It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of 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.”
Episode thirteen, “Faith Healer,” is… directed by David Cronenberg!
This time, the evil antique is a white glove, used by a popular TV faith healer, Stewart Fischoff. When he miraculously cures someone, the ailment is transferred to him, which he then can transfer to one of his victims. Micki, Ryan and Jack see the glove on television and quickly put the pieces together. They recruit help, Jack’s old friend Jerry, who is a lifelong debunker of the paranormal and had spent years exposing Fishoff as a fraud.
It turns out Jerry is not interested in helping. He’s come down with a fatal disease (causing black growths all over his skin) and he wants the glove’s healing powers for himself. Armed with a gun, Jerry threatens and eventually shoots his way to a confrontation with Fishoff. Fishoff heals himself of his gunshot wound, only or Jerry to get the glove and reverse-heal the wounds back into Fishoff (this is messed up). Jerry tries to give Jack his fatal disease, but in the final fight, Jack forces Jerry to touch his own face, causing Jerry to die.
Back at the store, Jack loses his cool, overwhelmed by his friend’s death and by all the other death and horror he’s seen. He and Micki fight about it, until Ryan reminds them that they’re not alone, they have each other.
When the show is smart: This was Cronenberg’s follow-up to The Fly, which had just debuted at number one at the box office. He’s in classic Cronenbergian body horror mode, all about disease eating people away from the inside, and how desperate and unhinged it makes them.
When the show is cheesy: The episode’s powerful, dramatic ending is undercut with a hokey gag about Ryan having a cold. Yes, it sticks to the episode’s theme, but it’s nonetheless the customary-joke-to-end-the-episode trope that was part of genre TV for far too long.
Devilish dialogue: Jack: “I’ve known Jerry all my life. He’s my friend. He just tried to kill me. Wonderful, isn’t it? Wonderful all the things my friends have done for me. There’s Jerry, who tries to get me infected with that damn disease. And then good old Lewis. He takes all the wonderful things that I brought him here and he lets them be cursed by the devil so I have to run around for the rest of my life trying to get them back?”
– We learn Jack is a former merchant marine, where he collected magic artifacts while traveling the globe. Later episodes will establish that he served during World War II.
– How’d they get Cronenberg? According to Alyse Wax’s excellent book Curious Goods: Behind the Scenes of Friday the 13th: The Series, Cronenberg and executive producer Frank Mancuso were good friends, so it was a no-brainer.
Back in the vault: It’s to no one’s surprise that Cronenberg offers one of the show’s gooiest, slimiest episodes, but he also teases out some great performances, with the regular cast feeling like a real family suffering genuine heartache, and the villains being truly vile.
Next: Monocrhome or go home.
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