If you’re like me you probably spent the morning wishing Hollywood was smart enough to release a horror film on Friday the 13th before realizing that they did, only to watch the trailer for The Darkness and decide you’ll catch it at the dollar theater in a week or two.
But enough about the current state of studio horror cinema. Let’s go backwards into the past with a look at one of the most popular horror franchises ever – Friday the 13th. The first Halloween is better than any of these, but that series only has three worthwhile entries. Child’s Play managed some fun beats, but a doll in overalls never stood a chance at being scary. The Leprechaun films were never any good. I could go on, but I won’t. It’s Friday the 13th, so here’s our ranking of all twelve Friday the 13th movies.
12. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
The makers of part VIII saw a particular challenge set before them in trying to make a movie even more outside the box than part VII, and they succeed wildly. Not only do we get a young woman haunted by the ghost of young Jason (who never died in the first place so…?), 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 only NYC cop with dialogue sounds like the most Canadian police officer since Dudley Do-Right. And that’s just in the final thirty minutes as it takes the film an hour to reach the city via the world’s most irresponsible cruise line. On the bright side, after seven films someone finally decides the best way to defeat Jason is to box with him.
11. 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 an absolutely bonkers delight. 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.
10. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
While this installment would have existed even without the introduction of 3D it feels from beginning to end like a cash grab meant to sucker fans of both Jason and the extra dimension of kills. Steve Miner returns in the director’s chair (after the superior part II), but he’s already a defeated man resulting in a bland rehash of ideas and scenes. We get five minutes of recap, a heroine who tries to fight Jason with the power of literacy by dumping a bookshelf on him, and visible strings on several of the items leaping toward the screen. And half the kills take place in the damn barn, contributing to an incredibly bland entry overall.
9. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
Tommy Jarvis is all grown up and living in a home for special teens who used to be Corey Feldman, but just because Jason was cremated after Part IV doesn’t mean the masked madman is done yet. Or does it? The correct answer is yes and no, but while the film earns points for trying to revisit the mystery format used so much better in part I it loses them all again through poor execution. Who’s the killer?!?! If you guessed Dudley from Diff’rent Strokes then you’re my kind of film fan, but sadly that’s not the case. Add in a ridiculously cartoonish redneck mother and son, a sleazy atmosphere, and some damn enchiladas, and you have one of the weaker entries in the series.
8. Freddy vs Jason (2003)
Ten years after Freddy’s glove pulled Jason’s mask into the earth at the end of part IX, the two terror titans finally get to square off, and the result is pretty nutty… except that it’s far more of a Nightmare on Elm Street movie than a Friday the 13th. Director Ronny Yu tries to bring the same sensibilities to this rebirth that he managed with Bride of Chucky, but even though it never quite reaches that film’s mix of smarts, laughs, and violence there’s still goofy laughs and gory violence to be found.
7. 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 re-watches 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 fun setup quickly devolves into therapy session arguments and pure idiocy. It gets even dumber from there, but there’s still something fun to the final face-off between Jason and the moody teen with telekinesis.
6. 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. That is bonkers and simply must be respected.
5. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
The hilariously-subtitled part IV features flashbacks to parts I and II, and in a bravura move even manages to embed flashbacks into other flashbacks. Genius! That aside though it’s actually a noticeable step up from part III thanks to the arrival of the series’ first actual child (Corey Feldman) and the turn the story takes when Jason crosses paths with little Tommy Jarvis. Also, Crispin Glover dancing!
4. Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986)
I’m all for changing up the formula, but no nudity? Did someone forget it was the 80s and that they were making a slasher movie? Not cool writer/director Tom McLoughlin, not cool. And if Jason was cremated after part IV then isn’t the body here actually the distraught father from part V? Whatever, there’s Horseshack! On the plus side there are plenty of fun, gory kills here, and McLoughlin delivers a surprisingly atypical sense of humor resulting in an entertaining ride.
3. Friday the 13th (1980)
Sean S. Cunningham’s original creation has stood the test of time and remains the one of the best of the series, and that’s at least in part because it acts as something of a mystery in addition to being a gory slasher film. (Granted, it’s not a proper mystery if the killer isn’t even a character until the final act.) Both Black Christmas and Halloween predate it, but the film made its mark through gory kills and its trend-setting shocker ending. Plus a young Kevin Bacon being stung by Cupid’s arrow!
2. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
The inevitable sequel to the surprise hit faced a bit of a challenge in that the killer was offed at the end of the first film. The series would go on to prove just how laughable of a problem that is these days, but at the time it was a bit of a stumbling block. Enter a grown up Jason seeking revenge for his mother’s beheading. (Interestingly, this made make-up artist Tom Savini pass on return duty for the film as it made little narrative sense to him.) The bigger surprise though is that director Steve Miner’s movie is actually damn good and holds up just as well as the original. Not coincidentally, it’s also one of the scariest. Jason has the whole Town That Dreaded Sundown look going for him which will always be more frightening than a hockey mask, and the final jump scare is a wonderfully creepy doozy. Plus, and this really can’t be understated, killing off the guy in the wheelchair is an incredibly progressive move.
1. 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 great goddamn reboot here. Director Marcus Nispel finds the legitimate terror that’s been missing from the series since part II and delivers a truly scary Jason. Additional 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, and he’s great, but Mears sell the terrifying nature of Jason like nobody else. The film is loaded with great kills, copious 80s inspired nudity, and some legitimate surprises along the way before admittedly stumbling somewhat in literally its final minute. Still, it’s far better than most people give it credit for, it’s a wonderfully gory slasher, and it’s the “best” of the franchise.