Hello campers! Having recently ranked the Halloween and Saw franchises, I thought I’d turn my attention to the best series of them all: Friday the 13th. Starting as a shameless clone of Halloween moved to the woods, the Friday films went on to perfectly exemplify the slasher subgenre at its straightest and cheesiest alike. Simply put, weapon wielding Jason Voorhees is the Pele of onscreen killers. Whether he’s wearing a sack, or a hockey mask, he’s the best slayer around, and can do great things with sharp objects, farming equipment or his trusty machete. So get ready to go through 12 films of thrills, kills and skinny dipping, starting from the worst…
12. Jason Goes to Hell, The Final Friday (1993): Unquestionably the worst this franchise has to offer, and maybe one of the all-time worst horror sequels. As per Halloween 6 it toys with the mythology to date, recontextualising everything we’ve seen as a supernatural mess about curses. Here, for the vast majority of the movie, Jason is transformed from a corporeal threat into a virus that leaps from body to body with each kill. Throw in some nonsense about a) him having a sister, b) a legend that says Voorhees must die at the hand of Voorhees and c) an enchanted blade, and you got yourself a car crash of a slasher with loose ties to The Evil Dead. Writer/ director Adam Marcus has since clarified that he kept Jason off-screen for so long because he wanted the audience to miss him – but then if they didn’t already then why the hell would they watch a Friday film? Dire movie that, at best, is unintentionally funny. Sometimes. Only reason to see this is so you can tell people you have, and have them stare at you awkwardly, without lying.
11. Friday the 13th (2009): Sure, there’s perhaps some worse films I’m placing above this – parts 5 and 8 come to mind. But as a Friday one they blow this out the water. Coming out in the aftermath of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, which was semi-successful, this is the now standard gritty reboot. Ditching the series’ dodgy history of having a mentally handicapped villain, he’s reimagined here as a skilled survivalist (with archery trophies to boot). As such, he plants elaborate traps, hides on roofs and has an underground network of tunnels to connect the numerous bits of woodland. Think a paranoid Bear Gryllis with mummy issues. This isn’t the only thing that’s not quite right: the teens are the usual bunch of horny machete-fodder, only somewhat cooler than usual. The deaths are also considerably less enjoyable than they are violent. In short, it’s a bit like the rest of the franchise – only without any of the fun. Still, the lengthy pre-credit sequence is pretty darn cool.
10. Friday the 13th, A New Beginning (1985): As per the fifth Halloween outing, Friday 5 sweeps the end of the fourth one under the carpet. Like its counterpart, this movie sees its youngster in a mental health clinic recuperating from the trauma that befell them. Thankfully there’s no telekinesis this time around. But sadly there’s not really that much of anything going on save for token attempts at drama and ambiguity that get immediately undermined by its fidelity to source material and overuse of comic-relief characters. Despite its excessive body count, A New Beginning is simply quite boring. Ex porn director Danny Steinmann struggles to find a halfway point between sex comedy and slasher, settling for a clumsy, sleazy flick that does what four previous entries had but a bit worse. Not even leaving Crystal Lake, nor the infamous leftfield twist, can make this into a memorable movie.
9. Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood (1988): It’s Jason vs Carrie. With supernatural horrors about telekinetics being all the rage (Scanners, Firestarter etc.) it was time to take this slasher in a new direction. Here, the telekinetic is a tall, hot blonde, who accidentally brings Jason back from the dead as she remembers how her father drowned in same bit of the lake. Ditching the comedic, self-aware tone of its immediate predecessor, The New Blood suffers from its unexpectedly sombre tone. Still, the iconic sleeping bag scene and the actioned packed closing twenty minutes go some way towards rescuing this otherwise fairly unremarkable entry. Come the end, final girl Tina has literally brought the house down on our favourite masked killer. Kane Hodder’s debut appearance in the role also gives Jason a bit more personality than he’d previously had. Not one I’d ever watch outside marathons, although one I’m generally quite pleased to reach.
8. Friday the 13th Part VIII, Jason Takes Manhattan (1989): Yep, for all the time our eponymous baddie spends in The Big Apple, this ought to be called Jason Takes a Boat. And sure, it’s not an even remotely scary entry in a series that’d long since left its roots behind. However, for what it is it’s hugely enjoyable. From the synthtastic opening credits to Jason knocking an amateur boxer’s head-off with a single swift punch, it’s as fun as the series gets. Moreover, while the bits of Jason in New York are short-lived, I don’t share the same yearning to see it as many others seemingly do. He works well in close quarters, with a no way out scenario, and for this reason I’m totally fine with most of the action being at sea (even if a ferry from New Jersey to New York seems an extravagance for a school trip). The first two thirds may not be what fans wanted, but they take Jason out of the woods and for the most part it works well in an 80s cheese way. Some say the series officially jumped the shark here, which is quite funny given it follows the one with a telekinetic teen, and maybe it did. But if it’s a rainy day, and you got a few cans of beer kicking about, then you can do a lot worse.
7. Jason X (2001): Fuck you, I like this film! Taking Jason from Crystal Lake into space sounds like a dumb idea on paper – like some fan fiction with a budget. But despite its ludicrous premise it’s easily among the most entertaining movies in the series. Following a present day opener, a series of contrived events see the un-killable Jason (the first of many winks at sequel excess) being frozen. He’s then thawed out in the far future aboard a spaceship, as the horny passengers climax in the room next door. Immediately turning to violence, with my all-time favourite kill in the franchise (it involves liquid nitrogen), Jason begins one of his most enjoyable sprees. It’s not for everyone, with parts like Jason fighting a robot splitting audiences, but where it blends slasher tropes with science fiction it succeeds. The virtual reality part alone makes up for a slightly dull second act, and as a celebration of the series Uber Jason is pretty darn cool. That being said, I’d have liked it to have committed more to parody, as the next entry did so successfully.
6. Friday the 13th Part VI, Jason Lives (1986): With a more ridiculous tone, this is arguably not a Friday movie as much as the first Jason one. This is the Scream of franchise, as the iconic killer becomes self-aware. As a comedy-horror, I really rate this movie. Jason being brought back as a zombie is a novelty way of escalating the threat, and the payoff for Tommy Jarvis’ arc, with him in traumatised vet mode, is rewarding. The kills are great this time around, with writer/ director Tom McLoughlin having a real eye for the grotesque and darkly comic. The bold tone makes it one of the more memorable entries, with so many great kills – my favorite being Jason taking out three people one with swing. Of course, some purists will say the humour spoilt it, but with the slasher golden age coming to an end, the franchise had to branch out. Like a bolt of lightning, this entry gives life to a slasher that’d been declared officially dead in the last one.
5. Freddy vs Jason (2003): For years this crossover was always ‘coming soon’ – a Chinese Democracy of horror. Yet unlike that long awaited album, I’d say this one more than lived up to the hype. Although it’s arguably more of an Elm Street entry, director Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky) does an admirable job combining the visual styles of both franchises. The premise is vaguely postmodern, with nobody being scared of Freddy any more. As such, he enlists Jason to make a new generation fear him – but alas, he keeps killing meaning Mr Krueger’s got nobody to play with. This leads to a professional disagreement. Freddy star, Robert Englund, is back in the jumper with new Jason Ken Kirzinger (who’s a little too tall, but nonetheless a force of nature). There’s generous scenes of the two icons duking it out, as the balance of power switches. Of course, they’re joined by a bunch of teens whose dialogue is less trashy than usual. Kills are delightfully extravagant, and the comedy where its present isn’t overdone. Really, the only thing that really bothers me is this oversized Jason seemingly being a master of stealth. But frankly, this is as good as one could reasonably expect a Friday meets Elm Street film to be.
4. Friday the 13th (1980): Where it all began. Whilst Halloween had given slashers their basic template, this added showed how it could be enhanced with practical effects. It’s well known that writer/ director Sean S. Cunningham sold his film based on the name alone, hyping it as the scariest ever made. And whilst this is obviously not the case, it marked a notable change in pace from its inspiration and had some revolutionary kills courtesy of legend Tom Savini. A bloody tour-de-force, Friday the 13th is has a pressure-cooker narrative that keeps upping the tension with what would later become an uncharacteristic restraint. The kids are also amongst the most likeable in the series, without feeling as trope-heavy as later entries. As they get picked off there’s a genuine suspense about who, if any of them, will survive. That is until the third act which successfully pulls off a now widely known plot twist, before giving way to a stodgy chase sequence extended only by our protagonists’ incompetence. With so many opportunities for Alice to kill Mrs Voorhees, you’ll be shouting at her to finish the job far more than you will be for her to look behind her. Nonetheless, the first Friday is a great starting point to the series, even if it’s bettered by the first three sequels.
3. Friday the 13th Part III (1982): Released in 3D, with some very gimmicky scenes, this is maybe the Friday with the most likeable leading lady. Dana Kimmell may not be known as a great scream-queen, yet she gives this movie a sense of humanity missing from its predecessor and many sequels. Her arc from traumatised victim to hardened survivor is genuinely quite rewarding, and it’s rare to watch a Jason film and actually want the teens to survive. Elsewhere, the tone is a bit more wilfully silly than the first two, with the biker gang in particular having a novelty quality about them. Of course, this will always be best known for being the movie our favourite monster gets his mask, courtesy of loveable goof Shelly. Yet there’s far more to it, including some cool set-pieces, good kills and a surprisingly unnerving third act. Jason-actor Richard Brooker manages to make the role his and may even be the best actor in the role (sorry Kane).
2. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981): The darkest of the films, except the remake. This is Jason at his most vicious. Set in a camp, not far from Crystal Lake, this movie picks up where the original left of with Mrs Voorhees dead. Only this time her son isn’t a campfire story, but a real life killer intent on avenging her death and protecting his territory. Sure, the template still has a few crinkles to be ironed out, like the scrappy kills and inconsistent modus operandi. There’s also several what the fuck moments – like Jason setting up bodies to jump out and having removed his dead mum’s trousers. But same time this slasher marries the tense atmosphere of the early subgenre’s early days with slightly goofier tone of the mid 80s and shows you can make a Friday film that’s actually kind of scary. It’s also among the leanest offerings, with a tightly paced script that gives a relentless energy to it. Plus it has Jason spearing a couple mid-coitus.
1. Friday the 13th, The Final Chapter (1984): Personally I don’t see how it could be any other. Aside from the discredited name, this is everything it says on the tin: a quintessential Friday film. The Final Chapter is a great balance between the cheesy, popcorn side of the films and their horror origins. Aided by the addition of a young Tommy Jarvis, Jason still seems aggressive enough to be scary. At the same time, the movie never forgets that its audience watch it for fun, and gives us a likeable bunch of horny teens to hang out with, the usual gratuitous sleaze and some really entertaining kills. With a tense atmosphere, good gags and Jason beheading a guy getting his rocks off to a keep-fit video, this is everything a slasher flick should be.
So there we go – 12 movies ranked. I’d be happy to read your thoughts on it and hope you enjoyed your stay!