May’s Filmmaker of the Month: The Friday the 13th Series

Friday the 13th Friday the 13th

For the first film’s 40th anniversary, we hack and slash our way through the long, bloody saga of Jason Voorhees and his journeys from hell to Manhattan to space.

Sh-sh-sh. Ki ki ki. Ma. Ma. Ma.

If you’re a horror fan who spent any amount of time roaming the back rows of your old video store, or took a date to a midnight slasher night at the movie theater, you know exactly how the nine syllables above should sound. It’s the sound of impending doom. It’s the sound of a chill running up your spine.

It’s the sound of Jason Voorhees.

The Friday the 13th film series, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, has enjoyed a rather curious notoriety within the canon of horror movie icons. It’s not the Wes Craven horrorscape of Nightmare on Elm Street, a series to which it would be frequently compared (right down to the infamous crossover film Freddy vs. Jason), nor the classier, more subtextual body horror of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter. It obviously owes a debt to Carpenter’s Halloween (having been made in the wake of that film’s runaway success), but Jason Voorhees, with his machete and that iconic hockey mask he wouldn’t even get until the third film, quickly eclipsed Michael Myers as the face of ’80s horror sleaze.

A young Jason making his first appearance in the otherwise Jason-less Friday the 13th (1980).

Over the course of the next four decades, the series saw its fair share of twists and turns, constantly trying (and oftentimes failing) to keep the legend of Jason updated for new audiences. The formula is invariably the same — Jason (after the first film, at least) stalks and chops up unsuspecting non-union actors in various dimly-lit climes. But within that repetition, there was some room for innovation, however furtive and borne of gimmicks like 3-D and Carrie-like telepaths. Some of it was novel, even downright good: take the comparatively cathartic journey of Tommy Jarvis in The Final Chapter, for instance. But being a Friday the 13th fan also means taking the rough with the smooth, like when Jason “takes Manhattan”, or “goes to Hell”, or (gulp) “goes to Space.”

Now, unlike last month’s deep dive into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, our retrospective on the Friday the 13th series is hardly going to be an investigation of a coherent, long-planned film universe. Like most horror films, they’re a product of economy and greed above anything else: asked about making so many Friday the 13th films, Paramount Pictures CEO Frank Mancuso Sr. replied, “Quite simply, the public still wanted to see these films. So until they really stopped coming, why not continue to make more?”

But in our quest, we hope not just to celebrate the splatter and the disposably horny teenagers that populate this franchise, oh no. We’ll get an in-depth look at the way slasher cinema, fueled by Reaganomics and the burgeoning home video market, turned a drowned boy into one of horror’s most terrifying silhouettes.

Read the rest of our Friday the 13th coverage here:

“Friday the 13th” kicked off the grandpappy of horror franchises
How “Friday the 13th Part 2” introduced Jason in the flesh
In “Friday the 13th Part III,” Jason got all up in your face
“Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” tried (and failed) to kill Jason for good

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