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Friday, January 13, 2017

Top to Bottom: The Friday the 13th Series


I have a running series of list over at Letterboxd called Top to Bottom, where I rank a group of films from best to worst. I call it Top to Bottom because some films may end up on the bottom of a lost but are not necessarily a bad film. It just happens that that particular film is just not as good as the others. So for my first Top to Bottom here on the site, I have decided to take a look at the Friday the 13th series.

The Friday the 13th series was one of a few slasher series to hit the mainstream. The film’s villain, and some would say hero, Jason Voorhees became a pop icon, showing up on everything from t-shirts to lunchboxes to video games. He even made an appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show, which marked the low point of his popularity. The Friday the 13th series would also go on to become one of the highest grossing slasher series of all time.

So here is my list of the Friday the 13th, Top to Bottom.
1    
      1.)    Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter



Of course this isn’t the final chapter, but it is the final film where Jason was actually scary. Up to this point in the series Jason was menacing and scary. We didn’t root for him like we did in the later sequels. This is also one of the last films in the series to have characters that were relatable. We cared for them and didn’t want anything bad to happen to them. They weren’t jerks or assholes and they behaved much like people would behave in a situation like the one in this film.
The film was directed by Joseph Zito, who was known for having some graphic violence in his films. There is a famous kill in The Prowler, the film he did previously to this one, where a character is killed by having a knife jammed down through his head, his open eyes bulging out to sell the effect. It is a gruesome and disturbing effect and probably secured him the job on The Final Chapter.
Tom Savini comes back to finish Jason off. His effects were the cornerstone of the original film, even if a lot them were cut down or out of the film. Savini is the one who created Jason’s deformed face, something that would last throughout the series. Savini took the job because he wanted to kill off his creation. The effects in this film are top notch. Every film that Savini does his effects get better and better. Savini would do the effects for Day of the Dead a year later; effects that Savini believes are his best work.

The Final Chapter is the best Friday the 13th film and one of the best slasher films out there.
2     
      2.) Friday the 13th Part 2


Friday the 13th Part 2 is the film that introduced us to Jason and gave him his first, and not as much loved, iconic look. The sack that Jason wears over his head was taken from the 1976 film The Town That Dreaded Sundown and is scarier than the hockey mask that would go on to define Jason.
Of course it makes no sense for this sequel to even exist, but who cares? Horror films were never any good at keeping any type of continuity. (If taken into strict continuity, Jason Goes to Hell would have taken place sometime in the late 90’s to early 2000s.) We get to know a little bit more about Jason and his obsessive nature dealing with his mother.

We also get to see characters using their brains. Close the end of the film, the final girl ends up at Jason’s makeshift shack. There she finds the head of Jason’s mother. She also finds the sweater that Jason’s mother was wearing when she was decapitated. In order for the final girl to confuse Jason and facilitate her escape, the final puts on the sweater and temporarily convinces Jason that she is his mother. The plan is foiled but at the character was trying to do something other than run and get captured.

Part 2 is also where we get the outline that would be used by every Friday the 13th film since. We get the initial kill, then the introduction to the main characters, character development, some kills sprinkled throughout, the final act, and then the jump scare ending. This was set up in the first film, but Part 2 really cemented the outline.

Part 2 is still a part of the scary age of the Friday the 13th films and still holds up.
      
      3.)    Friday the 13th Part 3


I know that a lot of fans would put Jason Lives and The New Blood above Part 3 but I am going to have to disagree. I like my Jason scary and he brings his A-game in this film. Sure the 3-D is hokey as hell, but it does make for a few inventive kills. The characters are still relatable and act like actual humans.

The only thing that really takes me out of the film is the ending, but by that time the film is over and there is nothing to worry about. It just seems like the filmmakers ran out of ideas and thought that they needed that last jump scare that had worked so well in the first two films. It doesn’t work here and they should have left it out.

Part 3 also gives fans the most to talk about in terms of fan theories and the like. There is actually a survivor of Jason’s wrath who has come to the camp to finish him off. There is a fan theory that the attack resulted in Jason raping her because she is pregnant and so little time has passed since the attack and the film’s present. It is an interesting theory and you should check it out.

Outside of the 3-D overuse and the underwhelming and confusing ending, Part 3 really holds up and is a great continuation of Part 2.
    
      4.)    Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives


Jason Lives is a response to the overall negative reception of Part 5. Audiences hated Part 5 and is the film that started the series’ downfall. I will talk about Part 5 in a little bit, but I will say that I think that Part 5 gets a bum rap.


Anyway, Jason Lives drops the darker tone of the previous films and adopts a sillier tone. The violence is less graphic (the film was still picked to pieces by the MPAA) and there is no nudity to be found. There are, however, more pointless kills. The filmmakers wanted to still give the audience their fill of on screen carnage so incredibly minor characters are introduced, only to be killed off in the exact same scene. This gives the film an episodic feeling. In fact, any of the minor characters could be the star of their own short film.

The film’s sillier tone leads to some really good laughs (Jason is introduced with a James Bond intro) and some really bad ones (the paint ballers have always bothered me). I don’t mind the shift in tone, but it doesn’t work as well as people think it does.

This is probably the series’ least memorable Jason as well. The actor behind the mask doesn’t really bring anything new to the table and the results are not very good. Jason’s look is good, but he acts differently in this film than he has in the past. He doesn’t seem to be the “on a mission” type guy anymore. It seems like he is just happening on his victims now and it comes off as if they are intruding on his land. Come to think of it, maybe that is where the remake got its idea for Jason being the protector of the weed.

Still, Jason Lives is a good entry in the series, even when it doesn’t live up to its own hype.
     
      5.)    Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood


As much as I rag on Jason Lives as being a “letdown”, The New Blood is a film that, given its history with the MPAA, would have been a lot better if the gore had been untouched. The New Blood is the film that got the worst of the MPAA and it feels like something is missing. Every kill, except for the sleeping bag death; that feels right as is, seems off in the pacing. Jason will choose a weapon and we will see the reaction of the victim’s face and then they are dead. There is very little blood for a film with “blood” in the title.

The thing that wins me over with The New Blood is Kane Hodder as Jason. Hodder brings so much to the role that watching any of the films that came before seem odd. The films are still great, but Hodder isn’t Jason, which means that the Jason that we have come to know and love is different. There is nothing wrong with that, just making an observation.

We also get to see the decay that Jason’s body has been going through now that he is dead. We see his ribcage and spine and his face has things missing from it now. This is the first time since Part 3 that Jason has gotten an overhaul and it feels right.

I do like the telepathic angle but only a bit. It does give Jason someone to match with, but the character is so bland that we don’t really care if she wins or not. Then there is the ending. Wow. It should have come to the surprise of no one, but the fact that the filmmakers still tried shows that they still wanted to be like the original trilogy.

The ending doesn’t make any sense and the Tina character is bland, but The New Blood still brings a lot to the table and it is mostly good. Mostly.
      
      6.)    Freddy vs Jason

We waited a long time for this film. Ever since the idea was mentioned back in the late 80’s we waited, salivated, and theorized about what the film could be and who would win. Then nothing. Just the one mention when Part VII came out. Then in 1993 we got the worst film of the series (spoilers?) in Jason Goes to Hell and we watched Freddy’s glove come up out of the ground and take Jason’s fallen mask with it. We knew the time was drawing nearer and nearer. Then nothing. We got a new Jason film (Jason X) and there would be some rumblings about hiring this director or that screenwriter, but nothing was concrete.


I am not going to go into everything. I think that you get the point. Freddy vs Jason is not a great film. It is a horror film, but one that has more action beats than horror beats. Hell, the last 20 minutes is Freddy and Jason fighting in one of the most over the top fight scenes I have ever seen. I was actually expecting one of them to grab the other and fly off into space where the grabber would drop the grabbie and watch as their body just fell into the earth.

The fight scenes and level of blood and gore is impressive, but I am not a big fan of Ken Kirtzinger as Jason. The way he walks and moves around is weird. He comes off as more of a zombie basketball player than the hockey mask wearing machete master that is Jason. Someone at the higher end of the filmmaking ladder wanted someone who was taller than Freddy. They wanted Jason to look menacing. They got the taller aspect right, but Jason does not look any more menacing than any of the other actors who have portrayed Jason in the past. In fact, they could have gotten the actor who played Jason in Part 2, the one who cried, and that would have been more menacing than what we got.

All in all, Freddy vs Jason is a good film. It does drag a bit in the middle and they could have gotten some better actors, but it is a solid film that is fun to watch.
      
      7.)    Friday the 13th (1980)


Ask anyone about any series of films and they will usually say that the original is the best film. Sometimes I will agree (Halloween, Robocop) and sometimes I will disagree. This is one of those times.

I like the original Friday the 13th, I do. The problem is that it is a different beast than the rest of the series. All of the films in the series have a bond with each other and carry over some of the same things from sequel to sequel and, while Friday the 13th did it first, the sequels perfected on it.
I liked the secretive nature of the identity of the killer. We see the killer many times throughout the film, but never above the neck, so that when the killer is revealed, we are shocked. I also like that we follow a girl on her way to Camp Crystal Lake. She is hitch-hiking there and she gets a ride with the killer and that is the end of her. We are lead to believe that she is going to be the “final girl” and then she is killed off.

The gore effects, while really nice for the time, are really tame now. What got the film an X rating can be shown on The Walking Dead or any show on tv. Still, it is always good to see a Tom Savini effect, even when they do hold up later on.

I do have some problems with the film though. The pacing is a huge issue. The film is an hour and a half, but it feels a lot longer. We get to know the characters during this time, but the film could have lost ten minutes and no one would have noticed.

The big problem I have with the film is the reveal of Pamela Voorhees as the killer. It is a good reveal, but we know nothing about her before she just shows up. Betsy Palmer is great in the role. She brings a menacing quality to the film, but the filmmakers should have given us some hints. The way the filmmakers have the film now, anyone could have been the killer. One of the counselors could have been the killer, which would have been kind of interesting, or Crazy Ralph. Hell, they could have brought in Sylvester Stallone, as himself, and he could have been the killer. There is no way to guess and that makes the film feel a bit rushed towards to end. And, yes I know that the music is a giveaway, but we all thought, before we were told, that the music was saying Ki-Ki-Ki, Cha,Ha,Ha. Don’t tell you didn’t because you would be a liar and have to go live on an island with all the men who claim they have never jerked off.

I like the first Friday, I do. It ushered in a new breed of horror film and did so on its own terms. Sure, it is a rip off of Halloween, but there is enough of a difference so the film can stand on its own. The film is not really all that scary, but there is a good amount of dread hanging over the film. The ending, while shocking, is pretty poor in the long run. Still a good time at the movies and the first in a long series of films.
      
      8.)    Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning


Now this is where this list is going to get a lot of controversy. I like A New Beginning. It is not that great of a film, but it does have a few things going for it. First, the film has a wacky charm to it. I know that some of you will think that the film is sleazy and it is, but I find that the sleaze is just a part of the series. If you look at most of the entries in the series there is a fair amount of sleaze. I mean, come on, the films are about people having sex and then being killed for it. You don’t get much sleazier than that. But the film also has an innocence to it. Everyone at the house are wacky caricatures. Not one of them is a believable human being, but that doesn’t matter because the film is a fun romp with lots of nudity and a fair share of violence.


I know that people have a problem with the film because they claim that it is not a real Friday the 13th film because Jason isn’t in it. The problem is we don’t know that until the end of the film. If the filmmakers had taken that shot out of the film, no one would have been the wiser and the film would be looked at as a decent Friday the 13th film. The filmmakers took a risk and it didn’t pay off for most, but I didn’t mind it that much. It is a better twist than some of the others on this list.
Give A New Beginning another chance and stop the film right before the twist ending and you will find that the film is not that bad.
     
      9.)    Jason X


The rest of the films on the list are the lessor than entries to the series. For me, the series became a parody of itself with Jason Goes to Hell, but a lot of people  will say that it began with Jason X. While I can agree with this a little bit, people often forget that Jason X is that last proper Friday the 13th film that we have gotten. After Jason X we would see no more Friday the 13th films except for Freddy vs Jason and the remake. Jason X is the last in the original series.

When the film was released in 2002 I kind of liked it. Sure, it was cheesy and self-aware, but the film seemed like it was a fun time. Now that I look back on after 14 years, I can say that the film isn’t all that good. There are a few good kills and Uber Jason looks pretty cool, but the film is trying so hard to be a B-movie that it fails at being a good film.


I don’t have a problem that they took Jason into space. For the filmmakers it seemed like a logical step because the franchise was growing stale, but what they did was transplant a series that was growing stale into a new environment and didn’t do anything with it. The film is just boring and is a tough watch. It isn’t the worst film on this list but it does share a lot with the worst on this list. 
      
      10.)  Friday the 13th (2009)

Where does one start with the remake? First off, let’s get some things out of the way. We all know that this isn’t a true remake as Jason was not the original killer. Also, there is so much nudity in this film that it could be mistaken for a Skinemax softcore film. The kills themselves are pretty lame and don’t really hold up to the legacy that came before. The kills here don’t even stand up to the kills that are censored in the original films. They couldn’t even get that right. I would love to put this film lower on the list, but you can’t go too much lower than “third from the bottom”. This film reeks off ignorance when it comes to the lore of the original films and reeks of the ignorance of good filmmaking. Why have the characters at the beginning if you are just going to kill them off? I mean it makes sense to that to set up the story, but why spend so much time with the characters? We don’t get to know them because they are paper thin and dumb as rocks (sorry rocks), but we know that they are people who want to make a bunch of money selling pot and they can’t keep their clothes on. This is one of the worst remakes I have seen. I would put the remakes of Robocop and Total Recall in front of this. Truly terrible.
     
      11.)  Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan


This was the last entry that was released by Paramount and they went out in grand fashion: by lying to the fans with the title of the film. It should have been called Jason Stands in Manhattan. Most of the film takes place on a boat and then when the filmmakers do get the cast on land, they are actually in Canada, not New York. I’ll tell you something: I don’t want to hate this film. On paper it is a good concept. Get Jason into Manhattan and let have a go. The problem lies in the fact that the filmmakers couldn’t get enough money to shoot in Manhattan for more than a day or two. So why not shoot in Canada, which acts as New York in a lot of films, and make it an urban nightmare film. Use the locations for something inventive. People do love sequels, I am one of them, but do right by the fans. Anyone who knows this film and looks me directly in the eye and tells me that this is what the fans want is a damn liar. The fans want Jason killing people, but they also want a film that loves up to its title. I know that The Final Chapter really isn’t final, but that was the original intent. The script for this film was a mess to begin with and they shot it as that mess. Jason Takes Manhattan is a film that doesn’t try anything new and what it does do, the film does it badly.
     
      12.)  Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

This was the first Friday the 13th film I saw in theaters. I had watched all of the previous films for the first time and I begged my father to take me to see it. He took me on a Sunday afternoon. I was pumped. I finally would get to see Jason in action on the big screen. After Jason is killed and taken out of the film, the film became a comedy (at least to me and my father). We were laughing the whole way through. There were others in the theater and they started laughing too. It was a good time at the movies. Sure, I enjoyed the film back then, but I didn’t enjoy it for the intended reasons. This is a poorly made film. The direction is terrible as is the script. There are two good things in this film: Number one is the “tent death”. A woman is riding a guy. The body that Jason is in picks up a metal post and shoves it through the tent and through the woman. Blood sprays everywhere as the body lifts the post up and it cuts through the woman, cutting her in half. This is a spectacular kill that is in a film that doesn’t deserve it. The second is the character of Creighton Duke. He is a bounty hunter who has been hired to find and kill Jason once and for all. The filmmakers have a character that they could have centered the story around, instead of using the body transfer shit. I really hate this film and I hate that it even exists. The filmmakers should be ashamed of what they came up with.

So there it is, my ranking of the Friday the 13th series. Tell me what you think in the comments below and thank you for reading.
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