So here we are, a week and one day late when it comes to timeliness, with a look at that venerable horror movie franchise Friday the 13th. And what better way to observe their impact on our local community, or at least me, than with, not one, but four times they played our local theaters. This is why I bring to you, from 1980, 1984, 1986, and 1993 Journal Gazettes, movie promos from the original Friday the 13th, as well as Part 4 (otherwise known as “The Final Chapter”), Part 6 (“Jason Lives”), and then finally Part 9, otherwise known as (ahem) “Jason Goes to Hell”.
Would it surprise you to know that not one of the Friday the 13th movies could be called a “classic” by any use of that definition? Despite their ubiquity every year for most of the ‘80s, these movies have always been copies of copies.
I’m no film scholar, but most of the movies that comprised the “slasher” movement of the 1980s were all watered-down versions of films known in Italy as “giallo” (Italian for “yellow”) which were themselves overly stylized murder mysteries, usually set in an urban environment or at the very least a mansion, where a killer (often masked) worked their way through a large cast of victims making creative use of whatever sharp implement that was laying around. By the time Friday the 13th was released in 1980, greedy movie producers in the States (and oddly enough, many in Canada) were churning out their own cheap versions of such a thing, although changing the settings to places where teens congregate, usually schools, and then using a holiday as a movie title. Seriously, just name a holiday. Other than “Arbor Day,” they used them all.
While no masterpieces, the first two “Friday” movies were perfectly acceptable three-star-level horror experiences. Surely by now you all know the killer in the first “Friday the 13th” wasn’t Jason Voorhees but his mother, right? Jason didn’t show up (other than a pretty good shock ending at the end of the first film) as the killer (with a bag over his head) until the second one, which may actually be better than the first thanks to a female lead character who actually uses her smarts to fight back. Part Three brought 3-D into the mix, the infamous hockey mask, and little else. The “Final Chapter” was actually intended to be the last, if only, and featured an almost impossible to fathom number of characters and included a final “death” for Jason that’s one of the more genuinely grisly things this franchise has ever cooked up. Part Five, dubbed “A New Beginning”, tried to re-start the franchise by throwing in a lot of “Hee Haw” rural humor and creating a new Crystal Lake Killer “pretending” to be Jason (spoiler alert…it was the creepy paramedic). So misguided was this attempt that Paramount Pictures “resurrected” Jason via a lightning bolt to his grave for the pleasant “Jason Lives!” which actually tempered the violence with enough humor to make it tolerable (he goes up against some paint-ballers). Part Seven (“The New Blood”) wasn’t anything “new” at all, although it gave Jason an actual adversary, a young girl with telekinetic powers. “Jason Takes Manhattan” gave Jason a ride on a cruise ship (named “The Lazarus”) to New York City, which was a much-needed attempt to get him away from barns and outhouses. It was the ‘90s by this point, and slasher horror was passé, but “Jason Goes to Hell” finally gave the American public what it’s always hoped for: a fully armed SWAT team blowing Jason up before the opening credits. Too bad his evil essence spent the movie hopping from body to body via his evil, rotted heart. It also features a bounty hunter named “Creighton Duke”.
And that was that for the “classic” run. Years later “Jason X” moved the action to outer space. If you think that’s a stupid idea, it is, although by that point “Critters”, “Leprechaun,” and “Hellraiser” all had done the same thing. The long-promised ‘80s horror crossover “Jason vs. Freddy”, which I saw at a half-empty theater in Port Angeles, Washington, postulated that the worst fate for any mythical monster is to be forgotten. And the simply titled “Friday the 13th” remake from 2009 was less a remake than it was just another plain-old Friday the 13th movie, served up with no irony, and was all the more charming because of it.
I can’t help but think there are some of you (rightfully) thinking to yourself “there have to be better ways to spend your time.” You’ve got a point, what with all the real violence in this world, although keep in mind all these movies were essentially just slightly more grown up versions of Road Runner cartoons. And for what it’s worth, after that gloriously perfect summer of 1997 where I rented every single one of these movies from various video stores in the area, there isn’t a one of these blasted films I’ve taken the trouble to sit through twice. They existed, the completest in me saw them all, and I’ve retained the knowledge just for situations like this one right now.
Horror movies are still big business, and always will be. They’re cheap to make, star no one, are directed by nobodies, and young kids and the young at heart will constantly ensure they make their money back. And sure enough, last Friday the Showplace 12 was the place to go to see “Happy Death Day,” which isn’t a good a title as “Bloody New Year” but probably a little better than 1981’s “Happy Birthday To Me”, a title that doesn’t tell you anything about how much blood or death you might be encountering on your special day.
I don’t know if there’ll be 12 “Happy Death Day” movies for someone to look for in our archives someday, but considering it’s made roughly 40 million dollars as of this writing, it’s possible. And if someone does and they scroll back far enough, I’m sure they’ll also have some real questions to ask, as I do, about why there were so many “Police Academy” movies. That I don’t have an answer for.