This year marks the 40th anniversary of the start of the Friday the 13th franchise. Over the course of four decades, the series churned out 10 movies, in addition to a crossover (Freddy vs. Jason) and an abysmal remake (2009’s Friday the 13th). What is the appeal of this franchise? Before answering this question, I want to share how I first stumbled upon and grew to admire, these movies.
My gateway to horror first came at the end of 3rd grade in the form of the Goosebumps book series and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Afterward, in middle school, my dad showed me Night of the Living Dead. That same year, with my allowance, I bought a TV for my bedroom and spent late nights watching Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs. His program played one of the Friday the 13th sequels, and I could not take my eyes off the screen. The ridiculous dialogue, over-the-top kills, and Briggs’ humorous commentary proved to be ideal entertainment for 13-year-old me.
The appeal of this series does not come from its consistency, but its unpredictability. Each installment is a roller coaster in quality and content. The franchise is like a casino, you may hit the jackpot or lose it all. Let’s now take a closer look at the series.
Though not the first slasher, the success of 1978’s Halloween led to a surge in popularity to the slasher subgenre that dominated 1980’s and early 1990’s horror. The earliest notable hit of this wave came in the form of 1980’s Friday the 13th, which is just a rip-off of both Halloween and Hitchcock’s Psycho.
The Psycho aspect comes from the opening score, which contains string arrangements eerily similar to Bernard Hermann’s work. Additionally, we don’t know who is killing all of these camp counselors. We as viewers might have an idea, but the characters don’t and the killer is not revealed until the end of the film. The icing on the cake is this movie has an unusual mother/son unit too. Well, Mrs. Voorhees, not Jason, is the killer in the first movie.
From the first sequel onward, the son, Jason, became our main killer. A killer with similar hallmarks to Micheal Myers. Wears a mask, doesn’t speak, had a traumatic childhood, and seems unusually strong. Myers uses a kitchen knife, and Jason uses a machete. Unlike Halloween, each sequel had Jason going on more journeys.
An Omnipresent Killer
The locations of Myers and Voorhees are Haddonfield and Crystal Lake, two spots in the everyday movie lexicon. It pretty much ends there. Besides going to California in Halloween: H2O, Michael Myers spends time in Haddonfield for all of the Halloween movies. Jason, on the other hand, is earning frequent flyer miles in his reign of terror.
Freddy Krueger might find you in your dreams, but Jason shows up at your front door. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter has Jason terrorize homes in the countryside, in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, a halfway house for troubled teens, and in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan he’s in New York for the last thirty minutes of the movie. Finally, in Jason X, he actually goes to space! Jason Voorhees has now become an intergalactic slasher.
To add to the journey entry, with changes in location for Jason, each sequel also alters his look. Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger continue to have the same appearance for the most part, but not Jason. Each installment is a guessing game of what new tweak will be added to Voorhees.
A Killer Upgrade
In the first sequel, Jason wears a potato sack over his head, and does not get the now iconic hockey mask until the third movie. The rest of the series he is a hockey-masked killer with a machete, but all of the films add little changes. In both appearances, and how he returns back to kill.
In Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, lightning strikes his gravesite and he rises from the dead as a Frankenstein’s monster/ zombie Jason hybrid. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood has him rise from the bottom of a lake by a telekinetic teenager (I can’t believe I just wrote that) and the movie becomes, as a buddy of mine calls it, “Carrie vs. Jason”. The ninth one has Voorhees come back from Hell, and his spirit jumps from body to body.
Jason Voorhees, in various installments, is a zombie, a vengeful ghost, and in Jason X, he gets machine parts and becomes a cyborg. To keep up with this unpredictability, somebody now needs to adapt that Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash comic book series. Jason is obviously game for any changes.
Final Thoughts On Friday The 13th
Given this era of social distancing, now would be the ideal time to re-watch these, or start them for the first time. If you’re in the latter category, you are in for a treat. For those already acquainted with these movies, you have additional homework required.
There’s a documentary titled Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th, based on the book of the same name. The documentary is well over six hours long, and features interviews with cast and crew sharing their experiences making each movie. It gives additional depth to the series and provides loads of trivia.
The series not only served as my introduction to the slasher film, but it continued to aid my journey in becoming a lifelong horror fan. Hats off to this wildly unpredictable series. I hope it continues to entertain, and baffle, viewers for 40 more years and beyond.
What’s your favorite entry? What’s your least favorite entry? Please leave a comment below.
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