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How Jason Turned Gore into Green : Paramount No Longer Hides When ‘Friday the 13th’ Arrives

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Paramount Pictures once treated its “Friday the 13th” movies the way some folks might treat an eccentric aunt: carefully. And not without some embarrassment.

Except for TV ad campaigns targeted at the movies’ youthful core audience, promotion was minimal.

Studio publicity materials heralding its upcoming product often failed to mention the latest installment of the saga.

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It was as if Paramount didn’t want to acknowledge its association with a film series about a supernatural psycho named Jason who wears a trademark hockey mask and does away with unsuspecting teen-agers at a place called Camp Crystal Lake.

But Paramount’s not hiding in the shadows anymore, especially this time around. The “Friday the 13th” films have become too hot a franchise to ignore.

Consider: The series’ first seven films have combined domestic grosses of more than $200 million. That’s a lot of gross considering that these movies are made on shoestring budgets. The first one nine years ago cost $600,000; this year’s entry was just over $5 million.

Given that kind of money-making potential in what has already been a record-breakingsummer, there’s no wonder Paramount is now on the assault.

Its release last week of “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” in 1,673 theaters is flanked by a wickedly clever ad campaign that makes the most of this latest entry’s gimmick: Jason’s first “visit” to New York.

As publicity materials for the film proclaim, expect Jason to “take a bloody bite out of the Big Apple.”

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The same publicity press kit finds Paramount at last touting the film series for what it is: a monster money-maker--”one of the most successful in history.”

Not mentioned is the fact that Jason has, these days, got some stiff competition.

Notably Freddy Krueger, the unlikely genre superstar who emerged from New Line Cinema’s “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies.

The last Freddy entry grossed nearly $50 million; “A Nightmare on Elm Street V: The Dream Child,” is also expected to do scary business when it is released nationwide Aug. 11.

Paramount is taking full advantage of Jason’s two-week jump on Freddy.

To kick off the film’s opening, Jason himself visited Arsenio Hall’s talk show--which is, coincidentally, produced by Paramount.

Because Jason’s the silent type (the character does not speak), Hall did all the talking--while glancing nervously at the ax Jason clutched in his hands.

Meanwhile, current ad copy depicts a knife-brandishing Jason looming large over Manhattan--accompanied by the warning, “New York has a new problem.”

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This follows up an original campaign which found Jason hacking his way through the famed “I Love N.Y.” logo--and peering through the logo’s shredded heart.

The unauthorized use of the New York logo brought threats of litigation from the New York State Department of Economic Development, which oversees the symbol’s use.

Paramount has since abandoned use of the campaign.

For the uninitiated: Jason (real name: Jason Voorhees) is a virtually unstoppable monster who cannot be reasoned with.

That “indiscriminate nature--the fact that everyone’s fair game,” may be one of the reasons for the character’s appeal, believes Rob Heddon, writer/director of “Part VIII.”

As Heddon notes, Jason--unlike Freddy Krueger--doesn’t dish out campy dialogue. “He’s more your hardcore monster.” The fact that he’s “fairly indestructible” gives film makers considerable creative license. Says Heddon: “I remember asking the producers, ‘Is it OK if I kill Jason?’ They said, ‘Sure, go ahead. No problem.’ ”

Adds Heddon: “You know he’s been dead for years--right?”

In fact, Jason was “dead” when he made his screen debut with the original “Friday the 13th” in 1980.

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Produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham (who had done the notorious 1972 slasher film, “Last House on the Left”), “Friday the 13th” was made for about $600,000. To find potential backers, Cunningham took out an ad in Variety.

When Paramount picked up the film for distribution, it became the first major studio to acknowledge the box-office possibilities of the gore genre over the run-of-the-mill terror movies.

(Four of the sequels have been produced or associate-produced by Frank Mancuso Jr., the son of Paramount chairman Frank G. Mancuso Sr.)

Virtually devoid of artsy pretense, the original film was a “showcase” for grisly effects--including impalings and decapitations--involving the deaths of unsuspecting teen-agers who were spending their summer at Camp Crystal Lake.

Released on May 9, 1980, in 700 theaters, “Friday the 13th” grossed $39.7 million domestically--making it the summer’s second biggest moneymaker, following “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Like an earlier gore landmark, 1978’s “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” set off a land-rush of gore movies.

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Gore was in. So were calendar-killer movies, including “Prom Night,” “Happy Birthday to Me,” “Graduation Day,” “Mother’s Day” and “My Bloody Valentine.”

The “Friday the 13th” sequels were inevitable.

Traditionally, these films are made with nonunion crews and under title pseudonyms. For instance, “VIII” was known as “Ashes to Ashes.” During its production Paramount representatives denied knowing it was the next “Friday the 13th.”

Briefly, the “Friday the 13th” saga goes like this:

--”Friday the 13th Part II” (1981): Jason returns to avenge his mother’s death. Among the special-effects highlights: a spear through two bodies and death by machete, pike and chain saw, among other things. Domestic gross: $21.7 million.

--”Friday the 13th Part III” (1982): Jason knocks off more kids at Camp Crystal, this time in 3-D. Domestic gross: $36.7 million.

--”Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (1984): After causing more deaths, Jason is chopped up by a child (who’s a monster movie fanatic) named Tommy. The film climaxes with Tommy seeming to have somehow become Jason. Domestic gross: $32.9 million.

--”Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” (1985): Tommy is now 18 and institutionalized. Then comes a series of murders. Is Tommy to blame? Has Jason returned? Is there a third party emulating Jason? Domestic gross: $21.9 million.

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--”Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” (1986): Tommy’s in for a surprise . . . an encounter with you-know-who. This one’s “highlights” include a bare fist thrust through a stomach and a 360-degree head spin. Domestic gross: $19.4 million.

--”Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (1988): Jason encounters Tina, a teen with telekinesis. Has he met his match? Domestic gross: $19.1 million.

The “Friday the 13th” legend also lives on weekly--in a syndicated-TV anthology series. Produced by Paramount, of course.

The “Friday the 13th” films have showcased more than spectacular--albeit gruesome--effects (which have since made their way into mainstream offerings).

They’ve helped to launch a number of performers.

Kevin Bacon was one of the camp counselors in the original film. And Corey Feldman was Tommy--the kid who thinks he’s Jason--in “The Final Chapter” and “A New Beginning.”

Other series “graduates” include Crispin Glover (“The Final Chapter”), Amy Steel (“Part II”), Ron Palillo (“Part IV”) and rocker Alice Cooper (“Part VI”).

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Sean S. Cunningham has since directed a number of genre titles--including “House.” Steve Miner, who directed “II” and “III,” is supervising producer of ABC’s “The Wonder Years.” Tom Savini, who did the effects for the original film, became an effects superstar, and is scheduled to direct a remake of “Night of the Living Dead.”

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