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Friday The 13th...He's Still Out There
Take a trip to your local dvd/blu-ray shop and you’ll be tripping over horror villains from days gone by. Wishmaster, Freddy Krueger, Chucky, Puppetmaster, the Tall Man, Pumpkinhead, Candyman, Hannibal Lecter. But before former top dog Freddy threw his Fedora in the ring, the battle for head-horror-honcho was a two way dance between Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees.
Whilst Halloween (1978) struck first and with more precision, Carpenter’s picture being arguably the best slasher film of all time, it didn’t take long for Friday the 13th to gain the upper hand. The sequels to Friday the 13th (1980) were far from classics but blow for blow they beat the Halloween follow-ups into submission thanks to a willingness to give audiences exactly what they wanted; more gore, more boobs, more trips to Crystal Lake. The box office loved Jason to, while Michael struggled to keep up, slowed it seemed by an original outing that set the bar too high.
But even Vorhees fell out of favour eventually, only returning to screens once a new masked killer, Ghostface, had given new life to the slasher genre in the late nineties. Slicing our way through all twelve Friday the 13th and Jason outings to date, FilmsFilmsFilms finds out which camp side killing sprees are worthy of a revisit. Take a deep breath, pull your sleeping bag up to the campfire, and shove a marshmallow on the end of your twig.
1. Friday the 13th (1980)
"You may only see it once but that will be enough” the trailer for director Sean Cunningham’s classic first instalment clumsily offered. Thirty three years on though horror fans still haven’t tired of Friday the 13th no matter how many times they’ve seen it. Cunningham’s film works in tandem with Halloween laying down all the principles of a solid slasher film, "boo” frights that have you out of your seat, tense wanders into the dark, explosive kills scenes you watch through your fingers, red herrings, bare boobs, creepy soundtracks and iconic killers. And while Friday isn’t quite the masterpiece that Carpenter’s film is, it embraces the pantomime of movie horror much closer to its chest. The fun and hokum of a creepy campside tale runs right through the film, making Friday the perfect Halloween picture enjoyed with friends who will react just as heartily alongside you. Retrospectively, Friday newbies are still surprised to find that it’s not the hockey-masked-one wielding the machete first time round (named as Josh Vorhees in the original script - thank god they changed that!) maintaining the surprise ending that was so enjoyable all those years ago. A rightful classic of the genre.
2. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
So much for holding on to our heroine; Alice the soul survivor from part one gets offed in the pre-title sequence as the first sequel heads in a new direction. It might have been different if Adrienne King, the actress who played Alice, hadn’t been tormented by a real-life Friday obsessed stalker. As a result she insisted her involvement be kept to a minimum. Cunningham also took a back seat, handing over directorial reins to the first movies Associate Producer Steve Miner. Alice only lasts two months from her original Crystal Lake ordeal as a mystery assailant breaks into her apartment and shoves an ice pick through her skull. The pick-wielder turns out to be Jason (so was that him in the lake two months prior or was Alice dreaming?) who, five years later, dons a burlap sack and heads back to Crystal Lake to hack up the occupants of a Counsellor Training Centre a few kilometres along the shore from "Camp Blood”. Facets that worked in the first film, tense night-time kills and numerous red herrings, are repeated whilst Amy Steel’s Ginny makes for a superb replacement Alice. Jason loses the sack and gets a machete in the shoulder before our new heroine escapes his woodland shack, complete with decapitated Mrs Vorhees head and a nice blue pullover. As reasonable a slasher sequel as you’re likely to get.
3. Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)
The second sequel had to worry less about coming up with new and original story twists as it had an ace up its sleeve; three dimensional terror. Unfortunately it turned out to be less of an ace and more of a joker, as the few 3D effects that were shoehorned into the film were clumsy to the point of distraction, eliciting giggles rather than scares. Elsewhere, the only major plot point was Jason finding his trademark hockey mask while hiding in a barn. Vorhees has fled the scene after surviving Part 2’s climatic tussle with Ginny. Stumbling through the woods he happens upon Higgins Haven, a cottage full of teens on a weekend away. Jason decides to hang around to claim some more scalps as returning director Steve Miner serves up a forgettable cast of characters and a steady stream of predictable kills whose only saving grace are the now ancient looking 3D effects. Jason tangles with a couple of bikers towards the end to add some variety, before Miner pulls a repeat of the first films ending, new "final girl” Chris escaping on a canoe before the body of Mrs Vorhees springs from the lake to pull her under the water. Except she doesn’t and Chris wakes from her dream to find the police giving the "dead” body of Vorhees a tentative prod and poke.
4. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
The series took a year off from its annual summer release program (Part 3 was re-released in May 1983 instead) before returning in 1984 with Joseph Zito in the director’s chair. The writers assumed audiences had short-term memory loss so kicked off the fourth film with a montage of scenes from the first three outings. Picking up directly after the climax of the previous film, the police have arrived at the barn to take Jason’s body to the morgue. But while the morgue doctor’s are watching TV and getting randy Vorhees somehow revives himself, slicing and dicing his way out of the hospital in the process. Returning to Crystal Lake, Jason tangles with the Jarvis family who have moved to the Lake themselves following Mrs Jarvis’ divorce. By the end the only survivors are older sister Trish and her little brother Tommy (Corey Feldman) a horror movie effects fan who manages to baffle Jason by making himself up to look like a young Vorhees, though how he knew what a young Jason looked like is anyone’s guess. Tommy (a clear tribute to actual movie effects maestro Tom Savini) then manages to bury a machete into Jason’s head as his lifeless body slumps forward, crumpled skull sliding down the blade in one of the franchises most infamous scenes of gore. With no fresh ideas and a plot that was almost identical to the previous episode, The Final Chapter was a particularly joyless outing in the series. The story also had plots holes large enough to climb through, none larger than the appearance of Rob "the Jason Hunter” who has supposedly been tracking Jason for some time after he killed Rob’s sister Sandra in Part 2; even though chronologically Part 2 happened just two or three days prior? A poor way to end the franchise, which is just as well it didn’t.
5. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
When Part 4 procured a $33million box office take off of a $2.5million budget it was quickly decided that it wouldn’t be the Final Chapter after all. As early as September 1984 work began on a fifth instalment. The problem writers had was how to continue the story now that Jason had been laid to rest once and for all. The rather bland answer was a copycat killer. Tommy Jarvis, mentally scarred from the events of Part 4, is now a grown man bouncing around mental institutions. The stony silent type, he finds himself at the Pinehurst Halfway House with a random mix of other lost souls. One of the other patrons, Joey, is killed at the house by a housemate with anger management issues causing Joey’s father Roy to don the hockey mask and go on his own Jason-esque killing spree. The only twist is the final scene when Tommy, who escapes the carnage, rises from his hospital bed and appears to put on his own hockey mask and knife combo. A creepy smile at the end of Part 4 from Corey Feldman implied that Tommy Jarvis might now be as disturbed as his tormentor Jason. Whether new director Danny Steinmann was following through on this half promise seemed to be a moot point when the preceding ninety one minutes were so bland and devoid of characters worth giving a damn about. Even Roy/Jason’s eventual topple from a barn hayloft felt like a repeat of Part 3’s barnyard climax. Less A New Beginning and more Same Old Same.
6. Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives (1986)
As if to reinforce the point that the previous instalment was crap because it didn’t have Jason in it, the series fifth different director Tom McLoughlin stuffed the blatant Jason Lives on the back end of his Friday the 13th sequel title. But how to resurrect a killer who has a machete protruding from his forehead? The answer was to banish the grim misery of Parts 3, 4 and 5 and inject a little more humour and action into proceedings. This also meant jettisoning any remaining shreds of realism. Tommy Jarvis (actor Thom Matthews replacing Part 5’s John Shepherd), recently released from his current mental institute home, heads to Jason’s grave to cremate him proper and put pay to any unwanted comebacks. Overcome with rage upon seeing Jason’s rotting body he stabs Jason with a metal fence pole. Unfortunately, a bolt of lightning hits the pole and reanimates Vorhees who clambers from his grave and stumbles off into the night. Tommy tracks Jason to Crystal Lake (renamed Forest Green in order to keep the victims / holiday makers rolling in) where, with the help of new squeeze Megan, he manages to drown Jason in the Lake via a boulder and chain round the neck. While far from perfect, Part VI (the first title with a Roman numeral) at least brings back some of the style and dark nod/wink humour from the first two pictures. It’s a welcome change, a movie that allows for more enjoyment than the battering of grim repetition the previous three outings offered.
7. Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood (1988)
Perennial hockey mask wearer Kane Hodder makes his first Jason appearance, as director John Carl Buechler moves happenings even further up the implausibility scale. Heroine Tina kick starts the movie by inadvertently drowning her father in Crystal Lake with her psychokinetic powers. A few years later she leaves her mental institute home and returns to the Lake. Mistaking the presence of Jason for her father she revives the killer and passes out at the sight of his mouldy corpse staggering from the water. More random slaughtering ensues as Tina struggles against being carted back to the nuthouse and stopping Vorhees from hacking anyone else to bits. She eventually summons the dead body of her father from the lake, who drags Jason back down to his watery grave. While creating a teen with psychic powers to do battle with Jason seemed like a refreshing angle for the franchise, to horror fans it felt like a slight rip-off of A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), Vorhees pinching an idea from his horror film competitor Freddy Krueger who had stolen his crown as best baddie on the block. There were discussions during the pre-production phase that this might be the film to pit Jason against Freddy. This quickly fell through and you wonder whether the writers decided to come up with a supernatural sparring partner of their own for Vorhees. Elsewhere, slayings around Crystal Lake were starting to become as stale and whiffy as Jason himself, and though not quite as dull as Part 4 and 5, seven episodes in you question for the first time whether the series really has anything more to offer than unsympathetic characters getting hacked to death in the Crystal Lake undergrowth.
8. Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
It seems there was something different to teens dying on the shores of Crystal Lake, but when it arrived we all wished we’d stayed put at Camp. Director Rob Hedden was charged with stuffing Vorhees in a new venue and he chose a fine locale, the Big Apple. Except Jason wouldn’t be rampaging round New York, he’d be slashing his way around a boat that was on its way to New York. Audiences felt thoroughly duped by this switcheroo, especially when a clever trailer had teased fans with the prospect of a full on New York barnstorm, "New York has a new problem”. By the time Jason gets off of the SS Lazarus most of the movies running time has gone and New Yorkers couldn’t give a toss, problem or otherwise. The most memorable thing Vorhees does when he finally gets ashore is trade blows with an amateur boxer in a roof-top throwdown that sees Jason punch the poor pugilists head clean off into a dumpster. When Jason makes it to Times Square he is quickly dumped into the sewer where a river of toxic waste somehow transforms him back into a drowned child. It was a finale that left everyone completely confused and was just one of a host of plot points that made no sense. The characters were made from cardboard, the deaths were predictable, the scares were on shore leave and any sense of mystery or intrigue has been jettisoned. Audiences agreed as the eighth instalment only managed a paltry $14million haul worldwide from a budget of $5million, still the lowest take in Friday the 13th history.
9. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
After the misfire of parts seven and eight, Friday took its first long-term break since the series kicked off in 1980. After a four year absence Sean Cunningham returned as a producer to oversee what at the time was to be the last outing in the Friday franchise. Fans had of course heard this all before back when The Final Chapter was supposed to put a full stop behind Jason’s stabby antics. What The Final Friday was actually designed for was a lead-in to the long awaited Jason versus Freddy, a project the studios had been trying to get off the ground since 1987 when box office takings for both franchises started to nosedive. The story hook behind part nine in the series was the ability for Jason’s spirit to jump from body to body and possess whoever he chose to continue murdering innocents. The starting point for the film offered no explanation as to how or why the original Jason was up and about again, and the spirit jumping gimmick felt like the best of a bad bunch of ideas for continuing the Vorhees mayhem. The finale which showed the spirits of Jason’s victims transcending to the white light of heaven, while a cackling Krueger drags Jason’s mask down to the depths of hell, was a cheesy turn too far. Not even shinier production values could hide the fact that the film was just a stop-gap designed to remind audiences who Jason was in case they forgot during the elongated production period that the Freddy versus Jason project would no doubt require.
10. Jason X (2001)
With the aforementioned Krueger Vorhees dust-up still no closer to fruition, Cunningham decided to knock out part ten of the Friday franchise to once again keep audiences interested. James Isaac got into the directors chair and delivered the unlikely prospect of Jason in space. A story twist as barmy as they come, the film at least delivered on the promise of getting off of Planet Earth, unlike the Manhattan outing which barely grazed the Big Apple. Plot wise, it seems someone thought it was a good idea to plonk a research facility on Crystal Lake, and when Jason is finally captured in 2008 the government stick him on ice after a number of failed attempts to kill him for good. Jump forward to 2455 and humanity has moved to "Earth Two” after polluting our home planet to death. During a field trip to knackered "Earth One” researchers discover the frozen body of Vorhees and his last victim and bring them back to their spaceship. Predictably, someone leaves the freezer door open and the worst defrosting in history kicks off. Jason goes Alien on everyone, tearing through the ship before a holographic representation of the original Crystal Lake and a toasty re-entry through Earth Two’s atmosphere sorts him out. Unlike previous sequels which only toyed with the idea of offering something different, Isaac at least had the nerve to serve up something new. The 2455 setting allows for convenient plot devices that can at least be explained by the fact that its future sci-fi. The script had some knowing dialogue and was delivered with a fervour and panache not seen since Part Two. Traditionalists might argue that it’s far too removed from Friday’s origins to work, but it was this or another pointless retread around Crystal Lakes well worn pathways.
11. Freddy vs Jason (2003)
Over a decade of waiting and Vorhees fans wondered why they bothered in the first place. Krueger fans were equally nonplussed. The razorblade fingered dream stalker had a genuine nasty streak in his original 1984 outing and it was an enticing prospect to seem him pit that against the unstoppable march of the unkillable killing machine Jason. It was always going to be difficult to write a decent plot device that might bring the two together but the one they came up with could be have been bested by a ten year old with a napkin pile and a set of crayons. Freddy’s victims are no longer having nightmares so to scare them up a bit he somehow resurrects Jason to stomp around Springwood and get everyone dreaming again. Except instead of just scaring them Jason completely follows type and kills them all instead. This rather annoys Krueger who apparently couldn’t foresee this completely predictable turn of events, which leads to the dust-up we all paid to see in the first place. Its a bit tough to know who to root for when two villains are going at it, but sympathies eventually fall on Jason when Freddy starts pulling that wiseass, comedy-horror crap from the latter, dodgy Nightmare movies, pinging Jason around his boiler room layer like a masked pinball in a manner that was neither funny nor scary, but just plain pointless. For reputation and future box office stakes sake, neither villain could be the ultimate victor, so while Jason claims Freddy’s head Krueger's severed bonce gives a final wink to camera. Not that you’d care by this point; you just wish for the MTV-ified dumbing down of your favourite slasher franchises stops before two once terrifying killers are completely transformed into rock ‘em sock ‘em robots in clown masks. What’s more, the studio didn’t even cast Kane Hodder in the Jason role, ruining the chance of a Hodder Englund face off. A nightmare for all concerned.
12. Friday the 13th (2009)
The only way was up after the unmitigated disaster of Freddy vs Jason (not that audiences seemed to mind, the film becoming the highest grossing Friday instalment to date taking $114million against a $25million budget). The studios got off to a good start by hiring Marcus Nispel for their remake/reboot of the original Friday the 13th. Nispel had already delivered an underrated remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003 with his first directorial effort, and he didn’t rest on his laurels when it came time to revisit Crystal Lake. A bravura pre-credit sequence is delivered, so long and impactful you wonder if you blinked and missed the actual credits during the melee. Then we’re straight into a story that picks up the plot continuity from Part Two, with a reclusive Jason living in the woods around Crystal Lake in an elaborate underground layer. A typical Friday the 13th group of partying teens show up to ruin his solitude so Jason sharpens his machete and starts swinging at limbs again. The difference this time around though was that Nispel had characters that were fleshed out and even some that were genuinely worth caring for, none more so than misfit Clay, searching for his sister who died in the opening campside slaying. Nispel also knew how to create tension and scares and creates the creepiest Friday outing since Cunningham’s original. And none of this is at the expense of the dark humour that was an undercurrent of all the best Friday instalments, the script including some cheeky asides and dialogue "In my next life I wanna come back as one of the buttons on the ass pockets of her jean shorts”. So finally, after eleven sequels and twenty eight years we had a welcome return to form.
A time span of over three decades and total of twelve movies and counting; that’s a lot of time to spend in anyone’s presence, let alone a psychotic hockey goalie. As with every horror franchise there have been more than a few bumps in the road, but for the sheer fun of a campfire horror romp the highs more than justify the lows. So what better excuse to take a trip to Camp Blood this Halloween and find out about the boy who drowned in the lake, the mother who tried to avenge him and the big breasted blondes who got in their way.
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