With today being Friday the 13th, it would be righteously obvious to do a post around the Friday the 13th film franchise — but this is television, people! However, original film director/producer Sean S. Cunningham‘s Crystal Lake Chronicles and the pilot pitched to The CW don’t appear to be coming back to life any time soon; so instead, we have gathered together today to praise — not to bury — producer Frank Mancuso, Jr.‘s Friday the 13th: The Series.
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 “golden age” of mid-’80s/early ’90s first-run syndication (I’m looking at you, Tales from the Darkside and Monsters), the series was originally called The 13th Hour. That is, until Mancuso, Jr.’s epiphany that changing the name to Friday the 13th would draw more eyeballs because people connected the name with horror and all things scary.
Now, while it would be easy to go “glass half-empty” and 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 go that route.
The team behind the Halloween franchise learned that the hard way when they decided to go with a Halloween III that was sans Michael Myers and serial killers and instead focused on witchcraft. The film took a beating at the box office (even though it’s earned a more positive appreciation from fans since its release).
Putting aside any initial “lack of Jason Voorhees” disappointment, Friday the 13th: The Series works on a number of levels for three big reasons: premise, people, and perspective.
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’s 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), they 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 “-ologys”: you got an anthology with a completely different story every episode and a mythology with overarching storylines built in and around Curious Goods. 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 or continuation — though I definitely lean towards the latter.
This was a show in the late ’80s, just at the dawn of the ’90s, so you have to be a little understanding when it comes to the clothes, looks, and vibes of the times (like watching Miami Vice now). That aside, the acting was on point 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 misstep? 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.
This series was some seriously dark s**t for its time. I guess you could say that most of the episodes had a “happily ever after” ending 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 the creative team was about showing that.