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Forums Index -> The Shiver Shack -> Assessing the Friday the 13th franchise
PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 6:49 am  Reply with quote

Joined: 21 Sep 2009
Posts: 8

The other day on Horrorwatch.com, the horror themed website I sometimes contribute to, one of the other members left a comment to the effect that -having revisited the Friday the 13th films recently for the first time in a number of years- she doesn't comprehend why they are held in such high regard when franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween provided films of generally better overall quality and storylines.

What follows is a note I've fashioned based on my reply, which was born of both the fact that-while I enjoy the F13 films, I have always considered them second tier compared to the other cinema properties ( save for Jason Lives, but we'll get to that in a bit) and the fact that this is the sort of crap I think about in my down time

In my review for the 2009 Friday the 13th -

( Which you can read here: It's the second one down on the page, under my other screen name of Splatterscribe:

http://www.horrorwatch.com/reviews/movies/friday-the-13th-2009.shtml )

- I actually mentioned that the original Friday the 13th is one of the few 'classics' I don't think held up well at all and could use a remake. The Paramount era of the property is one of only two occasions in horror franchise history* (see notation at the bottom of the page) where the subsequent sequels were universally superior to the original...and even that isn't saying much since essentially they made the same movie eight times before New Line got the property and started placing Jason into screenplays that had at least a modicum of storyline going on(albeit goofy storylines).

A Nightmare On Elm Street was one of the first franchises (outside of the Omen trilogy. Yes, I said trilogy. Fuck part IV and the pit of TV movie Hell it crawled forth from) to actually deepen the back story and reveal itself as a legitimate ongoing saga..Save for part 2, until Freddy's Dead the later films neither forgot nor marginalized the installments which preceded them...and if you consider that the horrors Jessie experienced in Freddy's Revenge may have been the reason the Elm street house ended up abandoned and eventually dilapidated (ie after both the Thompson's and the Walshes had their families destroyed by events attributed to Springwood legend Fred Krueger, no one would go near the place, much less live there ), then part 2 can be said to have its place in the core mythos as well ( Freddy's Dead had one scene where Freddy himself recites a list of the different ways people have tried to dispatch him throughout the series..but beyond that and the essential keynotes of the series -he's burned, he kills in dreams, he hails from Springwood- it essentially attempts a rewrite of the character's background ,giving him a daughter that had never been mentioned before and would never be referenced again. It also gave us the criminally wrong Power Glove /Freddy as Nintendo superstar sequence which I understand made gamers and Elm Street fans bleed from their eyes before fleeing the theater to go home and set their consoles on fire) Even Halloween tried to delve a little deeper into Michael's back story and the strange relationship between him and Loomis as the films progressed. Yet even then, in a franchise that was at least trying to give us sequels that moved the narrative forward, the later films are a mixed bag (especially that piece of shit which dropped the original premise altogether, in favor of a plot about an asshole toymaker who mass produces Halloween masks that fire Stonehenge-powered lasers into kids heads , turning them into an ant farm.That movie blows dog) .

So it's fairly easy to see why I never seriously considered Friday the 13th during the Paramount years to be anything but disposable pop horror . It was literally the same exact thing every time until part eight...which then became the same exact thing on a boat and then in New York (or to be precise, Vancouver intercut with shots of Times Square). The breakdown of the films is unrelentingly similar: Kids show up at Crystal Lake, aware of the local legend but inexplicably unaware that seven -to-ten of their peers (the cannon fodder from the previous film ) were just found slaughtered across the lake from their campsite. The legend proves to be real when Jason shows up and the kids get chopped up real good. There is minimal focus on story and characterization (read as "none of either") and the structure of each film can be broken down to the recognizable pattern of a series of seven to eight minute vignettes wherein a murder (or murders..see the double impalement via spear in part 2) is set up and then accomplished in increasingly graphic ways. Along the way some skin is shown , the puritans have their moment of vindication when people are killed during coitus and , finally, we get the nasty climactic reveal of just how hideous Jason looks underneath that mask of his, which was the natural progression from momma Voorhees losing her head at the climax of the original if you think about it : Mom gets decapitated and sonny boy's dermatological issues grow progressively more fucked up with each film until you kind of wish the poor bastard had gotten his noggin lopped off early on instead of being 110% more resilient than his parental unit. I always had the feeling that, rather than avenging dear departed Mom, Jason was into killing teens - particularly hot women- because their sex appeal reminded him of how horrifically malformed and, well, dead he is. If you think about it, his behavior represents a bizarre sort of cultural evolution in sexual politics: Instead of the traditional neurosis manifested in the lover who spurns their partner to avoid what they perceive as an inevitable rejection, we have Jason, who skips the psycho-analytics by lunging headlong into killing everyone before the inevitable rejection. They won't accept him? Fine, the little shits can fear him.

By any standard, the Friday the 13th films are designed first and foremost to be ridiculous crowd pleasers, nothing more nor less. It's the longevity of the series and the extreme lengths to which the producers went to keep bringing Jason back against any semblance of logic that has earned the series such a devoted cult following. Because the films were almost always cheap to make and therefore turned a profit in their first week, Friday the 13th gleefully says "eat me" to artistic sentiment, common sense, or even the laws of linear time (if you follow the the sequence of events from the original up until part eight, Jason takes Manhattan should technically be happening sometime around 2025 or thereabouts. There's a ten to twelve year leap between the end of six and the beginning of seven alone). Basically, they knew what fans wanted and they gave it to them with increasingly bloody results. Hell, they even ignored the title of the fourth film in order to continue the series with A New Beginning...and in regards to box office, it worked!

But in terms of storytelling quality, Jason has always suffered in comparison to his murderous ilk. Basically, he gets by on the totally bad ass "I don't give a fuck" quality of his presence and the creative nature of his kills. For suspense and narrative, you have to go elsewhere.

Now, where my opinion deviates here is concerning part six. Not only is it easily my favorite film of the Friday the 13th series, but Jason Lives is also one of the best full-on slasher films of the 1980's in my opinion.

Far from being dumb, I think it's actually really clever. Years before Scream made meta the hot approach, director Tom McLoughlin -knowing that he had to have fun bringing Jason back after the Jason-less part V pissed off so many fans- decided to homage Frankenstein with a well crafted lightning strike resurrection in a cemetery. The visual design of the film is a tip of the hat to Hammer films in the glory days with its focus on dark, fog enshrouded forests in the night scenes.

Most remarkably, the film has a self-awareness about both its own inherent absurdity and the conventions of slasher films from the opening scenes. After we bear witness to one of the greatest of slasher moments ( Horseshack from Welcome Back Kotter has his heart ripped out) , the film segues into a spot on parody of the James Bond gun barrel walk..a deliberate parody which was the filmmakers recognizing that they had a seemingly endless character who had been (at that point) portrayed by five different stuntmen/ actors.

Then there are the self aware moments littered throughout- the lady remarking " I've seen enough horror films to know that any guy in a mask is never friendly", the old man staring directly at the camera and asking why someone had to go and dig Jason up again, adding that "Some people have strange idea of entertainment"..or the moment when Cort , upon discovering that the RV won't start, remarks in open disbelief "There's no way this is happening" to which his lady companion replies "You're right, it's not", switching the power supply over to battery power, a nice little play on the cliche' "the car won't start" moment in many slasher films.

They clearly had fun here. They got past the "Is this guy alive - or -dead -and -if -he's - the -former - how -in - the - blue - bloody- hell -is - he - still - breathing - at - this - point?" attribute of the first four films by (wisely) turning Jason into an unstoppable zombie. It was also around this time that they finally dropped the tendency to try and generate suspense by concealing the killer's face/ identity by focusing on shots of his feet, which was getting annoying (and would have been utterly ridiculous in a flick with the title Jason Lives ). I still enjoy Jason Lives as much as I did when it bowed in 1986. In fact my favorite slasher kill of all time ( though not my all time favorite horror film kill..that still goes to The Final Conflict** -see second notation at the bottom of the page) is in this movie- the girl having her faced rammed into the wall of the RV bathroom with such force that it leaves an imprint on the other side. That was brilliant.


* The other franchise where i think the sequels have all improved upon the initial film is Saw. That may be blasphemy to some people in and of itself, but I still don't think Saw is a good movie per se. It's a mediocre film with highly unlikeable characters that happened to be centered around a nifty premise and contain a brilliantly executed twist ending. I maintain to this day that the franchise didn't hit it's real stride until the second film, when Tobin Bell was allowed to come front and center instead of being wasted as a voice over while lying on the damned floor.

** That honor would go to the monk who gets unceremoniously immolated while swinging back and forth across a television studio after failing to assassinate Damien Thorn with one of the seven daggers of Meggido. This is one of the few moments in my long history with horror films that-some thirty odd years after I first saw it- still makes my skin crawl and gives rise to a real feeling of horror in me..which is the point in the first place. Basically we have to watch as this poor, hapless bastard gets wrapped in a plastic sheet which then catches fire, literally cooking him alive as he swings like a pendulum, his screams filling the room. The last image we see of this unfortunate soul is his charred and unrecognizable body twitching as it slows down and eventually stops swinging long enough for the stagehands to douse it with a fire extinguisher. For sheer "what the fuck"-edness and brutality, it gets no more effective
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