When covid first reared its ugly head and America realized this thing might be for real, plans were made. Being productivity obsessed, most of us dreamt up a million new ways we could spend the time we ordinarily would have been sitting in traffic commuting to work. Thing is, we didn’t just suddenly have a lot more time on our hands, we also had endless depressing headlines and the persistent feeling that we were witnessing an apocalypse unfold before our eyes.
Amidst the depression and far too many alcoholic drinks, most peoples’ grand plans didn’t come to fruition. For me, I was able to do some things I wanted to but not nearly as many as I’d imagined in those first few weeks of quarantined craziness.
One thing I did do is watch every Friday the 13th movie.
Why did I do this? Well, it started with my brother casually mentioning he was watching all of them on Shudder, and the wife and I thought why not. Then we were hooked and only the first 8 were on Shudder, so a friend procured the rest for us and we were off to the races. The repetitive, bloody races.
The thing about these movies is that they frequently don’t make sense, are at odds with each other more often than not, and when it comes down to it they just aren’t very good. It’s hard to be a fan of horror, and slashers in particular, and not have a soft spot for good ol’ disfigured Jason Voorhees, and I find the fandom around these pretty bad movies to be fascinating.
I think part of the reason it endures is that Friday the 13th is so simple. Guy wanders around Crystal Lake and kills people. Sometimes those people are doing bad things, but often they aren’t. Sometimes they’re having sex or doing drugs and Jason acts as some kind of morality police, but often they’re just existing and that’s too much for him. Oh, also he has a hockey mask and he slowly walks everywhere. Still catches everyone, though.
Today, in this very strange year of 2020, there are 12 Friday the 13th movies. It’s a real shame they didn’t make 13 and call it a day, but we’ll get to just why it seems so hard to make these films lately. If you’re a true horror fan, you’re likely thinking about that documentary they made all about the Friday the 13th franchise, Crystal Lake Memories, and wondering if I’ve seen it or will mention it. The answer is no. I’ve seen some of it, but it’s 400 minutes long and I already said I watched 12 mediocre slashers. A 400-minute documentary is just too much.
The First Three
The first movie almost dashed the potential for a long-lasting series by having a big twist at the end. Instead of Jason being the killer, it’s revealed to be his mom, who was so upset about distracted camp counselors ignoring her drowning son that she decided to go on a killing spree. Then we get one of the really great moments of the whole series with that final scene, in which our Final Girl is tackled by disfigured Jason – alive at last! – shooting from the water as if shot from a cannon.
From the second movie onward, there’s no question who the killer is. It’s all Jason all the time, because they learned that moms aren’t nearly as scary as a bullied kid who somehow grows up to be a murderous linebacker in a jumpsuit. Part 2 is a lot more of the same, with a new group of camp counselors dying one by one until one of them has a bright idea to impersonate dead Mrs. Voorhees’s voice, and it sort of works because Jason’s a numbskull.
Part 2 also does this weird thing that the series ends up doing many times, when it’s clear they don’t know how to progress the storyline: they skip years in their narrative timeline. Even though Part 1 came out in 1980 and Part 2 in 1981, Jason is a fully grown man in Part 2 and everyone kind of just forgot about the grisly murders of a bunch of counselors in the exact same spot from years before. Selective amnesia is definitely key to believing anything in these movies, and the filmmakers employ it often.
In Part 3, our Final Girl from Part 2 is back for revenge or something. A fight ensues, a lot of people die, and there’s a barn. We’ve got a fun group of silly youngins, all of whom die, and in true 80s fashion we also have a badass biker gang. They’re so punk they don’t even know what to do with themselves, and then in an act of retaliation against our heroes they decide to burn down the barn (which is a bit drastic), and of course are killed in the process.
Part 3 is when the iconic hockey mask first shows up, plucked from the junk of the barn, and suddenly Jason is complete. Our protagonist gives Jason a pretty good fight at the end and stabs him in the head, but of course he’s fine the next morning. This is the subtle beginning of Supernatural Jason, which is taken to heights you wouldn’t even believe as the filmmakers run out of guy-stabs-people concepts.
Friday the 13th: The (Not Even Close to) Final Chapter
Part 4 is called The Final Chapter because I guess the filmmakers decided enough is enough, but of course these movies make far too much money with their minuscule budgets for any mere bad reviews to stop them. This film is where they switch things up ever so slightly, a hint of the insanity that’s to come. Oh, also we toss Crispin Glover (the guy who trained killer rats in Willard) and the 80s’ favorite kid actor Corey Feldman into the mix, so you know it’s gonna be good.
Jason starts off “dead” and then of course isn’t, kills some people, finds young skinnydippers (everyone skinnydips in these movies and it’s insane) and then kills them. At one point he stabs a twin into the side of the house that her other twin is staying in and then like five minutes later that body is completely gone. It’s one of Jason’s best tricks: he can pose a body for maximum mental anguish or gore effect (thanks Tom Savini!) and then make it completely vanish, blood and all, just a few moments later. This guy walks slower than your grandpa, so the fact that he can stalk everyone all the time while also constantly silently relocating his prized corpses is pretty impressive.
Part 4 has both a ragtag group of partiers and a family, staying in cabins next door to each other. The partiers are predictably slaughtered (Crispin Glover goes pretty fast with no rats to aid him), leaving just the stoner guy so that he can giggle at some weird old timey porn on a projector before he too bites the dust. Meanwhile the family doesn’t know anything’s up. While daughter flirts with some guy in the deadly Crystal Lake woods, mom wanders around only to find Jason.
This is a part that sticks with me, because everyone knows that slashers have their own internal logic. If you think a killer is standing behind you in real life, you’d turn around immediately. In a slasher, though, you turn slowly for maximum effect and to give the score the chance to really sting that suspense. Another rule is that if you don’t see someone die on screen in a slasher, then they’re definitely still alive. Well, we never see mom die. She sees Jason, runs a bit, and then vanishes. Never seen again. My guess is she booked it to Mexico and is living out her days on a beautiful beach trying to forget about her kids back in Crystal Lake.
At this point, Corey Feldman (as Tommy) has had enough. For him, having enough apparently means shaving your head (badly) and impersonating Jason to Jason’s face, because that’s what happens next. His sister manages to get Jason’s prized machete but doesn’t do anything more than knock his hockey mask off, which gives us a rare glimpse of that beautiful messed up face. It’s gotten a lot worse since the last time we saw it, and at this point looks like some kind of alien. I guess all that murdering’s not good for one’s complexion.
Tommy’s whole plan was to make himself look like a young Jason, and just like that time in Part 2 where our Final Girl impersonated mother to great effect, Tommy succeeds in distracting Jason. He’s real dumb. But then Tommy goes full murder mode, climbs Jason like a spider monkey, and hacks at him repeatedly while yelling “Die!”
He’s truly lost it, and here we see the filmmakers desperate to escape the clutches of a franchise that makes money no matter what happens or how stupid its characters are. They’ve become scared of their own creation, which initially was just a cheap imitation of Halloween but has now become its own nonsensical story, something that has forever made hockey masks into an object to be feared. They dubbed this movie The Final Chapter hoping to put a nail in Jason’s coffin for good, thinking that by showing that kid from The Goonies and Stand by Me (both of which were released after this) shaving his head and hacking Jason to bloody bits, we could all wash our hands of Crystal Lake and move on.
But then it made $33 million on a $2.2 million budget.
Clearly I have more to say about this franchise, so join me next time as I pick up where I left off, where Tommy is suddenly an adult in a halfway house even though only one year has passed in real life.