Ah, the hockey mask. A mere 30 years ago, it was just a symbol of the world’s most boring sport. But today, the hockey mask has slightly more disturbing connotations. Show any American a picture of this harmless, protective sportswear and it will most likely conjure up images of a crazed summer camp killer with a machete and a breathing problem who just won’t die.
Jason Voorhees, the zombie-ish slasher, has made the hockey mask an emblem of pure terror. And the longevity of the Friday the 13th franchise proves that we, as a country, enjoy nothing more than seeing teenagers murdered over the course of 90 minutes.
And yet, do we really know Jason Voorhees, this gentle giant, this Man in the Plastic Mask? Sure, he’s been the fodder of our nightmares and USA Up All Night, but none of us – save for Fangoria readers – can really say that we’ve kept up with the masked stranger during all these years. Jason’s been everywhere, from Camp Crystal Lake to Hell to outer space, so don’t be ashamed if the continuity of Friday the 13th is a jumbled mess in your brain.
Luckily, Friday the 13th is this weekend, making the discussion of Jason’s adventures more than appropriate, if not downright necessary. So light some candles, lock your doors and get ready to take a trip down a memory lane riddled with corpses.
• Friday the 13th (1980): The first film is unique in its murder-mystery quality; after all, audiences in 1980 were not supposed to know just who’s been responsible for everything. After this installment, two things were clear: Jason was around and he was most likely going to kill you. But Jason’s death count in this movie is at a shocking zero. Those versed in Friday the 13th know it was Jason’s mama who was doing all the slaying in this film. All the terror Jason could muster up was scaring a girl on a boat – but that’s a pretty big feat from someone who was supposed to be dead for 30 years.
What we should have learned: If you’re a camp counselor and a boy is drowning, it’s in your best interest to save him. Otherwise you might find yourself the victim of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon gone horribly wrong.
• Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981): In the second film, Jason doesn’t have his trademark hockey mask. Instead, he sports a burlap bag with a lone eyehole. But it’s he who does the killing this time, so we’re almost in flavor country. Don’t count Jason’s mom out completely, though. Her severed head is almost the star of the show and is also the centerpiece of a mama Voorhees shrine comprised of dead camp counselors. As in the first movie, Jason only takes a little damage before disappearing without a trace, a problem that will be solved in Part 3.
What we should have learned: Apparently, Jason is as dumb as a “Bugs Bunny” villain. The main character putting on a sweater belonging to Jason’s mom and pretending to be Mrs. Voorhees almost fools him. I guess there weren’t many books at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake.
• Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982): If you decry the 3-D movie as a schlocky gimmick, well, you’d be right. We can forgive Part 3, though, for giving us the Jason mask. Honestly, would you mind being swiped at a few times by a 20-foot tall movie monster in exchange for making him an iconic piece of Americana?
The plot of Part 3 picks up right after the last movie, with a sulking Jason licking his wounds after Part 2’s finale. When he finds the perfect face gear, it’s slashering time! . Until the main character strings Jason up and turns him into a human pi¤ata. But really, seeing Jason get what’s coming to him is pure cathartic movie-going bliss.
What we should have learned: As in the first movie, the center of Camp Crystal Lake is the worst place to wait for a rescue. As soon as you get relaxed, a corpse comes to crash your party. Granted, it is Jason’s mom this time, but Crystal Lake safety should have been common knowledge by 1982.
• Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984): If you really believed this would be the last chapter of the saga, then you obviously don’t understand what little meaning the word “final” has in the world of capitalism. Insert your own Final Fantasy joke here.
The Final Chapter begins with Jason’s escape from a morgue, perhaps the first event in the series that truly calls his mortality into question. He then goes back to his old stomping ground, murdering campers unfortunate enough to have not picked up a newspaper in four years. We later see Jason’s first real defeat at the hands of Corey Feldman, who, one year later, would show up in the hit The Goonies. Please note that this is the last movie in the series in which Jason doesn’t have apparent magical powers.
What we should have learned: Having the villain of your long-running movie franchise fall at the hands of a young Corey Feldman does not make for an exciting finale. This is like the Lord of the Rings ending with Samwise Gamgee jump-kicking the Eye of Sauron.
• Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985): Perhaps the most disappointing installment of the series, if only because Jason is an imposter.
Jason appears to make a return in this movie, haunting Tommy, the Jason-slayer of the last film (though mostly not played by Corey Feldman this time around). But when the mask is pulled off, it’s actually Old Man Withers, the owner of the abandoned roller-rink! OK, maybe it’s not quite that lame. The film is still largely irrelevant to the series as a whole though, because it sets up Troubled Tommy as the next man to fill Jason’s soggy boots. It took a while for the producers to figure out that you shouldn’t let a little thing like death get in the way of bringing back a beloved character (The Bible, anyone?).
What we should have learned: The mask alone doesn’t make Jason who he is. Without his troubled past, brain problems and amphibious lifestyle, why should we care?
• Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986): To be fair, Jason is dead for part of this film. But that’s what makes his later state of living so spectacular.
Tommy returns for a third movie, and despite not becoming Jason as promised in A New Beginning, he gets a lot of people killed by proxy. Even though Jason is dead, Tommy can’t leave well enough alone, so he goes to Jason’s gravesite (evidently someone gave Jason an honorable Christian burial) with plans to destroy the body. But an unlucky strike of electricity animates Jason’s corpse. It’s kind of like Frankenstein, except Jason is trying his best to destroy humanity instead of understand it. Jason does get “killed” at the end of this one, but that’s merely a formality by this point.
What we should have learned: Cremate dead serial killers. The concept of life by lightning is a ridiculous one, but better to be safe than decapitated.
• Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988): Audiences were getting a bit bored with seeing Jason rip through wave after wave of weak teenagers, so Part VII pitted Jason against a girl with psychic powers. You weren’t expecting this?
The New Blood has a very similar concept to the last movie, with some clueless character accidentally bringing Jason to the land of the living. This time around, it’s magic psychic beams that interrupt Jason’s scuba diving adventures under Crystal Lake instead of a random act of God covered by most insurance plans. Here, the series takes a step from the safe territory of “goofy” all the way to the dangerous land of “wacky” because if psychic powers exist in the Friday the 13th-verse, who’s to say Jason-disintegrating laser beams don’t exist as well? Clearly, Jason has become far less scary.
What we should have learned: Crystal Lake should be filled with cement at all times. Also, psychics with resurrection powers should be tracked down and destroyed by the government. Do you really want grandma coming back to life to make you wear that ugly pair of camouflage sweatpants she got you for Christmas?
• Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989): Much like The Muppets did five years previous, Jason went to Manhattan. Taking Manhattan was a very popular trend in the 1980s, second only to aerobics and laughing at old women who couldn’t find the beef.
In a move that is not at all surprising by the eighth movie of the series, Jason Takes Manhattan begins with Jason being brought back to life through the wonders of electricity. He stows aboard a ship named “Lazarus” – yes, this is a Friday the 13th movie with an appropriate Biblical reference – murdering everyone onboard because he really has nothing better to do by this point. There’s a slim connection between Jason and one of the potential victims, but Part VIII is really just an attempt to bring the series away from the shores of Camp Crystal Lake and onto a boat; think of it as the Speed 2 of the Friday the 13th series. Wait, don’t do that. The movie barely takes place in The Big Apple, but Jason Takes the Waters Surrounding Manhattan was not a striking title.
What we should have learned: The sewage system of Manhattan carries vast quantities of toxic waste through its inner working each night in an attempt to flush out hiding serial killers. You can thank Ed Koch for this one.
• Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993): Here we have the second film in the 13th franchise to use the word “final” in its subtitle and still not be the last movie. That takes balls.
The Final Friday is perhaps the most high-concept of the films. Here, Jason is given a mythology where the way to truly kill him is revealed: a mythical dagger attack from a family member. Just ignore all those other times he was killed; those were just practice. We also learn Jason doesn’t really need a body to stay alive – he can inhabit the bodies of others through the use of a parasitic worm. This is all revealed when Jason explodes during an FBI strike in the beginning of the movie and a coroner later eats his heart, turning Friday the 13th into a disgusting game of tag. Most of this absurdity can be overlooked at the end of the movie, which sets up Freddy vs. Jason. Audiences in 1993 had to wait a decade to see it, but you can go out and grab the DVD today, well with you living in the future and all.
What we should have learned: The movie producers barely researched Youngstown, Ohio, my hometown, and the place where Jason is taken after his FBI standoff to have his heart devoured by a hungry coroner. I submitted the following to the Internet Movie Database to clear up a major problem:
Factual Errors: If the morgue scene had really taken place in Youngstown, the coroner wouldn’t have done an autopsy. Instead, Jason’s corpse would have been thrown on a pile with the others.
• Jason X (2002): It’s Jason. In space. Our country needed some healing after Sept. 11, and this was the first major step.
In the far off year of 2008, Jason is finally captured (I guess he was on the “Just Visiting” part in Monopoly’s “Hell” square). No one can figure out how to kill him, so he gets frozen along with a crafty researcher. Jason and the researcher are later picked up by a space-faring research team even further in the future (400 years, to be exact), who inadvertently wake the sleeping giant. If things weren’t bad enough, nanomachines turn Jason into some kind of Terminator-esque bioweapon. If you think the whole script was written on a dare, then you’d be right.
Perhaps it’s a little unfair to be so mean to Jason X though. After The Final Friday, the series had nowhere to go but up. The screenwriter chose to interpret that literally.
What we should have learned: In space, no one can hear you scream. This is not an original lesson, but it’s a lesson nonetheless.
• Freddy vs. Jason (2003): Here we reach the last (for now) film of the franchise, and Jason’s long-awaited duel with A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger. And Jason doesn’t even get top billing? The nerve.
The rivalry begins with a simple plan by Krueger. He needs to get out of Hell, but can’t do so until his crimes are remembered. So he resurrects Jason and gets him to bump off some Elm Street victims, which works out perfectly until Jason becomes competition for the crusty, besweatered killer. A back-and-forth battle – which had only existed in fan-fiction until that point – takes place, with both Freddy and Jason on the brink of “death.” Jason emerges as the winner, but a wink from Freddy’s severed head tells us nothing was accomplished in this movie. But at least both camps were satisfied.
What we should have learned: Serial killers need to start working together in the modern world, especially when they have crazy, other-worldly powers. The whole “crazed loner” thing doesn’t pan out anymore.
With Freddy vs. Jason, the Friday the 13th series has been left untouched for four years; but that doesn’t mean Jason is gone forever. At some point in the future, he’s going to rise from the grave in another yet improbable way.
Contact features correspondent Bob Mackey at [email protected]