Friday the 13th (1980) dir: Sean S. Cunningham
Surprisingly, the original is actually not the best with this series, unlike A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween or Hellraiser. Certainly, the first Friday the 13th is a competently-shot slasher film, boosted considerably by Tom Savini’s gruesome makeup effects and a solid performance from a young Kevin Bacon (!), but a severe lack of Jason Voorhees (who only appears in a dream sequence) prevents it from feeling truly iconic. Yes, horny, directionally-challenged teens are slaughtered in creative ways, and Betsy Palmer is wonderful as Mrs. Voorhees, but without a hulking mutant doing the killing something intangible is missing… something that featured heavily in the next chapter.
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) dir: Steve Miner
This was the film where Friday really nailed its template. It seems hokey as hell in 2018, but back in the ‘80s the hulking Jase, the screeching discordant violins and the moments of spectacular gore were thunderously effective albeit not terribly subtle. The premise of Jason having survived his “drowning” and taking revenge for the death of his mum against those damn horny teenagers is rote as hell and makes little sense; but it worked over and over again. This was also in the era where the directors genuinely attempted to build suspense and create atmosphere. Part 2, for all its logical flaws, is absolutely one of the better entries.
Friday the 13th Part III (1982) dir: Steve Miner
Part III was the moment in the Friday series where they seemed to shrug and go, “Eh, I dunno. How about trashier?” The plot was half-baked (in every sense of the term) and the gimmicky 3D added very little of value, but it was also a telling entry. See, this was when the series realised the audience only wants Jason being scary, bulk nudity and gory kills. Consequently, the characters began to feel less sympathetic and more like disposable meat props for ol’ mate Jase’s mighty wrath. The third chapter is pretty forgettable, but it is noteworthy for featuring hapless bikers (as well as the usual hapless campers) and Jason donning his now iconic hockey mask. Gory, silly, vaguely stupid it was followed by what is arguably the best of the lot.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) dir: Joseph Zito
All good things must come to an end and clearly it was time for Jason’s reign to finish on a high note. So, in assembling the cast and crew the best were chosen. Director Joseph Zito (The Prowler) was tagged for his horror chops. Young actor Corey Feldman and professional lunatic Crispin Glover were brought on for their charismatic weirdness. And, of course, the maestro Tom Savini was on board to finally kill Jason in a way no hack screenwriter could reverse. Yes, this moody, atmospheric and intermittently scary entry was a truly fitting finale, and when you saw Jason cop a machete blade to the face and slide down it, twitching and bleeding, you knew it was all over for this fun, engaging, trashy four-part series. LOL jokes! They made another the following year.
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) dir: Danny Steinmann
A New Beginning is a somewhat legendarily shithouse entry in the Friday series, which is saying something. The bold concept behind this one was “can the series continue without Jason?” The answer being “kind of, but it probably shouldn’t”. Credit where it’s due, ANB is entertaining in a trash cinema sort of way. Despite an obvious lack of budget, the kill count is ratcheted up to an eye-popping 22 (!) and the sleaze and nudity quota hits a series high (director Steinmann famously stated they essentially “shot a porno in the woods”!). Sadly, all the boobs in the world can’t make up for lacklustre characters and a central killer reveal that belongs in the bin. The ending sort of implies that adult Tommy Jarvis will go on to be the next Jason but that’s yet another plot thread thankfully relegated to this terrible, but fascinatingly misguided, chapter.
Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives (1986) dir: Tom McLoughlin
The roman numerals are back and so is Jason in an entry that breaks skulls and the fourth wall with equal relish, but to varying degrees of success. The whole caper begins with Tommy Jarvis digging up Jason’s corpse to make sure he’s dead. He is, but a stray lightning bolt – and some movie magic bullshit – resurrects Jason as an unkillable, super strong uber-slasher. So begins an entertaining romp in which Jason takes advantage of his superpowers to rip people asunder, all while the cast quips and even delivers a gag or two to camera. Look, Jason Lives isn’t a good movie but it’s a fun movie, and for a sixth entry that ain’t bad. Briskly paced with some decent kills, it leaves Jason alive but trapped under the lake, where he stays for two long years.
Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood (1988) dir: John Carl Buechler
The seventh Friday the 13th was originally conceived as a crossover with Nightmare On Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger, however negotiations fell through until later (see Freddy vs. Jason). Regardless, The New Blood kept with the spooky premise, pitching a “Carrie vs Jason” concept that works well, on paper. See, the problem with an unkillable superbeast is nothing’s any threat to it, hence getting a teenager with telekinetic powers to face Jace. The results are… middling. Gore has been trimmed right down (due mainly to the MPAA coming down hard on horror flicks in the States), the kills are bland and although Jason’s behind-the-mask makeup is looking suitably gruesome, the cat just isn’t all that scary anymore. The increasing use of gimmicks to sweeten the pot further illustrated how stale the series was starting to become.
Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) dir: Rob Hedden
Oof. Jason Takes Manhattan could be retitled Jason Piss Farts About in a Vancouver Estuary And Spends About Two Scenes in Times Square and you’d have a much better idea of what’s in store. Directed with a certain amount of style by Rob Hedden, the film is nonetheless a bit of a dud. The kills are moderately entertaining but there’s a pervasive sense of cheapness to the outing and little time is actually spent in Manhattan. This chapter also features one of the series’ most baffling endings with a chase into the sewers that are, apparently, “flooded with toxic waste every night at midnight” just like in the real New York? This insane conceit is then used to kill Jason who transforms into a child and then dies of… something? Deadset, this flick is great for mockery with friends and little else, although Jase does punch a bloke’s head right off which, you know, is not without its charms.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1994) dir: Adam Marcus
So, the franchise took the longest break between chapters since it began and came back with a new entry not even called Friday the 13th! This feels somewhat appropriate because this chapter barely features Jason. Oh, it certainly starts off well enough, with our Jase being lured into a trap (a sexy naked trap, natch) whereupon he’s blown to pieces before the opening titles! Then, for reasons that continue to baffle all these years later, it’s revealed that Jason is actually a body-hopping demon who leaps from one bad actor to another, possessing and killing more folks before moving on. It’s a mess. The story is potentially fun but too goofy to really engage, and easter eggs and references to The Evil Dead do nothing to help. The only truly memorable moment is the ending where Jason’s hockey mask is dragged to Hell by the razor gloved paw of Freddy Krueger! Said moment doesn’t really get a pay off until 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, however.
Jason X (2001) dir: James Isaac
At this stage it’s pretty clear that the Friday series didn’t know what to do with itself. And as goofy as “Jason in space” sounds, it’s at least an attention-grabbing conceit. Mostly set in the year 2455 (!) Jason is resurrected by some future idiots and gets up to his old tricks. Cue: a bunch of similar nonsense in spaaaaaaace. Look, Jason X isn’t a good film but it has some fun kills and one legitimately great VR gag. You can appreciate its intent even if the execution is lacking and though that sounds like (very) faint praise there is enjoyment to be found here, certainly more so than one might expect in the tenth chapter of a series long, long past its prime. Ultimately, however, there aren’t many places to go after space and that meant there was only one more logical step to take…
Freddy vs. Jason (2003) dir: Ronny Yu
It finally happened! The long-awaited battle between two of horror’s biggest names! So, was the long wait worth it? Eeeeeeeeh. Look, Ronny Yu directed a beautiful-looking film here and there are certainly some fun moments but overall the production is a bit of a mess. Not scary enough to be pure horror, not funny enough to be a horror comedy and too poorly written to offer much in the way of narrative thrills. It’s always good to see Robert Englund don the Freddy makeup and when the two titans of terror finally thrown down it’s pretty great, albeit too brief, but the rest of what’s on offer is a bit average. It’s sad to think such a long-gestating project ended up being a bit mediocre but such is the reality of long running horror franchises.
Friday the 13th (2009) dir: Marcus Nispel
Six years later, Friday the 13th was rebooted by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes company. The result is a technically competent but rather tepid rehash of the series’ biggest moments, but despite mostly negative reviews it made quite a lot of money at the box office. Curiously, this slab of cash didn’t translate into a modern sequel and we’ve yet to have another adventure with Jason. This could be due to the vagaries of various legal battles regarding the rights of the series, or perhaps a somewhat misjudged perception that the public at large have stopped caring about Jason or slashers in general. Regardless, after the massive success of Friday the 13th: The Game and deserved critical acclaim heaped upon sister slasher, Halloween (2018), one suspects it won’t be too long before the hockey mask is dusted off and the machete sharpened. Until then we’ll always have this messy, fascinating series.