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The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

A spoiler-free guide to the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise

The Hustler’s resident Friday the 13th apologist explains the highs and lows of the series.
Sofia El-Shammaa
A graphic depicting icons from the “Friday the 13th” franchise (Hustler Multimedia/Sofia El-Shammaa)

“Friday the 13th” is, in my opinion, the best slasher series. While the quality is inconsistent, the cast and crew change drastically every film and the lore is almost nonexistent — the franchise’s chaos is what makes it so beautiful. I’ve seen all the movies more times than I’d like to admit, but for the uninitiated, I’ve written the ultimate viewing guide, tailored to what you’re looking for.

Before discussing each film, here’s a quick glossary of horror terms:

Sleaze: Films that are “sleazy” are ones with excessive deaths and gore. They are films that make your stomach churn as characters find their dead peers’ gruesome remains.

Scares: The scares in the franchise are mostly jump scares and gore, meaning those who watch a lot of slashers may not find these movies scary.

Camp: Campy films are ones that you can laugh at. Whether it’s a weird dance scene, bad SFX or a ridiculous plotline, these films shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Plot: Movies that are in this category are not necessarily ones with a strong plot. Rather, they’re ones that strongly contribute to the overall plot of the franchise.

Here for the Plot:

If you are interested in understanding the series as a whole, but aren’t ready to commit to watching twelve movies, there are a few movies with plots that carry over. I’ve created two versions of optimal watching order, excluding movies that are not absolutely integral to understanding the developments of the franchise.

Full Version (total time: 7 hours, 31 minutes):

  • “Friday the 13th”
  •  “Friday the 13th Part II”
  • “Friday the 13: The Final Chapter”
  • “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning”
  • “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” 

Abridged (total time: 4 hours, 24 minutes)

  • “Part II”
  • “The Final Chapter”
  • “Jason Lives”

 These films have a protagonist (Tommy Jarvis) that returns in an attempt to put Jason Voorhees, the series’ main antagonist and hockey mask afficionado, and his trauma to rest. Tommy is the closest “Friday the 13th” has to a Nancy Thompson or a Laurie Strode (as in, a recurring final girl/protagonist). There are two versions, one being an abridged version. The reason I recommend to start with Part I or II, even though Tommy doesn’t show up until IV, is because they allow you to understand Jason Voorhees’ backstory and motivation. 

“Friday the 13th” (1980) (95 minutes) — Watch for the scares and plot 

The creation of the first film in the series was prompted by the success of “Halloween” (1978). “Friday the 13th” is still one of the most successful and influential independent horror films of all time. Barry Abrams’ cinematography, likely inspired by the original “Psycho,” employs plenty of point-of-view shots from the killer’s perspective, which I am a sucker for. While “Psycho” was a key originator of the shot, “Friday the 13th” helped popularize it. Many non-franchised slashers released after 1980 included them, cementing the whodunit element eventually satirized in “Scream.” While not the best film in the series by a long shot, it’s a solid entry.

“Friday the 13th Part II” (87 minutes) — Watch for scares, camp and plot

The second film takes the best parts of the first film and improves upon them immensely. Its final girl (name redacted for spoilers) is easily my favorite final girl of all time. The way she defeats the killer is incredibly unique and works as a perfect resolution. It is much campier than the first film in a beautiful way. If you are only going to watch one film, this should be it.

“Friday the 13th Part III” (95 minutes) — Watch for sleaze and scares 

Part III was originally released as a 3D film, which I am incredibly sad to have missed out on. It was meant to follow the previous film’s final girl once again, but that was scrapped once her actress declined to reprise her role. Part III has the most on-screen deaths of the series so far. While it certainly is a solid movie, it lacks a solid amount of camp or world-building that Part II had. However, Jason does finally get his iconic hockey mask (yes, it took three movies), which is definitely an important milestone.

“Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (91 minutes) — Watch for sleaze, scares, plot and camp 

As indicated by the title, this was meant to be the end of the series, and if it was, it would be a great send-off. The original make-up artist, Tom Savini, returned, and Tommy Jarvis’ obsession with creating macabre masks was a homage to Savini. Tommy also serves as a parallel to Jason, especially considering that Jason’s first appearance in the series was him as a child.

Despite the intention to focus on melodrama and plot, there still is plenty of camp. Jimmy’s dance scene is in my personal camp hall of fame.

“Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” (92 minutes) — Watch for sleaze, plot and camp 

This film is easily the sleaziest so far, having almost twice the kills as its predecessors. It follows a traumatized, teenage Tommy while he recovers in the Pinehurst Halfway House. He meets his fellow patients, staff and Reggie “the Reckless” (yet another child, played by Shavar Ross), and the characters are undeveloped but memorable. This film is mostly focused on the kills and camp. If you want a goofy, gruesome film, this is a great choice.

“Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” (86 minutes) — Watch for sleaze, scares, camp and plot 

Part VI is very, very close to defeating Part II for the best film in the series. The movie returns to Camp Crystal Lake (now called Camp Forest Green). It’s full of meta humor — a decade before “Scream” became famous for it. While building a world that has existed for five previous movies is difficult, it’s done well, especially compared to later entries in the franchise.

Part VI was the first film to receive critical success after Part II, and while I usually recommend ignoring a mainstream critic’s opinion on slashers, I think that the acclaim confirms this film’s broad appeal. I would recommend seeing at least Parts II and IV to appreciate the build-up.

“Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (88 minutes) — Watch for the camp 

Not everybody will love this movie.The best way to describe this film is Carrie versus Jason. While that may sound absurd, it is executed in a way that is perfectly camp.  This brand of camp doesn’t have broad appeal; some will find it tedious. But if a hodgepodge of the original “Firestarter,” “Carrie” and “Jaws” sounds like a fun time, you’ll probably enjoy this film.

This movie is the first one to feature Kane Hodder as Jason, the only actor to reprise the role, and his experience as a stuntman makes him perfect for the role of the silent killer. Additionally, the make-up in this movie is some of the best. 

“Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” (100 minutes) — Watch for sleaze and camp

Despite being ranked the second lowest, I still enjoy Part VIII. It perfectly encapsulates the grungy, punk feel of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. There are women randomly playing guitars, toxic waste and punks that kidnap people. Like the previous installment, there’s a lot of camp, but it combines that with plenty of sleaze. Like Part VII, I really enjoy the special effects, and most of the films are consistent with their makeup and SFX. What I will say against the film is its run-time. I think that conventional slashers shouldn’t be much longer than 90 minutes as it is hard to maintain tension for that long.

“Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” (88 minutes) — Don’t Watch, It’s Not Worth It 

“Final Friday” is the only film in the franchise that I hate. I think that while most films can at least fall back on their campy nature, this one is a failure on every level. When you look at the poster for this movie, you’d think that this would be a goofy ’90s flick, but it’s depressingly incompetent.

This movie tries to take the “evil incarnate” route with Jason. What sets Jason apart from his contemporaries is that unlike Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger, he’s not a demon, he’s just a normal person. Sure, Jason’s a superpowered, unkillable and insanely powerful guy, but he’s still a guy. In the earlier films, he’s bumbling and has weaknesses. “The Final Friday” pigeonholes him into being this great force of evil, and it feels disconnected from the rest of the franchise.

If this movie was campy, at least you could laugh at the Jason Worm, but it takes itself too seriously (which is seemingly impossible when the main antagonist is Jason as a worm). Overall, it’s not worth it. 

“Jason X” (92 minutes) — Watch for sleaze and camp 

At this point, there are 10 movies, and even I have to admit that the series has done as much as they can. Naturally, this film is a beautiful ending to the series, where Jason returns to Crystal Lake and pays homage to the second film. Oh, wait, I’m thinking of Part VI. No, in “Jason X” he goes to space and becomes a cyborg. The film refuses to take itself seriously, which, at the tenth installment in a franchise well past its prime, is a relief. It’s not trying to be scary, it’s not even trying to be good, it’s just trying to have fun, and I think it succeeds. 

Bonus Rounds: “Freddy vs. Jason” (98 minutes) and “Friday the 13th” (2009) (97 minutes)

“Freddy vs. Jason” is a good time. I think that Ronny Yu was a great choice for director as he also directed the camptastic “Bride of Chucky.” Was it worth the “Final Friday” (which set up “Freddy vs. Jason”)? No, absolutely not.

As for the remake, I am split. It may be the last film we get, but it’s such an underwhelming film to end on. It’s not camp, but it’s not atrocious like “Final Friday” was. At least that would be an ending. I think the fact that I am drawn to write about what it means for the franchise rather than the film itself shows that it is so very forgettable.

“Friday the 13th” fans have been starved for mainline movie content since “Jason X” was released over 20 years ago. While there have been many books, comics, video games and a television series to help fill the void, we’ll have to wait for the next “Jason Lives,” if one ever comes at all. The movies aren’t for everyone, but they’re usually full of elements of camp and sleaze, with a side of substance. They’re perfect for a horror movie night, especially when Friday the 13th even falls in October this year.

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About the Contributor
Sofia El-Shammaa
Sofia El-Shammaa, Staff Writer and Photographer, Data and Graphics Staffer
Sofia El-Shammaa (‘27) is majoring in political science and communication studies in the College of Arts and Science. When they’re not writing or making graphics, you can find them with their cat, Mochi, watching bad movies or reading good books. You can reach them at [email protected].
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