Friday, 13 November 2015

Dissecting the 'Friday The 13th' franchise



Warning! This article does contain plot spoilers...

Ask anyone to name the best known horror villains and you can guarantee Jason Voorhees will be one of the ones mentioned. The iconic hockey mask wearing and machete wielding hydrocephalic afflicted serial killer Voorhees have become just a part of mainstream culture as the classic monsters of Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. Across twelve films the franchise has grossed over $465 million at the box-office worldwide and Jason has subsequently appeared in other media such as novellas, comics, cartoons and there is even a video game in the works.

The main character Jason Voorhees allegedly drowned in the calm waters of Crystal Lake due to the negligence of the workers at the local summer camp. From that day the lake was said to be cursed and when young, horny and negligent teens venture too close to the water a series of brutal murders will usually follow. It's a simple premise, but one that can be rolled out again and again.

With that in mind, and to celebrate Friday the 13th in style, we take a look at the entire series to judge the best and worst of the franchise.



'Friday The 13th' (1980)

Written by Victor Miller and directed and produced by Sean S. Cunningham. The first film stars Betsy Palmer as the murderous Pamela Sue Voorhees who psychotically sets out to avenge the death of her boy Jason some two decades previously due to the neglectful Camp Crystal Lake councillors. After the camp shuts down, Mrs Voorhees makes sure it stays that way and unleashes her vengeance on anyone that ventures into the camp.

The film was the first to cash in on the success of 1978's 'Halloween' which popularised the slasher genre. Despite it's modest budget of just $550,000, the film grossed over $59,000,000 worldwide. The film is one of the strongest and best loved in the franchise despite the fact that the franchise's most iconic character barely makes an appearance in it. Jason would go on to become the main draw, but Mrs Voorhees maternal rampage in the original outing is a great story. The script may be lacking in part and the focus on scares may be at the expense of character development, but in terms of the music, special effects and focus on the killer the film became another trendsetter to those that followed.


'Friday The 13th Part 2' (1981)

After the success of the first film, a sequel became a necessity. This time with a bigger budget and a new leading killer, 'Friday The 13th Part 2' picks up directly from the first film. Set five years later another group of teens venture to the cursed Crystal Lake only to be picked off in gruesome fashion by another psychotic killer.

Jason's character is revealed to have survived his drowning twenty years before, and has lived hidden away on the shores of the lake since. After the death of his mother at the hands of the first film's heroine he takes his revenge against anyone that comes to the lake. The Lead character lacks the iconic hockey mask in this film, but stylisticly it is still great with the killer’s first person view replicated from the original and upgraded special effects creating a visual fest. The film's big reveal is as much of a classic as that of the late Mrs Bates in Psycho and far more visceral. The film again did well at the box office and despite contemporary critics being generally negative, the film helped to solidify the cult status of the franchise.

'Friday The 13th Part III' (1982)

Part III again picks up directly after the previous film's events and this time was intended to be the final part of a trilogy. Jason Voorhees, injured after his last encounter retreats to find a new mask and clothes before continuing his killing spree. The film was released in 3D and includes a disco-tinged soundtrack which as somewhat dated it.

The film did even better at the box office than '...Part 2' despite more negative reviews and served to launch Jason as a modern horror icon with the introduction of the hockey mask to his repertoire. Again the plot of the film does not vary too dramatically from the previous outings, however an even bigger budget and more attention to the script ensure a solid outing that wraps up the original story arc pretty well. If watched back-to-back the first three films support and build on each other really well with each one out doing the previous one in terms of effects. The overall story across them isn't that complicated and the character development is still pretty limited across the board, but '...Part III' provides a fitting finale.



'Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter' (1984)

Nope! Evil doesn't die that easily! Despite '...Part III's' intentions to be the last in the series, the studio knew they were on to a money spinner. And as sequels to other slasher films began to be churned out, Paramount was not going to be left behind. In walks in Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter which picks up once again from the end of the last film.

Jason is dead...or so it seems. But that wouldn't make for a very good story now, so Jason miraculously avoids death once more to renew his killing spree. The initial morgue location is a nice change of setting setting, but perhaps a bit too close to 'Halloween II', so Jason soon makes his way back to familiar ground as a new batch of teens arrive at Camp Crystal Lake. Despite it's predictable flow and somewhat formulaic set pieces but it doesn't set out to parody itself, and '...The Final Chapter' still enjoys some great effects and some decent acting courtesy in particular from Crispin Glover and Cory Feldman. It was once again box office gold, and in spite of it's shaky set up is a genuinely enjoyable addition to the first three films.


'Friday The 13th: A New Beginning' (1985)

As the title suggests, the fifth instalment was intended to begin a new trilogy of films that would feature different villains. Why anyone would have thought this was a good idea when Jason Voorhees was now an iconic horror villain is beyond me. Anyway, we see a decidedly different approach with a more psychological slant on the film.

Jason kind of features in this, and at the same time doesn't, making it a bit confusing. The film tries to keep the killer secret for a portion of the film and taps into the mystery of the original nicely. However this soon goes out of the window and the result is some nice gruesome killing tied together by a pretty weak storyline that doesn't sit well in the franchise. The film did not do as well as its predecessors at the box office and production was allegedly hampered by hardcore drug use. It was an interesting, if unnecessary idea for a direction to take the film and ultimately the franchise. But it is one that time hasn't been too kind to.


'Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives' (1986)

Despite the fact that the previous two films set up the character of Tommy Jarvis to take over the hockey mask and machete full-time, the idea wasn't met with the greatest fan reaction. In response, '...Part VI' sees Jason Voorhees return, this time as an altogether more supernatural creature rather than the stubbornly hard to kill mortal he had previously been. The undead, superhumanly strong and just as blood thirsty Voorhees would become the standard for every subsequent film.

The film ties into the previous two outings, maintaining that link but ultimately dispensing with the direction and opting for a more self-aware script that would be the first to find favour with critics. The plot was more intricate and where it repeated cliché’s it did so in a knowing way that didn't insult the audience's intelligence. Despite the fact the film breaks the fourth wall and contains no nudity, it did amp up the killings with sixteen gory deaths in total. It didn't do as well at the box office as some previous releases, however it remains a firm fan and critic favourite to this day. The film also has one of the best soundtracks of any of the films, as in addition to music by long-time composer Harry Manfedini, it also boasted tracks by Felony and Alice Cooper.


'Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood' (1988)

'...Part VII' marks the beginning of the longest running actor to be associated with the role of Voorhees, Kane Hodder, who would continue his portrayal until 'Jason X'. In terms of Hodder's acting and the special FX makeup, it could be argued that this is the first film to see the definitive Jason Voorhees. But other than that the film has little else going for it.

Again as in previous films, Jason is where we left him on his last outing. No ambiguity this time however. We know he can't die and is at the bottom of Crystal Lake waiting to return to the surface and gut more teenagers. Cue Tina Shepheard, a girl with psychic powers haunted by the death of her father some years earlier on Crystal Lake. She returns to the lake as part of a study into her powers and unwittingly breaks the chains holding Voorhees at the bottom of the lake. It's a plot that clutches at straws at times in order to progress the story, however it is a film containing some nice effects and an impressive fire stunt courtesy of Hodder. It isn't a terrible film, but is formulaic and loses that self-aware charm of the previous instalment, which makes for a poor follow-up.


'Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan' (1989)

'...Part VIII' is another film that intended to wrap the story up but ultimately doesn't. The plot sees Jason stalking a boat full of students as they make their way to New York. It's a nice change of scene on one part, but again it is a film in the series that suffers from a major lack of plot and character development. And despite its title, very little actually takes place in Manhattan.

The film replays many of the clichés we've come to expect, relying heavily on the setting to add the missing dramatic twists. Which they kind of do, but again it doesn't feel like it does enough with what it has. There were apparently budgeting and scheduling problems plaguing the production which is why there is ample opportunity for a memorable urban rampage, but it unfortunately never lives up to its potential. The end result is the weakest film in the entire franchise that would have been a disappointing final outing for Jason Voorhees if it were not for the perpetual grind of the studio production gears intent on wringing the most out of every idea.


'Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday' (1993)

In steps the first and only 'Friday The 13th' of the 1990s in the form of 'The Final Friday'. This instalment sees a new studio distributing and is the first film to not have a tangible link to the previous one. We left Voorhees dead in Manhattan in '...Part VIII' and are now magically whisked back to Crystal Lake to see a trap set for the undead killer.

The trap is sprung and Jason is apparently dead... again. His remains are taken to the morgue... again. Some shaky supernatural shit happens and the killing begins... again. It's another really flimsy set up. There are some memorable deaths and the plot is so far removed from the rest of the series in terms of outlandishness that it is pretty memorable watch. But the acting isn't great, the script has lots of holes in it, and the effects at this time are beginning to look worn out. On the upside though, Kane Hodder is still an intimidating screen presence, and the film at least delivers on its promise this time. Yet the only real glimmer of light was the final shot of Freddy Krueger's gloved had pulling Jason's mask down to hell setting up 'Freddy Vs Jason'.



'Jason X' (2001)

You were expecting 'Freddy Vs Jason' to be here right? Well, sorry you'll have to wait another couple of years for that. Instead we get Jason Voorhees... in space. We left Jason in Hell and that's exactly where the 'FvR' film ended up. While it was still in development Todd Farmer suggested setting this story in the future to keep the franchise alive. Well... at least his intentions were good.

Actually, 'Jason X' isn't a bad film. It's not great, but the upgraded special effects, the hungry young cast and the rather witty, almost spoof-life script make this a pretty enjoyable film. It's a bit of a dead-end in terms of the plot, as any direct sequel would also have to be set in the distant future – and with that gimmick already done, where else can you go? It does have a stop-gap kind of feel to it in terms of its place in the franchise. But it does tap into that turn of the millennium fear of the future and past coming back to haunt us. If it had been filmed more in keeping with a film such as 'Alien' it may have been better received, but instead it simply transposed the usual set pieces into a new location. At least this one had its humorous moments though.


'Freddy Vs. Jason' (2003)

Finally, the promise made at the end of 'Jason Goes To Hell' comes to fruition and two of the silver screen's most memorable monster face off in a fight of the ages! Well, sort of. It is essentially 'A Nightmare On Elm Street' guest starring Jason Voorhees. Freddy is trapped in Hell and uses Jason Voorhees as a vehicle to return to Springwood and restart his own killing spree.

It's a pretty simple set up for what essentially becomes a good ol' fashioned sloberknocker between two of horror's most iconic villains. The body count is high as lots of unfortunate teens get caught in the crossfire. The effects are great and the soundtrack features some pretty decent bands such as Type O Negative, Murderdolls, Slipknot, Mushroomhead, and The Prodigy. You could argue for that reason it is nothing but an extended music video... but what a video! One drawback was the lack of Kane Hodder behind the hockey mask, which meant Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger outshone Jason Voorhees for the majority of the film. Another was the use of the same old set pieces from both franchises. But after a decade of waiting, long-time fans didn't care and did well at the box office as a result and genuinely breathed some new life into the series.


'Friday The 13th' (2009)

2009's 'Friday The 13th' is a reboot that sees the legend already in place that somewhat reworks the themes of the first four films into one. And for that it works pretty well. With Derek Mears giving one of the best and most physical, Jason performances in the franchise to date and a strong script that kept the suspense of the originals while adding plenty of gore to appeal to modern audiences. It doesn't set out to reinvent the franchise or the genre, but it does successfully bring the legend of Crystal Lake into the 21st century.

The film is a pretty standard 'Friday The 13th' set-up with a gang of teens making an ill advised trip to Crystal Lake. Jason doesn't like this, and the massacre begins. However, as with 'Jason Lives', some decent acting, nice gory effects, and a somewhat self-aware script (minus the spoof) creates a more refreshed atmosphere. The film would go on to become the second highest grossing film in the franchise and has become a fan favourite. The film sets up a lot of potential for sequels or prequels as the legend of Jason is already in place in the context of the film before the action begins. You feel as though you're walking into a murderous local secret which although it reworks some of the established story, still fits into the franchise.


So where will the franchise go from here? It has already been six years since the last film, and a new one has been in development since the last one was released. It's a frustrating wait but the working title of 'Friday the 13th: Jason Returns' is listed for a 2017 release. There is very little in the way of confirmed information regarding the production, however after a successful reboot there is no reason why a new script couldn't continue to play with the chronology or make a big departure from the established formula. Time will tell, but it is safe to say that like it's lead villain, the Friday the 13th franchise will be damn tough to kill off for good...

For news, information and merchandise check out the Friday The 13th official website.

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