After the success of the original Halloween, studios saw a lucrative opportunity with the horror sub-genre dubbed the “slasher film.” The premise almost always revolved around attractive youths being stalked by a madman in a remote location, usually with only one female (known as the “final girl”) surviving the carnage. The results were indeed lucrative, and Friday the 13th was one of the first films to push these controversial projects into the national spotlight.
Eight movies in the franchise were released throughout the 1980s, but like any fad it started to lose steam by the end of the decade. Only four more have been made in the last 20 years, but ask anyone about Jason Voorhees and they’re sure to identify him as “that killer in the hockey mask.” That’s a pretty impressive feat, especially when you consider that some people out there can’t tell you the name of the president.
If you’re new to the bloody adventures of the Voorhees clan, you may find this list of the top 10 Friday the 13th movies helpful. Even those who haven’t seen the films in years might want to give them another look, and I suggest either watching them in chronological order or using my list as a handy guide. Either way, you’ll find that the kills are just as inventive, the young girls are just as hot, and Jason is still as badass as ever.
10. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) – While I was not thrilled about the decision to make Jason the host for some sort of evil parasite, there are still some things to like about this film. First off, there’s the hotness that is Erin Gray (of Buck Rogers and Silver Spoons fame). Then there’s the wonderful character actor Steven Williams, who plays a renowned bounty hunter out to collect a reward on Jason. You might remember Williams from his role as Mr. X on The X-Files or Rufus Turner on Supernatural.
My favorite moment, however, comes at the very beginning of the film. After years of teenagers getting slaughtered around Crystal Lake, the military finally decides to get involved. They lay a simple-yet-effective trap involving a hot chick, a power outage, and a mortar attack. Why they didn’t try this years earlier is beyond me.
9. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) – This time around, Jason winds up on a ship that’s bound for Manhattan and filled with recently graduated high school students. That’s sort of like unleashing a fat man in an all-you-can-eat buffet, and the recently resurrected madman doesn’t waste any time racking up the body count in the bowels of the ship. A then-unknown Kelly Hu plays one of the victims, and Peter Mark Richman is a standout as the seedy teacher who serves as one of the chaperones for the trip.
The do make it to Manhattan eventually, but this doesn’t happen until the film’s final act. It does provide one of the movie’s best scenes, however, when a talented young boxer uses his pugilistic skills to fend off Jason on a rooftop overlooking the city.
8. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) – Ever wonder how Jason would fare against Jean Grey from the X-Men? Well, this is about as close as you’ll ever get, as our favorite machete-wielding horror runs across a teenage telekinetic with daddy issues. Their final showdown is kinda silly, but I wasn’t expecting Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet.
7. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) – Thanks to a terrible error in judgment, Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) brings Jason back to life, and the maniac promptly kills Arnold Horseshack (Ron Palillo). All hell breaks loose from there, as this film sprinkles in action sequences and self-referential humor that predates the Scream series by a decade.
6. Friday the 13th (1980) – You don’t learn the identity of the killer until near the end, so much of this movie is like a sadistic whodunit staged by makeup artist Tom Savini. The origin of Jason is established, and the final five minutes set up the sequels perfectly. Betsy Palmer does a nice job as a seemingly kindhearted cook, and you get to see a pre-Footloose Kevin Bacon meet his demise courtesy of a punctured throat.
5. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) – A new killer takes up the task of murdering teenagers in this sequel, and a camp near Crystal Lake is once again the setting for the bloodletting. This film doesn’t break new ground in the genre, but it does feature a few nice kills (including an amorous couple suffering through the wrong kind of double penetration).
4. Jason X (2002) – After being cryogenically frozen, Jason is thawed out in the distant future by a high school class on a field trip to the abandoned planet Earth. He’s inadvertently brought back to life on their spaceship, and he resumes his old habits. Both teens and veteran space marines fall to his machete, but what happens when he comes up against a sexy cyborg wielding the latest in futuristic weaponry? Familiar faces include Lexa Doig (Andromeda) and director David Cronenberg.
3. Freddy vs. Jason (2003) – It was inevitable that these two horror icons would do battle, and the fact that they both begin the movie in the afterlife isn’t going to slow them down one bit. Freddy has been forgotten by the young folks of Springwood, so he revives Jason and unleashes him on the long-suffering town. People think Freddy is committing the murders, so he starts to regain his powers little by little, But Jason proves to be a glutton when it comes to slashing teenagers, and Freddy’s clever plan starts going off the rails. The final showdown is a real joy to behold, and you’ll also get a chance to see Kelly Rowland (of Destiny’s Child fame) violently dispatched by a really pissed-off goalie.
2. Friday the 13th Part III (1982) – This flick was released in 3D, but that doesn’t detract from some of the best death scenes in the franchise. Jason dons his hockey mask for the first time, taking down campers, bikers, and anyone else who strays across his path. An effort is made to develop some of the characters before they’re sent on to heaven, and the scene where a guy walking on his hands meets the business end of Jason’s machete remains my all-time favorite horror movie death.
1. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) – The best of the bunch, this was intended to be the last film of the series until impressive box office totals made the suits at the studio reconsider. The acting is better than it has a right to be, and keep an eye out for future stars such as Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman. The latter plays a young horror geek who eventually squares off with Jason, and the 1984 release date guarantees plenty of victims wearing pastel-colored mens polo shirts. If you only see one film in the franchise, this is the one to watch.