Friday the 13th is one of the most recognisable names in horror cinema. And of course the franchise features one of the genre’s most iconic and terrifying villains. Let’s check out which films are worth celebrating, which films are best avoided, and which should never have been made.
As scary movie villains go they don’t come more infamous than renowned murderer Jason Voorhees. The “curse” of Camp Crystal Lake is horrifically personified in this ski mask-wearing killer who, after drowning due to the negligence of summer camp staff, returns year after year to maim and mutilate those who dare to visit for the season.
Sean S. Cunningham got the franchise started with his 1980 effort, a film that contributed to the slasher film craze of the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. The genre slowly died by the end of the decade only to be revitalised by Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson with the creation of self-referential horror Scream (which spawned its own franchise).
Trawling through the Friday the 13th films reveals a couple of things. Firstly, watching so many bloody horror films in a row is bad for your mental health. It’s exhausting. Secondly, despite the franchise’s notoriety and cult success, the films aren’t very good. Formulas are repeated, characters are cut from cardboard, and logic is thrown out the window.
But that’s what I’m here for. I’ve watched all the Friday the 13th films back-to-back to sort the good from the bad and the ugly.
12. Friday The 13th – A New Beginning (Part V) (Danny Steinmann, 1985, USA)
The worst film of the entire franchise is Friday the 13th – A New Beginning. It’s the fifth Friday the 13th film to be release. It ended former pornography director Danny Steinmann’s mainstream film career who, in upping the exploitation beyond bearable levels, produced a plotless, characterless mess built to titillate and amuse lowbrow lovers with gore and nudity. It really is awful.
11. Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (Adam Marcus, 1993, USA)
The only Friday the 13th film to be released in the 1990s after Paramount had dumped the franchise only for it to be picked up by New Line Cinema, Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday has very little going for it. Enthusiasm for the genre and the character was low anyway but by removing Jason Voorhees from the story as a physical character, director Adam Marcus also suffered the chagrin of seasoned fans. Here, Jason’s spirit is used to make killers out various characters through possession. The supernatural element doesn’t work in part because of the director’s inexperience as well as the studio’s inability to know exactly what to do with the franchise or where to take it in future.
10. Friday The 13th (Marcus Nispel, 2009, USA)
There’s very little to recommend this remake. It will introduce modern audiences to the franchise and has that contemporary gloss that differentiates it from the murky film stock used on the low budget original. But for fans of the series, it offers little invention, its plot bringing together elements previously seen in parts one through four. Backstory hinders rather than complements and Voorhees is given new character traits (such as physical speed) that limit the effectiveness of his traditional menace.
9. Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Rob Heddon, 1989, USA)
A terrible mess that lacks any sort of plot but at least Jason gets to leave Camp Crystal Lake for a nightly excursion to the big city. There’s some nice special-effects towards the end but you’d have fallen asleep by the time they arrive.
8. Freddy Versus Jason (Ronny Yu, 2003, USA)
I suppose this should get extra points for being the notable – and, in some quarters, much anticipated – head-to-head between two of horror cinema’s most iconic villains. But it’s so boring. It’s a gimmicky piece of rubbish that on paper seems like a crowd-pleaser but lacks any sense of fun. It probably arrived too late following the genre’s renewed popularity in the 1990s and as a result lacks enough of that self-referential styling that made Scream such a delight.
7. Friday The 13th – Part III (Steve Miner, 1982, USA)
Freddy Versus Jason wasn’t the only time the franchise had turned to gimmicks in an attempt to remain fresh. 3D was an emerging fad in 1982. Even by 21st century standards, 3D is largely a waste of time in feature films. However, 3D in 1982 is even worse. Director Steve Miner, who had previously made Friday the 13th Part 2, knows his way around a camera (and a good film) but he’s short-changed here as a result of the studio’s desire to add 3D to the mix. It means we get thrown out of the story by things artificially coming out of the screen. Apart from that gimmicky addition, the film is largely a rehash of what happened in the previous film making it almost pointless.
6. Jason X (James Isaac, 2001, USA)
Jason X is a surprise. It’s a surprise because it’s actually quite entertaining. It’s a crazy assortment of outlandish ideas hinged on a formulaic plot. As a slasher film it’s a rather turgid affair, and it isn’t very scary. But the playful use of Jason Voorhees as a villain gives the tenth instalment of the franchise an added energy and a postmodern vibe inspired by the self-referential success of 1996’s Scream. Fans of the original film might be put off by the villain becoming a comic sideshow that’s used to point fun at. But, it’s an enjoyable mishmash of teen slasher cliché and science-fiction intrigue. The crazy last 20 minutes might the franchise’s most memorable.
5. Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (John Buechler, 1988, USA)
The franchise was running out of steam by 1988 but it did have life left in it courtesy of a Carrie meets Friday the 13th premise that injected something new into the formula. It’s a shame it remains under-developed but it means Part VII stands out amongst the others in the series.
4. Friday The 13th – Part II (Steve Miner, 1981, USA)
Funnily enough, this is the first film in which Jason Voorhees is the killer. The iconic horror movie villain is not the bad guy in the original film so Part 2 gets the distinction of introducing us to him. It’s basically a rehash of the first film. It’s similarly satisfying without that infamous last minute twist.
3. Jason Lives: Friday The 13th Part VI (Tom McLoughlin, 1986, USA)
Director Tom McLoughlin was a fledgling director when he made Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI but, despite not going on to a successful Hollywood film career, he shows an ability to string together a coherent plot and deliver one of the more enjoyable movies of the franchise.
2. Friday The 13th – The Final Chapter (Part IV) (Joseph Zito, 1984, USA)
The second best Friday the 13th film is the fourth in the series. The Final Chapter stars a young Corey Feldman who has to come to his older sister’s aid when Jason takes a fancy to her. This is silly fun from a director – Joseph Zito – who knew a thing or two about exciting audiences eager for exploitation cinema having previously made The Prowler in 1981 and later high concept action-adventure with Invasion USA, Missing In Action and Red Scorpion. The film follows a very similar path to those that preceded it, however, it’s a better film than Part III and the most enjoyable of the sequels.
1. Friday The 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980, USA)
The raw and bloody original was a lot less influential than people think. It was massively inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween and not nearly as good. But the genre has always been about exploitation and Friday the 13th is founded on this approach. As a result it remains one of the defining and memorable slasher films because it effectively utilised, therefore defining, the conventions of the genre. It’s all there – final girl, sex and promiscuity, violence, gore, inventive deaths, running around in the dark alone screaming “I’ll be right back”. And it has an ending as unforgettable as they come.
Over to you: how would you rank the Friday the 13th films?