Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Vera's Mom (Has Got It Goin' On)

Growing up sucks sometimes.

I desperately wanted to watch horror movies when I was a kid.  My friend from down the street had far more lax parenting than I, and thus was wading in cheap 80s slasher flicks up to his nostrils whenever the urge struck him, relaying to me the gory details I didn't have permission to watch myself.

My parents heard my begging on a routine basis, and made the in-hindsight tactical error of telling me I'd be allowed to watch horror movies once I turned eleven.  It was a shut-him-up measure, they hoped, since I might not have even turned ten at that point.

But that goal line lodged in my head; I reminded them of it incessantly as my eleventh year of life flew by, certainly to their chagrin.  And to their credit, they honored their promise.  I don't know that I've awaited a birthday more, nor that the final week leading up to one has moved in slower motion.

As you might imagine, the floodgates opened rather violently in the weeks which immediately followed my birthday in 1988.  Allowance was burned as quickly as it was given, in exchange for rental VHS copies of such cultural touchstones as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, along with the panoply of sequels that each spawned.  I gorged, and I had a blast in doing so.

Me, aged 11 years 5 days.
It has occurred to me that I watch 80s slasher films differently depending on where I am in life, beyond simply growing out of thinking that Freddy Krueger is the most awesome movie character ever.

My adult tastes are far more refined.
There is no more sobering and singular recognition of this phenomenon than when I watch 1982's Friday the 13th Part 3-D. It is a silly, slapdash sequel of the type churned out annually in the 80s, when a quickie slasher flick with a $3 million investment could return $60 million in receipts without actually having to hire writers or actors of any expertise.  Indeed, the most valued person on the sets of most of these flicks was the special-effects director, devising clever and graphic ways to depict the dismemberment of horny teens.

This film is not exempt from any of these critiques. Least defensible of all is its slavish attempt to cash in on the 3-D "craze" by having various characters thrusting items at the screen seemingly every ninety seconds throughout the film's running time.  Yo-yos, pokers, and even an eyeball make laughable fly-at-the-camera appearances meant to thrill theatre audiences whose main criteria for an evening's satisfaction seemed to be the presence of air conditioning.

At eleven, I delighted at the silly escapism of the third chapter in the unending saga of Jason Voorhees and the horrific fates which awaited all who dared neck, get naked or be Kevin Bacon at Camp Crystal Lake.

"He dared to dance, even though he knew the risks involved. Bring in John Lithgow for questioning."
I studied all the minutiae of the mythos of Jason Voorhees.  I knew that Part 3-D is where Jason finally found his iconic hockey mask, trading up from the equally eerie burlap sack he wore in his inaugural bloodletting one film prior.

Attempts to replicate this look pissed off my mom and ruined an otherwise perfectly serviceable pillowcase.
I spent countless hours dissecting the various injuries incurred by Jason from sequel to sequel, trying to find evidence of previous wounds in successive films. I committed to memory the identities of the "Final Girl" in each film (which come right back to me without having to look them up, from Adrienne King and Amy Steele in the first two right on up to Lar Park Lincoln and Jensen Daggett in the last two before things went off the rails even by the admittedly iffy standards of the series).  I loved the whole enterprise despite the idea already swirling in my mind that they were just junk-food flicks, never to be confused for art.

A few years later I revisited the series and watched them in marathon succession in my mid-to-late teens, and I came to Friday the 13th: Part 3-D as a completely new audience member.  For one thing, I had long since steered into the phase all teens go through where absolutely nothing is exempt from mockery; every suspect piece of acting, or any special effect that was either just plain bad or simply a product of its time, were laid bare via withering scorn and eye-rolling.  Plus, I couldn't believe that I'd ever watched the film without ever noticing or admiring its severely cute lead actress, Dana Kimmell, and her propensity for making high-pitched fright noises which sounded awfully like high-pitched orgasmic noises, assuming you were a fifteen-year-old boy and wanting to hear little else.

She had my attention, to say the least.
Jason was still pretty bad-ass, though by fifteen I'd grown quite the discerning taste for certain actors over others who have played the Jason Voorhees role over the years, and this one was strictly second-tier.

Again, because I know how much it impresses you: Kane Hodder, Richard Brooker, Ted White, Warrington Gillette...
The viewing experience was markedly different from when I'd seen the film at eleven years old.  So when the original octet of films was released on DVD in a boxed set a few years back, I picked it up and sat down to watch them anew, wondering how they'd hit my sensibilities in my late twenties.

And growing up to be an adult has ruined Friday the 13th: Part 3-D for me, to a degree.

For one thing, there was the character of Shelly.  He is a loser.  This is not a judgment call on my part.  Here is how he's described in the script of the film (and while I can sense your incredulity, I assure you this film had a script):

"Shelly puts on a pair of unflattering prescription glasses.
 Although he has a pleasant face, Shelly is overweight, 
 greasy-haired and unkempt."

"Also, he will one day sire Jonah Hill."
Watching this film at age eleven, Shelly was a funny guy who I kind of admired, in a way.  He pulled pranks on his friends, popping up to scare them while wearing creature-masks (or a certain hockey mask he'd lose but not miss while partying at Camp Crystal Lake) or falling out of closets with latex appliques made to look like he'd been stabbed or slashed to death.  Basically, he had access to cool stuff and the know-how to use it in a way that looked really awesome to me.  That he existed for ridicule was lost on me.

By the time I was fifteen I was already annoyed by the treatment of the Shelly character. Not only did he exist for ridicule (they named him Shelly, for fuck's sake; I guess Pudge McUnattractive was too on-the-nose), he was blatantly set up to fail within this group of "friends." The whole reason Shelly came on this trip was because one of his buddies set him up on a blind date, and evidently told the two absolutely nothing about each other so Shelly would stand no chance when suddenly coming face to face with the very attractive Vera when the gang stopped to pick her up en route to Crystal Lake.

Even the sweatiest fan-fiction would've strained to give Shelly a chance.
This is admittedly not the best picture for making my point of what a smokin' hot babe Vera was, but the point is that she was introduced to Shelly knowing nothing about him, guaranteeing an underwhelmed reaction to a shlubby unconfident lump of dude by the second-cutest woman in the film.

I didn't forget you, Dana.

For the sake of contrast, here's the script's introduction of Vera:

"This time Vera, knapsack over her shoulder, ready to
 go, comes out onto the porch.  She's a knockout...20, exotic,
 raven-haired tight jeans.  They turn and stare at her."

And true to form, Shelly flounders and fails in his flop-sweating attempts to get to know and impress Vera, and we're asked not to reflect on how unfair it is given our prescient knowledge of the fates of everyone involved in this camping trip.

Dies a virgin.
Here's the moment they meet, in the script:

  So, where's my date?
 Shelly comes out from behind Andy.
    (letting her
     disappointment show)
  You're Shelly?
  I'm sorry.

Even in a series not known for its character development, I always felt a cruelty hanging over the world as it related to Shelly (notwithstanding his pending windpipe-renovation-via-maniac later that weekend). It sure didn't help that life had handed me plenty of examples by age fifteen or sixteen to know that I was Shelly, after a fashion, and there was no small bitterness at being reminded of that.

While well attended, my "Pity Sex For Shelly!" protest march was drowned out by the "Free Mumia!" guys who remembered to bring megaphones.
By my late twenties I had a bit more perspective and confidence, and was able to let some of that animosity go, even though I still thought Shelly's buddy Andy was a bit of a dick for flubbing the blind date set-up, and for looking suspiciously like Scott Baio.

If Jason Voorhees talked, he'd surely have yelled "Machete Loves Chachi!" as he escorted Andy to his Maker.
But it was an entirely different scene in the film which haunted and bothered me as a full-fledged adult, and it was the brief, seemingly inconsequential cameo appearance by Vera's Mom when the gang arrives to pick Vera up for the trip.
Here is the entirety of her involvement in Friday the 13th: Part 3-D, via the script:

The door opens and a middle-aged Hispanic woman stands behind 
the outer screen door.
(Spanish accent)

Hi, Mrs. Sanchez. I'm Chris.
We've come to pick up Vera.

She's not going.

She shuts the door in Chris' face. The group stands there
not knowing what to do next. V.O.'s from inside the house
they can hear Vera and her mother arguing in Spanish.

What are they saying?

I don't know. I flunked Spanish.

They all turn to leave when suddenly the front door swings
open. This time Vera, knapsack over her shoulder, ready to
go, comes out onto the porch. She's a knockout...20, exotic,
raven-haired tight jeans. They turn and stare at

(forcing a smile)
Hi everybody, what're you looking
at. Let's go.

Shelly, intimidated by Vera's sexy good looks, steps behind
Andy and slips the mask back over his face.

(to Vera)
Is everything okay?

You know, just your basic old
fashioned mother problems.

That's the whole scene. We then segue into Vera being introduced to/disappointed by her blind date, and then everyone piles into the van for the last road trip of their young lives.

This was boring set-up information when I was eleven.  Just get to the Jason parts already!

I had other focal points when I was fifteen. Jeez, how many hot girls are in this group of friends, anyway?

But in my late twenties, this scene made me strangely and suddenly quite sad.

Because the mythos of Crystal Lake and its sordid history wasn't just a construct for the audience, a setting for the regular bloodbaths to ensue.  In the films' world, it was a real place where really horrible stuff had happened.  A kid had drowned.  His mother blamed the counselors, who were busy having sex instead of watching the campers swim.  She lost her mind and killed a number of those counselors, as well as a fresh batch who came to renovate and re-open the camp years later.  One of them managed to behead this psychotic woman before she could do further damage, but the body wasn't found, and the rumor persisted that the son had survived drowning, grown up (significantly maladjusted due to his very unique living situation and lack of human interaction), recovered his mother's body, and was living somewhere in the deep woods around Camp Crystal Lake, waiting. Preparing to unleash an unquenchable fury upon those who he believe killed his mother.

Indeed, the events of Friday the 13th: Part 3-D follow those of Friday the 13th: Part 2 by exactly one day, so Jason has only begun to lay waste to the visiting youth population of the area.  But it's still in the news.  Friday the 13th: Part 3-D begins with a radio news report on the events of the prior film, meaning that police and EMTs are already on the scene and discovering the fresh horrors on display.  The first spoken lines in the script are:

...and I'm Ed Harris with the KLTZ
Early Morning Report.
Theme music out.

Crystal Lake in Pinehurst County,
the scene of several unsolved
deaths years ago, is tragically
back in the top of the news this
morning.  Police have uncovered
the remains of eight, as yet,
unidentified persons in a gruesome
and baffling story of mass

...Judging from the sheer
brutality of the murders, police
theorize that they must have been
committed by at least four

...The sole survivor of the
massacre has been taken under
heavy sedation to County Hospital
in Linfield for observation.
She's been unable to provide
police with any clues and is being
kept under round the clock guard...
Does this not sound like a huge story everyone would be talking about? Would it not seem rational for people to batten down the hatches and keep their families under watchful eye for awhile, since the sole survivor of a massacre has thus far been unable to provide any clues which might lead to the apprehension of  her attacker?

And so we have Mrs. Sanchez, as she's billed in the credits.

Vera's mom, who was clearly worried for her daughter's safety, tried to keep her from going on this trip, and came away with a lifetime of grief and horror over having been completely founded with her concerns, and over what else she might have done to stop Vera from leaving that day. 

All of the teens depicted in this film had parents, assumedly, but Vera's was the only one we actually saw, coming out on the losing end of the last argument she and her daughter would ever have. "Just your basic old-fashioned mother problems."

Surely there would be extensive lawsuits to follow; massive class-action suits brought about by the victims' families, litigated before an enthralled nation and news media, dragging the details into the light again and again to the agony of the surviving loved ones who can only commiserate with each other, and WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME, FRIDAY THE 13TH: PART 3-D!? I JUST WANTED TO WATCH A MINDLESS 80s SLASHER FLICK!  DAMNIT, I KINDA WANT TO CRY NOW, OVER THIS LADY I'VE NEVER MET AND NEVER WILL, WHO ISN'T EVEN REAL!! THE ONLY WAY I CAN RECOVER TO WATCH THE REST OF THIS MOVIE NOW IS IF I IMAGINE THAT VERA'S MOM IS A COUGAR WHO WAS JUST MAD BECAUSE SHE'D CALLED DIBS WHEN SHE SAW THE GROUP APPROACHING HER FRONT DOOR, BUT HER DAUGHTER SWOOPED IN ON THE GUY MRS. SANCHEZ HAD HER EYE ON!
Sadly, forever denying him a demonstration of why her nickname is "Dirty."
In closing, I want to be able to go back in time and watch this stupid movie again as an eleven-year-old, back before everything got hormonal and drenched in serious thoughts and empathy for my fellow man.

Yeah, back to the Jason parts!

No comments:

Post a Comment