Move over Halloween, Horror's true holiday is here, Friday the 13th
I wrote an article for a now defunct publication* and today is a perfect day to break it out ...
It goes without saying, but there are spoilers ahead.
Team Michael vs Team Jason
I was asked the other day what my favorite franchise was between Friday the 13th and Halloween. There is no hesitation for me when presented with this question. It’s always been Friday the 13th. Now this isn’t to say I dislike Halloween or Michael Myers in anyway, but they don’t hold a candle to the Voorhees franchise. Growing up as a latch-key kid in the 80’s & 90’s, I survived on a steady diet of horror movies on cable and VHS. Often that meant one of three Friday the 13th movies: Part 3, Part 4, or Part 6. Rarely did I reach for a Halloween film. In fact, I often only saw Halloween in the theater and then never again. There wasn’t anything there to draw me in, to pique my interest in the franchise. Halloween is one note, and while you might argue the Friday the 13th franchise is the same, you’d be wrong. To demonstrate the difference, we can divide the Friday the 13th movies into a few different collections. First up we have the original, Friday the 13th. By now many people know Sean S Cunningham was just trying to capitalize on the success of Halloween by copying the format of a holiday-based slasher horror film. So, points to Halloween for being the spark, but the two movies are vastly different.
Friday the 13th tells the story of a young boy who drowned while the counselors who were supposed to watch him, snuck off to have sex. The camp closed down, but years later is looking to reopen. Pamela Voorhees is determined to stop it by killing everyone involved. It has a nice structure, and some cutting-edge kills. The movie is very entertaining and ends with a great jump-scare/dream sequence gag.
While the first Friday the 13th is by itself, we can group Friday the 13th Part 2 & Part 3D together under the heading Friday the 13th: The Steve Miner years. In Part 2 we discover that not only did Jason not drown all those years ago, but he is a grown man – a grown man with his mother’s head on a shrine. He decides to follow in his mother’s footsteps and goes to kill all the camp counselors who’ve shown up to open Camp Crystal Lake. Part 2 does have a major plot issue, but once you accept that Jason is alive and well, it’s easy enough to ignore. My introduction to horror and the franchise was catching the end of this movie streaming on TMC (The Movie Channel) when I was around 7-years-old. It scared the hell out of me but burned into my soul an unending love of the genre.
Part III, in 3D, and not the super 3D we got in the 2000s, but the really crappy red and blue lens, gave us the iconic look of Jason. They replaced the sack mask with the hocky mask. Once he pulled the machete from his shoulder, his look is complete. This movie is fun and full of crazy kills trying to take advantage of 3D. Since Milner directs them both, they have a similar look and feel.
The next three films can be put under the heading, Friday the 13th: The Tommy Jarvis Trilogy. Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter is supposed to be just that, the end of the Friday the 13th franchise. It picks up right were Part III left off but more importantly introduces us to the Jarvis family. While the movie takes place by Crystal Lake, it focuses on a group of friends staying near the Jarvis household. The movie ends with Tommy, played by Corey Feldman, killing Jason. So, franchise over, right?
Not so fast. Friday the 13th V: A New Beginning is released less than a year after The Final Chapter. This film shows us an older Tommy, and he’s not doing well. He’s been committed to a mental health facility because he’s haunted by Jason and the events of Part IV. We know Jason is dead, but everyone is shocked when he shows up and starts killing other patients and doctors. In the end, we learn it’s just a copycat, but it solidifies Tommy’s resolve to make sure Jason is truly dead.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is possibly my favorite of the franchise. It was when I was a kid and into my teen years. After rewatching it recently, I think it was so popular overall because of the director’s approach to the film. He embraced the need for the audience to suspend their belief for the movie to work. He does all this with well-placed humor, a touch of sexual tension, and the idea that Jason is much more now than he ever was in the previous films. This movie ends the Tommy Jarvis connection but leaves us with a more powerful and seemingly unkillable Jason Voorhees.
The next three films could be placed under the Supernatural Jason Voorhees or the beginning of the end for the franchise at Paramount. While Jason is dormant, and at the bottom of Crystal Lake, he is not dead. Enter his next nemesis, Tina Shepard, in Friday the 13th: The New Blood. The catch here is Tina has telekinetic powers so she can match Jason toe-to-toe. He once again returns to the lake after killing just about everyone around.
Jason is reawakened in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. And while the idea of Jason walking around New York City is silly, it adds a new dimension to the movies by giving us a new backdrop. This is the final film by Paramount within this version of the franchise and ends with Jason getting washed away by toxic sewage.
The final film in this supernatural Jason phase could also be the beginning of the New Line Cinema phase, since they finally were able to buy the rights to the character after Jason Takes Manhattan fell flat. While they were able to get the rights to Jason, they did not get the right to use Friday the 13th in the titles. Enter Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Jason is resurrected and finds the FBI hunting him around Crystal Lake. This one is filled with a ton of supernatural themes and ends with Jason being dragged back to hell. It felt like the end of the franchise. But 8 years later, New Line Cinema decided to give it another go and made Jason X.
Jason X is set in the future and shows us what happens when you wake up a supernatural demon in space. The movie is fun and gives us an interesting what-if kind of story. It expands the franchise into a more science fiction realm, while staying true to the franchise’s slasher roots.
Two years later, New Line Cinema finally does what everyone was hoping for in the 80s, and pit their original slasher, Freddy Krueger, against Jason Voorhees. While I imagined this movie would be a waste of time, I watched it for the first time a few months back and found it a perfect mix of the 2 franchises. Freddy vs Jason is filled with great kills and humorous dialogue. It shows off both characters and gives us idea of what it might be like when these titans of horror face off.
In 2009, New Line Cinema and Paramount team up to produce a reboot of the franchise. Friday the 13th is a mash-up of the original 2 movies and does a much better job explaining how Jason is alive. I love this movie. It takes all the fun of the early movies but increases the brutality and violence to match movies coming out around this time. The Jason in this version is smarter, more cunning, and way more frightening. Just going over the franchise’s filmography shows just how diverse and interesting the Friday the 13th movies are compared to the one-note you get from the Halloween franchise. Other than Season of the Witch, you don’t get any real variety with the Halloween movies. Even the creators of the newest Halloween movies agree as they choose to simply ignore everything after the first one. Friday the 13th offers you more laughs, more variety, and more horror over its twelve movies.
Tell me in the comments what's your favorite Friday the 13th.
*originally published in HOS Halloween issue 2022