When I was a kid, the only voluntary reading I generally ever did was of horror genre books. Books like Alvin Schwartz' "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark", Ray Bradbury's "The Halloween Tree", all the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" movie adaptation novels, R. L. Stein's "Goosebumps", and of course, the works of Stephen King. Aside from all those paperback gems, there was also a series of young adult novels in the early nineties based on the "Friday the 13th" films. The Camp Crystal Lake young adult novels were a series of four original Friday the 13th stories written by Eric Morse for teen audiences. These stories take place after the events of the ninth Friday the 13th film, Jason Goes To Hell.
For those of you who remember the end of Jason Goes to Hell, where Freddy Krueger's razor glove pops up and pulls Jason's mask down into the ground, the first book picks up with a hunter who unearths it, puts it on, and then starts killing people. This is the common thread that ties the four stories together: whoever finds Jason's mask, simply can't resist the urge to put it on, and they're quickly turned into psycho killers. It's kind of like that film "The Mask" starring Jim Carrey; with the primary difference being that you start murdering everybody in sight if you put on Jason's mask, instead of turning into a hyperactive, dancing green lunatic.
Now, I haven't read all four books in their entirety yet, but the one I did read, because it instantly captured my attention when I was younger, was the third book - Friday The 13th: The Carnival. Here's why:
Just look at that incredible cover! Two happy-go-lucky teenage fools riding on a roller coaster, not realizing that Jason Voorhees is looming in the car behind, and about to stab them to death. Plus, it has the tagline, "Jason's on a joyride! It's a real scream..." How could you not want this book? This is the kind of book cover that I equate to the fantastic VHS boxes of yesteryear - we may know very little about the story, but we couldn't care less, because that cover art is absolutely irresistible. This is the exact kind of thing I would want to see happen in a Friday the 13th film. We've seen Jason Voorhees take on Manhattan, we've seen him take on outer space... it's only logical that the next place to host one of his murderous rampages would be a traveling carnival. Clearly, I HAD to read this book. And read it I did.
With that in mind, I'd like to tell you about the highlights of this 180+ page book, in case you never have a chance to read it on your own. Keep in mind, this is a young adult novel, so a lot of the dialogue is pretty bad, but certainly no worse than what you'd find in one of the Friday the 13th films, so it feels par for the course. Now sit back in your desk and pretend I'm standing in front of our middle school classroom, about to give an A+ worthy book report on Friday The 13th: The Carnival:
So it all begins with "Vince Fantana's Traveling Fun House and Carnival" coming into town. Why would a traveling carnival come to a town like Crystal Lake? In the book it's even described as "Crystal Lake, murder capital of the world," and there are rumors about invisible vapors seeping out of the ground that make people meaner by the minute. Put simply, times are tough, and the carnival folk gotta pitch their tents wherever they can. Mitch Deever is their chief mechanic; a big guy with snakes, skulls, daggers, and other tattoos covering his arms. One day, his rottweiler dog "Stump" digs up the mask of Jason Voorhees and gives it to Mitch. Yeah, I'm sure this will end well.
Elsewhere, Maxi Wagner is a rebellious 17-year-old girl whose mom is a drunk and father is a cheater, so she deals with the bad home life by wanting to find excitement elsewhere. She also has this annoying habit of abbreviating words for no reason by saying things like "The S-word". No, she wasn't talking about "shit", she was talking about "scaredy-cat". The D-word doesn't stand for "dick", it stands for "dull". She pulls this crap constantly and it makes you want to read about Jason brutally murdering her as quickly as possible. I S-word you not.
She also has some friends who, unlike Maxi, prefer to play by the rules: Katherine "KC" Carter, a super polite girl, and Wendy Denberg, an acne ridden girl concerned with her looks who refuses to wear her glasses. There's also Greg Dillon, a boy who is head over heels for Maxi who does desperate things to win her affection. Suffice to say, he's absolutely horrible with women. Lastly, there's Graham Newton who is Maxi's school teacher, and he has a total pedophile type of thing going on, so there's that. Yep.
Naturally, this rag-tag group of teenagers (and a pervy teacher) eventually make their way to the carnival. Unfortunately for them, Mitch Deever eventually puts on Jason's hockey mask to protect his face while doing some welding, and as soon as he does, his soul is corrupted and his snake tattoos come to life. "His skin was crawling. He looked down at his long, muscle-bound arms. The tattoos were moving. Green inky snakes slithered all over his flesh. Then he felt the first bite. The snakes bit hard and deep into his stomach, his arms, his legs... He opened his mouth to scream, but a snake slid right in, the leathery skin gliding across his teeth. He started choking as the snake coiled down his throat and into his body. He could hear tiny jaws snapping. He was being eaten alive, inside and out."
Alrighty then! Some guy's snake tattoos coming to life and crawling down his throat isn't exactly how I would ever picture Jason Voorhees returning from the dead to kill once again. I would've been happy without the ultra-corny tattoo stuff, and instead preferred the author kept it simple by having the mask possess Mitch. It's the cursed hockey mask of Jason Voorhees, no other corny explanation is needed. Then again, I don't picture Jason Voorhees as a guy with snake tattoos either, but I'm willing to see if it works:
Okay, I guess it does work after all. He's truly rocking those snake tattoos. You see? This is why the book needs more illustrations other than just the one on the cover! Anyway, now that he's the living embodiment of Jason Voorhees, Mitch starts causing havoc at the carnival by picking people off one by one.
If you've ever seen a Friday the 13th movie, you're well aware that while they have some extremely creative deaths, there's often a lot of painful dialogue to sit through (unless it's Crispin Glover talking or dancing, both of which I can't get enough of) between those glorious kill scenes. That's double the case when you're reading a Friday the 13th novel for young adults. So, rather than go chapter by chapter covering the less important material, I'm going to break down the rest of the book into two categories: The Best Moments and The Worst Moments.
The Best Moments:
1) Snoopy's Darkest Day. At one point in the story, Greg dares Maxi to go on the "Tunnel of Love" ride with him. She knows what he's up to, but she also can't resist a dare. It's a lot like when somebody calls Marty McFly chicken. Anyway, Maxi goes on the ride with Greg, but that pervy teacher Graham, who is also infatuated with her, rides in the car behind them with nothing but a large plush Snoopy doll he won for Maxi in a carnival game. Yeah, that's not gonna be awkward at all. While Maxi and Greg make out in the Tunnel of Love, they fail to notice Graham getting his throat slit in the car behind them by Mitch. What's great is that Maxi hears some strange gulping noises from behind, but probably assumes it's just Graham being a pervert. And the best lines from this section? "His arms hung limply around the Snoopy doll. His blood was quickly and brightly staining the dog's white fur." A blood-stained Snoopy coming out of the Tunnel of Love ride? Now that's a visual I'd pay good money to see in a Friday the 13th movie.
2) The Electric Fence. For some insane reason, the entire carnival is surrounded by a deadly electric fence that can easily kill a person, as the voltage is turned up waaaay too high. The fence kills almost as many people in the book as Mitch does after he puts on Jason Voorhees' mask. Seriously. Just the idea of a carnival being surrounded by an electric fence to keep prevent kids from sneaking in (or out) cracks me up. The fact that it's never turned off at any point in the story, despite killing so many people, makes it even better.
3) The Scrambler. This is definitely one of the better kills in the book, because one of the rides is actually used to kill the people in it, rather than just more throats being slit. So Maxi's cheating father is riding on The Scrambler with his mistress (Bev), when the ride suddenly starts to spin out of control. The cars from the ride begin smashing into each other, and Maxi sees the two getting crushed in the process. "Caught between car and fence, their bodies were being pushed through the hot wire links like hamburger meat." Normally, that visual alone would satisfy any Voorhees fan, but what happens next is some purely unintentional b-movie quality cheese. It turns out that the Scrambler machine operator was slashed to death by Mitch. When Maxi finds him in the operator booth, she sees slash marks cut into his "Fantana's Fun House" t-shirt. Letters in his shirt were specifically cut out to spell "F-A-T-E". I shit you not. That really just happened. It's okay if you need to take a break... I couldn't stop laughing when I read it either. Absolutely amazing.
4) Man's Best Friend. Despite being annoying as can be, Maxi manages to avoid being killed off by angry ol' Mitch. What she didn't count on was Mitch's rottweiler, Stump, being up to the task. Literally moments after Maxi cries out, "How come I'm still alive? Huh? Answer me that!", Stump comes racing at her, knocks her on the ground, and sinks his teeth into her throat. "...Flesh ripping, bones crunching. And long after Maxi had stopped moving, the dog kept attacking. As if even Maxi's death didn't satisfy the animal." Believe me, by that point in the book, you can easily relate to Stump. You just want Maxi to shut up, and that's why Stump is the real hero of the story in my eyes.
The Worst Moments:
1) Forced Attempts to Connect with Young Readers. Every now and then, the author tries to shoehorn in a random pop culture reference in a hackneyed attempt to show his young readers that he's hip and speaks their language. For example: "And then the Pearl Jam song 'Go' started blasting over the line." This quote is from a book that was published during the height of Pearl Jam's popularity, and there's no reason to mention it, so he's clearly trying to grab the attention of Pearl Jam fans. Maybe he thought they'd call their friends and go, "You gotta read this Friday the 13th book! They talk about Pearl Jam in it, dude!" Well played, Mr. Morse. Another example: "She almost collided with a soda vendor, then a tall man on stilts, then someone in a big blue Sonic the Hedgehog suit." Almost every employee in the book is modeled after a classic carnival worker archetype - ride operators, clowns, fortune tellers, etc. - yet for some inexplicable reason, one employee is dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog. And yes, this is the ONLY instance you see Sonic mentioned in the entire story. Brilliant!
2) The Tag. Now here's a truly random moment. "There was a ripping sound as the man tore off the part of the shirt they always called the 'fairy loop' at school." No idea why the author felt the need to have Mitch rip off the tag on the back of some guy's shirt when chasing him, but even stranger, was that he called it the "fairy loop", which sounds like another version of the derogatory "fag tag" insult that kids sometimes used. There's no reason to bring it up though, and it certainly doesn't make the book edgier, so why not just say Mitch grabbed the guy by the collar or tag of his shirt? It adds nothing to the story. Bizarre.
3) The Monster Roller Coaster. Without a doubt, the absolute worst moment in the book for me was when Mitch is on the Monster roller coaster, seemingly about to kill Greg. It's what the cover image of the book had me sold on from the beginning, and yet when they get to that part, NOTHING happens. Greg pukes after getting sick on the roller coaster, and Mitch misses his chance to stab him to death in what could've been an amazing moment. Such a tease! Looks like that old adage proves itself true once again: never judge a book by its cover.
4) The Chamber of Horrors Statues. If there's one thing that's happened in these series of books that seems to go against everything we know about the Friday the 13th films (other than the spirit of Jason Voorhees shooting somebody with a shotgun in the first book), it's what happens in the "Chamber of Horrors" attraction at the end of the book. Mitch is now dead, but all the statues of famous killers and their victims come to life and try to save him. The Jack the Ripper statue slits open Mitch's chest, and then a disemboweled woman statue puts her own beating heart inside of him. It's just this completely random thing thrown in at the end of the book that would never happen in a million years in a real Friday the 13th flick.
How the evil of Jason Voorhees is defeated:
Of all the people who could've killed off Mitch, for some reason, the author had Maxi be the one to do it. It's not like she was one of the strong heroines from the Friday the 13th films, so this choice just didn't make sense to me. Mitch is inside the Chamber of Horrors trying to kill off Selena, the fortune teller's daughter who predicted everybody would die that night at the carnival. The blade of the guillotine he has her in is jammed, so he's trying hard as he can to manually push it down onto her neck. While he's doing this, Maxi grabs an axe that came from a statue of Lizzie Borden, and then proceeds to bring it down right on the back of Mitch's skull. And that's it. He's dead. No crawling around trying to get in one last kill, no magically ripping the axe out of his head to kill somebody with... Mitch is dead. As you know from the aforementioned text, the statues tried to revive him, but they fail because the entire place explodes.
And the one thing to survive the explosion? Why it's none other than Jason Voorhees' hockey mask, of course. It's sent flying into the forest and lands inside an oak tree.
Sure, why not.
I should mention Selena also killed Mitch's dog in hilarious fashion by using Maxi's severed arm and playing a game of fetch with it. What Stump didn't realize was the danger of where she would be throwing the arm. Any guesses? Yep... directly towards the electric fence. Stump is now one hot dog. Perfecto!
Here's an assortment of random quotes from the book that I thought you'd enjoy for one reason or another:
-"He heard Crystal Lake is like the Devil's gateway. That if you dig down deep enough anywhere around there, this invisible vapor starts seeping up out of the ground. The vapor turns you meaner and nastier, the longer you breathe it in." (page 12)
-"Maybe she should bag the party and go to the carnival. At least that way somebody would be happy. After all, it was just one date. One date wouldn't kill her." (page 23)
-"Hanging from the dog's mouth was what appeared to be a white mask, like the kind hockey goalies wore." (page 26)
-"She never thought she'd see the day when she acted like the big C-word" (page 130)
-"Her eyes were locked on the man's naked body. Despite the gagging odor, she felt faint with desire." (page 135)
-"Selena let out a stream of curse words so forceful one might almost have expected the gates to open in response. They didn't." (page 138)
-"The blow from the mallet caught Vince Fantana flush in the head. There was a sickening, squishy thud, like the sound Maxi heard the time she dropped pumpkins off the highway overpass onto unsuspecting motorists." (page 157)
-"Now that Maxi was looking for bodies, she spotted them everywhere. A father and son who had tried to climb over the fence were grilled like human waffles. Bodies were lying on the floor of the maniacally spinning carousel, lying beneath the gaping, bloody mouths of the horses. Their bodies look as if they'd been torn apart by a creature with an animal rage." (page 159)
-"To Maxi, it sounded as if the grinding rides were screeching out a single word over and over: Jason... Jason... Jason..." (page 176)
Final Body Count: 18 (roughly)
-10 kills by Mitch. That's a solid amount. Plus, additional dead bodies are seen scattered around the carnival by some of the characters at one point in the story, so he may have actually killed more than ten.
-7 kills by the Fence. Seriously, the author really loved making use of that electric fence throughout the book. Seven fence kills!!!
-1 kill by Mitch's dog, Stump. As I mentioned before, he thankfully tears out Maxi's throat near the end of the story.
While it's far from the best book you'll ever read, Friday the 13th: The Carnival is still a campy, fun little horror story that fans of the films will probably get a kick out of. Eric Morse created three other stories in this Camp Crystal Lake series should you want to check them out, and while all of the books are long out of print, they're not too hard to track down. As you'll see in the following photos below, they're worth picking up for the artwork alone.
I'll be sure to cover the other three books at some point in the future. From what I've read, this story remains the favorite amongst Friday the 13th fans. It's easy to see why... much like a Friday the 13th film, it has a high body count, some seriously cheesy dialogue, and having the spirit of Jason Voorhees killing people in a carnival setting is a perfect choice. Here's hoping that some day we'll get to see the real Jason Voorhees murdering his way through a carnival on the big screen. And if it does happen, I really hope an electric fence plays a pivotal role in the story.
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If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out:
Yes, and the Mask from the comic just removed all rationale and inhibitions. Because, come on, who HASN'T wanted to go on a killing spree?
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