring character archetype was “The Prankster;” a character who took it upon himself to be the comic relief for the gang. There was Ned in Chapter I, who did a mean Humphrey Bogart and dressed like an Indian. Chapter II gave us Ted, a gangly redhead with an enormous Adam’s Apple and a penchant for Tattoo (from Fantasy Island) impressions. Ted also dressed up like an African warrior and scared the bejesus out of the counselors after Paul the Head Counselor’s campfire story about Jason.
Perhaps the most memorable of all the pranksters in the Friday the 13th story is Part III’s Shelly, who’s crippling low self-esteem causes him to play practical jokes that involve knives, blood, and faking his own death by a hatchet to the head. I find it odd that he’d choose this style of comedy considering the events of Chapter II that the kids were obviously aware of due to their close proximity to those killings and their coverage on the news. I mean, their van drives right by Chapter II’s victims, after all. But Shelly is most famous for providing Jason with his iconic hockey mask. I wonder where he got such a classic, as the hockey mask he wears went out of style in the NHL in the mid-70’s. After the high water mark of Shelly, the series didn’t really work to provide us with the Prankster anymore. Sure, Reggie of Chapter V did dangle a spider to spook Tommy, but there was no consistency to his comedy. Perhaps it’s just as well that they retired the Prankster after Shelly. He was the “Crazy Ralph” of the story’s Pranksters; the Alpha and Omega.
The survivors of each chapter also provide a unifying thread throughout the story. Of the surviving teens, there is always a female. In most, a dude also makes it (Chapters II, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII), but there is always a girl left standing. Perhaps the message here is that the supposed “weaker sex” is really the only ones equipped to deal with tragedy and terror, where the males are usually either killed or knocked unconscious during the climax. If so, the Friday the 13th story should be commended for being ahead of its time in the progression of female empowerment, which took place (at least during Book I) in the mid-80’s.
“Well, he picked the right day to pull this shit. Happy Friday the 13th.”- Deputy Rick (Friday the 13th Part VI)
Some common misconceptions about the Friday the 13th story is that they all take place on Friday the 13th. In fact, only Chapters I, II, and VI mention the date by name. As Chapters II-IV take place over continuing days, the date of Chapters III would be Saturday the 14th, and Chapter IV would be Sunday the 15th-Monday the 16th. Also, for all the infamy of Camp Crystal Lake and its unlucky counselors, only three chapters of the story take place at a camp (I, II, and VI).
While not always taking place at a camp, the setting remains consistent throughout (with the possible exception of Part V and the second half of VIII, which take place in a halfway house and on a cruise ship, respectively), which is Crystal Lake, a town on the east coast of the United States. Of course, Crystal Lake is known as Forest Green for Chapter VI in an attempt to separate itself from its violent history, but it had changed back to its original name for Chapters VII and VIII. Things we know about the town of Crystal Lake: you can pick up New York radio from it, the lake feeds into a river which in turn feeds into the Hudson Bay (VIII), and the land surrounding the lake is prime real estate, as it contains no fewer than two different campsites (I, II, VI), several vacation homes (IV, VII), a horse farm (III), and possibly a halfway house for the Unger Mental Institute (V). The rural setting provides a bucolic sense for the viewer; placing us in the thick of nature where jungle rule is the law of the land. The beauty of the setting, which is established at the beginning of each chapter, always gives way to rain, wind, or both by the chapter’s close. These characters cannot count on technology to save them, as their phones never work and their cars rarely start. No, the setting to this story lets the viewer know that the protagonists’ wits and cunning are all they have that they can count on.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at what I shall refer to as Book I (ie. Friday the 13th Parts I-IV).