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. Yeah, we know it’s not Halloween any longer. 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. Yes, we also know we’ve already covered every Friday the 13th film. Just bear with us, OK? We think you’re going to enjoy this one.
I’m a team player. Really.
So when I’m alerted that Midwest Film Journal is doing one of its ambitious projects, I like to play a part.
Problem is, this one was for Friday the 13th movies, and I’m no fan of the franchise or the genre.
But, like I said, I’m a team player.
So what can I contribute? Hmmm. Ah, I vaguely remember there was a comedy flick called Saturday the 14th back in 1981. What if I write about that one?
“Sure,” my editors said. “That would be great. We’ll tack that one on at the end of the series. Thanks, Lou.”
It took literally three seconds into the movie to see that this might have been a mistake. That’s when we see a cheesily animated wolf howling, then coughing. Out of sync. Followed by an equally lame cartoon bat flying out a window of the tinted image of a house. Lightning cracks, then Richard Benjamin’s name appears in drippy letters.
I am endlessly interested in actors like Richard Benjamin, actors who take work rather than choose from all the best material. I’m much more likely to listen to or read an interview with Benjamin and his ilk rather than a Brad Pitt or a Tom Hanks.
Considering that Benjamin appeared in a half-dozen or so movies in 1980 and 1981, I like to speculate that he was studying how to direct — and how not to direct — because he shortly went on to a busy second career behind the camera that included My Favorite Year, Racing with the Moon and The Money Pit.
Paula Prentiss is credited next. Maybe part of the draw for Benjamin was getting to spend time with his wife. The couple with one of the longest Hollywood marriages on record (since 1961) hadn’t been on screen together since the short-lived sitcom He & She and the ensemble Catch-22. So maybe togetherness helped the decision-making.
I hope they had a nice time.
Neither is given much to do in Saturday the 14th and neither does it particularly well. That’s kind of understandable given that the script feels as if it were written by someone’s 13-year-old cousin who only heard about comedy and horror from a 9-year-old neighbor. I seriously pity the editor who, it seems, took a week or two to string this mess together.
It’s director Howard R. Cohen’s first movie. He’s also the screenwriter, coming after his scripts for Vampire Hookers and The Young Nurses but before Barbarian Queen and 11 episodes of the Care Bears TV show. He also was a party joke editor for Playboy magazine.
Jeffrey Tambor is also in the film. He plays a vampire. Badly. And, early on, in daylight.
The plot: Benjamin and Prentiss move into a house with their two kids. There’s a mysterious book that conjures monsters which are about as menacing as those in a 1970s Saturday morning kids’ show. Tambor and his vampire partner want the book. So does Van Helsing.
Van Helsing is played by Severn Darden, the improvisational comedy legend who was a key player in the early days of Second City and deserves much better than what he got from Hollywood. I had the honor of seeing him onstage, in his improv element, twice. That makes his work here even sadder.
Eventually there’s a party where nobody acts even remotely like a human being nor does anything funny. Random sound effects are added as well as decidedly un-special special effects. We see too much of the tongues of both Tambor and Darden. (Don’t ask.) And there’s a twist ending. In spite of the title, nothing in the film has anything to do with the Friday the 13th franchise.
To hell with critical analysis: The whole thing is a piece of shit.
And there was a sequel. Of course there was a sequel.
The sequel, Saturday the 14th Strikes Back, was also written and directed by Cohen.
No, I won’t be watching it.
I’m not that much of a team player.