Sunday, October 18, 2015

Movies I Grew Up With: the Friday the 13th Franchise


For all intents and purposes, John Carpenter's Halloween is the first modern slasher flick, one where a singular psycho stalks and slaughters co-eds as punishment for their own hedonism. I was seven years old when it came out. As I've mentioned several times on this site, my mother was pretty lenient with what she let me watch. However, she's not a fan of horror flicks and didn't watch it, herself. Therefore, I didn't see it, either, at least not until I was an adult. By the time I was thirteen, and seeing plenty of movies on my own either at house of one of my friends or just staying up late, the biggest of the Halloween clones, Friday the 13th was actually on its third installment and going on its fourth. I actually hadn't seen any of them, yet, but I was already aware of the franchise.

When the original Friday the 13th hit theaters in 1980, it quite literally set the world on fire. It was a stripped down version of Halloween, replacing the former's story-telling acumen with an increase in lingering shots of vapid twenty-somethings as they either got naked, inebriated, or butchered. Having not seen either, and being so young, none of this meant much to me. What was fascinating was how much the very existence of Friday the 13th was being blamed for starting the fall of western civilizations. It was endlessly debated on television with a number of pundits branding it the most evil thing in cinematic history. In all discussions on the effect of movies on the rise of sex and violence and the decline of morality in America, Friday the 13th was sure to be brought up. I specifically remember watching Nightline one night while a particularly spirited debate was taking place. All of this only meant one thing to me. I had to see this movie. I was ten.


Fast forward to the summer I turned thirteen. In those days, I spent my break from school at my grandparents' house in North Carolina. They had something I didn't have back in Queens: cable. This was the most potent drug to a budding cinephile who was used to only having access to the three major networks and a handful of local channels with no original programming of their own. I spent many nights watching movies until the sun came up. On one of those nights there happened to be a marathon of the first three Friday the 13th movies. At the time, this comprised the entire series. Nothing in the world was going to stop me from watching this. It was a full night of machete swinging madness and I ate up every minute of it without flinching. When I finally lied down to try and sleep that night, I had about five minutes of consternation. It so happened that my grandparents had a large backyard bordered by woods that we never went into. I was a little worried at who could be walking around out there. However, that feeling quickly passed as exhaustion triumphed. It was the only time the franchise had me even remotely afraid. Well, there was that one camping trip when I thought someone was walking behind me at night, but I don't really count that one.

Over the course of that summer, I must have watched those movies a half dozen times each. They served as my gateway into slasher flicks. The now famous twist at the end of the first film floored me. It was a genius piece of story-telling, a perfect way to end such a twisted movie. However, even then I knew that the rest of the film was not a paragon of screenwriting. It was all about the visual and visceral thrill. In other words, it was all about the kill scenes. Seeing the useless characters lose their fictional lives in inventive fashion was the draw. The thrill of each new installment is seeing how a new group of co-eds were going to be dispatched. It overwhelms the franchise to the point where that's all that matters. Though I've watched them all I don't know how many times, I struggle to name even a handful of characters other than Jason and Mrs. Voorhees. Even back then, I couldn't. Still, year after year, I eagerly awaited the release of a new entry into the canon to see that very thing. The film-makers understood there were a lot of people like me who were fans of the franchise and were only too happy to oblige. Rather quickly, the series went from horror to dark comedy and, eventually, a parody of itself.


Through it all, the best entries, the worst, and the truly weird ones, I remained a loyal fan. Most of my friends, and later my siblings, were fans. Along with loads of action movies and comedies watched during various sleepovers, and for me, visits to North Carolina, we always made sure we saw the latest Jason flick. However, these weren't the type of movies that had us cowering in fear and peeping through parted fingers. These were wide-eyed sources of morbid humor. My mother watched with us once or twice, at least partially. She couldn't understand the appeal and checked out early. On a few occasions when I visited my father, I watched with him. He was much more in tune with the series, but they weren't his favortie. For me and all my cronies, it was everything. There was nothing more satisfying than sitting down to watch the next Friday the 13th flick for the first time.

My love for the series has never waned. Even into adulthood, as the series grew more and more ridiculous, it was a priority of mine to see every one that came out, including the 2009 remake which I enjoyed a lot more than most of you. Whenever they were on cable, I would watch them. Every now and again I rented one or more just to see them again. Eventually, I wouldn't have to as they rather unsurprisingly found their way into my DVD collection. Proving how important the series has been to me, they got there differently than probably ninety percent of all the movies I own. It's a group of nearly 800 titles built through bargain hunting. I purchased most of them used at video stores, book stores, pawn shops, and wherever else I might find them. However, I happened to be in Best Buy close to Christmas one year and saw a brand new box set of the first eight films. I happily plunked down fifty bucks for it. That's a pretty good deal on a boxed set for a well known franchise with that many installments, but still a big stretch considering how many movies I bought for five bucks or less. The upshot is I get to see them whenever I want. And just in case you think I didn't, I absolutely spent a few more dollars and purchased separate DVDs for what was not included in the set: Jason Goes to Hell, Jason X, Freddy vs. Jason, and the 2009 remake/reboot.


A few years back, I shared them with my son. They were some of his first horror flicks. Candyman was his actual first, and that scared the shit out of him. That's my fault. I think I was year or two early on letting him enter the world of scary movies. By the time he got to Friday the 13th he was a bit better prepared, having seen Child's Play and at least one of the Final Destination flicks. He enjoyed them with me and showed the same shock I remember showing when first experiencing the twist in that first film. As we trekked through the series, some together, some on his own, he got the same twisted humor and had fun with them. Now, it's just about my daughters' turns to get familiarized with the exploits of the Voorhees family. An odd rite of passage, I know, but it's ours.


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14 comments:

  1. Know you're not really an awards guy, but I wanted to pass on how much of a fan of your blog I am https://alexraphael.wordpress.com/2015/10/18/v/

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  2. Interesting read as usual Dell. I love how you inject personality into it, I felt like I was reading a mini-bio hehe. I haven't seen any of these films, where do you think I should start??

    PS thanks for the link love :)))

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    1. Thanks. I'm glad it's a good read. No prob on the link.

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  3. Halloween is the start of the modern slasher, but I recommend tracking down Bay of Blood. It's an Italian film, which means that it also has a couple of hundred alternate names, including the awesome Twitch of the Death Nerve.

    There are a couple of scenes in this that were duplicated shot-for-shot in the original Friday the 13th. It's not a great film by any stretch, but it's formative for the genre in a lot of ways.

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    1. It's been on my radar for years, but I've not seen it, yet. Going to see if I can find it. And Twitch of the Death Nerve might be the greatest grouping of words I've ever read.

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    2. I love that a bunch of European horror movies have tons of names. I think the record is Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, which had more than a dozen different release names including Don't Open the Window, Do Not Profane the Sleep of the Dead, and The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue.

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  4. I'm doing a large event next year for Halloween (working on it started a week ago) and in that I'm watching all the films from the big horror franchises, including F13. Can't wait, because I'm gonna get my horror on! I'm not actually sure how many of these films I've seen over the years (a quick perusal of the posters makes me think only about two!) but the legacy is tremendous.

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    1. I plan on reviewing all of the F13 films individually next year, too. Not sure if I will do any other franchise. Looking forward to see your thoughts on them.

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  5. I can tell you are a devoted fan of the series. I watched the first film, though I've heard the sequels expand on the villain Jason. I was surprised part 1 didn't include his iconic mask.

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    1. That first one doesn't really involve Jason, either, lol. I am very much a devoted fan.

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    2. Jokes aside, I can't think of any other horror series in which the iconic outfit of the villain (hockey mask) does not appear until part 3. All the more reason for me to watch p2 and p3!

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    3. That's because the first was meant to be a standalone, if I'm not mistaken. Its box office success is the only reason a second one was made. They were developing Jason on the fly so I doubt anyone thought about giving him a hockey mask until it was time to male that 3rd movie.

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