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 ‘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.