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Slasher Summer: The Friday the 13th Reviews

When Sean Cunningham made the decision to make the original Friday the 13th, he wasn't trying to do anything special. He openly admits he was just chasing trends and trying to make money, and that the basics of his film are stolen directly from John Carpenter's Halloween. While this may knock some points from his creation for originality, it also frees the entire series to be what it is without shame or fear. It's no wonder, then, that a series based entirely on giving audiences what they want would turn out to be the most profitable of all the slasher series we'll be covering this summer (measuring by raw box office numbers, that is).

While it was never groundbreaking in its own right, Friday the 13th is the unchallenged king of the eighties slasher franchises, with the most entries, the most earnings, and the most cultural impact. It's pure and simple popcorn entertainment--never as serious as Halloween or as silly as Child's Play--and it has all the main ingredients of the slasher recipe. While the series has its ups and downs, it excells at meeting expectations. No other slasher series is as pure and unapologetic, and maybe that's the magic that makes it so incredibly popular.


FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
Friday the 13th (1980)
FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
Friday the 13th (1980)

The Premise: A group of young camp counselors are hired to help reopen Camp Crystal Lake, against the wishes of locals who insist the place is cursed. As night falls on Friday, the 13th of June, the counselors are hunted one by one by a mysterious killer.

The Verdict: This is a surprisingly well-acted and well-crafted slasher flick that doesn't aspire to be anything more than it is. As a kind of bloody Scooby Doo meets Psycho, it wears its inspirations on its sleeve and wastes little time getting down to the business of giving audiences what they came for. It never devolves into schlock territory, though the final act goes on a bit too long and strains its own narrative logic by having Mrs. Voorhees explain herself to the final victim rather than trapping her with the cunning she uses on everyone else. The music gets a little carried away with itself at times, too, though it is thankfully nowhere near as repetitive as other slasher films of its era. The decision not to reveal the killer until the final act is effective, though it would have been nice to know that a Mrs. Voorhees existed before she suddenly becomes part of the story. I also wish they didn't reveal at the start that the killer drives a Jeep, as it ruins the potential for a supernatural misdirect. However, I am glad this one opts not to go the supernatural route, even though the series would go in that direction later on. The film's greatest strength is in creating believable characters in the teenagers and young adults who feel like they behave the way normal kids in their situation would act. It grounds the whole thing in reality, which makes the horror shine without the need for excessive violence or gore.




FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981)
Friday the 13th Part 2
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981)
Friday the 13th Part 2

The Premise: A group of counselors-in-training return to Crystal Lake five years after Mrs. Vorhees' killing spree, only to discover that they too are being hunted.

The Verdict: From a basic plot structure, this is essentially the same movie as the first, which fits the series' unapologetic give-audiences-what-they-want attitude. It's a bit more prurient, with some more sex and nudity (not to mention all the pokey nipples), and it has a slightly higher body count. The acting is a tiny step down--but by no means terrible--and Jason's eventual reveal is disappointing. In his hillbilly overalls and sack-covered face, Jason Vorhees comes across as more of a pratfalling oaf than a metaphysical menace here, though the danger he represents still feels genuine. It's a pointless rehash with some forced exposition and a confusing ending, but all in all, if you like the first film, there's no reason you won't like this one.




FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982)
Friday the 13th Part III
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982)
Friday the 13th Part III

The Premise: A group of friends arrives at Crystal Lake to help Christine Higgins deal with an old trauma involving Jason Vorhees. However, as night falls, the group becomes his latest prey.

The Verdict: Donning his iconic hockey mask and some new threads, a more agile Jason Vorhees shines here as a more frightening villain than he was previously. Add to that a memorable heroine in Chris--who confronts her demon head-on by hanging him and sticking an axe in his frontal lobe--along with more creative kills and less downtime, and this could be the most entertaining film in the series to date. However, it is weighed down by goofy supporting characters, annoying 3D gimmicks, and plenty of substandard special effects with lots of visible guide wires. It still follows the formula of its predecessors pretty slavishly, and it hasn't embraced any supernatural elements yet. It feels like a logical next step in the slow evolution of the series, but at the same time, it's starting to get a little stale.




FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

The Premise: Picking up immediately after the previous film, Jason awakens in the morgue and makes his way back home to Crystal Lake, killing anyone who gets in his way.

The Verdict: This is where the series goes full supernatural, with an apparently immortal Jason. Despite this, it still feels like a by-the-numbers copy of the first three films, albeit one that is confident in itself and shot with a comparatively crisp camera and a more competent director. The writing is really lazy, though, full of plot holes, oddities, and inconsistencies. For example, it seems people have been living right by Crystal Lake this whole time, unconcerned with the murders that have been taking place nearby and strangely ignored by Jason until now, and they are joined by the brother of a victim who has studied and prepped to take vengeance on Jason for the murder of his sister, even though that murder only took place a couple of days earlier. The characters are a little more well-written, though, albeit mostly annoying, with Corey Feldman's turn as young Tommy and Crispin Glover's unforgettably bizarre performance standing out. However, the kills are quick and unimaginative, reliant more on logic-defying jump scares than suspenseful dread, and the arrival of more teens who are perpetually horny and jealous is as shamelessly contrived as it is unexplained. The film feels like it's run out of interesting ideas, but the franchise hasn't gotten ridiculous enough yet to be entertainingly bad.




FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985)
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985)
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

The Premise: Years after his encounter with Jason Voorhees, Tommy Jarvis is sent to Pinewood Youth Development Center, a mental health clinic in the woods for troubled kids. While there, it appears that Jason has come to town and has begun killing once again.

The Verdict: This one's problematic because it falls between the joyful absurdity of the later films and the simplistic suspense of the early ones. On one hand, the kills are more entertainingly creative, the comedic characters don't fall flat, the nudity is at an all-time high, and the movie isn't afraid to be more comedic than scary. On the other hand, centering the narrative on a mental health clinic for kids makes the victims more sympathetic than the usual bevy of lustful, shallow, teenage delinquents. The twist at the end--that Tommy is not the faux Jason--is a surprising misdirect, but it ultimately doesn't make a lot of sense. It's a more amusing movie than The Final Chapter--and I respect it for not going the supernatural route--but it doesn't reach the heights of its predecessors.



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-e. magill 6/29/2017

THE UNAPOLOGETIC GEEK'S
SLASHER SUMMER:
  • The Halloween Reviews
  • Michael Myers' Top 10 Best Kills
  • Halloween's Top 10 Finest Moments
  • The Nightmare on Elm Street Reviews
  • Freddy's Top 10 Best Nightmares
  • The Friday the 13th Reviews
  • Jason's Top 10 Best Kills
  • Video Game Review: Friday the 13th: The Game
  • The Texas Chainsaw Reviews
  • Leatherface's Top 10 Most Intense Moments
  • The Child's Play Reviews
  • Chucky's Top 10 Best Kills
  • The Hellraiser Reviews
  • How to Make a Slasher Flick



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