“Is It Time To Say Goodbye To The Horror Trinity?” Part Two: FRIDAY THE 13TH
*Author’s note: In this second of three articles asking readers (and myself) if the HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchises really have anywhere else left to go, the subject under the microscope this time around is Jason Voorhees, his mother Pamela and everyone else involved in some unfortunate events that have transpired through the years at Crystal Lake. Meant as a look back at the series’ history, I’m asking, what do you fans think? Read on!
The FRIDAY THE 13TH series has gone through so many changes and reinventions, that like the character of Jason Voorhees, it’s somewhat of a mess behind its mask. Mostly known for the hockey mask-wearing slasher, the series first began as something entirely different. Producer/Director Sean Cunningham’s attempt to cash in on the HALLOWEEN slasher craze had its genesis in a trade advertisement trying to get investors interested in a film that at that point was just a name: FRIDAY THE 13TH. The film that ended up being the result of Cunningham’s marketing and hard work, was the original 1980 slasher classic, one the birthed a long-standing series of a slasher-by-numbers sequels (and I actually mean that in a good way), but one that would eventually get too odd for its own good.
While the first film in the series set up a typical formula of a group of young camp counselors getting off’ed one by one by the film’s slasher, the legendary Jason Voorhees wouldn’t appear until the film’s climax, where the killer was revealed to be his mother, Pamela, hellbent on getting revenge (on kids who had nothing to do with the tragedy) on counselors for allowing her physically and mentally challenged son Jason to drown, while the ones responsible were getting some action. The original FRIDAY THE 13TH wasn’t all too original, as it pretty much followed the footsteps of a lot of slashers that had come out around that time, but it did end up being a great success, one that was made evens stronger by having such a now legendary climax. After fighting Mrs. Voorhees and getting the upper-hand by grabbing a machete, the film’s heroine, Alice, decapitated the vengeful mother and well…decided to lay down in a canoe and run her hands through the water. As Harry Manfredini’s beautiful score played over Alice in the canoe and all seemed well…BAM! A seaweed plastered, deformed Jason jumped out of the water, and pulled her in. Soon waking up in a hospital, she talks about “the boy in the water” and the sheriff mentions that they didn’t find a boy, Alice had possibly dreamed the canoe attack.
Well, thanks to the $550,000-ish budgeted FRIDAY THE 13TH domestically grossing almost 60 million dollars at the box office, not only was it a reality, but Jason would end up leaving canoes alone until parts 4 and 6 and would make his way to land in a quickly produced sequel, FRIDAY THE 13TH: PART II. Picking up a couple of months after the first film, FRIDAY THE 13TH: PART II caught up with the original’s heroine, Alice, who after finding the severed head of Mrs. Voorhees in her fridge, is murdered, stabbed in the temple with an ice pick. The opening to FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II gave viewers a glimpse of something that would be a running issue in the series: a disregard to continuity. Jumping forward a half decade later, the film followed a new set of counselors, who like the previous film, would eventually get picked off, one by one, this time by a hillbilly-looking man wearing a sack mask straight out of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. When the film’s climax came, and the sequel’s heroine, Ginny (a fan favorite played by the wonderful Amy Steel) faced the killer, it was revealed that the sack masked man was none other than Jason Voorhees, now bearded, still deformed and a hell of a lot older than he was attacking Alice in the canoe at the end of the first film. Again, continuity is a weird thing in this series.
Where the series then went for quite some time, was into a pretty formulaic territory, with each film just being a slight alteration of its previous film, but the first four films in the series at least had one thing in common: they were referential to each other. In FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III, Jason returned, killed some more teens and stole one of their masks…this time a hockey mask, something that would carry over until..well, it’s still going strong. While III was semi-entertaining and was presented in 3D upon it’s release, it had a spin or two to it that was a bit awkward (Jason maybe having raped III‘s heroine?…I mean, does ANYONE know what the hell Chris Higgins was talking about in her epic monologue?), it at least took place sometime near the second film, making it easy as a viewer to pick right back up. When Jason dispatched everyone else and was coming after Chris, she did what most people would do: put an axe right into that sucker’s head, killing him…until the next sequel.
Where the series went in III‘s sequel, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER, is where a good closing chapter should go: full on. Thought it followed the same formula of the three films before it, it did what a lot of what slasher films don’t do: make the victims just as interesting as the slasher. The first HALLOWEEN film did it, and the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film did it, but for a franchise to make what could easily have been a well told coming of age story had the killer been taken out, is almost unheard of. It followed the Jarvis family, consisting of a recently divorced mother, her teenage daughter, and a character that would become a very important element of the fourth, fifth and sixth films, Tommy Jarvis. THE FINAL CHAPTER setup a likable family, and then also gave viewers a group of teens vacationing at a nearby house. What sets the fourth film apart from previous entries is that every character in the film is well written. The Jarvis family feels like a real family, and the teens are as entertaining as possible, with characters like Crispin Glover’s Jimmy, a down on his luck guy who just can’t get lucky with the girls and is continually harassed by his friend Ted (played by THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN‘s Lawrence Monoson). Throw in more fun and entertaining teens, and a backpacker named Rob (who is searching for Jason, the slasher having killed his sister in one of the previous films), and you have what is, in my opinion, not only the best in the series, but also one of the best slasher films, period. Planning on making THE FINAL CHAPTER the last entry in the series, everyone involved went all out, bringing FX maestro Tom Savini back, giving gore hounds some seriously bloody kills, and also the most effective and upsetting deaths in the whole series. After Jason slaughter teens left and right, Trish Jarvis and Rob look to see what’s going on, and while they’re in the basement, Jason pops up and begins brutally killing Rob with a garden tool, something that wouldn’t be so damned intense, if it was mostly off screen, and if Rob didn’t yell “HE’S KILLING MEEEE!”. It’s a moment in the series that just never happened again, emotionally, and just one of the many ingredients of one hell of a send off to the series. When Jason throws Rob’s body threw the window of the Jarvis home, he’s sliced in the hand by Trish, and in a wtf moment, Tommy appears, having shaved his head to look like Jason, and absolutely slaughters the hell out of Jason, obviously possessed in one way or another. After all is settled, the film ends with a weird tease that the franchise might continue, but with Tommy as the killer, showing viewers than not only was THE FINAL CHAPTER not going to be the final film in the series, but that at this point, nobody knew what the hell was next.
Beginning with FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING, the franchise’s direction was a constant question, with 5 placing an older and more frantic Tommy Jarvis into a home for troubled teens and getting stalked by not Jason, but a crazed ambulance driver whose son was murdered at the home by another troubled teen. While the film is an entertaining one, it just shows a lack of concise vision for the series. When audiences weren’t very happy regarding a FRIDAY THE 13TH film without the hockey masked momma’s boy, Jason’s resurrection would soon come in 1986’s FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES. Somewhat of a return to form, JASON LIVES brought back Voorhees, but what was the best element of the film, was an excellent script and solid direction by Tom McLouglin. A self-referential film without heading into meta-territory, JASON LIVES ignored A NEW BEGINNING and brought back a more stable Tommy Jarvis, putting him on a quest to make sure Jason was really dead, an accurate statement until Jarvis accidentally resurrected Voorhees by stabbing his corpse with a metal rod, right before lighting struck it, bringing the slasher back. While not as intense as some of the previous films, McLoughlin’s film made the series fun again, being closer in vein with somewhat of a modern day Universal monster movie (also starting the “zombie Jason era”), and adding a very humorous (though not in a satirical way) element to it, and giving fans a great time. What JASON LIVES also added, was a very dangerous element to the series, with actual small children being in harm’s way this time around. When the danger arrives and Jason is killing the teens as usual, there are children campers in the middle, adding such an underlying feeling of “oooh, is this going to get BAD?”, giving the film yet another layer to love. When the film’s climatic battle between Tommy and Jason happens, in the middle of Crystal Lake, it results with Jarvis almost dying, doing what he’s spent years trying to do: bringing an end to Jason. While it’s a terrific way to end the film, it’s the one part of the film, in which you’re telling yourself, “yeah, right…until next year”.
If A NEW BEGINNING was the first sign of a confused direction, and JASON LIVES was somewhat of a return to form albeit one that began zombie Jason, the moment in which the series just gave up making sense and headed into “I have NO clue” territory, was in FRIDAY THE 13TH PARTY VII: A NEW BLOOD. From that film on, the series ditched the semi-reality of campers/counselors getting murdered and relied on gimmick after gimmick. In A NEW BLOOD, Jason was resurrected by the telepathic Tina, resulting in…more teens getting murdered and a showoff between what is essentially Jason Vs. Carrie. It’s sequel, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN not only ditched Crystal Lake with a cruise ship heading to New York, but also ditched logic (how does one get to New York via the Atlantic Ocean by means of a lake?). Not facing a psychic this time around, Jason hitches a ride on the cruise, slowly kills the majority of folks on board, follows one of the survivors through New York, finds her after she’s been kidnapped by street punks, gets in a fight with a boxer (and punching said boxer’s head off with one blow), and ends up drowning in waste in the New York sewers. As if that all wasn’t strange enough, he also reverts back to being a small child while laying there in the waste. Phew.
By that point in the series, Paramount, the studio releasing the films weren’t very interested in anymore, and sold the rights to New Line Cinema, home of Freddy, and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When 1993’s JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY came, it billed itself (like THE FINAL CHAPTER) as the last film in the series, with the original FRIDAY THE 13TH director Sean Cunningham on board to produce and 25-year old first time director Adam Marcus to co-write/direct it. Quite easily the most strange, and off the rails entry into the series, JASON GOES TO HELL blew Jason up in the first 15 minutes (via a swat team firing a rocket launcher at him), had his black heart eaten by a coroner, and then became about Jason’s soul (or worm, I still have no idea) body-travelling from person, all in an attempt to be resurrected through a distant relative of his (like the HALLOWEEN series, it always ends up being a relative eventually). With scenes like a Jason possessed character shaving a leather bound captive, and an ending in which Jason is resurrected and reborn (fully clothed and wearing a hockey mask..) via his worm-like creature entering the vagina of Jason’s dead sister (I’m not making this up), JASON GOES TO HELL is a film that shows viewers how far the series had gotten from the original tone and story of the original at that point. A film that just doesn’t know that it’s a FRIDAY THE 13TH film, because well, it isn’t. It’s a body snatcher film disguised as a FRIDAY THE 13TH sequel, and is capped off by a twist that fans didn’t see coming, but seemed to love. When Jason is defeated by his niece and her boyfriend via a magical dagger (phew), he is pulled down to hell by demons and his mask falls onto the sand..and when all seems done..the glove of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET‘s Freddy Krueger reaches from below the ground and pulls the hockey mask under, giving fans a case of FREDDY VS. JASON blue-balls that would last quite some time.
While fans waited for 2003’s FREDDY VS. JASON, they were given 2001’s JASON X, a film that while it has its charm at times, pushes the “are we even still in the same series about a physically deformed kid that drowned getting revenge” confusion, by sending Jason to outer space. When FREDDY VS. JASON finally did happen, it felt nothing like either franchise, made Jason afraid of water (when was that EVER the case in ten prior films?), inciting an almost riot by fans (director Ronny Yu opted to replace fan favorite Kane Hodder from the role of Jason) and ended with neither Freddy or Jason really winning, making it a pointless albeit entertaining entry, also putting the future of Jason in question. Was that the end of a series that started semi-solid, lasting a good five or six sequels of formulaic yet fun sequels, before becoming a huge mess for years? When the Michael Bay/Brad Fuller/Andrew Form-led Platinum Dunes decided to attempt to remake every classic under the sun, the exploits of everybody’s favorite hock mask-wearing killer eventually headed towards that direction and 2009’s FRIDAY THE 13TH came to be. Directed by Marcus Nispel, the remake made Jason somewhat of a survivalist, handy with a bow & arrow, and one pissed off orphan. While it made a hell of a lot of money, and actor Derek Mears’ performance as Voorhees was celebrated by fans, a lot of complaints coming from everyone from producer Michael Bay (“too much sex”), fans (“the characters weren’t likable”, “the kills weren’t cool enough”) all seem to point to the question that I’m asking. Is it time to finally say goodbye to Jason and his carnage?
With an upcoming TV series in the works, revolving around Crystal Lake, Jason and its mysteries, and another upcoming reboot rumored to be going in the direction of a found footage/POV approach, do you fans feel that there’s anything new to really offer? I’m curious what you all think. Personally, I’m a fan of the first few FRIDAY THE 13TH films (THE FINAL CHAPTER is gold in my opinion), but I just don’t see anything out there that either hasn’t been done already, or won’t steer the franchise in a direction even further away from its source material, than the last five or six films already have. Again, this is all up for debate, I want to know what you all think? Should the hockey mask-ed killer finally head back into Crystal Lake, once and for all?