Three Fridays: An Examination of ‘Friday the 13th’

When it comes to horror franchises, few are as well known as Friday the 13th. Created in 1980, this series has gone on to include twelve films, countless books, comics, action figures, and video games, not to mention spawning the legendary Jason Vorhees, who remains one of cinema’s most famous slasher villains, with over two hundred (!) kills to his name.

Yet, even with its prestigious history, I’ve never sat down to watch all the films, the one exception being ‘Freddy vs Jason.’ I thought it was a fun film, but it didn’t get me interested in watching the rest of Jason’s filmography. All that changed, though, when I took a look at a recent, fan-made remake of the 1980 film, which made me curious to see how it fared to both the original, and the 2009 remake, leading to the rare scenario of being able to see the same story being told three different ways.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at all three interpretations: The 1980 original, the 2009 remake, and a 2019 fan-made version that I’ll keep a secret for now. If you haven’t seen the original film, I’d recommend not reading any further until you have, as this series will spoil major plot details.

With all that said, let’s begin with the film that started it all: 1980’s, ‘Friday the 13th’

As said so memorably in 1962’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and 2012’s, ‘Prometheus,’ “Big things have small beginnings,” perfectly sums up Jason’s first big-screen outing, a small-scale slasher flick that finds camp counselors facing certain death when stranded at a small summer camp in a remote forest. Thanks to pop-culture osmosis, I knew all the twists before watching the film: that Jason is barely in the film, that his mother is the killer, and that everyone but one girl dies. Still, knowing the plot before seeing a movie isn’t always going to ruin it: I knew how ‘Alien’ and ‘The Shining’ turned out before watching them, and they were still scary, effective films that became personal favorites.

I’m afraid the same can’t be said for ‘Friday.’

For all the praise put upon it as one of the best films in the series (or the best, depending on who you’re talking to), I found ‘Friday’ to be surprisingly dull. It gets off to a good start, with Annie coming into town and learning about Camp Crystal Lake, and then heading off to join her fellow counselors… only to be killed before she even reaches the front gate. Killing off who you think is going to be the main character in the first act is a great way to suck people in, and I was eager to see how the film went from there. Regrettably, ‘Friday’ follows the standard trope of building up doomed teenagers before killing them off in an isolated location. There’s nothing wrong with that (and Crystal Lake at night in a thunderstorm is an effective horror setting), but the problem is that the film’s glacial pace results in numerous periods of boredom, to the point where I even fast-forwarded to get to the inevitable killings, which are quite tame compared to what came later (the arrow-through-the-throat kill is quite memorable, though).

While ‘Friday’ was mostly a disappointment for me, it does have one element that saves it from the pile of over-hyped movies: Pamela Vorhees, Jason’s mother. At first glance, a middle-aged woman with no fighting skills or unique abilities doesn’t sound like a compelling villain, but Pamela elevates herself with one of the most sympathetic backstories to be found in slasher cinema: A mother who lost her only child due to negligence, who is driven by unimaginable pain to get revenge on those who let him die, and stop other children from suffering the fate her son did. I can think of few other killers in cinema who are so sympathetically evil; Pamela’s so easy to relate to, even if we don’t agree with her killing innocent counselors who had nothing to do with Jason’s death. And to twist the knife even further, the revelation that Jason is still alive means that all her killings and her twisted quest for justice was all for nothing, turning the film into a tragedy where nobody wins, nobody gets justice, and all the suffering everyone goes through was for nothing.

Wow.

When looking at ‘Friday’, both as the start of a franchise, and as a standalone movie, it’s my opinion that it isn’t very good. If it was removed from the ‘Friday’ franchise and stripped of it’s historical status, ‘Friday’ would probably be remembered as a rather standard slasher film that would struggle to stand out among its peers, especially surprising how Pamela’s existence isn’t even hinted at before her reveal, making her appearance feel like a cop-out (and proof that there should always be a hint on who the killer could be in whodunits).

Still, Pamela’s effective performance manages to save ‘Friday’ from being a complete disappointment. While, in my opinion, it’s not a good film, it does deserve to be recognized for its villain, and for starting one of the most famous slasher franchises in history… well, that, and the hilarity of knowing that Pamela’s little boy will one day blast off into outer space and hack people to death on a space station as an undead demonic cyborg.

Tune in next week, where we’ll take a look at the 2009 remake of ‘Friday’ and see what a modern-day take on Jason’s origin has to offer.

What we can learn from ‘Limbo with Lyrics’

NOTE: The music video for this song features a child drawn in a stylistic manner repeatedly dying violent deaths.

When it came out in 2010, ‘Limbo’ quickly became one of the most famous independent video games ever created, quickly putting developer Playdead on the map. With it’s beautifully dark art style, bleak aesthetics, brutal violence, and haunting soundtrack, ‘Limbo’ is a masterpiece of grim video games… so, naturally, parodies starting coming our way, including this rather amusing song.

There’s only one lesson to learn from this video, but it’s a good one:

Be cautious when doing making light of real-life horrors

If you haven’t played ‘Limbo’, here are two videos to show you what kind of game it is:

When I initially started this article, I was going to write about how the use of an upbeat tune and comedic sound effects makes for comedy gold when contrasted with very dark media (which it does very well). After all, such a mix has worked before:

However, I then realized that while that combination of lighthearted fun and horrific suffering is funny for fictional stories, it doesn’t work as well when used in real life: A fun Reggie song about concentration camps in Nazi Germany would be rather… tasteless. So would a happy jazz tune about atrocities committed by ISIS to innocent people. It’s easy and fun to parody Jason Vorhees, Darth Vader, and the Alien and Predator, but when it comes to poking fun at torture, genocide, or the mutilation and murder of ordinary people, we walk a very dangerous line between making a point and being tasteless.

Now, nothing is off limits when it comes to comedy. Writers should be free to do dark comedy if they wish, on whatever subject they wish. But discretion is important: Doing a parody song about how millions can’t pay their bills, afford insulin, or even a place to live can be funny because it critiques society and makes a point. Doing a Reggie song about children having limbs hacked off because their parents couldn’t make daily quotas on a rubber plantation probably won’t have the same effect.

When audiences watch or read comedy, they want to laugh and get away from the horrors of the world, if only for a few minutes or even a few seconds. As writers, we have to be careful how we use horror to make them laugh. If we use the horrors of a fictional world, we have more leeway because those horrors don’t really exist. But if we use the evil that surrounds us in everyday life, we must be careful of the point we’re trying to make… unless we’re talking about people who push shopping carts in grocery stores at half a mile an hour and block isles so that no one can get past them. They’re fair game.

Favorite Moments: ‘Cut ’em out!’

*My apologies regarding a post that went up earlier today that has since been deleted; it was a draft that had been set to be posted automatically, but I forgot to expand and revise it.*

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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Previous installments of this column have looked at scenes that I enjoy watching, but today marks the first that, while brilliantly done, is not a fun scene by any stretch of the imagination.

Back in 2001, I was a 15 year old teen in high school who was eagerly looking forward to ‘Pearl Harbor’ and all the explosions, sinking ships, and general war carnage that hot-blooded teenagers go nuts over. Imagine my surprise to find that most of the movie revolves around a romance that drags on for over an hour before the actual attack starts. When the film came to an end, I was annoyed and disappointed, with the film quickly fading from memory as I headed home.

That is, except for one scene.

For all the flak it’s taken about the unwanted romantic subplot, the inaccuracies of the attack itself (including clearly visible modern-day destroyers), there’s one horrifying scene that ‘Pearl Harbor’ does perfectly (skip to 1:32):

 

Even 18 years later, this remains the most unsettling moment in any war film I’ve seen, and is easily the most heartbreaking scene in any movie directed by Michael Bay: Several sailors are trapped inside the upturned USS Oklahoma and screaming for help as the ship continues to flood, but drown only inches from safety as their rescuers fail to cut them out in time, unable to do anything but listen to their muffled screams as they die.

What’s so unsettling about this scene is how it uses an inevitable suffering scenario: That is, people who are going to endure something awful and there’s no way to stop it. Here, it’s the sailors who are going to die in one of the most horrific ways imaginable (drowning), but to make it even crueler, the only thing keeping them from escaping is a single piece of steel. They can see the daylight outside, and the people trying to save them, but it’s too late to get them out. And to twist the knife even further, we see the rescue attempt not from their perspective, but from the people trying to cut through, forcing us, the viewer, to imagine what it must be like underneath that steel. All we see of these doomed sailors are their hands and a screaming mouth.

Pearl Harbor suffers from focusing too much on a romance that nobody really wanted, various inaccuracies, and other issues, but for one scene, it perfectly captures the horrors of war.

What we can learn from The Onion’s interview with God

Of all the challenges that writers face in our craft, there’s one that sounds easy, but is anything but: How do you portray God? How do you put a face and a voice to The Creator Of Everything, especially when some ordinary person meets God. Let’s see how The Onion interprets such a meeting between us and our Creator:

Uhmm… Well, that was… something. Let’s dissect it and see what we can learn from one of The Onion’s most memorable videos.

Consider doing a shocking swerve

What’s so memorable about the video is that it starts off so innocently, complete with a dignified title screen and quiet piano music. We’re expecting a humanoid being to sit down before the interviewer (let’s name him Ted), and talk in a powerful, but gentle voice.

Then, seconds later, BAM, here comes an inter-dimensional being to take Ted on a fun adventure into madness.

As I noted in my critique of ‘Every 90’s commercial ever’, this kind of swerve is great for comedy, because luring our audience into expecting one thing, only to unexpectedly give them something else throws them off their feet, grabbing their interest as they try to make sense of what’s going on.

Consider having an encounter with the divine be pants-wettingly incomprehensible

When you imagine what God looks like, I’m betting the first things that comes to mind are either an old man in a white robe or a very bright light. What The Onion’s video does very well is portraying God more as a force of nature that is beyond anything we can make sense of.

For writers, try embracing that idea: Make your deity something beyond our comprehension. Make it so that even if your deity is benevolent, your character/s are so terrified that all they want to do is dive under the covers and cry for mommy to save them from this incomprehensible being who could destroy them in a nanosecond. By portraying a deity is an impersonal, incomprehensible being, you show your audience that you’re not going to be following traditions when it comes to portraying gods.

However, that impersonal power doesn’t have to be so terrifying: if your deity is benevolent, you can have them assist your character/s by using some of his/her/its power to stabilize their mind or counteract the effects of going mad. That shows that, despite being so far beyond its creations, your deity does care about them, and won’t just sit around passively while they go mad in its presence. Of course, if your deity doesn’t care, or is evil… well, helping your characters won’t be an issue.

Consider leaving it ambiguous if an encountered deity is malevolent or benevolent

While most people would assume that God is benevolent (or, at least, favorable to us mortals), we obviously can’t know for sure (assuming that God even exists). The Onion’s video, instead of portraying God as a beautiful, holy, benevolent being who loves us beyond all measure, goes for portraying God as a purple angel/skeleton thing that reduces Ted to a state of both sheer terror and unmatched ecstasy. We don’t know if God in the video is benevolent, malevolent, or something in between.

On the malevolent side, God turns into a hideous skeleton, makes Ted seemingly go mad with fear, and at one point seems to suck something out of his mouth. But on the benevolent side, God did show up for the interview, apparently grants Ted ultimate understanding about everything, and creates a beautiful tree after the interview is over, Either way, though, we don’t know if The Onion’s God is friendly, ticked off, or just messing around (or, as one Youtube user suggested, He’s just saying, ‘Thanks for having me’).

One pleasure of writing a god in our stories is the possibly of creating a being who is so removed from our notions of good and evil that its mortality is impossible to understand, similar to how ants, insects, and other small animals can’t possibly comprehend our own actions or the reasoning behind them. That opens up tremendous opportunities to explore morality, how it changes from culture to culture, or even if there is such a thing as absolute good and evil, or if it’s just something humanity has come up with. But there’s also another bonus to making your god morally ambiguous: When we can understand how a deity thinks, that god’s power and majesty is reduced. But when there’s a deity that we cannot understand in any way, it remains a mysterious, terrifying, and beautiful enigma. It’s the ultimate unknown, and leaves the door wide open for stories about characters trying to understand it.

The Takeaway

When writing about God (or a god), surprise your audience by portraying God not as a purely benevolent, humanoid being, but as something that can drive you mad trying to comprehend or understand, even if He/She/It is benevolent. Add more complexity by not showing if your god is benevolent, malevolent, or something in between.

Favorite Moments: ‘Captain… Help…’

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 Movie

‘Star Trek: First Contact’ (1996)

The Scene

(skip to 1:35 for the moment in question)

Why It’s Great

As a child of the 90’s, I was privileged to see a lot of great TV shows growing up: ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘M*A*S*H’ reruns, ‘Dinosaurs!’ and almost every Nickelodeon cartoon and game show constantly played on the family television, but it’s ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ that’s stayed with me well into adulthood. Picard, Riker, Data, Worf, and all the Enterprise crewmembers others were as much a part of my childhood as Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Indiana Jones. I watched as the Enterprise and her crew as they explored the cosmos, negotiated peace with hostiles species, got into firstfights and phaser shootouts… and also turned into children.

Throughout it all, though, Picard was the character who left the greatest impression with me. He was the champion of reason and diplomacy, yet not afraid to get into a fight if he needed to. He was firm, but fair, and to my young eyes he was the leader who always did what was right.

Then came 1996’s ‘First Contact,’ and in a film filled with action, horror, shootouts, and scary Borg monsters, the thing that stuck with me the most was the shock of seeing Picard shot an infected Enterprise crewmember begging for help. As a young kid, that blew my mind: Picard was the good guy! He wouldn’t kill his own crew! And yet, he had just killed one!

To a pre-teen like me, this was the moment where I realized that the right thing to do isn’t always the nicest. In the cartoons and kids shows I watched, the heroes always saved innocent people from the bad guys. To see one of those heroes kill an innocent person – even if it was an act of mercy – made me realize that sometimes the good guys must do things that are morally questionable, even if there’s no malicious intent. It was a big step forward in realizing that things aren’t always black and white, and a big step in realizing that writing stories where things aren’t clear cut are a great tool for creating moral delimas that stay with audiences long after the story is over.

What we can learn from ‘The Northern Incident’

 

Is there such a thing as a perfect horror story? A few months ago, I took a look at one of the best written examples, and today I want a look at one of the best animated examples: A 2011 animation titled, ‘The Northern Incident’ that freaked me out the first time I saw it, and has remained with me ever since as one of the scariest horror shorts I’ve ever seen… up until the last minute. But before we get to that minute, let’s take a look at what this short does so well.

In a horror story, the more remote and more isolated your setting, the better

In the grand tradition of horror stories being set in remote, hard-to-reach locations, ‘The Northern Incident’ takes place at a cabin in the remote, snow-covered forest far from civilization. In a nice twist, though, the cabin’s just close enough that the man has access to a television and a phone so he can call for help… but when the phone line is cut, he might as well be on a different planet. He has a way back to civilization, but no way to get there without freezing to death. There’s nothing worse, after all, than being in sight of safety, but being unable to get to it.

Consider making your audience hear your monster more than they see it

It might be a cliche, but keeping the monster/threat in a horror story out of sight is one of the best things writers can do. Without knowing what the threat looks like, audiences are forced to use their imagination to create the threat, coming up with horrors more terrifying than anything any writer or concept artist could create. Before they’re fully revealed, all we know about the monsters in ‘The Northern Incident’ is that they’re roughly human-sized, intelligent, and can move with astonishing speed.

While ‘The Northern Incident’ follows this trope perfectly, it masterfully uses another aspect to enhance it: Using sound to show where the creatures are. We hear them knocking at the cabin’s door, walls, ceiling, and even driving a car. It’s one thing to see a terrifying monster, but it’s even more terrifying to know that it’s close by, but only being able to hear it.

Consider making your monster smart and sadistic

While the unseen and the unknown is terrifying, it becomes even more frightening when your audience realizes that the monster isn’t some mindless beast, but something that’s smart. The creatures in ‘The Northern Incident’ are smart enough to know how to hotwire and drive a car, as well as knowing how to disable a phone, but there’s a more subtle horror that’s not easily noticeable at first: The creatures toy with the man. They want to make him afraid, and are holding back on killing him (or whatever they plan to do) to try and drive him mad. They’re sadists, and there are few things as frightening as having your characters deal with something that’s human, smart, and loves inflicting misery on others.

Be very careful revealing that your monster is a joke character

Years ago, my father made an observation that’s stuck with me ever since: ‘The closer you get to perfection, the more obvious a flaw becomes.’ ‘The Northern Incident,’ regrettably, becomes a perfect example of this saying. The first 90% of the story is a masterpiece of pacing, animation, sound design, and horror. Then, in the final minute, we finally see what has been stalking the man and his dog… Furries.

The first time I saw ‘The Northern Incident’, I was shocked at the ending, and not in a good way. All the horror, the tension, and the scares were forgotten as I realized that all of it had been the setup for a joke, retroactively ruining everything that had come before.

For years, I’ve thought about why I find the ending to ‘The Northern Incident’ to be such a disappointment; other films effectively blend horror and comedy, so why does this one fail? I think it’s because the tone isn’t consistent with what comes before. By the end of the short, we – the audience – have been conditioned to expect a serious horror story, and the revelation that the man was attacked by furries retroactively makes us realize that everything that came before was a lie to throw us off guard. Had there been more comedic elements earlier, or hints about the creature’s true identity, the ending would have been easier to accept. As it is, it’s proof that while out-of-nowhere endings are memorable, they should at least fit with the tone of what came before.

The Takeaway

When doing a horror story, set it in a location far away from help (or have it so that characters can see help, but can’t get to it) and consider keeping the intelligent and sadistic monster hidden, with the audience hearing it instead of seeing it. When it comes time to do the ending, it’s okay to try something different, but keep the tone of it consistent with what came before.

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.