I hadn’t planned on dusting off my old ‘Compulsive Franchise Disorder’ review series when I sat down to watch “Friday the 13th”. I hadn’t even planned on completing or even continuing the franchise past the original, except I realized I had a lot to say about it and I was curious to see how the sequels held up… and I had even more to say about them! But make no mistake, this is not a comeback. I’m still…reviewtired… This is just a one-off project.
My plan is to cover the first four films (the rise) in quick succession, then the next four (the fall), then the final four (the ‘throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks’). I have no timetable as to when I’m going to complete all of these reviews though, as the only way I’d ever survive this marathon is maintaining a more relaxed schedule. I’m also not going to stick to my old formula, with these write-ups being much more informal (no movie posters, credits lists, etc.). There might even be a spelling error or… fifty… But I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for reading!
I was first exposed to the “Friday the 13th” franchise when “Jason Goes to Hell” was released on video… I think… I remember a whole shelf being dedicated to it at my local video store, so I assume this would’ve been in 1994. The cover art left an impression on me, with the provocative image of demonic snakes slithering through a hockey mask really creeping me out. But even though my parents would let me get away with murder… and they did… they would not let me rent it.
Fast forward… I dunno, sometime later. I can’t recall my age, but I was still young enough to have an enforced bed-time — a “Friday the 13th” marathon aired on television. I shoved a towel under my door-frame to ensure that my parents would not see the light of my television, turned the volume low enough that I could barely hear it, kept my finger on the power button in case they got suspicious and… provided fuel for many nightmares to come. I was terrified. I watched the first three movies in a row… and I think I watched the 5th the next night. I guess it could’ve been the same night, but somehow I missed the fourth film. Ah, those were the days. Whenever a parent would get close to my room, I’d panic and turn the TV off, missing chunks of IMPORTANT STORYTELLING. Didn’t help that the gore had been edited out, so the last thing I saw of Kevin Bacon was an arm wrapping around his throat. As the ‘TV guide station’ (remember those?) gave him top billing and I was already a “Tremors” nerd, I assumed he was the hero and would show up again to save the day. I think I had the TV off during the finale of the original, as I somehow concocted fake memories of Kevin Bacon fighting Jason Voorhees. I even told my friends about it. They were quite jealous that I stayed up past my bedtime.
I’d end up watching both “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” and “Jason Goes to Hell” at varying points of my life. But when “Jason X” was in the midst of being released, I was determined to complete the set. The problem was that none of my video stores seemed to carry the elusive fourth entry, “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter“. I eventually stumbled upon a VHS copy at a mall, paying $15 for it EVEN THOUGH DVD’S WERE A THING AT THIS POINT AND ALL THE OTHER VHS TAPES WERE LIKE A DOLLAR GRRRRRRRRRRRR; f@ckers ripped me off! I wasn’t happy at that price, but “The Final Chapter” was my final “Friday the 13th” film, which was the only thing final about “The Final Chapter“. I’d revisit some of these movies over the years, even seeing the original during a special theatrical showing and of course, new entries would be released… but I’ve never marathoned the whole franchise before. So let’s get to it!
FRIDAY THE 13th (1980)
scared the shit out of me as a kid and even though I’ve grown to recognize that it’s… well… let’s charitably say ‘rough around the edges’, it still helped define my fears. It’s easy to forget how controversial “Friday the 13th” was upon release, outraging critics and moral guardians alike, while grossing a shit ton of money. What separated it from other exploitation flicks wasn’t necessarily quality though, but that it was distributed by a respectable studio (Paramount), which seemingly legitimized it — making everyone even angrier. Reviled for its graphic depictions of violence, sex and drug use, it now… almost seems rather tame compared to what we get these days. There are certainly some brutal kills, but they’re scattered amongst more implied and suggestive violence. There’s also nudity and sex, but within the next two decades there would be smuttier PG-13 flicks. Even the characters don’t really belong to their usual archetypes. There’s no token slut or confirmed virgin, for example. The Jocks are nice guys and there’s even a surprising amount of time dedicated to fleshing out the characters. Everyone seems to have hobbies and backstories that have nothing to do with their function within the classic slasher formula. In fact — I’m gonna say it. The characters in “Friday the 13th” are underrated. Now the acting? Eh, questionable. I thought the cast came off as very natural when bantering or playing around with each-other, but whenever they deliver the more pointed lines, they sometimes come across as wooden. Then you have Betsy Palmer, picking the scenery out of her teeth. You’ll either think she’s amazing or terrible. I thought she was both cheesy and scary at once.
There was a lot of discourse surrounding the assumed politics of the film, such as whether it was forcing the audience to root for the killer, condemning pre-marital sex, etc. I think they’re giving the filmmakers way too much credit by instilling these deeper meanings. ‘Sex and Violence sells’ is a re-occurring slogan in Hollywood and POV shots existed before “Halloween” stigmatized them. Or do they think we’re supposed to root for the shark in “Jaws“? I never understood how the filmmakers supposedly ‘hate women’ when the men are portrayed as the ineffective ones, with the ladies usually taking the initiative. Supposedly, the ‘final girl’ is only a girl to assuage the guilt of us men for enjoying watching women get brutally murdered. But in “Friday the 13th“, the men got the nastier deaths. It just seems so absurd that these critics and film theorists are crediting the filmmakers with all of this subtext, vile as it may be, while also calling the filmmakers hacks and pointing out how amateurish the production clearly was. And in the end, that’s the problem with the discourse. “Friday the 13th” is not good enough to warrant it.
The filmmakers couldn’t even get their own story straight. The killer often seems to be in multiple places at once. The red herrings never make any sense, with the story throwing suspicion on people we know aren’t in the area. The killer is revealed to be someone we never met (NOT Jason) and their gender suspiciously seems to change based on their stunt doubles. Yet people, smart people who specialize in film criticism, really think these filmmakers had any kind of deranged political agenda? “Friday the 13th” is not that kind of cynical; it’s the kind of cynical that corrals anything trendy and marketable for box office revenue. Every creative decision made is not for the art or a statement, but for what the filmmakers believed would lure in audiences.
Now even though I don’t think “Friday the 13th” is ‘good’, I also don’t think it’s bad. It’s more uneven than anything else, with every praise being matched by a criticism. The cinematography, for example, is all over the place. Some shots are moody and foreboding. Others are breathtakingly beautiful… and others are so poorly lit you can barely see anything! Sometimes the apparent ‘natural lighting’ does add to the atmosphere though. I think it really comes down to what format you’re watching this in (VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming, theatrical). Sometimes I find its aesthetics creepy, other times just kind of cheap. I do love Harry Manfredini’s score. It can be described as over-the-top and derivative, but I think it gave the movie — no, the franchise! — it’s personality.
I also think “Friday the 13th” has good suspense. The filmmakers put the suggestion that someone is watching our characters with voyeuristic POV shots, so I spent nearly every scene studying the background… trying to find the lurker… There’s also one amazing silhouette of an axe that still gets under my skin to this very day. The finale is quite thrilling too. The final scare is a classic, even if the movie itself is not. I should also point out that I’m partial to campground settings. It has a built-in fun energy to it that kept me entertained even during the slower scenes. So I personally love “Friday the 13th“, partially for its own merits, partially out of nostalgia. But I also acknowledge the sloppy storytelling, the production gaffs, continuity errors, the choppy pacing and sometimes awkward line deliveries. Even its warts though are strangely iconic, such as the killer’s nonsensical reveal. It’s like the flaws and strengths alike contributed to the film’s identity. I also acknowledge that modern audiences probably won’t get what the big deal is, as the kills no longer stand out as anything special, even if Tom Savini’s prosthetics were shocking at the time.
“Friday the 13th” has a complicated legacy. Many view it to be the best of the franchise, but it’s the sequels that everyone remembers. Pop Culture has mostly forgotten that Jason Voorhees… the iconic slasher with the hockey mask… was not the killer in the original movie. At this point, he was still just a boy whose death served as the motive for the actual killer. The franchise wouldn’t have its ‘face’ until like… Part 3.Rating: 6/10
FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 (1981)
is pretty much the same thing as the first film, except… not as good, yet… better? Fans are divided. This sequel benefits from a bigger budget but suffers from an unusually rushed production schedule, being released not even 10 months after the first film! The filmmakers mostly stick to the formula, with counselors trying to re-open a camp on Crystal Lake, but the whodunit is discarded in favor of… JASON VOORHEES HIMSELF, making his murderous debut… albeit without his iconic hockey mask or hulking physique. In fact, Jason’s mannerisms are totally at odds with his latter characterization. He doesn’t show any real superhuman strength, so relies on stealth and the element of surprise. He also might be a deranged killer, but “Friday the 13th Part 2” gives him more humanity than the sequels will. When a would-be victim suddenly pulls out a mothaf@cking chainsaw on his ass, he becomes shared shitless — like anyone else would. A lot of attention is also placed on his love for his Mother, with him even building a shrine around her severed head — also like anyone else would. Now how has his presence throughout Crystal Lake gone unnoticed for all of these years? Even by said Mother!?
…Don’t think about it.
What bogles my mind is that Jason somehow tracks Alice down to a city/town to kill her. All I can think of is Jason wearing that damn bag over his head, catching a bus… taking a taxi… asking for directions… I know, I know — don’t think about it. The filmmakers clearly didn’t. They did have more money to work with though, so could afford better equipment (including a steadicam, lighting tools), legit set design (the spooky shack) and smoother editing. If the kills feel a little tame this time around, it’s because the MPAA was the real masked lunatic here, slicing up this movie in post. A lot of good prosthetics were cut out and left to die on the editing room floor, which is a problem when the violence is the whole point of the movie. Even though we’re not rooting for the killer (yet), you can see the seeds of that eventual concept being planted. There’s a strange element of dark comedy surrounding the violence, making the deaths feel a little less tragic. Or maybe the teenagers were just that bland.
Not going to lie, I spent most of this movie finding it to be somewhat… routine… It’s too openly derivative, ripping off the first film too much. Yes, I know that the original ripped off “Halloween“, but at least there was an effort to differentiate it, if only superficially. “Friday the 13th Part 2” not only feels just like “Friday the 13th” redux, but it also actually steals kills from Mario Bava’s “Bay of Blood“. Jason’s mask was lifted from “The Town that Dreaded Sundown“. The shrine was reminiscent of “Psycho“. There’s even a campfire scene that’s eerily similar to “The Burning“, although both movies had such close production schedules, I’d assume it’s a coincidence. But just as I’m getting ready to dismiss the film as mediocre, it… redeems itself with one specular finale… The director suddenly finds his own voice, with unique shots. The pacing tightens. The set pieces escalate, the writing showcases some new ideas, some of which other films would go on to rip-off. Ginny (Amy Steel) emerges as the coolest final girl. It all climaxes in the greatest scare that the franchise would ever produce! It’s probably even amongst the best the genre would ever produce! I still think “Friday the 13th Part 2” is mostly ‘meh’, but it also contains the franchise’s best moments.Rating: 5.5/10
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982)
is arguably the most iconic entry within the franchise… if only because Jason finally dons his hockey mask; nothing to do with quality. Even though “Friday the 13th Part 2” slayed the box office, it didn’t make as much money as the first film, leading the studio to assume the franchise’s expiration date was sooner than later. “Friday the 13th Part 3” would be the final friday — HAHAHAHAHA, yeah that didn’t stick. The filmmakers did want to go out with a bang though, opting to film the movie in 3-D, back when it was a much costlier and time-consuming process. Now audiences could experience arrows being fired at them, axes swung at them and hot fire pokers being trust at them… and popcorn popping at them… and yoyo’s being played with around them… So it’s not all exciting, but back then, the gimmick was hot and made this the most profitable of the original line-up of sequels.
Take the 3-D away though, it’s just another “Friday the 13th“, for better or worse. The teenagers aren’t counselors this time around, but they might as well be, camping out a little too close to Crystal Lake for their own good. Jason kills them in typical fashion. They’re also pretty bland, recycled variations of the original cast without any of the original cast’s chemistry. I struggled buying a lot of these friends as actual friends. Some characters do emerge as memorable though. The acting is OK too.
The tone is a little weird. The funky music and additional humor suggest this is supposed to be more fun than scary, although it still maintains suspenseful stalking sequences, intense chases and most of the kills are presented as horrific. Jason dispatches some assholes, even arguably saving the day early on, making this the first time you kind of root for him… but his victims also include pregnant women, so I’m not really sure what the vibe was supposed to be here. The filmmakers themselves seem kind of confused. There’s a flashback forging a connection between Jason and our new heroine, Chris (Dana Kimmell), which asks a lot of questions that it never provides any answers for. The original plan was that he had raped her, but the filmmakers got cold feet and abandoned the idea, making the whole subplot pointless.
I actually really do like this version of Jason (now played by Richard Brooker). He now showcases superhuman strength, but is definitely NOT the lumbering zombie he’d become. The image of him hauling ass is a scary one. And the hockey mask turned out to be the perfect choice for him. The kills are still good, with a few popping out… literally… I swear no pun was intended at the start of this sentence. Apparently the 3-D required additional lighting, so a lot of the atmosphere is gone. At least there seemed to be fewer gaffs and continuity errors though. “Friday the 13th Part III” is in my opinion, the weakest of the first stretch (1-4) of “Friday the 13th” films, but it’s also the most important. It would shape how audiences would perceive not just Jason, but the franchise as a whole.Rating: 5/10
Even though the “Friday the 13th” film series had bathed in the blood of the box office, the critical mauling’s had begun to take a toll on producer Frank Mancuso Jr., who wanted to do something more respectable. He suggested that “Friday the 13th Part 4” end the franchise, which Paramount was all for as they were embarrassed by their own association with it. The genre was showing signs of fatigue anyway, so why not quit while ahead? When Tom Savini heard that the end was nigh for Jason, he sharpened his proverbial machete and signed on to
FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)
to kill off Jason Voorhees… for good…
This is generally regarded as one of the better entries within the film series, if not the best. Director Joseph Zito had previously done “The Prowler”, a top tier slasher for the time. He provides an assortment of stylish shots that enhance the violence and tension. The kills are definitely franchise highlights, being gross and horrifying, even by the franchise’s standards. Tom Savini had more resources at his disposal, so he could get creative with the practical effects. Jason’s much hyped demise was f@cking awesome. The increased budget also allowed for more ambitious stunt work. This also arguably has the best acting. Kimberly Beck makes for one hell of a final girl, really nailing those emotional beats during the ending. Cory Feldman showed a lot of charisma for a child actor, with Tommy Jarvis becoming the franchise’s most iconic character. Even the disposable teens are really good. A young Crispin Glover stands out as the eccentric oddball of the group. Finally, in true “Friday the 13th” form, the finale is thrilling thanks to all of these elements. Oh yeah, there’s a significant increase in nudity too! A very important part of “Friday the 13th” storytelling.
It’s just too bad that the formula had grown stale by this point.
Even if “The Final Chapter” is better than its predecessors, it still just feels like we’re watching another version of them. By 1984, the cliches associated with the genre had been etched in stone, adding a level of predictability that hadn’t really been a problem before. We now recognize the signs of an impending ‘false scare’, so are less likely to jump on cue. It’s harder to become invested in the characters, because even though this cast is more likable than the others, they’re now ‘types’. Audiences now know that sex is death, etc. The filmmakers try to freshen things up by introducing a family, with Trish (Kimberly Beck) and Tommy (Corey Feldman) serving as our new protagonists. The thought of a kid being in peril is scary enough and his relatives add more dramatic stakes, as they’re theoretically more expendable. The problem is that they’re all sidelined in favor of the familiar gaggle of disposable teens, entering the usual routine of sex, drugs and death until the family is all who’s left. What’s especially frustrating is that this narrative could’ve easily been tightened by having Trish and/or Tommy integrate with the teens more.
There are some flaws I guess I should mention as well. The fate of the dog was… weird… possibly another case of filmmakers wanting to take the audience out of their comfort zone only to get cold feet at the last second. One important character is apparently killed off-screen and it always bothered me that their death never got closure (except in deleted scenes). Some have complained about Jason playing morbid pranks on his victims, such as nailing corpses in doorways for shits and giggles. This didn’t bother me, as the franchise has always maintained that underneath his murderous rage is the mind of a child. In my opinion, Tommy NOT playing similar pranks to draw these parallels was a missed opportunity. So “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” is the best in that it boasts the coolest kills and nudity from the most gorgeous of women… and it’s also better from a filmmaking perspective, if that matters… But it is still just another “Friday the 13th“, for better or worse. The franchise had a great run and this provided a satisfying conclusion, but the filmmakers were right to end it… with no more sequels, even if the movie was another huge box office hit… because Jason is dead… and this is called “The Final Chapter“.
They couldn’t even wait one year to put out the next one.Rating: 5.5/10
Paramount couldn’t even wait ONE YEAR before putting out the next sequel, even after emphasizing ‘The Final Chapter’ in “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter“! When you factor in the amount of time it takes to score, edit, shoot, develop and write a film… that means that this was probably greenlit while “The Final Chapter” was still in theaters! You’d think that with Paramount being ashamed of their involvement in this franchise that they’d take more care to make these movies… you know, good… but NOPE! They’d rather continue to be embarrassed by churning them out as quickly and cheaply as possible, appealing to the lowest common denominator.
Luckily for them, the lowest common denominator… is me.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING (1985)
was a botched ‘return to form’ for the franchise, resurrecting the whodunit format of the original… even though that had already been built on shaky foundations itself… All of the flaws that plagued the ‘mystery’ of the first film reprise their roles here, from the killer showing superhuman abilities in spite of just being a regular human… to red herrings being introduced, only to be killed off immediately afterwards, ruining the attempted misdirection… This time the killer isn’t a stranger though, but someone the movie loves to linger on as he makes suspicious faces at the camera — as if the twist is that the killer was the guy who seems too much like the red herring to actually be the killer.
The fifth entry is usually regarded as one of the lesser sequels, perhaps even the worst. It’s definitely the trashiest. The director apparently had a background in pornography and that tracks, with the increased nudity, sex, drug usage and production gaffs that could only be acceptable in porn, not a major motion picture. The story jumps several years after the death of Jason Voorhees, with Tommy Jarvis (now played by John Shepherd) having spent most of his youth in psychiatric wards, haunted by visions of Jason. He ends up at a halfway house, only for the other patients to start getting murdered. Much of the narrative is built around Tommy’s mental health, but it keeps pivoting towards whomever is willing to provide nudity. Tommy even ends up getting sidelined in favor of the generic ‘final girl’ Pam (Melanie Kinnaman) during the finale, presumably because she’s wearing a wet T-shirt… Might have something to do with the director coming from porn…
In fact, it’s been said that the movie has a higher body count because the director hoped the MPAA would be so focused on the violence that they’d leave the nudity intact… although I’ve also heard that there was so much nudity because the director was hoping that the censors would come down on that and leave the violence intact… The kills lack the quality prosthetics of its predecessors and mixed in with some unflattering cinematography, “A New Beginning” looks cheaper than the others… even though it apparently wasn’t? Might have something to do with the director coming from porn. The kills do have a psychological element that makes them quite disturbing though. You might not see as much blood, but you’ll hear the bones crunching, flesh ripping, etc. and the cast sell the agony of their deaths convincingly… even if a lot of the performances are otherwise over-the-top to the point of parody.
So… the moment of truth, is “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” the worst ‘Friday the 13th’ flick? I think it comes down to what you want out of these movies. Later installments would rely on gimmicks and cheese, being more fun than scary, with the other ‘worst’ entries coming out of that phase of the franchise. For many, “A New Beginning” might have been a low point at the time, but it’s also a last hurrah for the ‘Friday the 13th’ era that still had its fangs. As a slasher, it’s serviceable, sometimes even effective. But for me, “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” sucks all the fun out of the formula. The nudity feels more sleazy than sexy and the drug usage feels harsher, almost as if the director is making the audience feel guilty for enjoying the franchise in the first place. The campground setting is missed too, reflected in the tone. Previous victims were just looking for some escapist fun, which was contagious, making it more impactful when doom descends upon them. But at a halfway house, where everyone has behavioral problems, it goes from stressful to depressing. I think this is the first time where we’re really supposed to root for the killer, as the characters are presented as too mean spirited and/or annoying to sympathize with. I’d argue that whatever enjoyment we’d get out of their deaths isn’t worth all the time we have to spend with them alive, but… eh, it’s also kind of f@cked up if we’re supposed to want mentally challenged kids to die horrifically. Might just be bad direction.
In spite of the hostile reception from… everyone, not just the critics and moral guardians this time, the movie still was a hit at the box office. Technically, anyway. It underperformed compared to the last two, grossing about as much as “Friday the 13th Part 2“. But whereas “Friday the 13th Part 2” was a false breakout to the downside, “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” would begin a downward trend that the franchise would never entirely recover from.Rating: 4/10
So even though “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” made good money, it was a financial disappointment compared to the others, prompting serious course correction for the franchise. People wanted Jason and not some wannabe? Then they were going to get Jason, even if it meant taking the franchise in a more fantastical/ridiculous direction. Oh? People thought “A New Beginning” was bad? Then
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986)
would try something different. It would try to be… good.
An actual narrative would be crafted this time around. Tommy Jarvis (now played by Thom Mathews) would become the first “Friday the 13th” protagonist to be pro-active in his efforts to stop Jason from returning to Camp Crystal Lake… which has finally been populated with children, increasing the stakes… Tommy’s mental health struggles make him a poor communicator though and he finds himself at odds with the local law enforcement, who naturally assume he’s the killer — providing a whole new level of tension. Is it great storytelling? Not necessarily, but considering that the previous formula could be summed up as ‘killer stalking unaware teens until only one is left’, this was a significant improvement in script quality… in that it actually seemed to have a script. The producers would also hire a more professional crew, marking this as the smoothest behind-the-scenes production to date. There are fewer gaffs, plot holes, pacing snafu’s, etc. They also had a little bit more money to work with, but the filmmakers maximize their resources to make this look like it had a much bigger budget than it actually did. The stunts are a lot more ambitious, even including a pretty exciting car chase. A re-occurring joke I hear is that Tom McLoughlin was the first director to make a “Friday the 13th” movie feel like a real movie. Is he the best director to grace the franchise? Maybe. He has a better grasp of pacing and storytelling than his predecessors did, although they arguably had a better understanding of horror. I myself go back and forth, as I prefer my Jason movies to be scarier. “Jason Lives” is definitely the best-made entry though.
The cast is charismatic and fun. On paper they should be annoying, but the performances are just so earnest that their flaws become digestible… perhaps even nutritious, as it opens doors to character development. They’re also savvier than the usual gaggle of victims, even if it’s not enough to save them. “Jason Lives” isn’t a comedy, but it’s definitely more… comedic, striving for the more ‘fun’ tone that “Friday the 13th Part III” was going for. The filmmakers blend meta commentary, satirical elements, self-referential humor, good ole fashioned camp and even a few sight gags that are straight up parody… while still maintaining suspense. Upon his resurrection, Jason is a lot less shy with his screen-time, now having his infamous superhuman strength and durability. He’s become more creative with his kills too, which are gory enough, just not as mean spirited. C.J Graham also has these deliberate movements that make Jason menacing, but also kind of bad-ass. I do appreciate that even though “Jason Lives” often plays its kills for laughs, Jason himself is taken seriously. So “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” was the most easily accessible and least offensive entry within the franchise, focusing more on being ‘quality’ as opposed to shock value, even getting some brownie points from critics…
… and that was kind of the problem.
“Jason Lives” did even LESS business than “A New Beginning“. The fact was, audiences never asked for quality here. They wanted to be offended, disgusted, horrified. The thing about the “Friday the 13th” brand is that it wasn’t successful in spite of the critical scorn… but because of it. The critics made the big mistake of using phrases like ‘morally repressible’ to describe these films. They insisted we shouldn’t watch them — not because they were ‘bad’, but because they were ‘wrong’. They started to sound less like critics and more like parents… and this was the 1980’s… where pissing off your parents was all the rage. “Friday the 13th” was just another taboo to break, like watching horror movies passed your bedtime. Had the critics simply dismissed them as bad movies for the usual reasons, the franchise would’ve probably never become a franchise. I would argue that “A New Beginning” underperformed not because of Jason’s absence, but because by then, the critics had given up their moral crusade… and dismissed it as a bad film. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when the critics grudgingly accepted that slashers were here to stay, they kind of went away. The controversy that dogged the genre was gone, which had always been the real selling point. Not Jason. The moral outrage.
Back to “Jason Lives” — its only chance at reigniting the franchise at the time was to tap into that moral outrage once more. It needed to piss off the moral guardians and critics alike. It needed to be controversial! It did not need to be good. Or clever. Or funny. If anything, the humor defanged the franchise and made it feel… safe… Too mainstream. Too sanitized… The opposite of what it needed to be. I hate to say it, but the best “Friday the 13th” probably did as much damage to the brand as the worst “Friday the 13th“… WITH THAT SAID, I do believe “Jason Lives” left a positive impact on the franchise in the long run. New generations of fans would grow up with it, arguably favoring the sillier tone. When people think of “Friday the 13th“, they often think of this movie, even if they don’t realize it. They remember the cheese, they remember this version of Jason, they might even remember Tommy Jarvis as the franchise’s hero (based on this film). So even if “Jason Lives” wasn’t what audiences really wanted back then, it’s what keeps us going back to the franchise all these years later.Rating: 6.5/10
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988)
marks the first time Kane Hodder would portray Jason Voorhees, a role he would reprise three more times because he was that damned effective. A stuntman by trade, Hodder brought a physicality to the undead brute that made him seem even more menacing than before. He also strikes the coolest murder poses. The prosthetics on him are awesome too. The rotting flesh, the exposed ribs… This is the only time where the reveal of his face feels truly shocking and disgusting. It’s hard to say which Jason is the most iconic, as his persona has been an evolving process. Each incarnation reflected the individual films, but “The New Blood” would provide the definitive Jason… the Jason that all subsequent Jason’s would draw inspiration from… the Jason who left the biggest shoes to fill…
It’s just too bad that the movie kind of sucks.
While Kane Hodder would quickly garner the reputation as the ‘best’ Jason, he’d enter what’s regarded as the worst stretch of Jason movies — at least financially. The original plan had been to do a cross-over with “A Nightmare on Elm Street“, but after that fell through, they settled on an informal “Jason Vs Carrie” type of plot, where the final girl would have … telekinetic powers. This was a polarizing gimmick amongst fans, being much more ‘out there’ than its predecessors, although I think it has grown on people over time. The franchise would get cheesier and crazier, so the idea of Jason fighting a telekinetic final girl feels right at home now.
If anything, these days fans wish there was more of that here, as the movie only wakes up when Tina (Lar Park Lincoln) is flinging things around with her mind. Everything else is just so… basic… with Jason stalking teenagers who are having a party next door. Again. As silly as the concept sounds, “The New Blood” doesn’t have the self-aware tone of its predecessor, playing it a little too straight. Tina’s traumatic backstory is taken so seriously and while the actress gives it her all, every scene with her is tears and outbursts. Honestly… She’s kind of a buzzkill. Not helped with how much the story begs us to care about the death of her abusive Father. Everyone else is portrayed as unpleasant and/or uninteresting, designed to elicit cheers when Jason slaughters them… Yeah… If Jason wasn’t an anti-hero before, he definitely is now. I maintain that originally, we weren’t supposed to root for the killer, but that became the common perception of the franchise… so the filmmakers started working with it. The killer would be presented as a bad-ass and his victims would fill out the stereotype checklist, allowing the audiences to enjoy the kills — guilt free. At least with “The New Blood“, this was intentional. “A New Beginning” and even “Jason Lives” sent mixed messages about how we were supposed to feel about the deaths.
Believe it or not, “The New Blood” began with noble aspirations. Barbara Sachs, an associate producer who oversaw this project, wanted to continue the franchise’s climb towards respectability, even… I shit you not… having dreams of an Academy Award. She’d court many high-profile directors, such as Federico Fellini… but then settle for John Carl Buechler, a special effects wizard who specialized in low budgeted schlock. His effects contributions include “Ghoulies“, “Re-animator“, “Troll“, “Halloween 4“, “Deathstalker” and my favorite bad-movie “Carnosaur“. His work wasn’t always ‘good’, as he never had a lot of money to work with… but it was always interesting. For “The New Blood“, he would envision some of the franchise’s bloodiest, inventive and ambitious kills.
And they would all be hacked to death the MPAA. Like, seriously… There’s more blood in the title!
This would be the only “Friday the 13th” flick where nearly all of the prosthetics were cut out in post (to secure an R-rating). Every time Jason stabs, impales, crushes or rips, the camera cuts away before we can see the good stuff. “The New Blood” was already suffering from budget cuts and an even tighter shooting schedule than its predecessors, but removing the effects really draws attention to how cheap and rushed these movies were… Turns out without the gore, “Friday the 13th” is just people running around in the woods. A lot. And then bodies drop on them out of nowhere, as if Jason knew they would stop and take a breather at that exact same tree — Ugh, I’m thinking about it! I’m thinking about it way too much. Sigh. Oh yeah, the music also sucks. Manfredini was unavailable, so they got a new composer, whose name supposedly is not ‘generic stock horror music’… yet I remain unconvinced.
The movie does find some redemption during the finale though, where we finally get the ‘Jason Vs Carrie’ showdown. It’s actually a lot of fun. Tina might not be my favorite final girl, but it is satisfying watching her unleash her powers upon Jason. Jason still remains a threat though, as being hung by the neck, set ablaze, getting a face full of nails, awnings dropped on him and more is not enough to stop him — keeping their battle suspenseful and exciting. Kane Hodder puts himself through some crazy stunts and the telekinesis angle allows for cool effects (that the MPAA can’t touch). The climax might be awesome, but the actual conclusion kind of sucks… Funny how I always seem to forget about it, even though it’s probably the most bonkers finish in the franchise.
I have to confess, I actually liked “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” as a kid, so this was a disappointing experience for me. If it wasn’t for the exciting 3rd act, I would’ve said this was the worst “Friday the 13th” movie. It has fewer gaffs than the others, but even though they were often slower paced, they never bored me like this one did. I can’t blame the filmmakers though, as the MPAA f@cked them over. Cutting out the gore in a slasher is tantamount to removing the choreography from a kung fu flick or the sex out of a porno, so “The New Blood” was a victim of sabotage. Oh well, at least the sleeping bag kill was memorable. And we got Kane Hodder as Jason for the first time.
“Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” did about as well as “Jason Lives” at the box office, only counting as a financial success because of the low budget. But the downward spiral was continuing and was about to get much worse.Rating: 4.5/10
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989)
has a special place in my heart… reserved for things I don’t particularly like. A year or two after that fateful night where I stayed up past my bedtime to dabble in the franchise, I was sitting in my parents’ room, watching their television. They had the only premium cable in the house but would let me use it as long as I behaved myself. Flipping through the channels, I recognized Jason Voorhees and was surprised to see him on a boat. A few scenes later, a gorgeous blonde was naked on the screen — and then my Mother walked in. I scrambled for the remote and somehow changed the channel before she noticed. I waited until she was gone and put Jason back on. The funny thing is, I vividly remember having fun with the movie as I was watching it. Then as I came down from the high of breaking another taboo, I thought to myself: “Welp, that sucked”.
This is yet another contender for ‘Worst “Friday the 13th” movie’, usually regarded as the reigning champion. The filmmakers wanted to take Jason out of Crystal Lake, so put him on a cruise headed to New York, where he would terrorize people on the Statue of Liberty, Madison Square Garden, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square and Broadway… except it turns out that they couldn’t really afford those locations so kept him on the boat for most of the movie. When they reach Manhattan, it’s mostly a dummied-up Vancouver, with a few authentic skyline shots and one scene in the actual Times Square. These economical maneuvers weren’t enough to keep the budget from ballooning to a new franchise high, which had to sting even more when the box office took in a new franchise low.
Now I personally don’t mind Jason’s time in Manhattan being limited, as if nothing else, nautical slashers are unusual too. I think the cruise ship was an interesting change of setting, so I’m not going to complain about that. I am going to complain about how it’s shot, acted, edited and scored as if trying to emulate a made-for-TV production, with cheap effects and amateurish acting to boot. Even a lot of the attempts at ‘character’ have the stink of a soap opera, filled with melodramatic plot turns and backstories that never seem to go anywhere. The nudity evokes the trashiness of ‘skiniMax’, although I am admittedly not complaining about that… but even the kills are strangely TV-friendly. The MPAA was still stalking Jason, so minimal prosthetics were used and what we got kind of sucked. I will give writer and director Rob Hedden some credit for finding creative ways of presenting the violence, opting for stylish kills over gory ones. It’s still not the same, but at least the movie doesn’t feel like it was butchered in post.
It does feel like it was butchered in the developmental phase though.
Whole scenes sometimes appear to be missing, potentially being casualties of those cost-effective rewrites. The plot is constantly finding new and exciting ways to not making any f@cking sense, standing out even in this franchise that…never made any f@cking sense. Are we really supposed to believe that Crystal Lake has been connected to the Ocean this entire time? Or that Manhattan floods its sewers with toxic waste every night?? Or that Jason can literally teleport??? “Jason Takes Manhattan” also has even more gaffs than “A New Beginning“, with hilarious continuity errors like people coming out of the shower completely dry… backgrounds changing in the same scene… the dog seems to appear and disappear between shots… crew members and stage equipment make unintended cameos… For what it’s worth, some of it is intentional, such Jason’s omnipresent abilities. Hedden drew inspiration from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” by incorporating fantastical elements and colorful lighting, almost giving the film a dreamlike quality… which may have been another creative way to hide the shortcomings.
I cannot decide whether this was all lazy filmmaking trying to hide behind the illusion of inspiration or if Hedden had genuine vision, but was undone by lazy filmmaking. There are some compelling ideas, such as final girl Rennie (Jensen Daggett) having visions of Jason as a boy. His body becomes increasingly disfigured each time she has one, which I think was an attempt at… something artsy… but the makeup is so awful that it ends up feeling more like another gaff. Jason is presented as a ghost-like figure, hence his ability to manifest seemingly anywhere. But then why show him having to physically travel between locations, if he can just teleport? I’m inclined to believe that the filmmakers simply realized that the narrow confines of a ship setting didn’t provide a lot of room for Jason to convincingly head off his victims like a forest could — so he just teleports now. Don’t think about it.
The lazy motivations become more apparent in the script, where the characters are just recycled variations of “The New Blood” cast. Our new final girl even feels like she was originally written to be Tina, considering her psychic visions. You also have a new asshole authority figure trying to keep our heroine under his thumb, a new motherly figure she can confide in, a new generically nice boyfriend, a new alpha bitch to bully her, a new geeky weirdo who pines for the bitch… It’s almost the exact same cast of characters, except there’s also a new Crazy Ralph… Like, literally the same character…except on a boat. Julius (V.C. Dupree) is pretty cool though. His fight with Jason is easily my favorite part of the movie.
Jason himself has seen better days. His ‘decomposing’ makeup is so half-assed that it appears to be falling off; even revealing healthy looking skin tone at times. His face reveal is… so f@cking bad… I was originally going to bemoan that it is the singular worst part of the movie, but it’s worse than that. It is such a jaw droppingly, badly realized effect that I burst out laughing every time I see it; a definitive franchise low. The ending is really stupid too, but f@ck me, I wish they went with the alternate ending where you see a vision of Jason as a little boy, trapped in his adult form’s mouth… not because it’s better, but because it’s MUCH WORSE… in such a better way! Because really, the best thing “Jason Takes Manhattan” has to offer are the belly laughs at its expense, so you might as well go all in.
“Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” is probably the worst “Friday the 13th” flick, but I can also see why people might prefer it over some of the others. It’s so unabashedly cheesy that even its worst flaws are at least somewhat amusing. I think “A New Beginning” and “The New Blood” are better, but this is arguably better as a ‘so bad, it’s good’ kind of experience… especially while under the influence of nefarious substances that Jason would disapprove of… as it’s never boring and always easy to make fun of. Sometimes it’s even genuinely funny, thanks to Kane Hodder’s comedic timing (Jason’s reactions to Manhattan are golden). It all comes down to personal preferences. I think the movie is a piece of shit myself, but it’s a piece of shit with some charm.
Unfortunately, Paramount’s personal preferences were… money… and “Jason Takes Manhattan” did not make enough of it. Paramount would finally wash their hands of the franchise and sell it to New Line Cinema — the house that Freddy built. What could possibly go wrong?
… What indeed?Rating: 4/10