Horror movie icons. They’ve been a major presence since the dawn of cinema, their audience draw clear since the Universal era of horror, since Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein. Their franchise potential obvious since Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. Each generation has its icons, from Universal to Hammer. But with Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and John Carpenter’s Halloween came a new era of horror filmmaking: the teen slasher flick. And, as with any hip new item, there came the leeches. 2 short years after the release, success, and critical acclaim of Halloween, along came its schlockier, trashier, greasier cousin: the first Friday the 13th film. And, with its tiny budget and huge profits, much like the John Carpenter film it copied off of, it translated into the much more successful, yet ultimately not as good, slasher franchise. And, on this lovely (actually quite cold here) Friday the 13th, I’m here to basically rip apart 3 of the worst beloved horror films of all time, the original Friday the 13th trilogy, beginning with…
This film sucks. It really, really sucks. It has the air of a cheap exploitation film, but it doesn’t go far enough to be fun. Its constricted by its small budget, it has bad acting, a weak script, and only semi-decent camerawork that makes alright use of a POV cam, but its so clearly ripping off Halloween with nothing as spectacular as that film’s opening shot. It’s clearly going with the trends, but turning everything up to 11.
Friday the 13th doesn’t even have the distinction of Jason’s cool look to redeem it: all it does have is some impressive low-budget make-up effects, Kevin Bacon’s bizarre early screen presence, and one of the only clever jumpscares in film history.
This is actually genius, the way the 80’s synth score swells just up until he appears, and then suddenly changes, but a good ending does not a film redeem, just as a bad ending does not a film destroy. If A Nightmare on Elm Street can get away with its nonsensical ending, then I’m willing to take one good scene as just that: one good scene in a movie full of schlock.
The main problem with Friday the 13th is that it’s just so weakly written; the main character isn’t clear until the third act, and the big twist is completely unguessable, as the “mystery” killer isn’t even introduced until the scene which reveals the twist. That’s right, they introduce the whodunit answer in the scene when the whodunit is answered. Imagine you’re playing Clue, and then, it turns out the killer in the envelope was Mr. Jones. You’d be thinking “Who’s that?” not “What a twist!” None of the characters have any development, and even Betsy Palmer’s frequently praised performance is kind of laughable. At least, however, she goes for something, everyone else just plays boring. Alice is one of horror’s weakest Final Girls, and everyone else is a broadly painted, yet cryptic cliche. However, I could get over that if it had some entertaining schlocky value, like later installments in the franchise do However, it’s got none of that. The kills are weak, except of course when Kevin Bacon is stabbed in the back of the neck with an arrow.
Once again, the makeup effects are quite good, but that doesn’t make up for everything else. A weak film in most respects, Friday the 13th earns a D-.
Slightly better than the first. That’s probably the best I can say about this. It has an alright opening sequence that kills off Alice rather quickly, followed by an unnecessary 5 year jump. It could be said that this 5 year jump is there to explain Jason’s sudden growth spurt, but it can be seen that in the opening sequence Jason’s already grown. The Friday the 13th films have a history of jerky chronology, and, thanks to this, 1989’s Jason Takes Manhattan takes place in 2002.
After that 5 year jump, we’re introduced to a whole new set of cliches, but they’re better than the last, sort of. The protagonist is still unclear until the third act, the script is still weak, the acting is still poor, etc., etc. This film also has one stand-out scene: when Final Girl Ginny dons Pamela Voorhees’s sweater and briefly fools Jason; it creates a series continuity and a bit of cool mythology, but it’s rather insignificant, and not really that great. However, this film is an improvement on its predecessor. Jason’s a more effective killer, despite his lame and rather silly look. His paper bag plus checkered shirt and overalls look just makes him seem like a rather self-conscious hillbilly. He’s still more intimidating, because of his large size, and seems more competent than your average slasher, but he’s really not all that scary.
A slight improvement on its predecessor, but not by much, Friday the 13th Part II is a cheap, sleazy slasher flick that earns a D.
Marketed under the title “Friday the 13th Part II: 3D.” I think that tells you all you need to know about this movie. One of many franchise installments to use 3D as a gimmick to boost sales, Friday the 13th Part III has the distinction of coming when then its franchise was not in financial straits. Nonetheless, the film is still, somehow, an improvement on its predecessors. It’s gimmicky, yes, it’s cheap, it’s still schlocky, but it goes the extra mile. It has wholly unnecessary 3D shots, like this:
As well as genuinely entertaining gimmicks, like this:
Um…that effect does not hold up in the slightest, looking at it in still form. But it’s still ridiculous!
However, Part III is not entertaining enough to make up for its flaws. The script and cast are still weak, Jason still doesn’t really look intimidating (the look wouldn’t be truly nailed until Part VII), as he looks, in a way, weirdly big. And not in an intimidating, Kane Hodder/Tyler Mane way, more like Ralphie’s kid brother from A Christmas Story.
Part 3 finally completes the Friday the 13th fomula and all, it’s just not all that good. I don’t even really like it, and it’s not very watchable. Hardly worth recommending, Friday the 13th Part III is nonetheless the best of the original Friday the 13th “trilogy,” and earns a D+.
So, yeah, this brings us to 3 posts this week, 4 counting tomorrow’s Great Villain Blogathon entry. I hope this makes up for my infrequent writing recently.
But what’s your favorite Friday the 13th film? And don’t say the first one. The correct answer is Part VI: Jason Lives. But whatever film you prefer, even if its Jason X, at least everyone can agree on Jason Goes to Hell as the nadir of the series. But whatever your thoughts, sound off in the comments section below. Laters!