Friday, 1 November 2013

01 - Friday the 13th

Just over 33 years ago, on May 9th 1980, Paramount Studios released a little film called Friday the 13th. It wasn’t intended to be the first in a series, or to be the template for a cinematic sub-genre which had already had its greatest entry (much-imitated as Halloween is, I feel its influence on the slasher movies that followed is filtered through the first 2 F13th movies as much as it is direct, if not more), it was just a cheap little scary movie made by people who wanted to make money.

Actually, truth be told, it’s not a great movie. It’s played as a whodunit but we don’t get to meet the killer until just before the reveal. The big jump scare at the end is an acknowledged rip-off from a better film, and there’s the whole thing with the killing of a real snake on camera that’s a little unpleasant. It’s not a great movie – but it’s an enjoyable one. The kids are watchable, the death scenes are entertaining, the score is effective and the jump scare being a big rip off doesn’t make it any less jumpy or scary.  It succeeds despite its flaws, because the good bits are so good that you forget about the rest of it. So, as was wanted, it made money. Enough money to make a sequel worth making – and making quickly. Trouble is, pretty much everyone was dead, including the killer. How do you make a sequel to that?

Simple - you bring on her son. Her son who was presumed drowned decades before the setting of the first movie, an action which was her primary motivation for all the murders. (One of many reasons why attempt to assemble a coherent timeline for the F13th series is doomed to failure). You loosely remake the first movie, only you do it better. The watchable kids are more watchable (and more attractive), the death scenes are better, the score is just as good but that didn’t need improving. Result being one of the better slasher sequels, and the beginning of one of the biggest name horror franchises ever. Jason Voorhees is what dragged me in, and the reason I became a Friday the 13th fan. Pamela Voorhees wouldn’t have done that. When I saw the first movie I enjoyed it for what it was, but when I saw my first Jason movie I wanted to see more.

OK, I didn’t grow up watching the F13th movies, and I definitely didn’t see them in order - best guess at the order I saw them in would be 6-8-1-7-3-X-4-FvJ-Hell-2-5-remake, with a few repeats here and there. I didn’t seek them out at first – comics and/or music took precedence, and most of my horror-liking friends over the years were bigger fans of the Elm Street series. They were Fred Heads, and so was I, until a few things came together and turned me around.

Now, first came Jason X. Yes, I know. Me too. But that opening section with David Cronenberg and the soldiers? Absolutely brilliant. Plus, it’s Kane Hodder as Jason, and he’s always better than the movie around him. More than the film itself, the DVD extras helped drag me in – there’s a cool little documentary on there about the series which inspired me to go out and get a few of the earlier instalments too. Then came FvJ, and the pre-release hype caught me up as much as anyone else. I wanted to see these guys go up against each other, and I have to say I think they did about as good a job as possible with that one – in fact, having read a few of the unused scripts, I’m pretty much sure of it.

Very close to that time, I started talking online with a guy named Drew Edwards. We’ve worked together on his comic book Halloween Man for the last ten years, and have become incredibly good friends. He loves the Friday the 13th movies – utterly and absolutely loves them. He’s not blind to their flaws, far from it, but he loves them just the same. Talking to Drew about them and exploring them again for myself, I became a fan too. I fell into the lake, and I drowned.

Once I had immersed myself into the movies, I started exploring. Over the next few years I picked up the rest of the films, I read Making Friday the 13th, Crystal Lake Memories and the comics series from Wildstorm/DC. I watched His Name Was Jason, and I put aside my Freddy fandom. Liking the Friday the 13th movies led to me exploring the rest of the slasher sub-genre, which I think is probably my favourite strand of horror. It eventually influenced my writing, to the point where I’ve actually written several slasher-oriented comics scripts.

On to the big question, then: why Jason? Why not Michael Myers, or Chucky, or Freddy or Leatherface? Well, as I’ve said before, I did have a liking for the Springwood Slasher for a long time, and I’m far from alone in thinking that Halloween is one of the all-time horror greats. I think that Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th saga just epitomise everything I like about the slasher subgenre. A silent masked killer stalking teenagers distracted by sex and drugs, and dispatching them in brutal and often innovative ways. The other series have elements of that formula, the Halloween movies especially, but when you’re starting with the original Halloween, you can’t really go many places other than down. One thing that the Friday movies definitely have over their siblings-in-slasherdom – a damn good remake.

Remake is a dirty word in horror fandom, and not without good reason. For a while now it has seemed like every name horror movie from the sixties to the nineties is being plucked for a remake, and while I’ll be polite and say that they have varied in quality, there’s precious few that feel necessary or even worthwhile. The 2009 Friday the 13th works in ways that the others didn’t necessarily manage. For starters, it’s not necessarily a remake. There’s nothing to say that the flashback at the start isn’t supposed to be the events of the first movie, slightly altered through years of retellings as a campfire tale. Jason’s altered appearance? The last time we saw Jason before this was in the dreamworld at the end of FvJ, who know how he came back from that and what effect it had on him. Even down to the sack mask – his hockey mask had gone missing, he went with an alternative until he found it again. We had a good set of deaths (THIRTEEN! Finally!), a good look for Jason and a sequel hook. I disagree with people who say Jason shouldn’t run (he’s run before) and that the teens were unlikeable (some of them were, but less than most people have said).  I think the only things I disliked about the remake were that the second group of teens weren’t as interesting as the first, there was no Ki-Ki-Ki Ma-Ma-Ma, and they didn’t really do anything with the summer camp location.


Here’s a question for you – if you asked someone to describe the elements of a stereotypical Friday the 13th movie, what do you think they’d say? I’d assume you’d get most or all of the following mentioned: Killer in a hockey mask, machete, teenagers, summer camp setting, big bodycount. What they’ve just described doesn’t actually fit with many films in the series – the only one that actually ticks all those boxes is Part VI. I adore part VI – from the Frankenstein-eque reanimation and Bond-referencing opening titles onwards, it’s the most fun entry in the whole series. Think about the scene where Jason stands triumphant on the crashed RV, like a barbarian hero atop a slaughtered dragon. Or the multiple beheading of the paintballers. Tommy Jarvis is a more rounded character than his previous two appearances – if the character were to return in a future sequel, I’d want him to be more like this than the Feldman version. It’s just a good fun movie.

Even with all that, it’s not the best of the Friday movies. It took me a long time to actually see Part 2 (Sack-head Jason didn’t appeal to me), but once I had, I realised just what I had been missing. I’d say it’s the best made of all the Paramount movies, if not the whole series. It has some of the best looking teens in the series, and not just the girls, it has one of the best and most tragic deaths of any Friday the 13th movie (Mark, the guy in the wheelchair) and a reasonable quality script. The characters feel a lot more developed than those in the first movie, and Jason is so much better a villain than his mother ever was. Even in the sack mask, which I grew to love – though I think it looks better in the remake than it does here. It’s just a shame that this one got slashed up by the MPAA, a little more gore would have been glorious. Oh, and I wish they hadn’t killed off Crazy Ralph.

Enough looking at the past, what about the future? Here we are in a year ending with a 13, and no new movie on either of the Friday the 13ths. We did get the Crystal Lake Memories documentary, but that doesn’t really count – amazing though it is, it’s not a new movie. One is supposed to be on the way in the next few years, but who knows how long it will spend in development and what it will be like? Will it be set in the snow? Will it be found-footage? Will Corey Feldman come back as Tommy Jarvis? Right now, these and a million other things are all being rumoured. I have my own ideas for what I’d like to see, but I’m holding them back for a later entry.

So, that’s my story. I still can’t really articulate why I like the Friday the 13th movies more than other horror/slasher franchises, I guess they just hit the spot for me. Who needs a killer doll or a wisecracking dream stalker, a cannibal dressed in human skin or a sister-obsessed bogeyman in a Shatner mask? I’m happy with the mute brute in the hockey mask, forever stalking his forest with machete in hand, searching for teens shirking their responsibilities to indulge in life’s greatest pleasures. And then killing them. Ki-Ki-Ki, Ma-Ma-Ma.

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