When I was reviewing the Sydney Underground Film Festival films, I talked about one called Memory: The Origins of Alien. In that review, I talked about my love of the 6-hour superdoc Crystal Lake Memories. I figured since we’ve entered October, it seemed only right for me to talk about that documentary. If nothing else, I know the length is a barrier to entry so my hope is that I can encourage you to give it a go.
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th is the definitive documentary about a film series. Starting at the original Friday the 13th and ending at the remake, every entry in the series gets talked about, dissected and discussed in laborious detail. If you were curious about what specific shots got cut out of Jason Takes Manhattan, this film dives into that. Do you want to know where the wig that Ethel wore in Part 5 came from? That’s a little specific, but that’s touched on here. Not only do they talk about every movie in the franchise, they even talk about the TV series. All this is done with interviews with the actors, directors, crew members and various Jason actors, with the film being narrated by Cory Feldman.
While the length of this film is unquestionably intense, it’s broken up between each movie. Each film in the franchise gets about 40 minutes of screen time in the documentary. That’s plenty of time to go into all the weird behind the scenes shenanigans that happened in every film. You get a sense of what films were made with a passion to make a good horror film and who was there because they wanted a film credit. The 40-minutes per film thing helps you easily ration the film out into small TV episode sized portions. The parts don’t overlap, so once they finish talking about one film you can take a break and come back later to watch the portion about the next film. Each segment makes sure to talk about every character and gets almost every actor who was involved, except those who passed away (All of whom get a tiny RIP moment) and those who are too famous to take the time out of their day to do an interview.
This genre of horror often gets pushed aside as cheap popcorn fare that anyone can do, respect is never given to them and the artistry that goes into making these elaborate gorefests. This movie tries to fix that by taking the time to go from kill to kill and explaining some of the difficulty making them, how the effects guys made them work and even the quick changes they had to make when they realized something wasn’t quite working right. It lets the actors talk about the backstories they came up with for these characters or what specific little things they did to get into character. We even get to talk about where these stories come from, the writers explain how they worked to build the world of Jason Voorhees beyond just a guy in a mask and the directors talk about how they worked with the budgets they had. They make it clear how this series was always so much more than just “A guy with a hockey mask and a machete”, it delves into all the problems that went into making these silly little films.
The big recurring villain of the documentary is the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) who never liked the series and hearing the insane things they demanded to be cut will blow your mind. Anyone who is a fan of horror films would know a fair amount about how insane the MPAA is but the level of hatred that group of jackals had for Friday the 13th is intense. They were eager to cut anything and everything that they could and it’s stunning just what they thought was too explicit for an audience of adults. It’s nice to see a lot of those shots that got cut are put in this documentary (albeit in a very hard to watch form, like it was taken from a VHS that’s been copied a few dozen times) so you can judge for yourself if they were too intense but it really does show just how much damage the MPAA did to the art that went into these movies. Say what you will about the franchise, the effects work is someone’s art and the MPAA censored it so having this documentary repeatedly take them to task is pretty great.
What we have here is the ultimate horror documentary, there is no way on earth I could see anyone making a better version of this and it gives the audience everything they need. It’s a format that works so well, probably because this is the perfected version of the style that this studio began using with their Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again (another one worth watching) and it’s a format I hope they use again. I really want these guys to go back and do documentaries again, instead of the films they’re doing right now which appear to be a horror movie about the Sharon Tate murders (Seems tasteful… and yes, I’ll get to it eventually) and an upcoming movie about Nicole Brown Simpson. Maybe they could just stop doing fictionalised versions of actual murders and go back to doing these documentaries about fictional killers which are so much more fascinating. If you get a chance to see Crystal Lake Memories, it’s worth the 6-hour investment you’ll make for it, if nothing else you’ll have a huge amount of nerd trivia to impress/annoy your friends with and isn’t that the reason we watch documentaries like this to begin with?