Something Weird on TV
Friday the 13th: The Series Part Nine – Lost Lives
Welcome back to part nine of my weird exploration of that unsung classic Friday the 13th: The Series as we check out the first half of the third and final season. The show was a beloved mainstay of late-‘80s anthology horror TV, though I had never actually seen it before embarking on this journey that we are now taking together…
Like a lot of popular shows, Friday the 13th: The Series came to a rather ignoble end when its third season was canceled after only twenty episodes (the other seasons were 26). It certainly kicked off the end with a bang, though.
The first two episodes of the show’s final season were the two-part “The Prophecies,” written and directed by Tom McLoughlin. Not only do these two episodes see the end of Ryan’s time on the series, they also go much bigger than the show has ever gone – transferring the action to France and feeling more like a feature film than the show has ever felt before, or ever will again.
It also takes a more overtly Catholic tack on the series’ Satanism storyline than the somewhat theosophical stuff that has come before, cribbing from films like The Omen and even Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness to create an apocalyptic religious thriller.
Fritz Weaver (Creepshow, et al) plays the human form of the demon Astaroth, the villain of the two episodes, who is helping the titular prophecies come to fruition, and using Ryan as his unwitting pawn. Poor Ryan has been through the ringer lately, having been used as a tool for evil a couple of times now, and ultimately this will be his swan song as he sacrifices himself for a little girl in order to… be turned back into a child himself, with none of his memories of the last fourteen years?
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but as send-offs go, it could be worse. From there, the show slips back into its usual mode, with Johnny Ventura taking over Ryan’s place at the shop, though it isn’t done without some big reveals.
The first regular episode of the new series sees a militant team of demon hunters (prefiguring the paramilitary Initiative of Buffy’s fourth season, perhaps) come knocking at the shop in pursuit of a demon that looks like a cross between Rawhead Rex and the demons from, well, the movie Demons, just as our Scooby gang discovers that there’s always been a giant necromantic ritual chamber beneath the vault.
This is followed by the first of a series of what online writers sometimes call “Johnny screws up” episodes, in which Johnny’s relative unfamiliarity with the ins and outs of the business at hand, combined with his brash attitude and tendency to act without thinking, leads to trouble. In this case, though, it’s a little hard to actually blame him.
The episode begins with one of the most brutal cold openings in the entire show, as we see a young girl who narrowly escapes being gang raped by a group of her classmates – Wikipedia euphemistically refers to it as “a gang-assault” – only to be run down by a car while trying to get away. As if the attempted rape weren’t traumatic enough, the scene of the car hitting her is far more gruesome than usual for cars hitting people in low-budget TV fare.
The girl ends up paralyzed, and a cursed wheelchair gradually gives her back the use of her body, while also allowing her to astrally project to kill her assailants. The episode was written by Brian Helgeland, who had previously written the screenplays for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and 976-Evil and who would go on to write and direct A Knight’s Tale and the Mel Gibson revenge flick Payback, among others. The actress who plays the paralyzed victim turned vengeful antagonist has also had an extensive career, including providing the voice of Sailor Venus in the American dub of Sailor Moon.
Next up is the unlikely body horror of “Stick it in Your Ear,” about a phony mentalist who gets a cursed hearing aid that lets him actually read minds, with surprisingly gory results. This is followed by roughly the billionth episode in which Micki is viciously traumatized, this time by the return of the Coin of Zioclese, which killed her (and then brought her back to life) back in season two. This is also maybe the ultimate “Johnny screws up” episode, as he attempts to use the coin to revive his dead father, who was killed near the end of last season.
“Hate on Your Dial” is an improvement over the last couple of relatively forgettable episodes. The premise, this time around, is that a cursed car stereo allows a racist to travel back in time to 1954 and attempt to prevent his father from being hanged for killing a black man. While the portrait of racism presented in this episode is facile, it’s much better than, say, the mealy-mouthed defense of the Confederacy that was offered back in “Eye of Death” in season two. It also makes some attempt toward equating things like racism and domestic violence. The ending is a little abrupt, feeling like the showrunners maybe spent too much time in 1954 and suddenly realized they were out of episode.
“Night Prey” is another standout episode from director Armand Mastroianni, who helmed a few solid episodes back in season two and has a few more up his sleeve before the series is finished. This time, we’re dealing with vampires again – a subject that has lain dormant since “The Baron’s Bride” all the way back in season one.
This episode is notable for its sensuality, which is turned up even from previous episodes, and for its matter-of-fact treatment of vampires, which are apparently so prevalent as to have their own nightclubs and social structures – an idea far from unique to this series, but one that sticks out in a show where most other supernatural happenings are related directly to the cursed items from the shop. It’s also worth mentioning that the vampires this time around are the rare flying vampires, which don’t crop up on film very often, though they were notably featured in the likes of The Lost Boys and Salem’s Lot.
In “Femme Fatale” we’re back in the realm of cursed films, this time a 16mm reel from an old film noir that brings its eponymous bad girl to life, but someone has to take her place inside the film and die there. Like some other episodes, “Femme Fatale” could be a short story entirely on its own merits, without the Scooby gang. It has its own conflicts, its own protagonist, and its own cast of characters to drive the plot. The gang only gets caught up in it because Micki is one of the victims drawn into the film.
Colm Feore comes back in “Mightier Than the Sword,” another episode written by Brian Helgeland. This time around, Feore plays a “crime biographer” who has become a bestseller thanks to a pen that injects people with “evil,” transforming them into killers who carry out their crimes as he writes them. Then, of course, he has the ultimate scoop. Feore’s villain is one of the more sadistic we’ve seen in the show thus far, and the episode itself is pretty brutal on (guess who) poor Micki.
It seems she’s the latest person he’s chosen to receive the injection of evil and, ultimately, he dies by her hand, as she carves him up with a straight razor. Just add it to the pile of trauma that Micki has experienced that will never get mentioned again after this episode.
When you watch a series like this all in a row, as I’ve been doing, instead of spread out across weeks or months, as it was originally aired, its patterns begin to show. I look forward to the episode where Micki isn’t brutalized or victimized, but at this rate I fear it will never come…
Especially since we’re so close to the end. In fact, while that’s it for tonight, our next installment will finish out season three and, with it, the entire Friday the 13th series. In the meantime, you can check out my full series coverage here.
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.