Favorite Moments: ‘Jason takes NASA’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The video:

Why it’s great:

Years before he blasted off into outer space and became an undead cyborg, Jason Voorhees’ exploits were confined to terra firma. But in 1995, MADTV had Jason head off to the stars. While quite tame by ‘Friday’ standards, this is still a great little clip (especially the mission controller having to constantly revise his inspirational mantra based on Jason’s bodycount), and one can’t help but wonder if the writers of ‘Jason X’ saw this sketch and thought to themselves, ‘hey, that’s not a bad idea!’. Whether it happened or not, it’s amusing how this sketch unknowingly predicted the future of the ‘Friday’ franchise, thus becoming a great example of media unknowingly predicting something that would later come true.

Three Fridays: A Comparison of ‘Friday the 13’ – Finale

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:

The 1980 film

The 2009 remake

The 2019 comic

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.

Three Fridays: A Comparison of ‘Friday the 13th’ – Part 3

Four months ago, I had no interest in the Friday the 13th series. Yes, I had seen ‘Freddy vs Jason’ on a whim, and I knew that Jason was a near-invincible zombie killer who had slaughtered hundreds of horny teenagers over the years, but that was the extent of my knowledge and interest in his movies. But as I mentioned in my overview of the 1980 movie, I came across a fan-made adaptation of said film. Out of curiosity, I gave it a try, and was hooked, making me curious to see how it compared to the film and the 2009 remake. Today, we’re going to take a look a this adaptation: A fan comic re-imagening the events of ‘Friday the 13th’:

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Click here to read the comic

This comic, created by artist David Hopkins – a furry artist best known for his long running web comic, ‘Jack’ – immediately stands out because the cast are no longer human, but anthropomorphic animals. But don’t let the sight of cute cartoon animals in people clothes fool you: This is easily the bloodiest take on the original ‘Friday’ story. Much like the 1980 movie, the comic tells the origin story of Jason Voorhees and his mother. And, like the best remakes, it takes the original story and reinterprets it in interesting ways. Here, there’s no twenty-year gap between Jason’s death and his mother’s rampage, and unlike the 1980 and 2009 films, where Jason only pops up after Pamela is killed, both of them work together throughout the story to kill counselors, acting like a ghoulish version of Bonnie and Clyde. The other, most significant addition to this take on the story is it’s religious tone: While Jason’s survival was unexplained in the original film, his resurrection here is due to Pamela making a deal with the devil to bring him back to life (in a smart move, the devil is never heard or seen, making him an unseen menace).

The compressed timeline and supernatural elements gives this version of ‘Friday’ refreshingly different from the original, but what elevates it above being a simple slasher story is how most of its focus is on Pamela Voorhees. While she infamously only appeared in the final act of the original film without any foreshadowing, the comic makes her the main character instead of the counselors, letting us learn much more about her: In this interpretation, Pamela is a former member of a group of devil worshippers who eventually left and became a Christian, who then suffers from a horrific crisis of faith when Jason dies, and then backsliding when her pleas to God to bring Jason back aren’t answered.

This expanded focus on Pamela turns her from an already compelling and relatable character into a complex, fascinating individual who is bloodthirsty and ruthless, deeply loving, misguided, and even regretful about what she’s done. It’s easy to understand and related to her pain and goals for vengeance, even as she kills innocent counselors in truly horrific ways.

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Yet, despite all the horror and the gore here, there’s a strong undercurrent of innocence and tragedy here: there are no true villains in the story, only victims. Yes, Pamela stabs, burns, impales, and disembowels teenagers, but only to bring her son back, and ensure that no other children will die from the counselor’s stupidity. The counselors, while having severe lapses in judgement, aren’t evil and care about the kids under their care. Jason becomes a killer, but only at his mother’s urging. And in the end, Pamela has a moment of clarity about what she’s done, but dies and is damned. Jason loses his mother, and Alice is left shell-shocked and a nervous wreck. No one wins, and everyone suffers, turning ‘Friday’ into a tragedy of poor choices, suffering, and loss… but, you know, with cartoon animals!

While I prefer this comic over the 1980 and 2009 films, it does have a few missteps: At one point, Pamela tells Jason that they can kill everyone in the world, which doesn’t make much sense for a woman who initially only wanted to leave Crystal Lake with Jason, and then wanted to get revenge on a specific group of individuals for letting Jason die. Pamela’s famous scene, where she seems to channel Jason while trying to kill Alice doesn’t make any sense here: the film implied that Pamela was losing her mind, but in the comic Jason is right outside the building, making the line and Pamela’s seeming possession unnecessary and confusing.

Still, despite these missteps, this adaptation of ‘Friday’ elevates itself above standard slasher fare by focusing on Pamela and giving her a depth and richness that the films haven’t. Coupled with the grotesque, bloody kills, tight focus, and good pacing, this re-imagining of Jason’s origins is, in my opinion, the best of the three ‘Friday’ origin stories. If you’re looking for a slasher story with an uncommon depth, or a great ‘Friday’ tale, this will easily satisfy that need.

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Now that we’ve taken a look at all three of Jason’s origin stories, all that remains is to done final summary of them all and see what lessons they offer for the writer, a task we’ll dive into next week.

If you’d like to see more of David Hopkins’ work, you can visit his Furaffinity page here. If you’d like to read his JACK webcomic, you can do so here.

(All art on this page is posted with permission from Mr. Hopkins)

Three Fridays: A Comparison of ‘Friday the 13th’ – Part 2

When I finished taking a look at the original ‘Friday the 13th’ last week, I hoped that the 2009 remake would offer a new twist or angle on the story, or perhaps a new idea that would add to the Jason mythos. And at first glance, it sounded like the movie had everything going for it: a bigger budget, a bigger scope, and including elements from the first few films. Thus, with the disappointment of the original still fresh in my mind, I started the remake, hopeful that I’d get a more exciting version of Jason’s origins.

After a very quick recap of Pamela’s attempt to kill horny teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake, ’13th’ wastes no time in getting to the basics: young adults head out to a remote lake, get drunk, get high, get naked, have premarital sex, and die at Jason’s hands. A familiar formula, but it isn’t a bad thing. I was impressed at how quickly the film got to the killing, and it was quickly made clear that Jason doesn’t mess around: in the span of a few minutes, he wipes out everyone in the small group of horny, drug-seeking young adults in gruesome fashion, including bear traps, machetes, and a particularly horrible, drawn-out death for an unfortunate young woman in a sleeping bag.

And then the opening title appeared; I had been so sucked into the opening act that I was shocked to realize that the film hadn’t even started yet! Now excited, I watched as the movie started up, glad to see that things were going well.

An hour and a half later, I watched the end credits, crushed at being disappointed once again.

As a modern remake and reboot for the Friday the 13th series, ‘Friday’ is a return to the classic elements of the franchise: Camp Crystal Lake, Jason killing with his machete, and his eventual defeat at the hands of a lone, young woman, all in an attempt to leave behind the over-the-top silliness that the franchise became known for, culminating in Jason’s trip to outer space, and facing off against Freddy Kruger. A little housecleaning isn’t a bad move in and of itself: When a series heads back to its roots, it’s a chance for a clean start, and to introduce the series to new fans while honoring what came before and keeping series traditions for the returning fans.

Sadly, however, ‘Friday’s attempts to strip away the over-the-top elements of the franchise also takes away much of what made Jason memorable. Yes, he may have become ridiculous in his later outings, but a demonically-possessed, cyborg zombie Jason is far more interesting to watch, especially when he uses his superhuman durability and strength to perform wildly inventive kills. But by removing the silliness and Jason’s enhanced abilities, ‘Friday’ unfortunately turns itself into a routine slasher movie. As with the original, if we were to take away Jason and Camp Crystal Lake, there would be little left to distinguish itself from its peers: Most of the kills – which revolve around being stabbed, slashed, and impaled with a machete, shot with an arrow, or being stabbed with various items – feel routine and unimaginative (with the exception of the aforementioned sleeping bag kill). The story feels routine, and aside from his new ability to run, Jason himself feels like almost any other slasher villain in hundreds of other horror movies: Just a normal man in a mask who’s strong and tough to kill.

When the credits were rolling, I was struck by how I had to focus to recall any memorable moments that stuck with me, those, ‘that was so cool!’ scenes that we love sharing with our friends later on. To my surprise, the only thing that stuck with me was that I like how the main character, Clay, is a person with a strong, believable reason to go to the hunting grounds of a serial killer (he’s looking for his missing sister), and that, even better, he manages to find and rescue her… until Jason bursts out of the lake at the end of the movie, presumably killing her, and making his whole quest pointless.

While I was hopeful that the 2009 remake of ‘Friday’ would correct the mistakes of its predecessor, I was disappointed to find that it was little more than your typical horror flick, one that happened to have Jason Voorhees in it. It did have a faster pace, more action, more kills, and more of everything to keep our attention (I didn’t fast-forward through it), but there was nothing particularly memorable about it.

But not all is lost; there exists one more version of Friday the 13th, a fan-made version that, in my opinion, tells the best version of Jason’s origin story. Come back next week, where we’ll take a look at this adaptation, which isn’t what you’d expect.

 

What we can learn from ‘Sarah Conner vs. Jason Vorhees’

Ever since his first appearance as a masked killer in the 1981 film ‘Friday the 13th Part 2,’ Jason Vorhees has become the poster child for slashers who take out horny teenagers as brutally (and creatively) as possible. Being such a staple of pop culture, it was inevitable that he’d eventually face off against other pop icons, the most famous being a fight against Freddy Kruger in 2003’s ‘Freddy vs Jason.’ But many of these fights have taken place in fan videos, featuring Michael Myers, Pennywise the Clown, Leatherface, and even Barney the Dinosaur. Today, we’re taking a look at what would happen if Jason Vorhees took on one of the toughest women in cinema: Sarah Conner from ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day,’ courtesy of Youtube creators WTFLOL

Having a plausible explanation as to why two characters are fighting makes it easier to accept such a fight

When most pop culture characters fight, plot usually comes second to seeing them duking it out. But having a strong reason why two different characters from two different universes are fighting each other makes said fights easier to accept. ‘Conner vs. Jason’ has a particularly good one: Sarah, while en-route to foil Cyberdyne yet again, has car trouble and breaks down near Camp Crystal Lake. While searching for help, she comes across helpless campers being slaughtered by Jason, and rushes in to help. Not only is this a plausible way for the two to meet up, but it also helps us root for Sarah by showing how she doesn’t hesitate to help others in trouble, even if she doesn’t know them.

In our own stories, it’s a good idea to set up the fight in a way that feels logical. While it’s tempting to throw your two (or more) duelists together as quickly as possible, setting up why they’re fighting will make your story more believable, and tell your audience that you’ve thought this out beyond the standard, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome if ______ and ______ fought each other!?”

Consider limiting how much of your intercontinuity fight doesn’t revolve around the title characters fighting

Perhaps more than any other type of story, your audience knows exactly what they want when they see a duel film (watching the title characters fighting each other). They won’t be interested in anything else that doesn’t lead up or add to those moments. Thankfully, ‘Conner vs. Jason’ smartly limits those scenes to Sarah going to Crystal Lake, and the camp’s campers being killed off by Jason in quick order, knowing that audiences don’t have any interest in the campers being developed when they’re only going to be killed off.

In our own stories, while some buildup and setting the scene is always necessary, cutting out everything that isn’t necessary to set things up, or that doesn’t relate directly to two famous characters fighting is a good idea; our audience will thank us for getting to what they came to see in a quick and timely manner.

Consider having the nerd help save the day

Pity the poor nerd: this unfortunate character continues to be relentlessly mocked in pop culture, portrayed as being wimps, cowards, and having zero social skills. Yet, don’t underestimate them: while the nerd in ‘Conner vs. Jason’ first comes off as the stereotypical game-obsessed dweeb, he quickly comes through by using his smarts to tell Sarah about Jason’s only weakness, and risks his own life to lure Jason towards said weakness at great risk to himself (and saving Sarah in the process).

While it’s easy to use the nerd as an easy source of humor and comic relief, it’s much better to have them have hidden depths: Nerds may have a love of all things video games, movies, anime, and cartoons, but they’re still people with weaknesses and strengths, and showing those, whether it’s bravery, strength, or resourcefulness will help make them memorable.

Consider poking fun at a character’s mythology in your crossover fight

Little moments of humor can often be the most memorable parts of any story, and in a crossover fight – where drama and strict adherence to the rules of either universe are put aside for the sake of awesomeness – poking fun at both story’s mythologies can make funny moments even funnier: my favorite here comes when the nerd loudly yells about smoking and having lots of premarital sex with naked women, causing Jason to immediately ignore Sarah and head after the nerd. Another has the Terminator, after blowing Jason to pieces, saying his classic trademark about how he’ll be back. Is it cheesy? Yes, but it’s funny, and a good reminder on that we watch these crossovers to see how awesome they are; having some humor – even if it’s slightly out of character – only makes a fun experience even more enjoyable.

Avoid having someone come in and steal a victory at the end of a crossover fight

While having the Terminator suddenly show up to save the day at the end of the video is undeniably awesome (The Terminator vs Jason? Heck yeah!), it does have the unfortunate effect of making the whole ‘Sarah vs. Jason’ fight somewhat pointless, as neither of them determine the outcome. While it’s common for crossover fights to end in a draw (so as to not offend fans of either character by having them be defeated), having neither side winning, or having both off each other, having a third party arrive and end the fight by themselves feels like a cop out. Even Freddy vs Jason made this error by having one of the teens decapitate Freddy at the climax of the big fight, instead of Jason.

When writing our own crossover fights, having them end because of the results of the fighter’s efforts – instead of an outside force – will avoid the feeling of the fighters and the audience being cheated out of a fair match. If you must bring in a third party, foreshadow it before the fight, or at the very beginning (such as how Sarah Conner helps Pops during the Terminator vs Terminator duel in ‘Terminator: Genysis’), but still avoid it if you can.

An Alternate Universe version of ‘Sarah Conner vs. Jason Vorhees’ that learned from its mistakes

While en-route to take out a subdivision of Cyberdyne, Sarah Conner’s car breaks down outside Camp Crystal Lake. Setting out to search for help, she hears helpless campers being slaughtered and runs to help. While she’s too late to save everyone, she does save one nerd from Jason. The two quickly hatch a plan to lure Jason to the camp’s lake, eventually managing to get them there, thanks to the nerd’s smarts, and Sarah’s combat skills.

However, when trying to knock Jason into the water, Sarah – injured from her fight – runs out of ammo for her weapons. Using herself as a battering ram, she tackles Jason, managing to shove him into the water.

The nerd anxiously tries to decide whether he should jump in after Sarah to save her. Then she appears: Injured and bleeding badly, but alive. With Jason defeated and trapped at the bottom of the lake, the nerd helps her back to the camp’s main building to patch her up and call for help. Along the way, he asks if she’s interested in a date, to which she replies that he’d better not hold his breath.

What we can learn from ‘Ator: The Fighting Eagle’

If there’s one film genre the 80’s loved, it was hack-and-slash barbarian fantasy films. There seems to be no end to them, ranging in quality from ‘Conan’ to ‘Yor,’ and ‘Ator, the Fighting Eagle’, a 1982 Italian flick featuring a hunky, muscular, handsome hero out to save a kingdom from an evil ruler who has enslaved the land while wielding a giant sword, facing monsters, and wanting to marry his sister.

Wait, what?

Knowing that ‘Ator’ was chosen as the season finale for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival should give you a clue as to its quality: it’s not a very good movie, and aside from the creepy incest vibe, doesn’t do much to stand out among it’s many competitors. Still, it’s good for some chuckles, and has its fair share of lessons for the aspiring writer. So, with that said, let’s take a look at what it has to offer.

If you include a prologue, keep it brief

Read any writing how-to book, article, or opinion piece, and you’ll be told again and again to avoid prologues, AKA, dumping mountains of backstory and info on the audience. It’s solid advice, but, surprisingly, ‘Ator’ does a good job with its prologue. While cliched (a kingdom has been enslaved and a Chosen One will be born one day to set it free), it sets up the story quickly. But, more importantly, the prologue only gives us the most critical information:

*A land is enslaved by an evil force

*A child will be born to free it.

That’s it. Nothing about bloodlines, the kingdom’s history, how the land was formed, the various gods, religion, etc.

In our own stories, a prologue should be as bare-bones as possible. Keep it brief, tell your audience only what’s relevant to the story’s main problem, and save more background information for later in the story. Some great examples of well-done prologues include Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’, New Line’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, and any of the Star Wars movies.

Be extra-careful including incest in your story

In a field as crowded as barbarian fantasy, ‘Ator’ stands out in a way it probably didn’t intend: by having the main character wanting to marry his sister. Thankfully, they’re not biologically related, but it leaves a creepy vibe that no amount of cute bear cub footage can get rid of, as Ator himself spends the movie fighting to save said sister so they can presumably become husband and wife.

In our own stories, there’s no topic that’s off-limits, but some should be handled very delicately, if at all, and incest is one of them. While the subject itself can be a topic for great drama and conflict (a married couple accidentally finds out that they’re brother and sister and has to deal with that, and the fact that they’ve had kids), how it’s handled is vitally important, and I think there’s two ways to do so:

1. You present the subject matter as a tool to tell a story.

2. You present the subject matter as something you want others to accept.

The first route, I believe, is safer. One memorable episode of the British TV series, ‘New Tricks’ featured a business owner who forced his sister to have an abortion after they had sex. The show didn’t endorse the act, instead using it as the catalyst for the episode’s mystery. Conversely, ‘Ator’ feels like it’s trying to say that incest is okay, even going so far as to reveal that Ator’s ancestors used to allow brothers and sisters to marry each other, making the film almost feel like a pro-incest propaganda piece. That can’t be what the movie intended, but it proves the value of being cautious in how controversial subjects are addressed.

Avoid having a random events plot

Much like ‘Wizards of the Lost Kingdom,’ most of ‘Ator’ feels like filler to kill time. Ator being seduced by a temptress, running away from random warriors in a foggy forest, and having his partner be trapped in a cave feel like time-killers that were put in without much consideration as to how they would tie into Ator’s quest to save his sister and the kingdom.

In our own stories, keeping all the events that happen in your story related to main quest/plot subtly tells your audience that you know where you’re going, and they’re more likely to hang around to see what’s going to happen. While it’s okay to occasionally have a random action sequence that doesn’t affect the plot in any way (such as the unique fight between Ator and a shadow), those should be the exception, rather than the rule. Action for the sake of action may be enjoyable for a short time, but it will quickly wear off its welcome when the audience realizes they’re not any closer to the story’s resolution.

Consider having the mentor betray the main character/s

Probably my favorite twist in Ator’s story comes near the end, when, having slain the leader of the spider cult, Ator is betrayed by his mentor Griba, who reveals that he only helped Ator so he could reclaim his position as the cult’s high priest.

We don’t see mentors betray their charges all that often in fiction – they can be mean, yes, and downright cruel, but they still want their students to succeed. But to betray them is rare, and gives writers a great opportunity to have the student fight the mentor, and use everything they’ve learned – and a few tricks they’ve picked up on their own – to win.

When people lose their loved ones, make sure they grieve

At the very end of the film, Ator’s companion, Roon, dies of her injuries after fighting off spider cult goons, but not before getting a chance to say farewell to Ator. It would have been a touching moment… had not the very next shot (and the last one of the film) been Ator and Sunya cheerfully running through a forest with big smiles on their faces, seemingly forgetting that Roon ever existed. While it’s natural for Ator to be ecstatic at having rescued his sister, an additional scene of him mourning Roon, or laying her to rest would have allowed him to give her some closure and a chance to honor and respect her memory before heading off.

Because of how final it is (at least, in real life), death shouldn’t be treated lightly when it comes to your story’s main characters. If one of them dies, have the others mourn. If there’s no time to do so (they’re being chased by giant spiders, for example), then have them mourn later, or, at the least, miss the presence of those they’ve lost. Otherwise, you run the risk of making the dead character feel like a throwaway piece of the scenery who aren’t worth remembering.

An Alternate Universe version of ‘Ator: The Fighting Eagle’ that learned from its mistakes

A brief prologue tells us about the prophecy of a child who will be born to save his kingdom from enslavement at the hands of a spider cult. Years later, that child, Ator, having fallen in love with a girl from his village, sets out on a quest to save her after she’s kidnapped by the cult’s leader. Along the way, he takes his bear-cub companion, meets up with an Amazon warrior named Roon, and works to build up his fighting skills with his mentor, Griba, and acquire weapons that will help him defeat the spider cult, while fighting off various challenges the cult’s leader sends his way (a seductive enchantress, a village paid-off to capture him, undead warriors the leader raises, etc.), defeating each one and growing stronger.

Finally reaching the cult’s temple, Ator uses all his skills to defeat the cult’s leader, only to be betrayed by Griba, who only helped Ator so he could reclaim his place as the cult’s leader. Using everything he’s learned, Ator barely manages to defeat him, kill the cult’s spider-god, and save his girlfriend. However, Roon is fatally wounded and dies. Mourning her, Ator buries her on a beautiful hillside and vows never to forget her for the help she gave him.

With his beloved as his side, Ator returns home, having freed his kingdom and found the love of his life.