Happy Friday the 13th, horror fans! For the last several years, every Friday the 13th, I pull out my Blu-ray collection and attempt a Friday the 13th film marathon. To date, I have never managed to get through all 12 films. Hopefully, Friday the 13th, 2018, will be different. At least this year, I will finally get to write this Chopping Block entry and rank the films from horror’s premiere franchise.
12 – Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Aside from Kane Hodder reprising his role as Jason Voorhees, Jason Goes to Hell has absolutely no redeeming qualities. In addition to the classic later-sequels mistake of retconning Jason’s origins, this sequel doesn’t actually feature much Jason. Instead Jason is ‘blown up real good’ at the start and his spirit possesses other bodies. The supernatural twist to the film represents a low-point for the franchise. If there is anything to appreciate about Jason Goes to Hell, it does have one scene where a coroner eats Jason’s heart. Don’t ask. Unfortunately, this was the first Friday the 13th film I saw in theaters. My friends and I debated walking out mid-way through it, but we had passes so at least it was free.
11 – Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Technically, Jason doesn’t go to Manhattan, he goes to Vancouver (standing in admirably for the Big Apple). Also, he doesn’t arrive in Manhattan until the last 15 minutes or so of the film. For the majority of Jason Goes to Manhattan, the film is Breaker High meets Friday the 13th, with most of the action unfolding on a cruise ship. At this point in the franchise, Crystal Lake is not only a large enough community to have its own graduating high school class, the remote lake is somehow connected to the ocean. There are a couple of kills that elevate this entry just slightly above Jason Goes to Hell. Jason decapitates a varsity boxer with a single punch to the head. This sequel has the distinction of having the most ridiculous ending to a Friday waste. Toxic waste doesn’t just kill Jason, it turns him back into his child self?? That’s the best explanation I can offer.
10 – Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
Jason meets Carrie! I imagine that was the pitch in some boardroom at Paramount Studios. There’s not much else to say about The New Blood as it offers little new to the franchise other than this twist. Lacking the giddy self-awareness of Jason Lives, I remember thinking this sequel felt tired and strained back when I was in high school. It does feature Kane Hodder’s debut as Jason. And Hodder gives the big man a menacing presence, even under layers of make-up. This sequel also features one of the series’ best on-screen kills with a character being slammed repeatedly against a tree while in a sleeping bag! Conversely, The New Blood as the second lamest ending in the series.
9 – Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
SPOILER ALERT: This is the sequel without Jason. You can’t fault Paramount Studios for wanting to try something different with the franchise after four films. Indeed, The Final Chapter did somewhat promise that Tommy Jarvis might emerge as the next villain in the series. Yet for whatever reason A New Beginning teases, but ultimately, never follows through on this idea. Instead we’re left with a mean-spirited, almost pornographic sequel, that offers a lame killer reveal. Much of the explicit gore in this sequel was cut by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This sequel also features some truly strange, idiosyncratic moments. Two random characters look like casting rejects from Grease. A couple serenade one another from a porta-potty. And one character attempts to one-up Crispin Glover’s dance scene with a stranger, 80s-robot dance.
8 – Friday the 13th (2009)
Oh, what could have been. For its first 10 to 15 minutes, the remake shows a lot of promise as a modern update of the 1980 classic. Its prologue gives the audience a glimpse of a primal, ferocious Jason and delivers some nice kills. Unfortunately, it’s all down hill from the opening. Technically, the Friday the 13th remake is a competently made film with acting that far exceeds what we were accustomed to in the original films. But herein lies the problem with the remake – it’s too polished. The original Friday the 13th wasn’t a polished film; it was messy but it worked, warts and all. Director Marcus Nispel also tries too hard to build in fan-service rather than telling a fresh story; aspects from the first four Friday are crammed into the remake.
7- Freddy vs. Jason
Frankenstein vs The Wolf Man, King Kong vs. Godzilla – People love to watch monsters duke it out on screen. It’s the equivalent of kids getting out all their actions figures in the sandbox with no care for intellectual property rights. For 80s horror fans, the prospects of seeing these horror icons battle one another was a fictional dream match. To be honest, Freddy vs. Jason is a supremely stupid movie featuring some cringeworthy dialogue from its human characters. Nonetheless, it a fun stupid movie that largely satisfies what horror fans laid down the price of a ticket to see. The premise that brings the movie monsters together may be a little convoluted but I’m not sure I could come up with something better. The human characters are annoying but they’re really just there for cannon fodder.
6 – Jason X
Yes, I have listed Jason X higher than Freddy vs Jason. Both films are pretty stupid but unlike Freddy vs. Jason, Jason X knows it’s a stupid film. Not quite as self-aware as Jason Lives, this Jason-in-space sequel understands it is the tenth film in a franchise that has run for two decades. I am not entirely certain but some of the awful dialogue in Freddy vs. Jasonis delivered like director Ronny Yu wasn’t in on the joke. Writers Victor Miller and Todd Farmer play much of the concept in Jason X for laughs with a hologram sequence in particular effectively poking fun at some of the franchise’s dated tropes. There are also a couple of stand-out death scenes and Kane Hodder returns for the last time as Jason. As an interesting side note, director David Cronenberg has a small role in the film.
5 – Friday the 13th Part III
Now we’re getting into the Friday films that I genuinely like, not just ironically. Following directly from the events of Part II, this sequel shows some franchise strains but largely maintains the aesthetics and tone from the original film. Director Steven Miner is still trying to scare audiences and largely succeeds. While Dana Kimmell’s ‘Chris’ is one of the weaker final girls in the franchise, the film’s third act still delivers some genuinely creepy moments. The 3D feels very dated and leads to some admittedly strained, gimmicky scenes. In addition, the opening disco theme is cringeworthy, but this is also the sequel that finally gave audiences the goalie mask. Part III also gave us what I affectionately refer to as ‘The Rick’ – the male protagonist introduced as a potential threat to the killer who ultimately dies without doing anything useful.
4 – Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Jason Lives dramatically reverses course from the poorly received A New Beginning. Writer and director Tom McLoughlin goes all in with the sixth film in the franchise and delivers a self-aware, fun Friday the 13th film. No more pretending that Jason is an ordinary guy with really good endurance. No more pretending that the axe to the head was just a flesh wound. Jason Lives throws out the rule book, resurrects Jason with lightning (because why not), and just turns him into an unstoppable killing machine. The result is a briskly paced film with over-the-top death scenes where everyone involved seems to be having fun. Thom Matthews finally gives us the Tommy Jarvis that was promised to fans in A New Beginning. Along the way we get some Alice Cooper songs in the soundtrack and a fantastic climax that’s still giving back to fans today (see below).
3 – Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter
Tom Savini reportedly returned to do the special effects for The Final Chapter to kill off the character he helped create. It’s largely Savini’s contributions that make this a killer entry to the franchise. As the fourth film, the formula was pretty familiar but Savini’s amazing effects and Corey Feldman’s ‘Tommy Jarvis’ deliver enough curveballs to make this sequel stand out. If you factor in Crispin Glover’s oddball but charming performance and it’s not hard to see why this sequel is a favourite among fans. The climax actually delivers on its promise of giving Jason a fitting death. In addition, this sequel has the ultimate ‘The Rick’ in Erich Anderson’s ‘Rob’ – seriously this guy turns out to be totally useless.
2 – Friday the 13th Part II
The first sequel still stands as the best of the sequels in large part because it closely follows what worked in the original. It looks, feels, and sounds like the first film. Most importantly, Part II maintains the tone of Friday the 13th and seems to genuinely want to scare audiences. Logically, the sequel doesn’t make much sense but it gave us horror icon Jason Voorhees so we won’t complain. As much as the goalie mask is iconic in the horror genre, the sack worn by Jason in this sequel, a nod to The Town That Dreaded Sunset, is effectively creepy. In fact, I personally prefer this version of Jason – he’s a much more primal villain than in later sequels. Part II delivers some shocking and effective kills. In addition, this sequel gives us one of the best final girls in slasher film history with Amy Steel’s Ginny. Jason’s dilapidated cabin is ‘nightmare fuel’ and the final jump scare almost approaches the first film’s ending. And the question, ‘What happened to Paul’ will haunt me to my grave.
1 – Friday the 13th
You cannot beat the original. I wouldn’t be writing this list is not for this little film. I still remember when this movie aired on television, begging my mom to let me stay up and watch it. It was this film and the original Halloween that fuelled my love of horror films. Is it low budget? Yes. Is it derivative of much better films? Yes. Does the final reveal of the killer make sense? No. And does anyone really care? Of course not. From the first notes of Harry Manfredini’s landmark score, the viewer is hooked with the film’s simple premise. Tom Savini’s special effects work and Sean S. Cunningham’s direction give us some of the best death scenes in horror film history. The film’s final third is a fun roller coaster ride of suspense with a fantastic climax. Lastly, we get one of the best final jump-scares in horror film history. The original Friday the 13th is why I love horror films.