April 13, 1984
April 13, 1984 holds a special place in my heart. First and foremost, April 13, 1984 was "Jason's unlucky day," as advertised for the release of Friday the 13th- The Final Chapter.
In April of 1984 I was still in eighth grade and the school year was dragging slowly toward summer break. I was already a multiple card carrying horror movie fan, and those cards were memberships to various local video rental shops where a world of madness and mayhem always welcomed me with posters tacked to wood paneled walls and rows and rows of garish boxes, displayed face forward, in the HORROR sections.
In April of 1984 I attended eighth grade at St. Jude's Catholic Elementary School. When I tell people I attended St. Jude's their expression usually softens to one of sympathy and they say something like, "Well, it looks like you beat it! Good for you!" For the record, I went to St. Jude's Catholic Elementary School in Chattanooga, TN, not the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital that does amazing work treating kids with cancer. (I understand the mistake.)
I was raised Catholic. My mom was always adamant that I not watch a lot of junk that could buy me a one-way ticket to Hell when I was younger. That all changed in 1984.
Also, 1984 just happened to be one of the greatest years for movies ever! And I learned about the best movies from a Catholic newspaper that came to our house every month. I don't remember what it was called, but when I realized there was a movie section, I always tried to get it before my mom saw it. She never questioned when I'd snatch it up and scurry to my bedroom with it.
This movie section may have had some reviews, I don't remember, but it had the most important rating system I have ever known. Similar to Chas. Balun's Gore Score, which rated movies on both gory content and story merit, this Catholic rating system rated on a scale that started at "Family Appropriate" and went all the way to "Morally Offensive." I'm not kidding. This was a real thing!
I'd cut that list of movies out, go through it and highlight every "Morally Offensive" title that sounded like my kind of weird. And it would list why the flick was Morally Offensive, so there was no question why you were going to Hell if you got hit by a bus leaving the theater after watching The Terminator or Revenge of the Nerds.
I remember the greatest hits list of moral offenses Bachelor Party racked up. That impressive list included: "prostitution, pre-marital sex, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, destructive behavior, tobacco usage, beastiality, grand larceny, offensive language, nudity and Satanism." Satanism! I missed a scene. Does anyone remember the Black Mass scene from Bachelor Party?
Anyway, among the list of Morally Offensive titles in the April edition of that Catholic newspaper was, of course, Friday the 13th- The Final Chapter. It was Morally Offensive for all the right reasons and I was determined to go see it in the theater. No waiting for it to come on HBO or Showtime. I was 14 years old. It was time I became a man and went to the theater to enjoy my Friday the 13th films.
On April 13, 1984, after school, I spent the night with my best friend up the street Boyd. I'd known Boyd since he was in first grade and I was in kindergarten. (We're the same age, but because my birthday falls later in the year, I started school later.) He was already in High School. A Freshman! (And really, Freshmen were only perceived as "high schoolers" by people in 7th and 8th grade, right?)
The plan was simple, I was not going to ask my mom if I could go see Friday the 13th- The Final Chapter with Boyd and his friends from school. (His HIGH SCHOOL friends! I was in elite company for an 8th grader.) If I asked and she said no, I would have still gone. No way around that. But then I would have been going to a Morally Offensive moving picture AND defying my mother's wishes. I was raised in a house of consequences to actions and I felt it was better that if I was going to participate in a Moral Offense of any kind, I should probably not to stack the deck against me an also basically lie to my mom. It's one thing to just do something you know your mom doesn't want you to do, but a complete other to do it after she explicitly told you not to do it.
Boyd's mom dropped us off at the theater early. Some of his friends were already in line (on line) for tickets. They were the first in line. We joined them and introductions were made all around. Boyd went to public school, so I was familiar with his group of friends only through his stories. On April 13, 1984 I joined them. Rob T., Smo, Jon D. and his sister Kristin and her friend (who went to see Where the Boys Are '84 instead) and others. I got to know these guys a bit better over the years. There were more people there, friends of friends, but I don't remember everyone. I do remember there were about fifteen of us. That could just be how I remember it. That is probably an exaggeration, but it's how I remember it.
One dude I met that night was Mike M. I'd talked to him on the phone, but this was where I met him face to face. You want to talk bromance, it was instantaneous. I'm sure little cartoon hearts came popping out of both of us as we talked Tom Savini slasher effects and Savini's then recent appearance on Letterman, what was the best of the Halloween trilogy, everything Carpenter, Romero, Hooper, and Cronenberg, and then he shared his idea for a match-up between Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers.
On this night of night's, I met a friend for life.
It wasn't long before the line grew and stretched down the plaza. Younger moviegoers today probably cannot image such a barbaric time where you couldn't order tickets on line, pick a seat and put in a concession order, just to breeze into the theater and everything is waiting for you. Nope, we actually had to stand in lines, outside. This theater was located on a strip of businesses not connected to the Northgate Mall. It was Northgate Cinemas I, 2, 3 & 4. (I seem to remember a dozen businesses or so on the strip, with the cinema anchoring the end we were on and the Video Village video rental shop anchoring the opposite end. What a wonderful time it was to be a movie fan!) There was a Chinese restaurant on the strip near the theater and the smells that filled the night were amazing.
Excited chatter filled the line and it was pretty obvious that most everyone was coming out for "Jason's unlucky day." Chatter among the others in line (on line) included speculation as to how Jason survived that axe Chris buried in his skull at the end of Part 3 and whether or not his zombie mother was going to return to help him this time. (There were no spoilers to ruin the surprises in this pre-Internet age, no "Kill Count" or "Everything Wrong With" videos. Just a poster in the lobby and Siskel and Ebert talking about how stupid kids were to go see the film.)
We were the first ones to purchase tickets and I like to think it was my "squint and you almost will notice it" mustache that helped me not only purchase my ticket without question, but also gave me enough of a "young college guy" edge they didn't question my cheap ass when I asked for a child's priced ticket. (Stupid, yes, but the seventy-five cents I saved on my ticket bought me my peanut M&Ms.) Also, my mom had long put the fear in me that "Nobody at the movie theater would sell a kid a ticket to an R-rated movie." I may have mentioned to the woman in the ticket booth that unfortunately, my wife could not attend with me. (I could not be perceived as a kid, especially after the daring "child's priced ticket" or I'd be stuck on the sidewalk waiting while everyone else watched the movie.)
It was really happening. I just bought my ticket to my first R-rated film in the theater. No cops, no league of decency from the church and no mom to come down on me. I was a man. (Nothing stopped me that year and I saw everything! Ratings be damned!)
Since we were the first in line (on line) for tickets we were the first to pick our seats. We went straight up to the front row. I was never a fan of the first row, but I certainly wasn't going to go against my new High School friends. The theater filled up quickly. It was an honest to goodness sold out show. The row of chairs directly behind us was filled by a group of older women. I say older, but they may have been in college, so they were "older" only to us.
The lights went down. I don't remember any trailers. I just remember the movie starting and a thunder of cheerful approval erupted throughout the theater as the camera showed that first glimpse of Jason in the barn at Higgins Haven. There was some dialogue but we couldn't hear it because everyone was screaming at the screen for Jason to pop up and start slashing the medics and policemen. (We didn't have the respect for First Responders back then like we do now...right Halloween Kills?)
The film started on this high point and it never came down. It was like a roller coaster ride of only hills. Each kill we lost our minds, screaming and shouting. Imagine, a whole theater full of people, laughing and shouting and having a good time during a movie. No one was "shushed." There were no cell phones. There were no kids. (Well, I mean, babies.) It was the most perfect, purest gathering of like-minded people I had ever experienced up to that point in my life. Everyone was there for one reason: cheap thrills. We could let it all out and it was okay. No one was there to bring us down from our good time.
Watching Friday the 13th- The Final Chapter on opening night, at the Northgate Cinema, was a workout. We left the theater jazzed, hyped and so excited we could hardly contain ourselves. (Like Billy and Stu at the end of Scream.) It was a euphoria reserved usually for athletes, but we arrived at that point on pure excitement. We couldn't help but talk about the film as we left, and how the audience reacted to this part or that part.
As we filtered out of the theater, we passed the next sold out show of excited people waiting in the lobby to get in. Everyone waiting asked us how it was as we trotted past and we hyped it. The enthusiasm that night for cheap thrills was infectious. We were the last ones out of the theater. As we left, the crowd for the next show was allowed in and many of the whooped as they entered the theater, just like on a roller coaster.
April 13, 1984 was, without a doubt, one of the greatest nights I ever experienced at the movies. I've chased that experience and excitement the whole rest of my life, and while I've enjoyed many exciting nights at the flickers, none have equaled that first showing of Friday the 13th- The Final Chapter.
This is the power movies have. I made a friend for life. I have a memory that instantly puts a smile on my face. I can shut my eyes and remember that night like it was yesterday- which is all the time travel I need.
Watch movies. Get more out of life!