Arguably the best and most telling sequence of the Friday the 13th series surprisingly does not include Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder), the infamous masked mass-murderer of horny teenagers and dope-smoking camp counselors in the greater Crystal Lake area. Not so surprisingly, it occurs in The Final Chapter, which is the most well-directed and inventive volume in the franchise, in stiff competition with the deliriously entertaining sixth part, Jason Lives!. Not that long into The Final Chapter, adolescent Tommy Jarvis, initially played by Corey Feldman, sneaks a peak at a couple of the aforementioned randy teens undressing in a neighboring house and begins to giddily bounce, gesticulate, and roll around on his bed, unable to communicate the wild feelings that are beginning to bubble up in him, what with puberty just an awkward gym-class boner away.
The main thematic core of Friday the 13th, or at least its most sustained and successful theme, is sex, of course, as it seems to be the one thing that sends the seemingly immortal Jason into one of his famously sanguine tizzies. In theoretical terms, Jason’s mutilation and destruction of so many bodies is his impulsive reaction and reflection of sexuality. Mind you, when Ms. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) divulges a few lines of back story in the first Friday the 13th, she says that the teens were too busy having sex to save her poor Jason from drowning in Crystal Lake. Not for nothing is this franchise the one that most accurately reflects the conservative nature of American society at the time, punishing purveyors of marijuana, booze, and pre-marital sex with brutality that’s only second to the Bible itself. Indeed, sex is intertwined with death in these films, even more than in either the Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween movies, although the latter certainly has its own unique consideration of sexuality and the psyche underneath roiling within its enthusiastic, chilling butchery. Friday the 13th remains the franchise most indebted to the psychology of sexuality, even if that’s not what’s really memorable about these films.
No, what’s usually remembered from this series is the rampant bad acting, the superfluous nudity, the, er, “unorthodox” implements of murder, and the innumerable lapses in logic that powered this franchise through some dozen or so iterations. This is one of those rare cases where trying to make sense or court realism actually damages the engaging, even impressive elements of these films; the main reason the 2009 reboot of the series failed (on nearly every level) is that it took up reason to explain Jason’s miraculous abilities, as if any fan of this series was really hoping to have their feet planted in the ground while watching a film about a hockey-masked slayer who has survived more kinds of death than fucking Rasputin. The series, started by Sean S. Cunningham, began as competent and sober, only to become more and more intoxicated with camp and lascivious pleasures and, finally, collapsing into a pile of cheap, cheesy narrative gimmicks or grim gore. As talks begin to pile on about the production of yet another reboot, I decided to look at what has been most successful in the Friday the 13th films and what has rightly made them the subject of numerous parodies and cinephilic derision. Hint: the fact that there’s more nudity in these films than in the unused footage from Boogie Nights does not help.