With Halloween coming up, I thought it would be appropriate to finally delve into this box set of the first eight Friday the 13th films I picked up last year. The box is really well done, with commentaries and lots of special features, and the cast reuniting in some cases to talk about the movies.
One of the things I enjoy doing is watching a series of films and seeing how well they connect. In a lot of cases with these big franchises, the answer is, “Not very well,” with constant retcons or reboots, or just flat out ignoring previous films (the Halloween series recently ignored all but the first film). Surprisingly, the Friday the 13th series is pretty continuity-heavy. In most cases, the films begin by referencing the one directly before it, often recapping things or showing direct scenes from the earlier movies to frame the current one. The plots aren’t exactly Shakespeare, but I was impressed that there really is a continuous narrative thread throughout this series of classic horror films. Two of the staples of the series are 1) How much gore is involved, and 2) How much gratuitous nudity is included.
Let’s get started!
Friday the 13th (1980)
The first entry in the series, and the granddaddy of them all. Director Sean S. Cunningham was inspired by John Carpenter’s first Halloween movie, which came out in 1978. This film had a budget of around half a million dollars, and ended up grossing around $60 million, so it was a huge hit.
The film is interesting in that Jason Voorhees, who would become synonymous with the series, isn’t actually in this one — the serial killer is Jason’s mother, who has multiple personality disorder. This felt like a progressive element, considering the time, upon rewatching it. The effects and gore are done by the legendary Tom Savini, and one of the counselors is a very young Kevin Bacon!
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
Set five years later, and bringing back some of the original cast, here we see Jason come into the picture as the killer. The original cast members are killed off pretty quickly, and the head of Jason’s mother becomes a prop used throughout the film. Jason has a bag over his head during the killings, with one hole cut in it so he can see through, until the very end, where we see how disfigured he is. The most impactful scene is near the end, where the character Ginny, being stalked by Jason, finds herself in Jason’s dilapidated cabin, along with his mother’s head. Ginny dons the sweater of Jason’s mother and pretends to be her in front of Jason. It briefly works, until Jason sees his mother’s head, still on the table. Creepy!
Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
This is the film where Jason gets his hockey mask. A group of young adults goes on a weekend getaway right after the events of Part 2, and one of the members, an actor and prankster named Shelly, wears a hockey mask to scare his friends and generally be annoying. Jason kills pretty much everyone in the movie, from a married couple who own a small shop to a motorcycle gang, and takes the hockey mask from Shelly.
The movie abuses 3D effects, which are sometimes effective in showing the murders, along with a surprise snack attack, but at one point one of the characters is using a yo-yo into the 3D camera and it just feels gratuitous. There’s also a bizarre dream sequence at the end, where Jason’s mom comes up out of the lake and attacks the only character left alive, and it sort of comes out of nowhere and is meaningless and looks terrible. By the end, Jason is “dead.” This was my least favorite movie in the box.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
The producer of the Friday the 13th films decided that he wanted to end the series, hence the title. (Of course, that’s clearly not what happened.) This entry is a step up from the previous one, and features the return of special effects guru Tom Savini. The story picks up immediately after Part III, with Jason waking up in a hospital and escaping to Crystal Lake to kill more people.
A few connections to the previous movies are established, and one of the new characters is played by a young Crispin Glover in one of the most normal roles he’s ever played. The film also features a very young Corey Feldman as Tommy Jarvis, a kid obsessed with Hollywood makeup and special effects. Tommy becomes a regular character for the next few movies.
He and his sister manage to overcome Jason when he shaves his head and puts on makeup, looking enough like a young Jason to distract the real killer. After Jason falls, his hand twitches, and Tommy grabs a machete and begins hacking at Jason’s body, screaming, “Die! Die!” Shortly after, in the hospital, Tommy visits his sister, hugging her, and the camera zooms in on him making a sinister face, still looking like a young Jason.
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
This film begins with a Corey Feldman cameo, a nightmare sequence where young Tommy sees Jason emerge from a grave and kill two graverobbers. Tommy wakes up as an adult now many years later, entering a halfway house after being in psychiatric care for the trauma induced by the events of the previous film. One of the patients kills another named Joey, and from there it’s a LOT of deaths, which get attributed to Jason. After a confrontation in a barn that is similar to the fight in Part III, Tommy and a couple other characters manage to kill “Jason,” who turns out to actually be Joey’s father, driven mad by his son’s death. As Tommy recovers from the ordeal in the hospital, he has a vision of Jason, makes peace with it, dons the iconic hockey mask, and picks up a knife, all set to take on the mantle of Jason.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Right out of the gate, this one feels pretty different, and it is. This is definitely the Jason movies feeling the ’80s. We get action movie sequences, jokes, car chases, and soundtrack music by Alice Cooper.
There’s also no gratuitous nudity!
The film completely drops the idea that Tommy Jarvis will inherit the mantle of Jason. Instead, it starts with Tommy driving to Jason’s grave to cremate the killer’s body in it. Tommy is accompanied by his friend, played by actor Ron Palillo, most famous for his role as Horshack in Welcome Back, Kotter (Horshack doesn’t make it very far into the film). After digging up Jason’s grave, Tommy grabs a spear-like part of the cemetery fence and stabs Jason’s maggot-infested corpse. Lightning strikes the spear, and Jason comes back to life! This is the point where Jason becomes the undead, Frankenstein-like, unstoppable, unkillable killing machine that we all know and love.
Jason makes his way back to Crystal Lake (now renamed Forest Glen, in an effort to forget about all the previous horror there) and goes on another killing spree. There are some touches in the style of George Romero, incorporating political commentary (such as Jason killing a paintball group in town on a corporate retreat) and some nice meta humor with the film embracing its horror movie-ness. Tommy lures Jason out to the lake on a boat and puts a chain connected to a large rock around Jason’s neck, weighing him down in the lake. Tommy and the love interest have a happy ending, and Jason is shown at the bottom of the lake, still very much alive.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
This film takes place years after Jason Lives, with Jason being at the bottom of the lake for quite some time. A young girl lives on the lake with her family, and her father abuses her mother. The little girl, Tina, gets angry and telekinetic powers emerge. She accidentally kills her father by destroying a dock in a rage, and her father ends up at the bottom of the lake. Now that the films have opened up the idea of the supernatural, why not have telekinesis, right?
Flash forward years later. Tina has been in therapy. Her therapist travels to Crystal Lake with Tina and her mother, hoping to resolve the guilt Tina feels about killing her father. Tina “feels” her father in the lake, and tries to bring him back, but accidentally frees Jason instead, who goes on another killing spree.
Fortunately enough, a group of teens is planning a surprise party at the cabin next door. One killing spree later, it’s down to Jason and Tina, who uses her telekinetic powers to throw things at Jason and ultimately set him on fire, his maggot-infested body showing bones and his face unmasked in the end, looking pretty putrid by this point. He’s still not dead, though, and the battle moves out to the lake, where, in desperation, Tina summons her father, who looks pretty good for being in the lake all those years, and he re-chains Jason and drags him back down into the water. Fun bit of trivia: The studio wanted a big-name director for this movie, in hopes of winning an Oscar, and at one point Federico Fellini was considered!
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
This one’s another stinker. To its credit, the film does finally get Jason out of the lake, where he’s essentially been for seven movies now. But nothing that happens really makes a lot of sense, and it’s not very well done.
The movie begins with a couple on a boat in Crystal Lake. They drop anchor so they can have sex, and the anchor hits a power cable (Crystal Lake is suddenly much larger in this movie). The power cable shocks Jason’s body at the bottom of the lake, reviving him. He kills the couple, then sneaks on board a cruise ship (again, why is Crystal Lake this big all of a sudden?). A lot of the movie actually takes place on the cruise ship, so the title is a little misleading. Jason kills a lot of people, and the boat is set on fire, and a small group of people escape on a lifeboat, arriving in Manhattan.
The “Jason takes Manhattan” scenes are mostly played for laughs, with gang members and caricatures of New Yorkers encountering the killer. In the end, as Jason pursues the surviving characters left through the sewers, toxic waste is released, melting his face off. He briefly resembles The Toxic Avenger from the 1984 horror film that was influential at the time.
Jason Takes Manhattan is the last film in this box and was produced to (again) be the last film in the series. But, of course, we all know that didn’t happen….
I give the Friday the 13th series props for its continuity, but the series is also very inconsistent. The cast and crew varies so much, even at the writer and director level, that it would be impossible to have any level of consistent quality.
It’s also unlikely that I’ll watch these again — the first person who emails me at [email protected] and asks for this box set can have it!