Saturday, March 28, 2009

Part VI: Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Friday the 13th Part V is the most controversial of the Friday the 13th series. Whereas certain entries in the series(Part I, The Final Chapter) are beloved by fans and certain series(Part VII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes To Hell) are hated by fans, Part V has a mixed reaction from fans. A good number of fans dismissed it primarily for not having Jason as the main villain. (A similar fate happened with Halloween III when John Carpenter decided not to make a Halloween film with Michael Myers.) Other fans feel it is an underrated entry and if one overlooks that Jason isn’t there, it contains a lot of the elements that made the old Friday the 13th films special. Part V boosts the highest body count out of any Friday the 13th films. It also has an ending that left fans debating on what the final scene implies. This chapter focuses on the questions and issues fans have raised about the film and it also answers some of the criticism made about him in Crystal Lake Memories.

Jeff Cramer: What was your knowledge of Friday the 13th before you came on the film? Which of the films had you seen before directing Part V?

Danny Steinmann: I saw Friday I and Friday IV after I was hired. I told my son that I was offered to write and direct Friday V. He went ballistic. I didn’t realize how popular the series had become.

JC: Part V originated from a treatment that was originally written for Part III. What do you remember about the treatment before you rewrote it?

DS: Truthfully, I don’t remember seeing a treatment. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t given one, but I honestly don’t remember. It’s been 25 years. Katherine Hepburn said, “Growing old is not for sissies.” She was right.

JC: Were you allowed to use Jason at all in this film?

DS: Let me answer your question this way. I was doing a film called Savage Streets. They ran out of money about two-and-a half to three weeks into production. The producers frantically tried to raise the money by showing the cut footage to would-be investors. Phil Scuderi and Steve Minasian took a look at the cut scenes and were told the rest of the story.

They passed on Savage Streets, but said I should call them as soon as I was done working on the film. They told me to come up to Boston and meet with them. There they offered me a two-picture deal: Friday V and Last House on the Left Part II. I accepted their offer and was instructed to do two things on Friday V. I was to deliver a shock, scare, or kill every seven or eight minutes. Most importantly, I was to turn Tommy into Jason.

This was not a suggestion. These were orders. I complied and started writing the script. When shooting began, I wanted the audience to feel uncertain as to the identity of Jason. Had he escaped death or had someone else taken his place? Was it Tommy? Jason was not himself. He moved differently. His mask was not the same. The moments when Tommy saw Jason were the only times that the real Jason appeared. When the pretender assumed the identity of Jason, I felt that he became him, with the audience remaining skeptical throughout the film, I hoped for a bit of a mystery.

At the end of the movie as Tommy puts on the mask and is about to kill Pam, I felt I had delivered on the producers instructions to turn Tommy into Jason.

JC: Scuderi instructed you that certain people were supposed to be killed every couple of minutes. He even made a graph to illustrate this point. Can you elaborate on how you worked this idea into the film?

DS: The problem I had was that the Tommy/Jason story was really the essence of the film. Each time you cut away to strangers that had nothing to do with the halfway house and kill them, it dilutes much of the story. The movie’s purpose is to answer the question, “What the fuck is going on with Tommy?” Scuderi’s graph doesn’t give you much room to maneuver.

In Psycho, basically nothing happens for the first 45 minutes until you get into the shower. The Friday movies, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween audiences demanded for there to be as many kills and thrills as possible. The mood is carnal. The faster, more intense, crazed, and horrific, the better.

JC: Who were the two motorcycle people that appear in the film? They either look like they’re from the ‘50s or part of the Al Pacino film Cruising.

DS: They were two guys that needed to be killed. They had nothing to do with the story.

JC: In other words, they were fitting within the graph?

DS: In order to comply with Scuderi’s graph, you had to introduce some characters and kill them three or four minutes later. Remember, the only people left alive at the end are Tommy, Pam, and Reggie, and Pam was on her way out.

JC: You named the medical institution Unger which is an obvious reference to The Unseen producer Tony Unger. This is supposed to imply the institution is incompetent or that Tony Unger himself belongs in the institution?

DS: Both. The guy really got to me. He still does. Unger needs a good spanking. I’m counting the days.

JC: We see the handwritten sign “Fadden was here” when Demon goes to the bathroom. Is that a reference to Vic Faden, the guy who chopped up Joey?

DS: Fadden was a golfing partner of my brother’s. Its an inside joke. Hope this clears up any mystery for the fans.

JC: Fans of the film have asked me to ask you where we are exactly. The mother and idiot son appear to be rednecks, but noone in the film has the same accents or background as they do.

DS: A lot of stuff there are no answers for. I tried to keep the film moving, put as many scares and kills in as possible, make the visuals interesting and the action exciting. If there are places for humor, go for it. If they question a character’s dialect, the movie isn’t for you. There are so many things in the film that are questionable but the mother and son’s background shouldn’t be on that list.

I’ll tell you what their story is, anyway. They previously had been living in Kvelding, a small town 45 miles southeast of Birmingham. Junior had gotten into trouble with the law. He was caught at a farm near Route 8, giving a blowjob to a three-legged goat. It was in all the papers. The two of them, mother and son, high-tailed it out of there, and drove and drove on Junior’s bike until they found this small cottage up north, which they rented. I think it was a six-month lease.

JC: What happened to the goat?

DS: [Laughs]

JC: Tell me about the first day of shooting Debi Sue’s love scene. Some people were taken aback by what they saw, especially from quotes in Crystal Lake Memories. Can you give your own version of the story?

DS: I shot a soft-core love scene, never showing the male genitalia or insertion. The sex was loving and gentle. In any other movie that wasn’t horror, it would’ve been labeled ‘R’, but with the blood and guts it became totally unacceptable. They cut the whole scene. Debi Sue was terrific throughout, never complained once. She’s a very bright and wonderful woman. I’d like to comment on Bracke’s book all at once at the end of this chapter.

JC: OK, at the end, is what happening a dream, or is Tommy really intending to kill Pam?

DS: I never saw Friday VI, but I was told they brought Jason back from the dead and the whole Tommy to Jason thing was thrown out. That decision to just eliminate Friday V and pretend it never happened was questionable, but understandable. For the record, Tommy really intended to kill Pam.

JC: That answers a lot of controversy. Tommy in Part VI is a much different character than he was in Part V.

DS: John Shepherd’s not in it though, right?

JC: A different actor plays him. They did ask him to appear though. In fact, he, Melanie Kinnaman, and Shavar Ross were all asked to come back for Part VI, but it didn’t happen for various reasons. Were you ever asked to come back for Part VI?

DS: I was never asked, but at the time, I was involved with a different project with the producers of the Friday the 13th films. I had a two-picture deal with them –Friday and Last House.

JC: Several people have said this and I sense it as well. There seems to be a level of camp humor in the film, such as Junior and Ethel, and the leather bikers, and the scene where Melanie’s fallen in the mud and doesn’t get up, even though there’s a killer chasing her. Was all that intentional?

DS: I hope any humor in the film is intentional, but I disagree with your last example. Sometimes when someone is living their worst nightmare, the body may not be able to perform and muscle control might break down. Plus, not being able to rise and run brings Jason closer. I didn’t find anything funny in her predicament. Melanie really was terrific. She refused to let a stuntwoman do anything.

JC: Several people have mentioned that you hosed Melanie down when she’s running from Roy/Jason so you could show her in a wet shirt. Is there any truth to that?

DS: Absolutely, 100 percent. Melanie is a very beautiful woman. She was my only choice from day one. When she runs from the monster, her torment is elevated if there’s thunder, lightning and rain. If she happens to be braless and the rain helps accentuate her breasts, ka-ching. It’s a done deal. How many guys would object to these choices I made?

JC: The MPAA cut a lot of the murder scenes out. In fact, out of all the films you’ve done, this one seems to be the most heavily cut of all your films. What scenes do you specifically remember being cut?

DS: Ironically, the only scene that was entirely eliminated was the love scene. Every bit of violence was significantly cut. Today, compared to the popular horror movies, I bet Friday V would get a ‘PG-13’. It’s unbelievable. The Hostel and Saw films are so graphic. I’m surprised they don’t get an ‘X’-rating. Frank Mancuso must have submitted Friday V to the MPAA eight times. They refused to accept both picture and sound. I believe what they finally allowed hurt the movie terribly. The tone of the film was negatively altered.

JC: If the MPAA hadn’t intervened, what would the film look like? How might it be different?

DS: The film would’ve been much more graphic and horrific. Even leading up to the kills the MPAA showed no mercy, but the deed was done. I’ve seen the film recently and it’s not that bad.

JC: Why did you make Roy the ambulance driver the vicious killer in the movie? Do you think it made sense?

DS: While the audience is taking a good look at Tommy grown up, the killer is either Jason back from the grave, someone pretending to be Jason, or Tommy himself. Tommy in transition must be accompanied by scenes of the killer doing his thing. When it turns out that Roy the ambulance driver was impersonating Jason because his son was brutally chopped up, I quickly cut to Tommy in the hospital bed, hoping that the audience would accept the thin explanation, suspend belief, and move on. I apologize to the viewer if they feel that the Roy/Jason revelation lacks credibility, but it is what it is.

JC: Time to bring up the book. As you know, there’s been some criticism of you in Crystal Lake Memories. Would you care to respond?

DS: Friday V made almost $22 million. Some of the actors were given their first opportunity to display their talents in a feature film. I remember seeing the movie when it first came out. The audience reaction was tumultuous. The criticism I and the picture have received has been curious and unwarranted. The film came in on schedule and under budget. The producer and I never had a serious argument or even a spat.

Did other people contribute ideas for the film? Absolutely. My responsibility was to shoot a decent movie, the best it could be. I didn’t reject ideas or dismiss suggestions. I gratefully accepted ideas that were better than mine. Always have.

As principal photography ended, I was given a beautiful copy of the Jason mask on which the cast and crew signed their names with lovely messages. I gave everyone a clock radio. Frank gave each of them a $100 bonus. This was not a “troubled” production.

The cast and I got along quite well. In Crystal Lake Memories, I was described as a paranoid, tense, out of control sex pervert and cocaine addict; desperate, crude, incompetent and an asshole with no talent. Some people like the movie, believe it or not. Some people hate it. But there’s no way it would retain this amount of controversy and interest if the director was basically a madman. The two films I had done prior to Friday V had both gotten away from me. I would not let Friday be another casualty. I have many faults, too many probably, but when I worked on a film I gave it my all and expected the people working with me to do the same.

For some, it is the highlight of their career. For others, it helped launch them into bigger and better things. I won’t trade insults with those that inexplicably turned on me, but I do thank the people that remember their participation in the movie fondly and have only the nicest things to say. Don’t believe everything you read!!!

Part V was the first film Danny had complete control over since High Rise and it paid off! While fans did miss Jason, they still made Part V a box-office hit.


Mehmet said...

Dude, this is great. very detailed and entertaining. Nice Editing too!

Anonymous said...

very odd man...met him at FX in Orlando over the weekend very quiet and strange great director tho

Kid Shay said...

Thanks for this very interesting interview. I often wondered why the tone of Friday V was so different from the ones leading up to it; now I have a better idea why.