Friday, February 13, 2009

13 Reasons I Love the Friday the 13th Films

Happy Friday the 13th!

Today sees the release of a re-imagined Friday the 13th movie franchise in cinemas across America. Given this milestone, II figured it was a good time to pay my respects to the original films; the ones I grew up with as a teenager in the 1980s.

So, without further introduction, here are 13 reasons I will always love the Friday the 13th movies:


1.) There's a consistent, Old Testament-style, conservative argument to be made in the interpretation of the old school Friday the 13th films (1980 - 1991). I describe this thesis a bit in my book, Horror Films of the 1980s, referring to it as "vice precedes slice and dice." That means, simply, that misbehaving teenagers (screwing, drinking, snorting coke and getting high...) are punished (violently...) for their moral transgressions. Jason, whose trusty machete might as well be the punishing Hand of God Himself, is the punisher. With this motif in place, I never understood the Moral Majority's dedicated opposition to the Friday the 13th films. The not-so-subtle subtext of these Reagan Age horrors is that if you play...you pay. But then, would-be censors aren't know for their penetrating film analysis, I suppose.

2.) There is an alternative interpretation of the Friday the 13th films too. Stated bluntly, it is implicit in the original films that Jason Voorhees - hockey mask, machete and all -- is the natural (or supernatural...) result of a modern world in which there are no more predators for man. Jason is therefore but a mechanism, a response from nature, to man's invasion of a natural terrain (in this case, Camp Crystal Lake).
Screening the Friday the 13th film together, it's clear that the one factor in common is not Jason himself (who, technically, doesn't appear in Part V: A New Beginning), but rather...a storm. Yep, bad weather inevitably brings thunder, lightning...and evil, serial-killer predators (whether Mrs. Voorhees, Jason, or the Jason Impostor). The arrival of bad weather is important in the various Friday the 13th narratives for practical reasons, of course. Storms knock out power (and particularly lights...) plunging frightened teens into darkness, preventing telephone calls for aid, and making the youngsters ripe for the picking off. But it's more than that. It's as if nature is rising up and rebelling against these aimless, decadent humans and Jason is the mechanism to destroy them. If Jason didn't exist, Mother Nature would have to invent him. Consider also that Jason is tied to nature in an interesting fashion: he is believed dead for years when in fact he is alive and "incubating" at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake.

3.) The Survivors. They were no longer little women...they were final girls. Horror-hating moralists and not a few feminists perpetually and blindly misinterpret the Friday the 13th films as misogynistic when nothing could be further from the truth. Virtually every Friday the 13th film provides the audience a laudable and heroic "final girl" who outsmarts, out-thinks and out-fights the powerful (and male) Jason Voorhees. While her friends are fucking, getting high, or getting drunk, the final girl alone is actually paying attention to what's happening, and able to sense -- and ultimately combat -- looming danger. Tell me that's not a positive message to send to teenage girls. Keep your wits about you, don't submit to peer pressure, and remember where you left the chainsaw...

4.) The sleeping bag kill. This is a murder featured in Friday the 13th: The New Blood (1988), and it's my all-time favorite sequence in the franchise. As you may recall, Jason zips up an unlucky camper in a sleeping bag and then -- like she's a sack of potatoes -- repeatedly slams the bag and camper into a tree trunk It's not the goriest kill; it's not the silliest kill; but in some ways this basic bludgeoning is the most brutal and -- oddly -- the funniest kill in the series. I get a kick out of it every time I see it.

5.) The Cassandra Complex. This character archetype appears in several Friday the 13th films (particularly the first, Part 2, Jason Lives and Jason Takes Manhattan). There's always a drunk stumbling around the perimeter of Crystal Lake warning oblivious teens that they're all "going to die." This Cassandra figure goes right back to Greek myth -- the tragic seer who is never believed by those in danger. Critics and moralists can accuse the Friday the 13th films of being pandering, stupid horror movies as much as they want...but many of the entries are actually constructed with an eye towards some classic literature. Both in Mother Love (the relationship between Jason and Mrs. Voorhees) and in the inclusion of the discredited seer.


6.) Tom McLoughlin's sense of humor. McLoughlin directed Part VI, Jason Lives! and once more found the fun in the aging Friday the 13th saga, injecting the series with fresh blood in a number of clever sequences. The film opens, for instance, with a nod to the James Bond gun barrel sequence, except this time Jason is on-screen armed with a machete. The humor permeates in the film in little ways too. A child camper at Crystal Lake is seen, briefly, reading No Exit. Again, the meme that these are just "stupid" horror movies is proven wrong.

7.) The Stars in Waiting. Kevin Bacon, Crispin Glover, Corey Feldman, and Martin Cummins are just a few of the young actors who showed up at Camp Crystal Lake, got horribly murdered by a Voorhees, and moved on to bigger things. Everybody's got to start somewhere...

8.) Harry Manfredini's trademark "chi-chi-ha-ha" riff. Okay, so it's not the Halloween theme by John Carpenter. But this creepy, classic composition defined the Friday the 13th sound for a generation of teenagers, entered the pop culture lexicon, and was widely imitated and mocked. And, if I'm not mistaken, the cue is resurrected for the remake.

9.) The trailer for Jason Takes Manhattan. I'm not certain how many of you are old enough to recall this TV advertisement...but it was bloody genius. To the chipper tune of "New York, New York," a camera crept up on a figure gazing at the iconic New York City skyline. As we moved in on the figure -- his back to us -- he whirled around and it was...Jason! This trailer was actually more inventive than the farmed out-to-Canada movie it was created for. I appreciated the tag-line too: "Now New York has a new problem." I also can't help but think of The Muppets Take Manhattan...

10.) High Concepts Gone Horribly Wrong. The makers of the Friday the 13th films attempted desperately to keep the long-in-the-tooth series going, infusing new and crazy ideas into the later sequels. For instance, A New Blood was sort of Carrie Versus Jason, an idea that sounds great on paper but doesn't play so well, especially when "Carrie's" psychic powers miss their target and wake up Jason Voorhees from his deathly slumber at the bottom of Crystal Lake. And who can forget Jason X -- which sent Jason into deep space and brought in Star Trek: The Next Generation's holodeck technology? And in the underwhelming Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason is overcome by toxic waste in Manhattan's sewers...because you know, in New York, toxic waste gets flushed through the sewers every night! The toxic sludge doesn't kill Jason though...it just transforms, him into a pre-pubescent kid wearing his bathing suit. Whatever...

11.) Amy Steel. Ginny from Friday the 13th Part II is my personal favorite "final girl" in the series. It's a personal thing, all right? Not every Final girl can adorn a bloody wool sweater, talk sternly to Jason, and get the killer to back down. If I can't have Jamie Lee Curtis...give me Amy Steel any day.

12.) The Motive That Makes No Sense. So let me get this straight. Mrs. Voorhees went on a killing spree in 1980 (in the first film) because her little boy, Jason, drowned at Camp Crystal Lake in 1958 thanks to neglectful counselors. But...as the end of Friday the 13th proves...Jason didn't drown. He's still alive. So if Jason isn't really dead, why is Mrs. Voorhees after Alice (Adrienne King) and her friends? It makes no sense at all. Then, Jason kills new teenagers because Alice killed his mother. But his Mother shows up alive in the lake at the end of Part III. What the hell? It kind of reminds me -- in a really bad way -- of Jaws IV: The Revenge (1987). There, the great white shark wants revenge against all Brodys because Chief Brody...killed it.

13.) The sting-in-the-tail/tale from Friday the 13th. Director Sean Cunningham crafts a perfect, mind-shattering coda for Friday the 13th, even if it makes no sense in terms of the specifics of the narrative. A spent Alice is alone in a row boat, in the middle of Camp Crystal Lake when a deformed Jason Boy leaps out of the water to attack her. This sting-in-the-tale/tail is second only to Brian De Palm's Carrie (1976) in terms of terrifying impact. Everything about this finale is pitch-perfect, from the placid, idyllic look of the lake, to the tranquil, misleading music, to the sudden attack itself. Indeed, the longevity of the Friday series may originate from this unforgettable denouement (which passed the serial killer torch from Mother to Son).

There you have it. Happy Friday the 13th. Here's to you, Jason...with an arrow in the eye!


2 comments:

  1. 1) I've never seen any of these things.

    2) Thank you, thank you, thank you for never, ever making a crack about my last name. People with your kind of restraint are a dying breed.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, this is a great list! I want to comment on all of them, but that would be a waste of comment space! So let me just say that I also remember the Jason Takes Manhatten TV spot, which scared the F**K out of me. I just wish the movie had been half as good!

    I also think the term Final Girl is interesting in the way you've presented it (#3). "They were no longer little women...they were final girls," which kind of makes the term feel a little degrading, because if anything these "girls" had lost all innocence and became anything but! I never thought of that before, but now I want to think about it a lot!

    Oh yeah, and sleeping bag kill = awesome!

    ReplyDelete