Happy Friday the 13th!
To celebrate, I sat down to a marathon event of all twelve episodes of the summer camp slashers because I have a tragic and time consuming weakness.
This iconic villain has been whored out so many times since he burst from the lake in the last moments of the 1980 flick that the real task over the years has been finding new and interesting ways to exploit him.
Friday the 13th (1980): The first installment boasted the quirky, over-the-top Tom Savini FX that gave you something to look at beyond the revolving door of shrieking, dying knuckleheads. It gets points for almost engineering a genre on its own. Although it lifted entire scenes from Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, and there were several slashers prior to this film, its epic popularity dialed the slasher genre up to eleven. Also, of course, is the outstanding Kevin Bacon death scene. (Kevin Bacon Death Scene – I love them! I think I saw them open for Skinny Puppy in ’88.)
Friday the 13th Part II (1981): Gone is the novelty of the grief crazed mother, replaced by the far more potent (franchise-wise) image of an unstoppable killer in Jason Voorhees. Wearing a burlap sack over his deformed face, the now fully grown Jason finishes off the last survivor of the original, shows a loving affection for his mother’s disembodied head, and kills everyone at the reopened camp except for Ginny, who – in huge cop out fashion – awakens in an ambulance without explanation as to how she made it out of that barn alive. Lame.
Friday the 13th Part III (1982): The first of the series’ many “final installments,” Episode 3 is mostly famous for introducing the iconic hockey mask. An annoying young woman is trying to recover from an earlier attack; meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, Jason is recovering from Part II’s injuries in her barn. Jason smooshes a guy’s head so his eye pops out – in 3D! The film ends with an unsatisfying dream sequence followed by the sighting of Jason’s dead body. So, clearly, he’s gone for good. Whew!
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984): Would that it were. This second attempt to end the franchise inadvertently begins what I like to call the Tommy Trilogy. Part 4 also sees Crispin Glover (professional oddball and Back to the Future’s George McFly) get laid (and, then, of course, get a meat cleaver to the face). Later, Eighties icon Corey Feldman chops Jason Voorhees to pieces. Feldman plays Tommy, and Tommy just chops and chops and chops. Chop him up good, Tommy! Not that it will help.
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985): A profitable franchise, like an unstoppable murdering machine, is hard to kill. Since that last installment left little possibility for Jason’s survival, but so much more money to be made, the unavoidable 5th installment had to come up with something novel. So, we open on a dream sequence that has Jason’s killer Tommy witness Jason’s graveyard resurrection. But that’s too nutty – surely that didn’t happen! No, instead we get a copycat Jason slaughtering teens in a halfway house. Yawn.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986): Tommy – remember him, he chopped Jason to bits in episode 4 then went to a halfway house in episode 5 after dreaming that Jason could be brought back from the grave? He does the unimaginably stupid and brings Jason back from the grave. The local sheriff deems Tommy nuts, tries to jail him, tries to run him out of town, then is bent in two by Jason as he realizes he’d perhaps judged Tommy too harshly. Dumb as it sounds, this one actually feels smarter than all previous films – self referential, even comical.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988): By the late Eighties it was impossible to keep each one straight, and yet the most famous Jason doesn’t enter the picture until this 7th installment: fan favorite Kane Hodder. Hodder’s Jason is released from his lake prison by a confused telekinetic. Think of it overall as a kind of Carrie vs Jason. Terry Kiser (Bernie from Weekend At .. fame) plays a total dick of a doctor. A lot of weird shit happens in this one.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989): We were all so tired of Jason by 1989. So tired. So writer/director Rob Hedden decided to freshen things up by leaving Crystal Lake behind and spending an interminable amount of time on a row boat, a big boat, on docks and in sewers in an attempt to make a comment on the ugly modern times in New York. Except that we see almost no NYC, Jason barely comes into contact with New Yorkers, and the end sees him melt down into a frightened little boy. What the hell?
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993): Speaking of hell. So Jason’s a demon by this point, killed in an FBI sting – blown to bits, regardless of what happened to him in the last installment. Unfortunately his black heart keeps beating, and he slides from one poorly drawn character into another while some nonsense about his bloodline and a mystical dagger is bandied about. Things get nutty in this one, I won’t lie to you. And it ends with Freddy Krueger laughing.
Jason X (2002): He’s been to hell. Where to now? How about deep space? Well, there is a difference between quality bad and worthless crap, and this movie plain old sucks. The great David Cronenberg plays the mad scientist who cryogenically freezes Jason Voorhees. Flash forward 453 years, and the frozen carcass is found, brought aboard New Earth’s space craft, and Jason Meets Aliens unspools.
Freddy vs Jason (2003): At long last! Here’s the skinny: Freddy can’t hurt anyone if he’s forgotten, so he (somehow) brings Jason back from the dead and sends him to Elm St. to carve up some youngsters, knowing that the carnage will revive the town’s memory of the old nightmare killer. The memories make Freddy strong enough to kill again, but now Jason won’t get off his turf, so they have to duke it out. Some highly augmented and imaginative teens piece this puzzle together and hope to find a way to finish both monsters off for good. Will they succeed? Does it matter? And who will win this battle between the iconic bloodletters? With a little fresh blood spilling from these tired old veins, don’t we all win, really?
Friday the 13th (2009): Unfortunately, Freddy V Jason wasn’t the capper. Not a remake at all, 2009’s Friday the 13th is just another sequel. For the most part, you get what you should, by now, expect: drinkers, sluts, jocks and drug users die; quirky, eternally single ethnic friends brought along for comic relief die; disposable youth mostly fall victim to hatchets to the back, machetes to the skull. There’s also a return to the old “boobs a’bouncing” school of slashers. (This bouncing usually takes place just prior to a hatchet to the back or a machete to the skull.) In fact, there seem to be no tired formulas the film is wary to trot out. It’s as if Jason pulled out the Way Back Machine to revisit the land of 80s horror film cliches. Too bad he didn’t stay there.