Season 1, Episode 14: “Bedazzled” (Alexander Singer, director; Paul Monette and Alfred Sole, writers) (27 February, 1988)
Treasure hunting goes Tarantino.
The Goods: A cursed lantern that reveals buried treasure is recovered by Ryan and Jack, only to have its previous owners invade the shop looking to take it back.
The Cheese: A sailor named Jonah tops the list.
The Sins: Pride and Greed
Kristopher: Changing up the formula here. Ryan and Jack infiltrate a ship to capture a cursed lantern. And now they will be the pursued.
Okay, this one was pretty good! I like that they give the episode over to Micki and the kid, and the single-set setup after the cool opening was a nice change from the past two episodes. Micki really has her day (night) here, outwitting the villains at every turn.
In some ways, we’re looking at Pride in this episode, but otherwise Greed seems to carry the episode (and the series). Still, it’s not super-clear how far one could get with a lantern that makes people spontaneously combust. Definitely a better episode than the first few, though lesser than the ones we’ve thought as quintessential. But I have a real affection for this one.
Erin: Yes! Its flaws make it endearing, if that makes sense.
K: It’s uneven in the sense that it doesn’t really bring the two settings—ship and store—together in a meaningful way. It’s more an exercise in claustrophobic space and home invasion than an engagement with the series’ overall themes. But it’s still one of the better entries.
E: I think that if one sin tops them all for the series so far, it’s greed. I think it’s interesting that the first death we see, the lantern initially burns the heart out of the diver, a nice (if perhaps not intended) metaphor for greed. The opening dive sequence, with the guy swimming through the wreck, may have been stock footage, but it looked good. (Did James Cameron steal from this episode for the Titanic framing device?)
A repeat (by Jack, this time) of the “upside and downside of the curse” line.
Also? Surprisingly violent episode with a high body count that, of course, is never mentioned: police officer harpooned (nice touch!), one guy shot, one guy with his face burned off. (That kid is going to need serious therapy). It’s been too long since I watched 80s TV; back then, consequences just slow things up and are generally not dealt with. Another instance, as well, of a character showing competence and ingenuity when away from the others. It’s nice to see Micki actually taking charge, coming up with decent plans that play on her opponent’s weakness.
Not the strongest episode, but miles better than “The Baron’s Bride.”
(Season 1, Episode 15: "Vanity's Mirror" (William Fruet, director; Roy Sallows, writer) (5 March, 1988)
Sibling rivalry goes nuclear.
The Goods: A cursed compact dazzles anyone its aimed at into being obsessed with the compact’s owner. Helen, the ugly duckling to her sister’s swan, uses it for both revenge and to steal her sister’s boyfriend, with whom she’s secretly in love.
The Cheese: Helen’s fashion sense.
The Sins: Lust, Pride, and Wrath fight for supremacy.
Kristopher: This one feels like a retread to me. Another cupid’s arrow-style object, a love charm object picked up by a serial killer, or turns the holder into one anyway. It’s interesting that Lust isn’t entirely the object here; it’s more like Pride that carries the episode—being seen rather than being with. I wouldn’t say Envy here, either, since Helen is pretty proud to be who she is (so much so that she struts into the prom with teased out hair looking like an ugly peacock). The whole object of the curse seems to be to make invisible people visible (“I’d never seen you before” and being-seen become something of a refrain).
Erin: It was a bit of a challenge to hate Helen, I must say, because not only did she talk back, but dressed how she wanted and ate four sandwiches at a go with zero shame. Oh! I’m an idiot. HELEN. Seriously, that can’t be an accident, right?
K: This turns out to be one of the more twisted and violent episodes, often (oddly) played for dark humor. If only the characterization of Helen were taken a little more seriously. As it is, it’s too silly and whimsical to think about the damages of bullying and alienation that are implied in the scenario. The prom scene plays out like an inversion of Carrie in this way, with no sympathy for Helen where we have immense sympathy for Carrie (and her motives for killing).
E: In a weird way, I appreciate that bit of gender parity: neither this one nor “Cupid’s Quiver” suggest we sympathize with those who use magic to manipulate others, particularly when it comes to intimate relationships.
K: Interesting that they aren’t able to retrieve the object. Still, this one’s a minor effort for me.
E: Right? The non-retrieval of the object, I think, fits in with the “slasher” aesthetic of the episode, as if it’s being set up for a sequel. And yes, this did feel like “Cupid’s Quiver” 2.0, although between the two, this one is actually better. We get a bit more characterization of the primary antagonist and a more understandable reason why she would have been tempted by the compact. It also made some interesting character choices. Helen is kind of an asshole; she doesn’t fit the “perfect victim” stereotype, she talks back to her tormentors, and she is full of resentment and jealousy against her sister (who REALLY doesn’t deserve it). Kudos to Canada, as well, for her “unattractiveness” being very much in line with her age: she’s pimply and her hair could use a wash. US series tend to either 1) throw a pair of glasses on a conventionally attractive person, maybe paired with some dodgy sartorial choices, or 2) go completely over the top with some hideous injury or deformity.
Highly amused by Captain Jack Obvious: “The trouble with evil is that it’s very tempting.”
One thing I noted, and really liked, was that the episode itself had a serious slasher film vibe. There were the fairly gruesome killings—mashed by a trash compactor, death by table saw—the structure (temptation, escalation), and incidental music that had a very Jason or Freddy feel. Things I found darkly amusing: Helen’s sister calls for Scott, not her sister. Although, to be fair, she did steal her boyfriend and order him to kill her. Had Helen survived, that would make some pretty awkward holidays. The snake (temptation metaphor) on the compact.
Lust and pride are pretty predominant, but I would argue wrath plays a huge part here as it did in “Cupid’s Quiver.”
Critical Rewatch #1
Friday the 13th: The Series aired in syndication from 1987 to 1990. It boasts a large fanbase but almost no scholarly commentary. This episode-by-episode critical blog on the series is part of a research project by Erin Giannini and Kristopher Woofter that will include the series in a scholarly monograph on horror anthology TV series in the Reagan era.