31 Days of Hell: The Friday the 13th Series

Beginning in 1980 as a means to ride the coattails of John Carpenter's Halloween, Friday the 13th grew into one of the most popular American franchises in history.  Spawning twelve films, a tv series, comic books, video games, and countless forms of merchandise, the franchise boasts hundreds of kills and a plethora of ill-advised teenager decisions. Despite abysmal critical reception the films were the most successful horror franchise of all time until being recently dethroned by Halloween.  Aside from creating and cementing dozens of tropes within the horror genre, Friday the 13th is also an unusual beast in that many of its entries took experimental approaches to the mythology of Jason Voorhees, drifting into science fiction, demonology, and a crossover with Nightmare on Elm Street.  The end result is a cultural phenomenon that captured the minds of a generation and whose influence continues to dominate horror films to this day.  

All of the films were recently released by Shout Factory in a gorgeous boxset.  What follows is an exploration of the films, broken down by each evolution of the Jason mythos.  



Part One: Origins

(Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th Part 2, Friday the 13th 3D) 


The first three films are textbook slasher material, with some inventive twists that elevate them above forgettable fare.  The original film was also the first independent horror film to get picked up and distributed by a major studio.  It was this marriage of camps that drove the film's success, as its graphic violence and twist endings were unusual for blockbuster thrillers.  The violence also led to critical divisiveness, only furthering interest for the minimalist shocker.  

Part one deals with the aftermath of Jason's original death.  The second film picks up almost immediately after, with the final girl from the first.  These two films are prototypical murder movies in which an unseen killer stalks young, horny camp counselors, dispatching puritanical justice by blade and wire.  The third film sees the first appearance of the hockey mask, one of the most iconic symbols in the history of cinema.  It was also filmed in 3D and features eye popping and blade thrusting mayhem interwoven among the expected carnage.  The third was intended to be the final entry, however the amount of money made at the box office made the series like its antagonist...unkillable. 

 

Part Two: Tommy Jarvis

(Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives) 


The next three films are arguably the high point for the series.  It was also during this period that the filmmakers began to experiment and make unique connections to the previous films.  In part four, the "hero" is the brother of a victim in part two.  It also subverts the concept of the male tough guy taking on the villain while also introducing a young Tommy Jarvis (played by Corey Feldman).  The fifth film represents the greatest failure of the series.  While it boasts the most sex and violence, it squanders some of the more intriguing ideas to be presented in a group of films such as this: concepts of identity, memory, and trauma.  

Jason Lives (Part Six) is well regarded as the best Friday the 13th.  Poor reception to the previous film would ultimately serve as the true resurrection of Jason Voorhees. Eschewing any sense of reality, this would be Jason's first outing as a supernatural being.  The film features 4th wall breaking antics, action movie tropes, and hilarious Easter eggs for the viewer to find, one of which is a child camper fast asleep in her bed with a copy of Sarte's No Exit.  While making fun of itself and simultaneously reveling in the absurdities of the genre, Jason Lives set the bar for self-aware horror comedies that follow in its footsteps, such as Scream

Part Three: Experimentation

(Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Jason X)

                                              


After the intended genius of part six, the next few installments would continue to lean harder into the supernatural and the silly.  Part seven may be one of the weaker entries overall, despite a supporting villain turn for Bernie himself Terry Kiser.  The initial premise involved a real estate scheme and the producers attempted to court well known director's in an attempt to improve the franchise's reputation.  After talks for a crossover with A Nightmare on Elm Street fell through, the remaining product was a final girl with telekinetic abilities.  This film also marked the first of four times the legendary Kane Hodder would portray Jason. 

By this point Friday the 13th had become an event series, something that Saw would perfect years later. Fans would wait impatiently for the next film and the next batch of killings with glee.  The next entry took the action away from Crystal Lake to the Big Apple.  Although Jason Takes Manhattan is a deceiving title as the bulk of the story takes place aboard a ship traveling to New York.  Regardless the payoff is 20 minutes in a slime covered metropolis and some of the most iconic scenes in American horror history.  The film received apocalyptic critical response, leading to the studio taking even more chances with the material.  What followed was Adam Marcus' Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.  Marcus' directorial debut was critically annihilated for its gore and sex sequences, yet there is an undeniable sense of craftsmanship.  Unlike the other films in the series, there is an ambiance of ancient dread that hangs over the proceedings.  Marcus has admitted to linking Jason to the Evil Dead films without studio permission and the plotline is intensely supernatural.  Additionally, there's several action sequences that are surprisingly good, particularly a shootout in a diner. 

 

Coming off the poor box office reception of the other experimental entries, the next film would go even further across the line by sending Jason into space itself.  Jason X is easily the second most "fun" of the bunch, using the satirical chops explored in Jason Lives and exploiting them for new gains.  Featuring a cameo by David Cronenberg and one of the most memorable kills in cinematic history involving liquid nitrogen, X homages Aliens, Terminator, and virtually any other piece of 80's cinematic glory to deliver a fun Friday night experience.  


Part Four: The End?

(Freddy vs. Jason, Friday the 13th)


2003 was when it finally happened.  Rights secured, script agreed upon, Freddy vs. Jason materialized into a celluloid demon years in the making.  The result?  A mediocre feast with just enough callbacks to satisfy the fandom.  The tragedy is the understanding that the film is an amalgam of all the potential that was forsaken by studios over the years as each of these important works fell into the endless cycle of box office returns.   The story is clever, involving a upset Freddy who has been forgotten by the denizens of Elm Street almost as much as moviegoers.  He concocts a scheme to use Jason as a pawn.  Stuck in the middle is a group of teens, including the wonderful Jason Ritter whose character immediately reminds the viewer of Tommy Jarvis.  There are a few inventive kills and throwbacks to both originals, making this a passable, albeit disappointing experience.  

In 2009, the inevitable reboot took place.  Entrusted to Marcus Nispel (Pathfinder, Conan the Barbarian) the new incarnation of Jason returned to the series' roots.  It's immediately evident how a proficient director's presence changes everything.  The film has the 80's feel while remaining modern and Jason's flesh and blood origin is left a mystery, the only thing the viewer knows for certain is that this time, he can run.  While this one is almost entirely devoid of humor, it is an undeniably welcomed return to the blood-soaked trees around Crystal Lake.  


Sadly, the rights to the property have been tied up in litigation since the reboot's release, however, In September, 2020 it was hinted that the issues may have been resolved and a new Friday the 13th could be in develop soon. Time will tell.

--Kyle Jonathan