Arguably considered the Citizen Kane of slasher flicks, Friday the 13th boasts the simplest of plots: horny, young people go into the woods and fall prey to a maniac who butchers them one by one. The end. Roll out the body bags.
My introduction to the bloody saga unfolded in a way that would cause a horror fanatic to either scream or shame me. First of all, I watched most of the F13 films on broadcast television (translation: all of the nudity, profanity, and gore were edited out). Second of all, I watched them out of order. Blasphemous, right? How could someone go through the entire series in non-chronological order? Granted, this was no Harry Potter, and continuity wasn't an issue, even though there were a few recurring characters who overlapped in some stories. However, as an 8-year-old TV addict, it didn't matter. As long as there were stabbings, decapitations, and fun scares, I was, ahem, a happy camper...as long as my mother didn't catch me watching.
So, it would be fitting that, on this most glorious of days, I fondly look back on the films that starred everyone's favorite hockey-masked murderer and fueled my passion for the slasher genre...
Friday the 13th (1980) - The original pic, released in the summer when I was an infant, was an effective slice of suspense about the reopening of a summer camp years after the unfortunate drowning of a little boy named Jason Voorhees and the subsequent murders of the counselors who had neglected to save him. What made this thriller such a hit was its bare-bones storytelling and it-could-really-happen premise. There were no huge stars (yes, there's Kevin Bacon, but that was before he became Kevin Bacon). There was no pretense. Much like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, it snuck under the radar with a premise so terrifyingly simple, it resonated with audiences. And the surprising kicker? The killer's a middle-aged, cardigan-wearing white woman who really loves her son.
*By the way, someone may want to teach the marketer who wrote the poster's tagline ("A 24-hour nightmare of terror") the meaning of redundancy.
Friday the 13th, Part II (1981) - It's Jason's big screen debut! Picking up where the first film ended, we find survivor Alice living with a cat (watch out for that fake scare!) and receiving a fright in her fridge: the decapitated and decaying head of Mrs. Voorhees! Cue a hulking figure who grabs poor Alice from behind and shoves a screwdriver in her skull. From there, we're introduced to a fresh pack of
Part III (1982) is famously known for introducing the iconic mask -- Jason picks it up after he does away with prankster Shelly (above) -- and titillating viewers with the then-innovative filmmaking technique known as 3D (see a dude's eyeball pop off the screen!). Another group of luckless lads and ladies shack up at lakeside house where scary shit goes down.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) - 80s Child Actor Alert! Corey Feldman pops up in this faux conclusion to the Voorhees saga. This time, a single mom and her two kids, requisite blond hottie Trish and her younger bro Tommy (Feldman), live in a cabin in the woods where the house next door is being rented out by - you guessed it - a group of college kids looking to get high and get laid. Notable death: Crispin Glover gets his hand stabbed with a corkscrew and a meat cleaver to the face.
In 1985 Part V promised A New Beginning, and here's where we see a grown-up Tommy (amazing how one year ages someone) moving into a hospice for troubled youth. Adult Tommy can't shake off his hallucinations of Jason, especially when he's running around shirtless and showing off his abs. The bodies soon pile up around him, our heroine Pam, and little Reggie (Arnold's BFF from Diff'rent Strokes!). Can it be that Jason's back from the grave? Nope. Turns out the killer is a vengeful paramedic who wanted to hurt the people who were responsible for the death his son, a former patient at the hospice. Best death scene: Reggie's older brother ("Ooh ooh, baby, ooh baby") gets a rod shoved through his chest while sitting on the crapper in an outhouse.
Getting back to basics, Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) resurrected the masked Mr. Voorhees and brought the story back to Camp Crystal Lake. This was also the first time the series took a stab (see what I did there?) at being postmodern. One character notes that she's "seen enough horror movies to know guys in masks aren’t a good sign." Well, bitch, you should've known well enough to get the hell out of Dodge and avoid getting skewered like a pig in a puddle of mud. The ironic humor is peppered throughout the film, which follows Tommy's attempts to warn everyone that the Crystal Lake crazy is back and on the loose. Crazy deaths: one chick gets her face smashed into the bathroom wall of an RV, and the local sheriff literally gets bent out of shape.
Sidenote: I remember moving into my family's new apartment at the time and laying down newspapers while painting our dining room. Large print ads for Jason Lives were plastered all over the floor, and I was fascinated by the foreboding artwork, knowing full well that it was a movie I'd never get to see (I was 6).
Part VII: The New Blood (1988) and Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), in hindsight, can be seen as a result of the excess that dominated much of the 80s. Not only did Jason terrorize a new bunch of hardbodies, he sliced and diced his way through them on a cruise ship...and went head-to-head with a girl with telekinetic powers! Talk about over the top.
While Blood kept the action deep in the woods and pitted Jason against a new breed of heroine (a pre-Knots Landing Lar Park Lincoln), Manhattan was largely picked apart by fans who complained that the film's subtitle was misleading. Many anticipated seeing Jason chop up subway riders and stalk hookers in Times Square, but the story didn't arrive at the titular location until the last act. I get it though; shooting in NYC is hella expensive, and the F13 franchise isn't known for its enormous budgets. Still, those images of Jason chasing our protagonists down 42nd Street is one hell of a sight to behold.
Then there was the infamous Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. This was the first film in the franchise that I got to see in an actual theater. One summer day in 1993, my dad picked me up from day camp at the Boys & Girls Club on Weyman Avenue in New Rochelle, and we took a short drive to the Bronx to catch a matinee at the multiplex in Bay Plaza. At the time I had developed a voracious appetite for horror novels, and every time I took a trip to the bookstore, I'd pick up a copy of Fangoria to catch up on what was in development (See kids? This is what we did before the Internet). I remember reading an in-depth piece on Final Friday and ogling the images from the film. One particular sequence of pictures that stood out for me revealed a topless female camper being impaled by a spike and then her torso being ripped in half. By the time that scene came up on the big screen, I looked away, knowing what was about to happen. It was embarrassing enough, having my dad sit next to me during the sex scene. Simply put, I chickened out.
It wasn't until I was a senior in college when the tenth entry in the franchise arrived - with little fanfare. Jason X (2001) brought the bloodshed to - yep - outer space. A cryogenically frozen Jason Voorhees gets thawed out in a lab on a spaceship in the year 2455 and proceeds to kill a bunch of archeology students on board. And guess what? Young people get horny in space too!
Bringing some sci-fi touches to the F13 legacy certainly allowed for some interesting situations. The best moment of the film - hands down - involves a hologram program that simulates Camp Crystal Lake. In an attempt to distract Jason, the students use the program to no avail; Jason ends up butchering a pair of simulated, topless camp counselors and short-circuiting the whole thing. Jason X clearly doesn't take itself seriously. From the outlandish deaths (one scientist gets her head dunked into a tank of liquid nitrogen and then smashed into crystalized pieces) to the tongue-in-cheek dialogue (see the trailer below), this thing could be mistaken for a direct-to-video trashterpiece or something you'd find on SyFy. That all said, this installment does hold some significance for me: it was the very first movie I illegally downloaded from the Internet. Ah, college.
By the time Freddy vs. Jason (2003) came out, I was already living in L.A. and anticipating this film like it was the greatest cinematic mash-up of all time. Directed by music video helmer Ronny Yu, it was shot very much like a video game, incorporating some nifty CGI and catering to a generation that grew up on the previous films while appealing to short-attention-spanned newbies. I loved all of the homages and had a great time in the theater, even though I had been on a first date I'd rather not remember (let's just say I regretted watching it with someone who had no previous Friday knowledge whatsoever).
Another F13 first: Jason shows up at a rave and kills mutiple teens at once, something we've never seen before (he's usually sneaky and does his slicing and dicing in private). Kelly Rowland from Destiny's Child also appears, marking the first time a pop singer co-starred in a Friday flick, even though this could be considered a hybrid of sorts.
Last but not least, there was the inevitable remake/reboot. The Friday the 13th of 2009, brought to us by Michael Bay, did a respectable job combining elements from the first four films (not to mention delivering that killer 15-minute opening). Was it necessary? Probably not. Did it earn my $12 at the box office? It sure did.
...And that's all I'll say for now on this freakiest of Fridays. May you enjoy revisiting these flicks as much as I will later tonight.