Moronic / Iconic, Part One: Tell Me Why I Don't Like Fridays
By Desmond Reddick
29 January 2007 — In the first of a series of articles examining the modern horror icon, I plan on looking at their evolution from their meager beginnings to their iconic status and, more importantly, what went wrong. The sad part about it all is that most of these characters are spawned from movies that are really quite good. I hope to uncover what it is that dilutes them. There is no better place to start than the granddaddy of them all: the hockey mask-wearing, machete-swinging, unstoppable force of nature that is Jason Voorhees.
It used to be Dracula, Frankenstein or the Wolfman. The icons of horror were driven by the faces behind the make-up; upheld by the performance of master actors. These films of the 1930s and 40s led directly to the Vincent Price films of the next two decades. Alongside Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were making their mark in the British Hammer films. But even in the 60s, the whole idea of a horror icon was beginning to diminish. An emergence of psychological and religious horror took hold of the genre. This combined with the survivalist films of the 1970s seemed to be the death knell for the horror icon. And then the 1980s happened.
Jason Voorhees can without argument be traced back to John Carpenter's 1978 film Halloween: the birth of the masked slasher. While Halloween was an amazing film, and what I consider to be one of the genre's best, it took the face away from the threat. This was entirely okay in its own case due to the characters of Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis: they carried the film.
In the modern slasher film, victims don't carry the film — they are merely fodder for the slaughter (that's a heavy metal song title if there ever was one). This is where the Friday the 13th series of films has lingered for more than a decade. But, that is not where it started.
1980 saw the release of Friday the 13th, the film upon which so many slasher clichés are built. Camp Crystal Lake, once a fun summer camp for kids and a retreat for the sexual awakening of their teenage counselors, lost its sheen after Jason Voorhees, a young handicapped boy, drowned. The two counselors who were supposed to be watching him shucked their duties to have sex. And were promptly killed. The camp closed, and the mystery surrounding the death of the boy and murder of the teens grew. Years later, the camp reopened and a new slew of murders began. Has Jason come back to murder the innocent camp counselors or is it someone else entirely?
It sounds like a pretty clichéd start for a slasher film, but in all fairness it was still a relatively new concept back then. It comes across as more of a gory thriller than anything else, but it is masterfully executed. It followed in the footsteps of Halloween with its use of the "killer's POV" and by playing against your expectations (the "it's only a cat" trick). It also contains one of cinema's greatest decapitations! The film's only supernatural element is the sudden appearance of Jason at the end, but then again it could very well be a figment of the final girl's imagination (RE: Carrie).
Friday the 13th Part 2, my favorite entry in the series, has an adult Jason (I guess he did survive the drowning) stalking the dwellers of Camp Crystal Lake. This is by far the creepiest Jason. There is still no hockey mask; Jason wears a burlap sack with one eye-hole. (The scene with his one eye darting back and forth is one of my top scares.) Jason is still human in this film (unlike later entries), and his childlike nature makes him gullible enough for this film's final girl to don his dead mother's sweater and confuse him. It's a rather novel film, despite its many nods to other horror films. It also references itself in a clever way (count how many times people step in puddles), unlike the wink and nod method still used in sub par horror films today. To top it all off, the ending goes for a scare so similar to the original film that it's almost a rip-off... yet it still catches me every time.
Even the third film (ingeniously titled Friday the 13th Part III) has redeeming qualities. It features the first appearance of the now iconic hockey mask and pits Jason against a married couple, a biker gang and a group of teenage friends off for a weekend of fun. No camp counselors this time. I was one of the lucky ones to witness the beauty of the 3-D transfer when it was released. Without the 3-D it is not very redeemable... besides the brutal violence. The car scene at the beginning still contained the ingredients for a scare. This is the film that began the slippery slope.
The fourth and fifth films were decent but poorly executed: The Final Chapter features Corey Feldman as troubled little Tommy who has to take on the undead slasher. It is also the only film to combine the B-movie might of both Feldman and Crispin Glover. Tommy comes out on top, but is severely traumatized. As we learn in A New Beginning, Tommy has just been released to a halfway house after a few years in a mental institution. His nightmares and visions of the masked killer are validated when "Jason" shows up to wreak havoc on the mentally troubled kids and their caretakers. While I enjoyed the fourth film quite a lot, the fifth film's ridiculous ending has somebody else donning the mask for revenge (hence the quotes used above).
The sixth installment, Jason Lives, is more of the same as Tommy, now even older, accidentally brings Jason back to life by stabbing his corpse with a metal fencepost in a lightning storm. It's only saving grace is the action that happens in the motor home, particularly someone's face being pressed into the wall and having the imprint show on the outside: brilliant!
While The New Blood, the seventh film, is the first to feature fan favorite Kane Hodder as Jason, I think it is the first truly irredeemable Friday film. Years ago a telekinetic girl accidentally drowned her father in Crystal Lake. Some years later she returns to the lake, with her psychologist, and she accidentally revives Jason who's been laying dormant at the bottom. Dumb, dumb, dumb. How this became a favorite of anyone is beyond me. Even with Kane Hodder, who is the coolest looking Jason, this film sees the shark being jumped like never before.
Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, while being totally ridiculous and almost a mockery of itself, holds a special place in my heart. Not only was it filmed in my hometown of Vancouver, but I also saw it being filmed. Imagine being an eight year old horror fan and seeing Jason in the distance on an honest to goodness movie shoot! This was also during the time that an American film shoot in Vancouver was a total shock. Now, a movie filmed in Hollywood is a total shock. But I digress. While only about a half an hour of the movie takes place in New York, the scenes set in the city far outweigh those on the boat. The ending, however, is literally piss poor: Jason is felled by sewage.
New Line Cinema bought the rights to the series in the early 90s, which only stirred the hype for a crossover with Freddy Krueger, but what followed has to be the worst film in the series yet: Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Jason's body is destroyed and his soul infects others through some sort of snake demon thing. It's all over the place, and ends with Freddy Krueger's hand grabbing Jason's mask and pulling it down to Hell. It was a stupid, stupid end to a stupid, stupid movie. Yet there's more: Jason... in spaaaaaaaaace!!!
Jason X was the studio's way of beating people over the head with the fact that they had absolutely no clue what to do with the franchise. A research team in space (of course, half of them are horny teenagers... like all interstellar research teams) discover the frozen remains of Jason and a victim. Since they're horny, they're also stupid and allow the corpses to defrost. Cut the plot from the previous half dozen movies, paste into a script set on a spaceship, turn Jason into a cyborg super Jason (because he needs to be more powerful) and you've got yourself this cinematic abortion.
Who would have thought that the franchise's saving grace would be a crossover with another disgraced horror icon? Freddy vs. Jason is nothing more than fan service, or geek porn if you will. It was as well executed as it could have been, I suppose. The problem was that there was absolutely no way they could have made it scary. It's funny. No two ways about it. Like most of the recent films featuring Freddy or Jason, they're too lighthearted and formulaic to be taken seriously. So it is what it is.
It is my understanding that a Friday remake is in the works. You won't find me saying this too often, so take notice: good! I truly believe that the only way to save Jason as a character is to go back to the beginning and rewrite him. It is rumored the remake will cover both of the original films, and I sincerely hope they do it justice. But, my personal opinion is that they should stay far away from hockey masks. Bring back ol' sack-head!