Happy Friday the 13th! The Jason Voorhees faithful may end up waiting forever for that long-promised 13th Friday the 13th movie, but the good news is that there are 12 other Fridays to watch in the meantime, or at least until the slasher-inspired next season of American Horror Story arrives next week.
Of course, not all of the Fridays are actually worth a revisit, so here’s our highly opinionated ranking of worst to first.
The 2009 Michael Bay-produced remake appropriates multiple plot points from the 1980 original and its 1981 follow-up, but fails to add anything of interest other than meticulously good-looking actors plucked from the CW factory (led by Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki). Director Marcus Nispel also made the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, which is arguably worse...but this tepid yet also somehow overly flashy take on Friday the 13th feels as unnecessary as it is uninspired.
Jason doesn’t so much “take Manhattan” as he does “take nearly the entire movie to arrive in NYC on a slow-moving boat,” though the journey really is the destination in this case, since said boat is packed full of vapid teens. After Jason’s zapped back to life and sneaks aboard a boat out of Crystal Lake, he sidles on over to another vessel— the SS Lazarus (get it?), which is ferrying a group of recent high school grads on a cruise to the Big Apple. As Jason starts picking off victims, one among the group, the hydrophobic Rennie (Jensen Daggett), starts having visions of Jason’s drowning death.
Truth be told, the most distressing part of Rob Hedden’s 1989 entry (other than the general lack of Manhattan-ness promised by the title) is that when the Lazarus survivors finally make it to the city, they’re immediately mugged by junkies who make off with Rennie and inject her with drugs. Fortunately (?) Jason shows up to rip them apart before anything worse happens, but seriously, WTF? In the last 15 minutes, you finally get to see Jason on the subway, stomping around Times Square, etc. before he’s finally done in by the good ol’ NYC sewer system...but by then, Jason Takes Manhattan has long since lurched past unwatchable.
This Danny Steinmann-directed 1985 entry picks up the story of Friday the 13th Part IV’s troubled Tommy Jarvis, imagining that in the span of five years he’s grown from a horror-obsessed kid played by Corey Feldman into a suspiciously old-looking teenager played by John Shepherd. Though he personally slaughtered Jason, Tommy is still haunted by his encounter with the monster and has been institutionalized since that terrible night.
He’s barely functional when he arrives at his latest residence—a group home for disturbed teens who’re being prepped to re-enter the outside world—and things only get worse when a sudden act of violence sparks a series of horrible murders, all committed by an unseen assailant (until we get a look at him, and he looks exactly like Jason Voorhees). A New Beginning spends a lot of time positioning Tommy as the new Jason, so when we see it’s not him behind the mask, it’s almost a nifty surprise—until the final moments make it very clear that Tommy is definitely on his way to following in the footsteps of his nemesis. It’s a pretty shrug-worthy entry overall, though it’s probably the sequel stuffed with the most gratuitous nudity, so that’s something at least.
The imposing Kane Hodder made his first of four appearances as Jason in this otherwise unremarkable entry, which pits the irrepressible killer against Tina (Lar Park Lincoln), a teenage girl with Eleven-ish telekinetic abilities (complete with an unscrupulous doctor—fun fact: he’s played by Terry Kiser, a.k.a. Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s!—who’s very eager to exploit her powers). Her ability to move things with her mind aside, Tina’s kind of a novelty in that her trauma at Crystal Lake initially has nothing to do with Jason; instead, it’s where she accidentally-on-purpose caused the death of her abusive father when she was a small child. A return trip to the lake stirs up enough psychic energy to resurrect you-know-who, who’s been chained up underwater since the events of Part VI.
Beyond that distinctly sci-fi twist, this 1988 entry from John Carl Buechler is kinda just a retread of Jason’s greatest hits, as he works his way through a too-familiar array of kids who’re having a party at the house next door. While Tina’s powers add a little something extra to the proceedings, the final showdown—in which she conjures her (abusive!) father from the bottom of the lake to take Jason down—feels like a missed opportunity for something much more memorably cosmic.
This 1993 installment from director Adam Marcus begins with a scene that, for Friday fans, was long overdue: a targeted effort by law enforcement to capture and kill Jason Voorhees, ending over a decade of cops and other authorities dismissing Jason as “a myth” or “an urban legend,” despite the literal piles of corpses providing ample proof of his existence. Too bad their ambush doesn’t take into account Jason’s supernatural qualities—which include the ability to possess people from beyond the grave, something only bounty hunter/Quint-from-Jaws equivalent Creighton Duke (Steven Williams) understands.
Brash outlaw-for-hire Duke is exactly the kind of diverting character the flagging Friday franchise needed in its ninth film to propel the formula forward and the idea of a spinoff featuring the character has been floated, however hypothetically. But unfortunately, he’s not in it nearly enough, with Jason Goes to Hell dwelling on Jason’s tedious body-hopping quest to find one of his few remaining blood relatives (surprise! Jason had a sister all this time!) to be his permanent new vessel.
The main takeaway from this slasher—released three years before Scream turned the genre inside out—is the fun reveal in the final seconds, which sees the specter of Freddy Krueger enter Jason’s universe for the first time, though the boogeymen wouldn’t properly brawl onscreen for 10 more years. There’s also a cameo from the Evil Dead Necronomicon, but that longed-for crossover is even less likely than the 13th Friday to ever hit the big screen.
Ronny Yu’s 2003 battle of the titans gives more screen time to Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), a necessary byproduct of a story that’s set in the Nightmare on Elm Street HQ of Springwood. It begins with Freddy, who has no power over the latest generation of Elm Street kids (including a stunt-cast Kelly Rowland, then at the height of her Destiny’s Child fame), plotting a comeback by making Jason his puppet in the real world. But even though Jason (Ken Kirzinger) is, let’s just say it, the dumber of the two, he’s still really good at killing, and it doesn’t take long before he puts his own gory agenda before Freddy’s, which infuriates the razor-fingered villain.
Obviously, the whole point of this movie is to have the gruesome twosome battle it out, something that requires a hefty amount of plot gymnastics to get Freddy—whose whole deal is that he can only attack his victims in their dreams—into the real world. They finally meet on the shores of (where else?) Crystal Lake, but the movie doesn’t have the impact it should in the end, especially considering the 17 collective films the horror icons chopped their way through to finally come face-to-face, or rather face-to-mask. Still, the fact that this movie exists at all, and that it doesn’t totally suck, is something of a miracle.
Jason goes 3D and picks up his signature hockey mask in Steve Miner’s 1982 installment in the series, though the 3D is used as a gimmick first and foremost (whoaaaa, a snake strikes at the camera! Whaaaat, watch out for that flying yo-yo!) and the hockey mask feels a bit like an afterthought, considering its future pop-culture importance.
There’s no summer camp in this one—just a lake house and a group of kids, including a girl (Dana Kimmell) still traumatized from a Jason attack some years prior, and a punky trio of motorcyclists who accidentally stumble into the maniac’s line of fire. While the Friday formula had already been pretty firmly established by the time of this third film—which takes place immediately following the second film—there’s enough quirk here to break up Jason’s string of kills, like Larry Zerner’s endearing performance as practical joker Shelly, the disco theme music, a victim paging through a blood-splattered copy of Fangoria shortly before her demise, and some of the goofier special effects, including the genius use of 3D to propel a popped-out eyeball toward the audience.
Jason proves just as deadly in outer space as he does at Camp Crystal Lake in Jim Isaac’s 2001 spin on the character, which imagines that the deadliest psycho in human history is captured and put into stasis in the year 2010, only to be taken into space in the year 2455 by students who are exploring the now-abandoned planet Earth. Once he’s thawed out, his mood hasn’t improved much in four centuries—and, well, you can imagine what happens next.
That said, Jason X adds all kinds of nifty sci-fi flourishes to the standard Friday rampage (Jason battles an android! Jason experiences virtual reality! Jason becomes a full-fledged cyborg!) that make it a surprisingly enjoyable, and truly unique, addition to the series. Bonus points for that David Cronenberg cameo too.
The funniest Friday the 13th (funniest on purpose, that is) offers a complete tonal shift after the grim slog of A New Beginning. In Tom McLoughlin’s 1986 film, Tommy Jarvis is recast with the far more charismatic Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead) and Jason, now a full-fledged supernatural being, is accidentally resurrected from his grave. He celebrates with cheeky opening credits that riff on James Bond, then the party continues as he slices his way through the population of Crystal Lake, which has been renamed “Forest Green” in a failed attempt to distance the area from its gory reputation.
The Bond thing offers an early signal that this Friday isn’t afraid to wink at its audience, which it does repeatedly, with characters deciding what to do based on their knowledge of scary movies, occasional fourth wall breaks, and a deliberate absence of nudity (notable for a series that otherwise tends to overindulge in it). The performances are also more lighthearted; there are even some genuine comic relief characters in the form of some dorky paintballers who really should’ve picked a different forest for their team-building exercise and weird/funny touches—a little kid at Camp Forest Green falls asleep reading Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit; Tommy picks up battle supplies at “Karloff’s” store; the Alice Cooper end-credits jam “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask).”
Meanwhile, Jason seems thrilled to be back in the saddle and wastes no time racking up his body count. Once you learn how to swing a machete or snap a neck, you never forget how good it feels. Jason lives!
Steve Miner’s 1981 sequel was obviously hustled into production to cash in on the massive success of the first film a year prior, but it still manages to hold its own. After Jason Voorhees (no longer a zombie boy lurking in a lake, but a mountain of a man who’s taken up his mother’s mantle of vengeance) kills off O.G. Friday survivor Alice in a pre-credits sequence, the movie shifts not to Camp Crystal Lake, but an adjacent summer resort five years after the massacre, where Jason’s story has literally become a campfire tale.
Child psychology student Ginny (Amy Steel) arrives to help run a counselor-training program full of eager teens in short shorts—and her education ends up being her most valuable survival skill when Jason starts annihilating everyone in the area. How else would she have gotten the idea to role-play as Jason’s mother (even donning the grubby sweater the woman was decapitated in...eew!) to confuse the killer in the nick of time?
Sean S. Cunningham’s original Friday was one of the very first, and is still one of the very best, slasher movies of all time. All of the now-classic genre signposts are present and accounted for, including: the motivation of revenge spurred by a past tragedy (the drowning of a young boy thanks to some negligent camp counselors); an isolated location (Camp Crystal Lake, or “Camp Blood” if you’r a local); a killer shot almost exclusively from their POV until their identity is revealed (Pamela Voorhees—Jason’s killer mom!—memorably played by Betsy Palmer); a Final Girl (Adrienne King as the Laurie Strode-ish Alice Hardy); a jump-scare ending (stay out of the water!); and a big-name actor before they were famous (Kevin Bacon).
It was scary in 1980 and it holds up today, with the help of Henry Manfredini’s iconic score (“Ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma!”) and groundbreaking special effects by make-up master Tom Savini.
I recently included Joseph Zito’s 1984 film on a list of superior sequels, and now I’m going to repeat myself again and just drop this link here one...more...time. Crispin Glover’s dance skills will not be denied!
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