Thoughts on the Friday the 13th Movie Series (I – VIII)

I ended up being incredibly disappointed in this series overall. I didn’t go in expecting to really like it — as it wasn’t my style of horror — which should have made this more of a “I expected this disappointment” than an “I’m surprisingly disappointed in this series”, but a big part of that was the fact that I found the first movie surprisingly good, but the rest of the series never managed to recapture what made that movie good.

Putting aside that this doesn’t really appear until the sixth movie, Jason’s strongest characterization is as a supernatural unstoppable force. The problem is that his creativity is simply in how and when he kills people. He is a silent villain, which means that he can’t taunt his victims nor can be arrange elaborate and even ironic traps for them like other villains, such as Freddy from Nightmare on Elm Street. What this means is that you need some other story to follow while Jason gets into position to kill people. The first movie — and, yes, the killer there wasn’t really Jason at all — does this by not really trying to have a story, and instead to simply have people going about their normal business in-between murders. No one even discovers that people are being killed until the Final Girl discovers it while being chased by Jason. The sixth movie takes the other obvious tack, as it makes the story we are watching be all about Tommy trying to stop Jason after he inadvertently resurrects him. Both of these work really well.

The other movies in the series, however, mess this up by trying to make the story part too important. It’s a necessary component of Jason movies, but it’s not what we really care about. We aren’t going to watch a Friday the 13th movie to follow a typical teen storyline or even the awakening of supernatural powers in a teenage girl storyline. The only purpose of the story is to give us something to do while Jason isn’t killing things. The more important or detailed the story or characterizations are, the more the movie seems to be focusing on the things that we don’t care about and so seems to be distracting us from that. Moreover, if the movie places too much focus on the story since there’s nothing else to distract us during those moments and they fill up too much of the movie’s length to be ignored, we start trying to figure out the story, and so start to find plot holes. We also expect something that fills up so much time to be paid off in some way, but a number of character moments end up getting cut off — literally — by Jason, or else don’t pay off because by the end of the movie the Jason storyline is the one that needs to be focused on and resolved.

The first movie works because the moments are quickly seen as trivial and things that even the movie doesn’t want to bother with, and so really do fit in as simple distractions from Jason’s killings. The sixth movie works because it intertwines the two stories and so we always know why those story elements are being referenced, and are all paid off at the end of the movie along with the Jason storyline. For all of the others, the strength of the movie depends entirely on the strength of the story and the likability of the Final Girl. For the most part, none of the others manages to pull off anything beyond mediocre.

Also, I think this series works badly for modern audiences. Since the main horror is from the murders, most other series do those sorts of things both more creatively and with more gore. With overall mediocre stories, there’s really nothing for a modern horror fan to grab onto when watching it.

I probably won’t watch this series again. There are two really good movies in it, one okay one that I might be willing to rewatch, and a semi-interesting character in another, but that’s not going to get me through the full eight movies again.

Next up, the modern remake of the series.


One Response to “Thoughts on the Friday the 13th Movie Series (I – VIII)”

  1. Thoughts on Friday the 13th (The Modern Remake) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] As I’ve pointed out time and time again, the premise of Jason himself doesn’t really lend itself to plot. He pretty much just kills people. So you need to have another story there to at least distract the audience while Jason gets into position to make his next kill. The first movie built these distractions around completely normal behaviour that was interrupted by the killings. The sixth movie built its plot around someone knowing that Jason was alive and doing the killings and trying to stop them. Both of these worked in their own way. The other stories, however, were very hit and miss, and mostly missed. But it’s clear that the last thing you want to do is make the story too involved or complicated, because the audience, in general, was primarily there to see Jason kill people. […]

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