Unless you have a weakness for syndicated TV shows that came out during the late 1980s, you probably have no idea that this show even existed; what’s more, you’re probably wondering just how anyone could take a simple-minded film franchise like Friday the 13th and turn it into a weekly TV show. Well in actuality, they didn’t; Friday the 13th: The Series is to Friday the 13th (1980) as Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) is to Halloween (1978), except that it was a weekly thing. Jason Voorhees and his deranged mother Pamela are not involved in any episodes; in fact, they aren’t even referenced with any peripheral sight gags (like when Dr. Challis watches the first Halloween on TV in Halloween III). Friday the 13th: The Series can’t even be described as a “spin-off” to be honest, for it has absolutely nothing to do with the films aside from the fact that it shares the franchise name and was created by many of the same people who worked on the films.
The Friday the 13th logo (title card version)
Some people may find this concept bizarre, and I’ve even heard some viewers complain that they felt “cheated” by the TV show because it didn’t involve Jason. But the truth is that when the folks at Paramount started developing Friday the 13th Part 2 in 1981, they briefly considered making the film series an anthology (not unlike what John Carpenter and Debra Hill planned for the Halloween movies after Halloween III). This idea was canned in favor of remaking the first Friday the 13th over and over again (but with Jason).
However, producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. still thought the anthology angle was a great idea, so he later adapted it into a TV show in 1987. And despite the fact that many people hate the series (simply because it didn’t include Jason), it lasted for three entire seasons. This means that people were actually watching the show from 1987 to 1990, and that it actually performed very well in terms of ratings. (Generally, a TV series is lucky if it gets renewed for just a second season, let alone a third.) Friday the 13th: The Series has also acquired a small but devoted cult following over the years, and the people who enjoy it tend to prefer occult horror over slasher films.
That being said, Friday the 13th: The Series isn’t exactly an “anthology.” Each episode has the same protagonists and follows the same formula, but there’s always a different antagonist with a different back story. The premise starts with a guy named Lewis Vendredi (played by R. G. Armstrong), who owns an antique store. (I might also mention that his last name is French for “Friday”). Vendredi has made a Faustian pact; the devil gives him a bunch of cursed antiques with supernatural powers, he sells them to people so the objects can ruin their lives, and Old Scratch pays him with immortality. But eternal youth apparently wasn’t included in the contract, so a disappointed Vendredi decides to break the deal when the pilot episode begins. This turns out to be a big mistake when he gets chased around in his own basement by a pair of invisible feet that leave burning hoofmarks all over the place. Vendredi falls down an elevator shaft and dies, and then his store is inherited by his niece and nephew, the cousins Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay) and Micki Foster (Louise Robey). Neither of them wants to run an antique store, though, so they decide to throw a “going out of business” sale to get rid of everything their crazy uncle left behind.
But before Ryan and Micki can leave town, they meet Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins), a benign occultist who’s been fighting his own private war against Uncle Lewis and other dark witches and wizards in the area. When he learns that Ryan and Micki sold all of Vendredi’s cursed antiques, Jack flips his shit and says they need to get them all back, which establishes the basic formula of the show. In every episode, our heroes learn that someone in the area is using one of the cursed objects for evil; then they figure out a way to get it back and lock it up in their basement. Along the way, various guest characters are killed off in gruesome ways. The antiques grant their owners’ wishes and give them occult powers, but only if their owners kill innocent people in the process. Examples include quill pens that make the things you write come true (if you write them down in someone else’s blood) and foghorns that make ghost pirates come out and lead you to buried treasure (as long as you strangle someone first). Ryan, Micki and Jack have their work cut out for them, and Vendredi’s ghost (and even Satan himself) occasionally show up to cause trouble for them.
I have to admit that this show is pretty damn hokey, especially during its first season. Ryan and Micki start out as completely self-absorbed idiots, and I often feel that Jack (who’s easily the most interesting character) secretly wants to slap them around. But the show definitely got better as time went on, and many of the best episodes are actually in Season 3. By then, Micki has matured into a very strong, noble and intelligent character, and Ryan (who unfortunately never matures) is replaced with a much more likable character named Johnny Ventura (Steve Monarque). (Johnny ain’t all that bright, but at least when he screws up, he’s trying to do something good for someone else; when Ryan screws up, it’s usually because he’s chasing some tail.) The Season 3 episodes also tend to be very well-written and sometimes even go well outside the show’s normal formula, from which Seasons 1 and 2 almost never deviate. But despite its earlier flaws, Friday the 13th deserves some credit for being the earliest show I’m aware of that depicts the occult as a morally neutral concept. While the protagonists often run afoul of murderous Satanists, they also team up with benign Vodun houngans and Egyptian mystics from time to time. I can also tell that the show’s writers actually did some research on the occult, since they use a lot of really obscure terms (e.g., “demonolator,” “right-hand path” and “left-hand path”). In my opinion, Friday the 13th: The Series paved the way for more popular 1990s shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Charmed.
(I would also argue that more recent shows like The Lost Room and Warehouse 13 – both of which were produced for the Sci-Fi Channel, and which involve characters searching for seemingly normal objects with paranormal qualities – are really just variations of Friday the 13th’s original premise.)
From left to right: Micki, Jack and Johnny
One of my favorite moments in the show is in a Season 1 episode called “Hellowe’en.” In this scene, Jack invokes “Melchizedek, Bellerophon and Set” for protection from evil spirits. Melchizedek is a king of Salem and a high priest of Yahweh in the book of Genesis; he lived during the time of the prophet Abraham and was thought by gnostic Christians to be a past incarnation of Jesus Christ. Bellerophon is a hero in Greek mythology who’s most famous for killing the Chimera, and Set, of course, is Seth-Typhon. Each of these figures is a defender against evil, and blending Hebrew, Greek and Egyptian mythology is a regular thing in the Greco-Roman magical papyri (which were contemporaries of the New Testament and various works of gnostic and Hermetic literature). So while the writers probably just chose these names at random, it makes a certain kind of magical sense. Plus, I’d only been walking with Seth for one month when I started watching this show. (This was when it was being shown on the Sci-Fi Channel.) So as you can probably imagine, I was really excited when one of its characters invoked my Lord for protection. This was just one of many “meaningful synchronicities” that cemented my faith in Big Red.
Here are some of my favorite episodes (beginning with the one I just mentioned):
“Hellowe’en” (Episode 5) Ryan, Micki and Jack host a Halloween party at their antique store, Curious Goods, but the party’s interrupted by the ghost of Uncle Lewis, who tricks Ryan and Micki into giving him the Amulet of Zohar. This allows Lewis to escape from hell and search for a suitable fresh corpse he can possess. He’s aided in this quest by a demon that appears as a midget with a lampshade on her head. (Don’t ask me, I don’t know why!)
“Scarecrow” (Episode 11) A crazy woman uses a cursed scarecrow to kill her neighbors so she can snatch up their land…or something like that. This episode’s probably not as good as I think it is, but I love it just because I love scarecrows, quaint little country towns and really sharp farming tools. (I enjoy the 1984 version of Children of the Corn for much the same reason.)
“Faith Healer” (Episode 12) David Cronenberg directs this one, and it shows. A televangelist finds a cursed glove that allows him to heal the sick, but he has to pass their sicknesses on to others. The way this works is really, really gross, and I’m surprised it was shown on TV. A skeptic tries to debunk the televangelist, and Jack decides to help.
“The Baron’s Bride” (Episode 13) After killing a sexy vampire and smearing her blood on a cursed broach, Ryan and Micki are transported to London in the late 1890s, where they have to convince a guy named Abraham to help them stop another vampire who seems to be impersonating Jack the Ripper. (I’m sure you can probably guess where that’s going.)
“Bedazzled” (Episode 14) A modern pirate uses a magic lantern to find sunken treasure, then uses the lantern to atomize his friends. Ryan and Jack steal the lantern and bring it back to the store, then go out for a night on the town while Micki stays home to babysit her best friend’s kid. That’s when the pirate breaks into the store and terrorizes them with a lovely game of cat-and-mouse. This one gets points for actually being really creepy and suspenseful.
“The Quilt of Hathor” Parts 1 & 2 (Episodes 19 & 20) There’s this community of Amish-type people who live a pastoral lifestyle out in the middle of nowhere. One of them has a cursed quilt that allows her to kill people in her dreams, and she’s using it to climb her way up the social ladder. Meanwhile, Ryan falls in love with another woman in the community and decides to give up everything to become one of them. This, of course, leads to all kinds of trouble.
“Doorway to Hell” (Episode 27) Uncle Lewis’ ghost returns again, this time trying to open the gateway to hell. I don’t really remember the plot to this one very well – in fact, I’m not sure there’s much of a plot at all – but I like the episode because it includes Jack’s good friend Rashid, a goofy Shriner who’s very adept at astral travel.
“The Voodoo Mambo” (Episode 28) The Curious Goods gang celebrates a special occasion with their local Vodun community, but an evil rich guy finds a cursed Vodun mask and becomes possessed by the ghost of a priestess who went bad. Next thing anyone knows, people around the neighborhood start getting their throats torn out.
“Tails I Live, Heads You Die” (Episode 30) A cursed coin allows its owner to kill people or reanimate corpses, depending on whether it lands heads or tails side up. It’s currently in the possession of a devil cult that seeks to take over the world. While the depiction of Satanism in this episode resembles a live-action cartoon of the Satanic Panic, the story is actually pretty heavy. Plus, the actor playing the high priest of the cult does a very impressive job of reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards, which isn’t easy to do. (I would know.)
“Eye of Death” (Episode 39) A cursed lantern from the Civil War allows a homicidal antique dealer to travel back in time and collect new merchandise straight off the battlefield. This is probably one of the very best episodes, and certainly one of the most memorable.
“Wedding in Black” (Episode 47) Having grown tired of being outsmarted by Canadians, Satan sends three dead people to lure Ryan, Micki and Jack into a parallel dimension that exists within a snowglobe. All three of our heroes are led to this place at the same time, but neither one realizes that the others are there. There’s also a subplot about Lucifer wanting to give Micki the Rosemary’s Baby treatment, but Micki fares much better than poor Rosemary did. This episode gets points for having a really neat plot, but as you can probably guess, Old Nick gets outsmarted again. (If Ryan and Micki really are smarter than the devil, he must be braindead!)
“Coven of Darkness” (Episode 52) Ryan is seduced by the high priestess of a devil cult. She and her followers are trying to retrieve a cursed witch’s ladder, which is currently under the protection of a ceremonial magic lodge. Meanwhile, Micki discovers that she’s a natural-born witch, and the leader of the ceremonial magicians teaches her how to use her gifts.
“The Prophecies” Parts 1 & 2 (Episodes 53 & 54) While visiting France, a demon gets bored and decides to start the Apocalypse. For some reason, this involves possessing Ryan and forcing him to do evil things (e.g., growling, running around shirtless, making faces at people). Micki and Jack open a can of whoopass on the demon, but not before Ryan is somehow transformed into a little boy. He goes to live through puberty again with his mother.
“Demonhunter” (Episode 55) Johnny becomes a permanent cast member in this one. The plot revolves around a family of gun-toting maniacs who are trying to wipe out a nationwide cult and a demon that’s been conjured up from hell. Naturally, they come to believe that Micki, Jack and Johnny are members of the cult and need to be shot. The monster in this one is pretty impressive, and I actually didn’t expect the story to end like it does.
“Crippled Inside” (Episode 56) Johnny has to recover a cursed wheelchair. If you sleep in this thing, you can kill people as a ghost; every time you do, the chair heals part of your body while you sleep. It just so happens that the chair is currently owned by a girl who was paralyzed while trying to escape from some rapists, and unlike most of the villains in this show, we totally side with her. Understandably, Johnny wonders if taking the chair away is really the right thing to do.
“Hate On Your Dial” (Episode 59) A white supremacist buys a cursed car radio that magically transports you to the 1950s when you smear it with blood. This is exactly what happens, and Jack and Johnny are accidentally brought along for the ride. In the 1950s, our heroes must protect an African American lawyer from the KKK while trying to find a way back to the 1980s.
“The Long Road Home” (Episode 67) Micki and Johnny retrieve a cursed object that allows people to switch bodies with each other. On the way home, they run afoul of some crazed rednecks who have an appetite for rape and human taxidermy. Even though this one takes a lot from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), it succeeds at being very creepy.
“The Tree of Life” (Episode 71) Fanatical neo-Druidesses become obstetricians and feed unsuspecting husbands to trees. (Cool.)
The Friday the 13th logo (TV commercial version)
It’s terribly cheesy, but if you’re like me and you actually like the idea of watching a weekly made-for-TV Hammer horror film (in which the characters dress up like Jem and the Holograms), Friday the 13th: The Series is for you. While my Wiccan friends were watching Buffy and Charmed, I was watching Friday the 13th and rooting for the good (if somewhat slow-witted) folks at Curious Goods.