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The Cynical Optimist : Friday the 13th Special

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”Friday the 13th” is an American horror franchise that consists of 12 slasher films, a television show, novels, comic books, and tie-in merchandise.

The franchise focuses on the fictional character of Jason Voorhees, who drowned at Camp Crystal Lake as a boy due to the negligence of the camp staff. Decades later, the lake is rumored to be “cursed” and is the setting for a series of mass murders.

I recently had a ”Friday the 13th” marathon, completely devouring all 12 films in the span of a week – not to mention the terrific documentary ”His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th”.

I’ve never been a big fan of the series, though I recognize Jason as an iconic horror – who doesn’t know that signature hockey mask when they see it? I’ve always been more of a Freddy kind of guy – so this was quite an undertaking.

What follows is a brief retrospective of the franchise, detailing the plot of each film and random rants and thoughts on the absurdity of this series.

Friday the 13th (1980)

Synopsis: In the original Friday the 13th, Mrs. Voorhees stalks and murders the teenagers who are preparing Camp Crystal Lake for re-opening. Voorhees is driven by revenge after her son Jason drowned in the lake, because two camp counselors, who were supposed to be watching him, were having sex. The last counselor, Alice, fends off Mrs. Voorhees long enough to grab a machete to decapitate her.

Thoughts: The first film, directed by Sean S. Cunningham, was created to cash in on the success of ”Halloween” – establishing a holiday-themed serial killer who stalks teenagers. The movie was made on a budget of $550,000 and grossed $39.7 million domestically.

Boring. That’s this movie’s only crime – pure, straight boring. The early ”Friday the 13th” films were nothing but mere exploitation films. There’s plenty of sex, drugs and nudity – but the film is completely underwhelming. I spent the better half of this movie waiting for it to be over, if for no other reason than to actually see Jason at some point.

Friday the 13th Part II (1981)

Synopsis: After witnessing his mother’s death, a full-grown Jason Voorhees continues his mother’s vendetta against irresponsible teenagers. After killing the counselor who decapitated his mother, Jason returns to Crystal Lake to guard it from all intruders.

Five years later, a group of teenagers arrive at Crystal Lake to set up a new camp, only to have Jason murder them. Ginny Field, the final counselor Jason attempts to kill, finds a cabin in the woods with a shrine built around the severed head of Mrs. Voorhees.

Ginny manages to stab the machete through Jason’s shoulder, leaving the bag-headed murder for dead as Ginny is taken away in an ambulance.

Thoughts: Not as entirely boring as the first film, with Jason walking around in a potato sack and flannel – at least it’s an improvement over Pamela Voorhees in that fuckin’ hideous sweater of hers. Jesus. The problem is, the first 30 minutes of this movie completely rehashes the previous film, and by the time the new story begins – you couldn’t care less.

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Synopsis: Jason removes the machete from his shoulder and finds his way to a local family homestead, owned by Chris Higgins. Chris returns to the property with some friends, where Jason kills anyone who wanders into the barn where he’s hiding.

Taking a hockey mask from a victim to hide his face, Jason leaves the barn to kill the rest of the group. Chris seemingly kills Jason with an axe to his head, but the night’s events drive her into hysteria as the police take her away.

Thoughts: Oh man, this one was truly a shit fest. The fat fuckin’ geek with the afro (wait… that sounds a little too familiar) is so lame – every moment he’s on screen I’m just praying that Jason will kill him… and to think, THIS is the guy Jason gets his hockey mask from. Lame.

Another interesting point is that this film completely ignores the continuity of the previous two films, picking up with all new characters and not even bothering to try to connect the stories. This something that happens with every ”Friday the 13th” movie – they’re essentially reboots, with little to no continuity. Sloppy fuckin’ filmmaking at it’s worst.

Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984)

Synopsis: Jason is found by the police and taken to the local morgue. Once delivered, Jason, who is still alive, kills the coroner and a nurse before he travels back to Crystal Lake. A group of friends rent a house on Crystal Lake and fall victim to Jason’s rampage. After killing the teens, Jason seeks out Trish and Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman), who live next door. While distracted by Trish, Jason is attacked and killed by Tommy.

Thoughts: This is the only one I found somewhat enjoyable, and that’s thanks in part to Corey Feldman as the cool little kid who makes monster masks.

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

Synopsis: Tommy Jarvis, now a young adult, was committed to a mental health institution after the events of ”The Final Chapter” and has grown up constantly afraid that Jason will return. Some guy named Roy uses Jason’s persona to become a copycat killer at the halfway home where Tommy now lives.

Tommy, supervisor Pam and a young boy named Reggie manage to defeat Roy. They eventually learn that Roy had a son at the institution that was murdered by one of the patients, which caused Roy to take on Jason’s likeness and kill everyone at the institution.

Thoughts: This movie was fuckin’ terrible. ”Part IV” had established the missing piece to a successful franchise. To this point, Friday the 13th lacked a central hero – someone would could cheer for. With the introduction of Corey Feldman’s Tommy Jarvis, we finally had someone who could fight Jason – until Part V completely destroyed the character and turned him into a psychopathic martial arts master who lacks all the ingenuity and heart of Feldman’s character.

Jason Voorhees isn’t even in this movie – it’s some copycat killer named Roy. That’s pretty fuckin’ lame, I have to say. Sure, every horror franchise has its ups and downs. Leatherface, Michael Meyers, Pinhead, Fred Krueger – they’ve all made some stinkers, but Jason – geez, does this guy need a better agent.

Take the 11 films he was in prior to ”Freddy Vs. Jason” and you might find a handful of interesting ideas – none of which are executed with an ounce of competence.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Synopsis:Tommy later visits the real Jason’s grave after being released from another mental institution. Tommy inadvertently resurrects Jason via a piece of the fence surrounding the cemetery, which acts as a lightning rod. Jason immediately heads back to Crystal Lake, and kills the people working at the new summer camp. Tommy eventually chains Jason to a boulder that he tosses into the lake, where he leaves Jason to die.

Thoughts: Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse… Jason is resurrected like Frankenstein’s monster and fights it out with Tommy Jarvis (who is played by yet a third actor – even worse than the last guy). But hey, at least Jason is actually IN this movie .

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

Synopsis: The seventh entry in the franchise begins an indeterminate amount of time after Jason Lives. Jason (Kane Hodder) is resurrected again, this time by the telekinetic Tina Shepard who is trying to resurrect her father who drowned in the lake when Tina was a child. Jason once again begins killing those who occupy Crystal Lake, and after a battle with Tina, is returned to the bottom of the lake.

Thoughts: ”Part VII” marks Kane Hodder’s entrance as Jason Voorhees – the guy most people associate with the part, though I think he might be a little overrated. Aside from the guy’s presence and stature (which is quite impressive, having the build of a refrigerator) – there’s really nothing to bring to a brainless masked slasher.

Does anyone aside from hardcore horror fans know who’s behind the masks of Meyers, Voorhees or Leatherface? Probably not, but I can guarantee you everyone knows who played Freddy Krueger – because here’s a guy who had some pizazz – some real charisma and character. Without the hockey mask, Jason’s just another deformed resident of New Jersey.

The worst part about this movie? The telekinetic chick. What is this? ”Carrie” or ”Firestarter”? Sure, an immortal bad-ass in a hockey mask is one thing, but fuckin’ superpowers? Preposterous.

The third installment of ”A Nightmare on Elm Street”, ”Dream Warriors”, was released before production started on ”Part VII” – so I can only imagine this telekinetic character was also a way of pitting Jason up against someone with supernatural abilities who may actually have a shot of kicking his ass.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Synopsis: An underwater electrical cable resurrects Jason (yes, you read that correctly). He follows a group of students on their senior class cruise to Manhattan, where he kills the ship’s crew and the majority of the students.

Upon reaching Manhattan, Jason chases Rennie and Sean, the two remaining students, into the sewers. Eventually, Jason is melted away by the toxic waste that is flooded throughout the sewer.

Thoughts: Again, this movie is awful. I won’t say it’s as atrocious as Part V or VII, but it’s so goddamn absurd – it goes beyond any logical criticism. There’s barrels of toxic waste just hangin’ around, not to mention the NYC sewers are flooded every night with the stuff just to clean the pipes.

There’s one pretty awesome part though, where Jason punches a dude’s head clean off – as if his right hook works the same as a machete. Another problem is the title, as Jason doesn’t really take Manhattan. More accurately, Jason hangs out on a booze cruise with bratty teenagers for most of the movie – only to show up in New York and take a quick tour of Times Square and the New York Transit System.

If you’re going to put Jason in Manhattan – why not have him run fuckin’ wild and go on a crazy killing spree, hacking people to bits in Central Park or something… no, instead we’ll just have him beat up muggers in alleyways and dump the occasional bystander in a barrel of toxic waste.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Synopsis: Jason, through unexplained resurrection, is hunted by the FBI at Crystal Lake. The FBI sets up a sting to kill Jason, which proves successful. Through possession, Jason manages to survive by passing his black heart from one being to the next.

It is revealed that he has a sister and a niece, and that he needs them to get his body back. Jason resurrects himself, but his niece, Jessica Kimble, stabs him with a mystical dagger and he is dragged to Hell.

Thoughts: Well, Jason Voorhees is in this movie – but instead of being the hockey mask-wearing slasher we all love, his demonic spirit seems to jump from one host to another, possessing them in order to continue his murderous spree. The problem is – he still looks like the people he takes over. Sure, his true self will appear in a mirror’s reflection – but the whole time you’re waiting for the real Jason to get control of his body and go to work… but it’s too little, too late on this one.

One redeeming factor though – when Jason finally does go to Hell, Freddy Krueger’s claw erupts from the ground and snatches his hockey mask, dragging it down too. This would be the setup for the eventual showdown between the two classic killers.

Jason X (2001)

Synopsis: The 10th installment takes place in the future, where Jason has again been inexplicably resurrected. A scientist, Rowan, decides that cryonic suspension is the only solution for stopping him, but Jason breaks free from captivity and kills the army personnel guarding him before he can be imprisoned.

Rowan manages to lure Jason into the cryo-chamber, but he ruptures the tank and freezes himself and Rowan in the process. Over four hundred years later, Jason’s body is discovered by a team of students studying Earth and taken into space.Upon being thawed by the team, he proceeds to murder everyone aboard the spacecraft; he is seemingly killed, but resurrected via nanotechnology as a cyborg version of himself before finally being ejected into space and landing on Earth 2.

Thoughts: Absolutely. Fucking. Insane. This movie is completely ridiculous, and I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. There are some cool deaths, and a pretty cool sequence where a hologram program takes futuristic Jason back to ’80s Crystal Lake.

Whereas IV is probably the best film of the original ”Friday the 13th” movies, ”Jason X” is at least the most entertaining. It’s the perfect to watch while under the influence.

Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)

Synopsis: Set in the contemporary period, Freddy Krueger resurrects Jason and sends him to Springwood, in the hopes that Jason will create fear among the residents so that Freddy will be strong enough to invade their dreams.

Jason accomplishes this, but refuses to stop killing. A battle ensues in both the dream-world and at Crystal Lake. The outcome is left ambiguous, as Jason surfaces from the lake holding Freddy’s severed head, which winks and laughs.

Thoughts: As much as I hate to say it, this very well may be Jason’s best film effort. He’s a shark in this film -a mindless killing machine that never breaks character – that never has to deal with telekinetic bitches or Tommy fuckin’ Jarvis. Also, I know it might be blasphemy to say this – but I prefer Ken Kirzinger’s Jason to Hodder’s.

Friday the 13th (2009)

Synopsis: Directed by Marcus Nispel and produced by Platinum Dunes, this remake restarts the film series continuity. In this film, after witnessing his mother being beheaded, Jason follows in her footsteps and kills anyone who comes to Crystal Lake.

Almost thirty years later, Jason kidnaps a young woman who reminds him of his mother. Six weeks after her disappearance, her brother Clay comes to look for her. The pair reunites and works together to seemingly kill Jason.

Thoughts: You know, I used to totally despise this movie. I thought it was one of the worst pieces of crap I had ever seen… until I sat down and watched all the original ”Friday the 13th” films. Then I realized it truly tried to accomplish something by cherry-picking the best (if that’s possible) elements from the previous 11 movies and trying to create something worth watching.

It’s all about premarital sex and illicit drug use – and this movie certainly delivers on that front. It presents a mix of characters that we hate and can’t wait to see get slaughtered, while at the same time presenting some cool kids that you hate to see go. Jason gets plenty of cool kills and I’ve got to say, I love Derek Mears’ take on the character.

Platinum Dunes is at work on a sequel to their 2009 remake, and I’m hoping this one will be a true, definitive take on Jason Voorhees – and not just another camping trip filled with marijuana and topless jet-skiing.

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