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Movie Minutiae: the Friday the 13th series (1980-?)

By Gary Kemble. Posted: Friday, January 13 2006 .

Celebrity makeover ... Jason Voorhees through the ages (Photo:Paramount/New Line)

The Friday the 13th films have demonstrated as much staying power as their hockey-mask-wearing, machete-swinging anti-hero.

It is, as far as I know (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) the most prolific and second-longest running horror franchise, last year celebrating its silver anniversary (Jason Voorhees himself attended, slashing the cake to bits with his machete).

Jason has broken the celluloid shackles, spawning a lucrative market of action figures, masks, trivia games and a 1989 video game where, as a camp counsellor at Crystal Lake, you have to evade Jason and eventually battle his mother's flying head!

Hardcore fans, not satisfied with the 11 films available, have even created their own Friday the 13th movies.

Brenna O'Brien, co-founder of Fridaythe13thfilms, says her favourite tidbit of trivia involves the foundation of the franchise.

"[Producer Sean Cunningham] took out a large ad in International Variety in 1979 that simply said "Friday the 13th - The most terrifying film ever made!" At that point, all that he and co-producer Steve Miner had was a title and a logo. No script, no actors, no location, nothing. They hoped that once they could create enough interest and enough money that a storyline would come along that would live up to that tagline. Fortunately for us all, it did."

For mine, I find it interesting that Jason Voorhees didn't actually kill anyone in the first Friday the 13th (his mum did the dirty work), and that his widely recognised trademark - the hockey mask - wasn't adopted until the third film in the series.

O'Brien and Blake Washer have been running Fridaythe13thfilms for almost seven years, and share an intimate knowledge of the films.

Their website features everything from filming locations through to a detailed body count for each film.

Iconic anti-hero

O'Brien says the films have stood the test of time because Jason is such an iconic figure.

"Any image of a man in a hockey mask holding a knife is instantly recognisable. What really makes it clear to me is how many places Jason-like characters have appeared in pop culture. In music, video games, comic books, commercials, television shows and other movies, the list of appearances of 'scary person in a hockey mask' goes on and on. The image of Jason goes beyond the Friday the 13th movies and makes him a part of our collective consciousness."

And, she says, unlike some of his contemporaries, Jason is a sympathetic character.

"He was a deformed child who almost drowned and then spent the rest of his childhood growing up alone in the woods. He saw his mother get murdered by a camp counsellor in the first Friday the 13th, and so now he exacts his revenge on anyone who returns to Camp Crystal Lake. Teenage fans can identify with that sense of rejection and isolation, which you can't really get from other killers like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers."

Washer says the films are popular because they are pure entertainment.

"They're not meant to inform or persuade or make us ponder man's inhumanity to man, though there's plenty of that! No, the films do exactly what they set out to do - they're designed to thrill. No one faults a roller coaster for a lack of narrative complexity! You scream, you jump, you laugh, and if you enjoyed it enough you do it again. Twenty-five years later, a lot of people have enjoyed the ride."

Andrew Leavold, owner of Australia's largest cult video store, Trash Video, says cult anti-heros only come along every five to 10 years.

"In the late '70s you had two. You had Michael Myers and Jason and that came out of a time when the horror genre was really going through that kind of renaissance, and then in the late '80s you got Pinhead and also Freddy Krueger so maybe there's this kind of upheaval every five years and you kind of get a new anti-hero and then that will kind of die down because the sequels end up being so crap and then you'll get a new one, and I don't really know what the new one is because I think they're still beating the old ones to death but who knows, maybe we're just so cynical and jaded at the moment that we can't produce another anti-hero."

Highs and lows

O'Brien and Washer agree part four - The Final Chapter - was the high-point for the series. At the other end of the scale, O'Brien says even the dedicated fans didn't appreciate Jason Takes Manhattan.

"I think a lot of people felt conned when Jason only gets to Manhattan in the last quarter of the movie, and even then only a few scant minutes were actually shot in New York!"

For Washer, A New Beginning, which came out a year after the increasingly inaccurately named Final Chapter was a disappointment.

"The films live or die on the strength of the writer and director. The producers went with a former porn director and it shows. The film feels tacky, despite a (mostly) likeable cast."

Leavold says he is not a huge fan of film franchises.

"I'm one of those elitists who actually takes the horror genre seriously. I love the first film, I love the first Halloween. Halloween ended up getting turned into this ongoing cartoon, so did Friday the 13th, so did the Hellraiser series. Why people can't leave that alone and actually come up with something fresh, it just staggers me. That's pretty much just Hollywood all over though. It's kind of like trying to ram a car down the end of a dead-end street repeatedly."

He says all of the films past part five are "pretty dire".

"My favourite would have to be the first, and the third purely because I remember being really excited as a 12-year-old when Friday the 13th Part 3D came out and ... watching things coming out of the screen I just thought that was the best thing. The first film is really quite a work of art. It's one of those perfect exploitation films that if it never had a sequel it would probably be the better for it."

Costumes and tattoos

The Friday the 13th films have attracted an international army of fans. O'Brien says some of the replica hockey masks and Jason costumes created by them are impressive.

"Many people have sent in pictures of full latex body suits, complete down to the last detail. There is quite a collector's market, and since Jason's mask is slightly different in each film, people can buy every version available to hang on their walls."

Washer says he's fascinated by the number of people with Jason tattoos.

"There's something very fitting and possibly disturbing about having his image carved into your skin. It really shows how connected people are to the character that they want his image to be part of their appearance."

Freddy vs Jason

In 2003 Jason was introduced to a whole new audience in Freddy vs Jason and it did well enough for the net to be rife with rumours of a sequel.

O'Brien says the movie was good for its time, but trying to blend the worlds of two franchises proved to be very challenging.

"I thought there were a few too many silly, dream-like effects geared towards Freddy fans. The most controversial aspect of this film was that Jason's appearance was radically changed. Some fans wanted the look of old school Jason, as played by Kane Hodder, while others appreciated Ronny Yu's new take on the character. With this type of movie, it's hard to make everyone happy."

Washer agrees.

"Freddy vs Jason was the best movie that could've been made of the concept when they made it. The idea had been kicked around for the past 20 years and it finally gelled to the point where it got off the ground."

O'Brien and Washer say a sequel would benefit from stronger teenagers who are more of a challenge to their supernatural foes.

Leavold was less impressed with Freddy vs Jason, describing it as "the end of civilisation as I know it".

"I just find that stuff appealing to a kind of video game mentality and very much that 'fangoria fanboy, let's pair up the most ridiculous combination of anti-heroes', it's just ... I just find that stuff really self-defeating because it kind of saps any respectability out of the original."

However, he says the film was a "huge renter" and helps the earlier movies find a new audience.

"Five to 10 years ago there was that phase where if you said that you were a horror fan, you were pretty much a social pariah and that was purely because of the previous five years worth of garbage masquerading as horror films. So there is a social function for these films. It very much shines a light on what was previously a disreputable genre and it's made it cool again, and so people are working their way backwards through the Friday the 13th series and rediscovering a film series that they probably wouldn't even have considered watching five years ago, and that's a good thing."

Dead and buried?

Aside from the Freddy vs Jason offshoot, O'Brien says Jason X raised the idea of Crystal Lake in winter.

"The fans have heard about this idea and a lot of them really support it. The idea of a frozen lake, fresh blood on the snow, and Jason lurking in the cold forest is intriguing, and I think it would be a way to satisfy people who want the same formula with a new twist."

Washer says we have not seen the definitive Jason film yet.

"Ask one hundred fans their favourite entry and while you'll see some films pop up more than others, you'll get a lot of different answers for a lot of different reasons. There's still room for one that will blow the others away. Movies like Wolf Creek and High Tension are showing that there's an audience out there for horror that's bloody and scary and unapologetic. That's what I'd like to see, but with that roller coaster, party movie mentality."

But Leavold thinks Jason is dead and buried - this time forever.

"As soon as you pair up two icons, that's pretty well the end for both series. You know, what next? Freddy and Jason vs Alien and Predator?"