Something Weird on TV – Friday the 13th: The Series Part Five – Dark Doorways
Welcome back to part five of my weird exploration of that unsung classic Friday the 13th: The Series as we kick off the second 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 …
The first episode of Friday the 13th: The Series season two is basically a continuation of the clip show finale of season one. It brings back Jack’s friend Rashid and also Uncle Lewis, who this time is trying to open up a permanent doorway between Earth and hell. It also fleshes out, to a greater extent than maybe ever before, the (limited) cosmology that underpins the show, introducing us to the Realms of Darkness, a sort of antechamber between Earth and hell that is basically like if a Halloween haunted sounds cassette were a place.
While it’s less disappointing than the clip show episode, it should be impossible for an episode that has haunted mirrors, grasping cemetery hands, all the Spanish moss you could ever ask for, a bloody suicide, and a half-glimpsed demon monster that Uncle Lewis refers to as the “Beast” to be this middling. Yet here we are. It doesn’t help that the Realms of Darkness are apparently named that because they (along with the heretofore unknown mansion that Uncle Lewis apparently owned in town) are incredibly underlit.
Fortunately, after that somewhat uneven start, the second season begins to pick up considerably. Like many of the better episodes of the show, “Voodoo Mambo” could have happened pretty much without Ryan, Micki, or Jack. It tells an EC Comics-style story of vengeance from beyond the grave, decorated with Voodoo trappings and a very cool cursed mask that comes to life and kills people by having a snake jump out of its mouth. Had our Scooby gang not been around, the protagonists would have been Jack’s friend Hedley, a Legba, and his granddaughter Stacy.
Amusingly enough, Hedley is played by veteran character actor Joe Seneca, who I had literally just watched as Dr. Meddows in the 1988 version of The Blob for the Horror Pod Class a few weeks before I sat down with this episode. To add to the synchronicity, this episode aired just a few months after the ’88 Blob hit theater screens. The film was released in August, while this episode made its network debut on October 3.
It’s a bit surprising that it took until the fourth episode of the second season for a series explicitly about antiques that are cursed by Satan to have a full-on Satanic cult, in premium 1980s “Satanic panic” style, complete with (off-screen) implications of the usual blood libel nonsense like child sacrifices. At least they finally got around to it, though. While the membership of the Satanic cult is never explored beyond “chanting people in robes,” it does have a stereotypical leader in the form of a sinister taxidermist named Sylvan Winter (good Satanist name) and an underground lair beneath his shop, complete with giant pentacle chandelier.
Not content with continuing to merely brutalize Micki, following on the heels of an attempted rape in the third episode, this episode actually kills her with the cursed item, a coin that can ice people and bring them back from the dead. Naturally, she gets resurrected before all is said and done, though not before we get to see Ryan’s temper come back out, and see him threaten to leave the show – that won’t happen until the beginning of season three, however.
Delivering on the promise of its pre-credits stinger, the coin will also be back in the sixth episode of season three, so we can look forward to revisiting that in … many months. In the meantime, the fifth episode of season two offers us a Friday the 13th take on Phantom of the Opera in “Symphony in B-Sharp,” the first of several episodes helmed by music video director Francis Delia.
Alongside a number of music videos, including Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio,” the Ramones’ “Psycho Therapy,” Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” and Starship’s “We Built This City,” among others, Delia’s filmography starts with an infamous 1981 softcore porn flick, Nightdreams, and continues through several episodes of TV shows including Max Headroom, War of the Worlds, and more.
In the version of Phantom we’re treated to in “Symphony in B-Sharp,” a masterful violinist who was believed to have perished in a car crash turns out to only have been badly burned, instead. He uses a cursed violin to regain the use of his hands so that he can create beautiful music, which he releases each year, on the anniversary of his “death.”
Micki, Ryan, and Jack are drawn into the case when, during a night at the symphony, Ryan falls for our Phantom stand-in’s former lover, a violinist played by Ely Pouget, who was Maggie Evans in the 1990s reboot of Dark Shadows, not to mention appearing in a number of genre flicks like The Rift, Death Machine, and Lawnmower Man 2.
As is his wont, Ryan becomes pretty much immediately obsessed and starts stalking the pretty violinist, despite her repeated polite expressions of disinterest, ultimately taking advantage of her emotional state following the death of one of her co-workers in order to get close to her. Naturally, the show presents all this behavior in a much more flattering light than I have here.
Micki, meanwhile, suspects (correctly, as it turns out, though she’s wrong about the particulars) that Ryan’s new obsession may have something to do with the deaths that keep occurring around her. The unfolding of the plot would probably be pedestrian enough, even if you haven’t seen a dozen variations on the Phantom of the Opera story by now, but there are some nice atmospheric touches in this episode, from the discordant note that the violin plays to hypnotize its victims, to the appearance of our Phantom-alike.
For most of the episode, our Phantom wears a mask covering his face that looks less like the typical Phantom of the Opera mask and more like Ol’ Button Eyes from Nightbreed, while the reveal of his burnt flesh when the mask is finally removed is reminiscent of the makeup design for Freddy Krueger – perhaps no surprise, given the popularity of Krueger’s films at the time this series was airing.
That’s it for tonight, but be sure to join us next time for a dive through a bunch of episodes featuring some of my favorite horror tropes, including wax museums, ventriloquist dummies, and the revelation that Jack apparently knew Boris Karloff. In the meantime, you can check out my full Friday the 13th: The 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.