Friday the 13th: The Legacy – Part 1
Note: For some strange reason , the Friday the 13th film series features some of the blandest posters ever devised for a promotional campaign. Most of the films from Part 6 forward feature at least average poster art but earlier entries like Part 2 and Part 4 had standard one sheets that were completely black. Wherever possible, the most interesting image styles were chosen for these articles.
As production was wrapping on the original Friday the 13th in late 1979, director Sean Cunningham decided to give audiences one final scare to send them out of the theater talking. Taking his inspiration from an earlier line in the movie when a boy named Jason, who was “special”, drowned in Crystal Lake due to the inattention of the camp counselors, he brought him back for one final bow. This sequence, where a decayed mongoloid corpse bursts from the tranquil water to attack the film’s sole survivor, was only intended as a dream in the tenuously sane mind of a woman who had suffered through seeing her friends murdered and was finally forced to kill in order to survive the ordeal. He had no way of knowing it at the time but he was laying the groundwork for one of the most successful film franchises in cinema history.
The film’s distributor, Paramount Pictures, ordered a sequel into production almost as soon as the first Friday the 13th was released. It was clear this was a winner at the box office and there was no sense in losing any of the momentum their advertising campaign and word of mouth was generating. The initial sequel placed the now very real and grown to adulthood Jason Voorhees behind the knife, and just about every other sharp implement you can imagine, and gave audiences a horror icon the likes of which had not been seen since the days of Universal’s classic monster movies. Jason would go on to slash his way through nine more installments in the series, almost annually at first, over the course of the next twenty two years. Here’s an overview of the legacy that started, as many often do, with a dream (sequence).
Friday the 13th Part 2: The Body Count Continues (1981) – Pamela Voorhees had lost her head quite literally at the end of the original film so it was obvious someone would be needed to fill her slashing shoes in a sequel. That someone turned out to be her son Jason who had apparently survived the cold waters of Crystal Lake and witnessed the death of his mother at the hands of those who had neglected him. His first order of business is to dispatch his mother’s killer while her decapitated head looks on approvingly. Next, he sets himself up as the avenger of Camp Crystal Lake and kills another group of teenage counselors trying to reopen it. For the majority of the film, Jason wears overalls and a sack over his head with a single eye hole cut in it, which makes him look like the Elephant Man guest starring on Hee Haw. He is unmasked to reveal a face more at home in The Hills Have Eyes than a Friday the 13th film but the series was still young and developing.
Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D (1982) - As the first Friday sequel was being released to theaters, an old fad with a new twist resurfaced and a second three dimensional film boom occurred in the mid 80’s. The third Friday film took full advantage of the trend and sent every manner of person and thing flying out of the screen to the point it seemed more like a fun house than a Jason movie. Part 3 picks up right where two left off with Jason not really dead again and evading the law while terrorizing a lake house full of teens not too far from his favorite summer camp. This film is really nothing more than a trendy placeholder for the series but it did give Jason his trademark hockey mask after he removes it from the corpse of an irritating practical joker. Part 3 also introduced the makeup look that would be associated with the character throughout the rest of the series. On the down side, there is a less than coherent flashback sequence implying that Jason may have raped the film’s heroine years earlier but thankfully nothing comes of this. For some inane reason, we also get a final stinger that reverses the one in the first film and has Jason’s mother jumping up out of the lake! They should have called this one Friday the 13th Part 3: The Bad Dream.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) – After taking a year off to let audiences get the bad taste of the third installment out of their mouths, Paramount decided it was time to wrap up the franchise with a final chapter. After recovering in the morgue following part 3, Jason runs across another couple of houses in the woods with a clean cut family in one and some of those pesky promiscuous teens in another. With the exception of introducing an interesting character of a “Jason Hunter”, the brother of one of the earlier film’s victims, whose out for a little revenge of his own, it’s business as usual story wise for most of the film. Once the cast has been literally whittled down to the family’s two siblings, it’s up to young horror fan Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) to get medieval on Jason’s buttocks. The clever kid shaves his head to disguise himself as a young Jason and then nearly slices the confused elder Voorhees’ head in two with his own machete. Even though Jason was pretty darn dead at the end of this one, a last minute spooky look from little Tommy warned audiences he might be the next one under the hockey mask.
In much the same way that the original Friday had been intended as a self contained film, Final Chapter was intended to be the end of the series. If the Friday saga had ended here it would have been on a satisfying note but positive box office returns have a way of reviving the dead faster than any voodoo ritual or some ambiguous plague. Tossing the mantra of the previous film’s advertising campaign out the window; Paramount quickly decided that their cash cow would continue to give milk.
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) - Following the events of the previous movie, several years have passed and Jason killer Tommy Jarvis is now a mentally unstable teenager. Beginning with an impressive flashback to his youth, Tommy continues to see the ghost of Jason haunting him from the sidelines. After being transferred to a remote halfway house for troubled teens and witnessing one of the patients kill another, Tommy’s nightmares become reality and it appears Jason is back. While the filmmakers are to be commended for genuinely attempting something “new” for this “beginning”, the final revelation of the killer being the father of the patient murdered at the start of the film comes off a little too Scooby-Doo for a horror series. Fans were generally disappointed that Jason did not return and, pending that, Tommy had not followed in his bloody footsteps.
Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives! (1986)
– The posters for this installment featured a ghostly looking hockey mask rising from behind a familiar tombstone and that pretty much spelled out what audiences had to look forward to. Realizing the error of their ways with New Beginning, Jason Lives starts off in the cemetery with a still nutty Tommy Jarvis deciding if he can burn Jason’s body it will free him of his dementia (apparently he forgot that in New Beginning Jason was supposedly cremated already). After desecrating the grave and stabbing Jason’s corpse with a metal fence rod, a convenient bolt of lightening reanimates the main machete man and puts him back in business. As contrived as this opening seems, it was almost refreshing by this point in the series to see the filmmakers stop trying to fool people and make Jason the unstoppable Frankenstein-like monster he essentially was anyway. This set the tone for one of the most enjoyable entries in the entire series as Tommy now has to try to put a stop to the flood of carnage he inadvertently restarted. Even if the remainder of the film wasn’t as much fun as it is, seeing Jason rip the still beating heart out of Welcome Back Kotter’s Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo playing Tommy’s friend who has the misfortune of trying to help him burn the corpse) was worth the price of admission.
Coming in part 2: The Big Apple, outer space, and the final Freddy fight!