Well, we’ve made it. After two grueling weeks and eleven feature films, we’ve finally gone through the entire original continuity of Friday the 13th.
Take a bow. Take a breather. Take a load off. After our decades-spanning retread of one of the most celebrated (and reviled) slasher franchises of all time, you’ve certainly earned it.
God knows that there were some stinkers along the way. That last stretch in particular was a definite slog to get through. But now that we’ve made it, and now that we’ve got some perspective on the seminal horror franchise, it’s time to take stock of where we are nearly forty years after the original movie debuted. That’s right, Folks, it’s ranking time!
11 . Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985) — The worst of the lot is the well-meaning, back-to-basics follow-up to 1984’s The Final Chapter: the movie that killed off Jason Vorhees in front of our very eyes. To be sure, now that Jason had been established as the deformed face of the franchise, any Jason-less sequel without him wasn’t going to go over well with the series’ many fans. And while I appreciate the mystery-driven plot that was deliberately calling back to the first Friday the 13th and the intended shift to an anthology-style slasher franchise (in which each franchise would follow a different successor to the famed Crystal Laker killer), the craftlessness of the film was downright shocking. From bloodless kills to tensionless chase sequences to some of the most obnoxious characters ever committed to screen, any hope that fans would get on board this experimentation in form were abandoned from the word “go.”
10 . Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) — For as much as I love Jason Lives, the tremulous shift from “realistic” slayings to supernatural gimmicks heralded the rapid-fire decline of the series. Zombie Jason is an awesome paradigm of slow-moving dread, to be sure, but the increasingly outlandish and unrealistic situations that he found himself in came part and parcel with untenable budgets and bottom-tier talent as his once monolithic popularity began to wane. Of these latter-day franchise entries, Jason Takes Manhattan was easily the worst (and additionally the most emblematic of the series’ diminishing returns from hopelessly chasing buzzworthy gimmicks). From a Big Apple invasion that was relegated to only the final minutes of the film to an off-kilter setting that included rat-infested sewers flooded nightly by toxic waste (that sometimes acts as a corrosive acid and sometimes acts as the Fountain of Youth), nothing about this laughably inept Friday the 13th worked for even longtime fans of the franchise.
9 . Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) — During the decades in which Freddy vs Jason was damned to Developmental Hell, its presence was palpably felt in front of the camera. Be it a Freddy-fingered teaser after Jason goes to Hell or a similar versus concept with the serial numbers filed off, it was obvious to anybody paying attention what Paramount and New Line were trying (and failing) to do to their bread-and-butter properties. Pitched as “Jason vs Carrie,” The New Blood nearly succeeded at being the exciting new direction that Paramount wanted to take the franchise into. Unfortunately, virtually every kill and killer confrontation was left on the cutting room floor at the behest of the MPAA (who would have otherwise branded the film with the movie-killing NC-17 rating), leaving us with merely a handful of bloodless skirmishes and some awkward teen drama to work with.
8 . Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) — Say what you will about being unrecognizable as a Friday the 13th movie (right down to removing Jason as the flesh-and-blood killer in the film), but Jason Goes to Hell was a bold, fiercely original and shockingly well-staged film about a body-swapping, cosmically empowered killer trying to be reborn through a blood relative and prevented from doing so by a lone avenger. It’s bizarre, and sometimes unintentionally hilarious, but aside from its misleading namesake, Jason Goes to Hell is a fun, inventive and like-nothing-else horror film that is almost as misunderstood by as Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). It’s overcomplicated, sure, and doesn’t entirely hang together the way that it should, but it’s a worthwhile movie to track down if only for how strange it ultimately is (both on its own terms and within the context of the series).
7 . Jason X (2001) — Before New Line could finally get its act together enough to make the long-teased and highly-anticipated Freddy vs Jason, it released one last solo film in order to remind people that they were still in the business of killing off horny teenagers, no matter what century the Nightmare on Elm Street crossover would eventually be released to theaters in. While the film didn’t have nearly the budget it needed to pull off its worlds-spanning storyline and its threadbare narrative visibly burgeoned under the weight of its own history, it was a surprisingly funny, occasionally smart, ultimately well-crafted entry into the series. With raucous homages to some of the series’ best-remembered moments (notably by recreating The New Blood‘s sleeping bag kill in a holodeck simulation) and stakes-raising set pieces that never quite got their due (ie, Uber Jason), there’s actually enough here to recommend to most franchise fanatics, at least when they’re in the mood for a good laugh.
6 . Freddy vs Jason (2003) — When it finally hit theaters after more than fifteen years in some stage of development, the monster mash crossover between two of the horror genre’s most iconic killers (which was also the final entry in either film’s original canon) was among the bloodiest and best remembered of either franchise. The kills were stupendous and the myriad of showdowns between the title characters were genuinely show-stopping and among the most memorable scenes from either set of movies. With fantastic callbacks to previous installments and a plot that mostly works, it delivered on its promise for a throwdown unlike any other.
5 . Friday the 13th (1980) — Even though the film doesn’t completely hold up twenty-eight years later, the original Friday the 13th is perhaps the most unique not just within the franchise it would eventually spawn, but within the entire subgenre that it helped to create. Made before the tropes of formulae of the slasher film were fully codified within pop culture, it took a great number of liberties with the blueprint set forth by Halloween (1978): so much so that it’s actually incredibly refreshing to watch nearly thirty years after the fact.
4 . Friday the 13th Part II (1981) — Having still been made early enough into the slasher movie’s life cycle to not be totally beholden to its trappings, Part II improved considerably over the interesting first installment to the franchise. With a much bigger budget and a much larger cast to work with, the first Friday sequel featured some of the franchise’s best kills, set-pieces and characters: including what might just be the best Final Girl ever rendered on the silver screen.
3 . Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) — Ostensibly meant to be the final Friday the 13th film (after the last time they made the “final” Friday the 13th film), the introduction of long-running protagonist Tommy Jarvis (here played by child star Corey Feldman) and brutal on-screen dispatchment of Jason Vorhees alone make it one of the best and most memorable outings in this franchise. Combine it with perhaps the best fleshed-out cast of characters of all of these movies and a number of show-stopping murders (brought gruesomely to life by returning makeup legend Tom Savini) and it resulted in one of the definitive horror films of the 1980s.
2 . Friday the 13th Part III (1982) — It may have taken a while to get there, but Part III finally figured out what precisely made for a great Friday the 13th movie. Essentially a distillation of what made the earlier entries so great — memorable kills, likable characters, engaging subplots and an instantly iconic villain patrolling an otherwise idyllic locale — it doubled-down on what worked in those movies to create the perfect post-Halloween slasher. Not only is this where Jason received his distinctive hockey mask, but it also bookends the first film so well (with a pitch-perfect callback to the franchise’s first final scare) that you could be excused for ending your Friday the 13th marathons here.
1 . Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) — Even though the supernatural bent that this film eventually led its larger franchise on grew tiresome in a hurry, I’ll be damned if it didn’t work here. After being resurrected by an errant bolt of lightning, a now-zombified Jason stalks the woods surrounding Crystal Lake to claim a new host of unsuspecting victim. Pre-empting Scream‘s (1996) celebrated meta-humor by a full decade, Jason Lives balanced laughs with thrills in equal measure, imperiling an entire camp full of children while referencing everything from Halloween to James Bond, it proved to be the perfect cross-section of the grounded horror films of the preceding decade and the increasingly outlandish ones of the following one. When it comes to this franchise, it never got any better than this one.
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