With those few syllables, a very low budget, and buckets upon buckets of brightly colored fake blood, producer/director/writer Sean S. Cunningham laid the foundation for what has got to be one of the most ridiculously profitable film franchises in history. Between 1980 and 1989, watching Jason Voorhees hack people to bits was an almost annual ritual for filmgoers of a certain age and temperament, and though the ’90s and early aughts weren’t as kind to the series, Friday the 13th has undergone a bit of a renaissance this year, thanks to the Platinum Dunes-produced reboot that scared up a $90 million worldwide gross, and Paramount is celebrating by reissuing the first eight films on DVD and/or Blu-ray. They passed me over for the first installment (don’t they know who I am?), but sent chapters II through VI, plus the reboot, so I’ve spent the last week or so reliving my Camp Crystal Lake memories with a series of Deluxe Edition discs. It’s been an exhausting journey, but now it’s over, and I’m here to tell you about it.
Though I was only six when the first Friday the 13th debuted in 1980, the series quickly attained enough pop culture clout to attract the fascination of grubby young boys all over America, and by the time Lar Park Lincoln used her telekinetic powers to dredge Jason’s corpse from Crystal Lake in 1988’s Part VII: The New Blood, the lumbering, hockey-masked killer had already been on a first-name basis with me and my friends for several sequels. I was never much of a slasher fan, but there was always something undeniably fascinating about the Friday films; inspired directly by John Carpenter’s Halloween, they were proudly crass and cynical, and they never earned the kind of critical respect enjoyed by peers like A Nightmare on Elm Street and the first Poltergeist, but as each of those franchises withered away, Jason continued lumbering on. Hell, even Halloween had to take most of the ’80s off after the producers fucked things up with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, but not Jason — no matter how desperate his handlers grew, he kept popping up on the big screen. He went to Manhattan in ’89, Hell in ’93, and all the way to outer space in 2002. He even managed to drag Freddy Krueger out of retirement for 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason.
All of which is pretty impressive for a character who never really changes and has ever only been good for one thing — but then, we love those characters, don’t we? If you think about it, during his ’80s heyday, Jason was basically Fonzie or Norm from Cheers with a machete: We knew exactly what he was going to do when he showed up, but we still cheered whenever he appeared on our screens, because what he did was sort of cool, and it appealed to us on some primal level. Who wouldn’t want to be able to command jukeboxes and pinball machines with the bounce of a fist? Or run up a GDP-sized bar tab? Or cut everyone who ever pissed us off into ribbons?
Okay, maybe not that last one. But it could still be a hoot to watch under the right conditions — for instance, in a darkened theater with several dozen screaming horror fans. Chee-chee-chee. Ah-ah-ah. (Note: It’s apparently actually “ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma,” and composer Harry Manfredini has taken issue with people always getting it wrong, but whatever.)
Having not seen any of the Friday films in ages (and never having seen any of the post-’80s installments at all), I approached this assignment with a mixture of anticipation and dread — anticipation because nostalgia is a helluva drug, and dread because, well, I had committed myself to watching six Friday the 13th movies. These mixed feelings were appropriate, because as even its most ardent fans know, the series can be a pretty bumpy ride; studio politics, budget limitations, and rapid turnover in the cast and crew necessitated all sorts of shifts in tone and storyline from one sequel to the next. Taken in rapid succession, these shifts can be jarring, but they aren’t always unpleasant; for instance, for 1982’s Friday the 13th Part 3, the franchise moved away from the dark chills of the first two installments in favor of a much more comedic approach, which worked well enough that it was attempted again (with decidedly less effective results) for 1985’s Part V: A New Beginning and 1986’s Part VI: Jason Lives. In between, you had what might be the best entry in the series, 1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which includes comparatively solid acting (including appearances from young Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman), copious nudity, and a final act in which Jason dies for what was supposed to be the last time.
Unfortunately, killing Jason off presented the producers with a bit of a dilemma when it came time to inevitably press forward with further sequels, resulting in a subsequent trilogy in which Tommy Jarvis, the character who offs Jason in the fourth installment, grows up into a troubled teen who is shipped off to a booby hatch where he has to ward off a deranged EMT posing as Jason (Part V), and then digs up Jason’s corpse, inadvertently exposing it to a reanimating lightning strike in the process (and setting in motion the chain of events that would change Jason from a lumbering, psychotic retard into a lumbering, psychotic, indestructible retard). From here, the only thing left to do was find new places to put Jason, which is how we ended up with the unholy trinity of Jason Goes to Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell, and Jason X (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Freddy vs. Jason). The bloom had worn off the hockey mask, so to speak, which is why — the inherent shittiness of remakes and reboots notwithstanding — starting over with this year’s simply titled Friday the 13th was an idea that held a bit of promise.
Having viewed most of the previous installments immediately prior to watching it, I can say with some authority that the reboot actually lives up to that promise. I mean, look, it’s still a Friday the 13th movie, so if you aren’t into the idea of watching beautiful young people tossed headfirst off this mortal coil, then you’ll hate it — but if you’re in the mood for some good old-fashioned hack ‘n’ slash (and if you’re a fan of the franchise), then I think you’ll appreciate what the producers have done with a story that had wandered too far into the margins. For starters, it’s a Platinum Dunes production, meaning it’s been touched by the explosion-triggering hand of Michael Bay, and is therefore easily the prettiest Friday ever made. Director Marcus Nispel and screenwriters Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, and Mark Wheaton stayed true to the series’ exploitation roots but discarded the often chintzy look and feel of previous installments, piling on what my colleague David Medsker has referred to as “boobs, blunts, and blood” and dressing them up in some of the slickest, most effective scenes of gruesome mayhem you’re likely to see in a mainstream 21st-century horror flick. Perhaps more importantly, they’ve given Jason himself a makeover, changing him from a lumbering idiot into the sort of feral beast you might expect to find hiding in the woods. This Jason moves with speed and lethal grace — and he lives in what appear to be abandoned mine shafts (near a lake? Eh, whatever) that run throughout Camp Crystal Lake, helping explain just how in the hell he manages to pop up everywhere all the time. The new Friday does everything it’s supposed to do, more or less brilliantly — including the gratuitous nudity, which (ahem) climaxes in a scene featuring several minutes of ecstatic dialogue directed toward Julianna Guill’s breasts, most of which was, I am convinced, improvised on the spot, because every word is accurate. Platinum Dunes is all but certain to screw things up with the sequel, gearing up now, but they deserve a round of polite, bloodstained applause for this chapter.
I received these titles in a mix of formats — The Final Chapter, A New Beginning, and Jason Lives all came on DVD, while Part 2, Part 3, and the reboot arrived on Blu-ray. Each disc comes packed with an impressive selection of special features. At least some of them were probably repurposed from the Crystal Lake to Manhattan box that was released five years ago, but seeing as how we’re talking about multiple editions of a stack of movies, and the studio didn’t care enough to include a guide, I’m just going to throw up my hands and say that each disc’s extra content includes at least one featurette worth watching. The studio, with the aid of former cast members and hardcore fans, has assembled a series of loving behind-the-scenes looks at each film, and included a bunch of the assorted scraps (like “legendary” deleted scenes) that the diehards live for. Some of it’s hokey (like the “Lost Tales from Camp Blood” and “Crystal Lake Massacres Revisited” series, spread out in installments over the discs), but they at least live up to their “deluxe edition” billing.
The Blu-rays, as you might expect, vary according to age. Part 2 is an HD transfer of a low-budget film from 1981, so you’re going to have to forgive a certain amount of ugliness, but if you’re dying (ha!) to watch the movie in 1080p, this is the place to do it. Part 3 fares better — it’s a cleaner transfer, and it helps that most of the movie takes place outside during the day; the disc also includes a pair of 3-D glasses and the original 3-D version of the film, which is just as annoying to watch now as it was in 1982. Still, it’s a nice touch. The reboot, meanwhile, looks absolutely gorgeous, and includes an array of cool extra content, including in-depth looks at how the movie’s “best kills” were assembled behind the scenes, a retrospective featurette titled “Hacking Back/Slashing Forward,” and a PIP “terror trivia track,” plus BD-Live content. If you’re going to own the film, this is the format to go with.
Purchase the Friday the 13th films at Amazon:
Friday the 13th Part 2 DVD | Blu-ray
Friday the 13th Part 3 DVD | Blu-ray
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter DVD
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning DVD
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives DVD
Friday the 13th (2009 reboot) DVD | Blu-ray