Every medium nowadays is embracing the horror genre, and I absolutely love it. Everyone is trying to get their signature title, and it’s no longer become some kind of financial or career risk to find yourself in the slasher business. That’s become more apparent lately, with the release of the Friday the 13th video game, which has found a large audience all over the world who are now creating private parties online to come together and fight off the unkillable camp slasher. Utilizing familiar environments and horror movie tropes, the game unites fans in participating in the most famous film franchises out there. This persuaded me to revisit what started this whole thing and reminds me of why there’s such a long lasting influence from what started as a low budget slasher that didn’t have a hockey mask involved to begin with.
After working with Wes Craven on his cult classic THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, producer Sean Cunningham decided to take on the directing role when he decided to make a teen camp slasher. Working with little money and a thin storyline, Cunningham found camp counselors in future stars like Kevin Bacon and final girl Adrienne King. With some gross-out special effects and loony characters like Crazy Ralph, FRIDAY THE 13TH found its audience quick who craved sequel after sequel even if it was to just watch hot young stars get killed in different ways.
It’s 1980, and Camp Crystal Lake is reopening. The legend goes that a boy drowned in 1957, and two murders followed. The new counselors are aware of the story, but shrug it off as a mere scare tactic. However, an unseen killer beings offing the teens until Alice (King) is the last one left. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the killer is unknown until the end in this first film, and it’s not Jason, but his mother, Pamela, avenging his drowning as a boy. The counselors back then were too busy having sex to be watching him, and she refuses to ever let anyone reopen the campground. Alice survives her attack and slices off Pamela’s head. In a rather ambiguous ending, Alice finds her drifting on the lake in a canoe instead of searching for help, when a disfigured boy rises from the lake and brings her into the water. She wakes up from the nightmare, convinced that Jason is still out there in the lake.
We get a sequel shortly afterwards, where a now more mature Jason has killed off Alice and returned to the campground where years later, another attempt to reopen occurs. This time we get Ginny (Amy Steel) as our final girl (and my personal favorite) who participates in one of the most famous scenes in the franchise as she puts on Pamela’s sweater and convinces Jason that she is indeed his mother in order to get away from him. Sequels still came after that find Jason on a ship, in New York, and even in space, where he is redesigned as a Super Jason of sorts.
In 2009, Michael Bay made tons of money by producing big budget remakes of popular franchises, and Jason was no exception. In this version, Pamela is reduced to minimal screen time during the opening as a young Jason watches her get decapitated by a counselor. Years later, a group of teens come to the grounds for drug-related purposes, but find themselves victims to an adult Jason. In the impressive opening 24 minutes, five people get slaughtered, letting modern audiences know that this version isn’t playing around. One of these teens, we later learn, isn’t killed off and held off in an underground lair as Jason finds her to look quite a bit like a younger version of his mother. Her brother, Clay (Jared Padalecki of Supernatural fame), is suspicious of her whereabouts, and finds himself at the campground along with some other hot stars (including pop star Willa Ford, who I was obsessed with back in the TRL days) who are staying at a nearby cabin. Jason quickly starts dispatching the teens in the most gruesome manners, and it’s fun to watch.
The remake pays several homages to the original series, including sleeping bag kills and a “Jason, Mother is talking to you!” moment at the end. However, my issue with the remake is that it takes itself too seriously. It’s not scary enough to be nightmare-inducing, but it’s not campy or funny enough to be a sleepover necessity. What kept this franchise going was how it embraced the outrageous, and there was no shame in nudity and sex. When I leave a Jason movie, I want to be both grossed-out and horny, ready to pull my date into the backseat.
There have been several rumors of another reboot in the works, ranging from a winter theme to found-footage, but my advice is to just keep it simple. We fans just want to have a good time. There isn’t some complicated mythology Hollywood needs to stick to. Give us blood, tits, and maybe some dicks this time around, and everyone will be happy.
REVISIT THE FIRST FEW INSTALLMENTS OF THE COLUMN…