For the past few decades, Hollywood has increasingly remade or rebooted its more famous stories at an ever-increasing rate. While this can be attributed to cashing in on brand-name recognition or nostalgia (or creative bankruptcy, as some might say), it does allow us to see how a story can be told in two different ways, for better or worse. Sometimes the remake is an almost straight-up copy, while the other goes for a radically different interpretation. Even rarer is the example of one story told more than twice, or even three times (how many Spider-Man origin stories do we have, now?). The original ‘Friday the 13th’ falls into that elusive category.
Over the past three weeks, we’ve taken a look at the three adaptions of Jason’s origin story. If, by chance you missed them, here’s some handy links:
When comparing all three, one major factor keeps coming up: When you take away everything connecting the stories to the franchise at large, they are largely generic slasher tales: Everything else about them, the remote location, young adults being picked off one by one, a mysterious killer, the final girl, etc. can be found in any horror, slasher, or thriller. But what elevates the 1980 and 2019 versions is their killer, Ms. Voorhees. Unlike so many other slasher villains (including her son), she elevates herself not by being a bloodthirsty savage with an absurd body count, but by being a sympathetic killer, a mother consumed by grief and rage who wants both vengeance and to spare other children from the stupidity of horny camp counselors.
Thus, the ultimate takeaway from the original ‘Friday’ is the importance of giving our killers more motivation beyond, ‘kill, kill, KILL!’ Unless we’re writing inhuman monsters like a shark, an alien, or an elder god from a forgotten faith, it’s imperative to give them a relatable objective. Maybe they’re killing to avenge loved ones, or to get revenge on those who wronged them. They might kill because they’re mentally ill and believe they’re pleasing their overcontrolling parents. Maybe they’ve come from the future to kill all those who will one day be part of a dictatorship that rules the world. Perhaps they’re killing to prevent people from finding an ancient and dangerous artifact that could destroy the world. Or maybe they’re convinced they’re doing God’s will and killing people they think God hates.
Whatever the reason for embarking on a murder spree, giving killers a motivation we can understand helps us make them stand out, even if the story they’re in is typical and unremarkable. There will always be room for killers who are unknowable forces of pure evil (Michael Meyers comes to mind), but those who we can help our readers identify with will stay with them long after the killings end.