Those Crazy Ralphs
One of my favourite characters from the original Friday the 13th is the loveable and psychologically unbalanced Crazy Ralph played by the quirky yet versatile Walt Gorney. While it’s true that Crazy Ralph appears in the original 1980 film and makes a brief appearance in Friday the 13th Part II, when looking through the series as a whole it can be argued that the character template appears in several incarnations. So in tribute to Crystal Lake’s resident town looney, and Walt Gorney himself who passed in 2004 at the age of 91, let’s take a look at the characters throughout the series that I like to refer to as ‘The Crazy Ralphs.’
Originally referred to as Ralph the Rat Man in the script, Crazy Ralph serves as the narrative’s prophet of doom, warning the teenagers of their impeding fate at the cursed Camp Blood! “You’re all doomed!!” becomes not only his mantra, but an iconic quote for the series. With Ralph being the only example of possible foreshadowing in the script in terms of the original’s “who-dunnit” structure and the killer eventually being revealed as Mrs. Voorhees at the climax, the Crazy Ralph character also serves as the film’s red-herring, a horror film staple that would eventually become a cliché. The Crazy Ralph character is effective for one main reason – Gorney’s performance! So believable in the role, Gorney’s presence on set has been said to have been so method that the young cast believed him to an actual local cast for being so much like the character when in fact Gorney was a thoroughly trained and established theatre actor.
While Crazy Ralph scuttled off Camp Crystal Lake grounds not to return for the remainder of the film, the character’s impact led to Steve Miner demanding a return for the film’s sequel. Gorney returns to try and warn the new batch of young counsellors in training of their damnation in 1981’s Friday the 13th Part II, directed by Miner. However, old Ralphy boy does not make off on his trusty bicycle so luckily this time around, and meets the fate he tries in vain to warn the youth of at the hands of the franchise’s new killer, a hooded Jason Voorhees!
Despite his death, Ralph lives on in what could be called a reincarnated version of the character in many of the sequels. This is first seen in 1982’s Friday the 13th Part III (or 3D), in the character referred to as Abel. Our new town vagrant, played to creep perfection by David Wiley, is discovered sleeping in the middle of the street by our new gang of youth who then wake him for his safety only to be repulsed by his show and tell item – a human eye ball! Not only does Abel step in as Ralph’s replacement to warn the kids of doom ahead, he also gives the audience a thrill by holding said eyeball out through the screen in all its 3D glory! In doing so, Abel not only satisfied our appetite for the missing Crazy Ralph archetype, but started the tradition of this character being a part of the films’ structures.
While The Final Chapter seems to be Ralph-less, although it could be argued that the Rob character covers the function of warning the other’s about Jason’s curse, we get double the town crazy pleasure in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning in the character’s of Ethel Hubbard (Carol Locatell) and her son Junior (Ron Sloan). While serving more as comic relief than fate prophets, Ethel and Junior embrace their roles as town trash and resident crazies. You would think they would welcome the addition of the mental health rooming house that Tommy Jarvis now calls home, but Ethel does not hold back on sharing her disgust at them being so close to her property, as well as those who won’t indulge in her world famous stew! The Mother and Son duo not only provide this chapter with its supply of quirkiness, they also both give us memorable death scenes…that poor tomato!
1986’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI harkens back to the original style of the Crazy Ralph character with the addition of the cemetery caretaker Martin, played by the comical Bob Larkin. A constantly booze rattled alcoholic, instead of warning of Jason’s resurrection Martin does everything he can to cover it up in fear he will be blamed for the empty grave. Martin even chastises the viewing audience with his witty comment in regards to digging up Jason with “some folks have a strange idea of entertainment!” Alas the producers called for more on-screen kills, and Martin is the victim of the request, meeting his fate at the hands of the newly zombified Voorhees who kills him with his own love – the bottle he affectionately refers to as Kathleen! Love kills.
In 1988’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, fans of both the series and Crazy Ralph received a great gift! Walt Gorney himself returns again to warn against the death curse of Jason Voorhees! This piece of trivia may have eluded many viewers as we don’t actually see Old Ralph but instead only hear him – Gorney is the narrator of the opening montage, speaking in terms of his old character and giving us one last chance to heed his warning from beyond the grave. A thrill for fans who recognize the voice and a great throwback to the original!
But Gorney’s return does not mark the last of the Crazy Ralphs. Perhaps the closest incarnation of the original character is seen in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan when we are introduced to the character only referred to as Deck Hand. Played by Alex Diakun, this version of the character not only is closest to Gorney’s in appearance but also intention. He even uses the line “this voyage is doomed!” calling back to the character as a red-herring. While the trick would never work with a by now Jason aware audience, the Deck Hand character’s quirkiness does allow for the characters in the narrative to delay their Jason awareness, as he originally gets the blame for the murders happening on board. That is until he is confronted and discovered to have been given a gift from Jason in the form of a fire-axe in his back!
And with his death it also seems the death of the Crazy Ralphs was finalized in the series. While the residents of Crystal Lake appear to always be quite unusual from here on in, such as the diner owners in Jason Goes to Hell or the store clerk and old lady who say Jason just wants to be left alone, to Clay in the 2009 reboot, no character up to this point has yet to fill the shoes of the Prophet of Doom! Time will tell if coming sequels will resurrect this archetype and make Walt Gorney and all the Crazy Ralphs that came after him proud!
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