Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
When I was younger this entry quickly became my favorite of the series for the simple reason that it added a girl with telekinetic powers into the mix of what was otherwise a very straightforward slasher series. It’s an absolutely ridiculous concept, and subsequent rewatches have tarnished the charm more than a little, but it remains a fascinating and wholly unexpected zigzag. That said, good god is this a dumb movie. There’s not a single likable character here, and the writing is as idiotic as it comes thanks to an ending that posits that Tina’s father, who died in the lake a decade prior, would not only still be down there but would be in near perfect physical condition. And then it gets even dumber.
Best kill: Poor Judy gets slammed against a tree in her sleeping bag
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
The makers of part 8 saw a particular challenge set before them in trying to make a movie even more idiotic than part 7. They succeed wildly. Not only do we get a young woman haunted by the ghost of young Jason (who never died so what the what?), but we also get the least convincing portrayal of New York City ever captured on film. (And I’ve seen Rumble In the Bronx.) Five minutes in Times Square aside, the streets are all the same few back alleys, we’re asked to believe toxic waste flows through the sewers on a nightly basis, and the cop with dialogue sounds like the most Canadian police officer since Dudley Do-Right. You’d almost think this whole thing was filmed in Vancouver. Ahem. On the bright side, after seven films someone finally decides the best way to defeat Jason is to box with him.
Best kill: Julius gets his block knocked off with an uppercut
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
It’s almost impressive how much of a nosedive this film takes after what may be one of the best opening sequences of the series. Seriously. The initial setup seems to fall in line with everything we expect, but when the SWAT team’s sting operation is revealed and Jason is blown to bits it’s as absolutely bonkers as the introduction of a girl with psychic powers. And then the rest of the movie devolves into body swapping hijinx that fails to even reach Kirk Cameron/Dudley Moore levels of awful alongside a storyline that makes so little sense it’s not even laughable.
Best kill: Shelby gets burned in the deep fat fryer and on a sizzling skillet
Jason X (2001)
It’s four centuries into the future, and Ja-wait, WTF? Space! Sure, why not. And to be honest they had me with David Cronenberg appearing onscreen as yet another crazy as hell doctor. Now had he pulled out his own Dr. Decker mask and gone blade to blade with Jason we’d have the best entry in the series, but that was not to be, so instead we have a lesser effort that gets by on some fun kills, some cheesy effects, a fantastically self-aware visit to the holodeck, and the fact that it’s set four goddamn centuries into the future.
Best kill: Adrienne has her face frozen in a convenient pool of liquid nitrogen then smashed to pieces
Freddy vs Jason (2003)
Ten years after Freddy’s glove pulled Jason’s mask into the earth at the end of part 9, the two terror titans finally get to square off, and the result is pretty okay. Director Ronny Yu tries to bring the same sensibilities to this rebirth that he managed with Bride of Chucky, but it never reaches that film’s mix of smarts, laughs, and violence. It’s still good fun though.
Best kill: None of the kills here are all that great, but ripping off Freddy’s arm and then stabbing him with his own glove is pretty cool
Friday the 13th (2009)
Platinum Dunes is not a production company that should instill anything resembling confidence into people, but, and I know this puts me in the minority, they delivered a pretty great reboot here. Director Marcus Nispel finds the terror that’s been missing from the series since part 2 and delivers a truly scary Jason. Credit goes to Derek Mears, who dons the mask (and the sack) and creates a frighteningly formidable presence in the form of his quick-moving and highly imposing Jason. Kane Hodder seems to be everyone’s favorite, but Mears sell the terrifying nature of Jason like nobody else. The film is loaded with great kills, copious nudity, and some legitimate surprises along the way before faltering in literally its final minute.
Best kill: A topless Chelsea, thinking she’s escaped Jason’s wrath, is killed with a quick machete jab through the top of her skull that lifts her (conveniently) out of the water before letting her fall beneath the surface dead
Finally, just because it’s a thing people do, here’s my ranking of the original ten films in the series. (I’m excluding Freddy vs Jason and the 2009 reboot for reasons, but if the latter were included know that it would be towards the top.) From best to worst: 1 > 2 > 6 > 4 > 10 > 7 > 5 > 3 > 9 > 8
That seems right.
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th
When it comes to special features on Blu-rays and DVDs behind the scenes segments rank down there with photo galleries as far as extras I usually couldn’t care less about. The longer the featurette, though, the more interested I get, and this is nowhere more evident than in the handful of truly excellent feature-length making-of documentaries floating around. From Lost In La Mancha to The Hamster Factory and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys (both made by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe), there are great and fascinating works of art that exist solely as examinations into other works of art and the artists behind them. Of course, a closer example to the documentary at hand would be the excellent four hour Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy.
The makers of that Freddy-centric doc, Daniel Farrands and Thommy Hutson, return with an equally in-depth look at the Friday the 13th films. Divided into chapters, one per film, this doc becomes an essential source of material and information for fans of the series. Interviews with dozens of players illustrate each film’s production covering details big and small. We learn how the whole thing got started and hear from everyone from directors to writers to effects guys to the cast, and the anecdotes are engrossing and consistently fun.
Information as innocuous as the fact that “Jason” was almost “Josh” exists alongside more serious revelations like that of Adrienne King’s brush with a violent stalker. Disagreements abound as participants let loose with their thoughts on the films’ logic, Jason’s hockey mask, and what they thought of each other. Not surprisingly most of them have nothing but love for everyone, but some are more candid than others. Ted White played Jason in Part 4, and he has some hilarious thoughts on little Corey Feldman. Their inclusion here is especially funny as Feldman actually narrates the entire doc.
It’s a treasure trove of information spread across two discs (the set contains two Blu-rays and two DVDs), and while certain parties declined to participate those who did more than make up for their absence. It is fun to hear Feldman talking about actors who treat their Friday the 13th past as if it was shadowy porn while images of Crispin Glover, Kevin Bacon, and Tony Goldwyn appear onscreen. (Their refusal to participate is dumb but understandable, but where’s Steve Miner?) Again though, even without them this nearly seven hour doc is never boring and consistently engaging and illustrative of the enthusiasm, creativity, and professionalism that both cast and crew put into the films.
The Bottom Line
As a big horror fan I love both of these releases, but only one of them is a must buy. Crystal Lake Memories is that one as it manages to both entertain and enlighten in equal measure as it answers questions you didn’t even know you had. There’s some fascinating history behind the Friday the 13th franchise, and this doc does a great job of ferreting most of it out from the participants. The Complete Collection though is a bit of a mixed bag, and while I personally think fans will want to pick it up its faults are understandably enough for anyone who decides to pass. It’s most likely the last and best collection the franchise will ever see though so plan accordingly.
Buy Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection from Amazon.
Buy Crystal Lake Memories from Amazon.