CLASSIC HORROR: FRIDAY THE 13TH
Only a year away from its 40th anniversary, the Friday the 13th franchise stands alongside other film series like Halloween, Evil Dead, and Child’s Play as a classic, acquiring unwatchable sequels, a considerable cult following, a surefire reboot and a killer whose powers are irritatingly vague. But what is it about this hockey mask-wearing, machete-wielding star that sets him apart from the roster of synonymous slashers that almost seem to be the same character?
If there’s one thing to be said about the Friday the 13th franchise, it’s that its main character never stays the same. While contributing to the plot’s convolution over the course of the series, Jason’s changes are partially responsible for what helps shape his overall character. He goes from a muddy lake-child in the series kickoff to a space villain in Jason X over the course of nearly forty years. This is partially due to the constantly shifting property and studio rights, writing, and direction changes and the need for something new to invigorate the next chapter.
His changes in wardrobe are almost constant; he goes from his first actual appearance in Part II, wearing a feed-bag mask, to the classic hockey look and ultimately turning to a metallic, space-age fit that looks like it belongs to a different series entirely. Things across the series change up a bit beyond outfits, though. There are almost no constant characters outside of the killer (who even changes up from time to time) constantly leading the audience to a misunderstanding of what’s happening. The only thing that’s constantly original is the violence, which never seems to disappoint in any of the movies.
The problem with a constantly evolving character is the set around him trying to evolve at the same rate. The concept of a summer-camp slasher doesn’t exactly carry well over the decades, but sequels still need to be made. The first bit of convolution comes at the end of the first movie with one of the greatest plot twists of the 1980s with the death of Jason’s mother and Jason’s first appearance as a child out of the lake. He then goes on in the sequel as a fully-grown man--taking place mere months after the first film--killing the happy camp counselors of Crystal Lake once again. It becomes even harder to understand as the series carries on after Jason is miraculously resurrected from multiple deaths and even changes personalities (i.e. Roy Burns, who pretended to be Jason in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning). Things like this ultimately kill the character and make the plot-lines even laughable for the following audiences.
While plot and story-development may not be the franchise’s strong suit, creative brutality is what seems to be constantly bringing people back. From people being stabbed through beds to being staked to doors to being thrown down flights of stairs in a wheelchair, the series never fails to deliver in violence. The writers and set designers continually find new ways to kill teenagers in the franchise, even going so far as to making Jason X (a space adventure that’s arguably the worst film in the franchise) a copy of the Ridley Scott classic, Alien. Comical, but creative.
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Overall, the Friday-franchise is a campy, facetious series of films that draws in the viewer through nostalgia, mainstream pop-culture, and the classic cheesiness of the 80s that made it as unwatchably watchable as it is. If you’re a viewer looking for serious scares and unsettlement, look elsewhere; Friday the 13th is a classic revisited for the laughs and a silly 80s funk that never fails to deliver in an age that’s so stuck to billion-dollar budgets and special effects so real, you can’t separate them from reality. It’s nice to know that these films are still around to keep us grounded in a world where horror has become too real and too watered down.