With the recent release of a decidedly impressive, career-spanning boxset from Shout/Scream Factory, Halloween 2020 seems like as good a time as any to watch the entire Friday the 13th franchise. We all know Jason Vorhees was masking up long before it was cool. While the movies aren’t really about that, they do paint a picture of a man who, supernatural or not, seems to mean well.
I’m just saying, the parallels between Jason and Mr. Bean are there for anyone who wants to draw them.
Anyway, while I’ve seen this entire series before, including the infamous 9th and 10th chapters (more on those later), ranking them for this month’s Make the Case meant a fresh marathon at Camp Crystal Lake. Armed with my own copy of the boxset, I burned through the series at work over a period of two days. That is quite a stretch of idiots running afoul of a particularly stubborn man in a hockey ask.
Before that, a man with a sheet on his head.
And before that, a man who was too dead to do anything, so his mom tried to help out.
Friday the 13th endures for reasons that never fully make sense to me. I love Jason, but I also felt like there is only but so much you can do with that character and that concept. At least a couple of the sequels, and even the recent reflect that to me.
Yet watching them all for this month’s column proved to be more fun than not. We aren’t going to actually review the new boxset, but I will say I liked having the movies and various special features to help me dive deeper into this franchise than I ever have before. Again, while I’ve always enjoyed the bulk of this series, this boxset allowed me to expand on that appreciation.
It made ranking these movies from my personal favorite, to entries I probably won’t be watching again anytime soon, that much more enjoyable.
As we’re ranking no less than 12 films in a single column, the reviews are going to be a little brisk.
BEST FRIDAY THE 13TH MOVIES: The Final Chapter | Part III | Part VI | Friday the 13th | The Final Friday | Part 2 | Part VII | Jason X | Freddy vs. Jason | Part VIII | Friday the 13th (2009) | A New Beginning
1. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Director: Joseph Zito
With almost everyone believing Jason really would die, the fourth Friday the 13th is the best of everything I like about these movies. Perhaps more so, since I genuinely like, or am at least interested in, the long list of potential victims for Jason.
The Final Chapter has enthusiasm in droves. It is a film powered by a clear desire for the franchise to go out on a high note, combined with appealing performances from Corey Feldman, Barbara Howard, Crispin Glover, and Ted White as Jason.
The movie also features some inspired death scenes, which you have to appreciate, if you’re going to enjoy these movies at all. It isn’t makeup legend Tom Savini’s most iconic work, but his presence on The Final Chapter connects nicely to his justifiably famous contributions to the first film.
2. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
Director: Steve Miner
Originally part of the short-lived 80s 3D boom, Friday the 13th Part III is essentially the series cementing many of its traits and tropes in one of its most entertaining entries. It also features the first appearance of our buddy Jason in the iconic hockey mask. The design, and indeed, Vorhees himself would go through additional tweaks and redesigns with subsequent sequels.
However, what we have here in this particular time and place is one of the best slasher movies of the early 80s. Dana Kimmell makes for a likable, durable Final Girl, while Richard Brooker’s Jason remains one of my favorites.
3. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Depending upon your perspective, Jason Lives stands as the beginning of the end of the series. On the other hand, it can be the point in which everyone involved doubled down on creating a slightly comical murder show, which is perhaps where the series works best.
Nonetheless, Jason Lives is an absolute blast from start to finish. The characters aspire to be more memorable than likable, but that generally works for me in a slasher movie with at least some self-awareness of what it means to be the sixth chapter in what was originally a pretty simple story.
Naturally, the soundtrack, including Alice Cooper’s absolutely perfect “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” is a big part of why this movie is still a lot of fun for me.
4. Friday the 13th (1980)
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
While an excellent slasher movie, one of the best of all time, the granddaddy of all Fridays has never been my favorite in the context of the franchise. Not because Jason is only in the film for a few moments, shown during one of the best jump scares of all time. The film’s antagonist, Jason’s own mother (an unforgettable, hysterically disconcerting Betsy Palmer) provides me with the movie’s decidedly strong final act.
If I have any issues with Friday the 13th, it’s that the middle of the movie drags, with the mysterious killings losing at least some inventiveness. However, this is a small complaint. At the end of the day, we are still talking about one of the best in 80s horror. Adrienne King as the sole survivor contributes to that thought a great deal, as does makeup from Tom Savini.
5. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Director: Adam Marcus
This is where I suspect I’m breaking away from the more passionate fans of this series. I don’t know a lot of people who hold this ninth entry in the franchise in high esteem. Indeed, I get why a story in which Jason himself (once again played with distinction by Kane Hodder) barely appears would annoy people.
I love this absolutely bonkers example of 90s horror. I love a story in which Jason can move his soul from one individual to the next, making efforts to kill him convoluted to the point of sitcom hysteria. I love the movie having a sense of humor that borderlines reckless. That might be nostalgia talking, as this was my introduction to the series. I don’t care, if that’s the case.
The Final Friday is glorious in its absurdities, and remains an admirable attempt to change up these movies.
6. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
Director: Steve Miner
As the series worked out what audiences liked best, in the wake of the surprising success of the original, Part 2 introduces us to Jason Voorhees as the killer for the very first time. The movie has some of the most unsettling atmosphere to be found anywhere in all twelve films. To be sure, the movie’s last 20 or so minutes are impressively scary for a series that never really appealed to me on that specific level.
At the same time, the movie also still has that sluggishness that dictated the first movie. No one’s fully aware of what they’re dealing with in Voorhees, but Part 2 keeps the momentum going nicely for any marathon of these you may have in mind. Amy Steel as Part 2’s sole survivor is another standout.
7. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Director: John Carl Buechler
On paper, The New Blood sounds even crazier than The Final Friday. With the Tommy Jarvis storyline, running from parts 4 through 6, finally at an end, the need for something entirely different with the character and the series was established.
What we wound up is a bizarre story of a young psychic (Lar Park Lincoln, who does well as one of Jason’s most unique adversaries), whose powers cause Jason to do that thing that he just can’t help but do. The series was beginning to strain to find creative avenues for this character, and you can see that in the movie struggling to find a balance between humor and something that’s not just campiness and blood lust.
There’s still a lot of fun here. The sleeping bag scene is proof of that. We’re just at that point where the less-than-stellar stretches outpace the moments that define the best of Friday the 13th.
8. Jason X (2001)
Director: James Isaac
Like a lot of people, I didn’t like Jason X’s heavy doses of humor, outer space setting, or the fairly elaborate redesign of Jason’s mask and body.
However, like at least a few people over the years, I’ve come around on a lot of my issues. While the Über Jason design still kind of bugs me, I can at least see it as a better fit for a story that transports Jason to a spaceship in the distant future.
What also works better for me is the humor. It actually does a pretty good job of playing to how silly Jason X’s story is to begin with. Still, even with a fun performance from Hodder as Jason, a brilliant cameo by David Cronenberg, and some surprisingly memorable kills, Jason X is just too far from Camp Crystal Lake for my personal tastes.
9. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Director: Ronny Yu
If in-theater experience counted for anything, the packed, absolutely wild crowd I saw this with on August 15th 2003 would put Freddy vs. Jason at #1. Watching the movie recently, and having put it on every year or so during an inevitable Nightmare on Elm St. marathon, I still find it fairly entertaining. Just seeing Robert Englund play Freddy Krueger, finally squaring off with his cultural and box office rival, with such an aggressive, unhinged ambition, something quite different from his characterizations in the past, is enough for me.
That fact doesn’t travel very far, as far as this ranking of Friday the 13th goes. The movie is a mess of ideas and tones. Shifts between comic book violence and efforts at genuine horror make for a frustrating experience. Ken Kirzinger’s Jason, while not bad by any means, never finds a good footing amidst a neat-but-flawed attempt to live up to enormously high expectations.
Also, how do you not pay Betsy Palmer what she wants to reprise Mrs. Voorhees? Come on.
10. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1988)
Director: Rob Hedden
Notable as the first Friday the 13th film I ever purchased.
We are firmly in the territory of films I’ll watch only if I’m in some sort of marathon mode. The fact that the movie was barely shot in New York is more silly than annoying. Kane Hodder is fine as Jason. There are even at least two deaths (yes, including one of the most memorable decapitations in horror history) that stand among my very favorites.
The problem is how that’s pretty much it. The cast has less to work with here with their characters than in almost any other entry. The pacing that takes Jason from a boat full of incredibly forgettable high school seniors and chaperones, on their way to New York City, is also as bad as it ever gets for this franchise.
11. Friday the 13th (2009)
Director: Marcus Nispel
The Platinum Dunes (same company that helmed reboots of A Nightmare on Elm St. and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)-helmed remake of Friday the 13th is another entry on this ranking where I have to ask myself “Wait, is the movie that bad?”
Honestly, no. The movie, which makes only a handful of tweaks to the Jason character and mythology, has a lot going for it. The story is straightforward, depicting a young man (Jared Padalecki of Supernatural fame) searching for his sister with some friends. The movie itself is a clear effort to not only celebrate the best components of these movies, but to try and give them a different kind of energy. You also have an exceptional Jason Voorhees performance from Derek Mears.
It just doesn’t equal anything very memorable. There is very little to actually distinguish the 2009 Friday the 13th from any entry between Part 2 and Jason Goes to Hell. It is an overall average movie that never justifies its existence as a reboot in the first place.
There are definitely directions for Jason to go in, creatively speaking, even at this point. Whatever that might be, it needs to be considerably bolder than this.
12. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
Director: Danny Steinmann
Speaking of bold.
It doesn’t get more ambitious in this universe than hoping audiences will accept a new killer taking up the hockey mask. That concept in of itself, which was initially going to be a trilogy, is admirable.
What we actually got, however, is frustratingly far from that mark. It is easy to dump on this movie, which takes The Final Chapter’s Jason killer Tommy Jarvis, ages him up, and puts him in a halfway house full of potential victims.
The reason why it is easy to dump on the movie is largely because it is terrible in almost every sense of the word. Aggressively unlikable characters, a “Who’s the new killer?” mystery you’re going to solve long before the movie ends, and death scenes that rarely grab your attention make for a movie that I would just as soon never watch again.
In fact, as far as I’m concerned, Jason’s most impressive resurrection was coming back from the abysmal response to A New Beginning.
I’d like to think I can find good things about most movies. Other than Shavar Ross as the immensely likable Reggie, as well as Carol Locatell playing a crazed, slightly cartoony hillbilly, that is virtually impossible here.
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