13 Fridays is a 13-week look at the entirety of Friday the 13th series, starting on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, and running through Halloween 2021. It will run parallel to other series we’re running in late summer / early autumn, including another round of No Sleep October essays. Every week features an essay about one of the Friday the 13th films in chronological order, written by new and regular Midwest Film Journal contributors and staff writers. Some have seen the whole franchise. Some are novices and neophytes, jumping into the movies without watching the rest of them to offer unvarnished thoughts.

Friday the 13th: Part III has a disco theme. I’d like you to let that sink in for a moment, if you please. Harry Manfredini’s iconic score, built off simple whispers, accompanies the famous slasher’s third outing with some additional swanky rifts, sound effects, a drum machine and a danceable tempo. The film’s gimmick of 3D? Very much of its time. But disco had been dead for years. Why not death metal? Was that not more fitting and contemporary? Manfredini’s score was never as iconic as, say, John Carpenter’s Halloween themes, but the shift in genre is still weird and jarring.

Note: I didn’t say the disco theme is bad. Just because it’s different than what came before and doesn’t stack up to the masters doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun time. Friday the 13th Part III asks viewers to hang their expectations at the door and just groove with it.

For a bit of perspective, I’m Australian. We don’t have summer camps or counselors the same way Americans do because if we sent a ton of kids out into the Outback, they would probably all just die thanks to spider bites, snake bites or drop bears (American Editor’s Note: Drop bears are apparently a cryptid version of koala bears that supposedly eat Australian children).

Both Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2 feature touchstones that are lost on me. It’s just wild to watch young people so freely run around the wilderness unaccompanied by adults. I mean, that’s partially the point. But to this Australian, it has an extra layer of weirdness. These dumb kids didn’t even check their toilets for Redbacks. And that snake scare in the first film? Cowards.

So I was glad when the soon-to-be-dead teens in Part III are just hanging out at a family cabin at the edge of a murder lake. It felt more identifiable than a bunch of kids pretending to be adults out in the wilderness. Hanging out at a summer camp? Don’t get it. Hanging out at a cabin on the edge of a terrifying lake? Arguably every lake in Australia is a murder lake, depending on the wildlife.

It also made narrative sense that, as much as these things need to return to Crystal Lake at this point in the franchise, this isn’t just another group of counselors returning to the same area to be murdered (although, as the pandemic has shown us, people consciously make pretty stupid decisions).

Watching the film for the first time, I immediately preferred it to the first two. My enjoyment only increased as the film unfolded. The bikers whom Jason slaughters are so lame and funny. The seemingly 40-year-old Rick (Paul Kratka) is a terrible boyfriend to our lead, Chris (Dana Kimmell), which makes his “signature” 3D death incredible. Speaking of 3D: The effects are all reliant on an object moving very fast towards the camera, a trick used about five times. It makes the kills creative and pretty hysterical compared to the more straightforward gore of the first two.

If I may be so bold, I think Chrissy is a superior Final Girl to Alice and Ginny in the other movies. I thought it was a genius move to give Chrissy a personal reason to attend Crystal Lake and confront her fears; it makes her third-act confrontation with Jason that much more exciting and nail-biting. Chrissy really does face her worst nightmare out at Camp Crystal Lake, and she survives. She’s inherently more driven to participate in the story than the others. The fact this film was originally meant to be the “final” one makes the stakes feel higher to me — a pattern that will continue with the next few movies, I guess!

Part III is where the franchise definitely transitions from its more straightforward horror predecessors to a more popcorn style of entertainment, almost a theme-park ride. (Thank goodness I’m not Martin Scorsese. I don’t want to start a Twitter controversy!). Like I said: You have to groove with it.

Director Steve Miner picks up exactly from where he left off in Part 2 but simplifies the formula even further. Friday the 13th Part III has, appropriately, three segments. First, a slow-burn murder stalk as a prelude. Then, the chill hangout movie (with a few murders to keep things interesting). Finally, the all-out blood-soaked, haunted-house horror ride. It’s an old code, but it checks out.

The genius in Miner’s clean recitation of the approach is that it allows us time to get to know the characters just enough to care about them dying … or cheer it. (Seriously, why is Rick so old? Am I going crazy?) Jason also gains his iconic hockey mask, which is pretty great and makes more sense than a bag through which he can’t possibly see. This is the first time Jason has an identity rather than popping out from a lake or through windows or stalking or whatever. He just walks right along the lakeshore like a big, hulking, mutated monster.

One of the things I liked most about Part III, though, is the ending. Miner goes back to the same jump-scare tradition as the first two, but with a twist. It had me applauding. Like the first two, the ending doesn’t really make sense. There’s a reason why both Part 2 and Part III start with extended flashbacks that retcon the dream-like final scares of their preceding films. At the end, none of them really make sense. This one, which features both mask-less Jason and aquatic-zombie Pamela Voorhees, takes the cake. Totally not giving a shit if the ending makes sense, and prioritizing a good time over continuity upfront, is something to which most IP-driven films should pay attention. Fix it in the next one. Have fun now. This was meant to be the final film, and even though almost 40 years later we know it wasn’t, knowing what came next doesn’t invalidate the wildness of the big scare at the end. Miner certainly goes for broke playing the classics with a new vibe.

Look, this franchise never delivers highly crafted or thought-provoking cinema, but they’re always a good time. Part III feels like the Friday series finally hitting its stride. Critics have always derided it, but there’s a reason why we’re still writing love letters to Miner’s work four decades later.