by Paul Deeter
For Mike Viers, who convinced me to enter the woods.
Listen. There are probably 7-10 official rankings of the famous and prolific series Friday the 13th. And outside of my own, probably hundreds of horror-hounds and hags have their own personal list of these films as well. It's in the top three longest running horror franchises, only beaten by the Halloween series, which has 13 films. It's extremely successful financially with over 468 million globally made...again, only second to Halloween. There's no denying the cult appeal of the series as well, it's not just a popular franchise for the October-Halloween season, but it exists relevantly to the Spring and Summer seasons as well. All year there's a chance for a different month holding the date Friday the 13th, sometimes there's two of these per year! Although Sean S. Cunningham has allegedly been quoted to say these films are not purposed to be lessons, there's no denying the victim trend of horny teenagers being cornered by Friday the 13th. It cemented the 80s as the ultimate slasher film franchise. During the time Freddy Krueger was haunting screens, Jason Voorhees confidently knocked it out again and again with its own successes. While critically and cult-wise, the Nightmare on Elm Street series has aged a bit better than Jason's films have, Jason owned the 80s just like he would Space and Manhattan in later entries.
....Although the films were not popular with critics, Friday the 13th is considered one of the most successful media franchises in America—not only for the success of the films, but also because of the extensive merchandising and repeated references to the series in popular culture...Jason's hockey mask has become one of the most recognizable images in horror and popular culture
These are classic horror films, controversial for their truly undeniable excess of S&M and gore. I think Jason can be credited for his truly creative kills just as much as Kreuger can, they both know how to use any ordinary items as weapons. Just like Jackie Chan mastered prop work with his surroundings creatively, Jason took to the environment in a similar, if more brutal fashion. And that mask is so simple and iconic that it's constantly selling each year for Halloween. As far as the franchise goes on physical media, a box set containing each film and hours and hours of special features was released in 2020, with reversible covers of every title on Blu-ray and lots of never before seen supplemental features. I bought this, and have decorated my own room with a legit Camp Crystal Lake flag, a Friday the 13th Part V Neca Set, (with a Jason action figure and multiple weapons!) and soon will have my own arm decorated with a Jason tattoo! I have three different 4K copies of the original, and two steelbooks for Part 1-2. I'm a big Jason fan, and even that being said, I have almost as much love for Freddy and consider the Scream franchise to be the best horror film series of all time. Was I birthed in Jason's lore and bloody history from a young age? Well, no. Teenage me was most familiar with the Halloween series. BUT! Do I have the right to rank these movies?? You're darn tootin'.
It's easy to shrug past a series of a staggering 12 entries, especially when the majority of the films in the franchise are debatably non-essential. I saw a few of these films for the first time in my life just this last month after buying the beautiful box set, and there was even one film I almost couldn't finish (stay tuned). But I'm a completionist. I believe not just in hindsight, but culturally these films all merit their reputation be it good or bad when they were released. I'm sure some fans of the franchise walked away after a few sequels, or didn't view them until home video rental. But if these films were released today, I'd like to think I'd watch each one upon release, with one of my closest friends, Mike, who introduced me to this and the Nightmare franchise. This article is for him, and his positive influence on me as a horror fan and a film buff. Now let's get to it.
12. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
The cream of the crap. It was tough for me to decide between this one and the 11th on this list, but I have to give Part V a tough time because of just how unreal and unnecessary it feels in the canon of the film. The title of this film is hilariously shameful in the fact that it follows a film titled The Last Chapter. It feels like, oh wait, I guess we have more to say (or want more money in the bank). Enough on the situation of why this film feels awkward in the series, but to describe the film would be confusing for the both of us. I remember (vaguely) watching this film and the seventh entry in the series within the same week, and I feel like the two of these movies kinda blend together in my memory. The bits I remember are laughably bad and sometimes gross: one of the film's most memorable scenes is one where a character sings a song with his girlfriend while he's in an outhouse. I actually Google'd which movie had that scene because it was one of the only moments that stood out for me, and to my surprise, it's got a bit of love to this day. The movie was apparently made under the title Repetition (yep) and featured a new killer who dons the mask. Even while filming actors were weary of what they were making. For example: Actor Dick Wieand stated, "It wasn't until I saw Part V that I realized what a piece of trash it was. I mean, I knew the series' reputation, but you're always hoping that yours is going to come out better", and director Danny Steinmann stated that he "shot a fucking porno in the woods there. If porno in the woods isn't the most accurate negative generalization of the series I don't know what is. The kills are unmemorable, the twist is stupid and the characters somehow more vapid than normal. Why I own the Neca set is beyond me.
11. Friday the 13th (2009)
I just hate it when a remake misses the mark. There's certainly a lot of hate for remakes and their purpose in general. But I have seen some great horror remakes, and actually welcome them into reviving relevance in old franchises. Did Rob Zombie's Halloween or Halloween 2 need to be made? Probably not, but they're genuinely made for fans of the original franchise. So in 2009 when Michael Bay produced and Marcus Nispel directed this remake, partly due to Nispel's box office success with the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film would go to make the most the franchise had ever seen outside of Freddy V. Jason. And while there are redeemable factors to Nispel's work on Chainsaw Massacre, this movie has an early audi's stink to it, it's largely dependent on keeping Jason in the shadows, hiding it's ok special effects under muddy lighting and film filters. This is a shame because the mask and makeup effects are one of the strong suits of this film, along with Derek Mears role as Jason. What could have been a fun new entry is lifeless and dull. The humor is bad, the acting worse, and the film also suffers from the issue of figuring out it's identity as origin story or continuation of the originals. Don't think too hard on it and maybe you'll find some fun here. Otherwise I say skip.
10. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
This is what I would argue is the last "bad" Friday the 13th film. Some love all of the original 8 or 9 and would certainly not consider my ranking number 5 over the remake. But I stand by that, and that the seventh film in the franchise is not good. Here's one benefit: Kane Hodder enters. He's a prolific stunt-man who committed to a scene where live maggots were used in his mouth in an undead scene in the mostly forgotten film Prison. What commitment! It was no wonder the director was drawn to him as the next, and in most opinions: the best Jason. He's got the right lumber in his step, the right faceless and silent sense of presence. He's quoted on panels as saying it's a fun way to work off his constant temper as a somewhat angry man, which is funny given his calm and collected nature behind scenes. (It's also his favorite of the ones he's done.) While he mentions a particular sleeping bag kill that I'll admit was good, as his favorite doing, I don't get a sense of real swagger or charisma in the rest of the kills in the movie. Due to its strongly edited final product, it's considered tamer despite having some real gore released on home video products as deleted features. Outside of the kills we also have a subplot that seems more appropriate in the Nightmare series, with a psychokinetic lead female, who is unique as a protagonist, but forces the supernatural elements into a franchise otherwise focused on physical, down-to-Earth violence! Less thinky! More choppy!
9. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Let's get to the good stuff, or the okay to the great at least. This movie is both criticized and praised for its escape from the roots of the setting of the film. While not quite in space, we leave our comfy cabin site for a much larger venture: New York City!! Some have criticized this film for spending a majority of the running time set on the cruise to NYC, which kinda places context to Jason making his way across sea. But there are some great characters on board, some of the funnest in the series. We get stereotypical rocker girl! She shreds the electric guitar until she gets shredded herself. We have the naughty professor who gets blackmailed by his chestiest student! So I quite liked the journey to the city, and when we get to Manhattan? Boy, howdy. There's so many great moments here, including Jason scaring off thugs after kicking a boombox. The comedic timing of this scene is perfect. It gets even sillier with fist-fights and beheadings, but my true enjoyment of the series comes from the movie's broad strokes of New York stereotypes. It's silly but it works. Unfortunately, it's just not fun or memorable enough in the first act to fall higher on the list.
8. Jason X
I got some major slack for my love for this entry when I posted an article on the strengths and underrated moments of the film that were forgotten. I won't dive too deep into the background of the film, or anything I didn't cover on my first article, but after watching it as an adult in the context of the series, I'm still a fan. Sure it stinks of the 2000s, with bad effects and a worse nu-metal soundtrack. The characters are ridiculous but the film is self aware of just how silly they are, with horny scientists and even a horny female robot (never thought I'd type that). But the action is fun, the comedy is quite good and there's some great sci-fi moments on the ship that's unlucky enough to have Jason on board. This film benefits from Hodder and its originality of a universe where our victims have embarked for Earth 2, but it's also considered a flop when seen outside of the extended series. I love you Jason X. Don't listen to the haters.
7. Freddy vs. Jason
This one is a stumper, because it has so much potential but doesn't quite deliver. I'm such a huge Freddy Krueger fan, and the Nightmare films are some of my favorite horror movies of all time. But that being said, with multiple delays putting this film off for years to the frustration of creator Sean S. Cunningham, the final product is not great. Granted, I put this in the middle of the list, because some of it works quite well. For one, we've got Robert Englund as the enigmatic Freddy, the only Freddy that ever mattered in the series. His charisma offers some great punchlines to certain kills and reaction moments to Jason's silent demeanor. Also this film has some great action, with the bloody fights between Jason and Freddy really delivering on the gore. I'd even argue the effects work here outdoes the 2009 entry, which is embarrassing for the remake. We also get the creativity of dream-fights vs. real life encounters, mixing up the stakes for each fighter. But, the humor outside of the two villains is offensively bad, and some of the jokes are quite problematic. Also it's got a very silly nu-metal opening song and finale...which suck. I give this film credit for pulling off some truly memorable action and violence, but it fails to deliver for fans of both franchises.
6. Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday
The ninth film in the increasingly tired franchise also has the issue of going full blown demon Jason, but it's actually not nearly as bad as people once said it was. I went into this one with the belief that it actually sucked, and I am legitimately a big fan. This is a film that benefits from the creativity of keeping Jason involved without a copycat killer or a mixed setting, but instead in the form of a possessor. He possesses men and women alike, racking up kills from just about every setting. The gore here is top notch, we're in the 90s and we gotta up the ante for modern audiences. There's face melting along with the go-to stabbings and choppings, and some of the best gore effects I've ever seen the franchise pull off. I had a lot of fun seeing just where the movie would go, with it's baited trap beginning that involves Jason being blown to pieces, and it's ending shot with Freddy's hand coming out the leaved ground, promising fans for another bigger entry in the series. To my surprise, this film is critically panned and didn't sit well with fans. It actually was the lowest grossing of the series outside of Manhattan. I think this film deserves another shake, and I appreciate the risks it took to keep Jason alive.
5. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
This one is tough to place in my ranking list, because it works significantly in the franchise as a return to form of the famous immortal Jason, after Part V stepped away from Jason, instead relying on a copycat killer. Here most of the supernatural comes in the form of the resurrection scene of Jason and the continuation of a psychic character Tommy Jarvis, established in IV. But it doesn't get too silly or ridiculous in relying on the fantastical, and stays close to the roots of the original films. The opening rocks, it features a grave-digging gone wrong, where Tommy tries to exhume and then destroy Jason completely. In this process he accidentally manages to resurrect the bastard with some Frankenstein-esque convenient lightning, and he's back kids! A few things I didn't know about this movie included the fact that there's no nudity, a dramatic difference from the other entries. It's also got a killer soundtrack with not one, but two Alice Cooper original songs! It may not have broken the mold with it's kills, but Jason is at his most predatorial here, and the scares are quite effective. I had never seen this one until about a month or two ago, and smushed in between the awful VII and V entries, it stands out as a solid Jason flick. Also there's a hilarious paintball hunt that ends in some of the goofiest kills.
4. Friday the 13th Part III
Now it's getting good! What's an 80s franchise without a 3D entry, and as the Friday the 13th series increased successfully and gathered more fans it was time to strike while the iron was hot. There's some of the best kills here, even without the 3D glasses for Blu-ray viewers. This film introduced Jason's signature hockey mask, apparently a causal decision made on set that turned out to be the most defining characteristic of our killer. Perhaps the film in the series least focused on providing memorable characters Tracie Savage on the film is quoted "The key priority in every scene was making sure that the 3-D effects worked. It didn't matter how the lines were delivered. It didn't matter if we stumbled or fumbled. It didn't matter if our performance was not perfect. We never did a second take... [the 3-D effects] were a very technical, difficult thing to do." The movie also benefits from humor, the opening title sequence has Jason as Bond shooting the audience under the barrel of the gun. The series needs more of that, and it's a shame the third entry is the outlier in that respect. Fun kills, great humor, and a film of firsts: Part III is a killer entry.
3. Friday the 13th
Or where things begin. Sort of. The film Friday the 13th is a film classic, probably the most critically positive entry of the massive franchise, a fresh idea for cinemas in the slasher genre, and overall a truly scary film. It's interesting to look back at this film with knowledge of just how much was milked of this series. The original movie has a completely different killer, in the form of Mrs. Voorhees, or Jason's mother. It establishes itself as a kind of play on the Mommy Dearest genre, with Voorhees defending her kid son's death to the unknowing inhabitants of the camp where he died years ago, due to the ignorance of the camp counselors who were distracted by each other. It's tragic, and the tragedy stops in this film when we get to the "slasher" elements of the other, and it works. The film also benefits from a true twist for audiences at the time: The film has spurred critical discussion in regard to its villain being female, a plot point examined at length by film scholar Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws. Clover notes the revelation of Pamela Voorhees as the killer as "the most dramatic case of pulling out the gender rug" in horror film history. It's got the benefit of establishing the success of a franchise, adding an element of S&M that would be a selling point for future cabin in the woods type films. It may or may not be the first slasher film, but it's arguably the most famous, with or without Jason. And that final jump scare? Perfection.
2. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Or what I think is the closest to a tie with my favorite Friday film ever. This is a phenomenal horror film sequel. I saw it very young and it proved to me including with Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors, that a sequel to a famous horror movie can actually be better than the original. I got it on Netflix on disc and just had to talk about it and keep it for rewatching a few times before returning it. What's not to like? It's got a psychic child named Tommy Jarvis played by Corey Feldman who outlives most every character in this series. Crispin Glover gets killed with a corkscrew! It manages to be fun and somewhat self aware, it establishes the psychic element that would unfortunately bog down the series on later entries, but it works. The kills and gore are just enough along with the sex and nudity that it never feels excessive. I simply love this film, even today. It's fun, violent, and classic Jason Voorhees. While this film is not held in high regard critically, I've seen it make #1 on the ranked lists outside of my own, so I know I'm not alone in that respect. Even if you've only seen the original, go see this. Now.
Friday the 13th: Part II
It's a real gamble to make a film sequel on an original idea like the first Friday and I think it's an even more of a gamble to completely reinvent the story of the original by bringing in the titular Jason villian who would be synonymous with the whole franchise. People to this day might mistake the first one with another Jason flick, because Jason is this series. So in 1981, one year after the original Friday, Jason became one of history's most loved and feared slasher. He wouldn't have a hockey mask. He doesn't touch a machete. But this film works on such a great introductory level, that it feels like such a classic even next to the first and the fourth film. After teasing audiences with the original "final girl" introducing the film and then immediately getting a screwdriver to the head, people could tell they were in for a ride. It's edited for some truly shocking deaths, including a double impalement during a saucy sex scene. It also works on a scary level by having our antagonist wearing simply a burlap sack on his head, which kind of adds to the creepy factor. Jason is not a seasoned killer yet, he makes do with his surroundings and gets knocked around a little. It feels weighty, the deaths are meaty and real and not too over the top. It's famously panned by Ebert and other critics alike, but fans know this film outshines far beyond its controversies and release. It's my favorite Friday the 13th film, neck and neck with the fourth. It's a stone cold horror gem.