Luke Owen examines the classic horror franchise Friday the 13th in the first of a two-part feature...
Friday The 13th came at the right time in American cinema. The box office success of Halloween was to kick start a slasher horror revolution that consumed the 1980s and Friday the 13th was one of the first one to capitalise on it. It has since spawned an amazing 9 sequels, one remake, one crossover and a TV series over the last 30 years. Jason is one of the most prolific and recognisable horror icons and was the first ever fictional character to win the MTV Lifetime Achievement award.
As many of you will already know, I like my horror films and I particularly like my slasher horror films. Much like Nightmare on Elm Street, I love this series. It has a few duds here are there (more than good ones actually) but there is something about these films that I like. After I wrote my retrospective for Nightmare, the natural progression was to write an article of another franchise. So I looked at my DVD rack and went to pick up Halloween for a John Carpenter piece I was planning, but then I had a sudden urge to watch Friday the 13th. An urge I’ve not felt in a while. I popped it in my DVD player for the first time in what seems like forever and watched it from start to end. I then went on to watch the rest of the series and I began to remember about the first time I ever saw these films, what I liked about them, what I didn’t like about them, what I thought was cool, what I thought was lame. It compelled me to write this.
So, without further ado, here is part 1 of my Friday the 13th retrospective.
Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980)
Borrowing heavily from Halloween, Friday the 13th was the surprise hit of 1980. Made for a lowly sum of $550,000, Friday went on to become the 18th highest grossing film of the year and cement itself in the halls of horror classics. The premise of the film is very simple, a group of teenagers go to Camp Crystal Lake to help set up for a new batch of kids but mysteriously get bumped off one by one. As apposed to Halloween, where we knew that it was Michael Myers doing the murdering and stabbing, Friday took the whodunit approach by never letting the audience see whoever it was doing the killing. By placing most of the stalking in a first person perspective, Cunningham drew the audience into the eyes of a crazed killer and created a feeling of dread and uneasiness.
The film also throws a curve ball by convincing the audience that the stalking killer is the drowned boy Jason back from the dead, only to reveal at the end that it was in fact his mother Pamela Voorhees. It was a nice little twist that comes out of left field and brings a human nature to the film. This is a woman that loved her child so much that she vowed to kill camp councillors, regardless of if they’d done anything wrong or not, because she felt they needed to be taught a lesson.
The film itself is very good. The script is good, the acting isn’t terrible, the camera work is excellent and Tom Savini’s special effects are outstanding. The scares are very well executed and the final moments of the film will stay with me until my dying day. It is a film that is truly deserving of its place in the hall of fame.
Friday the 13th Part II (Miner, 1981)
With the success of the first film, Paramount would have been foolish not to try and cash in all their chips on a franchise. The original plan for the films was to have different stories out every year under the Friday the 13th banner - a sort of slasher version of The Twilight Zone. But some plans change, and some plans change for the better. Friday the 13th Part II falls under the latter category as it introduced us to a deranged hermit killer in a mask. His name was Jason.
This entry has a lot going for it and has some great moments. The introduction of Jason furthered the series' back story without making a mess of things. Jason survived his supposed drowning and lived his life as a crazy hermit in the woods alone wanting his loving mum. 5 years previous, he found his mother, and he found her dead. Something inside him snapped. Much like his mother, his mission in life now is to kill camp counselors. This all comes to a head in a beautifully crafted final act in which our heroin Ginny discovers Jason’s shack only to find the severed head of Pamela and her dirty blue sweater mounted on a make shift shrine. The mummy’s boy had struck back.
If there was one deterrent from the film it would be its ending. After Ginny stabs Jason in the shoulder with his machete, she and her boyfriend Paul run back to a cabin. There we get our final scare where Jason jumps through a window unmasked. Ginny then wakes up in a hospital bed, asking where Paul was. Credits roll.
While the “shock waking up from a dream” ending worked in the first instalment, it does not work here at all. In fact is feels forced and unnecessary, like they couldn’t think of a better way to end the film and it leaves a few unanswered questions. It was works fine if you are planning on facilitate another sequel, but this is poorly executed. Especially when you take into account that neither Ginny nor the missing Paul don’t appear in the next film. It was the beginning of what could become a horrible trend for these films.
Friday the 13th Part 3 (Miner, 1983)
“A new dimension in terror” the tag line promotes as Friday the 13th was going 3D.
In 2010, it has become almost commonplace for any film that is being released to be retrofitted into “3D”, but back in the early 80s, it was only for a select few films and was made to be a big deal. Steve Miner (who worked both the previous films) returned to the director’s post to helm the third instalment which gave birth to a mask that would become synonymous with the series - Jason’s hockey mask.
So what’s the crack here then? Well some teenagers are on their way to Higgins Haven, a stones throw away from Crystal Lake, one day after Paul and Ginny survived Jason’s attacks. But Jason has made his way to the same area and people start to die.
The only thing that separates this film out from the rest of the series is its 3D element. Other than that, it’s a very bog standard hack and slash film. Not that it’s a bad thing you understand, but this is not a strong entry. The fact that they gave no explanation to the ridiculous ending of Part II shows that Steve Miner didn’t care about continuity or story progression, he just wanted to make a film where teenagers get stabbed in a variety of different ways while exploiting the 3D technology.
It’s not a great instalment in the franchise. Jason did get a much better look and some of the death sequences are cool, but the film just feels hollow. It also suffers from the same alignment that the second film had in that it has a terrible nonsensical ending. The final female hangs Jason in a barn and leaves him to die. She then sails out into the river on a canoe to sleep. When she wakes up in the morning she sees Jason in a house. Before she can scream, the decomposing body of Pamela Voorhees jumps out of the lake just as young Jason had done in the first film. You’ll then be incredibly unsurprised to hear that she wakes up from the nightmare and is carted away by the police. It’s a terrible ending to what is a pretty forgettable film.
Friday the 13th - The Final Chapter (Zito, 1984)
To paraphrase Lionel Hutz, “this is the most blatant case of false advertising since The NeverEnding Story”. But the reality is that this was going to be the final chapter of the Friday franchise.
The mid eighties were a troubled time for the horror genre. Silent Night, Deadly Night had sparked quite a lot of controversy by portraying Santa Claus as a wild crazed killer and the angry mothers of America called out to “ban this filth”. The film was pulled from the cinema and banned from anywhere outside the US. Paramount got scared (how ironic) and decided to pull the plug on it’s money making franchise. The truly ironic thing is that Silent Night doesn’t feature Santa killing people but someone dressed as Santa. But that’s for another article.
Despite the fact that 5 years previous a load of teenagers were killed and over the last couple of days more teenagers have been murdered, a group of teenagers travel to Crystal Lake to camp. Shine on you mad bastards. Well, unsurprisingly, Jason survived the hanging from Part 3 and has now made his way back to Crystal Lake where he starts bumping off the stupid teens.
As you can probably tell, the series was starting to become a pretty predictable affair and this entry is no different. But there is something about this episode that separates it out from the others - it has an almost definitive ending. Whereas parts 1-3 have had convoluted stupid open endings, this one feels like the series has closure. The final act of the film is quite powerful with young Tommy Jarvis shaving his head to impersonate Jason only to brutally stab him to death with his own machete. This violent act from a young child (played superbly by Corey Feldman) plays back to the violent treatment Jason received when he was a young boy. As with the first Friday, Jason is not the killer, he’s the victim. Jason deserved his revenge, but he took it too far and it took the actions of a young child to bring him back down and end his reign of villainy. The very final scene is quite ambiguous in the face that it hints that Tommy could possibly become the new Jason, but it’s never explicitly spelled out.
This is one of the best entries of the series. It didn’t convolute anything by stretching out the plausibility of the story and it didn’t end on a “wake up from a dream” ending (despite the fact they filmed one). It harks back to the original film by heightening the notion that Jason is not an all powerful demon, he is a regular human being and he can be stopped – just like his mother.
Had Paramount stuck with their ideals, this would have been a great ending to what has been a fairly brilliant quadrilogy. But, as we all know, it was not to be the end. We we’re heading for a new beginning…
Friday the 13th Part V – A New Beginning (Steinmann, 1985)
The fans begged and the fans pleaded and it didn’t take long for Paramount to cave and make another film.
But the question that lingered over fans was, “will Jason return”? They’d essentially killed him off in Part IV and this film was titled “A New Beginning” – would they go through with the tease they left at the end of Final Chapter by suggesting that Tommy would become the new killer?
The answer to both of those question is “no”. They just made a rubbish film.
5 years have passed and young Tommy is now 17 and placed in Pinehurst Halfway House. Upon his arrival, one of the patients is killed by one of the other inmates. Tommy then starts to have nightmares about Jason and believes he isn’t really dead – much like the audience. As the body count piles up, the audience get more and more drawn into the belief that we are watching the return of Jason Voorhees. That is until the final act, where is revealed that it was a paramedic from the first 5 minutes of the film avenging the death of his kid – the patient that was killed.
This would have been fine, we were of course in the midst of A New Beginning, but Steinmann and the rest of the team led us to believe we were watching Jason - not some paramedic who has no relevance to the Friday mythology. It was the completely wrong move to attempt and it backfired on them greatly. This wasn’t a great entry to start with, but its ending is just beyond awful. It was a slap in the face to the audience and they did not take kindly to it.
But the series was showing some progression. The horror audience had moved on since 1980 and films like Nightmare on Elm Street had given viewers a more sophisticated killer. While Jason was never going to be viewed as a refined psychopath, we could at least enjoy his travels. By having Tommy return as a recurring character, the films were starting to move along with back story and plot rather than just have Jason show up and kill teenagers. Jason Lives and The New Blood where to carry on with this ideal, but that’s for part 2 of this series.
Part 2: From the Grave to Space
Thoughts, opinions, questions all can be sent to to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website www.boddicker-scripts.moonfruit.com
“You see, Jason was my son and today is his birthday” – Pamela Voorhees (Friday the 13th, 1980)
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