What better to give us fright than the "Friday the 13th" movies? For more than 30 years, the slasher film franchise and Halloween favorite has terrorized us with images of hockey-masked Jason Voorhees and his mother, Pamela. There are 12 films and a new one tentatively scheduled for release Nov. 13, 2015.
Allentown resident David Zernhelt is obsessed with the series. He grew up in New Jersey, not far from the original film's locations: Blairstown, and the nearby Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco. He first watched the original film when he was a teenager and was captivated by the storyline, the mystery and the music. He thinks the first "Friday the 13th" is the best horror film ever made. And he's happy that "Friday the 13th" has gone on longer than its competitors, the "Halloween" and "Nightmare On Elm Street" films.
This is not the first time someone has written a book exploring "Friday the 13th" history. In 2006, Peter Bracke published "Camp Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th."
Zernhelt, however, feels that Bracke's book is not a complete history. While Bracke's book focuses heavily on the celebrities and crew and intricately describes the film production process, it neglects what Zernhelt considers most important: the horror fans.
Zernhelt dives deep into the film's details. He explores the history of set locations. He talks to shop owners, passersby and Blairstown locals who played a role in "Friday the 13th." He shares stories about the film that have never before been told.
"How far is it to Camp Crystal Lake?" Annie enquires, speaking aloud for the first time the infamous camp's name, where she and her fellow camp counselors would be murdered by Pamela Voorhees, the vengeful mother seeking justice for her son's drowning at the camp many years before.
Zernhelt interviewed Hartung in 2007. The shop owner revealed that the "Friday the 13th" crew had to film this scene twice because the cameraman forgot to put a roll of tape in the camera on the first day. Though the crew was frustrated about having to redo the scene, the mishap made the experience particularly memorable for Hartung.
"Hartung's General Store had remained a missing piece to the puzzle with the history of 'Friday the 13th' for more than 34 years," Zernhelt writes.
Zernhelt also tells the story of Ari Lehman. Lehman played the original Jason Voorhees, who emerges from the icy waters of Crystal Lake to pull Alice, the last remaining camp counselor, into the depths in the film's iconic final scene. This is the first time we see the infamous Jason, the hockey-masked villian who terrorizes in the "Friday the 13th" sequels.
A keytarist and singer, Lehman has created a band called "First Jason." The band released its first album in 2013 and on the cover is a depiction of the "Friday the 13th" scene in which he took part. Zernhelt includes the album cover in his book.
For Zernhelt, it is inspiring to see Lehman still so connected to his Jason character. Lehman even includes "Friday the 13th" references in his music.
"All these years later in his life, he still talks about his character," Zernhelt says. "It's really neat that you have someone from that far back in 'Friday the 13th' that takes pride in the films. He loves all the films like I do."
Zernhelt's journey into "Friday the 13th" began in 2007 when he volunteered to write a feature story on the films for The Warren Reporter, a small New Jersey newspaper. He originally interviewed Hartung, but when he decided to pursue a book project, he expanded his reach to actors, horror filmmakers and fans.
One of his favorite interviews was with actress Adrienne King, who stars as Alice in the film. Zernhelt says that King spent an hour on the phone with him. King also submitted personal photos for Zernhelt to use in the book.
Zernhelt calls King and fellow horror actress Rutanya Alda, who wrote a foreword for the book, "two of the rarest actresses that I ever met." He says they have made themselves extremely accessible.
While writing his book, Zernhelt says he "encountered not only just horror film fans, but also artists of all sorts which included painters artists, tattoo artists, filmmakers, musicians, actors, actresses, other writers" and "Friday the 13th" celebrities.
The book includes a short foreword by Victor Miller, the author of the original "Friday the 13th" screenplay. It is dedicated to Richard Brooker, the actor who played Jason in "Friday the 13th Part 3." Zernhelt says Brooker was supportive of his book project and originally was supposed to write the foreword. However, he died on April 8, 2013.
With Alda's foreword, Zernhelt hoped to bring in a new perspective. Alda does not appear in the "Friday the 13th" films but is well known for her roles in "Amityville II: The Possession," "Girls Night Out" and "When a Stranger Calls."
"David Zernhelt offers a new take on this iconic film, in a book that is sure to be a 'keeper' and a valued part of your library of books about horror films and the 'making of' such films," Alda writes in the foreword.
Zernhelt's book includes interviews with other individuals that aren't part of the "Friday the 13th" franchise that seem somewhat random. However, Zernhelt says these interviews help to round out the history of the film by showing its impact on other horror filmmakers and actors. For this reason, he adds commentary from "Creepshow 2" actor Daniel Beer and Slasher Studios film producer Kevin Sommerfield, among others.
Zernhelt is working on the second book of his "Camp Crystal Lake Diaries" series, which will focus on "Friday the 13th" Parts 2 through 4.