Friday The 13th – A Retrospective

I never want to see that title again.

Over the last few years, I have been establishing a tradition. Every Halloween I pick one horror franchise and watch it from start to finish. Two years ago I did Nightmare on Elm Street and I followed that up last year with Halloween. So, to knock out the slasher hat-trick, there was only one place to go in 2017, Camp Crystal Lake for a date on Friday The 13th. It was a challenge that I quickly regretted taking up.

Friday The 13th (1980)

I think he’s dead.

In my previous leaps into horror’s key franchises, I could at least rely on them to start well. Both Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween are classics for a reason. The years have not dulled their impact, and they terrify new viewers to this day. You can probably guess what I’m going to say next.

Because unlike those films, Friday The 13th does not stand up. In fact, I doubt it ever got past crawling. It is an average slasher that has about as much impact as any other average slasher does. In fact, it’s worse than most of them. Several key deaths happen off-screen, and those that we are presented with are as bog standard as they come. Friday The 13th may have historical significance. It was a nasty film released by a major studio. That doesn’t hide the fact it’s not very good, though.

The one ace it does have up its sleeve – spoiler incoming – is the villain. For despite history turning Jason Voorhees into the star of this franchise he is a minor character here. Instead, we get a wonderfully deranged performance from Betsy Palmer as Mrs Voorhees. In a film full of poorly acted and half-naked teenagers, she ramped her outing up to eleven. She’s a grieving mother desperate for revenge and is the one saving grace in a pretty awful film.

Verdict: Hall of Shame

Friday The 13th Part II (1981)

Jason hadn’t quite found his look.

After the success of the original, it took Paramount Pictures less than a year to get Friday The 13th Part II out into the world, and it shows. With none of the original cast returning (apart from in a prologue which quickly deals with Alice Hardy the heroine from the first film) we are back to Camp Crystal Lake with another group of disposable teens. Don’t ask me to tell you anything about them, they didn’t bother giving them personalities.

Yup, it’s another group of poorly acted randy kid all waiting to be chopped up. Except for this time, it’s not Mrs Voorhees doing the killing. Her baby boy Jason is all grown up and ready to establish himself as the new Michael Myers.

Except, unlike Michael the malevolent killing machine, this version of Jason veers closer to clumsy and violent. The trademark hockey mask hasn’t popped up yet, so he stumbles across the screen with a bag over his head deading anything that gets in his way. The fact he can barely walk in a straight line means even that doesn’t make him intimidating.

Friday The 13th Part II was a rush job. They needed a film, so they made one and figured stuff like plot would sort itself out. Unfortunately, this was set to become the norm rather than the exception.

Verdict: Hall of Shame

Friday The 13th Part III (1982)

Care about them… please?

We’re only on film three, and I’m already praying for Jason to stab himself in the head. Once again, this was released the year after the previous one, although this time they at least took slightly over a year to put it together.

They didn’t use that extra time to come up with a new story, though. Group of teens, Camp Crystal Lake and you know the rest. If anything, this group are even more stereotypical than the last one. We’ve got the stoners, the loser (who spends the film freaking people out and then sulking because no one likes him) and a biker gang who are about as intimidating as a bunny with a mohawk.

Yet, this film is the one where they decide to hang around with our doomed teens for a bit longer. Where we get to know them. It was an effective ploy if they wanted you to cheer Jason’s arrival. When he finally gets down to murdering it’s a relief to know you won’t have to spend another second in this horny group’s company. It’s not quite terror, but at least it’s an emotional response.

I could copy and paste my conclusion from above. This is a quick rehash of what came before and considering what came before wasn’t great, it’s a miracle this wasn’t the worst film in the franchise.

Verdict: Hall of Shame

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Wee Willy Pervert meets Jason.

Guess what? This wasn’t the final chapter.

This is the first film to mess with the formula as our star is no longer an adolescent with a tent in their pants. Instead, we have a horror film loving child (Corey Feldman). You might think that signals the start of the franchise embracing its own shitness, but you’d be wrong. It’s still a straight-faced and bland murder-fest.

I can’t be bothered going into too much detail, so I’m going to use this section to focus on something else. How awful the men are in these films. They are all a huge group of pervy, rapey and downright nasty sex-obsessed pests. Even our young hero takes every chance he can to perve on the naked teen girls who flock to this lake. Wee Willy Pervert (I can’t be arsed reminding myself of my real name) hasn’t even hit puberty yet and he’s already an awful human being.

The Final Chapter’s script is perhaps the worst yet as we have one character actually shout ‘oh God, he’s killing me’ while Jason murders him. In fact, with the nudity and sex scenes ramped up to 11 you get the impression that what they were really looking for at this point was to create softcore porn rather than anything resembling horror.

Verdict: Hall of Shame

Friday The 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

Here’s Jason!

There are a couple of changes in A New Beginning. One, we actually have a returning character. Wee Willy Pervert has become Big Willy Pervert. Also, unlike the countless other times Jason has been deaded, this time it appears to have stuck, and while the murders have kicked off again, there’s a question as to who it is. Has Big Willy Pervert’s mental health issues caused him to snap? Is he reenacting the acts of the man who damaged him in the first place?

Yup, they went there. A New Beginning sees Friday The 13th take on mental health as Big Willy Pervert checks into a residential treatment facility. Unsurprisingly, they do it with all the subtlety of a hockey mask wearing serial killer, and quite frankly it’s downright offensive. These characters aren’t people with troubles. They are the classic gang of loonies consigned to the nuthouse.

Taking offence at A New Beginning is probably a bit silly. All they are interested in is upping the death count. Meanwhile, people are apparently unwilling to believe that Jason could be back. This guy started the franchise by living at the bottom of a lake for years, how hard it is to believe he could survive a little stabbing?

I can’t tell you if this is the worst one or the best one, I’m numb to it all at this point. It’s just different smelling varieties of shit.

Verdict: Hall Of Shame

Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

He’s back… You’re all excited, right?

At the end of New Beginning, there is a suggestion that Big Willy Pervert has snapped and that in the stress from what’s happened has become more like Jason that the perv he wished to be. Well, that twist in the plot is ditched all of five minutes into Jason Lives as our titular stabber rises from the dead Frankenstein style. Wait a second, is that a sense of humour? Oh my God, it is.

Yup, this is the film where Friday The 13th becomes self-aware and fuck me if it isn’t a breath of fresh air. Sure it still has a lot of the same problems (dodgy sexual politics and a complete lack of decent characters), but there are some genuinely funny lines here. From the fourth wall breaking gravedigger to one child bleakly asking his friend ‘what were you gonna be when you grew up?’ These moments of lightness were much-needed in a franchise which was bogged down in so much dreary rubbish.

As a final aside on this review, you’ve probably noticed I haven’t actually mentioned Jason that much recently. The truth is, there’s not much to say. Unlike Freddy Krueger or even Michael Myers, Jason has no personality. He is a total non-entity. All he does is blunder around murdering people. Take away the hockey mask and what does he have?

Verdict: Hall of Shame (with the occasional Fame worthy one-liner.)

Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1989)

Not looking your best there Jason old chap.

Jason vs Carrie is the ‘affectionate’ name given to The New Blood. Once again, Jason rises from his watery grave, this time thanks to a young girl with telekinetic powers. However, while Carrie is a story about too many things to get into here, The New Blood is a film about a bunch of teens shagging and then being murdered. Which I think we might have seen before.

The funny thing is, coming into this film Paramount was planning on raising the bar of Friday The 13th. This was meant to be a slicker and higher quality production. While you can’t deny that it all looks a bit nicer, it’s safe to say they failed.

Let’s keep this one short. It’s a bad film. It’s the same film as all the other ones, but now a super-powerful telekinetic teen is taking away any sense of peril that you might have had. There’s also an incredibly telegraphed twist and some weird whitewashing of an abusive father. It all turns this from a bad film into one that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Verdict: Hall Of Shame

Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1993)

Jason takes on the streets.

Having run out of ways to murder teens at Camp Crystal Lake, Friday The 13th Part VIII takes Jason on holiday. He’s heading to the Big Apple. Or at least he is for the last ten minutes of this film. In fact, most of it takes place on a boat. Where the teens do some shagging and Jason does some killing. Sigh.

I genuinely don’t know what to say. It’s the same film, on a boat. A boat that somehow sails from previously landlocked Crystal Lake to New York (which still isn’t the dumbest thing that happens).  It even has the exact same twist as New Blood, just with slightly different characters.

There’s a small attempt to give Jason a personality. At one point he scares off a group of hoodlums by raising his mask, and he gets into a boxing match with someone, which ends with him removing their head with one punch, but it’s not enough. The boat would have been better used for a Viking funeral than this crap.

Verdict: Hall Of Shame

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

I’m sure this will work.

In Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers Michael was turned from a cold-blooded killer into mystical being. It was met with widespread derision. So, of course, Friday The 13th decided that would be the best way to go with Jason too.

There is the caveat that a bloke who survived living on the bottom of a lake for several years must already have a slight tinge of magic to him, but this one takes the piss. Suddenly, Jason is able to possess those around him and – guess what – he has a sister. There’s even a mystical sword and a strange bounty hunter played by Steven Williams. We’ve basically leapt straight from having no plot to having far too much of it.

This film is a mess. Everyone in it says a lot of words and some stuff happens. If you can be bothered trying to put it all together, then you have a hell of a lot more patience than me. The one saving grace is that it ends with a tease. A tease of a certain Mr Kruegar and suddenly some charisma might be heading to Jason’s world.

Verdict: Hall Of Shame

Jason X (2001)

Uber Jason!

Before we get there, however, we’re going to space! Yes, it’s the famously awful Jason X where after being cryogenically frozen Jason is reanimated and terrorises a group of science-fiction clichés. It’s also – and I can’t quite believe I’m about to say it – entertaining.

All the tropes are still there. Everyone is still inexplicably horny (at one point a girl comments that ‘I bet he’s hung like a mammoth’ while looking at Jason’s rotting corpse) and Jason still gets round to deading. But, it’s also ridiculously self-aware, and Jason does the deading in some inventive ways. The most famous of which is when he freezes a character’s head before smashing it on a table.

So yes, I would struggle to call Jason X a good film. I would struggle to even call it an alright one. However, it has Jason being killed by a badass scantily clad robot before coming back as Uber Jason to wreak havoc again. If you can’t at least appreciate the humour in that, then you are doing something wrong.

Verdict: Hall of Fame (yes I went there)

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Freddy! Thank God you’re here.

I am a big fan of Freddy Kruger, and yet I have never been happier to see him than when he wandered into Jason’s world. I don’t remember thinking much of this film when I watched it for the first time but going back to it after days of watching only Friday The 13th it was a breath of fresh air.

For Freddy brings something that Jason does not have. Robert Englund and with him, that undeniable charisma. When he’s on-screen, this film pops, and everything about him is scarier and more inventive than what Jason has been serving up. He helps you to forget that they’ve suddenly decided that Jason is scared of water (despite him popping out of it to murder several times in the past) and that while this might stand out in the Friday The 13th franchise, it is nowhere near the top of the Nightmare On Elm Street one. He’s just that damn good.

The final showdown between these horror icons is booked like a wrestling match, and it’s the equivalent of Roman Reigns vs AJ Styles. One might have the financial clout behind him, but we all know who is better.

Verdict: It’s a Hall of Shame, but it felt like a Hall of Fame

Friday The 13th (2009)

Jason moves into kidnapping.

Ah, the place where all horror franchises go to die. The remake. Twenty-nine years after the original we scrap all the crap and go back to square one. Except, like the Halloween and Nightmare On Elm Street remakes before it, it completely forgot what made the original work.

Because while I was quite scathing of the original film 2000 words ago, in comparison to this, it really does feel like a classic. This takes everything that made it unique and strips it out. Gone is Jason’s mum (she does her murdering during the opening credits) and instead we are left with Jason, a bunch of beautiful teens and, well, you know the rest.

There are a couple of moments of ‘interest’. Danielle Panabaker pops up which is nice for fans of The Flash, and there’s no denying that the increased budget makes it a much sleeker film. It looks quite nice at times. Ultimately, though, this is just another poorly conceived remake that fails to understand what made the original work. I might not recommend the first one, but compared to this it is indeed a masterpiece.

Verdict: Hall Of Shame

Overall Thoughts

Thank God that’s over.

I fucking hate Jason Voorhees. While Nightmare and Halloween had their downs (and trust me, they had some atrocious downs), they also had their ups. And when they were up, they were spectacular. In comparison, this franchise’s ups were very much from the so bad it’s good category of horror. After day after day spent in this universe, the one thing I can be happy about is that I’m never going to do it again.

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