The Friday the 13th franchise

Friday the 13th (1980)

Rating: C-

Dir: Sean S. Cunningham
Star: Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Peter Brouwer, Betsy Palmer

Thirty years since this came out, and here’s where I admit to never having seen it until now. The thing which stands out is, while Jason Vorhees in a hockey-mask is one of the most recognizable images of the entire horror genre, it doesn’t appear at all in the original movie. Indeed, Jason is hardly in it at all, except for the scene right at the end, which was about the only moment both Chris and I could actually remember with much clarity (the idea for that shocker actually came from make-up guy Tom Savini). It is straightforward in its approach: a group of teens are preparing Camp Crystal Lake for its reopening, more than two decades after two previous employees were brutally murdered. Over the course of one stormy night, they are stalked and dispatched by… Well, while I normally avoid spoilers, this hardly counts, given its iconic status, so… [spoiler alert, if you must] the mother of the late Jason Vorhees, who drowned at the camp, due to the inattention of the counsellers. As a result, she is opposed in general to the camp reopening, and particularly to any teenage sexuality.

Despite the almost-complete lack of any actual Jason, the basic concepts are firmly established in the opener here: the kills are definitely the focus here, with characterization and plot largely secondary. This is reflected by reviews – in contrast to, say, Halloween – best described as “sniffy”, or in the case of Gene Siskel, a lot worse. From a modern viewpoint, it’s difficult to see why – the effects are decent enough, yet hardly excessive. For instance, my first thought when victim #2 got her throat slit was surprise at how little blood flowed. While it’s difficult to imagine just what the “anybody, any time” approach seen here might have had on the audience at the time, it feels like it’s only in the last 20 minutes that things get going, with the “final girl” trying desperately to survive as Mrs. Vorhees seeks to finish the job. Credit goes to Harry Manfredini’s score (“Ki-ki-ki-ki… Ma-ma-ma-ma…”), which adds tension effectively. But this definitely feels more workmanlike than ground-breaking.

Body count: 10. Best kill: A very young, then unknown, Kevin Bacon gets an arrow through his neck from beneath the bed on which he is enjoying some post-coital relaxation.

Friday the 13th Part II (1981)

Rating: B-

Dir: Steve Miner
Star: Amy Steel, John Furey, Warrington Gillette, Kirsten Baker

Two movies in, and still no hockey-mask, though at least Jason is the main antagonist here. Somehow, the pillow-case he wears on his head for this one, just doesn’t work. It fails to strike terror into anyone, and I was more impressed Jason didn’t spend the entire film bumping into things. He replaces his mom as the killer, and it’s never made clear how he made the leap from drowned eleven-year old kid to psychotic…well, he must be bordering on middle-aged by now, unless he didn’t age at all during twenty years in the lake. Hey, who claimed logic was this series’s strong suit? Another batch of counselors show up, just down the road from Camp Crystal Lake: however, a slight relocation isn’t enough to dissuade Jason, and as before, he shows up one stormy night to hack and slash his way through those who opted to stay there, rather than go into town. So the moral is: drinking heavily can save your life. No, wait…

I probably enjoyed this more than the original, largely because it doesn’t hang around as much. It certainly is pretty reactionary: at times, it seems all the victims had just had sex, were preparing to have sex (including squirting perfume into their panties – classy!) or engaged in morally-questionable behaviour, such as skinny-dipping. Naturally, we get to see the activities of which Jason disapproves. Additionally, the balance is skewed even more towards identifying with the killer here, given the huge volume filmed from his POV [or “Lurk-o-vision,” as we referred to it], so all told it probably is more morally dubious than its predecessor. Personally, after four seasons of Dexter, this kind of thing doesn’t seem like much, and it’s hard to get upset about it. Still the MPAA were generally unimpressed, and the R-rated version was significantly trimmed – an excised image is shown on the right. Fortunately, the film-makers also got rid of the superfluous nonsense, sticking largely to the sex and violence, and it’s much better for it.

Body count: 9 (excluding reused footage). Best kill: crippled guy gets a machete to the face, and his wheelchair hurtles down a flight of stairs. So, it’s okay to murder a paraplegic, but unlike in the first part, animals are beyond the pale?

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Rating: D

Dir: Steve Miner
Star: Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Tracie Savage, Jeffrey Rogers

The hockey mask finally shows up here, hooray; it’s taken from the body of a victim, whose idea of “fun” is to meander around pretending to have been attacked. No prizes for guessing how that ends. Anyway, this one was shot in 3D, and it’s painfully obvious, from the opening credits on, where they decided to have things coming out of the screen at the audience. An early shot with a clothes-pole, and a later one with a yo-yo are the most cringeworthy, but far from the only ones. Anyway, plot-wise, it takes a little while to get going, by the time we have the obligatory flashback to earlier events, and then a sequence – far longer than necessary – where Jason steals some clothes from a store and kills the owners. After that, we get to the real meat: another batch of horny teenagers, heading off for a weekend of fun, fornication and fatality. And nothing, not a bum lying in the middle of the road clutching an eyeball, or an irritable trio of bikers, is going to stop them, dammit. Needless to say, Jason has other ideas on the matter, with a range of kills designed, it would appear, to make the most of the 3-D technology.

That gimmick aside, I wasn’t impressed with this. As noted above, it takes too long to get going, despite a TV in the early sequences breathlessly recounting the events of part 2. It doesn’t help that two of the “teenagers” are a couple of stoners, who are so obviously not teenagers, that it feels more like an episode of To Catch a Predator than anything. It’s also an astonishingly-badly written script: not that the first couple were Shakespeare, but they didn’t require the absolute idiocy needed from the characters here. Another review summed that aspect up best: “How the hell does one climb into a hammock while failing to notice a longitudinally split corpse hanging from the ceiling above and a 240-pound serial killer crouching under said hammock with a hunting knife below?” I’ll just add that the victim in question must be really keen to read that copy of Fangoria. While we now have all the elements in place, it’s clear that all the imagination and thought here went into the kills, and the rest of this is so badly assembled as to make it a struggle to avoid unconsciousness.

Body count: 12 (excluding reused footage). Best kill: I’d go for the spear-gun to the eye-socket, which must have been an impressive moment, especially in 3D. However, the one whose skull is crushed until his eyes pop out deserves an honourable mention, and getting cleaved with a machete while standing on your hands? Ouch.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Rating: B-

Dir: Joseph Zito
Star: Kimberly Beck, Corey Feldman, Erich Anderson, Crispin Glover

This is probably the closest thing the series has to an all-star cast. Though it’d be truer to say “would be star” cast, as neither Feldman nor Glover were exactly known at the time – their breakout roles in The Goonies and Back to the Future were still in the future. From a modern perspective, it certainly adds an unexpected bit of glitter, and the film itself is a significant improvement on the preceding entry. The format is more or less unchanged, but the hormone levels are off the charts, resulting in additional gratuitous nudity [the skinny-dipping, previously off-screen, is seen in all its glory]. Additionally, the concept of Jason as an unstoppable force is a lot more well-developed here, with the final reel showcasing a number of elements that have since become near cliché, as Trish (Beck) tries to escape from the house with kid brother Tommy (Feldman).

That’s definitely the best section of the film, going full-bore at the horror trope of “girl vs. maniac” with energy and spirit. and Beck is a good “final girl”. As usual, the first half is a good bit less interesting as things get set up, though I did enjoy the sequence in the hospital, in which two medical personnel have their morgue makeout-session rudely interrupted by Mr. Vorhees. Glover’s character is also off-centre, and an interesting precursor to the weirdoes he would make a living playing for much of his career – check out his dance moves, which resemble a praying mantis having an epileptic fit, or possibly a crashing helicopter. However, this has basically abandoned all pretense at being anything other than a slasher pic. This is so radically different from the first film, it might as well be an entirely independent piece of work, with only the token “story so far” pre-credit sequence to link this to the earlier entries. And it might be all the better for the lack of pretension.

Body count: 13 (excluding Jason). Best kill: ok, not really a “kill,” since Jason returns – I trust that’s not a spoiler. But getting a machete to the face, which he then slides down the blade to the floor… That’ll do. Glover’s departure, by corkscrew and meat-cleaver, is also effective.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

Rating: C-

Dir: Danny Steinmann
Star: Melanie Kinnaman, John Shepherd, Shavar Ross, Richard Young

Once you get to the end, it becomes clear that this is a fraud, despite an opening which seems to suggest Jason coming back to life [though that illusion was dispelled for us immediately we realized he had apparently been buried with both his mask and machete!]. Turns out this isn’t the case, and while there is an explanation given for what happens at the end, when I look back at the carnage as it unfolded, I can’t say it makes a great deal of sense. There are too many people killed for no reason – when you’re dealing with a deranged, apparently immortal psychopath, you don’t really require motive, but if that is no longer the case… Well, let’s not go any further into that, for spoilerish reasons. Beyond this, admittedly fairly-large, issue, everything else is more or less business as usual. It appears quite a lot of time has passed, as Tommy from Part 4 is now an adult (Shepherd), though traumatized by events, has been shipped off to a funny farm for rehabilitation. When one inmate murders another with an ax (I must say, handing such things out unsupervised seem a dubious approach to patient care), it triggers a whole wave of slaughter, by a machete-wielding, hockey-mask wearing psychopath.

The film starts by focusing on Tommy and his violent rages – could he be, as the finale of its predecessor suggested, becoming a serial killer himself? However, that aspect is almost ignored in the second-half, building towards a similar climax in which this entry’s final girl (Kinnaman) tries to escape, along with a young black kid (Ross), who manages to prove the horror rule that the black guy dies first, only applies to those over 18. The setting is a little different, and unashamedly non-PC: it’s hardly a sympathetic portrayal of the mentally ill, and some victims here die, purely for that reason. Despite some impressive nudity, and the highest number of kills in the series to date, I definitely felt cheated as the final credits rolled, and that twist was far from the only aspect that fails to make sense; bulldozer-driving lessons appear to be part of the middle-school curriculum, these days. Unimpressive and largely forgettable.

Body count: 19 (excluding dreams). Best kill: these seemed more restrained than in previous entries: was this the hand of the MPAA or the director? There’s a number of credible stabbings, but the only one to deliver is when “Jason” [quotes used advisedly] lands on a bed of spikes.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1985)

Rating: B-

Dir: Tom McLoughlin
Star: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Renée Jones

“I’ve seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly.” That line sums up the somewhat-meta approach on view here – enhanced as a result of the fact that it’s delivered by the director’s sister. All connection with reality evaporates when Jason is resurrected through a lightning-bolt, and McLoughlin (who’d go on to direct Date With an Angel!) opts for a more tongue-in-cheek approach that is welcome, especially by those of us who watched the previous five episodes in quick succession. The rest of the features are still there, more or less – camp counsellors, Crystal Lake (now renamed Forest Green) – but Jason’s strength and apparent immortality get ramped up as a result of the supernatural elements. In contrast, both the sex and the violence feel considerably more restrained than previously.

That is something of a shame, since if you can’t rely on a Friday the 13th movie to deliver the tits and gore, what is the world coming to? As always, however, it’s hard to be sure how much, of the latter at least, is due to the makers and how much the MPAA. Credit does go to McLoughlin for finally putting kids in peril – it is supposed to be a summer-camp, dammit – and for getting Alice Cooper to chip in for the soundtrack, which feels like a passing of the torch from a horror icon of one generation to the next. Most of the humour works, rather than seeming forced, as can often be the case in horror-comedy, with the James Bond parody particularly memorable. Although, boy, did it take a while, all the aspects of the Jason we know are finally present, and the results are not bad at all.

Body count: 18. Best kill: While the deaths are almost as plentiful as in part five, as noted above, the red stuff is somewhat lacking, despite opportunities like a simultaneous triple beheading. Probably the best is the victim whose face gets slammed so hard into the wall of a camper, that the outside becomes their death-mask.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

Rating: C

Dir: John Carl Buechler
Star: Lar Park-Lincoln, Kevin Spirtas, Susan Blu, Terry Kiser

After the traditional flashback, seven-year old Tina watches as her father drowns in Crystal Lake after the pier he was standing on collapses. A decade later, Tina (Lincoln) is taken back to the lake by her therapist, Doctor Krews (Kister), along with her mother (Blu) – turns out Tina is a latent telekinetic. She inadvertently releases Jason – here, played for the first time by Kane Hodder – from his imprisonment at the bottom of the lake, just in time for the “surprise party” of teenagers, conveniently being organized next door. They’re the usual mix of stoners, sluts and nerds, with the exception of the token good guy, Nick (Blair). Tina starts having visions of the neighbours being killed; Dr. Crews thinks it’s repressed guilt over the death of her father.

This certainly takes to a whole new level the “Jason Vorhees as unstoppable killing machine” concept, with at least four or five moments where Tina and Nick think they’ve killed him off, only for him to rise again. That said, as noted in our original review, his final demise is quite awful. The concept of Tina having mental powers that she can use against Jason is cool, but badly implemented – remarkably, she suddenly learns to control them effectively, at exactly the moment it’s necessary to the plot, and not a second before. Outside of the heroine, there is a complete lack of sympathetic characters, even by the low standards of the series there. It could be argued this renders their subsequent demises more satisfying, and that is true to some extent, it also means that every second they stay alive and are on screen is something that has to be endured. I must confess, I fell asleep the first time I watched this.

Body count: 15. Best kill: While significantly reduced in the R-rated version, we have to go with the victim who tries to hide in her sleeping bag, only to be swung around in it, like a sock full of pool-balls, into a tree. Repeatedly. Like, six times.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Rating: D

Dir: Rob Hedden
Star: Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves, Barbara Bingham, Peter Mark Richman

Because “Jason Takes a Cruise” wouldn’t sell as many tickets, even if it’s a far more accurate title. I can understand the aim behind trying to get Mr. Vorhees out of Crystal Lake, to try and avoid flogging that dead horse any further, but the execution – and, indeed, executions – here is woeful. That’s clear from the moment Jason turns into the Loch Crystal Monster, apparently using an underground tunnel connecting the lake to the ocean or something. And, hang on, didn’t he originally die because he couldn’t swim? I guess, at some point, we must have missed Jason Gets His Waterwings. The bulk of the film takes place on a liner taking no-one else save a graduating class of, it seems, about a dozen, to New York for a trip: the obvious “final girl” is Rennie (Daggett), who almost drowned in Crystal Lake when she was a child, and is now the ward of stern principal Mr. McCulloch (Richman). Jason climbs on board and business proceeds, more or less, as usual until the survivors bail out, arriving on the Statue of Liberty, only to find the new, dolphin-equipped maniac has followed them.

If this had mostly been about our hockey-masked friend rampaging through the Big Apple, this might have been more fun, summed up in the exchange between the two last survivors and gum-chewing waitress in a New York diner: when told, “There’s a maniac trying to kill us!”, her delicious, blandly-disinterested response is, “Welcome to Noo Yawk.” I enjoyed the delicious irony of Jason passing more or less unnoticed in Times Square, but these moments only throw the tedious suckage which is the rest of the film, into stark relief. That’s apparent right from the opening, when Jason is unable to hit his target with a spear gun from three feet, continues through the complete lack of explanation for the killer wanting to take a cruise, Rennie’s PTSD, and right on to the toxic-waste ending which… No, I had to see it unwarned, and don’t see why you should be any different. Up until now, this had been like the Star Trek films – only the even ones were any good. No longer so: at this point I began to wish I hadn’t started this project, but having written seven reviews previously, I’m going to use them, dammit…

Body count: 18. Best kill: Memo to self. If ever I meet an unstoppable serial killer, I will not attempt to engage him in puglistic fisticuffs. Going by the results here, doing so is a sure recipe to losing one’s head, hohoho…

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Rating: D+

Dir: Adam Marcus
Star: Kari Keegan, John D. LeMay, Steven Williams, Kane Hodder

So, turns out Jason is now a big, black dude who likes to give shaves. Or a really pissed-off TV executive. Who knew? While I admire and agree with the decision by the makers to pretend, basically, that Part VIII never happened at all, the complete revisionism shown here is fairly questionable. Turns out, while you can destroy Jason’s physical form, that only causes him to possess other people’s bodies, using a parasitic entity, more than a bit like The Hidden. And in order to be reborn, he needs to use a blood relative – yet the same is also the only person who can destroy him permanently. Shame no-one bothered to find this out in the previous eight features. Oh, and did we similarly forget to mention that Jason Vorhees had a sister? Like I said, this isn’t so much a sequel as a near-desperate attempt to reboot the franchise, in the wake of steadily-declining returns, and at a new studio (New Line instead of Paramount). Some of this works, such as the initial FBI sting operation which reduces Jason to a pile of body parts. The rest, not so much, nice though it is to see cameo appearances by props from The Evil Dead and Nightmare on Elm Street.

There isn’t much consistency of tone here: parts feel like something from a TV movie of the week, while others seem to be bordering on Natural Born Killers media satire, or aping John Woo-style gunplay. There’s even some self-referential moments, as when Steven (LeMay) says to some hitch-hikers he picks up, “Planning on smoking a little dope, having a little premarital sex, and getting slaughtered?” It’s not really a spoiler to reveal he’s generally accurate in this prediction. The script yanks so many rabbits out of its hat, as Jason hunts his niece Jessica (Keegan), the result feels like a huge cheat, though I enjoyed the intensity Steven Williams brought to his part as bounty hunter Creighton Duke, and appreciated his best efforts to sell the wholesale rewriting of the Vorhees legend demanded of the character. While there are some interesting concepts here, the makers would likely have been better using the story on a new characters, as the attempt to shoehorn Jason into them here is a dismal failure.

Body count: 16 (discounting possession victims and off-screen deaths). Best kill: the death of the second hitch-hiker is a particularly-impressive advertisement promoting the virtues of safe sex, as she is cleaved from neck to navel. That’s what I call coitus interruptus.

Jason X (2001)

Rating: B

Dir: Jim Isaac
Star: Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder, Kane Hodder, Jonathan Potts

So, let’s relocate Jason to space, shall we? After all, that worked so well for the Leprechaun series, didn’t it? Actually, this is a lot of fun, and the more so now I have seen the previous nine entries, and can appreciate the little nods in the script to those movies. This is mostly set 450 years in the future, after Jason gets cryogenically-frozen, in the hopes of keeping him out of trouble, after authorities (including a quick appearance by David Cronenberg) have realized he can’t be executed. Earth is now a wasteland, but popsicles Jason and his “keeper”, Rowan La Fontaine (Doig) are rescued by a students’ field trip under Professor Lowe (Potts). Rowan is revived, but before she can convince everyone else of the danger, Jason is up too, and is back to his usual tricks of mass slaughter, with both the students and the platoon of soldiers also on the ship, as the victims. Can La Fontaine and the steadily-declining number of survivors, put a stop to Jason once again?

This was the first Friday the 13th film I ever saw, and it remains my favourite,combining the spectacular deaths expected with a wry, if occasionally unsubtle, sense of humour: we came up with the “He’s screwed” line in the cinema, a good 30 seconds before the film did. The makers clearly acknowledged that, by this point, Jason is completely ineffective as a tool for generating any degree of actual fear in the audience. So they headed in a more fun direction, such as android KM-14 (Ryder) tooling up to go all Matrix on Jason, and Lowe’s impeccably-stupid dialogue, including lines like “Everything is under control,” “You’ll be safe now,” and the immortal classic, “Guys, it’s okay! He just wanted his machete back!” No prizes for guessing how that works out. While possessing more than a little in common with Aliens, sharing a cryogenically-frozen heroine and gung-ho marine cannon-fodder, the movie clearly doesn’t take itself at all seriously, and is much the better for it.

Body count: 18 (by Jason only). Best kill: the first one in space, where the student has her face dipped in liquid nitrogen and then shattered against a counter.

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Rating: C+

Dir: Ronnie Yu
Star: Monica Keena, Jason Ritter, Robert Englund, Kelly Rowland

In my original review, I called this “the Wrestlemania of slasher movies: all we need is Michael Myers for a triple-threat, falls count anywhere, no disqualifications bout.” It still feels like that: the biggest surprise this provided on the re-view was realizing, not only that Ritter is now starring in The Event, but it also has Katherine Isabelle, pre-Ginger Snaps [though her nudity here is body-doubled]. Fans had been waiting for this for what seemed like forever, and it was undeniably a hit, with an opening weekend gross beating the last three Nightmares combined, or Fridays 6-10. Freddy resurrects the hockey-masked one to strike terror into the hearts of the Elm Street kids, who have forgotten all about him. And what boogey-man is any good without fear? Unfortunately, turning Jason off is a damn sight harder, and Freddy gets a bit miffed when Mr. Vorhees continues to take out those whom Mr. Krueger regards as “his” territory. This leads to what we’ve been waiting for: two titans of terror going toe-to-toe for the final twenty minutes.

Up until that point, it feels almost like you’re channel-hopping between entries in each series, as each icon operates in his usual fashion i.e. Krueger with a witty quip and in dreamland, though curiously, he only dispatches one actual victim in the entire film. That probably explains why he’s a tad peeved by his rival stacking up the body-count – a bit like Gimli and Legolas in Lord of the Rings. For Vorhees prefers to let his actions speak louder, most notably at a rave, where he dispatches half-a-dozen teens in quick succession. That allows Yu to show off his nice eye for the visual side, with a flaming Jason stalking his prey through a corn-field [sidenote: why is it always a corn-field in horror movies? Does no-one farm anything else?] However, this feels like pure padding, an overlong series of appetizers before the main course, with only Keena’s significant mammaries to distract us. And by us, I must point out it was Chris who mentioned these. Repeatedly. The ending is every bit as inconclusive as you’d expect, though the only action either franchise has seen since was their respective reboots.

Body count: 19 (by Jason only). Best kill: there’s not much imagination on view here, most of them being straightforward hacking and stabbing with the machete. The first one in “reality”, however, adds the victim getting bent in two the wrong way, along with his bed.

Friday the 13th (2009)

Rating: C+

Dir: Marcus Nispel
Star: Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Travis Van Winkle, Amanda Righetti

Delivering the most successful opening weekend of any horror-film, this is a combination of elements from the first four movies of the original series, galloping through Mrs. Vorhees, Jason finding his mask, and of course, the slaughter of multiple groups of teenagers. The first bunch disappear after they arrive at Camp Crystal Lake looking for a marijuana farm, and the second head out for a party weekend, where they meet Clay (Padalecki), the brother of one of the victims, who is searching for his missing sister, Whitney (Righetti). He crosses swords with Trent (Van Winkle), whose cabin is the base for the party, but Trent’s girlfriend Jenna (Panabaker), takes the side of Clay, and the pair go off to continue the search for Whitney. They soon run into the masked one, who is continuing to do what he has done for the past thirty years or so: dispatching the sexual active and substance abusers of the younger generation, with a variety of pointy implements. Bless his heart…

Competent rather than inspired, Nispel sticks mostly to the basics, and is to be commended for not attempting to make a PG-13 version of the film, with the best selection of hardcore kills seen in the series for quite a long time [look, don’t make me go check, please…]. One occasionally senses Nispel is aware of the cliches, such as the sequence where we cut between four characters, one of whom is stealing liquor, and another is smoking dope and masturbating, while the remaining two have sex. Ooh, where will Jason start? However, in general, there’s not much here to get excited, especially for someone like me who has seen Vorhees go on the rampage eleven times recently. The script injects an odd angle in that Jason doesn’t just kill, he also captures; this doesn’t ring true with any previous movie, where it was a case of “If you see him, you’re already dead.” And the captive looks fairly clean and well-fed, which raises a whole slew of unanswered questions: “Two pepperoni for delivery please, name is Vorhees.” Better off not bothering with trying to fix what wasn’t broken.

Body count: 14. Best kill: that would be the girl, macheted from above, while hiding in the water under a dock. What makes it stand out, is the way she then gets lifted up for a moment, purely so the audience can see her breasts. Nice work, Nispel.