I actually had the urge to put up this list immediately after my rankings of the Nightmare On Elm Street series a few weeks ago but then decided to hold off until today. After all, it’s an actual Friday The 13th and thus a far more appropriate date to commemorate the series.
What’s interesting about the Friday The 13th franchise – as opposed to A Nightmare On Elm Street – is that my personal rankings of it usually vary depending on what day you catch me. The overall shape of it remains fairly constant, but here and there certain entries have the ability to slide up or down a notch or two depending on my mood. I also don’t feel that there’s one perfect entry in the franchise. As much as I love most of these films, many of them are incredibly flawed – which is part of the charm for me and is also why I would completely understand the reasoning behind a list that was the exact opposite of mine.
With one huge exception, I tend to favor the days of pre-zombie Jason even though I have no particular stake in him being alive or undead. Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor but I find that there’s something innocent and comforting about those early days at Camp Crystal Lake. I could almost watch those movies without the kills. It also may have something to do with the fact that the characters in those latter films are coarse and even more thinly drawn than the earlier installments, which is saying something.
Anyway, head inside to see where I stand on the series! And – as always – let me know your own rankings in the comments!
1. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES
Here’s the huge exception I was talking about. Despite the fact that it is very much in “Zombie Jason” territory Jason Lives is, on most days, my favorite Friday The 13th film. It’s of course helped immensely Thom Matthews’ energetic turn as Tommy Jarvis and by Jennifer Cooke’s appealing and charismatic performance as Megan. But the primary factor here is the script – it’s actually smart. Even though it came a decade before Scream we can see a little post modern self awareness creeping into the film, but in just the right (almost unnoticeable) dose. The winningly cavalier manner in which Jason is resurrected as well as the nod to 007 in the opening credits are indicators that the filmmakers knew exactly where they wanted to go with the franchise.
It also helps that this entry has something that almost none of the other F13 films have – forward momentum. Writer/director Tom McLoughlin actually cared about the story and the narrative here unfolds at a breakneck pace compared to the surrounding entries. Tommy Jarvis is the most pro-active protagonist in the series and the script even includes a ticking clock element with the impending arrival of the kids at Camp Crystal Lake. Even David Kagen’s Sheriff Michael Garris, a would-be antagonist, feels justifiably motivated and has a nice character reversal in the end.
Jason Lives has it all. Blood, gore, smarts, sex, the outdoors, and an actual plot. It’s the clear winner of the franchise.
2. FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER
The Final Chapter is a close runner-up to Jason Lives. It has, relatively speaking, great characters and an irresistibly amiable atmosphere. While it lacks the tight plotting of Jason Lives, it feels like the perfect distillation of everything the series had achieved up until that point. Enabled by a bigger budget than its predecessors, it achieves a bigger sense of scope while maintaining a firm focus on the tenets of the franchise – slaughtering horny teens in semi-rural areas. Essentially it plays like a greatest hits of the first three films (something the remake would also attempt).
I mentioned relatively great characters right? Corey Feldman’s younger Tommy Jarvis is (completely unbelievably) the world’s youngest practical effects expert and he actually utilizes his flair for visual trickery in orchestrating Jason’s comeuppance. But the real heart of the film for me is Crispin Glover’s Jimmy Mortimer. Out of all the characters in the franchise to die before the film’s climax, Jimmy’s one of the few who actually gets an arc. Meanwhile Lawrence Monoson is perfect as a sexually confident guy who manages to get even less action than the sad sack he played in The Last American Virgin. Even Judie Aronson (of Weird Science fame) gets some depth as Samantha (It’s also kind of strange that both Science and this film find her hooking up with a geek she originally wouldn’t have looked twice at).
Out of all the “classic” F13 films, The Final Chapter is easily the best.
3. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2
Everybody knows Part 2 is the first film to feature Jason as the killer (and that he wouldn’t find his mask until Part 3). But it actually connects pretty well to the mythology set forth in Part 1 (not only is he referenced heavily in the original, but witnessing his mother’s death even gives him a motive) and as a result is the rare slasher sequel that is able to organically expand on the world of the franchise.
Part 2 also has the highest nostalgia factor. It’s able to take the basic premise of the first film and open it up a little so the characters are allowed to be a little more carefree. They have more fun. Even if Tom McBride’s wheelchair bound Mark is the only real standout, you pretty much like all of these kids. Some people complain about the languid pacing of this entry, and it’s a grievance I don’t begrudge, but this is a film I really just like spending time with. Even if the film isn’t at all expertly made (except for that great shot of a guitar’s headstock at the bar) it somehow plays as a perfect time capsule from 1981.
It says a lot about the times we live in that spending a weekend at Camp Crystal Lake and watching all of your friends get slaughtered somehow seems more relaxing than witnessing the modern world crumble around us on a daily basis. I’ll take baghead Jason over our current situation anyday.
4. FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
Oddly this is one of the entries I flip flop the most on, and it’s actually ranked several notches higher than the order I in which I would realistically pull it off my shelf. It’s fun enough and has some good kills (and Kevin Bacon) but it’s pretty easy to peg for what it actually is – a serviceable ripoff of Halloween. It also loses points for trying to assert itself as something of an Agatha Christie style murder mystery, except it doesn’t even introduce Mrs. Voorhees until near the end of act three. That’s a total cheat.
That being said, it’s the first. Which means it established the setting of Crystal Lake (thank you) and forever upped the carnality factor of slasher victims (thanks again). Thus Friday The 13th actually gains points for being first, even if it wasn’t the best. It gave birth to the series, and for that we must be thankful. Especially when you consider that makes it the mother of the bunch, and you know how Jason feels about his mother.
5. FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)
I know you people like to rag on Jason’s use of a tunnel system but I honestly don’t understand the issue. Jason has alternately been a retarded hillbilly, a zombie, a paramedic in disguise, a cyborg and a shapeshifter. When you have a canon as all encompassing as that, I don’t see how kidnapping a girl and keeping her in a tunnel really breaks it. Especially when it was established in prior entries that he has a soft spot for girls who resembled his mother. I mean, it actually saved Ginny Field’s life in Part 2.
So let’s look at what we’re left with. True, the kills aren’t as creative as they could be, but they make up for that with their sheer brutality. There isn’t one single film in the franchise with a sequence that can match the intensity of the slaughter of the first batch of kids in this film’s opening 20 minutes. I’m serious, take another look at those 20 minutes – nothing else bearing the name Friday The 13th matches it in terms of impact.
Even if the film tapers off a bit in the second act there’s no denying that Derek Mears is probably the best Jason we’ve seen. Not only is he imposing, but there’s a level of athleticism and actual killing ability there that is genuinely compelling. Plus, it’s got Travis Van Winkle. “You’ve got perfect nipple placement, baby!”
Not only is it one of the most fun entries on this list, it’s also a high point for Platinum Dunes (who would go on to mangle A Nightmare On Elm Street the very next year).
6. FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING
A lot of people would understandably place this one a lot lower, but it’s got a weirdness factor to it that’s really appealing. A New Beginning is also the first installment where a genuine sense of sleaze begins to creep into the series. It’s an ugly, bizarre mean spirited film that couldn’t give two sh*ts about justifying paramedic Ray’s transition into Jason.
If memory serves, it’s the first film in the series to feature cocaine use, which is significant because A New Beginning very much feels like its production was steeped in cocaine. From the unfortunate death of Joey to the 1950’s inspired road punks and what’s her face doing the robot, it’s a glorious mess. A mess that culminates with Miguel Nunez’s Demon singing to his girlfriend while taking a dump. It’s just so incredibly confused. The film is simultaneously so lazy, driven, random, self satisfied and out of touch that you can’t help but be entertained.
If all twelve F13 were guests at a cocktail party, A New Beginning would be the one heading to the bathroom every five minutes, wiping its nose, and yelling sweatily at the host. It would rummage through Part One‘s medicine cabinet, double dip and piss on the floor before leaving.
7. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III
Part 3 is notable for three things. 1. Jason finds his mask. 2. It’s implied that Jason once raped someone, which almost sexualizes him a bit*. 3. The fact that it was filmed in 3D (which makes it hilarious to watch in 2D). Other than that it feels like the series starts treading water right here. It also could be argued that subsequent installment The Final Chapter feels like it’s treading water by adding nothing in terms of myth expansion – but that one tread water so well and so much more memorably than the dour, boring Part 3.
The film gains points for the amazing kill of hand walking Andy, and for giving us the mask. It also does a decent job of replicating that idyllic summer vibe I so often seek solace in, but that’s about it.
*Yes, I know rape is much more an act of violence than a sexual one. But I don’t think that was the prevailing thought in 1982. And if it was, the movie certainly fails to acknowledge it on those terms.
8. FREDDY VS. JASON
This one ranked several notches lower on my Elm Street list because it’s simply a better Jason picture than it is a Freddy one. He actually gets some really decent kills in the first act and the rave scene in the cornfield is a lot of fun. But, for me, I’d rather see Jason doing his own thing. Jason’s at his best here, but Freddy is at his Part 4-Part 6 persona. Those two things don’t mesh for me.
9. JASON X
Many, many, many people have a soft spot for Todd Farmer and James Isaac’s genre-melding Jason X. And it’s a fondness I can’t really argue with, except to say that I just don’t feel it. It has several supremely clever moments, but I kind of feel like I’m watching people play laser-tag in a warehouse for the majority of the film’s running time. Perhaps I’m just biased and think F13 belongs in the great outdoors.
That being said – the frozen head kill, the David Cronenberg appearance, a few clever one-liners and the genius sequence where Jason is tricked into thinking he’s back at Crystal Lake (not to mention the great, similarly themed, denouement) go a long way. And they certainly elevate it well above entries 9-12 on this list.
Jason X may be ranked sort of low, but it’s not a bad film. In fact – it’s the last good movie on this list. It’s a steep drop from here on out.
10. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD
This is where they start getting really bad. While I wholly believe that John Carl Buechler’s film would have been much better if it hadn’t been subjected to some insanely prude MPAA restrictions, there’s just no saving these characters or performances. I really quite like the design of Jason in the film but I’m not at all interested in the travails of Lar Park-Lincoln, her mother or their scheming psychiatrist, Dr. Crews.
The group of teens and young adults served up for slaughter literally make no impression. Making Lincon’s Tina Shepard telekinetic is a huge mistake. It’s a big enough stretch to make Jason a zombie, but granting supernatural powers to other people in the franchise’s universe undermines the key strength of the series – its simplicity.
Also, why is her dad still at the bottom of that lake? He’s literally right underneath the spot he disappeared from all those years ago in about 15 feet of water. Crystal Lake has the worst search and rescue team ever.
11. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN
A few things we need to get out of the way right off the bat. Even if this movie had actually attempted to live up to its promise it would have still been a disaster. It’s much more incompetent than even your average Friday The 13th movie. From basic writing, technical and editorial decisions right on up to the baffling logic that you can actually sail to New York from Crystal Lake. Not to mention the fact that the regular flooding of the NY sewers is perhaps the most conveniently stupid means to a resolution in cinematic history.
All that aside, we all know that the film barely takes even place in Manhattan. The vast majority of the running time is spent on the ship over there, thus we are denied a fully developed take on what would actually happen if Jason indeed took Manhattan. We’re even denied the half-ass version of it. What we get is pretty much the quarter-ass treatment, which is deeply unsatisfying.
Maybe we could forgive the transgression of Voorhees only spending a reel or two in the city, but he unleashes virtually zero mayhem during his brief stay. He doesn’t take anything. Aside from knocking that one guy’s head off he pretty much ignores all the New Yorkers. What a shame.
12. JASON GOES TO HELL
Jason Goes To Hell is actually a better movie than Jason Takes Manhattan. Ironically, it’s this edge in quality that actually detracts from its ranking. Since Jason Takes Manhattan is a consistent marvel of incompetence, there’s always something to gawk at. Jason Goes To Hell makes the mistake of elevating the craft somewhat, and pays the price dearly. It’s a stupid, boring unwatchable mess. I’m not sure where in the process it was decided that Jason should basically be capable of inhabiting any body he wants – or why it was necessary to include the mumbo jumbo about him only being able to die at the hands of a Voorhees – but it drags the series down into a mystical territory that it’s simply not suited for. It literally just feels like the worst “X-Files” episode ever.
Are there any bright spots? Yes. There are three and they are glorious. The tent-sex kill, where the lady straddling her fella is sliced in half. Jason’s entry into (and rebirth from) the womb of his own sister. And, of course, Steven William’s famous line as Creighton Duke, “That makes me think of a little girl in a pink dress sticking a hot dog through a doughnut.” No doubt these are three pinnacles in the lives of many, yet they can’t save the film. It’s that bad.
What do you guys think? Let me know your rankings in the comments!
Edited on February 13, 2015. Moved ‘Freddy Vs. Jason’ into a new slot.