“He neglected to mention that, downtown, they call this place ‘Camp Blood’…”
John Carpenter’s Halloween is, without question, my favorite horror movie of all time, but its rough-hewn demon spawn, Friday the 13th, actually qualifies as my favorite horror series. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, in fact, about what a surprising little swath of my adolescence and teenage years was given over to fuzzy but fond memories of watching an unstoppable killer stalk nubile teenagers around the grounds of a New Jersey summer camp. For heaven’s sake, why, might you ask? I don’t rightly know. I have always felt an instinctive attraction to things “other”, of course, and have, as a result, found myself on the defensive side of more arguments about “harmful” art and censorship and selective morality than I can properly recount (or care to). Funnily enough, I have a memory of milling about, at (approximately) the age of nine, in the upstairs of my grandparents’ grand, gothic house with two beloved cousins, ten and eight respectively, when one of them announced, “we should play Friday the 13th!” I was nonplussed. Um, what was Friday the 13th exactly? Sounded like a very strange game to me, though they were sure excited. The two brothers proceeded to argue for a little while over the parameters of the game, none of which seemed much concerned with scenarios or rules or the like, but rather boiled down to a single, emphatic statement: “I wanna be Jason!” At this point, remember, I still had no conception of Friday the 13th whatsoever, but my mental gears were definitely turning. My cousins were already invested in this idea, and I could see that “being Jason”, whatever the heck that entailed, was championship strategy indeed.
Shrewdly, I decided to break the tie. “I wanna be Jason!” I suddenly interjected. The two looked at me dumbly for a moment. I don’t remember what we ended up playing that night, but it sure wasn’t Friday the 13th. Nevertheless, the die was cast.
Let us briefly review, up front, what we know to expect from a Friday the 13th film, shall we? Horny, attractive teenagers flock to party at an infamous lake and, in the process, are observed, stalked, and dispatched in creative, creepy and occasionally scary ways by an imposing masked killer. Following a shocking reveal of the preceding carnage, the killer engages in a far-ranging final battle with the lone survivor(s) and is eventually, albeit temporarily, neutralized. The end. Friday the 13th is the opposite of high art. It is not intended to be edifying. It’s not intended to be inclusive. It occupies the far reaches of genre filmmaking, and swims in the deep end of a very disreputable public pool. We are not splitting the atom here, nor curing cancer, nor reinventing the wheel. That’s something to make peace with before entering the kind of foolhardy discussion in which I’m about to engage. Otherwise, I respectfully advise you swim somewhere other than Crystal Lake. There are large variables throughout the series to be found in terms of acting, characterization, craft, scene setting, bloodletting, and effective suspense (read on for much, much more), but movies like this are derisively called “formulaic” for a reason: because, at least on the level being pitched, the formula works like a charm, and the critic, be they of the film or social variety, is probably none too happy at that fact. Whatever side of the fence you happen to land on, you can take solace in the fact A) you belong there naturally and B) you have lots of company.
Since the advent of motion pictures, people have crowded into theaters to see their nightmares contextualized on screen, the better to face them head on. Friday the 13th has its roots even further back, in the spooky campfire yarns and cautionary tales told back in the days when folks had to invent their own fun. Many fans see horror cinema as a pressure release valve, like a roller coaster ride, some as a vehicle for true catharsis, while others (like me) just happily splash around in the mud puddles of dark fantasy, grinning at how stark, incredible and/or absurd it all is. We are lovers of both convention and invention. Whatever your fixed opinion on the subject, please rest assured that you are correct. If you’re not already a fan of the Friday the 13th series, or horror movies in general, I’m certainly not here to convert you. Instead, I offer my winking congratulations on reading this far despite being such a fierce upholder and standard bearer of boring normalcy. What I am here to do is celebrate, for better and worse (and there’s more of the latter than the former to be had over the course of these twelve movies), and in fairly exhaustive detail (as is my history and prerogative), one of the inescapable foundational texts of my cinematic youth. And, yes, I said that with a straight face. Let somebody else claim crushing guilt over his or her pleasures. I love movies, always have, and I know they can’t all be Bergman or Ozu or Wilder. Sometimes it’s just much more fun to be Jason.
Jason Voorhees’ traumatized rival determines to destroy his body, but his attempt unwittingly launches another killing spree…
- Year: 1986 (act 6)
- Director: Tom McLaughlin
- Setting: Lake Forest Green – camp, police station, cemetery, town (formerly Crystal Lake, NJ)
- Tone: Self-aware
- Nutshell: The Friday the 13th series was a horror powerhouse in the early to mid-1980s, unleashing five uncomfortably profitable movies in as many years and seeing its marquee villain morph from spectacular cameo to artisan to rock star before being killed off on purpose at the height of his popularity. In 1986, following the mercenary miscalculation of A New Beginning, the series was in something of a rut, and stood at a crossroads. Producers had slaughtered their cash cow in hopes of making a huge splash at the box office, yet stumbled in his absence, finding him way easier to approximate than replace. Fresh perspective was needed, and came in the guise of Tom McLaughlin, a long-haired liberal arts professor type with the look of someone plotting three moves ahead at all times. What audiences missed, obviously, was their fallen avatar, and McLaughlin’s first order of business, after prior brain trustees had gone to such lengths to both kill the fiend and confirm his death, was to bring him back. In doing so, he provided the series with its first real deviation from form, but his contribution also had an elusive quality foreign to many of the deviants that would follow: it was just a really good movie. Tommy Jarvis, who first slayed Jason Voorhees at age 11 and then an unconvincing doppelganger at age 18, returns to Crystal Lake (renamed “Forest Green” in his absence as a way of wallpapering over the lingering tragedy) to finish Jason once and for all, by digging up his grave and destroying his body (never mind that Part V made a point of saying he’d already been cremated). At the moment he should strike the match, toss it and stand back, however, Tommy instead attacks the exposed corpse in a fit of post-traumatic rage, leaving a wrought iron spindle from the cemetery gates embedded right in the space where Jason’s heart should be. A storm has rolled in by this point to match the one roiling inside Tommy, and a timely lightning strike revives the formerly late Mr. Voorhees, a la Frankenstein’s monster.Thus begins one of the most top to bottom fun horror movies I’ve ever seen, as Jason stomps off toward his ancestral home to resume hostilities and Tommy, knowing full well of what his nemesis is capable, rushes to the local police station, where he immediately gets on the wrong side of the no-nonsense sheriff and into the good graces of his rebellious daughter, Megan. McLoughlin imbues the film with the spirit of not just Friday the 13th but also the Universal monsters of the 1930s, among others (he even cheekily tips his hat to James Bond during the opening titles), and shoots it full of two things that the horror genre often has in short supply: humor and logic. Tommy engages in a high stakes chess match with local police while Megan and her pals move back onto the lakefront and prepare to welcome in flocks of young campers. Jason stalks the campgrounds as tensions steadily, memorably escalate. Tommy and Megan become first a couple, then a team, and conspire desperately to return Jason to his original watery grave. The film is (only) comparatively light on both sex and violence, but is really none the worse for it, because it also suffers from a surplus, for this series anyway, of creativity. Jason Lives plays off well-established horror tropes years before Scream made it profitable, and ticks so many boxes so expertly that it stands as a sort of rebuke to studio executives who think that horror movies write and craft themselves, and to hot shot film school grads who might think that a nifty hook and a good first draft means you’re absolutely the right guy for the job. McLaughlin, who lapsed back into relative obscurity after Jason Lives proved too esoteric for fans to fully embrace, was the right guy for this job. I love where he took the series, even if wasn’t ever to be an extended stay.
- Cast likeability/relatability: Pretty high. There are no jerks with any appreciable screen time. Megan is a reliable breath of fresh air, and her camp counselor friends all present as bright, halfway decent, somewhat responsible twenty-somethings. It’s fun to watch them struggling to engage their young charges in boring camp activities. Speaking of the legitimate kids, McLoughlin uses them strategically to up the stakes of Jason’s eventual camp invasion but wisely limits the peril they’re subject to, even clearing space for couple of spotlight roles, as with a young insomniac who tries in vain to convince the adults of Jason’s presence then resorts to surprisingly effective last minute prayer when he looms over her bed in the flesh, or with the boy who, hiding under his bed during the film’s climax, asks his friend, “So, what were you going to be when you grew up?” Parts IV-VI comprise, in essence, the “Tommy Jarvis trilogy”, but each movie has a distractingly different take on its hero. In Jason Lives, Tommy is hard to get a full handle on, earnest but shifty, obviously battle-scarred, and not a little reckless, though only to a point (as Megan eventually surprises/surpasses him). It’s a nuanced performance for this kind of movie, indicative of the care McLoughlin has put into its creation. Even Sheriff Garris is essentially a good man and a good cop, someone who is simply overprotective of both his town and his daughter, and not a cardboard villain. When the time comes for him to finally make the right choice, he doesn’t hesitate.
- Notables: Jennifer Cooke, whose Megan was one of the great crushes of my adolescence, also played the grown up and superpowered human/visitor spawn Elizabeth on the original V: The Series. Leading man Thom Matthews starred in one of the decade’s great horror titles, The Return of the Living Dead, as well as its goofy, undercooked sequel. In the series’ first overt incidence of stunt-casting, Jason’s first victim was played by Ron Palilo, better known as Horshack on ‘70s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter. Per IMDb, runaway RV driver Tom Fridley appeared in not one but two of my favorite movies, The Karate Kid and Face/Off, apparently without my knowledge. Alice Cooper doesn’t actually appear in the film but is featured in heavy rotation on its soundtrack.
- Number of kills (minus Jason): 19
- Originality of kills: Business is open. Jason tears Horshack’s beating heart out of his chest, just, you know, to show up front that he’s not messing around (I’d run to the cops too). On the police relations front, he snipes one officer from long range with a metal dart, and later bends Sheriff Garris backwards until his spine snaps, then just keeps going. He also kills groups of two and three at a time with a single machete swipe, which seems (to me) a harmless (except to them) demonstration of skill, though it’ll surely smack to others of showing off. He twists the head of one of Megan’s friends off completely, and pushes another’s face into the wall of an RV bathroom with such force that it leaves a full facial impression, mid-scream, on the exterior. That’s him showing off. Though not technically a kill, perhaps the film’s biggest laugh comes after Jason has run afoul of a group of War Gamers on a corporate retreat and one makes the mistake of shooting him in the chest with a paintball gun.
- Jason Notes: Time in the grave has done wonders for Jason’s skin, which, scaly and cracked, now looks like either overcured leather or tree bark, depending on how the light hits it. Parts VI-VIII can be pretty easily grouped together as the next evolution of Jason’s overall look, post-life/pre-demon, and Jason Lives makes him appear suitably ready for war. The big reveal actually takes place at the movie’s beginning this time, as we’re treated to medium shots of Jason’s cobwebbed, insect-riddled face before lightning strikes and McLoughlin zooms in on his manic, newly opened eye, swimming in a sea of gleefully included crawling maggots. Tommy also brought along Jason’s mask, with the intention to burn it, so that’s handy. Best laid plans, doncha know, snuffed out tragically, like a lit match in a rainstorm.
- Final Word: Original Scream (3.5/4 stars)
A camp counselor’s workshop opens on a New Jersey lake, fatally close to the site of an infamous massacre…
- Year: 1981 (act 2)
- Director: Steve Miner
- Setting: Camp Crystal Lake, NJ
- Tone: Clever
- Nutshell: In the early ‘80s, the 13th brain trustees were still figuring things out on the fly, and having to transition from one memorable villain to an entirely different one must have been a daunting task for them. Friday the 13th Part 2 effectively approximates the look and overall feel of the original, and makes minute but noticeable improvements where they count, particularly in terms of pacing and characterization. Camp Crystal Lake was apparently condemned following the carnage of the original movie, roped off with police tape and given back to the elements, the community’s shame hiding, unspoken of, in plain sight. The chief takeaway of the Friday the 13th series to me has always been something to the effect of “Learn from the mistakes of others, or else: SEQUEL”, and, sure enough, soon an attractive, defiantly 1980s-looking menagerie of counselors in training has sprung up on the outskirts of the infamous camp, and an ominous figure is watching, hunting, and picking them off, one kid at a time. Not having any particular reason to hide the killer’s identity (or gender) frees him up to be more active and menacing this time around, even personified as a pair of disembodied feet or a slouching shadow, though Miner still cannily delays the full reveal until just the right moment, as love-struck Vickie investigates the wrong bedroom and totally misreads what lurks beneath the covers. The legend of Jason Voorhees is discussed in detail twice, once around the campfire and again amongst the movie’s three principals at a nearby bar. Her boyfriend dismisses the tale of the feral man-boy wreaking vengeance on trespassers for his mother’s death as a harmless scary story with only a passing basis in truth, but Ginny Field is convinced there’s much more to the legend than just empty words. Upon their return to camp at the end of a dark and stormy night, the two will receive the worst kind of confirmation possible. Part 2 is the clearest ever distillation of the series’ winning formula, smarter and stronger than its predecessor, and scarier than any of its successors.
- Cast likeability/relatability: Well above average. Amy Steel’s Ginny is, by far, the series’ best heroine, plucky and intelligent, empathetic, resourceful and relatable. I especially enjoy how you can see her mind working in tense moments (for that matter, Jason as presented here is, though outsmartable, still nowhere near the ineffectual battering ram he’d become. Perhaps he was still growing.). Stu Charno’s Ted, fearsome player of both practical jokes and handheld video games, is a massive upgrade over original series oddball Ned, and I always loved the fact that his good-natured determination to have just one more beer actually keeps him away from camp while his friends are all fighting for their lives, making him, to my knowledge, the only principal in the entire series to have never come face to face with any killer, Jason or otherwise. I also like how the film intimates Ginny’s boyfriend, head counselor Paul, is not quite the pompous stuffed shirt he initially presents, allowing him an agreeable balance of successfully showing off and being shown up. Though their relationship is tragically cut short just as it’s blossoming, sunny, fresh-faced Vickie and Mark still make a fairly adorable, halfway believable couple. In fact, every piece of teenaged cannon fodder here with more than a line of dialogue is allowed at least 1.5 dimensions, though that does little to dissuade their impending doom.
- Notables: Next to none, as befits the lean and ragged sequel to a surprise early ‘80s horror hit, though the great Amy Steel also appeared in genre favorite April Fool’s Day, and Stu Charno (Ted, see, was the original “boy who lived”) had recognizable bit parts in ‘80s cult films Once Bitten, Just One of the Guys and Christine.
- Number of kills (minus Jason): 10
- Originality of kills: Alice, having survived the original 13th, has an impromptu reunion with what remains of Mrs. Voorhees at the end of the overlong pre-title sequence, then receives a lovely ice pick from her son as a parting gift. As with the original, the emphasis here is still on atmosphere and some semblance of suspense, so the Create-a-Kill department is in its formative stages. Nevertheless, there are two serious contenders: 1) Jason walks in on two lovers and shish kebabs them with a spear, mid-afterglow. 2) Wheelchair-bound Mark, who it should be said is allowed to be a halfway compelling character here rather than a simple prop, is hit with a machete while waiting for his date on the big house porch, and then careens dramatically down a long, Exorcist-style staircase, backwards, in the driving rain. While I find the geography dubious (Why had we, to my knowledge, not really glimpsed that staircase before, especially given its apparent extreme proximity to the front porch?), not to mention its physics (The camera makes Jason appear to be creeping up behind Mark. If Mark is hit from behind [he isn’t], why would he carom backwards? If Jason hits Mark in his face while standing behind him, shouldn’t Jason impede Mark’s backward momentum a little? If Jason hits Mark in the face while standing beside or in front of him…then what the hell, is he just INVISIBLE?!), the sequence is startling, tragic, and memorable, like Brenda’s overheated death scene in the original. That’s horror, people!
- Jason Notes: It’s the bag-head! It’s the bag-head! Jason’s first grown-up, landlocked appearance in the series is also the only one to not feature his iconic hockey mask, but that’s totally okay. I think the burlap sack he wears in Part 2 is, in some ways, far more unsettling than the mask, though he, like Alice, shows a perhaps trendy but still unfortunate preference for bib overalls. As a practical matter, I’ll never fully understand why Farmer Jason only cut one eyehole in the bag, but as an aesthetic concern, it works marvelously. The final reveal of his face is appropriately discomfiting: swollen, misshapen, with bulging eyes, a crooked, gaping mouth, and patches of stringy, long hair. Also okay. Though Jason, in an impressive but entirely premature bid at HGTV stardom, had fashioned together a sort of ramshackle “Fort Voorhees” in a wooded clearing out of sheets of plastic, discarded lumber, car parts and love, I didn’t notice that it contained any reflective surfaces.
- Final Word: Gritty prototype (3/4 stars)
Twenty-one years after a child’s death helped shut down a summer camp, its new owner and employees face the wrath of a mysterious killer…
- Year: 1980 (act 1)
- Director: Sean S. Cunningham
- Setting: Camp Crystal Lake, NJ
- Tone: Naïve
- Nutshell: The massive financial success of the independent horror classic Halloween caught Hollywood off guard in 1978 and rewrote the rules for low budget filmmakers across North America. One such inspired rogue was Sean S. Cunningham, a production veteran of Wes Craven’s notorious The Last House on the Left. He immediately set out to make his own under radar horror film (a “potboiler”, in his own words), and determined that translating Halloween’s formula – attractive teenagers have fun then pay for it at the hands of a mysterious killer – to a more novel setting (a long-abandoned summer camp reopened in spite of its infamous history) would prove the path of both least resistance and greatest potential return. Cunningham actually seized upon the film’s potent title before he or writer Victor Miller had even dreamed of Camp Crystal Lake, and ran ads hyping the movie before a scene had been shot. That sense of daring served Cunningham well in piecing together both the very specific mythology of Friday the 13th – that shadowy villain Pamela Voorhees was, in fact, an insane woman wreaking retroactive vengeance over the negligent death by drowning of her special needs son Jason twenty years earlier, when he was a picked-on boy at summer camp – and the film’s raison d’etre, which was to (attempt to) place Halloween’s spectacular sustained level of suspense into an environment where deaths could be rendered in graphic detail.Though on the screen it has its fair share of clunky and uneven elements (Halloween‘s supremacy remains yet unchallenged), on a technical level, buoyed by Tom Savini’s bleeding edge makeup effects, Cunningham’s directorial competence and abiding sense of patience (if not necessarily restraint), and series secret weapon Harry Manfredini’s memorable Psycho-inspired score, Friday the 13th proved to be a cut above its competition. The film’s box office success opened the floodgates for imitators and peers alike, and in a neat bit of inversion, finally inspired production to start in earnest on Halloween II. The comparatively elegant Halloween may have established the rules of the slasher genre, but Friday the 13th codified them, and definitively named the game. From the second the camera assumed the killer’s POV, observing an unsuspecting couple from afar, or, better still, from the first time the killer’s jagged breathing (“chi-chi-chi, ha-ha-ha”, or, as some would later claim, “ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma”) ever echoed through theater speakers and into an audience’s psyche, Friday the 13th was special. And then young Jason, rotting and implacable, emerged from the lake to drag the last survivor out of her canoe and underneath the water. Audiences screamed with shock and delight, Alice awoke seconds later in the hospital, frantic and disoriented, and chilled at the thought that the boy from her nightmare “was still there”. This genie would never be put back in its bottle.
- Cast likeability/relatability: Prototypical “final girl” Alice is obviously one of the series’ better heroines, cheerful and outwardly demure but possessed of surprising inner strength. First victim Annie is an amiable chatterbox right up to the point where her ride makes a fateful missed turn. Mischievous but level-headed Brenda is a warm, steady presence. Resident smartass Ned is, of course, terribly annoying, though he is the second counselor to bite the dust, which is at least minor compensation for the time wasted. It’s somewhat telling that, despite the thunderstorm, conspicuous loss of power and psychopathic killer on the loose, few if any of Ned’s peers seem troubled by, or even cognizant of, his absence. Lovers Jack and Marcie are attractive and inoffensive, as archetypes of this sort should be, and are really only notable because one of them happens to be Kevin Bacon in an early role. This makes him, in essence, the Johnny Depp of Friday the 13th, or, more accurately, makes Johnny Depp the Kevin Bacon of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
- Notables: Well, Big Momma V. Betsy Palmer was a working Broadway and TV actress from the 1950s on, starring with Henry Fonda and Jimmy Cagney in 1955’s Mister Roberts. But really, it’s all about the Bacon, isn’t it?
- Number of kills: 10
- Originality of kills: Not at all high. Everybody’s body gets a star turn eventually, many of them presenting slit throats, but in real time Cunningham splits the difference between showing and insinuating, which proves a surprisingly effective strategy. Den mother Brenda gets the harshest and most affecting demise, as she follows a little girl’s cries for help out into the rainy dark, then, terrified, is accosted by a blinding bank of floodlights with the killer lurking, unseen, behind them (thankfully she dies off-screen). Mrs. Voorhees gets her first of many gold stars for patiently waiting under Bacon’s bed long enough for he and his beloved to finish having sex and split up before stabbing him (upward, through the mattress!) with an arrow, later dispatching his love with an axe to the head. Everyone’s favorite mom is eventually the beneficiary of effects savant Tom Savini’s piece de resistance, when mousy Alice, operating at the dizzying height of realism, decapitates her with a single swing of a rusty machete.
- Jason Notes: Not technically applicable, although Savini’s makeup job on the mossy pre-pubescent Jason contributed mightily to cementing the character’s last minute reveal as one of the iconic moments in modern horror history. I offer instead a few words in praise of Pamela Voorhees, devoted, demented single mother. Betsy Palmer plays Mrs. V sans ego or restraint, as a woman teetering on the ragged edge of sanity at all times, a veritable carnival of toothy grins and dramatic outbursts – not only repeatedly affecting her dead child’s voice but responding to him as if he was in the room with her – so histrionic and tightly wound that the very act of drawing her next breath might prove sufficient to permanently unmoor her. Cunningham keeps his villain shadowy and technically ambiguous until the film’s final ten minutes, so when the fearsome killer is finally revealed as a backwoods soccer mom, it just makes her prodigious feats of solo strength to date (hanging bodies from trees, hurling bodies through windows, nailing bodies to cabin doors using naught but hand-wielded arrows) all the more impressive, though enthusiasm inevitably dips somewhat at the spectacle of a 20-year-old and a 50-year-old engaged in a life and death slap fight. Palmer may cut a ridiculous figure but she also makes a fairly unforgettable impression, chewing enough scenery in ten minutes of screen time to make up for the eighty from which she was technically absent. It’s a gutsy, literally show-stopping performance, one to which all subsequent insane horror mothers owe a debt of gratitude, or at least acknowledgement.
- Final Word: Camp fun (3/4 stars)
Notorious killer Jason Voorhees escapes the morgue and resumes his murderous ways at Camp Crystal Lake…
- Year: 1984 (act 4)
- Director: Joseph Zito
- Setting: Camp Crystal Lake, NJ; A nearby hospital; the stretch of highway connecting them
- Tone: Slutty
- Nutshell: The Final Chapter begins in Part 3’s aftermath, as police and EMTs seek to make some sense out of the previous film’s carnage. Jason is breathlessly introduced for the twelve people who thought they were watching A Passage to India, then taken from the barn where Chris “killed” him to the local morgue, where he recovers from getting the breath knocked out of him with an axe whilst a devil-may-care mortician romances his only half-sensible nurse girlfriend in the foreground. Jason convalesces for a hot minute, springs to life, kills them, and heads back to Crystal Lake, dispatching a banana-loving hitchhiker on the way. Upon his return, he is no doubt surprised to find his lakefront decorated with its second different two-story house in as many days, plus a log cabin beside it, with nary a trace of a barn or a condemned camp in sight. Said cabin is occupied by an adorable family built for future ABC Friday nights, including a mother/daughter tandem who spend each morning casually jogging together despite the fact that, if you string Part 2 and Part 3 together, as circumstantial evidence would seem to strongly suggest, 18 people have been brutally murdered in their backyard over the previous 60 hours. I think I’d go visit my Aunt Millie in Newark. They select option B, however, along with the houseful of randy, oblivious hedonists next door, so Jason really has no choice but to kill them all, see? It’s a tough old world.
- Cast likeability/relatability: Personality plus, for better and worse. By 1984, the garden variety “mad killer” variant of the Slasher subgenre had already pretty much exhausted itself, and The Final Chapter plays like a combination Greatest Hits compilation and Bon Voyage party. The film hedges its bets with the introduction of not one but two oddballs, and in a clear nod toward the beating heart of its burgeoning fan base, makes one of them – an overeager DIY makeup effects wizard played by a not unknown for much longer Corey Feldman – its overt hero. At the opposite pole is put upon Jimmy, whom the inimitable Crispin Glover endearingly plays as perhaps the most earnest, socially awkward person alive. This cast is sex-obsessed even for a Friday the 13th film, and every topic of conversation is some variation on who is/isn’t/was sleeping with person A, who hasn’t ever, who wants to, and either scheming to make it happen or overcompensating after it doesn’t. This single-minded sense of purpose keeps things humming right along, though the flow is occasionally interrupted by the next door mundanity of a single mother, her teenaged daughter (Kimberly Beck as the series’ first ever subpar final girl) and precocious grade school son, or the mysterious stranger they befriend when their car breaks down. As the son, Feldman runs roughshod over almost every scene he occupies through sheer force of personality. He and Glover are wisely kept apart, for fear of quirk overload. The rest of the kids act more or less like kids, conversely petty and welcoming, and get impressive mileage out of their one-track minds.
- Notables: One of the better Z-grade casts in horror history, or at least before filmmakers like Rob Zombie started routinely doing stunt casting as a hobby. The twin headliners – as put upon Jimmy and pint-sized giant slayer Tommy, respectively – are noted eccentric Crispin Glover, best known for his high profile supporting turns in The River’s Edge and the original Back to the Future, and noted attention troll Corey Feldman, best known for his high profile supporting turns in The Goonies, The Lost Boys, and the dregs of reality TV. No offense is intended here to the film’s actual twin headliners, sisters and Playboy Playmates Camila and Carey More. Peter Barton did some serious time later on The Young and the Restless. Horndog mortician Bruce Mahler played accident-prone Fackler in the Police Academy series. Horndog jerkwad Lawrence Monoson was Eric Stoltz’s spineless bestie in Mask. Obligatory “girl who gets naked in the lake” Judie Aronson was Wyatt’s love interest in Weird Science.
- Number of kills (minus Jason): 13
- Originality of kills: An early high water mark. The Final Chapter is beloved by fans, first and foremost, because it marked Tom Savini’s triumphant return to the makeup chair, and, not coincidentally, represented the moment where Jason’s killing acumen finally got turned up to 11. Our hero is no longer merely slitting throats; he’s fully dressing turkeys, getting creative with bone saws and corkscrews, spear guns and multiple applied laws of motion. And don’t look now, kids, because that’s Jason standing patiently outside your second story bedroom window or heroically holding his breath underneath a floating inflatable raft, waiting against all logic for just the right dramatic moment to strike. As ever, his commitment to fulfilling the filmmakers’ vision is inspiring.
- Jason Notes: Savini’s return also ensured that, in essence, the man who brought Jason into the world would be the one to take him out. Before the magic hour commences, Jason still cuts an imposing figure, wearing some approximation of the dark gray work shirt and khakis he sported in Part 3, just wetter and muddier. Most importantly, this is Jason’s first full outing wearing the iconic hockey mask, and it’s already impressively scuffed, complete with a nice, long gash at the top where Chris’ axe blow landed. Jason is unmasked by a deft swing of Trish’s machete during their final encounter at the Jarvis cabin and his visage, initially unseen by us, is enough to make her drop her blade in shock. The Voorhees facial reveal has traditionally been an underwhelming aspect of most every Friday, but Savini makes the most of his spotlight, providing Jason with his most memorable makeup since the original climax in the lake by using that as his inspiration then building and expanding on it. We’d never quite see the likes of this incarnation’s twisted, grinning, utterly ghoulish face again, although many would try and fail. The coup de grace, when Tommy buries the machete in the side of Jason’s head, then stands by in horror as Jason sinks to his knees, falls forward and proceeds to slide slowly down the length of the embedded blade, blood pouring, eyes bulging…well, words can scarcely do it proper justice. Bravo, sir. Bravo.
- Final Word: Viva gluttony (2.5/4 stars)
A hulking, monstrous killer stalks the forest adjoining a vacation lake house…
- Year: 2009 (act 12)
- Director: Marcus Nispel
- Setting: Camp Crystal Lake, NJ
- Tone: Grim
- Nutshell: Certain rare exceptions notwithstanding, I am opposed on principle to remaking classic horror movies, which, to me, are indelibly representative of the time and place in which they were made (in addition to their universal potential to affect willing audiences over the course of years). The pitch black Platinum Dunes reboot of Friday the 13th, released 29 years after the original, is the exception that, for me, proves the rule. Strangely enough, I felt little of the trepidation with F13’09 that I normally do when attempting to build up interest in a horror remake. Instead, I was just excited to see someone embrace the property after years of neglect and mismanagement, always having been of the opinion that the Jason/Crystal Lake concept has so much native flexibility that what you do with it is far less important than how you do it (unfortunately, with this series, intriguing ideas and poor execution tend to walk hand in hand). I was interested to see a dark, unspoiled, definitively 21-century take on the Voorhees legend. And, truth be told, having invested so much time in watching him log miles and tread water in NYC, and Springwood, Ohio, and outer space, and on the sets of a procession of poorly-written and realized grand guignol soap operas, I was just thrilled that Jason was finally getting a proper homecoming.F13’09 operates at the same level of heightened, stylized, overrealistic horror that director Marcus Nispel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot did, but unlike that of its stepbrother, the 13th film series, as source material, contains enough potent mineable ore to, in the right hands, positively inform the finished project, not to mention the reputation of always having been the more objectively “fun” option of the two. F13’09 sets itself up, ambitiously, as a sort of combination reboot, origin story and greatest hits album, and shoehorns in a lot of characters, motivations, funny and/or sexy and/or tense moments, and even some semblance of a plot. The minor “drifter searching for his lost sister” subplot from Final Chapter is smartly updated and expanded, becoming the axis on which the reboot turns. More credence is given to the concept of Jason as a backwoods survivalist than in any movie since Part 2. He makes the old camp his home while haunting the entire lake region, including the lux vacation house at which our kids congregate for the weekend. The film posits that part of the reason Jason gets around the area with such unsettling efficiency is that he has dug/developed a series of underground tunnels. Lots of time is spent negotiating this tunnel system (and also a bravura early set piece in the upstairs of an abandoned house), which allows for several claustrophobic moments and heightens both the terror when Jason is on screen and the lingering unease whenever he is away. At some points, the reboot more closely resembles a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie than Friday the 13th, but, all in all, the tinkering works.
- Cast likeability/relatability: Focus tested and audience-approved, featuring a cross-section of affable, conventionally attractive, mostly Caucasian twenty-somethings awaiting imminent slaughter. A far cry from its primitive ancestors, F13’09 is quality assured to within an inch of its life, and is all the better an experience for it. As the drifter, Jared Padalecki hits all the notes required of him while also looking cute, as do Amanda Righetti as his kidnapped sister, and Danielle Panabaker as the good girl who aids his search in open defiance of her ridiculously smug, rich boyfriend, who Travis Van Winkle plays, perhaps too effectively, as one of douchiest bags to ever inhabit planet Earth. Arlen Escarpeta and Aaron Yoo, through clever writing and natural charisma, transcend their obvious comic relief job descriptions to become my favorite pair of irreverent stoners this side of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Yes, Julianna Guill presents her, ahem, bona fides as the series’ standard-bearer for blonde sexpottery going forward, though she, like pretty much all her peers, establishes first an unfussy and convincing approximate realism and later largely behaves believably in the face of impending death. There’s not much more you can ask for or expect from a Friday the 13th character, really.
- Notables: An overstuffed and overqualified, or at least superficially familiar, list. Padalecki has had two pretty epic television runs on Gilmore Girls and Supernatural. Righetti logged several years on CBS’ The Mentalist. Panabaker has alternated between sporadic TV and genre work since facing Jason, including The Crazies, another recent horror remake that was rather better than it had any right to be. Van Winkle played a different entitled d-bag in the underrated 2006 campus comedy Accepted and had a role in Bay’s Transformers that was unmemorable even for that movie. Willa Ford was a pop singer turned reality TV host in the early Aughts. Ryan Hansen, as magnetic and oblivious here as ever, was a fixture on the late, lamented Starz sleeper Party Down, and, of course, also played the wonderfully smarmy Dick Casablancas in both incarnations of Veronica Mars.
- Number of kills (minus Jason): 15
- Originality of kills: Utilitarian and dependably brutal, as befits a more “realistic” depiction of the backwoods killer, and often in the kind of extreme close quarters that render creativity irrelevant. As if to make a statement, the film’s first two perilous moments come in the form of a burning sleeping bag and an extra-grisly sprung bear trap. Later, Jason reveals rock solid hunter’s credentials, and makes a play at entering the ESPN Outdoor Games, with a long distance arrow shot through the eye of a moving speedboat driver and a perfectly thrown two-handed axe to the back of a fleeing victim. Van Winkle is impaled on the back of a runaway tow-truck, not long after unleashing the best, most unexpected scream of the movie, and maybe the series. The biggest callback to olden times occurs, appropriately, at the lake, as the girlfriend of Jason’s slain speedboat quarry huddles under the pier while he slowly walks above her, visible only through the spaces between board slats. Just when it seems she’s escaped him, a machete drives down through a gap into the top of her head. To extract the blade, Jason pulls upward, actually lifting her out of the water momentarily. Great series moment, worthy of at least a golf clap.
- Jason Notes: The F13’09 Jason keeps his massive physical presence intact, but tones it down to a far less cartoonish mass. This Jason, as performed by stuntman Derek Mears, allows flashes of anger, frustration, and confusion to surface, intermixed with his normal savagery. He lumbers when walking, careens when running, and means business at all times. Wardrobe is underwhelming, but as a combination reboot/origin story I understand the choices. Jason also gets to book time with both the Part 2 bag head and the iconic hockey mask. The bag head, in fact, updated and done as a sort of haphazard head wrap and still with only the single eyehole, if anything, becomes his most hulking and intimidating self yet.
- Final Word: SQUEEGEE! (2.5/4 stars)
All-star serial killers Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger engage in an unlikely and bloody turf war…
- Year: 2003 (act 11)
- Director: Ronny Yu
- Setting: Springwood, OH; Camp Crystal Lake, NJ
- Tone: Spastic
- Nutshell: Despite what one would assume was my predisposition to do so – on account of age, history, etc. – I was never much of a fan of Freddy Krueger. All horror series are hokey on multiple levels, of course – that’s part of the fun – but I just never fully accepted or appreciated the degree to which Krueger became a hack comedian first and a killer second the further the Nightmare on Elm Street series progressed, or the way those movies, which should by rights be thralls to imagination and potentially unforgettable, became, in their way, just as predictable as Jason’s yearly jaunts through the woods had been from the start. It felt to me like the series strayed from the terrifying roots established by Wes Craven in its excellent opening chapter just as soon as it was able. To be fair, Elm Street 1-4 all have their moments, often many of them strung together, and even this degradation in tone just means that Freddy jumped the rails slightly before Jason did. Horror fans couldn’t get enough of these villains, though, and, as is the case in any arena with two established alphas, fans salivated at the thought of the two sharing the same screen, and clamored for it to happen with unfailing, Category 5 enthusiasm. Sixteen years and numerous script iterations after the first failed negotiations between New Line Cinema and Paramount Pictures opened, Freddy vs. Jason finally came to fruition in 2003. Perhaps the only thing more shocking than the film’s existence to begin with, was the fact that, for the most part, it worked.FvJ opens with crotchety Freddy voiceover, lamenting the fact that, despite his extreme infamy and decade-plus litany of murderous deeds, he has been consigned to the dustbin of history because no one fears, or even remembers, him anymore. Without this kind of healthy trending buzz – won’t somebody please think about his brand! – it seems Krueger is practically powerless to invade dreams, and, even once there, cannot cause injury to anything other than his own pride. He hits upon the bright idea of recalling Jason Voorhees from hell and unleashing him upon Springwood, Ohio, in hopes that the ensuing murderous rampage will reignite fears among the older population that Freddy has returned to his killing ways, and that those lamentations will trickle down to and infect their children, preparing the crops for harvest, so to speak. As horror conceits go, it’s a pretty good one, and I especially like the counterpoint, which catches Krueger off guard, that Jason, once set in motion, would not only be overly effective but also too dimly single-minded to ever cede territorial rights back to his benefactor, killing in ever increasing numbers and even stepping on Freddy’s toes more than once. I also appreciated the dark and foolish lengths to which the Springwood parents went to hide Freddy’s presence from their kids. The film is cleverly written and effectively staged overall, however talky and overstuffed. Because of the metaphysical and mythological hoops necessary to jump through in order to make a corporeal killer like Jason and a supernatural killer like Freddy plausibly exist on the same plane and do battle, Freddy vs. Jason feels much more like a Elm Street sequel than a Friday the 13th movie. Nevertheless, I like that it gives Jason his due respect, and allows him sufficient room/agency to kick ass and take names.
- Cast likeability/relatability: My complaints notwithstanding, Englund provides welcome and tangible star power as Freddy. Otherwise, merely decent. The foreground heroes all hail originally from Krueger’s Springwood, and are further subdividable by gender. The female trio – comprised of a good girl, a sassy best friend, and a party girl – are all appealing, vaguely recognizable faces, and the male duo – the good girl’s long lost boyfriend and his bro, escaped from an upstate sanitarium – are effective delivery devices for plot details and a jolt whenever the film’s sense of urgency flags. The toboggan-sporting stoner Freeburg is an occasionally grating, over-obvious ode to Kevin Smith’s “Jay” (minus Silent Bob), the pot-dealing fixture of his own View Askewniverse, but he unequivocally gets in the movie’s best line, when, while fleeing the cornfield massacre, his peers desperately try to prioritize the threat posed by Freddy vs. Jason, and he interjects: “Man, that goalie was pissed about something…”
- Notables: Obviously, horror icon Robert Englund in his cinematic swan song as Freddy Krueger; Kelly Rowland, in her first foray into acting post Destiny’s Child; Jason Ritter (the late John’s son) had a run on NBC’s Parenthood and also played Jeb Bush in Oliver Stone’s W. Katharine Isabelle is well-known to genre fans from the brutal, poignant Ginger Snaps, and also played Margot Verger on season two of Hannibal. Among other TV work, Monica Keena was the flighty object of desire on Judd Apatow’s beloved, killed before its time (fitting, eh?) FOX college comedy Undeclared.
- Number of kills (minus the headliners): 26
- Originality of kills: Freddy gets opportunities to twist reality with something approaching his usual aplomb, but probably not enough of them for fans, seeing as he has to share stage time with his professional rival. In the kill department, Jason therefore comes out holding a decided advantage, having machete slashed his way through a cornfield rave (while on fire, so degree of difficulty points), dispatching every kid within a fifty-yard radius and, in the film’s first kill, hacking up Katharine Isabelle’s comically obnoxious (but not in a funny way) boyfriend, then effortlessly crushing him backwards into a fold up bed. Freddy and Jason’s protracted final battle – half in the dream world, half at Crystal Lake (who knew Ohio and New Jersey were separated by such a reasonable, drivable distance?) is good for a thrill and timely reversal or two, and also more than a few knowing laughs. The final shot, as Jason emerges from a dreamscape body of water washed of color, machete slung against his shoulder and carrying Freddy’s severed head in his other hand, clinched it for me, and, as an image, was probably as good an ending for the rivalry as any. When Freddy’s dead head suddenly smiled and winked at the audience as Jason walked off camera, I had to offer my own grin in return. Seems sometimes a laugh and a wink were all you were ever good for, buddy.
- Jason Notes: Not so much assuming the role of Jason as wresting it violently (in a corporate coup) from the clutches of long-running fan favorite Kane Hodder is the B-side of this cinematic odd couple, Ken Kirzinger. At 6’5”, Kirzinger was the tallest man yet to play Voorhees, and, indeed, at times seems closer to ten feet tall than six, especially when towering above the cornfield stalks or looming suggestively over mighty mites like the 5’1” “final girl” Keena. This Jason sports a slightly more oblong head and isolated tufts of long hair that just look wrong in a “nature’s mistake” sort of way, but is otherwise very much of a piece with the standard set by zombie Jason in The New Blood and JTM, albeit perhaps cleaned up a bit for class photo day. This movie was an event, after all.
- Final Word: Jason wins. (2.5/4 stars)
A weekend’s lake retreat turns grisly for a group of teenaged friends…
- Year: 1982 (act 3)
- Director: Steve Miner
- Setting: Camp Crystal Lake, NJ (er, “Higgins Haven”); a nearby market; a nearby gas station
- Tone: Scatterbrained
- Nutshell: Honestly? It’s Part 2 with a different, far dumber cast and a needlessly overcooked backstory, shot in then novel 3-D and completely beholden to that troublesome gimmick, to the point that, early on, when the film should be working harder to embellish its generally unmemorable, wafer-thin characters, the process seems to intrude into every fourth shot. Here’s a baseball bat pointed directly into the camera! Here’s a mouse on a clothesline! Say, what’s that old vagrant got in his hand there? Get a closer, lingering look at it, would ya? Hey, look, popping popcorn! Plus a dozen others that slipped my mind as soon as they attempted entry, perhaps by walking into a closed door. Stupid lack of depth perception. On the plus side, Part 3 is, like its forebears, reasonably suspenseful, and especially heavy on jump scares. It boasts a quality heroine and some above average kills. Its climax contains the series’ third straight, and most effective, variation on Halloween’s famous “closet” set piece, and is the first to openly explore Jason’s seeming inability to be killed, though Chris’ dream sequence coda is a cheap, nonsensical attempt to rebottle the magic of the original’s ending. Of course, the headline here is the arrival of the iconic hockey mask, which follows its own grand tradition by being found equipment randomly brought to camp by one of the kids and unwittingly transferred from victim to killer (110% unlike how your grandfather might’ve passed down a favorite watch!). Also, all hail the Harry Manfredini disco theme! Fun fact: I’m approaching at least a dozen dedicated viewings of Part 3 since my childhood but have still never watched it in 3-D. Maybe I’m missing everything here. Does 3-D by any chance make bad acting better?
- Cast likeability/relatability: Here we have an impossibly cute power couple, a dumber than rocks boyfriend for the heroine, two giggling stoners, and, in the lonely, terminally self-deprecating attention whore Shelly, perhaps the oddest “odd man out” in the series so far. Not a lot to latch onto. We also spend a fully padded ten minutes enduring the travails of a frumpy, henpecked Crystal Lake store owner and his nagging, stereotypical “curlers and housecoat” wife for no reason whatsoever, then later detour into a close encounter with a terrifyingly underwhelming three-person motorcycle gang. Part 3 is the series installment where producers realized that if the fans were largely showing up for the kills alone, why should they particularly care who was getting dispatched? Despite being by far the worst acted film of the original tetralogy, Part 3 does shine in the deployment and development of its heroine, Chris. Dana Kimmell, an All-American Girl straight out of Central Casting, is tasked with pretty much carrying the entire movie, and acquits herself nicely on the whole, imbuing Chris with senses of both playfulness and deep melancholy. Chris is saddled with an overarching story of past trauma that only ever goes to weird places, but largely overcomes the handicap on the strength of Kimmell’s presence, before engaging Jason in arguably the series’ best ever final act. As was the case with its predecessors, the strongest impressions in Part 3 are made by the heroine and the oddball, though I do have a warm spot in my heart for the biker trio, and also for Shelley’s unwitting date, Vera, who actress Catherine Parks nobly refuses to portray as one note.
- Notables: Next to next to none, as befits the slightly less lean and ragged (but somehow scuzzier in appearance) sequel to the sequel to a surprise early ‘80s horror hit, though power couple alpha Tracie Savage became a long running television news anchor in Los Angeles, and Larry Zerner left Shelly definitively behind to practice law.
- Number of kills (minus Jason): 12
- Originality of kills: 3-D wasn’t merely Friday the 13th Part 3’s gimmick but rather its M.O., its watchword, and its complete reason for being. As such, practically every aspect of the production was beholden to this surprisingly ambitious calling, including laborious shot setups that took hours, and sometimes upwards of thirty takes to get exactly right. Though this imbalance at least partially helps explain why the acting is so uniformly wooden, 3-D was definitely a boon to the Create-a-Kill department, who, alongside the otherwise extraneous shots (from below) of a goofball slinging a yo-yo and (from above) two goofballs juggling apples, provided us with murder by pitchfork, by long distance spear gun, the single-shot bisection of one of the aforementioned goofballs as he walked a hallway on his hands, and, most memorably (and cheesily), by popping eyeball.
- Jason Notes: Also for the third straight time, a Friday the 13th villain is shot exclusively from the neck down, or else reduced to an indistinct shape seen from afar, for at least half the movie. But then Jason strolls out of the barn dressed in a gray work shirt and khakis, carrying Shelly’s spear gun and wearing Shelly’s hockey mask, and everything changes. Vera, whose reaction doesn’t speak too well of her short term memory or basic comprehension skills, initially mistakes Jason for Shelly, but by her second sentence is already freshly alarmed and reversing course. From such auspicious beginnings came one of the ubiquitous, enduring horror images of all time. 32 years later, no Halloween store is complete without at least a couple of cheap plastic hockey masks hanging on its wall. The mask would become an even more striking visual icon over time, but it’s still plenty potent here. This, the first real Jason “performance” of any note, is by the late English stuntman Richard Brooker, who mostly brings his 6’3” height to the part, along with an odd, almost hunchbacked way of standing. It’s a shame in a way that he didn’t hold onto Farmer Jason’s overalls from Part 2.
- Final Word: One-dimensional. (2/4 stars)
Awakened from cryogenic stasis, Jason Voorhees advances on an unsuspecting space station centuries in the future…
- Year: 2001 (act 10)
- Director: Jim Isaac
- Setting: Crystal Lake Research Facility; medical spaceship in the 25th Century
- Tone: Larcenous
- Nutshell: After many years of whining that remaining chained to formula, and to Crystal Lake as a setting, had rendered Jason’s adventures painfully predictable, the Friday the 13th brain trust used the series’ waning days of relevance as an excuse to finally push the envelope, with fairly disastrous results. After having sent Jason on a tepid, expenses-paid cruise to New York City and essentially making him the final boss in a crappy cinematic RPG, it’s understandable why the next logical step might’ve seemed to just launch him into space. In the year 2555, a group of medical students prospecting on a now uninhabitable Earth uncover in the ruins of a research facility two cryogenically frozen bodies, one of which they are able to successfully revive and the other of which returns to robust predatory form without their help. The movie’s first hour, as Jason thaws out, ramps up and steadily acclimatizes himself to his new killing ground – and as the ship’s security detail, android concierge, and pacifist crew realize with dawning disbelief what they’re facing – is reliable, fairly inventive fun, presenting not so much a Friday the 13th movie as a C-level sci-fi action pastiche (taking a pinch of Aliens here, a dash of Terminator there, of Star Trek: TNG in other places, and of the original Alien everywhere else holes need filling) with pronounced horror elements. In a cute closing riff on Jason’s legendary indestructibility, his doggie bag-sized remains are reconstructed using nanotechnology by an overly helpful surgical computer, which outfits him with a titanium exoskeleton and a sleek facemask that, like its newly retrofitted owner, looks far more ridiculous than fearsome. Jason X stumbles toward the finish line before finally floating out into space, but, unlike its half-measured recent predecessors, the film at least has the full courage to follow its otherworldly conceit, contains some clever writing and plotting, and makes an admirable effort to steal from the best.
- Cast likeability/relatability: Mostly distinguishable by hair color, but just because I didn’t know who anyone was doesn’t mean they’re disagreeable. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of Jason X is that the vast majority of its cast is presented as being of above average intelligence. They are med students, after all, even if a few of them would rather sneak off to have sex rather than take the vitals of a frozen caveman. The cast initially presents as amiable, inquisitive and interchangeable, then, once the fur starts flying, segregates temporarily into two units: an overconfident and quickly overwhelmed military squad, and the aforementioned soiled pants brigade. The SPB largely spends the last hour of the movie running around the ship together, albeit in steadily decreasing numbers, applying logic to the problem at hand and freaking the hell out in equal measure. As Jason’s 21st century foil, Lexa Doig essentially plays the part of Ripley in Aliens, issuing dire repeated warnings and periodic calls to “get your people out of there” which are never, ever affirmed in time. The film’s ostensible villain, the professor played by Johnathan Potts, is the first to piece together Jason’s identity, importance, and monetary value, and schemes, a la Paul Reiser in Aliens, to deliver the big fella back home in one piece. He’s a weasel, but an understandable one.
- Notables: Hardly any to speak of, with the exception of horror royalty/director extraordinaire David Cronenberg, who makes a brief early cameo as Jason’s earthbound jailer.
- Number of kills (minus Jason): 25
- Originality of kills: Jason X’s dramatic change in venue also allows for an appreciable upgrade in the Create-a-Kill department. A student’s head is frozen in liquid nitrogen and then crushed, looking after the fact like a spilled cherry Icee with hair in it (sorry!). A security grunt is impaled on a giant exposed screw and cascades down it like a pinwheel. Jason and the android have a presumably final confrontation, in which blood, bullets and limbs fly in copious amounts. In the film’s best moment, as the remaining students are desperately attempting to escape, one of them distracts Jason by trapping him in an immersive holographic representation of Crystal Lake, complete with two bubbly female targets, all smiles and extolling in unison the joys of drinking, pot, and premarital sex. The film cuts away for a tense moment and when it cuts back, both holographic girls have retreated into zipped up sleeping bags and Jason is beating one with the other, visibly flustered that they won’t die. The hologram girls’ muffled, confused cries of “oof” and “wow” and “hey” are in admittedly poor taste, and also dark comedy gold.
- Jason Notes: “Cyber-Jason” is a transparent marketing gimmick in desperate need of a coherent reason to exist, and not only am I stumped, but the filmmakers also seem unsure what to do with him once unleashed. Thankfully, it happens late. The titanium-enhanced suit looks just terrible, and adds little more than an extra level of impermeability to a villain whose entire hook is that he can’t be destroyed in the first place. Alternately sad and jokey, the finished product looks like initial concept art that should have been rejected immediately. Before the transformation, this Jason is a perfectly acceptable model, obviously beefed up in his time since taking Manhattan but still blessedly free of all of Jason Goes to Hell’s hideous stylistic flourishes. The student who unwittingly revives him does so after inspecting his brain, so there are even neat scalpel marks outlining the mask, which is a nice touch. Cyber-Jason’s prominence in the movie’s final third drags the whole enterprise down a half star (or more) in my estimation. There are some nice digital effects surrounding him, though.
- Final Word: Lost in space. (2/4 stars)
A troubled young woman with telekinetic abilities tries and fails to resurrect her murdered father, with unexpected and deadly consequences…
- Year: 1988 (act 7)
- Director: John Carl Beuchler
- Setting: Camp Crystal Lake, NJ
- Tone: Dour
- Nutshell: “Carrie vs. Jason”. It’s the kind of dubious, irresistible horror high concept that, once blurted out – one imagines in a Tourette’s-like torrent – becomes a cinematic mission statement for no really good reason, turning copyboys and gophers into temporary boardroom heroes in the process. “Carrie vs. Jason” (but not really Carrie, just so we’re clear). It definitely promises fireworks. Jason never really had a previous opponent who could hurt him. Moreover, the Friday series had never before trafficked in the supernatural, at least not until its antagonist was finally revealed to be an undead zombie in Jason Lives, and not just some overly tenacious guy who was really, REALLY good at not dying, ever. Willing this sort of explosive melee into existence is a tricky proposition, and The New Blood moves a bit clumsily, with leaden feet. To his credit, director John Carl Beuchler picks a tone – coal mine dark – and sticks with it. Like The Final Chapter, TNB unfurls as a story of neighboring lakefront homes, and the sordid goings on going on within their respective walls. In house #1, we find a wholly unremarkable gaggle of horny teenagers intent on partying what remains of their lives away, which will not quite take the weekend. In house #2, we meet Tina Shepard, a burgeoning but emotionally fragile telekinetic, returning to the scene of her life’s formative and greatest tragedy – her father’s drowning – with her concerned mother and duplicitous psychotherapist in tow.One night, Tina stumbles out to the pier at her most fraught, and impulsively attempts to raise the dead, unfortunately unsuccessful in quite the way she’d hoped. The lasting impact of The New Blood is, almost without exception, visual in nature. This is the slickest, sleekest – in many ways, the prettiest – and darkest, both in photography and overall tone, entry in the series, or at least until the 2009 reboot reset just about everything. While I wouldn’t call TNB bleak per se, it is nevertheless strangely forbidding and pressurized, carrying over none of the well-placed and pitched irreverence that helped Jason Lives stand so far out from the crowd. At least it owns the choice. TNB has its fair share of fireworks, terrific stunt work, and some eye-catching kills, and a modicum of thought clearly went into everything that reaches the screen. Of the series’ nine “decent or above” installments, it is probably still the least, and, not coincidentally, the least fun.
- Cast likeability/relatability: A symphony of wet blankets. Tina is a walking pathos engine, not to mention a delicate porcelain doll that, properly motivated, could probably kill you with a glance, so, yeah, she’s a little hard to know. Her psychiatrist Dr. Crews, notable as the series’ first overt non-Jason villain, is a couple of shades above moustache-twirling caricature. The kids next door include, in the late Susan Jennifer Sullivan, the series’ finest ever queen bitch (her final words are, for me, a clockwork invite for joyful audience participation), plus a promiscuous white couple, a, frankly, conspicuous black couple, a wallflower, a sci-fi nerd who makes the characterization in early seasons of The Big Bang Theory look like the height of sensitive observation, and Tina’s doting stealth boyfriend Nick, a bland pretty boy with whom she generates so little chemistry that it wasn’t exactly a shock when the actor portraying him later came out as gay. Nobody particularly to root for here, though Tina’s mom is impossibly well-meaning and supportive, and the lowest-situated two social butterflies are gifted one redemptive moment each…just before they die. Well, obviously.
- Notables: An eclectic group. Jason’s gifted nemesis, Tina, is played by actress Lar Park-Lincoln, who had a four-year stint on small screen soap Knot’s Landing. Tina’s dastardly psychiatrist Dr. Crews is played by Terry Kiser, of Weekend at Bernie’s fame, who brings all the gravitas and believability to his portrayal of the good doctor he’d later channel as the 1980s’ most famous slapstick corpse. Susan Blu, who played Tina’s mother, is an 11-time daytime Emmy nominee for her work as a voice actress and director of children’s programming.
- Number of kills (minus Jason): 16
- Originality of kills: The New Blood has garnered a reputation as one of the series’ more mortally adventurous chapters, and the facts on the ground largely support it. Here we have death by tent spike, by harvesting sickle, by repurposed sleeping bag, by party store horn (complete with awesome sound effect), and by plummet from a second story window, not to mention the more garden variety slashings. I imagine that somewhere – perhaps the vast warehouse where, in my imagination, the MPAA lords over all the excised violent shots it requires to award an R rating – additional footage must exist of the film’s most memorable moment, when the sniveling Dr. Crews finally runs short on both balance and real estate and finds himself on the receiving end of a weed eater that has been refitted by Jason with a buzz saw blade. Tina’s late father also puts in a shocking last minute appearance, looking tanned, rested, and remarkably well-preserved for a man who has, by this point, spent at least a decade pickling at the bottom of Crystal Lake. Stupid studio notes.
- Jason Notes: Under the watchful eye of director Beuchler, a well-known SFX artist making his debut behind the camera, The New Blood features arguably the best, most fully-realized Jason ever. Fresh from his sabbatical at the bottom of Crystal Lake, Jason’s clothes here are ragged shambles, slicked with blood and grime and slime, and through which exposed vertebrae and errant bones can be seen. The hockey mask carries forward all its previous signs of wear and is barely in one piece, with a prominent section of its lower corner now sheared away, the better to show Jason’s partially naked jawbones furiously grinding. The fiend even wears remnants of the chain noose Tommy used to drown him (in an estimated twelve feet of water) at the end of Jason Lives. The New Blood as a movie is uneven at best, but its Jason is a formidable technical marvel…until, of course, he loses his mask during the finale and is revealed as a cracked brown iguana with candy corn for teeth.
- Final Word: Semi-kinetic. (2/4 stars)
A spate of new murders in the Crystal Lake community raises suspicions that Jason Voorhees has returned…
- Year: 1985 (act 5)
- Director: Danny Steinmann
- Setting: Camp Crystal Lake, NJ; a nearby diner; the stretch of highway connecting them
- Tone: Sleazy
- Nutshell: Tommy Jarvis, the future Goonie who killed Jason and then stared down the camera at the end of Final Chapter, is all grown up now and suffering from PTSD (apparently, this is the tact the producers wanted to take with Ginny following Part 2, but Amy Steel wisely backed out). He awakens from a home movie-level nightmare/pre-title sequence – in which, mute, terrified and soaked to the bone, he witnesses two yokels in search of kicks unwisely choose to dig up Jason’s grave – to find himself in transit to a camp for disturbed teenagers located…why, where all canny entrepreneurs choose to open their summer camps, silly. Over the next couple days, Jason will appear to him as a series of increasingly vivid hallucinations while a Jason copycat indiscriminately murders approximately everyone in the area code – having been triggered for a highly specific reason that no one could’ve conceivably guessed without already seeing the movie (though who would wish that punishment on them?) – and town elders wring their hands over the thought that Jason (who the movie goes so far as to say was cremated after Final Chapter) has somehow returned to cull the local tourist trade in person. They, and we, should be so lucky. This is the “pure” (i.e. gimmick-free) original series at its lowest possible ebb, tawdry and plain, crude, cheap, pretty much shameless, and utterly mercenary. It only retains what little status it has due to the fact that it doesn’t seem embarrassed to be part of the series. To the contrary, it wants desperately only to belong, but can’t.
- Cast likeability/relatability: Little to none. John Shepherd makes his adult, institutionalized Tommy sullen, tortured and impenetrable, 180 degrees removed from the energy and enthusiasm Feldman brought to his younger incarnation, or the pluck and relatability of Matthews’ elder interpretation. As the camp authority figure, Melanie Kinnaman is adequate but unmemorable. Just about everyone else is some degree or other of awful – especially a shrill, bottom-feeding, completely extraneous hillbilly family that, although their writing and characterization is on par with current hits, thankfully predates reality TV by decades – though at least young Shavar Ross, as ostensible fan favorite “Reggie the Reckless”, can cut diamonds and make canine heads explode with his upper register scream. Always the red-headed stepchild of the series proper, not to mention the obvious stylistic transition point from the relatively straightforward first four movies to the rampant batsh*ttery that would eventually follow, A New Beginning is not at all helped by its coarse, practically antisocial, utterly anonymous cast of characters, who are, to a man, morose and/or painfully self-centered, attributes only partially explainable by the fact that half of them are patients at a camp for troubled teens. Who knows what the other half’s excuse is.
- Notables: Well, the newly ascendant Feldman has a high profile flashback cameo here that, along with Shepherd’s sporadic hallucinations, represent actual Jason’s only appearances in the movie. Tea Kettle Ross was Arnold’s best friend Dudley on Nancy Reagan’s favorite sitcom, Diff’rent Strokes, and also had a recurring role on Family Matters. Miguel Nunez, here seen being impaled by a metal spike while sitting in a port-O-san, also had his face eaten during a mass zombie attack in 1984’s The Return of the Living Dead. It’s something of an open question as to which was the better fate, or the more dignified.
- Number of kills: 19
- Originality of kills: Amateur hour cheap and ugly. Lots of axes and knives striking what might as well be pillows. Some dude chokes on a lit road flare. A post-coital couple is dispatched in a wooded clearing by garden shears and a crushed skull respectively. Not a single thing else of remote note.
- Jason Notes: The two best things about A New Beginning are its poster tagline – “If Jason still haunts you…you’re not alone” – and the LOL-funny observation that it took five credited writers to cobble together such sub-literate garbage. As for Jason, it’s not even Jason, so who cares? It’s actually (SPOILERZ!!!!) an unbalanced ambulance driver named Roy, wearing a pristine jumpsuit and an oversized mask with blue markings. Really. Move along, folks. Nothing (at all) to see here.
- Final Word: Rancid (1.5/4 stars)
Jason Voorhees hitches a ride on a post-graduation pleasure cruise bound for New York City…
- Year: 1989 (act 8)
- Director: Rob Hedden
- Setting: Camp Crystal Lake, NJ; A Manhattan-bound ocean liner; Manhattan (Vancouver!), NY
- Tone: Soap-operatic
- Nutshell: Series protagonists have been exploiting the, shall we say, more sensitive aspects of Jason’s patently rotten childhood since the moment he first took the stage. Ginny turned the tables in her Part 2 showdown with Farmer Jason by pretending to be Mrs. Voorhees. The juggernaut known to some as Feldman-Jarvis stopped the killer’s advance in its tracks when he descended the staircase wearing the horror genre’s most infamous bald cap, in a throwback tribute to Jason as a boy. Hell, Freddy Krueger seized on my least favorite of Freddy vs. Jason’s numerous plot contrivances – that this immortal, unstoppable killing machine should nevertheless be deathly, paralyzingly afraid of water – and turned that particular screw ruthlessly. But nobody shared quite the bond with Jason as did Rennie Wickham, Part VIII’s soft-spoken, scholarly “final girl”, who arrives to the NYC party boat already haunted by childhood trauma, and soon experiences no fewer than five generally unexplained, full-blown hallucinatory manifestations of pre-pubescent Jason, mid-drowning, outside her cabin window, in her bedroom, in the streets of Manhattan, etc. Jason Takes Manhattan not only took the series to problematic places geographically, uprooting it from Crystal Lake for the first time ever, but was also the movie that turned Jason’s backstory, previously an extra swatch of cool, creepy detail, from a bug into a feature.Director Rob Hedden seems to have little grasp on what made the preceding movies memorable, or functional, in general, and instead doubles down on the notion of Jason as a tragic character rather than an implacable agent of destruction, at the same time expending distracting energy on Jason’s borderline supernatural hunting abilities – such as his seeming ability to teleport, or to literally be in two places simultaneously. The bulk of the movie actually takes place on the doomed ocean liner, with Los Angeles and Vancouver standing in for the Big Apple, minus the approximately five minutes of footage filmed on location in Times Square. Aboard the ship, it’s merely a homeless, substandard Friday the 13th film, and no improvement whatsoever once the characters finally reach land. Fun fact (and reason to dream big): Jason “takes” Manhattan by storming through exactly one (1) back alley, one (1) city street, one (1) subway train, one (1) diner, and then cutting overland through Times Square (the moment where he scares the teenaged tough guys straight by merely lifting his mask will always be awesome) on his way to the sewers, just in time for the most ridiculous climax in series history, which includes Jason Goes to Hell, just for the record. Toxic waste. Truly. I’m not actually opposed in theory to unleashing Jason on New York City. Indeed, it’s the film’s only truly clever conceit (the original [banned] poster, with him slashing through an “I Heart NY” sign, is arguably the series’ coolest), but the thinking here is just so muddled overall, and the execution is unforgivably shoddy on almost every level.
- Cast likeability/relatability: Behold, the single most 1980s cast ever assembled! Thrill to acres of high-waisted, flared denim and New Jersey Mall Hair! Here’s a rocker chick channeling Joan Jett! Here’s a film geek who looks like a lost member of R.E.M. circa-1985! And…there’s also another blonde queen bitch and a plucky boxer, and a hanger-on for each, though otherwise this cast is both vast and virtually anonymous. Rennie’s stuffy, dismissive guardian/chaperone, high horsed and regal whenever visible, continues the series’ latter-day pattern of including one non-Jason villain figure per movie, and can only be taken in tiny doses, which is unfortunate, given his ridiculous amount of screen time. Rennie, who is something of a writer apparently, also has a stealth boyfriend who’s the disappointing, misunderstood son of the ship’s captain for some reason, as well as an inspirational English teacher who believes in her so much she gives her “Stephen King’s pen” as a graduation gift. Rennie later stabs Jason in the eye with it, which is one of the few things in this movie of which I imagine King would approve.
- Notables: Vanishingly few. Peter Mark Richman carved out a workman’s existence on TV in the 1970s and ‘80s and had “that guy!” bit parts in both Beverly Hills 90210 and as an evil energy baron in Naked Gun 2 ½. Everyone else here pretty much registers just as anonymous out of Jason’s clutches as they were in them.
- Number of kills (minus Jason): 21
- Originality of kills: Not too bad, actually. Unlike the departure for which it paved the way (see below), at least Jason took Manhattan in both full view and somewhat high murderous style. Here we have death by application of hot sauna rock, broken mirror glass and hypodermic needle, by slashing and impalement, by a rare instance of outright strangulation, and via both electric guitar and plain old electrocution. There are some missed opportunities, however. At one point, Jason engages in a rooftop brawl with the aspiring boxer, with whom he goes toe to undead toe with for something approaching a full 3-minute round. Unofficial punch stat numbers show the pugilist landing a devastating 55-56 in total punches, including 26-27 on power shots, but Jason is unmoved. The boxer, who has literally punched himself out, defiantly tells his opponent to take his best shot. Jason proceeds to decapitate him with a single uppercut, because, golly, how strong is this guy, right? Eh. I always thought it would be fun for Jason to not punch back at all, but rather just nudge the boxer off the building’s edge with a single finger. Variety, people! You could devise something gnarly to break his fall pretty easily, if necessary, assuming the fall itself wasn’t sufficient to kill him. This is “New York”, after all.
- Jason Notes: At the end of both Jason Lives and The New Blood, Jason is consigned anew to his watery grave rental at the bottom of Crystal Lake. Those two films (2/3 of an unofficial, extremely loose trilogy, as I mentioned earlier) also feature two of the best-imagined and realized character models in the entire series, with zombie Jason working his way diligently through advancing stages of physical deterioration. While not quite the revelation that The New Blood was, Jason Takes Manhattan realizes that its task is not reinvention but rather refinement, and its Jason, basically the New Blood edition with some cosmetic tweaks and a new, thicker coat of slime, is one of the few dependably good elements of an otherwise moribund enterprise. Until, of course, the mask inevitably comes off during the aggressively offensive grand finale, and Jason looks like nothing so much as a melting, unbearably sad, Tylenol gel-cap.
- Final Word: Waterlogged (1.5/4 stars)
The immortal evil spirit of Jason Voorhees possesses the bodies of the innocent and makes them his pawns…
- Year: 1993 (act 9)
- Director: Adam Marcus
- Setting: Camp Crystal Lake, NJ
- Tone: Toothless
- Nutshell: Sharp-eyed viewers will no doubt notice this is the series’ second “final chapter”. As poor an omen as that might be, the result is somehow worse. By 1993, Friday the 13th was, quite rightly, a cinematic afterthought, and, with four years gone since its most recent offering, definitively on its last legs. The New Blood and, especially, Jason Takes Manhattan, had been overtly gimmicky but still comparatively acceptable examples of diminishing latter day returns for a series that, except on a cosmetic level, had always been wary of taking chances. The problem was obviously that they didn’t go far enough! Enter Adam Marcus to put the old warhorse out of its misery in the most insulting way possible, by turning Friday the 13th into putrid, barely comprehensible, sci-fi melodrama. Just thinking about this movie makes me angry. Watching it again was just short of an endurance test. It’s as if ending the series wasn’t enough for this director and these producers. They had to try to desecrate it as well, though that job, like all others the movie attempts, is handled ineptly. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is, of course, kneecapped from the start by its conspicuous, and, as it turns out, terminal, lack of Jason, who after a throwback pre-title sequence is reduced to metaphysically hopping from coroner’s table to (possessing) said coroner, and then from body to body a la the alien parasite in 1987’s vastly superior The Hidden.Each new Jason host spends his screen time blood-spattered and glowering, but without the mask or the physical presence, the exercise is not only irritating but pointless. John Carpenter tried this whole “minus iconic villain” logic out on the fans of his Halloween franchise once too (albeit in a much more original way) and found them so disgruntled that, five years later, Michael Myers, who one always assumed was incinerated in the fiery climax of Halloween II, instead conveniently awoke from a coma just in time for part four. JGtH plays like low grade episodic television throughout, stuffed to the gills with annoying characters, dramatic contrivances and ridiculous mythology – Why, yes, there’s a prophecy! And a magic knife! And an infant for some reason! – all to enable Jason to return from the spirit world to the well-known corporeal form he never should have left in the first place. The twists are, without exception, stupid, the kills, with one (qualified) exception, retrograde, and the ending an insult to the fans it had sought to fleece, though it did foreshadow somewhat the series’ eventual uptick a decade later. Among its many sins, perhaps the most unforgivable is that JGtH doesn’t feel remotely like a Friday the 13th movie, unlike every one of the series’ previous departures. Sean Cunningham even returned to produce the film and lend it some tacit legitimacy, but that can’t mask the stench of such a naked, and tone- deaf, cash grab. If this was to be the “Final Friday”, the series really should have quit while it was ahead.
- Cast likeability/relatability: Not remotely/I don’t care. When a redheaded camper with four total minutes of screen time makes a bigger and better impression than the remaining cast put together, ‘tis a dire sign indeed.
- Notables: Legendary Buck Rogers hottie Erin Gray as Jason’s (ahem) long lost sister, another convention the producers unwittingly shoplifted from the Halloween series (plus, a respectful show of hands from everyone who remembers, in Pamela’s Part 1 monologue, her lamenting li’l lost mongoloid Jason as “her only child”); 21 Jump Street’s Steven Williams, having the movie’s only fine old time as strutting peacock/amoral bounty hunter Creighton Duke. Befuddled Sherriff Billy Green Bush also played a hapless lawman in the original The Hitcher and was the dad in Critters. FBI Agent Julie Michaels (who sets the whole miserable enterprise into motion by luring Jason into a fatal ambush in the pre-title sequence) had memorable bit parts in Road House and Point Break. Steven Culp apparently had a fairly notable post-Hell TV career (with long stints on ER and Desperate Housewives, among others).
- Number of kills (minus Jason, ugh): 27
- Originality of kills: The MPAA’s longstanding vendetta against the series came to fruition in its merciless, comprehensive defanging of JGtH’s theatrical cut, so this category depends largely on whether you watch the rated or unrated version. Neither is at all stellar, but the unrated version at least boasts one of the series’ very best individual set pieces, offering some unsubtle commentary on the perils of unprotected sex as “Jason” interrupts a couple, mid-flagrante dilecto, by splitting open their pup tent, among other things, with a railroad spike. Everything else is appropriately pitiful, despite “Jason”’s newfound love for, and ninja-like facility with, hand to face combat and a couple of deaths played strictly for laughs. Those are indicative of the tone the filmmakers probably meant to channel throughout, before they got swallowed up in all the nonsense of “only a Voorhees can kill him, and only through a Voorhees can he be reborn”. Ugh.
- Jason Notes: Unlike the series’ early installments, which at least seem like charming relics of a bygone era, Jason Goes to Hell looks fairly modern and yet has not aged well at all. The further along the series went, the more determined it became to blow Jason up to levels of steroidal absurdity diametrically opposed to his origins as a feral child of the backwoods. Since JGtH operates firmly and openly in the realm of magic, not reality, I guess I’m supposed to overlook the weirdness of this incarnation. Good luck. Along with his continual, appreciable growth in physical size, Jason’s head now has the look of a great mass of tumors with the iconic mask fused to/growing out of it instead of worn in any traditional sense. It’s kind of a striking take from afar, though it doesn’t pass close scrutiny, and is shelved for the bulk of the movie anyway whilst Jason possesses the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. Fun fact: This is the first applicable Friday sequel ever to not reveal Jason’s face during the endgame, and, frankly, I’m grateful, since I have no doubt they would have royally screwed that up too.
- Final Word: Notion-sickness. (1/4 stars)