One presumes ‘Camp Crystal Lake’ is named as such because it is where so many horror tropes were crystalised. Having taken inspiration from Giallo movies like A Bay of Blood, as well as John Carpenter’s Halloween, and Black Christmas before it, Friday the 13th became the ultimate slasher series. Sex equals death and killer POV shots a plenty from the very first film to the last, and under a title – Friday the 13th – which has never once been relevant. It merely prophesies a curse and a dark fate for those who find themselves in the path of Jason Voorhees, or the viewers if they happen to be viewing one of the series’ lesser efforts. On this Friday the 13th, decades later, let’s look back at the long-running franchise in its prime and rank all eight original films released during the 1980s.
8) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
Friday the 13th is back and this time… it’s raining. A lot. After Jason’s death in the fourth entry of the series, the fifth – A New Beginning – shockingly committed to the masked killer’s mortality and tried to introduce a new slasher villain inspired by Jason’s crimes. His name: Roy. It’s safe to say it was a massive failure. The film attempts to be a murder mystery but fails on both counts. The murder is miserable with few memorable kills despite the high body count. Each death scene follows its own little formula. There are two people together; one leaves; Jason kills the one who stays; the other returns; they talk to their dead friend/lover without realising they’re dead; they suddenly notice the body; then Jason kills them. Due to pressure from the censors, the film was heavily edited to have as little blood and gore as possible so the deaths are usually comprised of a shot of a knife flying towards camera followed by a close-up of the victim’s eyes bulging with pain.
The central mystery of the killer is woeful and the film introduces so many red herrings and ancillary characters that it leaves no time to develop any of them. One character suddenly has a brother appear just so he can be killed off (albeit in the film’s best scene) and whine about those “damn enchiladas” giving him an upset stomach in an attempt at humour. While the comedy broadly falls flat, I am glad the film attempts a lighter tone because I can only imagine how bad the film would be if it was as stupid as it is and took itself seriously. Of course, this means the film isn’t scary in the slightest, with Jason’s brief hallucinatory appearances simply standing staring at protagonist Tommy being the only chilling moments. Tommy Jarvis himself, now all grown up after killing Jason as a kid, is treated as a suspect for the deaths. This means he is absent for long periods of the film to supplant his status as a red herring; therefore he feels like a stranger in his own movie as the film switches perspectives every few minutes. The young kid Reggie is by far the most engaging character.
The film is set at Pinehurst youth centre on Crystal Lake, despite its occupants being far from youths. It feels like Wet Hot American Summer. The location is an excuse for the soon-to-be victims to be bold, loopy characters yet it’s the neighbours who are truly crazy and disgusting. A New Beginning’s characters push past the “so annoying you can’t wait to watch them die” trope and into the realms of “so annoying I want to stop watching this film immediately”. As they perish, the suspect pool is narrowed until the disappointing final reveal that paramedic Roy is the killer and has been donning his own hockey mask. Why? Well, after being in the film for all of two scenes, Roy eventually gets his backstory and motive filled in after he’s dead like an even worse version of Psycho’s ending. Roy lacks the mythology and urban legend nature of Jason, but was always meant to be a single use villain because in the film’s final scene Tommy becomes a killer himself having succumb to the trauma of his past with Jason in a totally unearned ending that would require Jason’s resurrection to fix the next movie.
7) Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
After the inconsistent Tommy Jarvis trilogy, the franchise needed some new blood and found it with Tina. Part VII doubles down on the supernatural elements introduced in Jason Lives and gifts its new protagonist with telekinetic powers, drawing influence from Carrie and Poltergeist (in the form of Carol Anne’s haircut), making the film feel like a desperate attempt to cash in on the zeitgeist. Tina returns to the site of her childhood trauma, the banks of Crystal Lake, to test her powers and heal her soul with the help of Dr Crews. She also strikes up a flirtation with Nick and I do appreciate the film’s attempt at creating an actual romantic relationship in a franchise usually obsessed with casual sex. Unfortunately for her and the house full of teens next door, Tina unwittingly revives Jason, mistaking him for her dead father who she drowned in the lake as a girl when she lashed out against his domestic abuse.
Starting with the positives, Jason looks great. This is Kane Hodder’s first time as the slasher villain and his zombified look, complete with exposed bones and a chain around is neck, is hard to beat. He just doesn’t do anything interesting. The only memorable kill is him swinging a sleeping bag, and its occupant, into a tree with a satisfying crunch. The other murders are unimaginative and bloodless. The geography of the movie is also a complete mess. Jason starts at the lake and then walks around the woods for 30 minutes before returning to the lake house. The teens, who multiply every time we cut back to them and are almost all unmemorable, also travel from woods to house to outbuilding for no other reason than to spread out the action and delay the climax until the 80th minute. It’s impossible to keep track of people and the film is a complete mess.
The New Blood is bursting with wasted potential and that makes it all the more frustrating to watch. Jason easily could have been the personification of Tina’s vengeance and anger unleashed on Crystal Lake. What a great twist it would be if Tina was, to some degree, controlling Jason, attacking her abusive father, the teens that mock her, the doctor who committed her, before losing control and having to overcome her hate and anger and negative emotions to stop him. The film could have had an actual character journey and used the horror as a metaphor but instead puts as little effort into the proceedings as possible. As it stands, the ending is quite fun but doesn’t make up for the overall disappointment. Jason battles household objects on strings during a telekinetic showdown and the house explodes in a shockingly good fireball. But then Tina’s father returns from the dead (the abusive father now a hero?!) and drags Jason into the lake’s depths for an ending that ranks among the worst in a series known for its terrible, confusing endings.
6) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Jason Takes Manhattan is a difficult film to rank because, frankly, it’s abysmal and probably the worst in the series, yet I can’t help but enjoy its bizarre and baffling choices that propel it above some of the more boring entries. The title and opening credits are a trick with the film largely taking place on a cruise ship, the characters not making it to New York until the 64th minute. Even then it’s not until the 83rd minute of the 100-minute movie when we finally reach New York proper and leave the generic dockyards. But despite the lie, I prefer the idea of Jason and his victims trapped together in a small space of which there is no escape, the villain picking them off one by one in a maritime murder spree, more than I do seeing Jason stomp around Times Square. It’s executed very poorly but as an idea to mix up the formulaic franchise in its 8th film of the decade, I enjoy it. And despite, timeline-wise, being set at least a decade later, the film is the most 1989 movie I’ve ever seen, from the fashion to the music, and it’s fun seeing the eighties progress onscreen from the first film to the eighth.
Jason, now green and gloopy, has been revived once again thanks to a combination of electric cable and ship’s anchor, and for some reason decides to catch a ride to The Big Apple with a group of teenagers. How a ship can travel from a landlocked lake to the Atlantic is never explained and this is a film that begs you not to think about anything but the immediacy of the boobs and blood it throws at you. I love the idea of Jason on a boat enough to enjoy the first hour despite the film doing almost everything wrong. Instead of Jason making his own hidey-hole lair on the vessel he can sneak out of and kill from, he just walks the halls and is magically never seen until the time is right. He even comically pokes his head out of doorways when no one’s looking. Later, he seemingly has the ability to teleport and be in two places at once, making the usual chase between protagonist and killer useless. But what the film does get right is the kills themselves, which are numerous, varied, and fun. Jason punching some hot rocks from a sauna into a victim’s abdomen is one of the series’ best. The film even teases some genuine character development for its lead teens but frustratingly never commits. Sean steps up to be the captain like his father wanted, just as the boat sinks, and Rennie kinda sorta gets over her childhood trauma of almost drowning by almost drowning.
The second half of the film, which is almost a film in and of itself, finally sees the characters reach Manhattan and what’s the first thing to happen? Rape! Rennie is snatched, drugged, and almost sexually assaulted, and it’s difficult to switch to a lighter tone and have fun after that, although the film certainly tries. Jason gets into a rooftop boxing match which sees him punch the head off of his opponent, he kicks boomboxes playing music he doesn’t like, and is generally ignored by the city’s citizens who must see this kind of thing every day. It’s a parody of New York which, while not fun or clever, is refreshing after seeing the same old woods for seven films. Rennie eventually throws toxic waste at Jason and drowns him, which turns him back into an innocent child who she leaves in the sewers. Why? I have no idea but I’ve long since stopped trying to understand the endings of these films. The reasoning behind most of the choices are incomprehensible but at this point in the franchise a film which continually surprises and entertains me, even if for the wrong reasons, is better than another slog.
5) Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
The formula for the series becomes blatantly obvious from the very first sequel, which, for the most part, plays out exactly like the original. New camp. Same lake. Same character archetypes being brutally murdered. Now that there’s been some distance between watching the early films, I can’t even remember which goofy joker character was in which film. Which camp counselor having an inappropriate relationship with the camp leader is the protagonist of this one again? The film’s first half, where we have to live with these empty characters for a day as they do stupid things purely because their motivation is “I’ve just got too”, is a struggle to get through. Characterisation in the movie begins and ends with the horrible hat one guy wears. He also plays the harmonica, which is more than enough to make me wish death upon him.
Of course, one big difference between the first two films is the identity of the killer. Mrs Voorhees is dead but Jason, somehow, lives. This is the film in which all logic goes out of the window. Jason has been alive all along, living in a shack in the woods, yet never let his mother know of his survival, even though he was apparently there when she died. Whereas the first film keeps the killer’s identity a secret until the end, Part 2 is desperate for you to know its Jason. He’s all anyone ever talks about, even though they still treat it somewhat like a mystery. Jason is very much just a man in this film, able to get kicked in the balls and catch a bus to a far away city to kill the ‘final girl’ from the original film in the opening scene. It’s an effective, suspenseful sequence but the first ever time we see Jason being away from Crystal Lake just feels wrong.
Whereas the final act of the original Friday the 13th is where the film stumbled, it’s where the sequel truly comes alive. After so many shots of Jason stepping into frame and watching teens be annoying from afar, when he finally unleashes it’s fantastic. Unlike mommy dearest, Jason, with a sack over his head rather than the iconic hockey mask, is an imposing figure so actually works better when we finally get a good shot of him. His killing spree may be entertaining but it’s the hunting of Ginny where the film is most engaging. There’s a shot of him running after her, seen through a window on the edge of the frame, which has really stayed with me since first viewing. It works because there’s not much attention drawn to it, unlike many of the film’s other scares. The way Ginny eventually deals with Jason is also great and finally shows some intelligence in one of the victims. However, the desire to copy the original film’s final jump scare is misguided, and the film’s coda makes zero sense.
4) Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
The third film in the series is a lot like the second, but each aspect, both good and bad, is taken up a notch. The first 45 minutes feel like a slog; the film so desperate to get to the carnage that it doesn’t put much effort into the set-up. Jason spends most of the film hiding in a barn, apparently just waiting until nighttime to emerge, and after half a dozen teases of Jason spying the teens from afar, you can’t help screaming at the screen, “Just kill them already!” The movie takes a few weird detours in order to pad out the running time, including a feud with a local biker gang included simply to up the eventual body count. The film is also shot with the purpose of being released in 3D and at every possible opportunity director Steve Miner finds a way to point something, whether an eyeball or a yo-yo, directly at the camera. Not that the franchise was ever high art but it does feel very much like a gimmick.
Finally, the sun sets and Jason emerges from his outhouse abode, ready for his next massacre. And what a massacre. It may be a frustrating wait to get there but the film’s second half is non-stop slasher entertainment as Jason makes his way through the lake house (no camp this time) and adds each teen to his inventive kill list. The film’s best, and maybe the franchise’s, is Jason bringing a machete down on a guy walking on his hands, chopping him in twain from groin to brain. Jason himself is bigger and more threatening than before, a bulky unstoppable killer now complete with his previously missing piece of iconography: the hockey mask. Final girl Chris is an engaging protagonist with a personal history with Jason, although the (kinda) implied sexual assault aspect is awkward, to say the least. The film culminates in a thrilling final chase around the barn with Chris, seemingly, killing Jason. Sadly, much like Part 2, the less said about the incomprehensible final scene the better.
3) Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
After the abject failure of its fifth film, the series desperately needed both a change and a return to its roots. Wisely, this correction soon came and didn’t impact the formula or plot or anything that identified the film as part of the Friday the 13th franchise, but rather altered the tone. After ‘The Great Roy Disaster’ of A New Beginning, Jason had to be resurrected but such an action would push the series into a new realm of the supernatural and the absurd. The filmmakers realised how silly Jason’s rebirth would be and so played into those aspects. Jason Lives’ greatest aspect is its sense of knowing. It’s self-awareness. In bringing Jason back from the dead, the franchise entered into the world of the horror-comedy and is all the better for it.
A new, more intense Tommy Jarvis returns for his third film and is instantly a more active protagonist this time round, unwittingly bringing Jason back from the dead in a Frankenstein-esque sequence. As soon as he wakes, Jason turns towards camera and gives his version of the opening gunbarrel sequence from the James Bond franchise. The film continues to be just as entertainingly barmy and cine-literate for the rest of its short runtime. Characters reference other horror movies, giving it a meta tinge that would go on to inspire the Scream films, with my favourite line being “It was real. Just like on TV”. The comedy is such a welcome addition for a franchise so close to being trite and self-serious, whether it’s physical comedy, amusing edits and cuts, or a young kid reading Sartre’s No Exit. Jason even invades a paintball game just for the joy of hunting and killing people who have headbands with “dead” written on. The film reaches peak meta early on with a gravedigger breaking the fourth wall and calling out the audience on their twisted taste, “Why’d they have to go and dig up Jason? Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment”.
Jason’s new undead existence grants him supernatural strength, leading to a whole manner of new kill possibilities. He can rip people’s arms off as easily as a Wookie and even beheads three victims at once. Sadly, this is hampered somewhat by the strict censorship, which also made this the only film in the series with no nudity. However, it does have police chases and spectacular car crashes and I know which I prefer. Jason Lives always tries to be pure, ludicrous entertainment and will gladly shift genres to achieve that remit. It also, quite shockingly, features kids attending the camp to give the horny counselors something more than their own lives to fight for as the unsubtle Dies Irae soundtrack blasts and Jason draws near. For a horror-comedy however, the comedy does far exceed the horror and the biggest issue with the film is that it’s never scary, even in the rare moments it’s trying to be. The final sequence in which Jason is once again drowned in the lake is also overlong and you can feel the filmmakers try and stretch the sequence to make the film hit a 90-minute runtime. It’s far from the scariest or paradigmatic Friday the 13th film but Jason Lives is easily the franchise at its most fun.
2) Friday the 13th (1980)
When I first came to watch Friday the 13th, having never seen a single film in the series before and knowing it only from reputation, there was only one thing I was certain of: it featured a killer named Jason who murdered people while wearing a hockey mask. I was shocked to learn that wasn’t true at all. The huge muscular killer was instead a little old granny in a cardigan. I love that I came to the film with the reveal intact. What a twist. But only a twist if, like me, you’ve heard of the film series before. Looking just at this film, there’s no clues or a single red herring about who the killer could possibly be until she reveals herself and offers her backstory, including the drowning of her son Jason. There’s no mystery yet we receive the answers as if there was, 15 minutes before the credits roll. Mrs Voorhees may not have the primal, accentuated terror of seeing Jason bare down on you, face covered and blade in hand, yet Betsy Palmer delivers an effective and chilling performance as the deranged mother.
The formula and tropes the franchise, and genre, became known for are there from the very start of the original film. A group of teens staying at a bunch of cabins in the woods, sneaking off to have sex and being killed in imaginative, violent ways because of it. Sex = death is a trope I’ve always been aware of but I presumed it was an unsaid rule. Something the audience knew but the characters didn’t, creating a fun element of tension, but in the first film it’s very much said aloud. Camp counselors having sex is the entire motivation for the killings, with little Jason drowning while those supposedly watching him were otherwise engaged.
The film might be over 40 years old – clear from a very young Kevin Bacon doing a bellyflop in tight speedos – but it holds up surprisingly well as a tense slasher film. The kills are fun and bloody but also shocking. I had no idea who would live or die going into the film and every prediction I made was wrong. In fact, the film actively kills off the most interesting and developed characters first. This works for a fantastic first two acts of surprise but means a noticeably weaker final act when you’re left with the most boring characters for the final few minutes. The film remains scary to this day, even if it does rely on loud music to over amplify its jump scares. Yet they work when it truly counts. The film’s final scare remains the best in the franchise.
1) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
The fourth film in the series, originally set to be the final one before the studio realised that would mean they would stop making money, at first seemed to be just a re-tread of the same old formula but, the further into the runtime I got, I realised it was actually a refinement of it. We get the house full of horny teens and Jason on the prowl, but also a character out for revenge for his sister’s death and a family caught up in the carnage, including a young boy called Tommy Jarvis. The boy genius is played by Corey Feldman and instantly adds both heart and tension to the film; we may be hoping for the teens to die in gruesome ways but Tommy and his sister are the kinds of characters you champion. Even the teens feel more real and relatable than in any other entry. They strike the perfect balance of sympathetic enough to root for and unlikable enough to bring some glee when you see them die. The film also gains a few extra points for Crispin Glover’s dance moves alone.
Like the original, the deaths are often shocking. Characters I was sure would survive for longer were picked off early and the violence is impactful. The films were slowly becoming more conservative in terms of bloodletting and The Final Chapter actually hits the perfect balance. There’re some fun gory deaths but it often quickly cuts away after a stab or strike in a way that makes it seem more brutal than if we saw it in detail. No death in the film is greater than that of Jason’s, whose head is slit by his own machete in a wonderful practical effect. Every aspect of the film, from the acting, score, direction, tone, and pace are well executed, and this version of Jason is maybe my favourite. Every element is in place for the killer and from early in the film he’s ready to be the deadly slasher villain he’s spent three films preparing for. Which means he throws himself headfirst through a window or door every ten minutes.
Despite culminating in a ploy to trick Jason in a way that feels like a lesser version of Part 2’s finale, the fourth film is the best in the franchise. After learning from the three previous entries, it offers the perfect balance of humour, scares, and, of course, schlock. The Final Chapter contains everything you could want from the film series and remains the ultimate Friday the 13th movie.
What’s your favourite Friday the 13th film? What have I got totally wrong? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.