October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article ranking the ten best films in the Friday the 13th franchise is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Ki ki ki, ma ma ma. Immediately, the bloodshed poured when ranking the ten best Friday the 13th films. Including the remake, there are only twelve movies to consider. That meant two got the ax, and their deaths were unfortunate but necessary. Our camp counselors considered and rejected a New Beginning for the fifth franchise entry. No Jason, no thank you. Friday the 13th Part III, its mastery (or lack of mastery) over the third dimension put it in the ground second. We expect more from our gimmicks, apparently.
Ranking the rest proved challenging, and some placements, undoubtedly, will surprise. Who comes to a Friday the 13th for routine, though? We expect slaughter, sure, but when it arrives, it better outperform the last one. If not splashier, more clever. If not more clever, more absurd.
What’s evident from the selections below is that we love this Jason Voorhees fellow and the formula that stalks behind him. There’s comfort in his mission to purge the sinners from Crystal Lake. These movies put us in a time and a place, an era when the slasher was starting to explode and envelope the bloody red nineteen-eighties.
Our Boo Crew (Rob Hunter, Chris Coffel, Meg Shields, Jacob Trussell, and myself) listened to their mothers. We evaluated what each of these movies had to contribute to society and determined which exemplified Crazy Ralph’s infamous death curse. They’re a shaggy lot, ugly even. But like Mrs. Voorhees, we love ’em.
10. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Let’s start with Paramount dumping the franchise and New Line Cinema swooping into the rescue. From the second the switch was announced, fans were speculating about Jason Voorhees’ inevitable clash with that other New Line slasher, Freddy Krueger. The excitement around the possibility was so intense that folks were barely paying attention to Jason Goes to Hell, merely purchasing tickets so they could see that final moment with the glove.
Then, there’s the misdirection with the title. Jason Goes to Hell. Not really. He supposedly dies, jumps from body to body, kills the usual idiots, and then gets pulled to oblivion at the very end, where he’ll apparently meet up with Freddy Krueger. Although, when they finally do meet, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with this film’s events. Obviously, we don’t think Jason Goes to Hell is the worst entry in the Friday franchise, and there are some great bits within it, but the noise around Freddy Krueger and the lack of hellbound action disappoints and frustrates. (Brad Gullickson)
9. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
I understand that lots of people aren’t fans of Jason Takes Manhattan. But I also understand that people, by and large, are stupid. I’ll concede that the title is a bit misleading and a more apt choice would’ve been Jason Takes a Boat to Manhattan, but outside of that minor quibble, this eighth installment of the Friday the 13th series is damn near perfect. The movie opens with Jason’s dead body being shocked back to life by underwater cables that are damaged by a boat anchor. The ever-sneaky Jason proceeds to sneak aboard a high school senior boat cruise headed for Manhattan. Naturally, Jason offs some high schoolers. Jason kills a guitarist with her guitar (while she’s just trying to rock out in the lower levels of the boat), kicks a boombox, and punches a dude’s head off with a single punch! Come on guys, it’s a great movie. (Chris Coffel)
8. Friday the 13th (1980)
Yes, I’m shocked to see the OG ranked this low on this list. You too, probably. Its placement here reflects the problems with a democracy. Sometimes, the votes are just not there for your baby, which means you’ll have to fight for them harder during the next round of elections.
Friday the 13th is an exceptionally cheap thriller that masterfully establishes the direction for this franchise while delivering kills that most of the sequels can’t top. Harry Manfredini‘s score is iconic, parodied endlessly, and never surpassed. The psycho-killer reveal remains powerful, underscored wickedly by Betsy Palmer‘s performance. And the final jump scare ranks as one of cinema’s very best. Eighth place, really? Is it too late to demand a recount? (Brad Gullickson)
7. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Versus movies are impossible endeavors. Alien vs. Predator. King Kong vs. Godzilla. Kramer vs. Kramer. The fandoms spend years contemplating the outcome. They’ve played out the bouts in their imaginations and have definitive answers as to who wields the mightiest power sets. The studios making the movies don’t want to upset either side, so both combatants have to get their licks in, and no winner is decided.
Freddy vs. Jason certainly suffers from the versus disease, but you can’t be mad about it either. It’s simply too cool to see them on the screen together. Yes, it’s unfortunate that Kane Hodder was denied his time under the mask, especially when you see how much fun Robert Englund is having. However, Ken Kirzinger is a lumbering, scary brute, and his stiffness plays extremely well against his jittery opponent. The only other person having as much fun as Freddy is director Ronny Yu, who injects more style into the franchise than any previous director. This flick is slick. (Brad Gullickson)
6. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
A person’s ranking of the Friday the 13th franchise is as personal as it gets and tells you all you need to know about their tastes, personality, and proclivities. That’s probably an exaggeration, but I’m also someone who thinks the 2009 reboot is the series’ best entry, so make of it what you will. While most fans tend to deride the seventh film, it’s also one of my favorites as, like Jason X, it thinks outside the box to get nutty with the franchise’s formula.
This time around, Jason’s fighting more than just horny teens or budding makeup artists – he’s going head to head with a Carrie ripoff named Tina, a disturbed teen with telekinetic powers. How and why the rest of you don’t see this as utterly awesome, I’ll never understand. We still get bloody kills, nekkid horndogs, and some fun stalk & slash sequences, but now they’re joined by a girl who fights back by throwing shit at Jason with her mind! A wonderfully smarmy Terry Kiser doesn’t hurt either. (Rob Hunter)
5. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Never mind A New Beginning. Let’s pretend it never happened. Tommy is out of the hospital. He’s doing great. He’s got the body of Jason Voorhees, and he’s finally going to vaporize it from existence. Unfortunately, his attempt to do so has the opposite effect, and Jason resurrects for another good old-fashioned Crystal Lake killing spree.
Jason Lives is a bit of a return to form for the Friday franchise. It certainly doesn’t have the best kills or characters, but both are passable. Sure, our emotions are still mainly tied to how much we enjoyed Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (more on that one in a bit), but Thom Mathews as Tommy secures just enough empathy to remind us that he and Corey Feldman are one and the same. He has more victory here than his younger self, at least. Jason is shown to return in the film’s last moments, but Tommy has kept his marbles this time around. (Brad Gullickson)
4. Jason X (2002)
500 years from now, Earth exists as a field trip for high schoolers. Come see the polluted mess humans made of their homeworld and learn the lessons they couldn’t. Oh, and avoid the immortal killer haunting Crystal Lake. Foolishly, these sci-fi teachers drag the cryogenically frozen Jason Voorhees upon their vessel and, after a little poking and prodding, wake the beast. Their futuristic advancements are no match for Jason’s determination, and he slowly hacks his way through the cast. Jason X is a profoundly silly entry within the franchise, and you can understand why some would dismiss its buffoonery, but with a willing spirit, the space-set slasher is a hoot. If David Cronenberg can be in on the joke and lend his body for a cameo, you can vibe with the film too. (Brad Gullickson)
3. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
We get a lot of versions of Jason Voorhees throughout the franchise — dead kid in a lake, hulking zombie on a boat — but we never got Giallo Jason like we do in Friday the 13th Part 2. The opening sequence, as the final girl from the first installment, Alice (Adrienne King), gets a brutal screwdriver to the temple, drips with all the tension of Italian masters like Dario Argento. It’s this tension that gives the franchise’s first sequel its distinct character. While Jason Voorhees would evolve, growing more ferocious as his undead body rotted, here the terror is given more room to build to a satisfying crescendo, rather than throwing buckets of blood gleefully at the screen. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. (Jacob Trussell)
2. Friday the 13th (2009)
Look, I’m as surprised as the rest of you. But the fact of the matter is that the 2009 Friday the 13th re-quel is, despite all odds, very good. I wouldn’t begrudge you for wincing instinctively at the “in association with Michael Bay” credit. But brace for impact, because this brutal, shockingly well-shot slasher is a textbook example of how to revisit a classic horror franchise. The plot, such as it is, follows two groups of sarcastically shitty kids who find themselves on the pointy end of Jason’s machete. The first group meets a grisly end before the opening credits have cooled. But don’t worry, a fresh batch is just on the horizon, joined by a determined brother (Jared Padalecki) who’s pretty sure his missing sister is still somewhere at Crystal Lake. Because Marcus Nispel’s unrelentingly violent take on the slasher classic was shot on film, it looks like a fucking Rembrandt. And that lends a certain class to the (surely) satirical chicanery on display (e.g. getting impaled through the chest while complementing the woman you’re shtupping on the placement of her nipples). Also, you cannot tell me that that mystery forest weed wasn’t Jason’s grow-op. Let the undead man cook! (Meg Shields)
1. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Let’s be honest: The Final Chapter should rank above the rest based on Crispin Glover‘s iconic dance moves alone. The rapid jolts, the commitment, the confidence. Legendary. Remove the groove; the fourth Friday the 13th remains supreme, however. After three rounds with Jason Voorhees, the fanbase began their fantasies. How would I behave inside this franchise? What would I do if the hockey mask materialized from the shadows before me? Corey Feldman‘s Tommy is our proxy. He’s the horror hound who finds himself inside the movies he adores. It’s scary as hell. His family is at risk, but he’s spent his entire life training for this moment, and he excels as a result. He’s been empathizing with beasts practically from birth, and this skill rapidly allows him to insert himself into Jason’s perspective. And this insight is sharper than any machete, cutting the supernatural slasher far deeper. (Brad Gullickson)
Don’t wait until the next Friday the 13th to read more 31 Days of Horror Lists!