Friday the 13th: Ranking and Rating the Franchise

by Bethany Rose

If you’re like me, you’re more excited about the day before Valentine’s Day this year. That’s because February 13th falls on a Friday, making it the first Friday the 13th of 2015. Even more exciting is the fact that you won’t have to wait long for the second Friday the 13th of the year, as March 13th also falls on a Friday. So what better time than now to look at the Friday the 13th film franchise. I have probably watched this series more than any other horror franchise. I think that it is one of the most consistent series in scares and campiness. That’s not to say that there aren’t some missteps along the way, but I think that if you are looking for a great slasher franchise that delivers, Friday the 13th is always a good bet.

I have ranked this series from what I think is worst to best. I should note that I am not necessarily ranking this on quality. I’m ranking it on my own favorites, the ones that provide me with the most overall entertainment and the least overall frustration, which means this list might have more than a few surprises. I’m also excited to bring back my Best Death Scene section, which was last seen in my A Nightmare on Elm Street: Ranking and Rating the Franchise article. Beware that there are spoilers throughout this article. Also, each grade given is for the actual film, not the death scene discussed before it.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (Friday the 13th Part V)

Prior to my days at Influx, I wrote a list of the five most ridiculous parts of this movie. It’s not that I can’t accept ridiculous plot ideas or cheesy scenes (you’ll soon learn I quite like those things), and while most of the silly moments are forgivable, the most ridiculous part of all helped solidify this film’s spot as the worst of the franchise.

To better illustrate the distinction between forgivable and inconceivable, let me first point out one of my favorite moments from the film. It makes sense that the Voorhees family killing spree would often make the news in the area of Camp Crystal Lake (probably somewhere in New Jersey). Some clippings of these news stories are shown in the film, and for whatever reason, one of them has a picture of Jason, sporting his signature hockey mask and looking straight into the camera. That’s just funny stuff, right? It’s goofy, and ridiculous, and a really fun (even if unintentionally so) moment of the film. Then there’s the reveal that Jason Voorhees wasn’t actually the killer; rather, Roy, the EMT who arrived at the scene of the first murder, was pushed over the edge when he saw his son’s mutilated body and decided to go on a killing spree. If anyone besides an actual Voorhees was going to be the killer in this film, I would have preferred it to be Tommy Jarvis, the now-grown survivor from part IV.

Best Death Scene: Oh S**T

One thing Roy must have learned from reading all those articles on Jason is that the silent stalker always took advantage of his surroundings and never missed an opportunity for murder. So when Demon had to use an outhouse, Roy knew not to stall and let Demon finish his business. After taking care of the crooning lover (because who doesn’t find outhouse sing-alongs romantic?) Roy sticks it to Demon by shoving a spear through the flimsy outhouse walls.

Grade: D

Friday the 13th Part III (3D)

Remember when Indiana Jones brought a gun to a knife fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Remember how bad Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was? Now imagine if one of Indy’s most iconic moments had happened in Crystal Skull. That’s how I feel about Friday the 13th 3D. Overall, the film is on the Crystal Skull level. It’s nice to see Jason again, but there was more that was wrong with the film than was right. Both films introduced unnecessary characters: Shia LaBeouf as Indy’s son in Crystal Skull and the mischievous biker gang in 3D. One low point of 3D was that so many of the film’s shots revolved around the 3D gimmick. The 3D effects that were connected to the murders weren’t bad, but the effects were also much cheesier than a contemporary 3D film and the concept was often no more than laughable (there was a 3D yo-yo, for goodness sakes). And since it’s very likely that the copy of the film you watch isn’t in 3D, these gimmicks are doubly groan inducing (it’s like watching The Tingler without sitting in a “Percepto” seat).

All of the elements easily add up to a lackluster film. Except for one. Much like the Raiders scene became an iconic moment in the Indiana Jones films, Jason’s hockey mask became the most iconic symbol of the Friday franchise. And he doesn’t find it until this film.

Best Death Scene: Jason Smash

Taking advantage of his first foray into 3D films, Jason decided that a traditional machete killing wouldn’t cut the mustard. So when poor Rick got in Jason’s was, his head was smashed between Jason’s hands, making one of his eyeballs pop out in 3D glory.

Grade: C-

Friday the 13th (2009)

Reboot, Remake, whatever you want to call it, Friday the 13th wasn’t as awful as I imagined it to be. Sure, they made the mistake of explaining too much, like the fact that Jason has underground tunnels and booby traps set up around the Crystal Lake area, explaining how he’s able to find so many unfortunate campers and spring up on them at just the right time. But considering the newest Nightmare on Elm Street film, the flaws of the new Friday were tame by comparison. At least the source material was referenced, making sure to mention that Jason’s mom was the first Voorhees to go on a killing spree, and having Jason wear some type of bag over his head before he found the mask. And the opening sequence was fun. I also have only met two Jason’s in real life. Both of them were from this film (Derek Mears played Super Jason and Caleb Guss played young Jason), so it holds a special place in my heart.

What I didn’t like was the kind of Super Jason that was introduced in the film. Jason was always big, but there was something in the film that emphasized his mass in a way I can’t explain. Perhaps it was a sound effect used when he approached a victim?  Was he a bit speedier? I don’t know, but I guess in other Friday films I was able to see Jason as both a massive serial killer and a somewhat silent stalker, and in this film that second element was gone. There was also nothing (beyond money and marketing potential, of course) that suggested this reboot was needed. No new life was brought to the franchise, and most of the film was an amalgamation of previous Fridays.

Best Death Scene: Camper Roasting on an Open Fire

If there’s one thing hulking Jason knew how to do, it was stage some interesting death scenes. While the demise of the boating lovers was almost the best, they were slightly overshadowed by one of the film’s early death scenes. As the first group of campers quickly learn they picked the wrong part of the woods, Jason captures one unlucky lady in her sleeping bag, then ties the flailing cocoon over the campfire. Her boyfriend watches in horror and pain (his leg is caught in an animal trap), as she roasts over the flames, before her charred, lifeless body eventually emerges from the bag.

Grade: C

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

AKA Carrie vs. Jason, AKA Weekend at Jason’s

Why all the titles? While only the first one is an official title, a re-watch of this film made me think of the others. Terry Kiser, who played Bernie Lomax in the Weekend at Bernie‘s films, has a major role in this film, and the Final Girl happens to have telekinesis. Jason is once again resurrected, this time by Tina. After Bernie Lomax  Dr. Crews decides to experiment on Tina under the guise of helping her work through lasting psychological issues she’s had since she accidentally caused her father’s death, Tina starts to get visions of Jason’s murders. She then pairs up with a handsome hunk who’s at a nearby cabin for a surprise party, and the two try to protect the remaining party goers from Jason.

There are a few things I like about the film. I’m all about Terry Kiser, and it was definitely enjoyable to see him have a speaking role. Wait. Is it possible to do a Jason vs. Bernie movie? Imagine the still very dead and still very undecomposed (composed?) body of Bernie enjoying a rousing limbo when Jason suddenly bursts through the party with his machete and Bernie’s body unwittingly knocks the weapon out of Jason’s hand. Bernie then saunters into the sunset and … OK, I’m getting off track (but seriously, somebody make this happen). Speaking of decomposition, it was a nice touch to see that Jason’s time chained underwater caused large pieces of his rotting flesh to fall off, leaving exposed pieces of his skeleton here and there. Plus the film’s director, John Carl Buechler, is from my neck of the woods. But there were too many major elements that bugged me to make these few bright spots propel the film higher up in this list. I do like the element of surprise that Tina’s telekinesis brings to Jason, but I think she did a horrible job of using that power. Here’s a heroine who doesn’t even have to be within 20 feet of Jason to harm him and she still seems to fail at it. So thankfully some version of her father (ghost? telekinetic apparition?) emerges from the lake (looking like his portion of the lake bottom had much stronger rejuvenating skin serums than Jason’s) and pulls the villain back into his watery grave. So basically even with supernatural powers, Tina still needed her dear old wife-beating dad to save the day.

Best Death Scene: Surprise!

Once again, Jason takes advantage of his surroundings and realizes that not every death blow needs to come from his beloved machete. Since most of that weekend’s campers are at a cabin for a surprise party, Jason grabs one of the noisemakers and shoves it into one unfortunate party goer’s eye, making for a quick and gory death scene that also comes with the requisite dying horn sound that most noisemakers achieve.

Grade: C

Freddy Vs. Jason

Check out my thoughts on this surprisingly fun film in my A Nightmare on Elm Street: Ranking and Rating the Franchise article. (Read here)

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Friday the 13th Part IV)

This film benefits from following the lackluster 3D attempt, as well as introducing recurring character Tommy Jarvis in his most endearing incarnation. Crisping Glover appeared as one of Jason’s victims, Jimmy Mortimer, just a year before he’d portray Marty McFly’s dad, and poster boy for the ’80s Corey Feldman portrayed young Tommy, whose fascination with movie monsters and makeup made for the most interesting plot point of the film. It is, in fact, Feldman/Jarvis that made me first consider this as one of the better Friday films; however, if you delete them from the equation, the film is barely indistinguishable from its lesser counterparts. It leaves the viewer with Jason easily killing off a group of mostly annoying teens who picked the wrong place to spend the weekend.

The film also suffers from the needless exposition that plagued most of the early films in the series. For some reason, most of the early Friday films took the time right before the credits rolled to remind audiences about the Voorhees murders. The unnecessary exposition is even more annoying during a Friday marathon, and bogs down the start of nearly all the films it is featured in.

Best Death Scene: Corkscrew You (AKA Splitting Headache)

It’s not just because Crispin Glover’s Jimmy is the victim that this scene is the best death. As Jimmy searches the kitchen for a corkscrew, the audience knows that Jason’s already found it. Still, there’s a nice jump scare when Jason “shares” his find with Jimmy, piercing his hand with the corkscrew in order to pin his victim down. While Jimmy still tries to process everything—the pain, the villain, the image of his hand adhered to the counter thanks to the corkscrew—Jason thrusts a cleaver into the middle of Jimmy’s forehead.

Grade: B-

Friday 6

In a way, this film might not seem any less formulaic than some of my lower rated picks: A group of teens experience a shortened camping trip when Jason visits. And much like part 4, part 6 surely benefited from following the abysmal fifth installment. But this film’s higher rating comes from its successful balance of the creepy and the campy, finally embracing the fact that it is the sixth installment of a horror franchise and allowing for some well-played humor to sneak in. It also takes the story back to its roots, placing this group of teens back at a camp site, preparing for opening day.

Probably the best example of what this film does right occurs when Jason stumbles upon a group of paintball players. These characters have only one scene in the film, with no connection to any of the other people featured. They don’t need the connection because they are only there to up the body count. And for goodness sakes by part six of a horror franchise why the heck not?! That Jason stumbles upon this unfortunate group isn’t completely random: He’s on his way back to Crystal Lake after accidentally being resurrected by a now-adult Tommy Jarvis. He is Frankenstein’s Monster returning home, and these paintball players just happened to be on his walking path. The scene has jump scares, humor, and lots of deaths all within a matter of minutes and all working together in a perfect balance that continues through the rest of the film.

Best Death Scene: Don’t Leave Home without It

Another great thing about this installment is that there are really too many good death scenes to choose from. In a lot of ways, the scene I’ve picked is similar to the paintball scene: Two people are in Jason’s way, some humor is used, they end up dead. But what makes this scene stand out just a bit more is the awareness, that almost meta moment, that one of the victims has. As Darren and Lizbeth make their way to the campground, Jason steps in their path. In films before, the victims would have probably decided that Jason was just a joke, and they would have taunted him or acted fearless. In this case, Lizbeth doesn’t even mess around. She claims she’s seen enough horror films with a “weirdo wearing a mask” to know not to mess with this guy. The couple actually does the smart thing and tries to escape, but the road they are on is narrow, and their only method of escaping is throwing the car in reverse. Unfortunately for them, it gets stuck and Jason once again takes advantage of their predicament. Just before Lizbeth is killed, she grabs her wallet and offers its contents to Jason. After she dies, a shot of her American Express card floats in the water, adding a nice dose of humor to the ghastly scene.

Grade: B+

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Friday the 13th Part IX)

I know a lot of people who don’t like this film. My question is: What’s not to like? There’s Creighton Duke, the bounty hunter. There’s the revelation that Jason has a sister. John D. LeMay, who played Ryan Dallion in Friday the 13th: The Series (aka Friday’s Curse), has a starring role. Kane Hodder, my favorite of all the Jason’s, returns. And a wink to Freddy Vs. Jason happens years before the film would come to fruition.

This film also does a lot of things differently than its predecessors, but I liked the unique plot twist it featured. The film’s opening scene suggests it won’t be much different than the others. There’s a woman who goes alone to a cabin in the woods and ends up getting stalked by Jason. But after she fights her way into the middle of an open plot of land, Jason is stunned as he finds himself standing underneath blindingly bright spotlights. The woman was an FBI agent, and Jason is surrounded by a team with one mission: To finally kill Jason Voorhees. And they appear to be successful, blowing the villain to pieces in an ambush grislier than many of Jason’s individual kills. But his heart remained intact, and that causes a grisly chain of events that nobody could have seen coming.

While this “body snatching” power meant that the actual Jason Voorhees isn’t seen through much of the film, there are still glimpses of the killer any time one of the “possessed” victims walks in front of a reflective surface. And Jason’s eventual return, through a heart of a Voorhees entering the body of a Voorhees, was spectacular.

Best Death Scene: Take Another Little Piece of My Heart

Audiences had to be suspicious when Jason supposedly died in the opening scene. So when his remains are transported to the morgue and his heart is shown, it doesn’t take long to guess that the medical examiner is in trouble. Watching him uncontrollably ingest Jason’s beating heart took the franchise’s gore factor to a new level, and showed the audience just how unstoppable Jason really was. Plus, one of his first victims post heart ingestion was a security guard played by Jason himself, Kane Hodder.

Grade: A-

Jason X

Really?? Yes, really. I’ll admit that this film holds a special place in my heart because it is Kane Hodder’s last outing as Jason. I’ll also admit that I didn’t much care for the film when it was first released. But after reevaluating the franchise as a whole, I have come to appreciate the outer space campiness of this sequel. Jason killing campers? Been there, done that. This film makes Jason the fish out of water and does so in a delightfully comic way; yet, it does not lose its tone as a horror film, and though there’s a bit of a learning curve at times, Jason proves that he is a force to be reckoned with no matter the time or setting. While it might not be the best in overall quality, it is certainly one of the most entertaining of the franchise’s films. If I want a movie on in the background while I’m folding clothes or working, this is the movie I’d pick.

Best Death Scene: Ice, Ice Baby

Another reason the film ranks so high is that it doesn’t hold back on the death scenes. After Jason’s cryogenically frozen body is taken aboard the spaceship, he is examined by Adrienne. Though he’s in space in the future, Jason’s killer instincts didn’t suffer from his years in stasis and his first order of business after being revived is to murder. He shoves the stunned woman into a sink of liquid nitrogen, takes a minute to examine her frozen face (one can assume he initially thought he was drowning her), and quickly improvises his plan. He smashes her face onto the counter, and it shatters into a million pieces.

Grade: A-

Friday the 13th (1980)

Of course the original is going to be high on the list. It’s still scary after all these years, thanks to the added dose of reality it has over any of the other Friday the 13th films. Before Jason began stalking campers, he was the camper, but with no friends and careless counselors who were more interested in socializing with each other than being responsible. Jason drowned, and his mother never recovered. Years later, Steve Christy decides to reopen the camp, which town drunk Ralph describes as Camp Blood. A new group of counselors works to get the camp in running order again, but it is clear that most of them are no more responsible than the group working on the night of Jason’s death.

The film employs a number of POV shots that put the audience in the shoes of the unknown killer. We see the counselors scaring each other, sleeping with each other, and having a little too much fun. Yes, this is how a group of young counselors would likely act, and no they don’t deserve to die because of it, but there is something very important about seeing all of this behavior through the killer’s eyes.

When Mrs. Voorhees is finally shown, comforting terrified lone survivor Alice, she breaks down all ideas of what audiences expected from a slasher villain. She was a woman. She seemed kind. She wore a cozy blue sweater. She was not a hulking masked figure with probable supernatural connections. She was human. A mother. A victim. It was a shocking revelation at the time, and it still works as a chilling revelation decades later.

Best Death Scene: Something in My Throat

After some lower bunk sexcapades with Marcie, Jack (played by Kevin Bacon) settles in for some relaxation. Little does he know that the body of Ned is tucked away on the top bunk. Just when that secret is about to be revealed, thanks to Ned’s blood dripping down to Jack’s bunk, the killer reaches out from under the bottom bunk and pins Jack down, while using her other hand to force an arrow through Jack’s neck.

Grade: A

Friday the 13th 2

His name was Jason: victim of careless counselors, catalyst for his mother’s killing spree, and still lurking in the depths of Crystal Lake. These thoughts run through the nightmares of Alice, lone survivor of Friday the 13th, as the film begins. This opening sequence is the only one that successfully incorporates previous footage and exposition, and when the frightened Alice finally wakes up, the audience knows her worst fears are about to come true.

This film ranks higher than the original because, as good as the first one is, and as it was refreshing to see such a unique horror villain, there’s just no comparing to Jason (I think Mrs. Voorhees would agree, don’t you?). His introduction informs the rest of the series, and takes the threat level to new heights. Not only is Jason physically stronger than his mother, (again, not at all knocking her power; Mrs. V could fight!) but his silent presence paired with his supernatural gift for regeneration (shout out to my partner who wanted everyone to know his theory is that Jason Voorhees is a mutant, like an X-Men mutant) adds to the tension. Jason seems to be unstoppable. But all villains have a weakness, and Final Girl Ginny (aka the actress who played the woman who took Alex P. Keaton’s virginity in Family Ties), after stumbling on Jason’s hideout in the woods, quickly figures out what his is and makes a great move to catch him off guard and kill him (at least in that film).

Best Death Scene: Momma’s Boy

Alice’s death showed the audience that nobody is safe in these films. Escape a Voorhees once, maybe, but few will prevail the second time (we can’t all be Tommy Jarvis). The introduction of Jason, from that first ominous footstep to the macabre surprise he planted in Alice’s refrigerator, was flawless (I guess if you don’t stop to think how Jason isn’t dead but is also a grown-up Jason, or consider how Jason figured out where Alice lived). After Alice wakes up from her tumultuous slumber, she tries calming down with a hot shower and some tea. Still, she can’t shake the feeling of fear, and the tension builds. After a quick jump scare thanks to her cat, Alice finally looks like she might be calming down. Then she opens her refrigerator and a flood of terror sweeps over her. Perched on a shelf is the decomposing head of Mrs. Voorhees, and before Alice has a chance to run, Jason pierces her temple with an ice pick.

Grade: A+

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

This isn’t an editing error!! You’re reading it right. My favorite film in the series, the top of my list, is the eighth installment, the film that many fans of the series don’t like. It shouldn’t be too surprising, seeing as I’ve already professed my love for the sillier side the franchise sometimes takes. I love the full embrace of cheesiness this film has. The title proudly promotes the cheese factor. I also love the posters that are a take on the classic I ♥ New York merchandise. Instead of the heart, Jason’s mask breaks through the symbol. I own some pretty amazing horror posters, but my Jason Takes Manhattan one is hands down my favorite.

While Jason, indeed, takes Manhattan, he first has to take a boat ride. He ends up on a school cruise from Crystal Lake to the Big Apple. I really enjoyed the methods Jason employed for most of his kills in this movie. The death scenes usually tied into one of the traits or pastimes of the characters. When J.J. decides the cruise is a great place to rock out on her guitar, Jason uses the instrument to cut practice short. Tamara is seen doing lines of cocaine with one of her friends, and when Jason finally gets to her room the image is “mirrored” as Jason smashes her into her bathroom mirror. Little details like that made the film highly entertaining. And talk about stranger in a strange land. Jason actually seems to navigate a spaceship in the future with less confusion than his journey through New York. One of the cheekiest moments comes when Jason spies a billboard for hockey. As he sees the goalie mask, he tilts his head in a rare moment of confusion and innocence. There’s also something incredibly fun about seeing Jason walk through Times Square. You’d think in a city filled with people, he’d get sidetracked and the boat’s escapees would easily get away, but he proves that he’s always a focused man on a mission, only interacting with the locals when they get in the way of his goals.

I can honestly say I have no surprising reason for loving this film so much. I just really, really enjoy watching Jason in New York. When it comes to entertainment value, this is the film in the series that delivers it for me every time. I hope everyone who made a time capsule at the end of the ’80s left a copy of this film in it.

Best Death Scene: Jason’s Gonna Knock You Out

Early on in the film, before the boat’s passengers realize they are harboring a killer stowaway, some of the students engage in some boxing matches. Julius is the only one of the participants to make it off the boat and seemingly make it to safety. Jason finally catches up to him on a rooftop, so Julius decides to practice his fighting skills in a more serious way. He does his best to defeat Jason, but the hulking figure remains unfazed. Julius is exhausted, out of breath, and is ready for Jason to give it his best shot. He does. And with one punch, Julius’ head goes flying down into the street.

Grade: A++

Did I hate your favorite or love the one you loathe? Were you surprised by my favorite?  Think I should write about Friday the 13th the television series? Let me know in the comments!