The Friday the 13th franchise has become one of the most iconic horror franchises in history. It’s 12 entries deep into its 37-year existence and has permeated pop culture in a myriad of ways, from references in music and other movies to all kinds of merchandising and comic books. Most recently, it has been resurrected, this time in the video game world for a fun as hell multiplayer game.
What’s weird about this franchise’s success is how none of the movies are “good” movies. By most objective means, they are cheap and exploitative pieces of filth meant to drum up a quick buck. Yet they’ve lasted this long, getting a rabid fanbase and a secure place in horror history. Simply put, it’s because they are all fun as hell. There’s a weird balancing act going on, where they aren’t playing it too self seriously, but it isn’t a wink fest. It’s played straight but with a good-natured sense of fun to it.
There’s also the fact that the potential for this franchise isn’t as high as Michael or Freddy’s franchises, so the highs and the lows aren’t too far apart from each other. Just throw a bunch of dumbass kids together and have Jason (or someone else) kill the hell out of them. That they can just work and entertain is due to the fact that, for the most part, the people working behind the scenes weren’t incompetent. In fact, they tended to have some real talent. Probably the most fascinating part of this franchise is that Jason isn’t introduced as the killer until “Part II” and the iconic hockey mask isn’t introduced until “Part III”. That bizarre path is just fascinating.
Now that the new game is out and it has been pretty well received, albeit with some technical hiccups along the way, it seems as good a time as any to look back at the movies that have inspired it and pay homage. Seeing as there won’t be a new movie any time soon thanks to movie producers over-thinking this thing, there’s no better time to do it.
12. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
The quality of these movies may not swing too wildly from the highest of the pack to lowest, but this is easily the lowest in the franchise. It’s not just that the movie itself is a giant tease for a great premise – Jason slaughtering people in the concrete jungle. The whole movie is set on a cruise ship and it ends up feeling very cheap and thrown together, unable to meet the promise it set up.
Yet while the movie may be very much a letdown and the lowest of the bunch, it’s still a big ol’ barrel of fun. The ship may not give the best locations for Jason to take advantage of, but it still allows for some hilariously stupid deaths. The murder of Kelly Hu in the dance room is hilarious in its absolute failure of geography, with Jason just showing up where he needs to be despite any logical reasoning saying he shouldn’t be there.
This may be the biggest offender of Jason just transporting all over the map. And even if we barely spend any time in the city, when we get there it’s hilarious. Street punks getting spooked by Jason. A young black fella being beheaded by a single punch. Jason’s ultimate defeat being at the hands of NYC’s apparent nightly sewer bombardment of toxic waste, sending Jason back to his youth. It’s absolutely bizarre and just perfectly encapsulates how thrown together this movie was. Yet for all its immense faults, it’s one hell of a good time.
11. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
There’s one thing that puts “Goes To Hell” over “Takes Manhattan”, and that is that “Goes To Hell” is so goddamned weird. It’s an absolutely bizarre movie that manages to barely feature our iconic killer, but it also kind of does. After a great opening sequence where Jason is blown to smithereens by police, his ‘essence’ crawls out of his body and starts to possess anyone in his path, as he makes his way toward his only living blood relative to return his body back to its previously degraded yet highly resistant self. So the movie takes on the form of this weird possession narrative with all the requisite Jason kills.
Yet it’s also more self aware than its detractors want to let on. It doesn’t work completely, mind you. But the weirdness and the attempt at doing something so different elevate it so. This is the point where all the movies are at the very least entertaining; the ending is an absolute blast of just pure mayhem, with Jason back to his old self as he gets into a brawl with two humans.
The fact that it culminates with Jason being sent to hell, with a nice little cameo from Freddy Kruger, is just perfection. Also, the fact that the character of Duke is in it elevates it to memorable statues. Is this good? Not really, no. But it’s fun as hell and should not be discounted.
10. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
This is the second and last time we would get a Friday the 13th movie without Jason as the killer, although the movie cheats and still allows itself to have a hockey mask clad killer. Here we get Roy, a copycat killer who is revealed as such in the end. His whole motivation is that his chubby son was murdered in the troubled kids camp, so he goes off the rails and stops being a medic so he can fulfill his apparent destiny as a top tier serial killer.
There’s a certain mean-spiritedness to this movie that can’t be discounted. It’s also the second part of the Tommy Jarvis trilogy, following him from his last outing with Jason as a child to the now supremely damaged man he is in this one. The kills are nice and brutal, but still a step below the insanity the series would dole out after this one. There’s a certain something missing because it isn’t Jason, but that attempt to branch out from Jason while having its cake as well gives it something to be okay with.
9. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
When reading into the long and storied history about the long trek to making “Freddy vs. Jason”, this movie is the origin point for all of those talks, because it was around this time that the idea of smashing these two titans together was brought up. Nothing came of it at the time, obviously, but the idea stuck. Pit Jason against another horror staple. For this entry, they did just that.
Well, kinda, since they didn’t go through the hassle of getting the rights for such a character. No, they just essentially ripped off Carrie White from the Stephen King/Brian De Palma classic and just renamed her. So we got a movie that culminates with Jason getting his ass kicked by RC Cola Carrie. The rest of the movie around it can’t quite live up to that serious hucksterish narrative.
It comes off a bit drab and more than a little tired after the previous one set such a high standard for these movies. But on its own it’s a fun entry into the series, with that seriously insane plot and the dementedly stupid way that Jason is brought back from the dead. The kills are good again, even if they are cut to shreds thanks to the MPAA, with the best one being one the most iconic in the series, killing a girl in a sleeping bag against a tree. It may be a step back for the series, but it’s a decent entry that has more than enough Friday the 13th elements to it that make it worthwhile.
8. Friday the 13th (1980)
The movie that started it all and the movie that does not possess an antagonist named Jason Voorhees. No, the movie that started it all is the trivia killer as it features Jason’s mother, Pamela, as the killer. Jason is more of a myth at this point, a ghost story to tell on a summer’s night.
The movie pretty smartly never shows the killer until the end; it lets us assume that Jason is haunting these woods. So the reveal is a nice little twist, even though it doesn’t really kick that hard. There’s no mystery to the thing and when Pamela is revealed, there’s no real surprise to it. One, there’s not many other options left by the time she arrives. Two, she’s literally not in the movie until the ending, so it’s not so much a surprise as it is a trick. Also, what’s not really mentioned in talks about this movie is how slow and dull it kind of is.
The movie was made as a cheap knockoff to capitalize on the success of “Halloween”, so it’s really just a vehicle for sex and violence. The violence comes out in spades and is a saving grace for this movie, as Tom Savini did stellar work on the makeup effects as per usual. Also a saving grace for this movie, an underrated aspect of the series, is the score by Harry Manfredini. It really helps to build the mood, which is maybe the longest lasting element of this movie and the one that has aged the best, because this movie helped to make the ‘summer camp movie’ a thing.
That feeling of summertime fun with friends in the woods really plays out in all of these movies, with a good dash of murder and mayhem. There really may be no better example of feeling like summer than these movies. So while it has not aged particularly well, there’s no denying its importance and the lasting effects that all started here.
7. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
This is a solid little entry into the franchise that is notable for its inclusion, for the first time, of the hockey mask that would come to dominate the franchise’s iconography. It’s absolutely fascinating that the look that would define this series wouldn’t come in until the third entry, which is only the second appearance of Jason as the killer.
That the series made it to the third entry (so quickly too) and managed to catch people’s attention like it did is really something. In addition to the hockey mask, there’s the pure 80’s element of adding 3D to the mix. And like any good horror movie with 3D involved, it uses it purely for schlock value. It’s got some fantastic kills, most famously involving a head squeezed so hard that an eye pops out toward the camera.
Much like “Part VII”, it feels a bit rote after the success of the prior movie, but that really can’t be held against it too much. This is a real fun and classic entry in the series that would help define it, as it would be the first one to move past the POV killer angle and go to straight-up third person slaughters.
Although there is one weird element to it. Like, a really weird element. Our final girl apparently has a traumatic experience in her past that she has to get over before our boy Jason lays siege to the place. But apparently Jason is that traumatic experience, as a flashback scene reveals that Jason raped her. Yeah, they decided to add that our big ol’ deformed mongoloid decided to dabble in that ol’ Cosby tradition. It’s just an absolute bug-nuts element that’s kinda glossed over immediately and has been ignored thereafter, a little curio to fans that has no greater bearing on the series at all afterwards.