The last time Jason Voorhees slashed onto the screen, Barack Obama had just taken office as president, Michael Jackson was still alive, and Scream was only a trilogy. While we await the “Crystal Lake” prequel series from Peacock, I was fortunate enough to experience the first six Friday the 13th movies back-to-back on the big screen at the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Friday the 13th Murder-thon in Brookline, MA on January 13.
The event was similar to last year’s A Nightmare on Elm Street all-night marathon. This time, however, only half the franchise was screened since Friday has nearly double the amount of films. (This year has a second Friday the 13th in October, so I have my machetes crossed for a marathon of the latter six entries.)
While Friday the 13th may not shine right out of the gate in the same way Elm Street or Halloween did, it’s the most consistent of the major franchises. As such, I look at it as cinematic comfort food. Allow me to run through my long night at Camp Blood…
11:15 P.M. – Camp Is Open
When the theater opened its doors, attendees were treated to the first portion of The F13th Fan Film Mix Tape curated by AGFA and Bleeding Skull. Not to be confused with modern attempts like Never Hike Alone and Friday the 13th: Vengeance, this compilation featured no-budget, shot-on-video shorts made by fans in the ’80s and ’90s.
None of them are particularly good or original, but that doesn’t diminish the charm of seeing teenagers pay tribute to their favorite horror icon with their limited means. Along with a plethora of homespun Jason action, appearances from Michael Myers, Leatherface, and too many unlicensed needle drops to count made it worth the price of admission alone.
Although I knew I’d never stay awake through the whole night, I admit I was a little disappointed when the mix tape was cut short to get the first feature started. But my sorrow was only momentary, as the Coolidge Director of Special Programming Mark Anastasio promised in his introduction that we’d be seeing the rest later in the night.
Anastasio, accompanied by a Jason Voorhees cosplayer in a faithful The New Blood costume, noted that Friday the 13th was a popular night to rent film prints of the movies. As a result, the first and third installments would be presented digitally via DCP, while the other four would be projected on 35mm. An informal poll of the audience of over 100 revealed that a handful of attendees would be experiencing the films for the first time.
12:04 A.M. – Friday the 13th (1980)
Friday the 13th is a rare franchise starter that is not generally considered to be the best of the bunch. Although director-producer Sean S. Cunningham openly admits it was his attempt to cash in on the success of Halloween, Friday the 13th is still more effective than most of its contemporaries, thanks to a combination of suspense and Tom Savini’s gory practical effects.
The plot is framed as a whodunit, but the mystery falls flat due to the fact that the killer — spoiler alert: it’s Mrs. Voorhees — isn’t introduced to the audience until her identity is revealed. It’s also hard to believe that a middle-aged woman could throw a corpse through a window. Incidentally, the twist plays better now for the uninitiated who assume Jason is the killer.
Like the hagsploitation trend from decades prior, Betsy Palmer was an actress of yesteryear who turned to horror for money (she famously only agreed to be in the “piece of shit” — her words — because she needed a new car), but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t committed. She chews the scenery and then tussles in the sand without a stunt double before her beheading.
My mind couldn’t help but wander thinking about the potential of a legacy sequel starring Kevin Bacon’s Jack. It’s unlikely he survived an arrow through the throat, but he’s the only franchise alumnus (sorry, Corey Feldman) with the gravitas to carry a new installment a la Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role in Halloween or the core trio returning for Scream. Besides, the universe owes us after Bacon’s Tremors series was canceled before it aired.
As much as I love seeing movies projected on film, the DCP looked sharp. The sound was ear-piercingly loud, which made the final scare work particularly well. It’s no secret that the chair-jumper was ripped from Carrie, but I find Friday the 13th‘s jolt to be just as effective, if not even more so.
1:48 A.M. – Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
I grabbed a tub of popcorn from the concession stand between movies to ensure I stayed awake for Friday the 13th Part 2, as it’s one of my favorites. It was playing from an original theatrical print, which was starting to show its age but still looked good considering its over 40 years old.
With the clunky mystery out of the way, Part 2 plays like a more streamlined version of the original. I wish Friday the 13th final girl Alice survived past the prologue rather than being unceremoniously killed off, but at least her fate was addressed. The fact that her successor, Amy Steel as Ginny, is the best final girl of the series helps to soften the blow.
In fact, Part 2 has the most likable ensemble in the series. In addition to Ginny’s endearing sass, other stand-outs include the wheelchair-bound Mark, whose disability is handled surprisingly progressively for the time, and goofball Ted, who survives the film by getting drunk at the bar. I’d watch a hangout movie about these counselors’ exploits at camp even if Jason never showed up.
Oh, but Jason shows up — and he is arguably at his scariest here. As iconic as the hockey mask would become, the sackhead getup, reminiscent of The Town That Dreaded Sundown, is far creepier. I also appreciate that Jason is a bit clumsy in his actions; much like in Scream, it lends itself to verisimilitude.
3:19 A.M. – Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
Friday the 13th Part III was presented in anaglyph 3D, which was entirely ineffective. I don’t fault the theater; they even provided Sharkboy and Lavagirl branded 3D glasses! While a stereoscopic version could work, the fact that a DCP couldn’t make the anaglyph effects look presentable leads me to believe that even in 1982 the 3D looked bad.
Where Part 2 built on the strengths of the original, III has always struck me as a weak imitator of its predecessors; a copy of a copy of a copy with diminishing returns. Beyond the hokey 3D gimmick, its flaws are exacerbated by the over-the-top characters; a stark contrast following the relatively grounded nature of Part 2.
Chris is a milquetoast final girl. Prankster Shelly is a grating sad-sack. Stoners Chuck and Chili are cheap Cheech and Chong knock-offs. The biker gang members are so stereotypical they may as well be cartoon characters. There’s also an egregious flashback that seems to imply Jason sexually assaulted Chris.
Between the bad 3D, my empty popcorn, and a far superior installment on deck, I took a semi-strategic nap for about half the movie. After the credits rolled, the audience was treated to more of The F13th Fan Film Mix Tape.
5:17 A.M. – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Following the misfire of Part III, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is a deft distillation of everything that worked in the prior installments. For that reason, it has long since been my favorite installment, but little did I know that would change before the night was over…
The film print was slightly faded, but the grit only added to the hypnagogic experience. Despite playing at an ungodly hour, Crispin Glover received cheers from the crowd when his name appeared in the opening credits and again for his infamous dancing. (How’s that for a dead fuck?)
Eschewing the final girl trope that Friday the 13th helped perpetuate, The Final Chapter kicks off the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. A young Corey Feldman takes on the part in his first major role, commencing an unparalleled child actor run that includes Gremlins, The Goonies, Stand By Me, and The Lost Boys.
Director Joseph Zito reportedly got the gig based on the strength of The Prowler — itself one of the strongest non-franchise slashers — so it’s no surprise that The Final Chapter fires on all cylinders: fun characters, gnarly kills, suspense, and one of the most intense Jason portrayals courtesy of Ted White. Savini returned to kill off his creation, and Jason’s death is among the sultan of splatter’s best effects.
6:48 A.M. – Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
It never ceases to amuse me that the shortest gap amid Friday the 13th movies was between the so-called Final Chapter and A New Beginning — less than twelve months! Friday the 13th: A New Beginning‘s print was crisp but featured Spanish subtitles, so I now know how to say “You’re gonna get it, bitch!” in a second language.
I’m going to come out and say it: A New Beginning is my least favorite Friday the 13th movie. Roy targeting everyone except the person responsible for killing his son — who’s already in police custody — is pretty silly, and the gratuitous close-ups the otherwise-frivolous character telegraph the twist from a mile away, but my gripe has little to do with the lack of Jason.
Part V is cursed with the least likeable ensemble: John Shepherd lacks the charisma that both his precursor and successor bring to the role of Tommy Jarvis, Pam is a forgettable final girl, Reggie is an annoying brat, Joey seems to be channeling Franklin from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and hillbilly neighbors Ethel and Junior are the franchise’s most vexing characters.
The movie has its moments — the thunderstorm chase scene is its most inspired moment, and the chainsaw fight is a nice touch — but the overall experience is an unpleasant mix of goofy and mean-spirited. Not even the infamous, enchilada-fueled outhouse scene could keep me awake at this hour.
As is to be expected from an all-nighter, the audience dwindled throughout the event. Those who remained were treated to complimentary donuts and coffee while the rest of The F13th Fan Film Mix Tape played before the final feature. I opted for an energy drink to keep me awake for both the movie and the drive home.
8:39 A.M. – Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
I’ve always had a fondness for Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, but this screening cemented it as my favorite installment. The first five entries have their ups and downs, but the similarities in terms of both structure and aesthetic are even more apparent when viewed in immediate succession. Jason Lives is a breath of fresh air with stronger production value, more cinematic visuals, and a sense of self awareness. It didn’t hurt that the film print was pristine.
Jason Lives marks the first appearance of “undead” Jason, as he was technically human in the second through fourth movies (and absent from the first and fifth, save for halluci-Jason), and he has now become something of an urban legend. Of all the masked maniac’s silly resurrections, writer-director Tom McLoughlin’s Frankenstein-inspired take is the best.
That opening perfectly encapsulates the movie’s tone: bathed in pale blue moonlight, Jason’s maggot-infested corpses rises from the grave to claim his first victim, only to be followed by a James Bond parody to kick off the opening titles. The levity is nimbly balanced with everything one could want from a slasher movie.
The return to Camp Crystal Lake proper is a nice touch, while the addition of actual children campers raises the stakes. Fresh off of The Return of the Living Dead, Thom Mathews is the most endearing Tommy Jarvis, and Jennifer Cooke matches his energy as Megan through the fiery conclusion.
10:05 A.M. – Camp Is Closed
After Tommy Jarvis delivered the final line — “It’s over. It’s finally over. Jason’s home.” — and Alice Cooper’s anthemic “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” rang out over the end credits, I had survived… for now.
Upon fresh viewing, here’s how I rank the franchise: 6, 4, 2, Vs, 1, 2009, 3, 8, X, 7, 9, 5. I’d love to hear your own ranking in the comments below!