Right from the very start, you have to respect producer Frank Mancuso, Jr.‘s gumption to go the Halloween III route by having a Friday the 13th: The Series that has absolutely nothing to do with hockey masks, summer camps or “chchch ahahah’s.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…let me start this the right way:
“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.”
Running for three seasons (from October 1987 to May 1990) in the glorious programming thunderdome that was late’80’s/early 90’s first-run syndication, the series was originally called The 13th Hour until Mancuso, Jr. stumbled upon the epiphany that changing the name to Friday the 13th would draw more eyeballs because people connected the name with horror and scary stuff. Now while it would be easy to cynically write off what Mancuso, Jr. did as a cheap marketing stunt, let’s not forget that there’s usually more of a risk than a reward when you choose to go that route. “The Powers That Be” behind the Halloween franchise learned that the hard way when they decided to go with a Halloween III sans Michael Meyers, and the movie paid a heavy price for it (even though it’s gained a deeper level of appreciation over the years).
Once you get past the initial “lack of Jason Voorhees” disappointment, you quickly realize that Friday the 13th: The Series works because of three reasons: (1) premise; (2) people; and (3) perspective.
Premise: Antique dealer Uncle Lewis Vendredi (R.G. Armstrong) makes a deal with The Devil to sell cursed antiques in exchange for wealth, magic and immortality. Uncle Lewis tries to backtrack on the deal, so The Devil kills him and takes his soul. Uncle Lewis’ niece Micki Foster (Louise Robey) and her cousin by marriage, Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay) inherit the shop; and with the help of occultist Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins), seek to return all of the cursed objects back to the store’s vault.
For me, it was a perfect way to get the best of both “-ology’s”: you got an anthology with a completely different story every episode; and a mythology with overarching storylines built in to and around Vendredi’s Antiques. I thought going with cursed antiques was an especially nice touch, because it’s a concept that you can easily use to either extend or wrap-up a series as needed. In fact, I’m surprised someone hasn’t made a run at the rights for either a reboot of continuation (though I’d stuff the ballot boxes for a continuation).
People: Keeping it real? This was a show in the late ’80’s, just at the dawn of the ’90’s, so you have to be a little understanding when it comes to the clothes and looks at the time (like watching Miami Vice now). Putting that aside, the acting was quality from not only the three main leads but also from the wielders of the cursed objects as well as recurring Egyptian mystic Rashid (Elias Zarou). Robey’s Micki and LeMay’s Ryan had a growing romantic chemistry between them, but fans were uneasy with it going anywhere since they were cousins (though by marriage only). The show’s only mistake? Johnny Ventura (Steve Monarque), cornball “bad boy” who acts as if he learned how to be hard on the mean streets of Sesame. Best way to explain it? If LeMay is Johnny Depp in 21 Jump Street, then Monarque was Richard Grieco.
Perspective: This series was some seriously dark s**t for its time. I guess you could say that most of the episodes had “happy endings” because the cursed object was put back into protective storage, but only if you can look past some horrific stuff. Every episode had a decent body count, and the cases definitely took their toll on Micki, Ryan and Jack as the series crawled along. No one walked away from these “adventures” unscathed, and I appreciated just how unapologetic creative was about showing that. This was clearly a show that was ahead of its time, and I hope someone takes a chance at doing something with it.
A BC October: Tales From Terror-Vision! is Bleeding Cool’s month-long look back at some lost or forgotten scary moments from the history of television.