It’s Friday the 13th, so what better time to dive back into the series for a rewatch? Charlie Bleecker has revisited all 12 movies to see how they hold up today.
Piggybacking off the success of Halloween (1978), Friday The 13th debuted in 1980 and hacked its way to the top of the box office, where it remained pretty much a permanent yearly fixture for the whole decade. A huge, sprawling franchise, Friday The 13th was an 80s staple and created a horror icon in Jason Voorhees, matched only by the likes of Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger.
Here we breakdown each entry in the series and examine its rollercoaster ride of relative highs and deep, deep lows.
Friday The 13th (1980)
After a group of kids were murdered in 1958, Camp Crystal Lake is being refurbished by a bunch of camp counsellors who spend the majority of their time drinking, smoking joints and playing strip Monopoly. That is until the group are picked off one by one by an unseen assailant. The bodies pile up, leading to an unexpected final reveal and a fantastically executed final jump scare.
This is where the mayhem started, without the iconic hockey mask and even without the iconic Jason Voorhees. Working on a half a million-dollar budget, the crew work is where the film stands tall. Barry Abrams disorientating camera work puts the viewer right in the thick of it through the killers POV. Fresh from his ground-breaking work on Dawn Of The Dead (1978), Tom Savini established himself as one of the great make-up effects artists (helped in no small part by an arrow through the neck of a young Kevin Bacon). Not forgetting Harry Manfredini’s iconic ki-ki-ki ma-ma-ma laden score which, unfortunately, is overly dramatic at times where subtlety is required.
The cast isn’t much to talk about with final girl Alice, played by Adrienne King, struggling to execute the dramatic beats. However, Betsy Palmer is wonderful in a gleefully deranged cameo.
Kevin Bacon gets it in the neck.
Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)
Five years after the events of the first film, another summer, another raft of annoying teenagers to bludgeon. The kids are on camp counsellor training when half go to a nearby bar, leaving the remainder to get picked off in a variety of inventive ways. When the rest return to the camp, more mayhem ensures before only a couple remain.
Peter Stein is behind the camera and keeps the killer POV theme going effectively. Manfredini is back on music duties and shows a lot more control with a decent unity struck between visuals and audio. The death scenes are more inventive with Carl Fullerton taking the baton from Tom Savini and he does a bang-up job, possibly even better this time around! The real strong point of the film is final girl MVP Ginny, played by Amy Steel. She strikes a good balance of vulnerability, resolve and ingenuity when going toe to toe with Jason, in a final 15 minutes full of really effective jump scares.
There are a couple of great big disappointments towards the end. Firstly, Jason doesn’t have his iconic hockey mask, instead his headwear of choice is a sack with one eye hole. Also, there is a final scare that rivals the original in shock factor but is rendered completely redundant by a following scene which dismisses that it even happened!
Ginny hiding from Jason.
Friday The 13th Part 3 (1982)
Set directly after the events of Part 2, this is the first real low point in the series. A group of teens go out to Camp Crystal Lake to visit their old family home and have the usual booze, drugs and sex-filled weekend. All the while they are set upon by a biker gang before Jason arrives on the scene to dispatch all who get in his way.
Part 3 is an abomination. Shot amid the second Hollywood 3-D wave, the problem is that director Steve Miner has dispensed with plotting, acting and line reading in favour of pushing as many objects as possible in the audience’s face. He crams in anything he can for a 3-D effect: a baseball bat, a yo-yo, an eyeball, and has seemingly forgotten what makes an engaging film. The cinematography is pedestrian at best and the title music is out of place, disco-infused nonsense. The biker gang are only there to serve the body count not the plot, which is pretty much non-existent. There’s an attempt at some character development of final girl Chris (Dana Kimmell) who had a brush with Jason years earlier but it’s weak with a hugely underdone pay off.
There are some decent death scenes, some nice (if irrelevant) nods to the first film and the introduction of the iconic hockey mask in an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ narrative.
The biker gang gets what’s coming to them.
Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Jason escapes from hospital having been presumed dead after the events of Part 3. He quickly makes his way back to Crystal Lake where there are, surprise surprise, another group of teens that have rented a house on the lake. Jason attacks them and their next-door neighbours in a movie intended to put an end to the series once and for all.
This is much more like it, the series back on track after the disaster of the previous instalment. Elevating the film above most in the series is director Joseph Zito, putting his horror movie experience to good use by racking up the tension. The cast is the strongest in the series with Judie Aronson and Crispin Glover bringing their pre-fame acting chops (and outrageous dance moves) to the party. Tom Savini is back on effects duties, in an effort to kill off a character he helped create, and it shows from the first death to the last.
Best of all though, is Corey Feldman as Tommy Jarvis, the second most memorable character of the entire series. He is a touch of class as the hormone fuelled teen-next-door, who matches Jason at his own game in possibly the best and most memorable death scene in the series.
Killer dance moves.
Friday The 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
Tommy Jarvis, having served time in a mental hospital after his traumatic brush with Jason, is now an adult and posted in a half-way house before being reintegrated back into society. The problem for him is that bodies are popping up all over the place as he struggles with his own mental health and his true calling.
On the surface, A New Beginning has got a lot more substance than most films in the series, and an actual plot with a character arc for Tommy, no less! The problem is, the plot is very poorly written and poorly performed by John Shepherd who has turned Tommy from one of the best characters in the series to one of the worst. There are at least six characters introduced in the film that add nothing to the story apart from bumping up the body count (which goes over 20 in this one). The other characters are so utterly reprehensible that you’re almost happy to see their demise. And, on that point, there’s so little variation in the deaths that by the half way point, even the series’ USP becomes tiresome.
The film feels sleazy, almost to the point of pure exploitation, it carries no threat or tension, it has the worst pay off in the series and, viewed in hindsight, doesn’t have the guts to follow through the cliff-hanger ending into the next instalment. The one bright spot is cheeky chappie Reggie The Reckless (Shavar Ross) who has some fun lines and is the one character we want to see survive this whole mess.
Reggie to the rescue.
Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Another sequel, another actor playing Tommy Jarvis who seeks to lay to rest the memory of Jason once and for all, but inadvertently resurrects him by way of a bolt of lightning. Mayhem ensues as Jason stalks Crystal Lake (now renamed Forest Green), leaving a teambuilding paintball group and a gang of camp counsellors in his wake. Only Tommy can put an end to the madness but will it really be the end?
This is a marked improvement on the last instalment, back at Jason’s spiritual home of Camp Blood. Production values are up, nudity is down to a minimum and there is a genuine sense of fear as Jason’s constant, ominous threat is felt at every turn. This is the moment in the franchise where audiences flock to see Jason in all his glory, and he doesn’t disappoint. He’s the iconic indiscriminate killing machine that we all know and love. In addition, Jason Lives includes a better than average cast with standouts being Thom Matthews as Tommy and David Kagen as Sheriff Garris who tries to make sense of the chaos while trying to keep Tommy and his precocious daughter at bay.
There are moments of cheese of course, and some tongue in cheek moments that end up on the wrong side of charming, but director Tom McLoughlin does a decent job of combining this with some slyly comic moments and fun pop culture references.
Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Jason is mistakenly resurrected from Crystal Lake by a girl with telekinetic powers who was attempting to bring her father back from his watery grave (yes, you’re reading this right). The girl in question is Tina, who has moved to her family home at Crystal Lake with her mother and her psychiatrist in an attempt to harness her abilities and resolve her guilt issues. Meanwhile, a group of teens next door are drinking and smoking pot before Jason arrives on the scene to bludgeon them all.
It’s Jason vs Carrie in The New Blood! Jason is by now a fully blown supernatural force so it seems only right that supernatural powers are the only thing that can stop him. More unbelievable than the plot is that the producers wanted Part VII to be good enough for Oscar contention and, at one point, wanted Federico Fellini at the helm! Of course, the finished film falls way below the aspired standard. It’s well-worn territory with the majority of the plot being a rehash of Part 4 with the usual paper-thin characters played by badly.
Terry Kiser is great as the cowardly Dr. “Bad News” Crews but this is the Jason show. Kane Hodder is full of unwavering menace as the man behind the hockey mask in a role he owns from the start. He is also responsible for the most brutal death scene of the series; you’ll never use a sleeping bag again! However, the film is badly let down by its ending which, considering the possibilities, is the some of the laziest writing of the series.
Sleeping bag mk1.
Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Jason is resurrected from the bottom or Crystal Lake once again, by an electrical charge once again. This time he boards a boat bound for Manhattan, crammed full of high school graduates. It’s no surprise to find out that he uses a number of inventive ways to kill the majority of them before his Big Apple showdown with final girl Rennie.
Suffering a severe case of series fatigue, Jason is taken out of his natural habitat with a title sounding too good to be true. Imagine what mayhem Jason could cause in NYC! The title, of course, is a huge misnomer. It would have been more appropriate to call the film Jason Travels To New York For 65 Minutes & Spends Most Of His Time On The Docks When He Gets There. More accurate, but not as punchy. Disappointments come in all shapes and sizes from Harry Manfredini’s score being replaced by some nondescript 80s soft rock to Rennie’s hugely unnecessary, unbelievable and underdone backstory.
This is the end of the classic era for Jason and he goes out in a tide of toxic waste with a whimper, in what is surely the worst entry in the Friday The 13th canon.
Jason arrives in Times Square.
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Jason is gunned down and blown up in an FBI sting operation but his spirit lives on and inhabits those who come in contact with him. He seeks to find a hospitable host to maintain his murderous machinations, with only the Voorhees blood line suitable for the job.
Jason is brought hurtling into the 90s after Paramount sold the rights for the character to New Line (Paramount kept the Friday The 13th name rights hence the change-up in the title). A new decade, a new lease of life for the series, perhaps? Unfortunately not. The gore is amped up and the action is more stylised but the over-complicated plot adds a raft of unwanted new mythology. There are endless painful scenes of exposition and an ill-conceived suggestion that Jason is part of the Evil Dead universe. Possibly most disappointing is that we see Jason for 5 minutes at the start and the same at the end. In between, Jason takes on the appearance of those he inhabits. Surely at this point in the series, audiences want Jason in all his glory and this is sadly lacking.
The final scene offers a tantalising glimpse into where the series might go next, but horror nuts had to wait another ten years and endure another sequel before their wish came true.
Jason blown to smithereens.
Jason X (2002)
Jason is being held at Crystal Lake Research Facility and for the safety of all, is cryogenically frozen, never to see the light of day again. He is discovered by a group of students and their professor on a reconnisance mission to Earth in the year 2455 and taken to Earth Two. On the journey into space, Jason thaws out and, well, you know the rest.
It’s Jason In Space, “the only conceivable progression for the character,” according to writer Todd Farmer. Taking influences from the Star Trek aesthetic and basically lifting the plot of Aliens (1986), Jason X is a slight return to form. It’s not that it’s a great film, it’s just not awful. The cast of nobodies hold their own with tough guy Peter Mensah as Sergeant Brodski and Lexa Doig as Rowan clear standouts; look out for surprise cameo by director David Cronenberg too. The screenplay is better than most, giving a nod and a wink to fans of the series with some smart, tongue-firmly-in-cheek dialogue. However, if you’re expecting anything other than a good-looking cast, cowering in Jason’s presence before being hacked to pieces, you’ve come to the wrong place.
It’s Kane Hodder’s fourth and final outing as Jason who maintains his hulking, imposing menace and who signs off in style by coming back in the final act as the genetically remodified Uber Jason. It sounds crazy, and it is, but it’s loads of fun.
Jason awakens in 2455.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Freddy, frustrated at being banished into a dream world black hole, enlists Jason to expand his mad killing spree to Elm Street, in an attempt to make the kids remember Krueger. Freddy gets mentioned when bodies start popping up, which provides him with the strength he needs to get back to his dream-stalking ways but he has to stop Jason who is stealing his prey. All this leads to an almighty battle at the iconic Camp Crystal Lake.
After years in development hell, unfortunately, it’s all just a bit dull. It has its moments, a burning Jason hacking his way through an outdoor teen party is a sight to behold, but director Ronny Yu crams far too much into a 98-minute run time, leaving more questions than answers. The whole thing is just too darn loud which leaves very little room for tension; the battles between the two main men are arduous at best and the tone is a confused mess.
Putting an end to the original run of both franchises, fans finally got what they wanted but when Freddy and Jason finally duke it out, the only losers are the audience.
Jason claims his first Elm Street victim.
Friday The 13th (2009)
Clay (Jared Padalecki) travels to Crystal Lake in search of his sister who fell foul of a brutal attack a month earlier. There, he finds a group dislikeable teens who are picked off one by one before he enlists the help of empathetic Jenna. They go deep into the heart of the killer’s lair in a tense race to search for clues.
Released during the spate of classic horror remakes at the turn of the century, Friday The 13th doesn’t stand out from the crowd. The opening 20 minutes are pure visceral terror with another sleeping bag kill, high on the list of best in the series. There are welcome additions to the Jason legend but it all falls apart very quickly. The cast serve the material adequately but there’s not one character you’re rooting for in yet another by-the-numbers plot.
A missed opportunity to create something new, Friday The 13th takes inspiration from the first four films in the series but, by the final third, we’re left thinking ‘what’s the point?’ Why not go for something completely different, why not reach for the sky and aim to be a watershed moment in horror? But, from the get go, Friday The 13th has never reached those heights.
Sleeping bag mk2.
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History Of Friday The 13th – a near 7 hour documentary and accompanying book offering an inexhaustible resource of behind the scene anecdotes that any fan of the series does not want to miss out on.
Friday The 13th: The TV Series – a curious entry which holds no affiliation to the film series other than the name itself. All episodes are self-contained spooky stories, the best of which is the David Cronenberg-directed Faith Healer.
Friday The 13th: The Game – play as Jason or a camp counsellor at Crystal Lake in a game which brings more wit, scares and entertainment than the majority of the films listed above.
Voorhees (2020) – an unofficial, fan-made, feature-length sequel sees Jason stalking and slashing a criminal outfit who hide out at Crystal Lake. It’s crude in places and poorly acted but a good effort. Available to stream on YouTube.
Until the legal wranglings between original director Sean S. Cunningham and writer Victor Miller are resolved, this is the end for Jason and Friday The 13th. Expect more stalking and slashing in years to come, with hope the series can be re-invigorated. Until then, who wants to go camping at the lake?
Become an ATRM patron
For access to exclusive content, and to help us create more, please support us on Patreon.Become a patron
Become an ATRM patron Are you a writer?
For access to exclusive content, and to help us create more, please support us on Patreon. If you're passionate about movies and have an idea for an article, feel free to pitch it to us.Get in touch