A Cinefessions Series Review is a periodic column that sees one or more writers watching and reviewing an entire film series. Cinefessions considers any film franchise that has two or more films a series, and thus available for review in this column. This is a way to get a quick look at an entire collection of films in one column. Today, Branden goes through an even dozen with Jason Voorhees and the Friday the 13th series.
Friday the 13th (1980, dir. Sean S. Cunningham)
There is just something about this film that makes it a natural part of the horror canon. It is definitely a product of the pre-MTV generation, which is evident with the fact that it takes almost thirty minutes before the kills really get going. Why this works, though, is because the dialogue that the counselors share is entertaining enough to keep the pace moving forward; it never feels boring. Once the killings start, the pace really picks up, and it becomes clear why this is such a beloved film among horror fanatics.
I often hear the acting frowned upon in this one, but it really isn’t terrible. The actors, including a young Kevin Bacon, are playing these goofy, free spirited, ‘70s teens pretty well. They aren’t supposed to be taken too seriously, which is important to remember. The killer’s identity is kept hidden very well throughout the entire film, and if you somehow don’t already know the twist, it could be quite shocking.
Though this is clearly playing second fiddle to Halloween, Friday the 13th still does a lot of things right, the best being that final jump scare when Jason finally makes his first appearance. I remember jumping the first couple of times I watched the film because it comes out of nowhere. Not a fantastic horror ride, but one that is important enough to take, thanks in large part to Tom Savini’s special effects.
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981, dir. Steve Miner)
This quickie sequel was rushed out merely a year after the huge success of Friday the 13th. What should be total rubbish is actually, arguably, a better slasher film that its prequel, which shocks me because it took me this many viewings to realize it. I bashed this film in my original review a couple years ago, but this re-viewing has made me realize how much Part 2 does really well.
The events of the second film take place five years after the bloodbath of the first movie, and we get the real introduction of the face of the franchise, Jason (though he still doesn’t have his signature mask yet). The slayings start much sooner in this film as we get a lot less build-up and character development. The few characters we do meet are the only ones that really matter thanks to the decision to send over half the camp counselors away to party the night that Jason strikes (most likely a budget choice, as killing all of those counselors would have taken some time and a lot of special effects make-up).
The kills are not spectacular in this film, and the lack of Tom Savini in the effects department hurts, but it makes up for the originality with the sheer number of deaths. A high body count is a trend will continue on as the series progresses. I really liked the development of the main actress, or the Final Girl, if you will. Her child psychology background comes into play late in the film, and though it might not be the greatest scene, it still brings the movie around full circle well enough.
The ending feels a bit rushed, but the race to it is done well. Jason’s true introduction to the world of cinema is a worthwhile successor to the first film, and even surpasses it in some ways. Though very similar, the larger budget is appreciated in the way of a higher body count, which is always fun.
Friday the 13th Part III (1982, dir. Steve Miner)
There is nothing I’d rather do than watch this film in 3D, but the studios refuse to release a proper, Blu-ray 3D version of this film, so we are stuck with the terrible, and unwatchable red/blue 3D. That said, watching this in 2D is clearly not what the intention of the director was because there are long, overdrawn, and awkward moments of items coming right at the camera lens that just do not work without the added third dimension.
Aside from that, Part III is a big disappointment. Sure, the movie is more “fun” than the first two films in that the characters are goofier and crazier, but the problem is that I just did not like any of them. I don’t care that they’re all about to be killed by Jason, and in fact, there were some I was hoping would be killed off sooner than they were (looking at you, Shelly).
What’s so disappointing is that the film starts out strong. I always enjoy watching the opening murder scene, which takes place the very next day after the events of Part 2. The husband and wife character are entertaining, and there deaths are fun to watch. The problems start when the main cast is introduced. There are only a handful of decent actors in the troupe, but the standout actor is Paul Kratka, and not in a positive way. Kratka is the opposite of a natural actor, delivering stiff lines with no life behind them throughout the entire movie. He is clearly cast only because of his charming good looks. If he was the only poor actor in the bunch, the film could have been salvaged, but that isn’t the case. Some of the later death scenes are ruined because of the awkward acting.
The bike gang has to be my least favorite part of this film, though. If they played an important role, or even propelled the film forward in the slightest, I could have forgiven their existence. Instead, they are laughably inserted in the film for nothing more than machete-fodder (or whichever other weapon of Jason’s choosing). There were plenty of other counselors that could have taken the place of these stupid gang members, but instead, fifteen minutes of the film is wasted on them.
Part III isn’t terrible – there are some fun kills, the pacing isn’t bad, and it does give Jason his infamous hockey mask and machete – but it is nowhere near as solid as the first two films. Without the Jason legacy surrounding it, I would say skip it entirely. As part of a bigger picture, though, it is worth seeing.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984, dir. Joseph Zito)
Friday the 13th Part III in 3D was the second highest grossing sequel of the entire Friday the 13th series, so it makes sense that this fourth outing sees a much better cast. Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman are the two major standouts from The Final Chapter, and it is crazy seeing these two established actors in the middle of the Friday the 13th series, especially since Glover essentially plays the same character that he does in Back to the Future, but much less likeable.
This, like Part III, takes place one day after the events of the previous film (making this one hell of a three days for the county housing Crystal Lake), and doesn’t really add much to the series, but rather cements Jason as the ultimate killer. As mentioned in the Part 2 review, the body counts continue to rise, and they feel like they’re at an all-time high in this film. While the movie tries to add more story this time around, almost all of it is pointless because it doesn’t really add to the characters, and does little for Jason’s mythos. I did like how they built up Feldman’s character as a boy obsessed with making masks, though, and it is something that could have been built upon in future outings.
There is a lot of skinny-dipping, date switching, partying, and sex, which all equals out to being murdered by Jason. The nothingness of the story does what it is supposed to do: give Jason a reason, place, and means to kill people. Other than that, there are not a lot of noteworthy kills (but it does have the banana girl getting killed in the beginning of the film, which is one of Chris’ favorite kills in the series; it didn’t really do anything for me, though). I loved the addition of Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman, but this is one that will otherwise be difficult to remember in a couple of weeks.
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985, dir. Danny Steinmann)
This review will contain spoilers for Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. Read at your own risk.
This has to be the most disappointing of the sequels so far. The fourth film does a great job of building Tommy Jarvis (played by Corey Feldman) as a potential predecessor to Jason, and instead of capitalizing on that, A New Beginning wastes it by sending Tommy to a halfway house filled with characters more interesting than him. Once there, some killings start, but who could be doing it? Jason is, of course, dead, so is there a copycat? Maybe someone traumatized by committing a murder at only 12 years old, and is obsessed with making homemade masks? Yeah. Maybe not.
Instead, the movie pits some random, otherwise unrelated character as the killer, which just kills me. Is it a fake out? Sure. Is it smart, or well implemented? Absolutely not.
The same could be said about the entire film. There are some outrageously bad characters introduced, most specifically the stereotypical redneck neighbors to the halfway house. They are so stupidly played up, and horribly written that I wanted to shut the movie off. Not only that, they’re a complete waste of time, which is not the first time we’ve had characters introduced that added little or nothing to the plot.
A majority of the kills are done off-screen, with only the results being shown after the fact (clearly to save on money). On a positive note, like the fourth film, the nudity factor is ratcheted up in this film, which is always a good thing.
Though there is a severe lack of Jason, which ultimately kills this Friday the 13th sequel, it could have been salvaged with an interesting tie-in to the last film. Instead, that potential is wasted in order to bring us a random killer that makes virtually no sense to the story. Then they try to save it at the very final moment, but instead it just makes this worse. A New Generation is just a lackluster movie any way you cut it.
Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986, dir. Tom McLoughlin)
I was not looking forward to this entry because all I could remember before this reviewing was that Jason was brought back to life as a zombie thanks to a lightning strike. And yes, this plot device is a silly way to bring Jason back, but it is forgivable because of two reasons. The first reason being that there is really no other way to bring back Jason than to simply dig up his body and hope for the best, and the second reason is that once we get past this odd plot point, the rest of the film is arguably the best in the series, including the original.
Jason Lives finds an excellent combination of laughs and death. Much like the past couple films, the body count is huge, but this time around, the kills are more enjoyable. My favorite kill has to be when Jason literally folds a character in half, breaking their back in two. It looks gruesome even though it contains virtually no blood. There is also a fun scene involving some paintballers that is merely added for more kills, but unlike in Part III, is done quite well.
The main plot is the third entry into the “Tommy Jarvis Trilogy”, and while it literally adds nothing of importance to any of the characters, it’s interesting to see Tommy’s story arc across the three films. The standout in Jason Lives, and really the only character worth noting aside from Tommy, is Jennifer Cooke as Megan, Tommy’s rebellious love interest. Cooks plays the sexy rebel incredibly well, and it’s odd to see that she never went on to do anything in the acting world after Jason Lives.
The slasher elements in Jason Lives are really solid, enough so that you can forgive the ridiculous opening scene because it sets up the rest of this great sequel. There’s a lot to like about this sequel, and it sets the series back on track after a poor effort in A New Beginning.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988, dir. John Carl Beuchler)
This is another film that opens up with a silly gimmick in order to get Jason back into the picture, but I guess this is something I need to get used to at this point because Jason is technically a dead man. The problem with this one, though, is that the film sticks with this idea for the entire film, and it falls flat fast.
This entry contains one of my favorite kills so far, and it comes in the form of a sleeping bag meeting a tree. Aside from this, though, there are not a lot of solid kills. This would be alright if the rest of the story was able to hold my attention, but the plot is so oddly put together that it is almost entirely played out after the first 30 minutes. The problem is that there are still another 60 minutes left, and if these were filled with cool kills, then that would be acceptable. As it stands, there is a lot of time killing, which hurts the pace a great deal.
The only thing I really liked in this film is Jason himself. This is Kane Hodder’s first attempt at the legendary character, and he is undoubtedly the best one to put on the mask. His Jason just screams “bad ass” in virtually every scene. He is a menacing figure, and is the only real reason to spend time with The New Blood. The human characters are as forgettable as they come, and add virtually nothing to the film except meat to slice.
The New Blood just couldn’t hold my attention. I found my mind wandering very early, and it never really won me back. This is definitely a skippable entry in the series.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989, dir. Rob Hedden)
Jason Takes Manhattan is quite a misleading title. The vast majority of the entry takes place on a boat on the way to Manhattan instead of in the actual city, which is disappointing. Even so, there is a more coherent story here, which makes it a much better trip than the last film.
Kane Hodder is back as Jason, and he is still my favorite actor to don the mask so far. He has a natural menace that doesn’t fade in this film. My problem with Jason comes from the special effects department. When he takes his mask off, he clearly looks like a person wearing a mask over another mask to make his face look “hideous”. Instead, he just looks silly, and I let out an audible giggle when I saw this.
The boat does make for some interesting kills, and the human characters are much better this time around, including the sexy seductress that is Suzi. I loved her scene where she attempts to seduce her teacher into giving her a passing grade, but because she is such a witch to everyone around her, the next scene is even more rewarding.
Even though I was more excited to see Jason take over my favorite city, I have to admit that I was disappointed when they finally arrived as the kills became less creative and the story started dragging (probably because it just became a chase film at that point and the story had already, for the most part, played out). So though more could have done here, I still enjoyed the movie a lot more than Part VII, but it is clear that this series is coming to a much-needed end.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993, dir. Adam Marcus)
There is a four-year gap between Part VIII and this film, making it the longest break between entries to date. While this feels like it would have been a fitting conclusion to the overplayed series, the ending promises a fun sequel (that would eventually take ten years to produce), and ties both the Nightmare on Elm Street series and Friday the 13th series together. In fact, there are homage’s in this film from Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween, to name a few. As a horror geek, I loved this about it.
If one can look past the ridiculous, fetus-like creature that is moving from body to body, which only makes an appearance in this film and never in any of the films preceding it, there is a solid flick here. I hated that Jason’s spirit traveled between bodies, but only because it was something that was never presented before. For the film, it actually worked pretty well. The fact that Kane Hodder makes a cameo without the makeup as a guard in the beginning of the film was awesome as well.
Where Jason Goes to Hell shines the most is in the characters. I actually liked these people, and was engaged in their story. I like how the Duke character is used to try and tie up some of the loose ends of the series, but how well that actually works is debatable. It does work to make more sense out of A New Generation (the fifth film), though.
I loved some of the death scenes in Jason Goes to Hell, which is one of the most important aspects of any of these films. A good number of them are memorable for their creativity or their brutality, which I always enjoy. It’s unfortunate that the Duke character only makes an appearance in this film because he could have acted like the Sam Loomis character form Halloween; he is a blast to watch. Though Jason Goes to Hell has a lot of nonsense to look past, it is the best in the series since Part VI.
Jason X (2001, dir. Jim Isaac)
Freddy vs. Jason was taking too damn long to get made, so in the time between Jason Goes to Hell and Freddy vs. Jason, they decided to release Jason X, a film that takes place after the events that will eventually happen when Freddy vs. Jason is released. Got that? Good.
The stories get more and more out there as the series continues on, but Jason X works on virtually every level. The film opens in 2008 and Jason is about to be cryogenically frozen. Things don’t go as planned, and he and another woman both end up frozen. Then the movie jumps to 2455, and a research team stumbles across the two frozen bodies. They decide to unfreeze the female while Jason unfreezes himself, and the killing spree begins again.
The movie sounds absolutely ridiculous, and it is, but the jokes keep things lighthearted enough to make it work. Aside from it being laugh out loud funny at points, the kills are also incredibly brutal. One of my favorites – aside from the return of the sleeping bag kill – has to be when Jason sticks a woman’s head into liquid nitrogen, freezing her face, and then smashes it into a million little pieces. The effects really sold this awesome moment.
Once Jason becomes “Uber Jason”, as the credits claim, things are taken up yet another notch. The character design for Uber Jason is simply badass, and Hodder once again kills it as Jason (pun absolutely intended). Peter Mensah as Sgt. Brodski is equally as intimidating, with a physique that screams “bring it, Jason”. The female characters are all extremely pretty, and well acted, with my favorite of the bunch being the jokester Janessa, played by Melyssa Ade. Her one-liners were well delivered, and she kept up the humor right to the very end.
This film gets a bad rap, but I loved it. It is one of my favorites in the series, and even though it takes things to the extreme by jumping ahead in time over 400 years, everything about it is fun enough to make it a great ride.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003, dir. Ronny Yu)
It took ten years to finally come to fruition, but the promise that was made in Jason Goes to Hell finally came to pass with Freddy vs. Jason. This is really the first film in the franchise that I was old enough to see in theatres, and is another of the founding films that helped push my film obsession to horror (along with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that released a few months after this one). I remember absolutely loving the film when I saw with my buddy in theatres, but I hadn’t really spent a great deal of time with either of the characters previously. Because of this, I ended up tracking down both these franchises in the years after this release, and I’ve been a fan ever since. See that? That is an example of the good that can come from remakes.
Now, having seen all of the films leading up to this inevitable face-off, I appreciate this one even more. The way they’re able to resurrect Jason into Freddy’s world is absolutely seamless. It feels like these two have existed in the same world all along, which is exactly what the goal was. When the movie starts, it feels more like a Nightmare film than a Friday the 13th film, but being a fan of both worlds, that is fine. As the movie progresses, culminating in the climax, we really see Jason’s world take over. The final battle, which starts in the dream world of Freddy, and then moves to the real world of Jason, is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Both characters are spotlighted, but the human characters who meet in this outing never disappear, which is important.
There is some shoddy CGI, but seeing as this film was released in 2003, that is not unexpected. Ronnie Yu, the director, keeps the CGI out of the important aspects of the film for the most part, and the movie is better because of it. Watching Freddy and Jason fight in hand-to-hand combat is a blast. Freddy’s one-liners are great again, and though I prefer Hodder as Jason, Ken Kirzinger does a fine job behind the mask.
There are some slower moments, mostly in the form of character building of people that are going to die a few minutes later, but these are not terrible. For the first time in this series, even including Jason X, the Friday the 13th franchise feels big budget. Fortunately, Ronny Yu is able to keep the low budget charm of the originals, and Freddy vs. Jason remains a whole lot of fun to watch.
Friday the 13th (2009, dir. Marcus Nispel)
My soon to be wife and I started dating on January 19th, 2009. In between her birthday (February 12th) and our first Valentine’s Day together, we enjoyed Friday the 13th in theatres on release day. I remember liking the movie a lot, but have not watched it again since. Watching it now, five and a half years after our first viewing, I appreciate this remake even more.
What’s important to know coming in to this remake is that it is more a remake of the idea than the actual events of the first film. It tosses in the events of the original film in the first three minutes, but then moves on to combine the stories of the sequels to make Jason the villain instead of his mother. On top of that, Jason is a different beast as well. He is updated to the world of torture porn bad guy, which was alive, but coming to an end in 2009. This movie lives at the fringes of the torture porn craze, but it is still very much a product of that subgenre. It’s easy to forget how brutal these films could be in that era, but this film quickly reminds us of it. Not only are the kills incredibly graphic, and extremely well done, the sex is equally so. The only way the sex scenes could be more graphic is if they showed penetration. It was startling to see this in a mainstream film when, nowadays, we are lucky to even get a “R” rated film, let alone a hard “R”. I happen to enjoy the crazy special effects work, and who doesn’t love incredibly attractive, naked women? It’s a subgenre I’d love to see make a return in one way or another.
As much as I have praised Kane Hodder in the later sequels, Derek Mears is absolutely ferocious as Jason in this remake. He runs, he sets traps, and he is smart, making him even scarier than the bumbling slowpoke of the original films. Not only is Mears frightening to look at, but, when we finally get a glimpse of his eyes behind the mask, he is just terrifying. He is absolutely brilliant as Jason.
Even as someone who has seen this a long time ago, I was really shocked by the opening 20-minutes, as I completely forgot about the small twist there. This bait and switch works really well to set up our new and improved Jason, and the world that we are now watching. The filmmakers do a nice job of respecting the original films in their own way, and there are some small homage’s tossed in for fans to appreciate.
What I love most about the Platinum Dunes’ remakes is that they all share fantastic cinematography. They are glossy and “Hollywood”, but Michael Bay is at the helm, so what can you expect? But, even though they lose the grit of their originals, they are violent enough and bloody enough that they still work incredibly well as a horror film. That said, from this positive comes a negative as almost all of their horror remakes look incredibly similar. At any point we could have been watching a movie that took place in the world of their Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. This likeness is disappointing because it makes the films feel similar instead of unique. Sure, they share a similar idea, but I want New Jersey to feel different than the deep south of Texas.
This small qualm aside, I absolutely love Friday the 13th. This remake is a great way to finish up the series because it combines so many of the ideas and stories from the sequels as well as the original. Frankly, I like this better than the original, and would watch it again tomorrow. The humor is spot on, and even though Lawrence, playing the “token black guy” role, is stupidly written, the rest of the cast is funny enough, cocky enough, or sincere enough to enjoy on repeated viewings. This is a new Jason, and I hope that the next Platinum Dunes Friday the 13th sequel follows in these same excellent footsteps.
The CSR Awards
(The Cinefessions’ Series Review Awards)
Best Picture: Friday the 13th (2009)
I thoroughly enjoyed a good number of these films, most notably the first one, Jason X, Jason Goes to Hell, and Freddy vs. Jason, but there is little doubt that the remake stands on top of the Jason pile.
Worst Picture: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
The major lack of Jason in this film really hurts it. “What could have been” lingers rough on this one as well.
Favorite Scene/Moment in Series: The Camp Fantasy (Jason X)
Not only are there two incredibly attractive and topless women in this scene, but it also takes the great sleeping bag kill from earlier in the series and expands on it. What’s not to love?
Best Actress: Amy Steel (Friday the 13th Part 2)
There are not a lot of great actors in this series, especially in the early outings, but Amy Steel stands out as my favorite of the bunch. Her character is one of the more interesting, and she plays Ginny incredibly well.
Best Actor: Derek Mears (Friday the 13th, 2009)
As good as Kane Hodder is as Jason, Derek Mears thoroughly impressed me with his work in the remake. His eyes tell a story all their own, and his presence is unmatched. He is the ultimate – the perfect – Jason Voorhees.
The Friday the 13th series has a lot of ups and downs, but the majority of the films fall right in the middle. There are some excellent kills, but the sheer number of kills is what really stands out as special. The full Blu-ray set is highly recommended as it is filled with special features, and virtually all the transfers look excellent. Jason Voorhees is a fascinating tale, and this series sees his evolution from innocent camper to full-throttled killing machine, all the way to a literal dead man walking. It’s a definite fun ride that is worth taking.
The average film rating for the Friday the 13th series is 2.63 stars.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.