For some people, Friday the 13th is a day to stay clear of ladders, keep umbrellas outside, and avoid mirrors and black cats at all costs. For others, it means marathons of one of horror’s most famous faces: Jason Voorhees. Who would’ve thought machetes, hockey masks, and dozens and dozens of stupid teenagers would make such a great cinematic combination? Since the original Friday the 13th in 1980, the Jason series has spawned nine sequels, one TV series (and another in development), a crossover, and a reboot. If you’ve only got time to watch five Friday the 13th movies tonight, here are the five best you could choose:
1. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
It seems quaint now that the producers of the Jason series thought Friday the 13th Part 4 would be their last movie. After all, could they really expect audiences to watch the same movie over and over every couple of years? (The answer is yes, yes they could.) Considered the best of the series, The Final Chapter distills the series to its fundamentals and executes them (pun intended) flawlessly. It also includes a pre-George McFly Crispin Glover, the “death” of Jason Voorhees, and a haunting final scene where Corey Feldman alters his appearance to appeal to Jason’s inner child.
2. Freddy vs. Jason
The final shot of Jason Goes to Hell showed Freddy Krueger’s claws reach out of the soil and pull Jason’s mask down with him. It was originally intended as a joke, but fans took it very seriously and demanded a crossover film. In 2003 they got it, a slick, nonstop horror that wasn’t afraid to make fun of itself. Combining the dream elements of Freddy’s Nightmare on Elm Street series brought Jason to strange new places, including a look into his subconscious. It also ended with an all-out war between the horror titans, something no Jason fan should miss.
3. Friday the 13th
The one that started it all, 1980’s Friday the 13th introduced us to the idea of teenagers at a summer camp getting picked off one by one. It also introduced us to Kevin Bacon, but didn’t give us enough time to get to know him. While its sequels may have honed the series strengths, the original has possibly the best climax, with a now-infamous plot twist and a haunting scene in the middle of a lake that can still harvest nightmares.
4. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Jason may have been finally killed at the end of Final Chapter and replaced by a lackluster copycat killer in Part V, but it was Part VI that introduced the supernatural, super-strength unstoppable killing machine most people associate with the character. Jason’s body is dug up and struck by lightning, granting him immortality. It’s not just Jason that is infused with more energy though, as Part VI is bigger than all of its predecessors, involving shoot-outs and car chases. Unable to be killed, the film ends with Jason chained to the bottom of Crystal Lake, staring off and waiting for the next sequel.
5. Friday the 13th Part 2
The first sequel in the series, Part 2 introduces an adult Jason Voorhees for the first time, dispatching a new crop of teenagers. The kills were already leaps and bounds more creative than the previous film, showing the series was willing to learn and grow. It’s also remarkable for being the last film before Jason finds his iconic hockey mask. Wearing a sack over his head with just one eyehole, Jason resembles the Dark Knight series’ Scarecrow, but is just as haunting as with the hockey mask, if not more.
While Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason X, which takes place on a spaceship in the far future, are not good movies, they are inherently watchable, playing with Jason’s already pop culture status in fun ways. Both are worth watching. Other weaker films worthy of note are Part VII, where Jason fights a telekinetic psychic; Part V, featuring a copycat killer; Part III, where Jason first finds his hockey mask and also takes an axe to the face, and The Final Friday, where Jason is ambushed by the FBI and finally goes to Hell. So, pretty much all of them are worth a watch, except of course the Michael Bay-produced reboot from 2009. Which isn’t that terrible, really… So, yeah, just watch them all. It’s safer than walking under any ladders today.
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