Let’s be clear: Friday the 13th Part 3 is every bit as awful as you suspect. The series never aspired to anything more than cheap thrills and by the time it hit this little number, it actually appeared to be bottoming out. Part 3 remains fairly anonymous amid the glut of Fridays surrounding it (nine sequels, one reboot and one crossover with Freddy Krueger thus far), and it arrived just as the franchise’s initial novelty appeared to be running dry. In the summer of 1982, with cinematic titans towering over it at every turn, it barely merits a mention at all.
What we laughingly refer to as a “plot” doesn’t help the film’s case much. Jason is still on the loose, of course, and the Crystal Lake area provides plenty more teenagers for him to disembowel. Admittedly, he branches out a little this time, starting with the owners of a local store and continuing with a trio of bikers who clearly have it coming. But beyond that, it’s just business as usual, as Jason finds new ways to dispatch his victims and the dwindling protagonists try to stay ahead of his endless variety of weapons. Part 3 attempts a few feeble head games towards the end, with the implication that Jason is finally dead and the killings were engineered by the last survivor, but the notion is handled as cheaply and ineptly as the remainder of the series.
But if we take all of that into context, however – if we accept that yes, it’s pretty bad even by the admittedly low standards of slasher films – then something else emerges from the wreckage. In the first place, the film was released in 3-D, a comparative rarity for 1982 and the first time in almost thirty years that Paramount Pictures made use of the format. Part 3 joined the equally inept Parasite in launching a brief resurgent of the 3-D format, which included the likes of Jaws 3-D, Amityville 3-D, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and the immortal Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn. All of them demonstrated the only plausible use of the technology: juicing up overt exploitation with an array of “in your face” gimmick shots. Our current (rapidly fading) obsession with 3-D tries to minimize the grimy realities of that – making elaborate justifications for its artistic legitimacy to cover up for the naked cash grab behind it all. Part 3 and its ilk never treated 3-D as anything but a hook, granting them a rough honesty that more pretentious films lack.
And honestly, there’s something fun about watching Jason’s various implements of destruction coming right at us out of the screen. The novelty value sets it apart from other entries in the series, and if you’re fortunate enough to find an existing 3-D version (I couldn’t), it provides some creature-feature credentials that match up well with the monster movies from 3-D’s heyday in the 1950s.
Far more notable than any of that, however, is a throwaway detail that turned into an enduring icon. Friday the 13th Part 2 put a burlap sack over Jason’s head to hide his grotesque features. They needed something different for this one, since the filmmakers weren’t interested in applying the elaborate make-up to actor Richard Brooker (who played Jason) any more than necessary. The 3-D supervisor was a hockey nut and carried a bag full of equipment with him… including a goalie’s mask. They popped it on Brooker, and the director loved the look. The mask itself proved too small for the actor’s face, but they quickly commissioned a larger one. The rest is horror movie history.
That may not sound like much, especially with Part 3’s cinematic contemporaries literally changing the face of genre moviemaking around it. But far more people associate that mask with Jason Voorhees than with its original purpose, and use of it has become an instant pop-culture shorthand for serial killers. That alone bears consideration, especially for a humble little flick intended to close out a cheap-thrills franchise. It lets Part 3 stand a little taller than other Friday the 13th films and – for all its shoddiness – grants it a strange sort of respect that many of its so-called betters might envy.