Years ago, when my brother and I recorded our Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter commentary track, I put out the question: “How do you rate crap?” Indeed, how does one rate what is objectively a bad series of films? Friday the 13th is about as repetitive as you can get. Nearly all of the twelve movies in the franchise (eleven if you don’t count Freddy vs Jason) are more or less exactly the same, with a small detail thrown in to try and mix things up. The films represent an attempt to cash in on the slasher craze that began with Halloween in 1978. Eventually they became a contest to see how far they could go in the gore department, as any attempt to make a whodunit-type mystery went out the window when competing slasher films kept upping the blood and guts factor.
So, given the fact that this is a series comprised mainly of annoying teenagers, grisly death scenes, and a giant lumbering killer, the answer to how one would rate these films depends on a few things: how annoying are the kids? How cool are the death scenes? And how good was the Jason in question? Now, with that in mind, allow me to sharpen up my machete and start hacking away at this franchise…
FYI: While some of these movies may technically rank higher than others if I were to dig deeper, some may only out rank their lesser by .01%, as opposed to a whole point; the reason being that some of these movies are more or less equally bad, if not for one tiny detail that makes it ever so slightly better.
12. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Without a doubt, the most boring entry in the entire franchise, Jason Takes Manhattan not only boils down the gore to a point almost resembling a PG-13 movie, it doesn’t even deliver on the promise of its title until the third act (and the only scene that’s actually in New York is only a minute in duration to boot, and played as a gag no less). The only thing I can say for this movie that sets it apart from the others is that it takes the idea of Jason somehow being able to catch up to his prey at a snail’s pace and ratchets it up a notch, now giving Jason the ability to seemingly teleport (as shown in the dance floor sequence where he appears in front of one unlucky teen, blocking one of the doors, to suddenly appear out of nowhere right behind her). The last time I saw a new, inexplicable power this dumb was back in Superman II with the now infamous cellophane S.
11. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
I don’t know whose idea it was to have Jason fight Carrie, but evidently someone at Paramount Studios thought this would be a good idea. Let me be clear; it was not. Even though this entry would be the first for fan-favorite Jason performer Kane Hodder (shown in one of the more creative Jason designs in the franchise – his exposed spine being of particular note), it’s not enough to elevate it above the rest of its shortcomings, chief of which being that this movie is just plain boring at times. After six films, it was clear they were really stretching for ways to milk the franchise. To be fair, it does include the sleeping bag kill, which has to rank as one of the funniest and most satisfying deaths in the series.
10. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
The first Friday the 13th film I saw in a theater, and much to my disappointment, the one that had the shortest amount of an onscreen Jason (other than the first film – and no, I don’t count the fact that Jason is technically in the film throughout, just in different people’s bodies). However, despite having an almost complete lack of hockey mask-equipped Jason, I remember liking the film for its inventive kills and for at least trying something different with Jason and the story in general. Ultimately, this feels so removed from the rest of the franchise that it feels more like a fan film than an honest to god sequel.
9. Friday the 13th (1980)
I apologize for ranking the original so low on my list, but I can’t get past how boring the second act of this movie is. The setup is good, the climax is great, but the middle just sort of lags. Kills, while satisfying enough, take far too long to get going, and the whole idea of “who is the killer?” is completely circumvented when we discover that the killer is someone we had no idea even existed. If you’re trying to setup a whodunit mystery you have to throw in some clues for the audience, otherwise why bother? Aside from this and a less than interesting second act, I still enjoy the original for what it spawned
8. Friday the 13th (2009)
“Produced by Michael Bay” doesn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence, I know – but in the case of Friday the 13th, a series all about the thrill of seeing elaborate gore effects and gratuitous nudity, who better to spearhead your movie than the master of gratuitous butt shots and ‘splosions? Yes, it may not have technically been directed by Bay, but his fingerprints are all over this film. Whatever you loved in the earlier movies is here, Bigger and BETTER than before! More nudity, more kills, summer camps and boathouses – you name it. Unfortunately, this also means the same plot rehashed yet again. I thought about rating this lower, as I started to feel the fatigue of “been there, done that” during the latter half of the second act, but that’s not enough to discount the fun I had on a whole with the rest of the film. I like Jason’s look, the nudity is gratuitous and frequent, and the kills are for the most part pretty fun, particularly the machete through the head of the water skiing blonde.
7. Jason X
The only two things that threaten to make this movie nearly unwatchable are the truly terrible early 2000’s era CGI and the Casio Keyboard provided musical score. Were it not for these two things this would probably rank higher on my list, as the movie itself is a lot of fun to watch, even if it plays out like a fan film that happened to have had a reasonably large budget (at least for a slasher film). The kills are fun, we actually get some likeable characters this time around, and of course…IT’S IN SPACE!!! Yes, what do you do when you have absolutely no more ideas left for your horror franchise? Send ‘em to space! Yes, this is stupid, but when you’re ten entries into a franchise, honestly, what the hell else can you possibly do to liven things up, other than bring back the hilarious sleeping bag kill and make it even better?
6. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
I know this movie gets a lot of flak, and justifiably so. The killer in the movie isn’t even really Jason, or even Tommy Jarvis (as is seemingly setup throughout the entirety of the film and even the prior film’s ambiguous ending), it was just some vengeful EMT driver. Setting that aside, however, you get what is a pretty typical Friday the 13th film. You have the usual kills, a hockey masked killer, gratuitous nudity, etc. But what this one has that none of the others do is a completely out of left field murder that isn’t even committed by Jason, but rather some crazy guy with an axe who gets fed up with the fat kid stereotype character. This alone puts this movie fairly high on my list, simply because it’s so unexpected and out there.
5. Friday the 13th Part 3
This one ranking as high as it does on my list probably has more to do with nostalgia than anything else. It’s among the films in the series that I saw the most as a kid, also I’ve always really enjoyed the look of Jason in this one: hunchbacked and donning his signature hockey mask for the first time. Plus, this is the one and only entry that’s in 3D, and man does it throw stuff in your face in an obnoxious, albeit fun way. And I’m not just talking about the kills; we get everything from baseball bats, yo-yo’s, even flying pieces of popcorn coming at the camera. Before the advent of 3D being worthlessly attached to every blockbuster movie, it used to be that it’d be reserved for event movies, or at least movies that would benefit from stuff “comin’ at ya”, and this film definitely fits that category.
4. Friday the 13th Part 2
As was the case with Part 3, Part 2 certainly benefits from nostalgia. Like its predecessor, Part 2 follows the exact same formula, though it ditches the whodunit aspect from the original, as well as some of the more gruesome kills (you can thank the MPAA for that one). But where this one differs for me is a fun opening (minus the flashback, which admittedly takes up the majority of the opening), a faster pace, and what is my favorite version of Jason: burlap sack with one eye hole punched out. I know; the hockey mask is iconic, and technically the filmmakers stole the idea of the sack from The Town that Dreaded Sundown, but I don’t care. Seeing Jason run around in the finale with a pitchfork is endlessly fun, and the fact that the climax takes place in a dilapidated shack in the woods (which just so happens to include a shrine with his mother’s decapitated head as the centerpiece) is a fantastic setting for the ending of this movie.
3. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Some people don’t like the fact that this is the movie that turned the series into a joke and made Jason into a lumbering, Frankenstein’s monster type of killer. I, on the other hand, love that they went in a more comedic direction. Like my rationale for Jason X, when you’re six movies deep into a franchise that has the thinnest of plots to begin with, what the hell else can you do to liven things up than to do something completely bonkers and out of left field? Like, say, going into the main credits by having Jason slice at the screen ala the James Bond gunbarrel opening? Fortunately for this movie, unlike Jason X, Jason Lives doesn’t suffer from terrible CGI or a horrendous score. The kills are fun and the entire cast is in on the joke and here to play. If you can get on board with the change in tone, then there’s plenty here to like.
2. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Given how fun and satisfying the fourth entry in the series is, it’s almost a shame that they didn’t just end it here like they originally intended to do (thankfully they didn’t, or we wouldn’t have gotten the film ranked #1 on my list…). There’s so much to like here; where to begin? We’ve got copious amount of nudity (a major plus for a kid living in an era with no internet), the best gore fx in the series at the time (you can’t understate the importance of having Tom Savini in charge of makeup) and one of the more menacing Jason’s in Ted White, whose brute strength and imposing stature make him one of my favorite actors to tackle the role.
1. Freddy vs. Jason
After over a decade in development hell, we finally got the movie fans had been clamoring for since the famous stinger in Jason Goes to Hell, where Freddy Krueger’s glove bursts out of the ground to pull Jason’s hockey mask into the depths of hell. Was it worth the wait? Some may argue no, but I (and if the box office numbers are any indication, several others as well) am of the opinion that Freddy and Jason’s crossover film is one of the most entertaining and satisfying in either horror icon’s filmography.
Now, just to be clear, Freddy vs. Jason is a Freddy film, first and foremost, not a Jason film. Jason is a supporting character in what is otherwise another sequel in the Nightmare on Elm St franchise. But this isn’t a bad thing. Like the Hulk in the Marvel films, there just isn’t much you can do story-wise with a giant lumbering monster who doesn’t talk. Characters like this tend to work better in supporting roles that pop in occasionally to have a few bad ass moments (for example: folding a bed, and a person, in half). By making Freddy the main villain, we’re given a bad guy with an actual goal and motivation, beyond just killing promiscuous teenagers for revenge.
Moreover, Freddy vs. Jason is just a far better made movie than any of the previous Friday the 13th films. They finally had a sizeable budget, it’s shot well, the effects are top notch and having a villain as fun and over the top as Freddy Krueger opposite Jason is a blast to see and offers variety beyond just people getting stabbed with a machete and various other pieces of lawn equipment. And by keeping the “winner” ambiguous, fans of both series can leave the theater feeling like their guy won and ready to argue with their friends why they’re opinion is right and theirs is wrong.