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Friday the 13th: The horror series from worst to best

Posted by Scott Kearnan  December 13, 2013 05:41 PM

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Night falls. A hush blankets the Hub. Cha-cha-cha... Ki-ki-ki...

It's Friday the 13th, and I intend to spend my evening the way any truly patriotic American would on this very special day when camp counselors died for our sins. (That's what it's about, right?) I will order up pizza and a marathon of the classic horror film series' best installments. And so should you — but if you're wondering where to start, here's how one fan of blood- and nostalgia-soaked 1980s slashers ranks the Friday the 13th series from worst to best.

Though I outlined fellow horror franchise Halloween here, let me be clear: that series actually boasts a few legitimately great and scary installments in its spooky tales of Michael Myers (you know, the killer with the white mask) stalking around the suburbs. These Jason Voorhees (the hockey mask guy) flicks are the trashy cousins about dumb kids chugging beers around campgrounds. They aim a lot lower, offering greater consistency albeit for diminished standards. Whereas the Halloween series occasionally makes a gourmet cheesy pie, Friday the 13th is a microwaveable Mama Celeste. Dear lord I'm hungry. Where's my pizza?

#12. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

For some ungodly reason, after 13 (hey!) years and eight previous installments that stuck to a tried and true formula — nubile teen + crunching leaves = OMG A MASK AND AX! — the producers of the series decided the ostensible final outing was the right time to get all creative. No. No it was not. Especially when the innovation was to take iconic serial psycho Jason almost entirely out of the movie, and focus on his shape shifting "evil essence" (eye roll) that hops from body to body and turns unsuspecting folks into killers. Sure. While we're at it, let's make The Final Jaws without a shark.

#11. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

This barely edges out Jason Goes to Hell. At least the killer, stalking the offensive caricatures of a teenage halfway house, is a human being carrying a sharp-edged object: AS ARE THE RULES. However, at the end of this horrific attempt at a horror movie (see what I did there?), it's revealed that the killer isn't even Jason: it's some local yokel in a hockey mask seeking revenge on somebody. Yes, I spoiled the ending. Now I know you won't bother. You're welcome.

#10. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Like moving to New York, watching a movie with the name Jason Takes Manhattan sounds awesome in theory but is quickly revealed to be a masochistic mistake that you quickly regret but suck up for a very specifically delineated amount of time because — well, now you can say you did it if anybody asks. (Omg. LOL. Just kidding. I <3 NY.) Aside from a money shot of Jason in the middle of Times Square, back when it was scary and dangerous and filled with rats and mohawks, none of the flick even takes place in New York. It's basically Jason stalking a boat full of high schoolers on a class cruise. The movie poster, featuring the trademark hockey mask superimposed over the NYC skyline, is amazing kitsch in all the right ways; I would hang it in a personal museum of 80s memorabilia next to a Taylor Dayne record slip, that's how great it is. But the movie is entirely unspectacular. Like your apartment.

#9. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

It pains me to place this entry so low on the list. It's not that bad, it's just not that good — and that is horrible. Because Jason teaming up with A Nightmare on Elm Street baddie Freddy Krueger, and then going toe to toe against him, should have been a legendary cinematic experience. This is Dracula vs. Frankenstein for kids who grew up watching scary movies on VHS tapes while eating Happy Meals, instead of watching shadow puppets and eating onion porridge or whatever they did back in simpler times. Instead, Freddy vs. Jason offers little but dated CGI and Destiny's Child vice-president Kelly Rowland, who rudely refuses to break into "Independent Women (Part One)" whilst combating the killers. I'll take "mildly entertaining" over "rife with unrealized potential" any day.

#8. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Speaking of "mildly entertaining," here's where the list starts to take a turn for the better. Part III isn't great, but it's decent as far as these things go. It's a pretty standard entry with all the hallmarks that even more discerning cinephiles who don't lower themselves to watching such pedestrian drivel will likely know: teens go to campground, teens make the sex, teens get the dead. They filmed this entry in 3D, which now on home viewing makes for some awkward and gratuitous moments of the let's-hold-this-tentpole-uncomfortably-close-to-the-camera variety. But it's also the installment where Jason attains his trademark hockey mask, so notch one point for the betterment of civilization.

#7. Friday the 13th Party VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Aside from a really nifty opening scene where Jason is revived by lightning bolts (he's supernatural now), I'm not sure what to say about this entry that won't sound like my synopsis of every other. There's more kids, more campground, more sex and death. I'm not being lazy, honestly. But without going into tremendous horror nerd detail that the average movie watcher just doesn't care about (although you made it this far, so...) there isn't much to distinguish them. They're all basically the same, but some are better and some are worse. And if you're wondering how that can be true, I'm assuming you've never listened to Ke$ha songs.

#6. Jason X (2001)

"What next? Jason goes to space?" This sounds like a joke that your dad would make. So naturally, the producers behind this fine cinematic institution decided to make it the actual plot of the tenth installment. Which was on-trend, I guess, since we were in that post-millennium period where teen pop bands were doing choreographed dances on the moon while wearing shiny metal pants and whatnot. And you know what? I liked it. Yeah, it's stupid. People who respect the art of horror films, or the art of films, or people who even respect themselves, none of them will agree with me. But in its depiction of Jason stalking teenage science students on a spaceship, first in human form and then in budget-Terminator cyborg form, this entry at least took a chance. And it did so with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The other installments may have taken place in the woods, but this one is the campiest.

#5. Friday the 13th (2009)

As far as horror movie remakes go, this one is solid. I was underwhelmed in theaters, but subsequent viewings on the small screen — where, I'm a big believer, most horror movies actually work better — have warmed my heart to it. And yeah, it even freaks me out a bit at parts. The opening scene has some ferocity, the overall tone strives (with mixed results) for overall intensity, and you get the sense that the filmmakers were at least dead-set on making Jason more intimidating than a Halloween costume. It's an entertaining diversion with more to like than not.

#4. Friday the 13th (1980)

"Sacrilege!" "Blasphemy!" "How could the original not be deemed the best?" Put down your poison pens/machetes, gore hounds. Friday the 13th isn't Gone with the Wind. It's not even The Exorcist. In fact, if you get on down to it, the series was never originally intended to be anything but schlock; it was director Sean Cunningham's shameless cash-grab to try and replicate the recent success of Halloween. Yes, it is unfairly maligned (as most horror movies are) and it wound up being an Important movie, culturally speaking. But taken on its own merits it's still just a better-than-average slasher flick and — one that entries in its own franchise wound up surpassing. That's okay to admit. Don't we all want to pave a way, then let our kids excel in the ways we could not?

#3. Friday the 13th Part II (1981)

As far as I'm concerned, you can file Part II among those rare sequels that improve on the original. Using the formula established by its predecessor, this entry ups the ante, (marginally) the acting, and (a bit) the budget. The result is a leaner, meaner, tighter fright machine. And honestly? Jason looks a lot scarier traipsing through the woods with a torn sack on his head (like a 'roid raging hillbilly) than he ever did in a hockey mask. There, I said it.

#2. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

A bunch of horny teenagers rent a lake house across the street from (a very young) Corey Feldman and his older sister. Jason crashes the keg party and terror ensues. There are some exciting chase scenes, and the prowler-in-the-house vibe is a nice change of pace from the who's-behind-that-treetrunk trope that dominates the series. As far as Reagan era horror movies go, this one stands the test of time like a can of TAB: the packaging is pleasantly outdated, but yesterday's tastiness remains (I can only assume) well preserved.

#1. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

Admittedly, I have a sentimental attachment to this sequel. It was the first Friday flick I ever watched on late-night HBO. (After my mother fell asleep two feet to my left, of course). And I still remember the soft glow that filled my heart when, curled up safely in bed with butter-drenched popcorn, I was introduced to a world of blood curdling screams and skinny-dipping teenage girls. (PLEASE DON'T WAKE UP.) The shoulder pads, bangs, and acid washed jeans in this movie are more '80s-rific than the laser light show backgrounds that I wasn't allowed to get on school picture day. (Because tacky. I get it now, mom. You were always looking out for me.) And as Jason, stuntman/actor Kane Hodder, the only guy to play the role more than once, brings a fiercer presence than any other man to rock the hockey mask. But the best part: Jason finally meets his match in a teenage girl with telekinetic powers. She serves up serious Carrie realness that gives him a run for his money, and as a result this Friday hits pay dirt.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Scott Kearnan (@thewritestuffSK) is a Boston-based writer, editor, and communications consultant focusing on lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment. He's also a part-time smart aleck and buffalo wing connoisseur. "Media Remix" is where couch potatoes meet pop culture criticism. More »

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