Film

Dissecting the 'Friday the 13th' Franchise

In celebration of the day and date, here's an overview of the dozen or so films that make up the beloved slasher series.

He's one of cinema's most endearing 'characters', a figure of fear for nearly three decades. And yet he's not some one-liner quipping child killer or hulking sinister 'shape'. He doesn't wield a chainsaw (usually) and didn't make a pinheaded deal with the devil until sometime later in his creative canon. Indeed, Jason Voorhees and his Friday the 13th films have become the stuff of legitimate legend, forging a VCR fueled fanbase that takes every action of his hockey masked spree slayer and transforms it into the goriest of Gothic gospel. In deference to the date, we here at SE&L thought we would revisit every single movie in the Friday franchise - and sheepishly recognize that this means we indeed own all 12 - to see if the films themselves hold up to critical scrutiny. Even better, from 1980's original slice and dice to the current installment's cruel carving, we can see how Jason evolved, how he grew, and in several cases, how he blew, beginning with:

Friday the 13th

1980

Two things stand out about this original entry into the Voorhees family legacy. First, Sean Cunningham enjoys a leisurely pace here. This movie feels at least twice as long as its 90 minute running time and not always in a good way. There are far too many pointless pauses between the bloodletting. On the positive side, Tom Savini's make-up work is flawless, and Betsy Palmer's turn as big bad Pamela V. has to go down in history as one of the meanest 'mothers' in the entire horror genre. For those who think it's a classic - think again. Of a type? Absolutely. Of faultless movie macabre? No way.

Friday the 13th, Part II

1981

It's just so sad how the MPAA functions. Strangely cyclical in their concerns, they were in the middle of their anti-violence campaign when the adult Jason decided to show up with a potato sack on his head and a murderous attitude on his brain. This meant that most of the deaths here were severely edited to meet the "voluntary" ratings board's demands, and as a result, they defanged this sequel's potential teeth. Still, as with an origin story, Jason's first journey into spree killing is better than you'd expect. It has a faster pace than the first film, and the ending begins the whole "huh?" aspect of plotting that will perplex the franchise from here on.

Friday the 13th Part III

1982

It's gimmick time for the series, and sans the arterial spray the material dictates, we get another anemic adventure. The need to bring more and more victims to the fray finds a hilariously hack biker gang stalking our teens and no one can deny ole' Shelly's contribution to the mythos (actually - who brings a hockey mask to a weekend sex and drugs make-out party???). Still, the need to play to the 3D set-up leaves many of the murders inventive but strangely passive. Besides, our horror anti-hero gets one of the worst last act send-offs ever/ Hanging? Jason? Please…

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

1984

One of the best entries in the franchise, and a fine slasher film at that. With everyone assuming this was the end - after all, the title even suggests the same - there is an urgency and energy here that's missing from all previous installments. Even better, director Joseph Zito amps up the brutality with the help of a returning Savini. With Corey Feldman poised to be the memorable nemesis to this crazed killer's unstoppable slaughter, a classic battle between good and evil emerges - and the ending is one horrific hack and slash set-piece. If it really were the finale, it would have been a great one.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

1985

Here are some basic cinematic rules - you can't make a Halloween film without Michael Myers (Part III: Season of the Witch), a Terminator film without a Terminator (Salvation), and you definitely can't make a Friday the 13th film without Jason Voorhees - and no, a plot twist substitute for same just won't work. Director Danny Steinmann argues that studio interference and MPAA demands (again) disemboweled his proposed "reboot" of the series. Perhaps the lame script, lousy acting, and supreme lack of gore gave said corporate interference a run for its mediocrity money. Whatever the case, this is perhaps the worst entry in the entire fright franchise.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives!

1986

Tom McLaughlin stands as the J.J. Abrams of the Friday the 13th series. Brought in to resuscitate what looked like a dead cinematic staple, the filmmaker injected the return of Jason (in a new, novel "zombie" form) with enough black humor and directorial flare to compensate for the previous entries' lack of excitement. Even the opening, which sees our main monster resurrected by a stray lightning bolt, is giddy in its goofball Frankenstein allure. With a tone that sets it apart from other Fridays, and acting that redefines the term Method, this is what all sequels to the slasher genre should be - fun and flashy.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

1988

Groan. After leaving Jason at the bottom of a lake to basically be nibbled away at by trout, Part VII producers had to find a way to get him back on shore and slicing away. Sadly, they chose a ridiculous Carrie-lite narrative involving a girl with telekinesis. Toss in an unethical shrink, a group of obnoxious teen partiers, enough pot references to choke Bill Maher, and an ending that makes about as much sense as any other Friday entry and you've got nothing but scare flick stupidity. At least the last act psychic showdown between our heroine and Jason has some spark…some.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

1989

It's a decent idea - transport our hockey masked horror to the Big Apple and let him murder a few New Yorkers in the process. Unfortunately, Jason goes about his ripper road trip via a boring ass cruise filled with graduating high schoolers. Yawn. There is nothing really wrong with the boating material. It’s the same old MPAA hampered violence. But once Big J gets to the center of modern culture, this all gets wonky - VERY wonky. The ending remains one of the biggest head scratchers in the entire history of the series - and that included Crispin Glover's "dance" sequence from The Final Chapter.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

1993

In which our icon goes demonic - and immortal - and stupid. Before, we could support a pissed off adult Jason. We even bought the undead fun of his zombie counterpart. But turning our hulking figure of menace into a small prosthetic beastie that "invades" the bodies of others? Huh? We come to Friday the 13th for slashing and high body counts, not voodoo shapeshifting nonsense. Sadly, the promised trip to Hades also doesn't do very much for the fan. It's rather flaccid and ends up playing out like exactly what it is - a poorly realized and though out plot point.

Jason X

2002

Here is the true 'love it or hate it' entry in the Jason mythos. Ignoring practically everything that's happened since Part VI, we get a futuristic twist on the whole serial killer concept. While it’s a kick to see David Cronenberg as an angry bureaucrat eager to use our icon's "limitless regenerative powers" for his own illicit purposes, the rest of the film offers up an Aliens rip-off with Mr. Hockey Mask as the resident xenomorph. In between futile firefights and lots of android titillation, we get a Jason 2.0 that's part monster, part machine. Too bad the rest of the movie is all crap.

Freddy vs. Jason

2003

YES! Finally, someone gets the basics of both Mr. Voorhees and Master Krueger, Esq. Instead random joking and uneven mythology, Hong Kong action king Ronny Yu just unleashes these monsters and lets them do what they do best - murder tons of innocent people. This is a literal bloodbath, the kind of carnal display that will make gorehounds happy while satisfying even the most discerning fright flick purist. From the novel way they get these two together to the last act stand-off that's nothing but pure knock down drag out horror heaven, this was the best installment in the series…that's right, was, until:

Friday the 13th 2009

2009

If Sean Cunningham is responsible for giving birth to this monumental scary movie franchise, Marcus Nispel should be given credit for forcing it to finally grow up. Removing all the stilted trappings of previous installments, and focusing instead on the unbridled cruelty of a disfigured man on a homicidal rampage, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake director delivers the kind of hardcore terror this franchise has sorely lacked. This is what Jason Voorhees was always meant to be - focused, unyielding, determined…and very, very deadly. If you want your slasher fare with an ample amount of comedy and carnality, look elsewhere. This is the moment when Jason became the monster he was supposed to be - and it's mesmerizing.
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