(A bit of history here: back in 2005, I was asked to contribute an article to a book on slasher movies, and was offered the Friday the 13th series of films (not the TV show) as my subject. I wrote the following piece — which obviously pre-dates the 2009 remake or re-imagining or whatever the hell you want to call it — and turned it in. Then the waiting began. I haven’t received any news of the book’s status in at least a couple years, and at this point I’m going to assume the project has completely fallen apart, so I’m running the article here.
It’s not mentioned in the article, but I made my own contribution to the F13 series with the 2005 novel Friday the 13th: Church of the Divine Psychopath, published by Black Flame. It’s long since gone out of print but used copies are available via Amazon, albeit for some pretty insane prices.
For the record, I enjoyed the 2009 F13 — I know a lot of F13 fans hated it, but I’m not sure why. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the script had been lying around for 25 years, waiting to be filmed. Other than the amount of money thrown at it, I couldn’t see much of a difference between the remake and the original flicks. I know — heresy! — but it’s only one man’s opinion.
So without any further ado, here’s Friday the 13th: Jason Goes to the Bank.)
I was sixteen years old when Friday the 13th was released, and like any good horror fan I was an avid reader of both Famous Monsters and Fangoria magazines — so I was torn about the movie; I knew of its pedigree in the form of Sean Cunningham (producer of the infamous Last House on the Left, a movie which scared me more before I had seen it than while I was actually watching it — for one thing, Jeramie Rain as Sadie was so hot I didn’t really care what despicable acts she performed so long as she kept doing something), and of course, the Sultan of Splatter, makeup FX god Tom Savini, was along for the ride — and any kid reading Fango in those days had to see any movie he worked on — to do otherwise was akin to blasphemy.
But Friday the 13th looked pretty much like all the other rip-offs of John Carpenter’s Halloween that were hitting theaters in those days (the notion that even the lamest of those old-school slasher movies is far more entertaining than any of the glossy, WB-actor-driven crap being released nowadays is the subject for an article all its own). I’ve heard some people make the argument that Psycho (1960) could be considered an early slasher film, but I’d have to argue against that, myself — while there’s definitely some slashing going on in Hitchcock’s classic, calling it a slasher movie is kind of like calling The Graduate a romantic comedy. In my opinion, despite such terrific movies as Mario Bava’s 1971 Twitch of the Death Nerve (Reazione A Catena — which many cite as the main source of inspiration for Friday the 13th) and Dario Argento’s incredible Deep Red (Profondo Rosso, 1975), the slasher genre as we know it really took root with the release of Halloween in 1978 — particularly since most of the slashers that trailed along in Halloween‘s rather significant wake tended to follow the same basic premise. I’m sure there’s a definitive list somewhere, but just off the top of my head I can name New Year’s Evil (1980 — starring Pinky Tuscadero!), Terror Train (1980), Prom Night (1980), Happy Birthday To Me (1981), Final Exam (1981), The Prowler (1981), Just Before Dawn (1981), The Burning (1981), The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982), Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (aka Night Warning, 1983), Sleepaway Camp (1983), House on Sorority Row (1983), April Fool’s Day (1986), and so — God, so, so — many more (granted, many of those probably owed their cinematic lives to the grosses of Friday the 13th as much as they did Halloween).
…Jeez, looking over that list makes me more than a little nostalgic for the days when you could hit the theater and see that kind of stuff every week. But I digress.
Ultimately my meager allowance won out and I missed Friday the 13th in its theatrical run (and I’m almost embarrassed to admit that, to this day, I have never seen an F13 movie in a theater — although I did see many of the slasher epics listed above during their theatrical runs — and in some cases, “theatrical runs” is a pretty good way to describe them). Instead, I caught the flick when it ran on HBO (the cable movie channel was a godsend for a kid with limited ticket-buying funds and no car). I dug Savini’s effects and the nudity — and believe me when I say that tits and gore go a long way in my book — but overall the movie left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied with its lack of anything approaching characterization or story. It seemed that my initial opinion was correct — just another rip-off of Carpenter’s far superior slasher opus.
Then the sequels began gushing forth. Paramount’s obvious embarrassment with the movies didn’t diminish their desire to squeeze the teats of that particular cash cow, even if it was the retarded stepchild that had been raised in the basement (if I may mix a couple of rather odd metaphors). To me, the trailers for each sequel looked lamer and lamer — and what the hell was Jason Voorhees doing running around killing people when he had died before the first movie even began? Yet I watched each and every one of the F13 sequels as they hit cable TV or video.
And I enjoyed them.
Sure, many of the sequels sucked an especially large and thick donkey dong, and I wish I could say I’m going to write an intelligent piece dissecting the films and their deep, hidden meaning, but hey — tits and gore! As I said before, you can’t go too far wrong when you have those two ingredients (and how many examples of the modern crop of horror movies bother to deliver either one of those staples?).
Then Paramount hit the wall with Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Not only does F13 VIII fail spectacularly to deliver on the promise of its title, the movie is nearly devoid of thrills, gore and/or tits. And while I’m not one to give away endings of movies, in this case I’m gonna break my own rule — because the ending of this clunker is so stunningly ridiculous it made me want to claw my lungs out. Our young hero and heroine are being pursued through the NYC sewer system by Jason, and they run into a sewer worker who tells them they haven’t got a minute to spare in getting out of the dank tunnels — “Toxic waste, son,” the loveable curmudgeon grumbles. “The sewer floods out with the stuff every night at midnight.” Then, as the river of toxic sludge is racing towards him, Jason speaks in a child’s voice (“Don’t let me drown, mommy!”) before puking a geyser of water. The torrent of chemical crud takes him down, and we see a flashback shot of a completely normal-looking Jason-as-a-boy, and then the real kicker occurs: mysterious lightning strikes the Statue of Liberty, and as the flood of goo recedes, Jason is transformed into a little kid clad in gray underpants! I’m not sure who spawned this brilliance, but give that man a gold star for completely missing the mark. It seemed Jason had finally been dropped to the mat for good and true; Paramount had squeezed the teat until nothing but dust was coming out.
A few Jason-less years passed and things looked bleak. Then: enter New Line Cinema, upstart producers of the Nightmare on Elm Street series (and distributors of Evil Dead). They took hold of that withered teat and squeezed good n’ hard, finally squirting out Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Universally, F13 fans seem to dislike this particular entry, and while I can sort of understand why (it’s largely Jason-free and rips off the whole “Jason’s black soul being puked from one host to the next” thing from The Hidden), I must admit I thought — as a movie, even if not entirely as an F13 movie — it was pretty darned entertaining. Some tasty nudity up front, Jason getting blown to bits by a bunch of commando-types, and even some attempts at characterization. And then there was that tease of an ending, wherein Jason’s mask is snatched into the bowels of hell by none other than Freddy Krueger (or his bladed hand, anyway). Of course, that particular tease took a long time to unzip the collective pants of the F13 audience and perform its unspeakable acts, but we’ll get to that.
It was another seven or eight years before New Line stepped up to the plate again, this time with the ill-advised yet kind of cool notion of flinging the unstoppable Mr. Voorhees into the distant future (hey, outer space had worked so well for Leprechaun and Hellraiser, right?). Jason X is another entry that hardcore Friday fans seem to dislike, but again, I thought it was a fun ride — some pleasant boob action, a surprising amount of gore (I love the guy’s body screwing itself downwards onto a gigantic drill bit), and — some might argue this is a negative — a willingness to poke fun at some of the series’ clichÃ©s. Still, while Jason X makes for great drunken viewing, after this one and Jason Goes To Hell it seemed that the F13 series had completely lost its way.
What F13 fans the world over were waiting for, of course, was for that ball-tickler of a tease at the end of Jason Goes to Hell to stop toying with our affections and put out, and that finally happened in 2003 with the long-awaited release of Freddy vs. Jason. I was shooting my low-budget zombie movie The Stink of Flesh at the time, and I remember losing not only a handful of my zombie extras but two of my freaking male leads to a sneak preview of F vs. J — however, continuing in my grand tradition, I managed to miss the flick in its theatrical release, eventually seeing it on DVD. A damnably good time this little slasher flick is, although it’s saddled with some pretty cheesy moments, script-wise (most of which seem like the sort of retarded crap a studio shoehorns into things so the audience will “get it”). I actually pitched for this flick, but my version was called Penn and Teller meet Freddy and Jason — the magicians/comedians/bullshit-revealers get hired as counselors at a summer camp for kids with sleep disorders. Suffice it to say I’m still working my day job.
Since then, we’ve been taunted with the idea of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash (and if I need to explain who Ash is to you, gentle reader, put this book down right now and get thee to a nunnery), a Quentin Tarantino-helmed F13 movie (how cool would that be?), and a “re-imagining” from the folks who brought us the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Me, I’d settle for just a good old-fashioned Jason-in-the-woods slashfest, but I’d definitely like to see something new brought to the table at the same time. Whatever the next movie might be that Jason rears his masked and ugly mug in, I doubt we’ll be waiting very long to see it (especially with Rob Zombie’s new Halloween movie on the way). The Friday the 13th series might not be as intelligent (or, well, pretty much anything else) as connoisseurs of great horror films might like, but in a way (love it or hate it), F13 — particularly the first movie — is kind of perfect in its design; like a vicious little shark, it does exactly what it’s meant to do.