6. Jason X (2001)
This movie knows exactly what it is, and the poisonous reviews at the time were too stuck up their own asses to see that the movie was more self-aware than it was given credit for. I mean, this series has always had a bit of a self-aware streak to it, never taking itself too seriously. So to assume that they were too filled with hubris to realize how inherently silly the premise of Jason in space was is just nonsensical. The movie is funny and it knows it’s place in the franchise. Hell, it knows this franchise so well that it really is able to pick and choose from its history to pick fun at it with plenty of love.
The movie is cheap as hell and its obvious budgetary issues really show in the sub sci-fi network visuals, but that’s all besides the point. The point is that the very silly plot here starts wonderfully silly and just keeps getting sillier. We get a cameo from David goddamned Cronenberg for Christ’s sake, which should go to show you that this wasn’t some half-baked movie.
The kills in here are some of the best of the series, with the iconic one being the frozen head kill. It all just culminates until the big reveal of Mecha Jason, and there’s nothing more indicative of how aware this movie is then the appearance of a goddamned sci fi Jason Voorhees. This movie is an underrated gem in the franchise, one of the most fun and entertaining late-entry sequels for a horror franchise.
5. Friday The 13th Part II (1981)
Steve Miner is the real secret sauce to the success of this franchise. He is a much better director than Sean Cunningham and the work he did on “Part II” and “Part III” is what would shape the franchise for good. Bringing Jason to life in this one, continuity be damned, would be the best move they could make.
Even if they make yet another knockoff decision by having Jason look like a more yokel version of the killer from “The Town That Dreaded Sundown”. But baghead Jason is a much scarier version of Jason than we have gotten accustomed to. He runs and is more realistically brutal with his kills than his later incarnations would be. He feels much more human, which makes it all the more creepier to see him lurching about.
The movie moves a lot better than the first one, with Miner taking that structure and perfecting it. His pacing is better and his character work is better, with these counselors making a better impression than the first groups. Miner also gets a little deconstructive, poking fun a little bit at the first movie while still playing into the game it laid out.
It’s a funnier movie with that element and just some fun filmmaking, as in a scene where a dog finds Jason and then it cuts to hot dogs on a grill. The ending is great, having a much more interesting final girl show a bit more humanity in her ability to fight back against Jason. She’s scared but she’s also smart. Having the absolutely humiliating moment of her pissing herself while she’s hiding under the bed in Jason’s shack would be an ugly and exploitative moment, if it wasn’t for her immediately figuring out how to stop Jason by wearing his mother’s sweater.
The whole package is a great movie, yet it’s not completely what the series would become yet. It spends a lot of time with the POV filmmaking style that the first one had, not really moving away from that until the third act. It hadn’t really gotten into the mode of Jason being the main reason why we’re here, so it’s not completely filled with blood and boobs just yet. This is an early indicator of what the series would become, a little more pure in intentions than they would become.
4. Freddy vs Jason (2003)
This may be the most purely fun movie in the series. There are no scares to be had and no real attempts to be scary. This big-budget fan film is all about the joy of seeing two titans of horror clash, and it does not disappoint. It manages the great balancing act of making both characters feel naturally a part of the story, without shoehorning in.
The narrative is really a Freddy narrative, all about him trying to get enough power to become a killer again. But to do so, he needs someone to kill a bunch of pesky kids in a bid to scare the town of Elmwood into thinking he’s back, the fear making him strong. So why not utilize that big ol’ doofus Jason, as killing indiscriminately is his strong suit, even more so than Freddy?
Having Jason be the main instrument of death is what makes it equally a Jason story. Freddy is trying to get something achieved, while Jason is just there. And because Freddy is the more purposefully evil, he ends up being more of the antagonist. So by the time the final fight comes to be, we want Jason to come out on top, even if Jason hasn’t been neutered too completely to not also be a problem for the counselors here. They make it that Jason is a more localized to Crystal Lake threat, whereas Freddy is a broader threat.
For a movie that has had such a long development history filled with over-thought narratives, this movie has a deft touch for equal share of the two franchises while also being a fun ride. The history of the two franchises is rich as well, informing every decision along the way. References abound to build up the world to make it feel like they’re in the same world.
It’s a shame that the production history was so long and expensive that it became essentially impossible for the studio to make money, thereby making a sequel next to impossible to justify. It made a crap ton of money too, that’s how long the process was. But as is, the movie stands as one of the best of the franchise and one of the most entertaining movies in horror.
3. Friday The 13th (2009)
Platinum Dunes has become a bit of a punchline amongst horror fans, their name eliciting more fear than the horror movies they would make. But there’s two movies in their history that are actually good entries into their sagas. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake and the “Friday the 13th” reboot.
“Chainsaw” is a good entry because it’s not a garbage fire mess, but the “13th” reboot is one of the best and most pure entries in this series. It makes the smart decision to do away with zombie Jason and go back to the olden days of redneck Jason. This movie isn’t a remake so much as a squished together reboot of the first three movies. We start off with the ending of the first movie, with Pamela Voorhees getting killed.
Then the movie from there becomes the new version of “Part II”, where Jason has the baghead. Then halfway through it hits the beat of “Part III” where he gets the hockey mask. Yet for all the similarities to the first three movies in feel and look, it never actually remakes them. We don’t get beat-for-beat story moments. It’s a whole new story that is informed by the history of the series.
It’s an older school story because it isn’t the “fun” ones that we got once Jason was killed after “Part IV”. Jason is actually a scary presence and he is brutal. The swift and almost Rambo-esque nature of his villainy is something to behold. We basically get a short movie before the credits, as Jason mows through an entire group of young’uns trespassing on his land. It’s a thrilling sequence and one that leads into a really good straight ahead version of the summer massacre story.
The group we follow is a more likable group than some of the others (for the most part). We get Jared Padalecki as a man looking for his sister, who we saw in that brilliant opening. Danielle Panabaker is set up as our final girl who will end up with Jared, but this all gets subverted in a pretty brilliant way.
It’s a movie filled with love for the franchise without making all the pointed references to the series in the way “Freddy vs. Jason” or others would do. Fans will get these real subtle moments, and the story itself is a fresh remix of what had come before. A bit scary, very thrilling, and fun as hell. This is a real strong and pure example of what the series is.
2. Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
This is the funniest entry in the series. Well, funniest on purpose. It plays almost like a loving satire on the series, the same way “Shaun of the Dead” is a loving satire that still plays it like a straight zombie movie. You can’t really argue that this movie isn’t purposefully making jokes when the movie starts off with Jason being revived by a lightning bolt and then immediately doing a James Bond gun barrel opening into the credits.
Tom McLoughlin is not given enough credit in this franchise for delivering one of the best movies that is clear-eyed enough to realize how silly this whole thing has become, with the never-ending sequels and the nonsense ways Jason keeps not dying. But there’s also enough love there that it’s not a franchise-ending goof fest. It’s funny but it’s also bloody enough to clearly be a Friday the 13th movie. It’s got some great kills, since this is the first appearance of zombie Jason. The best has to be when Jason folds a cop in half, in a hilariously over-the-top display of power.
This is the final entry in the Tommy Jarvis saga, one which was never really thought out too completely but ends up working pretty decently in this franchise, a franchise that couldn’t give a damn about continuity. Just going with what makes sense in the moment. There’s plenty of little jokes peppered throughout, subtle little visual jokes like kids reading Sartre books and such.
There’s a lot of mileage here about kids being in the fray for the first time, which adds humor but also an edge that was missing in prior movies. This movie is a perfect little gem, one of the best horror movies of the 80s and a real highpoint for the series. Like a joke amongst friends in the midst of mayhem, this movie is great.
1. Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
This is the best straight ahead Friday the 13th movie by a country mile. At the time, it was supposed to be the last Jason movie so they went all out with it. They put their efforts into it in a way they hadn’t before, looking to go out on a high note before moving on to other killers (one time only in “Part V”). They even managed to get Tom Savini back to kill the monster he created in that original movie.
The structure had been set and the game is well known, so it was all about getting it perfect. And they did. The counselors in this one are the best in the bunch. Tommy Jarvis is introduced in the first of the trilogy that kinda makes sense but kind of doesn’t, but was definitely not executed in the way they wanted to. Jason is much more brutal this time out, his last time as a human-esque monster. There’s Crispin Glover doing a dance only that maniac can dole out, and he also gets killed in a great way.
However, the best death scene has to go to Jason, as Savini really wanted to send that big bastard out in a great way. So he gets hacked in the face with a machete and he falls down onto it, the blade slowly pushing its way through his face. Then Tommy just hacks the hell out of him and sends him to the great hereafter (for two years until “Part VI”). The formula has never been executed so well, with all the elements coming together to deliver an excellent movie that all that would follow would try to emulate but could never really hit.