When listing off the great horror franchises, most people don't hesitate to name Friday The 13th among titles like Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween, Alien, and Evil Dead. After all, the series has persisted through three decades with a total of 12 feature films, and Jason Voorhees is unquestionably one of the most iconic slashers in cinema history. The brand has top-shelf pop culture status, and certainly that awareness and popularity must exist because it's a quality bit of cinema... right?
Well, I'm here to shut that talk down. While the Friday The 13th movies may have once been a novelty -- released practically yearly during the 1980s -- they have aged incredibly poorly, to the point where they demand cultural critical reevaluation. In retrospect, there are few series as completely filled with dull, unmemorable, repetitive chapters, and though the titles have somehow managed to gain cult status, the reality is that the whole thing really kinda sucks. It's true that the films never received positive notices from the get-go, but it's time to release the notion that there is anything classic or interesting about any of them.
Many elevate the Friday The 13th movies as a historical reflection on the rise in American conservatism in the 1980s, with sexually promiscuous teenagers indirectly punished for their wicked ways -- but it's this weirdly pro-Jason perspective that ultimately highlights what's wrong with the basic premise of every film in the franchise. Each and every chapter is not so much filled with characters as it is sacks of blood set up to be hacked with a machete, and at no point does any filmmaker in the franchise make even a reasonable attempt to create interesting people to fight back against Jason -- including those that carried over movie-to-movie. The closest we've ever seen is Tommy in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (played by Corey Feldman, John Sheperd, and Thom Mathews), but even he isn't really known for much more than repeatedly surviving (the series couldn't even make proper use of his talent for mask making).
When there is no entertainment or emotional value to be gained from following the protagonists in a horror story, you rip out every bit of suspense. When this happens, the best pivot is that you can crank up the hyper-violence and gore and try to make it almost funny -- but even all of the blood-spilling action in the Friday The 13th movies is completely dull and mostly humorless once you reflect on the totality of the series. There's no denying that there are some really fantastic kills in the movies -- including Jason punching a guy's head off in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and dumping a woman's head in liquid nitrogen and smashing it in Jason X -- but they come few and far between. Almost every death is a result of a stab or slice with some kind of blade or instrument, and the bulk of the rest just involve some kind of head-smashing. Just watch the video below and you'll notice that in 20 minutes of footage there are maybe five special and interesting exterminations that don't get repeated in some form:
So what do you get when you have a series of films that follow a bunch of essentially nameless protagonists facing off against a faceless, mute murderer with tried-and-true killing methods? A whole lot of repetitive, unremarkable sequels. Though I've watched them all in recent weeks, I'd have a hard time telling you key differences between the first five Friday The 13th sequels on beyond what Jason wore on his head. What's more, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday are really only distinguishable because their titles are mostly lies (Jason spends about 15 minutes in New York in the former, and there isn't a single sequence in hell in the latter). In a ridiculous twist of fate, 2001's Jason X is arguably the best Friday The 13th movie simply because, by being set in outer space, it is the only one that actually has any kind of distinct personality - though it is still terrible, and suffers from many of the exact same problems as its predecessors.
This Halloween, films fans everywhere will have debates with their friends about which horror movie they should watch, and someone will invariably suggest one of the chapters in the Friday The 13th franchise. This person should be ignored. While Jason Voorhees was certainly relevant once, that time has come to an end, and it's about time that we all admitted it. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below.