A Face Only a Mother Could Love: A Friday the 13th Retrospective

The Friday the 13th film franchise has become the face of the horror genre over the years. Jason Voorhees’ infamous hockey mask is so prevalent in pop culture that it has been lampooned by just about everyone. As of this writing, the series has twelve films to its name almost to the lucky 13, which is a lot for any franchise. So, let’s take a deeper look back at just how these films have become so popular.

Friday the 13th

The original Friday the 13th premiered in the summer of 1980. Directed by Sean S. Cunningham and written by Victor Miller, these two upstarts were looking to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, which had released in 1978 to rave reviews.

The film centers around a group of camp counselors who are prepping for the re-opening of Camp Crystal Lake. In the midst of drug, sex, and alcohol-fueled fun, we learn that this camp has quite a history behind it. In the summer of 1957 a young mentally challenged and physically disfigured boy named Jason Voorhees drowned in the lake. A year later two camp counselors were brutally murdered and the camp was closed.

Back in the present, our new camp counselors are slowly being killed off one by one by a mysterious figure. The audience would be made to believe that Jason himself is behind the killings, but in a shocking twist, it’s revealed that the murderer is actually Jason’s mother, Pamela Voorhees. Pamela explains that she blames the counselors for her son’s death, as they were off having sex when he drowned. She vows to keep the camp from re-opening at all costs. By the end of the film, the one remaining counselor decapitates Mrs. Voorhees with her own machete.

The aspect of the killer ultimately being a woman was such a great twist at the time, and it still is to this day. The one problem this lead to was that the film was such a hit that the studio wanted to make a sequel. How could this be accomplished with the original killer dead and buried? Luckily, they came to a decision that ultimately changed the face of the series.

The First Two Sequels

In the second film, it was revealed that Jason never truly drowned in the lake all of those years ago. He survived and grew into an adult who lived in the woods surrounding Camp Crystal Lake. This narrative doesn’t really make sense at the time, but as the series goes on we learn that Jason has superhuman strength, regenerative powers, and near invulnerability. It’s never quite explained how he ended up with these powers, but it just adds to his charm.

If I have to tell the truth, the first three films in the series are basically the same movie. A new set of camp counselors arrive and chaos ensues. Only, in Friday the 13th Part 2 and Friday the 13th Part 3, Jason is actually the one doing the killing. Jason doesn’t even get his signature hockey mask until the third film, which to its credit, was presented in 3D for ultimate camp (pun intended) factor.

The Final Chapter?

It wasn’t until the fourth film, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (ha! Yeah, right), that we begin to see the narrative get shaken up a bit. The plot still takes place in the area surrounding Camp Crystal Lake, but the main cast of characters is made up of a family that happens to live close by. Jason goes on his typical killing spree, but in the end, he is taken out by young Tommy Jarvis (hi, Corey Feldman!) in a brutal act of self-defense.

The next two films, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives focuses on Tommy Jarvis as an adult dealing with the aftermath of his actions in The Final Chapter. We learn in A New Beginning that Tommy was so traumatized by his encounter with Jason that he ended up in a mental institution. This is actually the only film to not feature Jason. It turns out that Tommy really did manage to kill him at the end of The Final Chapter. Instead, the killer is revealed to be a copycat, a fellow patient at the halfway house that Tommy is staying at.

Jason Lives is a fun romp from start to finish. As someone who watched the later Friday the 13th films first before going back to watch the originals, this film felt closest to the Jason I know and love. Jason is in top form, the kills are over the top, and the gore is ridiculous. I would probably have to say that this ranks up there as one of my favorite sequels. I’ll get to my other favorites in good time.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood once again takes place around Camp Crystal Lake. This time Jason happens to go up against a young woman with telekinetic abilities. The film itself is really nothing to rave about, but that added twist has earned the film the nickname Jason vs. Carrie. Now, that’s a showdown I would actually love to see!

So Long Camp Crystal Lake

The next film is the first to truly venture outside of the infamous abandoned campsite. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan follows Jason as he hitches a ride on a cruise ship bound for New York City. Sadly, the majority of the film takes place on said cruise ship due to budget restraints, and you only get to see glimpses of New York during the final act. Truly a wasted opportunity, as I would have enjoyed seeing Jason wreak havoc in the Big Apple.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is interesting for a number of reasons. It adds to the franchise lore, but be it in a ridiculous way. It turns out that Jason is actually a demon! When his body is blown to smithereens in the opening act we discover that he has the ability to possess other people. He travels from host to host in his quest to find the perfect replacement. We discover that Jason actually has a half-sister, and her infant granddaughter is exactly who Jason is looking to set up shop in. In the end Jason is defeated by a magical dagger and is literally dragged to hell. For fans of a certain other nightmarish slasher franchise, there’s a nice little cameo to hint at what’s to come.

Space: The Final Frontier

The Final Friday debuted in 1989, and we wouldn’t get another Friday the 13th movie until 2001. And, oh, what a movie it was! Jason X is actually one of my favorite of the sequels. It takes the basis of the rest of the Friday the 13th films and ramps it up to 11. Jason’s back, but this time it’s nearly 500 years in the future and he’s in SPACE! I recommend this film simply for the pure ridiculous aspect of the plot and the unintentional laugh out loud moments.

While I may enjoy Jason X, it would appear that I am in the minority. The film did not do that well financially, and critics were not especially a fan. We would have to wait until 2003 for the next installment, but many will tell you it was well worth the wait.

Freddy vs. Jason

Freddy vs. Jason was a film a long time in the making. Many people involved with both franchises wanted to bring these two powerhouses together sooner. In fact, they had started bouncing the idea around as early as 1987! However, it took a long time for the film to get off the ground due to licensing issues, lack of support from the studios, and problems with the script (in fact, they would go through eighteen unused scripts and over a dozen screenwriters).

When the film did finally get made, it was a massive success. In its opening weekend, it finished first at the box office grossing $36.4 million dollars. Critics were not really a fan, but loyal enthusiasts of the two franchises loved seeing these horror icons battle it out on the big screen. I greatly enjoy this film and I love when it goes into heavy rotation during the Halloween season. The story is fun, the gore is outlandish, and both Freddy and Jason are at their prime.

The Reboot

In 2009 we were introduced to the twelfth film in the series simply dubbed Friday the 13th. And it was actually a reboot! The idea for this film started out as an origin story but was later developed as a retelling of the first three Friday the 13th films. This installment is alright but slightly forgettable. The main aspect that I remember is that it stars Jared Padalecki of Supernatural fame. While the reception to the film was mainly lackluster, it did well financially and actually broke two records: the highest earning opening day for the franchise and the highest earning opening weekend for any horror film at that time.

Things have been relatively quiet on the Friday the 13th front for the past eight years. There were rumors that the CW was looking into developing a Friday the 13th TV series, but that was announced dead in the water this past summer. However, there is a Friday the 13th video game slated for release in October 2016.

What’s Next?

It’s truly incredible that this film series has been going on for over three decades at this point. While these films are the furthest thing from high art, people flock to the theaters to see them in droves. I suspect that it’s due to the fact that we enjoy seeing Jason act out these violent killings. When the majority of the characters never, if rarely, have any redeeming qualities we usually end up rooting for the bad guy. Especially when you have a character such as Jason who has a sympathetic past.

It’s hard to say where exactly they’ll continue to take the series into the future, but I think the sky’s the limit. Perhaps time traveling Jason? Jason fighting the dinosaurs? Jason battling Nazis? Or perhaps someday we’ll get the much desired Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash (of the Evil Dead series) film that fans have been clamoring for. Whatever is to come, I look forward to it with open arms.

What’s your take on Friday the 13th films? Are you looking forward to future installments? Let us know in the comments!




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