You either “get” Friday the 13th films or you don’t. You’re either the kind of person that appreciates the bone-headed, trashy, sleazy, lowest common denominator, nonsensical canon that depicts the adventures of Jason Voorhees as he aims to murder every last teenager that has misfortune of deciding to vacation at Camp Crystal Lake. No one will blame you if you decide that the garbage production values, wooden acting, laughable writing, enormous plot holes, and copious amounts of sleaze that comprises these movies isn’t your cup of tea. Of course, it’s more than a few people’s cup of tea to watch Jason stalk around and creatively dispatch anyone who comes into his path, given that this franchise is still being talked about nearly 40 years and 12 films later.
What I truly find appealing about this franchise is that while there is no single Friday the 13th film that stands as tall as titan franchise starters like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or even Saw, the lows of this franchise never plunge the embarrassing depths that those four other horror franchises found themselves engaged in. This franchise is remarkably consistent, and you can take that as the back-handed compliment that it is truly meant to be. The quality (and general premise) of the movies is consistent even if the tones sometimes vary wildly.
Being that it’s Halloween, I decided to finally tackle this franchise from beginning to end this year, and I’m ready to share which ones are worth your time and which ones should find themselves at the bloody end of Jason’s machete. The things that I do for my loyal readers. Believe me when I say it wasn’t always fun, these movies tend to really blend together one when you watch them one after another in the course of a month, especially since the vast majority involve the indestructible, usually undead Jason simply stalking faceless/nameless/personalityless cannon fodder, usually in the woods.
Without further ado, here’s my definitive ranking of all 12 Friday the 13th films and whether they fall into the straight horror or comedy side of the ledger.
12) Friday the 13th Part VII – The New Blood (Horror)
This is the absolute most disposable film in the entire Friday the 13th canon, and it wasn’t even entirely the filmmaker’s fault (don’t worry, plenty of blame goes to the filmmakers too). While the tale of what is essentially a psychic girl vs. undead Jason who’s come back from the depths of the lake for the umpteenth time. While the MPAA didn’t do this film any favors by hacking it to ribbons (Jason shows up with exciting weapons and cuts away on every kill with no pay off) and completely removing almost all the gore, this film is a tensionless, uneventful slog that takes itself far too seriously and introduces an incredibly tedious backstory for Tina, the main character that no one could possibly care about. This is the only Friday the 13th movie that completely and irredeemably bored me. It’s not fun in any way. It’s simply a lame, neutered mess with a storyline that’s incredibly stupid, even by the standards of this franchise. Notable for introducing Kane Hodder as Jason, the man who would go on to be most associated with the role of Jason.
Best moment: All these great kills that didn’t make it into the actual movie
Best kill: The sleeping bag kill. This was done better in two subsequent sequels.
11) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Horror)
Jason comes to the 90s with a bloody vengeance, except they forgot to include Jason in it for the most part. Kicking off with a bloody bang that has the FBI blowing Jason to pieces in a bravura opening sequence, the filmmakers at New Line decided that the best way to take advantage of their newly acquired rights to the franchise was to try and change the typical slasher formula into a David Cronenberg style body horror film. Apparently this means that Jason is now a weird worm like creature that can transfer from host to host. Throw in a whole bunch of extra nonsense about him trying to go into the body of someone who shares his bloodlines, and I’m just completely checking out. Some great gore effects and isolated moments can’t make up for yawn inducing pacing, nonsensical storytelling, and an satisfying conclusion. Pretty great final shot though. Funny irony, New Line bought the rights to Jason Voorhees but didn’t have the rights to the actual Friday the 13th name, hence the ridiculous title in this one.
Best Moment: The melting body after Jason switches to another.
Best Kill: Jason vs. the FBI. Such a shame the movie does nothing with such a compelling and exciting setup.
10) Friday the 13th Part VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan (Comedy)
This is a terrible movie, but I can’t hate on it entirely because this one leans into its own stupidity and is such a silly example of false advertising that I kind of respect it for it’s spunky spirit and bottom of the barrel production values. It’s common knowledge that Jason doesn’t even arrive in Manhattan until the last third of the film, and it’s still a pretty missed opportunity once we get to the Big Apple (with Vancouver and the British Columbia countryside unconvincingly filling in for New York and New Jersey respectively). I actually didn’t mind the boat setting for the first two thirds too much because I had just gotten through seven straight movies of stalking through houses or the woods so even the ship setting provided a pretty welcome change of pace. The ending is unsatisfying nonsense, even by this franchise’s standards. It’s definitely not scary, but there’s some solid laughs of both the intentional and unintentional variety in this entertainingly mindless D-Movie for the non-discriminating horror fan. There’s also a lot of better things you could do with your time, like taking up underwater basket weaving.
Best Moment: Jason sees a billboard for a hockey team and breaks the fourth wall
Best Kill: Jason vs. Julius the boxer on a rooftop. The climax to this battle is tastelessly hilarious.
9) Friday the 13th Part 3D (Comedy)
After The New Blood, this is the most boring entry in the entire series. It takes absolutely forever to get going, the kills are pretty uninteresting, and the characters are even more disposable than usual. It’s a real slog in the first half in particular, and while Jason finally acquires his iconic hockey mask in this one, there is no film in this entire series where he’s less intimidating. He just looks silly. This one gains some spunk points for the completely tongue in cheek 3D effects like a broom stick or Yo-yo coming right at the camera, which is extra hilarious when viewed in standard 2D at home. You do get an eyeball and an arrow flying right at you in two of the film’s few fun moments though.
Best moment: The amazing disco/horror track that plays over the end credits
Best kill: Watch out for that eyeball!
8) Jason X (Comedy)
Jason goes to space. Why the hell not? Some pretty creative kills and probably the jokiest attitude in the entire series makes this a bombastic and ridiculous fun time. This movie doesn’t take itself seriously, plays nothing straight and has an infectious enthusiasm to it that makes it fun to watch provided you can get into the right mindless mindset. A holodeck sequence where Jason is fooled into murdering some nubile young holograms and a surprise cameo by horror auteur David Cronenberg are some hilarious standout moments.
Best Moment: Jason enters the Holodeck.
Best Kill: The liquid nitrogen face shattering.
7) Freddy vs. Jason (Comedy)
This one definitely has more of a Nightmare on Elm Street vibe than a Friday film, but that’s probably for the best. The movie certainly has fun with its “Monstar” showdown that sees Freddy employing Jason in an attempt to build fear in his victims to grow his power before losing his grasp on Jason’s leash, and there’s some pretty good kills in this one to tickle the funny bone. It took around a decade to get here after the tease at the end of Jason goes to Hell and it wasn’t particularly worth the wait, but not a complete waste of time either. Loses points for an unfortunate homophobic slur, but I did appreciate that the movie does declare a pretty clear cut winner at least. It’s disposable fun.
Best Moment: Jason crashes the rave scene
Best kill: The folding bed kill
6) Friday the 13th Remake (Horror)
If you judge this movie solely by the first 20 minutes, it would probably rank at the top of this list. The extended introduction is simply the most sustained terror that this franchise has ever seen and is one of its few truly scary sequences before it settles into a virtual remake of the first three films. Unfortunately, the film then settles in with a cast of unlikable jerks that Jason doesn’t dispatch quickly or creatively enough. I can’t quite decide if turning Jason into a more human guerrilla tactician was the right move, considering he’s usually more of a teleporting, lumbering zombie in most of the other films. It ranks somewhere in the middle of the series, but I personally give it a few extra points for being the most visually appealing and technically sound movie in the franchise. It looks great and there’s enough tension to satisfy.
Best moment: The entire opening sequence
Best Kill: The sleeping bag roast
5) Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (Comedy)
While this one has a reputation as being one of the worst of the series, especially since Jason is nowhere to be found, I personally had a great time with this batshit crazy movie that leans heavily into it’s own trashy and sleazy motif. This is a movie that has a strong identity, which is more than can be said for most of the movies in this franchise. It’s just so fucking insane that I can’t help but enjoy the lunacy as it unfolds before me. No, it’s not a GOOD movie, but it sure is pretty fun to watch a former porn director and clear madman direct a slasher movie with a ridiculous mystery and porn level performances and sequence setups. Someone is murdering the kids at a home for troubled youth while wearing a hockey mask. Who could be the killer since Jason is dead? Who cares? This is a movie where everyone is on cocaine and the lunacy results in an unpredictable romp with some solid kills and a butt-load of unintentional laughs. Need proof? There’s a sequence where a mentally challenged character gets axed to death for annoyingly offering a fellow disturbed youth a chocolate bar.
Best Moment: Joey gets axed to death for being an annoying chocoholic
Best Kill: The elastic/stick head twist
4) Friday the 13th (Horror)
The one that started it all only did so by ripping off countless better films (including, but not limited to Psycho, Halloween, Last House on the Left, and Black Christmas). The simple setup sees a group of camp counselors getting picked off one by one as they begin setting up a camp where a young boy drowned years prior. The mystery isn’t very interesting, but the gore and makeup effects (courtesy of gore maestro Tom Savini) are excellent for their time, and the filmmakers managed to wring some tension out of the low and trashy production values. Jason is nowhere to be seen in this original, and the actual killer is played with a delicious psychotic bent and the film ends with one of the all time great jump scares. Nowadays, the film is fairly tame and uneven pacing is an issue, but after plowing through a dozen of these movies, it’s undeniable that this one does tension and suspense better than almost all of them.
Best moment: The final jump scare
Best Kill: Kevin Bacon exits his first film performance
3) Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives! (Comedy)
This is basically the Naked Gun of the franchise, and the best example of how fun this franchise can be when it owns its own stupidity and completely runs with it. The setup is batshit crazy nonsense that sees the corpse of Jason being reanimated after a recurring character decides to make sure his body is still in the ground, stabs the corpse with a metal rod, only to be struck by lightning. What follows is a fun romp that has some of the better kills in the franchise and a sense of goofy self-awareness that was never done better or more smartly in any of these films. The budget also got enough of a bump this time around to have actual car wrecks and chases. The film isn’t entirely devoid of tension either, especially when it puts an entire camp full of kids in peril. While I did rank two more films above this one, this one is probably the most outright fun in the entire franchise.
Best Moment: The James Bond style opening credits.
Best Kill: The backbreaker
2) Friday the 13th Part 2 (Horror)
This is the scariest and most consistently tense film in the entire franchise, the remake’s first 20 minutes not withstanding some 30 years later. The schlocky vibe and low production values of the original film actual serve this sequel far better with an mean and intimidating baghead Jason before he got his hockey mask. Jason is played more as a human and crazed hillbilly than an indestructible zombie, and a is a much more terrifying antagonist for it. The tension is high, the characters/cannon fodder are relateable and well cast, and the jump scares hit hard and fast. This one is an actual disturbing film packed with legitimate suspense (even if it’s not all that scary today), especially if you can put yourself in the mindset of this sort of film being fresh before another 10 movies drove the franchise into loony town. This is easily the best of the straight-faced Friday films and holds well today as an effective and uncomfortable thriller made all the better with a pluckiness that only comes from the time it was released and the budget they had to work with.
Best Moment: While I’m not usually a fan of the trope of killing off the last movie’s survivor in the sequel’s first scene, the opening sequence really sets the tone for the tension to come in this sequel.
Best Kill: Poor wheelchair guy gets a machete to the face and is sent tumbling down a long flight of stairs.
1) Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (Horror)
I would rank this and the next two films all on par with one another despite them trying to accomplish different things. Part IV is definitely the entry that juggles the horror and comedy balls most effectively as the film contains equal helpings of legitimate tension and trashy hilarity. The cast of victims is the most memorable and well cast of the series. This is one of the few entries where you’ll actually care about their fates, even if you’re rooting for Jason most of the time. A pre-Goonies Corey Feldman and pre-Back to the Future Crispin Glover lead the way with sympathetic and fun character portrayals with fun character moments like the world’s whitest and most 80s dance routine ever put to film or a bizarre scene of Feldman discovering his sexuality while peeping on a neighbor getting naked. The kills in this version are spectacular, including a particularly nasty one involving a hacksaw and a 180 degree head turn. Since this was actually intended to be the last film in the series at the time, the film ends with a thrilling and legitimately disturbing climax befitting of the series.
Best Kill: The Hacksaw headspin
Best moment (tie): Crispin Glover tries to dance with his crush and Corey Feldman takes Jason down.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a long long shower after putting myself through all these movies. Happy Halloween! What’s your favorite Friday film?