Something Weird on TV-Friday the 13th: The Series Part Three-Mean Seasons
Welcome back for part three of the weird exploration of that unsung classic Friday the 13th: The Series. 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 …
In the first installment of this column, I mentioned how Friday the 13th: The Series prefigures Buffy. Back then, I didn’t know the half of it.
Besides a similar format – that of the same small group of characters running up against “monster-of-the-week” shenanigans – and a shared tone, there’s something else that both Friday and Buffy have in common: the gimmick episode.
In Buffy, this takes the form most famously of the musical episode, “Once More with Feeling,” or the almost-equally-beloved “Hush,” a mostly dialogue-free episode aping the conventions of silent film. In Friday the 13th, none of the gimmick episodes have yet been quite so ambitious, but we got our first real taste of one in “The Baron’s Bride,” the 13th episode of the first season.
The cursed antique this time around is a cape with a diamond clasp. It actually has two functions – the cape itself grants immortality, though, it is implied, not actually to the wearer, as once he has it on and has been transformed into a vampire, he seems to gradually become another person, presumably the cape’s original owner. Meanwhile, it is the diamond clasp that kicks off the episode’s gimmick. When touched by blood, the clasp enables anyone touching the cloak to travel through time.
In this case, said time travel hurls the newly-turned vampire, Micki, and Ryan all back to Victorian London, where they meet a notably bowdlerized and weirdly tragic Bram Stoker who is also remarkably ahistorical – to the extent that they not only invent a wife for him, but invent a dedication in Dracula to the memory of said wife. Especially odd given that Stoker’s actual dedication in the novel – “To my dear friend Hommy-Beg” – is one of the more famous in gothic literature.
None of that is the gimmick part, though. Time-traveling to Victorian London would be gimmick enough on its own, but the episode also plunges itself into black-and-white for the duration of their stay. There’s also some pretty gnarly vampire makeup in one otherwise-unnecessary scene. It’s probably worth noting that this is the only episode of the series directed by Bradford May, whose extensive filmography includes both Darkman sequels and working as DP on Fred Dekker’s Monster Squad.
Also worth noting is the casual appearance of vampires here. Of course, the series is no stranger to the supernatural, by this point, but up until now, everything that has shown up has been tied, in one way or another, directly to the cursed antiques. Even the ghost of Uncle Lewis, who appeared with a demon in tow back in episode five, was all part of the grand deal-with-the-devil plot that has been at the heart of every episode so far. Even though the vampires are using the cursed cape, however, their existence in the world isn’t explicitly tied to it, suggesting the possibility of a much larger and more complex supernatural realm waiting in the wings.
The series followed up “The Baron’s Bride” in short order with a couple of its grimmest episodes to date. In “Vanity’s Mirror,” the show’s fifteenth episode, we see the proto-Scooby Gang fail for the first time as they go up against a teenage psychopath (played by Ingrid Veninger), who went on to become a producer/director) with a compact that makes men fall in love with her. She ultimately throws herself off the roof of the school, along with her sister’s boyfriend, but the gang fails to recover the compact, which will show up again in season two.
Three episodes later, in “Brain Drain,” Jack fails again, and at much more personal stakes. The episode introduces an old flame (Carrie Snodgrass, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1970 for her role in Diary of a Mad Housewife) with whom Jack becomes engaged once more. Unfortunately, she is also the target of that week’s villain, a man who formerly had an IQ of 58 and who has been using a cursed trepanator to drain the intelligence from others to fuel his own.
Besides delivering a heavy blow to Jack, the episode is notable for featuring the return of actor Denis Forest, who we saw earlier in the series as the put-upon antagonist of “Cupid’s Quiver.” Forest was a series favorite, who would appear in several future episodes, as well as a number of other TV series around the same time. In this, he once more plays the villain, although this time he gets to play it much more refined.
In-between are a couple of comparatively minor episodes involving cursed tattoo needles (with a nice sequence of a monster hand) and a cursed electric chair, which once again delivers some gimmicky black-and-white photography, although this time the sequence repeats often enough in the one episode that it ultimately wears out its welcome.
Overall, though, the tone of the show has veered grimmer as it has run along, even just in the space of this one short season – yet another trait that it shares with Buffy, which may have retained its sense of humor, but dealt with increasingly tragic and heavy material as the series progressed.
That’s it for tonight. Next time, on my continued weird journey through Friday the 13th: The Series, we’ll wrap up our discussion of season one with the show’s first two-part episode and more! Find 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.