Sunday, July 15, 2012

ITALIAN HORROR WEEK: The People VS. Friday the 13th or... BAVA SHOT FIRST!!! (Part III of III)

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, now that we’ve established the fact that Friday the 13th Part 2 does indeed contain ideas, themes, and entire sequences that were at best appropriated and at worst straight up stolen from Mario Bava’s classic Twitch of the Death Nerve, who is the culprit?  Could it be Sean Cunningham, the man who created the riday the 13th series?  I say no.  While Friday the 13th contained a lot of strong similarities, including a location and basic plotline that is awfully suspicious, the out and out plagiarism didn’t start until Part 2, when Cunningham was out of the picture.  As the blatant theft began with Part Two, it would stand to reason that either the director or writer of that film was responsible.  Steve Miner, the associate producer of Part 1 and director of Part 2 was confronted with the issue in a December 2007 Myspace interview, and the following exchange took place…

“Interviewer: How do you respond to accusations that claim that Friday the 13th Part 2 plagiarised Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve? Some say that the scene where Jeff and Sandra are impaled whilst having sex is identical to a scene from Bava's movie? 

Miner: I never saw the movie."

Ok, fair enough.  In the definitive tome on the Friday the 13th series, Crystal Lake Memories, screenwriter Ron Kurz also denied having seen Twitch of the Death Nerve prior to his hand in pillaging it.  These simple denials may not seem convincing, yet I believe them due to the fact that I have reason to believe that neither man is the culprit.  In fact, I believe that I have uncovered the true possessor of the sticky fingers.  The evidence I will now lay before you will show that the guilty party is none other than…
(Let the official court record reflect that at this point, the prosecutor, in tribute to Andy Griffith, performed the trademark “turn suddenly from the jury and dramatically point an accusatory finger at the true villain” Matlock move)

Phil Scuderi!

I can hear everyone in the courtroom asking the same question; who?  Honestly, I had never heard of this man before I began researching this case either.  Phil Scuderi is the man who bankrolled the first five Friday the 13th movies, and many people have stated that he wielded considerable creative control over the series, but will you find his name in the credits?  No.  Good luck finding an interview with him.  Good luck even finding a picture of him.  Phil Scuderi is a truly elusive figure.  He doesn’t even have an IMDB page.  Everyone has an IMDB page.  Hell, I have an IMDB page.  I did some good old fashioned detective work, however, and I’ve uncovered three key pieces of evidence that will prove that Phil Scuderi is the Bava Bandit.  Yeah, I know.  Catchy isn’t it?

Just a note before I nail Phil’s ass to the wall; he is now deceased.  While I’m not usually one to speak ill of the dead, this mystery has remained unexplained for far too long.  Then again, Hitler, Ghengis Kahn, Al Capone, and Captain Kangaroo are all dead, and their evil is still talked about.

I submit People’s Exhibit A: Phil Scuderi is the only person involved in the production of Friday the 13th Part 2 that has a provable connection to Twitch of the Death Nerve.  Let me tell you a little bit about Scuderi’s background.  Remember that story Sean Cunningham tells all the time about almost not taking the money to make the first movie because the producers, a group called Georgetown Productions (owned by Stephen Minasian, Philip Scuderi and Robert Barsamian) wanted creative control?  Well, Scuderi was the man behind that.  This was not the first time Cunningham had encountered Scuderi either.  Scuderi’s previous company, Hallmark Releasing, had put up the money to make Cunningham’s first film, Last House on the Left.  Remember that, it will be important in a minute.  Anyway, Hallmark Releasing, a distribution company run by Scuderi, was a subsidiary of Esquire Theaters of America, which was also partially owned by Scuderi.  When Esquire decided to form Hallmark, one of the first movies they acquired American distribution and exhibition rights to was, you guessed it, Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, which they re-titled Twitch of the Death Nerve.  A few years later they even re-released it under the title of, get ready for this one…Last House on the Left 2.  No, I’m not joking.  The films have no relation whatsoever.  So in addition to proving his connection and experience with both of the movies in question, that last juicy little tidbit shows him to be a huckster who was not opposed to using unscrupulous means to promote a film.
Would he steal from Mario Bava, however?  Well, according to People’s Exhibit B, he already had a history of doing so.  In the 70’s and early 80’s, the director of a film did not cut the trailer, the distribution company was responsible for that.  Scuderi was the head of the distribution company for Friday the 13th, so the trailer was in his hands.  First, I’d like you all to watch the trailer from Bava’s 1964 film Blood and Black Lace…

Now, watch the trailer for Friday the 13th

Do you see what I see?  Yep, a complete emulation of the trailer for a Bava film.  That doesn’t necessarily mean he was responsible for the TOTDN/F13 Part 2 plagiarism however.  To incontestably link him to that particular crime, we would need something more substantial.  Something concrete.  Something like eyewitness testimony.  Hey, that’s a great idea.  Meet People’s Exhibit C.

Your honor, the prosecution would like to call to the stand a long time associate of Scuderi, and the screenwriter of Friday the 13th Part 2, Ron Kurz.  Mr. Kurz, I remind you that when you took the stand, you swore on The Necronomicon to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you Cthulu. 

SOC - Could you please tell the court your impressions of Mr. Scuderi and if you think he would steal from a movie?

Kurz – “I had known of Phil Scuderi and Esquire since my days in the early 1970s as a theater manager in Baltimore.  I became aware of Phil because of some of his distribution tricks.  He was like William Castle- taking out insurance policies against dying of fright or having kids handing out logo imprinted toilet paper on downtown street corners.  Phil, who has since died, was quite a force in the schlock movie business.  Just picture a cross between Roger Corman and Michael Corleone; a trained lawyer, crude and suave at the same time, and full of street smarts.  And when he got into a movie production, he could rip off the latest box office hit and have something on screen in a matter of months.  I should know, I wrote a few of them.”(Crystal Lake Memories page 14)

SOC – So he had a history of idea theft huh?  I am going to ask you directly sir, whose idea was it to remake scenes from Twitch of the Death Nerve and use them in Friday the 13th Part 2 without giving Mario Bava credit?

Kurz - “Credit where credit is due- Part 2 was a true collaboration between Phil Scuderi and myself.  We worked extremely close together on it, meeting at his office or at lunch or dinner three or four times a week.  Phil was a creative force in his own right, often coming up with wild scenes, usually acted out in fancy Boston restaurants to the mortification of his secretary-cum-mistress, who would usually accompany us.  All the dialog, the character development, the pacing and shaping that any screenplay requires is mine, but Phil would come up with the most outrageous sequences, and from where they came I haven’t a clue.  A film has been mentioned as an inspiration to Part 2 called Twitch of the Death Nerve.  I’d never seen it nor heard of it.  Perhaps Phil Had.  He was not above lifting anything from anywhere.  In Part 2, the scene of Ginny urinating under the bed is his, as is the “sheshkebob” scene where Sandra and Jeff get speared to the bed, as well as the Mark character being disabled and in a wheelchair and meeting his end tumbling down the stairs.” (Crystal Lake Memories page 60)

So there we have it folks.  I have shown Phil Scuderi to be a “Silver Screen Swindler” who had no problem stealing from other movies.  I have proven that there is a direct connection between Scuderi and the two flicks in question.  From the trailers for Blood and Black Lace and the first Friday the 13th, we have seen that he has a history of aping Bava’s style.  We even have first hand testimony from one of his colleagues establishing him as an idea thief and stating clearly that the scenes he is accused of stealing were indeed his idea.  All of this evidence paints a picture of Phil Scuderi as the mastermind behind one of the biggest cinematic capers in horror history.  Find this man guilty of purloining gore sequences, which may I remind you is a crime punishable by death…wait a minute…dammit.  Fine, just find him guilty anyway.  Do it to clear the names of the others involved in the Friday the 13th franchise.  Do it for Jason Voorhees, so he finally knows why he does at least a couple of the things he does.  Most importantly, do it to bring Mario Bava, a true master of the art of filmmaking, justice after all of these years.  The prosecution rests your honor, and the defense can shut the hell up.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?

NATHAN HAMILTON is the Son of Celluloid. He writes the mad musings of an unapologetic horror freak. The ultimate goal of his writing is to bring his take on horror to the masses.Stop by the SON OF CELLULOID NOW!!! Make sure to hit "like" on his FaceBook page and Follow his blog. He will be guest judging the HALLOWEEN HORROR MOVIE MARATHON MADNESS t


  1. Fantastic article! Keep up the great work sir.

    1. The Son of Celluloid is a fantastic writer. Amazing reviews. Brilliant analysis. Thanks for checking it out.

  2. You are correct. Good research and reporting. I'm sure it was Scuderi who was the culprit. I wrote two screenplays for him under more favorable conditions, meaning WGA rules. I only spoke with him through the director. One script was completely the director's concept and there was no bizarre Scuderi imput. The other was a comedy with a lot of silly and immature ideas dreamed up by Scuderi which I tried to make as respectable as possible. Neither script got off the ground. And by the way, I know Steve Miner and he's a good guy and would not steal anybody's work. Love your devotion and enthusiasm. Keep it up.