I feel like I’ve grown up with the Friday the 13th movies. Jason and his lovingly psychotic mother feel like friends to me. Through the many twists and turns of life, they have remained a constant. Even if that constant is stalk, kill, repeat. Yet it would seem that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) didn’t share my love of this misunderstood film hero. Watching the films when they were first released on video in Britain was a frustrating experience.
My first foray into the series was when I watched Part 3 which had just been released on video. I saw a poster for the film in the window of my local corner shop/off licence which would rent out any film to any person of any age (because of this I had a great relationship with them). Originally shot in 3D I watched it on video in 2D and cut by the BBFC but its brilliance still shone through. Jason acquired his trademark hockey mask and was dispatching of irritating teens in ingenious and brilliant ways. All was right with the world. I was 12 years old and already obsessed with Jason.
A little later Part 4: The Final Chapter was released in which Jason meets his maker and is killed off for good (yeah right!). I rented this at a video store near my friend’s house so that we could watch it together. We both loved it. The film loses the somewhat camp tone of Part 3 and gets down to the serious business of murders committed in the nastiest ways possible. However, there was the issue of walking home in the dark after watching the film. I hadn’t figured on how scary the film would be. One whiff of a hockey mask-wearing psycho and I’d actually become catatonic. My friend’s Dad gallantly offered to walk me home. Not cool- but I’m still alive.
Again as with the previous film, this entry was cut by the BBFC. As this film was more serious in tone and because make-up legend Tom Savini was back onboard the kills really were something to behold. Even with the more graphic killings being trimmed by the censors or cut out altogether (no machete slide!) the film was still very nasty indeed. Which is how a horror movie should be.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that the release of Parts 3 and 4 were actually delayed by their video company CIC. They were due to be unleashed earlier but by then the video Nasties furore had taken hold. CIC Video must have foreseen that if Mary Whitehouse had been introduced to Jason in his hockey mask at this time there would be a good chance that she would have made him and the movies that he appeared in the main focus of her puritanical destruction of other people’s fun. Jason would have been represented as Public Enemy Number 1. Jason is so iconic and terrifying in his hockey mask that Old Maid Whitehouse would have thought all of her Christmases had come at once. Great publicity but not so great if the films were banned. CIC even went so far as to issue a statement saying that in the current climate they would wait to release further Friday the 13th films. Very wise.
Whilst in 1987 things were seeming to settle down regarding horror videos a new version of the original film was released by Warners. Longer gore scenes and completely uncut, the previous version had been the cut US version which was released as a sell-through video in 1983. The uncut version that was released on rental VHS the year before had been seized by the police and so Warners used the cut US version instead. This may also explain CIC’s decision to delay the release of the film’s sequels until Mrs Whitehouse and her cronies found something else to try and ban. This was possibly the only good reason for Warners having distribution rights of the original film in CIC’s eyes.
I then went and sought out the first two films. I devoured both Parts 1 and 2 and loved them unreservedly. The first was like some kind of whodunnit- like an American Giallo film that was blood-filled and only revealed the killer at the end. And boy, what a reveal! Betsy Palmer goes the extra five miles in her role as Pamela Voorhees and is one of the best performances in horror history. The second film introduced Jason to the world- sack over his head with only one eyehole as a tip of the hat to The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Friday Part 2 was an amazing film and nasty as hell. Machete to the face anyone?! I also loved the equally nasty and ominous video artwork- an electric blue outline of an anonymous malevolent figure carrying an axe against a black background.
CIC Video then got down to the task in hand- releasing the new Friday the 13th instalments uninterrupted. Watching the CIC ident before watching the movies became a forewarning that we were in for a treat.
When I first heard that the next film would be called A New Beginning I imagined a TV movie style affair with family members of past victims coming together, sitting on chairs in a circle and consoling each other whilst sharing memories, hands held, about their dead loved ones. I still think my idea for the movie is better than the actual end product. It was a departure not just because the killer wasn’t Jason but the feel of the film is different from that of the first four. It felt more stylised and slick- a Friday the 13th that was trying to capture the attention of the MTV demographic. Gone was the innocence of the first four that appealed to the Fangoria reading audience. You got the impression that the series was now trying to appeal to the wider teenage moviegoers who would be happier going to see the latest John Hughes fare.
Years later I’ve warmed to this film- kinda. Just as many Halloween fans hated Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, many Friday fans hated this entry. But, there are many who love these entries. Being a fan of the runt of a franchise’s litter makes its fans who actually like it more passionate and extol its virtues even louder. Apparently, this is Quentin Tarantino’s favourite entry. Which says so much…
I stole a standee for this film from my local video store at the time. Just sayin’. Whilst this has been lost in the sands of time there are pictures on the internet still of this valuable artefact.
Part 6 rightfully saw the resurrection of Jason with a great homage to Frankenstein and an even better homage to James Bond in its title sequence. The film is still as gruesome as ever but the humour, early examples of meta cinema and title song by Alice Cooper (Paramount must have been feeling generous) make this an entry that makes changes to what came before but doesn’t stray far enough away to alienate fans like they had with Part 5. Whilst this film is a fan favourite this film will never be one of my favourites in the series.
Part 7 in my opinion is so much better than the just OK Part 6. It’s basically Carrie (named Tina in the movie) vs Jason- and it works really well. Kane Hodder really did feel like the ultimate Jason as he brought a physicality to Jason that the previous actors hadn’t really mastered. He also had a great way of making the kills look as brutal as possible whilst being delivered with a flourish. It’s within this film that bizarrely enough Jason uses a lot of gardening implements to kill his victims. A nice touch- objects intended to make the lives of the normal folk being used to kill them instead.
I had high hopes for Part 8 which was called Jason Takes Manhattan. I used to get a glossy film magazine imported from America at this time called Premiere and they carried a feature on the filming of the movie. My appetite was well and truly whetted.
However, when I came to see the film I was left thinking ‘What the fuck was that?!’ Only the last third of the film was based in New York (*cough* CANADA! *cough*) whilst the rest of the film takes place on a boat. And the worst ending of the whole franchise- Jason is melted in toxic waste to become a boy again. And not even the hydrocephalic child Jason who is seen in the first film. Don’t you just hate it when a director makes a franchise entry but doesn’t even bother watching the original film or any of the films in the series?! My opinion of this film was changed at a screening I attended about 20 years after first seeing the film. But as they say, more about that later…
Next followed the terrible Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday. After an inspired first ten minutes, this film falls flat on its face. Jason’s evil soul inhabits different characters in the film so that they commit murders for him. It’s Part 5 all over again but with different people acting as a surrogate Jason and a supernatural element thrown in for good measure. Not what I wanted from a Friday the 13th movie. The rights for the franchise had just been bought by New Line Cinema resulting in a very cheesy Freddy Krueger’s glove cameo in the movie.
In 1997 I had the privilege of seeing Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D at a cinema. The National Film Theatre is probably the most highly esteemed cinema in the UK as its the official cinema of the British Film Institute. It was showing a series of films in their original 3D. The cinema would be packed with Friday 13th fans and also cineastes who would normally be watching the work of some highfalutin auteur.
The cinema snobs laughed at the ending of Part 2 which acts as a recap for Part 3. This prologue was of course filmed in 2D. I thought that these purveyors of fine film might ruin the whole film watching experience for me by laughing at the whole film. But then the impossible happened- the 3D kicked in and everyone howled with delight. The 3D process used on this film is amazing! The filmmakers really went all out with what the audience member sees when watching the film and exploits the 3D medium to its fullest. As soon as the titles started every single person in the sold-out cinema crowd started gasping, laughing and screaming.
This lasted until the end credits. People were leaving the theatre smiling and commenting on how brilliant the film had been. This is probably the best cinemagoing experience I’ve ever sat through. The NFT repeated the screening the year after and I dutifully attended. The experience was just as brilliant.
It was then several years before there was another Friday 13th movie. Maybe the stench of Jason Goes To Hell lingered on. Jason X arrived in 2001. It was basically Jason In Space and worked brilliantly! I went to see the film three times on its initial release. The filmmakers obviously knew the demographics they were aiming for- the fans of the series, sci-fi fans and geeks who were inro Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lexx, Deep Space Nine and their ilk. The kills were graphic, the film was great in its use of atmosphere and tongue was firmly in cheek. This could have failed miserably but it didn’t. It worked wonderfully. And there was even a David Cronenberg cameo.
Jason X continues to be derided by many franchise fans. But the Friday fans who like the film do so with real passion just like with Part 5.
It was also around this time that I got to see what I had been missing out on. All previous cuts to the films by the BBFC were suddenly waived meaning that the film would now be completely uncut. I had seen a screening of The Final Chapter uncut by accident when it was shown on Sky Movies a few years before this. They could show films uncut even when they were still cut on video. Bizarre logic there. I was unaware of the proper ending to the film and actually screamed in both horror and glee at unexpectedly seeing the notorious ‘machete slide’ scene for the first time. It was poetry in motion.
Now that all cuts were waived I started to buy the films for the first time on DVD. The transfers were amazing and showed that in fact, the films looked beautiful when presented in their correct aspect ratios and in pristine prints. I was so glad that finally, common sense prevailed and we could see what the Tory Government and Herr Thatcher hadn’t allowed us to before.
I knew Freddy vs Jason would be terrible. And I was right. It lasted about 20 minutes before I left the cinema. I desperately wanted to see Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child being slaughtered (any music fan would) but just couldn’t hold on. I’ve since seen the scene I was trying to stay in my seat for. The fact that Kelly’s character calls Freddy a ‘faggot’ just makes me applaud my decision to leave anymore. It was Hollywood crap that held nothing for true Friday fans. What’s more Jason wasn’t played by the brilliant Kane Hodder. No dice.
The remake of Friday the 13th was inevitable. Even though it wasn’t a straight remake of the first film. Why waste a whole film on a mystery killer like the original when you can just jump to what the studio thought everyone wanted- Jason. The film was better than I thought it would be and was genuinely scary and innovative. Jason was portrayed as a kind of survivalist which was interesting and a nice twist.
In 2012 was a very special event that I travelled all the way over from Leeds (where I was now living) to London for. At the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, they were showing the first 8 Friday the 13th films in a row. This would take 16 hours and start at 18:30 and then finish at 08:30 the following day. The event itself was more than awesome. In the queue waiting for the cinema to open was someone that the cinema had employed to dress up as Jason resplendent with machete. Nice touch.
The cinema had managed to get most of the original 35mm prints of the films and so they had their original old school BBFC X certificate cards before the actual films. Between each film, there was a break of 15 mins in which people could go outside and have a cigarette, grab a can of Red Bull to try and stay awake or just stay seated to be entertained by all manner of old trailers. I only fell asleep during Part 5 (that’s telling!) and got to reappraise Part 8. It’s a pretty good movie- great humour and I had forgotten about the scene with the boxer. The crowd roared when they saw it.
When I eventually left the cinema I thought I was Jason Voorhees as sleep deprivation kicked in and I wandered off in search of breakfast. What an amazing event and a wish on my wish list was well and truly fulfiled.
There’s a great account of the marathon here.
My life with Jason Voorhees has been an incredible journey. From the days of cut VHS tapes through to uncut DVDs and finally through to the films looking betting than ever on Blu ray. Growing up with these films means that watching them holds so many memories as I can trace back to when I first watched them on their initial releases. Whilst Paramount Pictures might be embarrassed by them and horror snobs may sneer and deride them they’re clearly missing out on a brilliant and very evocative franchise.
But Mr Meathook Cinema- what are your Top 10 Friday the 13th movies? Thanks for asking dear reader. It just so happens that I’ve made a video answering your question. It contains trailers, rare TV spots, my favourite kills and a scene that was shot but not used. You’ll find it here.
Stay safe campers.