It’s time to take the bloody piss: in the first installment of this series based on new columnist Justin Harlan’s idea “Why Your Favorite Horror Movie Sucks,” we’re tackling the revered slasher franchise that many seem to think is the pinnacle of horror: Friday the 13th. Here we join Justin, already in progress:
Beginning with the 1980 film that Sean Cunningham didn’t even originally really want to make, the Friday the 13th series is known to its fans for its great kills and ominous slasher villain. However, those of us in the know understand that “great kills” can’t save bad movies…and these are indeed bad movies.
One could argue that the original was unique and trendsetting. The argument that it was unique is laughable, albeit it’s undeniable that the one-two punch of 1979’s (also highly overrated) Halloween and 1980’s Friday the 13th set trends. Of course, so did Limp Bizkit, the Backstreet Boys, and whomever brought tube tops back in the ’90s. In other words, not all trends are good ones, and the cut-and-paste-by-numbers slasher film is not exactly a trend that should be celebrated. But, rather than simply reading me bash the film over and over, let’s briefly look at the ten films in the series (not including the remake) film by film.
Before reading this, you should probably consider that this is just one man’s opinion. One well educated, handsome, extremely intelligent man with impeccable tastes, but still….
Friday the 13th (1980)
As noted above, this “gem” deserves some credit, but let’s not go overboard. With some style and concept nods that Halloween did just a year before and more than just a little bit of story lifted from Psycho, Friday the 13th is interesting enough…I guess. Sure the story isn’t wholly fresh or exciting, but the kills are bloodier and more fun than what came before in the slasher/proto-slasher world. Of course, even the gore and viscera wasn’t new, as the Italians were easily as gross and bloody before Cunningham and crew had ever picked up a pen, much less a camera. Nonetheless, there is some fun to be had in the kills of the 1980 film, especially considering it had a budget of only approximately $700k.
The killer mom thing was done before and in more interesting ways, though one could – perhaps – give this film credit for “flipping the script” a bit, as obvious as executing such a flip would be. Nonetheless, besides bringing the levels of gore typically only present in the Eurohorror to the U.S., the film also launched the (over)use of summer camps and the woods as settings for slashers and Horror-At-Large. Seems like the plan to use an empty camp in Northwestern NJ because it was super cheap paid off in the long run, though I can assert that the camp itself isn’t all that scary, as I grew up in Jersey and stayed there on several occasions.
All said and done, I am okay admitting this first installment is somewhat okay, but what comes after is pretty awful and dull…well…we’ll get there soon enough.
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
I get it, this is where Jason becomes the actual killer. But tell me what else is different. I mean, we think it was him through most of the first film before we find out about his crazy ass mom, right? Same formula, small tweak. Blah blah blah. Moreover, why the hell would anyone go to that camp after what happened in the first film? In real life, that place would be firebombed. Then again, it’s not real life and I get that.
At least in the next film we get the iconic masked murderer. Here, we get a dude with a sack over his head. So, the style is lacking, to say the least. And, without some style and pizzazz, what the hell does this film even boast for itself?
You don’t have to take my word for it. The critics trashed this one, even many who appreciated the first. I’m not really one to hold Roger Ebert in the highest of regards, but he was dead-on when he said “…about two dozen movies a year feature a mad killer going berserk, and they’re all about as bad as this one.” It’s generic, it’s poorly made, and, well, it’s a pretty great representation of what this franchise is.
Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
Released in 3D and premiering the iconic hockey mask Jason look, this one did well. It bumped E.T. from the number one spot in the nation after the little lovable alien’s historic reign at #1. Hell, it was even the second highest grossing horror film of the year, behind only Poltergeist. Even with these important factors, it’s still basically another retread of what came before it.
Some really interesting writing on sexual trauma and its affects on the character of Chris is out there. There are some really interesting essays on this film about this theme and others, notably from Carol Clover and Jim Harper. Yet, that writing is significantly more interesting than the film itself. This film is considered by these and other scholars to be one of the franchise’s most violent films, but that only serves as proof of one of the many theses here: good kills can’t save bad movies. This one is another boring film with a few crazy, bloody moments in between extreme dullness and predictability.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
The “final chapter” comes in 1984…ahead of six more sequels, a crossover, and a remake. Sadly, so many other horror franchises did the same thing after not learning from Friday the 13th – Saw: The Final Chapter, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, etc.
Outside of the fact that this film is false advertising and is simply just the beginning of a series of truly forgettable installments of the franchise that make the first three look like Shakespeare, it does – at least – feature Corey Feldman. That must count for something, right?
Friday the 13th: Who Cares? The Next Four are Interchangeable
From the 5th through the 8th films, I cannot muster the strength to even tell you too much about why they suck. It honestly should be extremely evident, but they are most all the same damn thing. There’s one that’s a bit extra sleazy, so that’s kinda fun at times. There’s one that takes place in NYC that I was told was really fun, but I forget everything about it despite watching it for the first time a month or two ago. I think there’s a fun fist fight or something and I think it’s supposed to humorous, but I don’t remember laughing.
If one of these installments is your favorite of the series or – even worse – your favorite horror film altogether, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to offend you, but I honestly think there’s something wrong and you may want to get some help.
Friday the 13th: The Two Films Everyone(?) Hates
Whenever you see any Friday the 13th fans list their definitive rankings, two films are uniformly near or at the bottom: Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X. It probably should surprise no one that these two are my favorite films in this series by a large margin.
The 9th film in the series, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, stupidly and incorrectly uses the word “final” again. Thankfully, that’s the only thing it shares with the boring 4th installment. It really doesn’t feature the Jason Voorhees character in a literal sense. Instead, it decides to go a different supernatural route of Jason’s spirit traveling from one body to another. While the results of this idea are a bit mixed, the film has one thing that the bulk of the series isn’t interested in: ambition. One of the more ambitious films in the series, it is refreshing after watching the same film over and over and over and…well, you get the point. Fans and critics alike kinda hated this one. They aren’t necessarily wrong, but when put up against the dullness that is this franchise, it shines a bit brighter.
The 10th film, Jason X, is hated by a lot of folks, too. It’s in space. It’s satirical. It’s meta. It’s really just better than anything else in the franchise. I suspect the idea of a Friday the 13th film’s willingness to slay most of the franchise’s sacred cows in a single film really makes a lot of diehards butthurt, but it’s the only film in this series with any really rewatch ability. The others all feel the same: stale and repetitive. When Jason X repeats, it does so to poke fun.
While the film has its advocates among series diehards who claim it pokes its fun in love, most seem unable and unwilling to accept the film. This is sad because it’s the only film in the franchise worth our time. In fact, it’s what I’ll be watching this Friday the 13th and I’ll be having a blast.
Watch These Instead
While the bulk of this series suffer from sameness (much like the bulk of the several other major genre franchises and, more recently, most of the MCU films), I have no issue recommending Jason X for anyone’s Friday the 13th viewing pleasure. However, if you really want that Summer slasher feeling, you should watch Club Dread instead. It succeeds not only as a fun horror comedy, but also as a legit slasher film in ways that this series can only imagine. And, if you must stick to the woods, Sleepaway Camp at least has the beautiful Felissa Rose and her iconic shock scene.
No matter which you choose, it’s pretty safe to say that Friday the 13th sucks.