I’ve been waiting to rank these films since I began writing for Ready Steady Cut. As I’ve said before and will continue to reiterate, I love a good 80s slasher film (though rarely when they enter the 90s). They’re corny, often tragic, like a car accident that you cannot turn away from, and as the different franchises inexorably slog on, they grow increasingly ridiculous.
The original Friday the 13th establishes what would become tried and true tropes of not-so-innocent campers just trying to open a summer camp, and the eleven sequels (we couldn’t get to 13 films in this series?!) just continue to amp up the crazy, each trying to do something brand new and different, often leading the series to just seem increasingly uneven. The series has ended five times, counting the unintentional finality of the misfired reboot (just one of the myriad similarities between Jason’s and Freddy’s series’). The producers continue to pile on more creative kills, caricaturish characters, and cartoonish plots. With each film, the Friday the 13th franchise tries its best to top the insane heights (or lows, depending on your perspective) of the Nightmare on Elm Street films, outstripping the relatively tame Halloween movies (while Michael Myers gets his own web series, he at least doesn’t go to space or become a video game or show up in 3D).
Despite the exponentially increasing zaniness of these films (or maybe because of it), this is a film journey that a horror fan should embark upon. But, for those not up to the challenge, I, like Dante (and Jason) before me, have journeyed into the pit that is the Friday the 13th franchise and returned to tell the tale.
Use the links at the bottom of the post to navigate the pages.
12. Jason X (2001)
If an 80s horror franchise begins to decay in the 90s, it becomes a fetid, decomposed corpse of its former self when it reaches the new millennium. Jason X is no exception, being an unmitigated piece of garbage that neither improves upon nor deserves to be in the same room as the rest of the series. In 2455, the Earth is dying and some forward thinking humans have thought it prudent to bring a cryogenically frozen Jason Voorhees along with them to Earth 2. Honestly, if I didn’t know better (and maybe I don’t), I’d have thought they were just trying to play into some stereotypes of long-running franchises. We joke about some character in a series going into space as a way of indicating that a shark has been jumped. But here, it’s true! They honestly made the decision to take a character previously confined to the backwoods of New England, who stalks poor-decision-making teenaged camp counselors and send him into space to kill random people on a ship. It is unfathomable and unforgivable. There’s a robot, nanobots (which fuse with Jason’s DNA to make an uber-Jason), a toe fetish, and nipple clamps.
In the end, it is completely shallow–and not in the way that I look for in a cheesy 80s slasher flick. It’s not even forgettable. It sticks in my mind like dog poop to my unsuspecting shoe, and frankly, I’d take the dog crap.
11. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Really there are only two reasons that this isn’t at the bottom of this list: it’s not inexplicably set in space, and the opening scene. Jason goes to Hell tries to explain Jason’s long persistence through having him be a spirit that can body-hop. Of course. This is a series that jumps the shark twice. Jason goes to space and he’s also a parasite that can possess people.
The only saving grace, as I mentioned before, is the meta opening scene, which plays up the tried and true trope of a virginal, unsuspecting teenager walking around an abandoned cabin–only to reveal that she’s an FBI agent, part of a sting operation to capture and blow up Jason. I love it! It’s winningly self-aware. And then everything goes off the rails, bringing in a Curse of Thorn-like (from Halloween) shift to the franchise. The body-hopping demon creatures straight out of The Evil Dead make no sense at all and are distractingly bad.
Plus, Jason doesn’t ever really go to Hell.
10. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
So, when you think about a film called Jason takes Manhattan, you’d think that there would be more than about 20 minutes in Manhattan. In fact, most of the movie takes place on a boat (somehow) on its way to NYC from Crystal Lake, and most of the movie is just dull. At least it’s not as offensively bad as the previous two films I’ve mentioned. I wish Jason had actually “taken” Manhattan, faced down countless cops and thugs in a gorefest. But sadly it’s much, much duller than that. At least we get a great “hero” shot of Jason facing down Times Square.
Unfortunately, it’s just forgettable in the end.
9. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
This is the Jason film without Jason. I don’t really understand the point of A New Beginning. Maybe they were trying to break with tradition, which I suppose I can respect, but the sort of reveal–that Jason isn’t really Jason–had been done with such brilliance in the first film. A New Beginning follows Tommy Jarvis, the hero of The Final Chapter, who’s emotionally broken and has been sent from halfway house to halfway house. He’s just trying to move on with his life, though his experiences with the swamp-laden Jason haunt him daily. Then, coincidentally, the other members of the house begin dying off, and all signs point to Jason Voorhees. But it turns out it’s just a crazy guy in a mask.
Truly, after sitting through all of A New Beginning, you’re left wondering whether or not you’ve wasted all of your time on a movie that has nothing to do with what you thought it did. Instead, it’s filled with hillbillies and fat jokes. It feels like a lie.