i heart friday the 13th.
my love of these films is largely illogical. i was first introduced to them twenty years ago, which i think explains my affection to a degree. there’s something special about the films you see in the pre-teen years. regardless of how awkwardly hayden christensen delivers lines or how many gungans scream about poo-doo… i will always love star wars. there’s a part of my brain that simply won’t accept that han, leia and luke weren’t real people living in a real world filled with jedis and primitive teddy bears with spears. i imagine it’s the same part of my brain responsible for me ordering optimus prime action figures and not being able to forget the reading rainbow theme song. it’s certainly the same part that makes me love jason voorhees. i doubt i could sit through friday the 13th part VIII: jason takes manhattan if i watched it for the first time today but as it is, watching it reminds me of a time when i would defend to the death my position on who would win in a fight — jason, freddy or michael myers. a time when me and my friends would anxiously await each month’s issue of ‘fangoria’ magazine just so we would know how long until we could try to sneak into another ‘friday’ sequel at the local mall cinema. basically… a time before i discovered girls.
i recently sat through a friday the 13th marathon — every film, in order (plus one fan film). one day i’ll likely discuss each of these films in detail, but for now i’d like to focus just on the character of jason himself. i thought it’d be interesting to look at how each film treats jason physically and emotionally and how consistent his character is across the series. for each film i’m also including the original poster, trailer, miscellaneous tidbits of information, photos of jason (masked and unmasked) and my own highly subjective and easily-swayed-by-nostalgia rating.
so buckle up… this is going to take a while. i’m splitting this into several different posts because we’ve got eleven movies to trudge through here. our first visit to camp crystal lake begins in 1980 with the introduction of a little film called…
Friday the 13th
- You may only see it once, but that will be enough.
- A 24 hour nightmare of terror.
Jason Kill Count: 0
Story Timeline: June 12-13, 1979
Steve Christy: Well, hi. What are you doing out in this mess?
[Pamela stabs him]
Pamela Voorhees: [seeing Brenda’s dead body] Oh, good Lord! So young. So pretty. Oh, what monster could have done this?
Alice: Bill’s out there.
in 1957, eleven year old jason voorhees allegedly drowned in crystal lake due to the negligence of camp counselors. 22 years later jason’s mother, pamela voorhees, kills nine people at camp crystal lake who were attempting to reopen the camp. the lone survivor (alice) decapitates pamela and is then attacked by jason in the lake. it’s fairly clear this last attack is a dream/hallucination given that jason still appears to be eleven years old and alice wakes from the sequence in the back of an ambulance.
as for jason’s motivations, well… he’s dead. i’m not sure how much motivation he has. we gather that pamela raised him herself and they were both outcasts to some degree. she was very attached to him and we can assume he was completely dependent on her as well. we learn jason wasn’t a very good swimmer. we know he was horribly disfigured and likely mentally challenged. he also had a funky shaped head with no hair.
jason only appears as a flash-back and a dream in this film, and he kills no one. i imagine kids who watch this film for the first time now are a bit surprised by this as jason is not the killer — he’s a victim and serves only as a plot point. this isn’t the time for a full-blown discussion of how to define the term ‘slasher film,’ but one of the key ingredients in any definition would be the ‘past traumatic event.’ in friday the 13th, this event is jason’s drowning. it’s hard to reconcile this with where the story eventually goes in the sequels, but there is a very simple explanation for the discrepancy. no one really expected there to be sequels.
Friday the 13th Part II
- The body count continues…
- The day you count on for terror is not over.
Jason Kill Count: 10
Story Timeline: July 10-11, 1984 (pre-credit sequence occurs August, 1979)
Ginny: No, what if there is some boy-beast running around Camp Crystal Lake? Let’s try to think beyond the legend, put it in real terms. What would it be like today? Some sort of out-of-control psychopath? A frightened retard? A child trapped in a man’s body?
this one is definitely a contender for my favorite of the entire series. not only does it have some of the most creative death sequences and a very scary incarnation of jason — it has ginny, perhaps the greatest ‘final girl’ of all time. if you can ignore that the premise makes no sense and that the story contradicts almost everything that came before (and most of what comes after)… this is actually an above average sequel.
most of the action during the film takes place in 1984 (which would actually be in the future since the film was released in 1981). however, the pre-credit sequence takes place in 1979. this scene makes little effort to explain exactly what any of what we’re seeing means, but i’ll give you my best interpretation.
it’s 2 months after the events in the original friday the 13th. alice has returned to the crystal lake area in an attempt to conquer the psychological and emotional effects left from the events in june. this isn’t spelled out, but it’s really the only explanation that makes any sense (unless we wish to posit that jason walked across the country). what we see looks like a fairly developed suburban neighborhood, but it must be near crystal lake. in a phone conversation alice says that she understands her mother disagrees with her, but she’s dealing with this the only way she knows how. presumably this means returning to crystal lake.
we then see a man standing outside with rather clean shoes and jeans. back inside, alice takes a shower and the phone rings. she answers it, but hears only silence. after a rather ridiculous red herring scene with a spring-loaded cat, alice opens her refrigerator and finds pamela voorhees’ head sitting next to the milk. then jason stabs her in the head with an ice pick, moves a steaming tea kettle off a hot burner and the opening credits roll.
these events show jason as a different kind of character than the one we find in the rest of the series. this jason apparently:
- tracks down and finds a specific person
- travels across town carrying a human head
- makes a prank phone call
- sneaks into a person’s second story window
- hides a human head in a refrigerator so the victim knows why they are being killed
- moves a tea kettle off the burner
is this the same hockey-mask wearing psychopath we all know and love who seems barely capable of rudimentary reasoning? would that jason even know what a tea kettle was, let alone have the reasoning to move it off the stove so the sound doesn’t attract attention? would he know how to use a telephone or a phone book? would he be able to splinter cell himself across town without being seen while carrying a human head? is this really the same character that is fooled into thinking his mom has been resurrected when a teenager pulls on his mother’s sweater later in the same film?
for the rest of the movie, jason follows the typical behaviors we will come to expect from him. lots of stalking and killing, not a lot of thinking. he’s a great white shark… not a hannibal lecter. for this reason, the opening scene has always troubled me despite its effectiveness.
far more problematic than jason’s tracking abilities is the simple fact that he’s alive at all. he should be dead. really dead. like 22 years ago his internal organs became fish food dead. if the creators were attempting to extend the series by making the final dream sequence from the previous film be an actual event… well, that doesn’t really work. jason was 11 years old when he hopped out of the lake like a spastic zombified jack-in-the-box, and this character is clearly a grown man just two months later. i think what we are being asked to accept is this: jason did not drown in the lake. he survived and has been living alone in the woods, eating what he can find and building a rather sophisticated little cabin from what he could scavenge. for no apparent reason, he neglected to go back to his mother or anyone else for 22 years. further, we’re asked to believe that he was actually watching from the woods when pamela was beheaded and later snuck down and stole her head (while everyone was eating lunch or something) and built a little shrine around it.
given that the rest of this movie kinda rocks, i’m kinda willing to go along with all that. jason’s hockey mask is iconic, but i’ve got to say that the bag-head look is rather terrifying. i gather that many find it silly, but it always gave me the willies. jason’s actual face (only glimpsed for a moment) is less effective. despite being completely bald as a child, he now seems to be having a serious bad-hair day. apart from the hair, he does look quite a bit like the original design, so at least there’s some attempt at consistency there.
part 2 offers a drastically different kind of jason than we’re now used to, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. i think he starts to lose some of his fear-inducing abilities if we imagine him using a pay phone or struggling to carry a toilet through the woods to his shack, but if you can try to not think too hard, this ends up being one of the scariest films in the franchise.
Friday the 13th Part III
- A New Dimension In Terror…
- Camp Crystal Lake’s bloody legacy!
Jason Kill Count: 12
Story Timeline: July 12-13, 1984
Andy: God dammit, Shelly, why do you always have to be such an asshole?
Shelly: Sorry, and I’m not an asshole, I’m an actor.
Andy: Same thing.
Vera: Hey cut that out, that’s not funny!
[Jason shoots her with the speargun]
as friday the 13th part 3 begins, we’re still a few years in the future as this film’s story takes place in the 2 days following the previous film, making it actually take place on saturday the 14th and sunday the 15th, 1984. it’s also worth noting this is the only film in the series where no one uses the name ‘jason.’
this is the movie that kick-started that wacky 3-D craze that lasted about a month in 1982, and time has not treated it well. i recently watched it in its 2-D format as well as the headache inducing 3-D laser disc print, and neither fares very well. i’d love to see it in the theater with the original 3-D processing, but alas, i have yet to hear of such a thing being screened anywhere near me. (let me know if you’re aware of one anywhere near washington dc.)
jason’s undergone some changes here — which is strange since it’s been less than 24 hours since we last saw him. all of his hair seems to have magically disappeared (even his eyebrows), and he’s given up on the bag-head look. this is the film where we first see jason with the hockey mask, which he steals from one of the more irritating victims, shelly.
with or without the gimmicky 3-D effect, this is not a frightening film. the kills are mostly uninspired and are often just rehashes of effects tom savini did far better in the original film (e.g., the knife from under the bed). the characters aren’t just shallow and uninteresting — they’re annoying. jason’s look, from the doughy bald skin around his head to the shambling walk is less frightening than anything seen in the previous films. the only notable moments for jason are when he steals a new set of clothes (showing that he obviously cares about his appearance), his first moment donning the hockey mask he’ll forever be associated with and his death at the film’s climax. in the final scene, an axe is buried in jason’s head (placing a rather large gash in the hockey mask). as it begins to look like this has finished him off, his arms suddenly leap forward towards the final girl. this moment is very effective regardless of how many dimensions you see it in, which makes it all the more tragic that the rest of the film had to be bogged down in ridiculous, unsympathetic characters and failed attempts at suspense and scares.
there has never been a time in my life when a hockey mask did not represent friday the 13th. i’ve always been curious if audiences at the time found the mask comical initially or if it always elicited the emotions it does now. after all, if leatherface suddenly reached down and put on a football helmet, i’m not sure ‘terrifying’ is the adjective that would jump to mind.
in the next post…
hey, maybe it won’t take as long to get through this series as i thought! it looks like we only have one more to go; the aptly named conclusion of the series, friday the 13th part 4: the final chapter.