It’s just a few more days until the 30th anniversary of the first episode of Friday the 13th the Series. As a long-time fan, I’m kicking myself for the fact that a book about the series was released almost two years ago, and I’m only just noticing now.
When I picked up a copy of Alyse Wax’s book Curious Goods – Behind the Scenes of Friday the 13th: The Series, I expected an episode list, maybe with a rundown of writers, directors, and guest stars. But what I got was exactly what I want out of a fan book: a lovingly-detailed summary of all 72 episodes, plus interviews, photos, and tons of fascinating details about the background of the show and what went on during the making of each episode.
The author’s introduction goes into how she discovered the TV show at nine years old (nine! Good grief, my first glimpse of the show at fifteen almost scared me out of the room), a story that’s familiar to anyone who remembers a time before computers, when you were at the mercy of the random chance from turning the TV dial to see if anything else was on. Alyse’s discovery led to a self-published fanzine, and eventually a career in journalism writing for horror magazines and websites.
The chapter for Season 1 jumps right into an interview with show creator, Frank Mancuso Jr., talking about how he was hired to create the series. If you’ve ever been confused about the fact that this series shares a name with the Jason movies, well join the club. It always seemed like an odd choice, since it runs the risk of disappointing fans of the movies, while driving away people who might think this was just another story about the hockey-mask-wearing serial killer.
It turns out that was exactly what the show creators were worried about, but Paramount insisted on the name anyway. The show’s origin confirms some of my worst assumptions about network television. Paramount executives wanted something that would make money, and they literally told Mancuso he could make the show about anything he wanted as long as it had that attention grabbing name (which not coincidentally they controlled the rights to). The decision baffled everyone involved, including director Tom McLoughlin.
Mancuso: “You know, there’s this guy who came in, who is talking to me about doing this as a series.”
McLoughlin: “A weekly thing with Jason?”
Mancuso: “No, no, it’s like with cursed objects and stuff. I don’t know if it’s going to work.”
McLoughlin: “Why the title?”
Mancuso: “Meh, we own the title.”
A good part of the first chapter is quotes from the cast and crew, talking about the craziness of starting with a title first and making a series to go with it, casting issues, and brainstorming about what different kind of antiques you could write a story around (and which ones the network said “ABSOLUTELY NOT” to). I loved getting to see how the (in some cases very inexperienced) crew and cast members came together and played off each other, and how the writers quickly realized that while the antiques were crucial, it was the relationship between the main characters that would keep viewers coming back.
Then we get to the episode summaries. Now, I love a good recap. TV Show, movie, comic book, you name it. There’s just something addictive about seeing a story retold through someone else’s eyes. The author takes the perfect tone with these, unspooling each tale with all the highlights, favorite moments, best quotes, and the kind of information that you could only get from pausing a VCR at just the right moment, like some of the items listed on the same page of the Manifest as that week’s cursed item. (Fan art writers, one of those was apparently a pair of jade dragon earrings, and I’d love to hear the story about that.)
To keep this from being too worshipful, Alyse also inserts some humor in her critique of each episode, and points out those times when the episode isn’t one of her favorites (and why), or when the viewer is asked for a little too much suspension of disbelief.
The entire book is a gem, but for me the best part is the impressive number of interviews the author was able to do with people involved with the show. Writers, directors, guest stars, even the show’s composer Fred Mollin. The result is that every episode has at least one fun bit of trivia to give us a glimpse of what was going on behind the scenes. And apparently anything could and did happen: makeup disasters, stunt fails, strong-arm contract disputes, a director replaced and packed into a limo during a lunch break, and an entire show’s worth of music lost less than a week before the air date. There are just so many delightful little stories about lifelong friends made on the set, cursed antiques invented from the worst fears of the writers, character histories that existed entirely in the minds of the actors playing them, and, oh yeah, just what did Marge Longacre do with the heads of the people she had the Scarecrow kill?
None of this takes away the magic of the show; in fact, it makes me want to watch all three seasons again. This is a perfect book for fans, written by a fellow fan who knows how to tell a story that will keep you going, “Okay, just one more episode…”