Something Weird on TV
Friday the 13th: The Series Part Six – Old Tricks
Welcome back to part six of my weird exploration of that unsung classic Friday the 13th: The Series as we work our way through 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 …
We kick off tonight’s run with the first of four series episodes to be helmed by Tom McLoughlin, better known as the director of the sixth installment of the movie franchise, Jason Lives, as well as one of my personal favorites, One Dark Night. Sadly, there’s no optical effect lightning or pink neon glow in this one, but we still have three more episodes to hope for…
The logline this time around is that Micki falls for a Hollywood leading man (and vice versa) while the gang are providing antique props for the movie he’s shooting. Problem is, he’s actually a really ugly guy who used to play bit parts in horror movies until he came across a makeup case that once belonged to John Wilkes Booth and that now makes him handsome after he adds some blood from someone he murdered.
It must have been a real ego boost for John Bolger to be picked to play the “most handsome man in Hollywood.” Meanwhile, I thought I recognized the actor who plays the film’s director, Hrant Alianak, and it turns out he was the doctor in Pontypool, many years later.
As an Easter egg for horror lovers, the antagonist of this episode uses the stage name “William Pratt,” which was the birth name of none other than Boris Karloff. The writers aren’t content to let you figure that out for yourself, though – this was originally released in the days before the internet as we know it today, after all – and spell it out when they also reveal that Jack apparently knew Karloff, which doesn’t seem any more unlikely than some of the other things we’ve learned about Jack up to now.
If there’s anything better than a good wax museum story, it’s a good wax museum story that also takes place in a carnival, which is what we get in episode seven. This time around, Ryan’s skirt-chasing leads the gang (sans Micki, who is absent for, I think, the first episode of the series so far) to a traveling carnival where a wax figure of Lizzy Borden is chopping the heads off paying customers.
Sussing out the “why” of it is where the episode gets good, not that the ultimate reveal is anything terribly shocking. Shortly after we first meet Marie, Ryan’s latest infatuation, and learn that she suffers from terrible headaches and fainting spells, which are cured when her husband, who also makes the wax figures for the museum, dispatches Lizzy to kill, we can probably guess that Marie is actually a wax figure herself. It is nonetheless a more-than-usually intriguing spin on the typical wax museum plot, and Marie’s tragic end is surprisingly gruesome and effective, even for this occasionally-bloody series.
As an aside, Marie’s domineering creep of a husband is played by Angelo Rizacos, whose brief filmography of mostly TV work includes a role simply credited as “punk” in the 1982 Tom Hanks anti-D&D Satanic Panic flick, Mazes and Monsters. It’s been too long since I saw Mazes and Monsters for me to remember a guy who would simply have been credited as “punk,” and we’re probably all better off without me going back to revisit.
Series regular William Fruet has already helmed some of the best episodes in the show so far, and with “Wax Magic” he does so again, complete with some decent atmosphere and some of the show’s best gloppy special effects to date.
Next up is “Read My Lips,” which guest-stars none other than Billy Drago as a drunk (no surprise there) ventriloquist whose dummy has a mind of its own (also no surprise). As always, Drago is great, possessed of an almost dancer-like fluidity to his movements that helps to sell not only his character’s frequent inebriation but also a sense that he is both magnetic and also definitely not quite right.
As with “Wax Magic,” while we’ve seen the sinister ventriloquist dummy time and time again, the twist this time out is that the dummy is, in fact, being brought to life bit-by-bit because it’s wearing a silk boutonniere that once belonged to Hitler – a fact that’s foreshadowed throughout the episode, as Jack is absent on a trip to collect some Nazi paraphernalia. I think the plot is intended to suggest that the boutonniere is simply animating the dummy with malevolent life, but the much weirder implication that it might be using the body of the dummy to resurrect Hitler himself is more interesting, if unexplored by the episode proper.
“Read My Lips” is the second Friday episode to be directed by Francis Delia, who previously helmed “Symphony in B-Sharp,” a standout of the first part of season two, which I covered last month. We’ve still got two more episodes from him to go, so hopefully they will be similarly rich. To round out this batch of episodes, though, we’ve got something a little special.
In spite of its considerable popularity, Friday the 13th was only ever nominated for two Emmys. One in 1988, while the first season was on the air, for the title sequence, and the other for special effects for the ninth episode of the second season, “13 O’Clock.” The gimmick here is that of a stopwatch that can stop time for an hour, so long as you commit a murder and then be waiting at a specific subway stop at precisely one in the morning.
The special effect that nabbed that Emmy nomination (it lost out to a TV mini-series called War and Remembrance starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Seymour) concerns what happens when time is stopped. First off, everything goes grayscale and everyone stops moving except the person who stopped time. That’s simply enough done. But as they then wander in and out of the crowds of motionless people who surround them, it is occasionally pretty impressive, even now.
They don’t do a lot with the effect, and I don’t know that it’s the one from the series up to this point that I would have called out for special consideration, necessarily, but it does show the creativeness that this show was capable of getting up to, when it set its sights high enough.
That’s it for tonight, but be sure to join us next time as we get into some fan favorite episodes and also crack the second half of season two! 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.