From Crystal Lake to Manhattan…

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…to Hell, then Space and back to Crystal Lake again…The Friday the 13th Film Series in Review

I went into the history of “modern” horror and the slasher film genre, in specific, in my review of the Halloween Series, so I’ll try not to rehash too much here.

Essentially the modern horror genre and it’s various aspects/off shoots were formed in the mid to late 70’s. Violence, nudity, gore and emphasis on body count over characterization and plot became the norm, for better or worse, after a spate of esteemed fright flicks (The Exorcist, Jaws, The Omen, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc.) brought the genre back into bankability and acceptability.



By 1980, for the most part, true horror, terror and suspense had been replaced with the “slasher film.” There are of course people that find slasher films frightening… Then there are others, like myself, that find them amusing.

Now, how is it that seeing teenagers getting brutally hacked up by a hulking psychopath lingering in the shadows became so perfectly part of the norm that it’s totally alright, even expected, to laugh at?

Three words… Friday the 13th

Yes, behold the magic of the series that both fully cemented the slasher genre as a horror mainstay, made tons of money (for it’s big studio backers Paramount Pictures) AND killed horror at the same time.

I love the series dearly, it has been a part of my life, all my life. But, there’s no denying that it’s compromised of bad acting, flat direction, non-existent plots/characters/continuity and solely exists to show off a bunch of tits… Preferably tits in peril.

So, lets get on with it shall we?

Friday the 13th (1980)-
Directed By Sean S. Cunningham
Starring Adrienne Curry and Betsy Palmer

In 1958 a few counselors got murdered at Crystal Lake, by someone. Years later, in 1980, the camp is being prepped for reopening. The counselors show up, they make a little mischief, have a little sex and get a lot murdered.

That is it pretty much, plot wise, aside from the (now) “twist ending” (SPOILERS) in which the mother of a young boy named Jason Voorhees, is the one doing the killings, as revenge for the death of her son due to negligence from the counselors.

Friday the 13th and it’s sequels are really just about the body count. Some are better at it than others and this one is among the best, but still.

The film is decently, if somewhat amateurishly, shot, with a “Texas Chainsaw” like gritty-realism that lends a certain gravitas to the proceedings. The ending “shock” sequence in which “Child Jason” pops out of the water for one last surprise actually attains a level of cinematic beauty. But the movie isn’t scary, at least not to me. It is a showcase for legendary gore maestro Tom Savini, a few sets of boobs and Harry Manfredini’s iconic “Chhh Chhh Chhh Haa Haa Haa” score. Plain and simple.

What really sets this one apart from the rest of it’s brethren is Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees. Once she is revealed as the killer (and you picture her stringing bodies from trees, chucking them through windows, etc. in her lovely soccer mom sweater) and starts chewing up the scenery with the greatest of psychotic glee it takes the movie to a level of surreal, demented camp that was never again surpassed in the series (despite how hard they tried.)

And, speaking of trying hard… the body count continues…

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)-
Directed By Steve Miner
Starring Amy Steel and John Furey

The survivor of the last film is offed in a long winded opening sequence. Then the movie jumps back to the AREA of Camp Crystal Lake. Another Camp is being opened, the counselors show up, they have a little sex… Yadda, yadda, yadda…

Sound familiar, right? Get used to it. As that is essentially the plot of EVERY Friday the 13th film.

Part 2 is better shot, acted, written and paced (aside from the opening sequence) than it’s predecessor. And it features what many fans consider to be the best “Final Girl” of the series, Amy Steel as Ginny. (Final Girl, being the term used to describe the last person, usually a lady, alive to face off with the killer at the end of the film. Blame Jamie Lee Curtis.)

As Ginny, Amy Steel bucks the trend by being genuinely intelligent, possessive of a personality and GASP not a virgin. She out smarts Jason (now fully grown and taking over mom’s murderous ways) at every turn, including a lengthy and suspenseful sequence where she leads him around in the dark, backing up, evading and covering her tracks, while her attacker (practically frustrated) runs around two steps behind. In the end Ginny also gets to use her chosen profession as a child psychologist to put the kabosh on Jason, planting a machete in his neck, while pretending to be his dear, decapitated mom.

The movie would be probably the best in the series (at least of the “serious” entries) were it not for 1. Being too short, yet padded at the same time. And, 2. Having an incredibly dumb shocker ending that just leaves heads scratching and a bad taste in the mouth.

Lets move on to the new dimension in terror…

Friday the 13th Part 3 (In 3-D) (1982)-
Directed By Steve Miner
Starring Dana Kimmell and Paul Kratka

Only mildly annoyed by the machete to the neck in the last film Jason gets up, steals some new clothes and heads back out into the area around Crystal Lake for a bit more carnage. Luckily for him a group of horny “youngsters” are headed to a lake side cabin for a weekend of doping, sexing and… being made available to be easily killed.

This entry is famous for two things, 1. Jason gets his iconic Hockey Mask (previously sporting a far creepier sack.) And, 2. Being shot in 3-D.

Aside from those two facts and a couple of creative kills (speargun through the eye, man split in half while walking on his hands, head crushed so hard his eye pops out at the camera, etc.), this is a dull entry into the series. Seemingly warn out after directing Part 2 with quite a bit of flare, Steve Miner gives this one a flat, lifeless look. Part 3 is the film equivalent of “beige.” The lead actor/final girl are bland, the rest of the cast is just annoying and the whole affair just seems tired.

We can head on over to the final chapter now me thinks…

Friday the 13th- The Final Chapter (1984)-
Directed By Joseph Zito
Starring Kimberly Beck and Corey Feldman

Picking right up from the last film, the axe is removed from Jason’s forehead and his body is taken to the morgue. After a brief rest Jason is up and ready to continue on his merry way. Fortunately for our old pal (you guessed it) a group of horny kids are headed out to the lake for a weekend of… Blah, blah, blah.

I consider The Final Chapter to be the best “serious and traditional” entry in the series. It has an undeniable visual style, including some lovely slow-motion shots (notably a breath taking one where a victim is tossed from a 2nd story window only to land on the roof of a car, shattering all of it’s windows, then collapsing onto the ground, in one take), fluid widescreen photography and a tight pace courtesy of veteran genre director Joseph Zito.

Tom Savini was brought back to kill off Jason (he created the shock ending that thrust Jason unto the world in the first film) and the kills (although fairly heavily edited in most prints) are the best in the series.

Lastly, the ending (SPOILERS), where the exceptionally good Kimberly Beck, must defend her young brother Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) from Jason is the only one in the series to have any real emotional heft and drama to it. The last sequence is also the only one in the series to come close to matching the delirious melodramatic camp of the original, whereby Corey Feldman transforms himself into Young Jason and viciously hacks at the adult form with his own machete, until all you hear are squishy noises and Tommy’s screams of “Die! Die! Die!” emanating from the soundtrack!

But, as is often the case with this series, the decentness isn’t to last… With their cash cow seemingly dead, Paramount Pictures scrambled to craft a new beginning for Friday the 13th…

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)-
Directed By Danny Steinmann
Starring John Shepard and Melanie Kinnaman

After putting Jason in the ground “once and for all” Corey Feldman’s character Tommy Jarvis has gone a bit cukoo nutso (and turned into the excessively attractive John Shepard.) Taken to a halfway house for emotionally troubled youths Tommy struggles to deal with his past, as the bodies begin to pile up… Is Tommy doing the killing, or is it a random incidental character that is so illogically shoe horned in AS the killer it’s impossible to fathom how the film ever made it to the screen? Bump, bump, baaaaaaaaaaa!

Yes, my synopsis does sound wildly different than the ones that came before, but it isn’t. Despite it seemingly having more plot and potential than the others, this one actually has the LEAST amount of both. Murders happen seemingly every two minutes (in fact this entry has the highest body count), thusly characters and people come and go before they even get a cursory first name introduction.

This isn’t the worst film in the series, but it does come close. Despite having the most boobs and bodies the film is pretty dull. It looks decent, but far to bright for a film of this type. And, really, it just seems to chug along with no rhyme, reason or rhythm until it ends and the lame (BEYOND LAME) twist is revealed.

Don’t worry though, Paramount realized that no one liked (SPOILERS) Roy the paramedic offing people so in the next one, Jason lives!

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)-
Directed By Tom McLoughlin
Starring Thom Matthews and Jennifer Cooke

Tommy Jarvis (now, genre fave Thom Matthews) brings Jason back to life, thereby ushering in a new killing spree at Camp Forest Green (aka Crystal Lake.)

Although I consider The Final Chapter the best in the series, Jason Lives is my favorite. A lot of people agree with me, mainly because this is the “funny one.” Or at least the one intentionally played for laughs, while still feeling like a true Friday the 13th film.

Jason Lives is essentially the same old thing you’ve seen before, but with it’s tongue planted firmly in cheek. The movie is not what you would call laugh out loud funny, but in a cheeky, snarky way, the movie pokes fun at all the conventions of the series, while playing up to them gloriously and somehow seriously. The film is visually stylish, the best looking in the series. And the acting is great all around, being also the best in the series in that department.

The ending is a bit of a let down though, as (SPOILERS) Tommy pretty much just drops Jason back in the lake. But, it’s a solid entry and as I mentioned, my favorite…

Laughs weren’t loved by audiences at the time however, so the next entry brought us some new blood…

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)-
Directed By John Carl Buechler
Starring Lar Park Lincoln and Kane Hodder

A young telekinetic girl named Tina comes to stay at Crystal Lake with her mother and psychiatrist. Tina then unwittingly resurrects Jason, sending him on a murderous rampage…

Dubbed by fans (for obvious reasons) “Jason vs. Carrie” The New Blood is an ambitious, interesting, but ultimately un-inspired entry into the series. It is also the first film to introduce Kane Hodder as Jason. (He becoming the longest person ever to portray the hulking, silent madman.)

And what an introduction it is. Jason never looks better than he does in this film. Every previous injury is noted on his gloriously rotting frame. The shot of Jason emerging from the lake, his spine and bones showing through his tattered clothes is particularly inspired.

However, it would seem Jason’s impressive look was the main thing on Director (and noted special effects wizard) John Carl Buechler’s mind as the rest of the film looks rather tepid. The telekinetic effects are decent, but average, The acting is just so-so. And really, the plot is just a whole bunch of people running around in the woods for no discernible reason and getting whacked by Jason and his increasingly ludicrous array of weaponry (seriously he randomly picks up a saw bladed weed whacker while strolling through the forest.)

Also, on a sour note, the film once again ends with Jason being plunked down into the lake… Booooorrrrrrrring!

Now, from the bland decentness of The New Blood we take a little cruise… to the nadir of the series, and Manhattan…

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)-
Directed By Rob Hedden
Starring Jensen Daggett and Kane Hodder

A passing boat anchor annoys a giant electric cable at the bottom of Crystal Lake thereby waking Jason from his watery slumber. Voorhees then hitches a ride on the owner of said anchor and drifts… somewhere… somehow, out to a major port by the open sea. Old Jason then hops onto worlds oddest cruise ship (really more like a vast, empty cargo vessel) which is populated with a High School class’s after-graduating party. I’m sure you can guess what happens after that.

Here we are at the worst of an already not amazing series. This is the one everyone loves to hate, and for good reason. Everything is bad all around. The cinematography is flat and over lit. The acting is sleepy and wooden. The special effects and kills are neutered and bloodless. And, worst of all, Jason is “pussified” in this one by having him scream and speak like a small child in the film’s finale.

The biggest offense however, comes with the title. Jason spends about ten minutes in Manhattan (passing up DOZENS of victims, to go after only the people from the ship), at the very end of the film. The rest of the movie is confined to the previously mentioned cruise ship, giving everything a plain, samey feel…

Aside from the awesome poster art (seen at the top of the article), Jason literally punching a guys head off AND “off-screen teleporting” around a disco JUST to fuck with someone, this one is BARELY watchable.

Realizing this entry was a giant turd Paramount washed their hands of the series and sold Jason off to New Line Cinemas (then owner of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre Series.) The good folks at New Line decided it was time for a change, so they sent Jason from Manhattan, to hell…

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)-
Directed By Adam Marcus
Starring Kane Hodder and John D. LeMay

In a cheeky opening sequence, we find Jason (inexplicably back after his death by toxic waste disintegration in the last film, don’t ask) at his old stomping grounds of Crystal Lake. Jason, in typical fashion, chases a beautiful, buxom, towel clad lady out into the forest. Just as she trips and falls and Jason is about to strike, we get our first big surprise in the series… A team of heavily armed military agents appears and lay into the masked killer, finally blowing him into a million pieces.

Movies over, right? Sadly no. This is where it flies off the tracks. The bits and bobs of Jason are taken to the morgue, where upon the Doctor in charge of his autopsy eats Jason’s still beating, black heart, thusly becoming Jason. The movie then slips into fairly normal territory (aside from Jason having to jump in and out of people’s bodies as they become injured) as Jason cuts a bloody swath through town as he hunts for a living Voorhees relative to be “reborn in.”

Throw in a laser light show, a weird demon slug thing, a bunch of winking “in jokes”, Erin Grey, and one of the best kicker endings in horror history and that’s Jason Goes to Hell in a nutshell.

Sounds ok, right? As I liked to say in my Halloween Series review, at least it’s different.

And, that’s just it though. The movie is different, but in the end just ok. There is potential for a good film in there somewhere, but there’s so much going on, so much making up for past plot holes and logic gaps, that it all just gets sort of weighed down in the process. And, ultimately it’s just SO different and out there and winky that it becomes overtly silly, especially during the Manitou-esque climax.

It looks nice though. Has the best acting AND characters in the series. And a brilliantly graphic kill early in the film (best seen in the Unrated Cut) do set it apart. I like the movie, but most others don’t.

Any case, after Jason went to hell, there was nowhere for him to go but up, right? Yes and no. The series literally moved up, to outer space, but this unfortunately caused everything to sink back into the toilet again…

Jason X (2001)-
Directed By James Issac
Starring Lexa Doig and Kane Hodder

We open with Jason in captivity in some vague military research facility (Where has Crystal Lake been hiding this all these years?) He breaks free, kills a bunch of people, then gets cryogenically frozen. Several hundred years in the future Jason is unthawed on a spacecraft populated by… horny, STUPID teenagers. The usual ensues.

When a series gets to a point where it’s ripping off direct-to-video dreck (ie Leprechaun 4: In Space and Critters 4: In Space) you know it’s time to either throw in the towel, or start over anew.

Made during the “development hell” of Freddy vs. Jason (promised at the end of Jason Goes to Hell) Jason X is a mess. Once the novelty of Jason being in space wears off (and it does so VERY quickly) it’s literally the same old same old show we’ve seen 9 times before.

Sure, there is some cheeky fun to be had and it’s all mostly well acted, shot and paced. But it’s just a going through the motions of cliches. There’s a bit of Alien, Aliens and Event Horizon here and there, mixed in with all the tropes of the Friday the 13th series, but despite how hard it wants to be, it’s just not any fun. And, it’s certainly not scary (the series stopped TRYING for that back with Part 4.)

Jason X is watchable (as are all the entries) but it’s probably the third worst (behind 8 and 5, respectively.)

Now would be the time, proper, to move onto Freddy vs. Jason (2003), but I don’t think I’m going to. While the film is GREAT and is a more than decent homage/continuation of both the Friday the 13th and Elm Street series, I am going to leave it until I get to reviewing the Elm Street films. Despite the movie being much more like a Friday the 13th film, anything with Freddy in it, becomes Freddy’s show.

Any who, realizing there was nothing to do after Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason (besides giving us the promised, but most likely bad Freddy vs. Jason 2) New Line decided to jump on the remake bandwagon (they started) and hit the old reset button on the Friday the 13th series…

Friday the 13th (2009)-
Directed By Marcus Nipsel
Starring Jared Padalecki and Danielle Panabaker

In a pseudo-condensing, re-hashing of the first 3 films, Friday the 13th Version 2 gives us boy Jason witnessing his mom get her head whacked off. Grown up Jason living in the woods with a sack on his head, then getting his hockey mask. And, a whole lot of Jason doing what he does, ie killing stupid teenagers that dope up and have sex near Crystal Lake.

I didn’t enjoy the new Friday the 13th. One thing people tend to forget about the tropes of the original early films is, that despite not being all that scary, they at least TRIED to be scary and suspenseful. Also, Jason’s victims, while often horny and irreverent never went about their activities in a knowingly over the top way. The early Friday the 13th films were genuine (and often populated with semi-likable people) and that’s what gave them their charm, for lack of a better word. The new Friday the 13th is trying so hard to include everything you expect from a Friday the 13th film that it becomes a joke (and a sour one at that.)

It throws two new things into the mix: Jason holding someone captive AND explaining how he’s able to get around faster than everyone else (he travels through a system of underground tunnels.) But, these things are ALL that are brought to the table in terms of “newness.”

The acting/characters in the film are atrocious and un-necessarily mean spirited. The dialog is as bland as it is knowingly referential to the usual things found in the series’ past. The plot as such is chock full of images and moments from the past films. But, it all is thrown together in a haphazard, poorly paced manner, that just jumps from place to place until it’s all over. The kills are quick and un-Friday the 13th like, all flash and no build up. And, despite the movie longing to homage everything from the originals Harry Manfredini’s classic “Chhh Chhh Chhh Ha Ha Ha” only makes one brief appearance (the rest of the score being “jump” noises and stings.) Oh, and the ending, is one of the dumbest I’ve ever seen (and I have seen A LOT of dumb horror movie endings, I’m looking at you Spontaneous Combustion.)

(SPOILERS) After being terrorized by Jason for the entire film, seeing their friends get brutally slaughtered by him left and right, the final two survivors “kill” Jason, then in an odd jump cut we find they’ve lugged his giant body down to the lake, where they dump him in (as some sort of proper burial or something.) THEN just to have a kicker, after a beat of silence Jason pops up from the lake, grabs the “Final Girl” and the film cuts to black.

On the plus side the new Jason actor Derek Mears is good. Rivaling Kane Hodder, in my opinion, for giving Jason the most personality. It seems as though Mears combined Hodder’s brutal intensity with the ruthlessness of Warrington Gillette in Part 2. The cinematography from genre staple Daniel Pearl is effectively moody. And, surprisingly for a new film (even of this type), there is a copious of boob on display.

Friday the 13th 2.0 is a bland exercise though. Spiritless, witless and charm-free. A remake of a film, in which all 9 of it’s sequels were in essence, remakes. A copy, of a copy, of a copy, of the homage of a copy. Once again, it’s watchable… But… meh.

The newest installment in the grandaddy of all slasher film series made quite a bit of money though. And, as expected, Friday the 13th Part 2 (Redux) is due out next year. Will it be more of the same? Probably. Will that keep me away? No. In twenty years and 8 or so more sequels down the line will I remake this very article as the series is reset again? Looks like it.


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