31 Days of Halloween: “Friday The 13th”

Bloggers Kelly Hager, Erik Kristopher Myers, and myself take on the infamous Jason Voorhees!

Kelly:

I come with a lot of controversial opinions, but the biggest one of all is this: Friday the 13th is probably my least favorite horror franchise. (With the possible exception of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.) Please don’t hate me. (I’m hoping my mind will be changed by this rewatch, because it is lonely to be a horror fan who doesn’t particularly like Jason Voorhees.

That said, the original is surprisingly good. It’s a fun thriller and I remember how shocking it was that the killer was a woman. I think this was one of the first horror movies I saw, so I was nine or 10. (The actual first was an Elm Street sequel, which is probably why I like Freddy more.) If you are a Jason fan, please explain why in the comments or on Twitter. I am @khager.

I do love the special effects (we can all agree that Tom Savini is the best, right?) and am excited to rewatch the others.

I do want to see the uncut version, because I bet that’s a little better.

Favorite kill: Mrs. Voorhees.

Nick:

Ah yes. Camp Blood.

I remember being PUMPED to see this film as a kid just waiting for Jason to jump up. Obviously, he never did. BUT I thought the Ms. Voorhees twist was great. Even though she was a murderer, she was still a bad ass. Is that okay to say or naw?

This is the film that made Kevin Bacon a goddamn star. His death scene is iconic and pretty bloody. That was one of the more shocking moments of the film for me. The most shocking would have to be the very end when lake Jason jumps out and lunges at Alice on the canoe.

(Erik’s being a smart ass so his review of both films will come under Part 2)

Kelly:

I’m of two minds about this one. I mostly really like it (Ginny has the best idea on how to get Jason to leave her alone—by pretending to be his dead mom, which isn’t nice but which actually IS really effective—and that makes her a great final girl even if she (a) wets herself and (b) says “Paul” a lot. (To the point where I’m pretty sure that’s her most used dialogue) but I also don’t like it. (Ned is the worst and also they kill Crazy Ralph, our favorite prophet of doom.)

Also I know the hockey mask is more iconic but I really like Sack-Mask Jason, with its one eyehole. I don’t think the movies would be as beloved as they are without the hockey mask, but the potato sack is underrated.

This is a fun sequel but not as fun as Part 3…the one that’s in 3D!

Favorite kill: I am going straight to hell for this, but probably Mark. (It would’ve been Ned but that jerk lives.)

Nick:

FINALLY we get Jason!

I didn’t like how they dispatched Alice so quickly. They could’ve built a nice story line around her but WHATEVS.

This is a nice sequel. It ups the blood, body count, and sex factor. Ginny is a pretty smart cookie but Jesus CHRIST she says “Paul” a lot. My favorite kill has to be Mark. Yes. The guy in the wheelchair. It’s just so BRUTAL. So Kelly, save me that seat in hell!

The ending is pretty ambiguous which frustrates tons of fans. I couldn’t care about Paul, I just wanna know if Muffin lived!

Erik:

One of the recurring images in horror cinema is that of the Evil Mother, or “Monstrous-Feminine,” in which the female is represented as a castrating force who threatens male supremacy in a patriarchal world.  Due to its primal nature, the aforementioned idea has manifested in contemporary 35mm mythologies via the exploration of gender roles, archetypes, and destructive female empowerment.

The most misunderstood genre of horror film is arguably the “Slasher,” in which “Good Girls” are rewarded for their chastity while “Bad Girls” are murdered in particularly gruesome ways; these morality tales speak volumes about our view of gender roles, and contain more room for discussion than the simplistic exploitation vehicles they are often categorized as being.  Friday the 13th stands apart within this subgenre, as it offers the clear and unique example of the Monstrous-Feminine in an otherwise male-dominated genre.  The plot twist in this claret-stained Ten Little Indians knockoff is that our shadowy killer is not a man at all; rather, the non-subservient maternal figure who threatens all sense of borders, of positions, and rules.  As in Alien the year prior, Friday the 13th presents a Bad Mother who refuses to bend to the stereotypical distinctions of the “weaker sex,” and seeks to overcome those who stand in her way for the sake of her child.  Essentially, the female acts as a castrated male who then becomes the castrator.

The notion of the Monstrous Feminine comes from Julia Kristeva and Barbara Creed, feminist writers who sought a deeper meaning in cinema via the concept of the abject.  According to these ideas, a child exists first in a Semiotic phase (one that is pre-Oedipal), in which the child sees no differentiation between itself, its mother, or its surroundings.  It is the move toward the Symbolic — patriarchal — that distances the child from the mother.  The mother’s need is to maintain control over the child, refusing to allow it to move on to the Symbolic (as in Psycho); if this is challenged, she becomes the “Evil Mother,” who cannot seem to justify her own existence beyond the maternal concept.  Because she concentrates solely on the reproductive process and positions herself outside the law, she becomes a threat to patriarchal order and must be destroyed.

One can make this argument about the role of Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th, which, despite its sensationalist tone, borrows freely from ancient myth.  The basic storyline of Friday the 13th and its immediate sequel is rarely acknowledged as a reworking of Beowulf, though whether this connection was by design or strictly unintentional remains open to debate; mythologies endure, though the names and faces change to reflect contemporary cultures and society.  Jason (who appears only during the climax of the original film) is essentially a modern interpretation of the deformed child-monster Grendel, who rises from his watery home to seek revenge for the beheading of his mother — which is more or less exactly how Friday the 13th is played out.  More than a decade after the drowning of her developmentally challenged son Jason at a summer camp on the outskirts of New Jersey, Mrs. Voorhees — presented as a single and altogether asexual parent — takes it upon herself to punish anyone working at the newly-reopened Camp Crystal Lake.  There’s nothing remotely feminine about her appearance:  she wears a frumpy sweater that removes any trace of sexuality, and sports a haircut that’s short and unappealing.  Couple this with her tendency to commit her crimes with blunt or phallic objects (knives, arrows, axes and hatchets) and you have a woman who embraces her sex without ever seeming to understand its implications beyond the base notion of motherhood.

All the while, Mrs. Voorhees seems obsessed with protecting the ideals of parenting, while punishing those who approach sex — the act preceding parenting — lightly.  She may also be equally fixated on what the act of sex represents:  the dominance of the male figure (who symbolically stabs, cuts, or rapes the female), and in turn reacts by killing both the male and the female; the former for committing the act, and the latter for allowing it to happen.  The girl who gives herself willingly (and submissively) is at odds with the notion of the Monstrous Feminine, and stands as a figure to be removed for lack of personal responsibility to her gender, as well as denying the responsibility of potential motherhood.  Why not stab her to death when she’s already allowed the male to stab her through the act of intercourse…?

In the case of Friday the 13th, childbirth is only hinted at, but its corresponding sequence is the best-remembered (if least understood) of the entire film.  After beheading the murderous Mrs. Voorhees and escaping onto the lake in a boat, Alice (Adrienne King), awakens the following morning to a beautiful sight:  the lake at dawn, the trees filled with color, and her rescuers (the patriarchal police force) waiting for her on the shore.  However, as order seems restored, she is attacked from behind when Jason, the long-dead inhabitant of the lake, emerges from the water to pull Alice down with him.  Jason, as presented in the film, is a hairless man-child, covered in placenta-like mud, who bursts forth from a watery womb after a night of sexually oriented deaths via phallic objects.  (While Friday the 13th went on to spawn ten sequels, most dropped the notion of the Monstrous Feminine in favor of Jason’s redundant exploits as a one-dimensional killer.  Friday the 13th Part 2 was the only film in the series to continue the original’s motif, presenting us with Jason as a “mama’s boy” who has kept his mother’s head and clothing in an abandoned cabin, to whom he brings his victims to make his mother proud.)  Following this emergence, Jason is reborn to continue his mother’s work, but is incomplete in development, trapped in a perpetual Semiotic phase without a father figure to lead him toward the Symbolic.  In effect, he becomes the mother, carrying on with the process of castration.  It’s interesting to note that this bond is hinted at earlier in Friday the 13th, when Mrs. Voorhees actually holds conversations with Jason, speaking in both voices.  One can further the argument that he is reborn at the end of the film by implying that this repeated dialogue exchange represents the singular bond between a pregnant mother and her unborn fetus.

Intriguingly, Mrs. Voorhees seeks to protect her offspring despite the fact that the child is already dead, but the ideology remain the same:  innocence must be governed by a female who takes a male stance.  However, unlike the patriarchal notions of a ruling class, the Monstrous-Feminine lurks in the shadows, committing her crimes off-screen, as if consciously aware that the “stronger sex” still possesses the power to prevent her actions.  It is only when she is forced to reveal herself that she does so, choosing instead to eliminate her obstacles one by one until the option is removed.  The men, however, are never the ones to force her final appearance.

Interestingly, it is a female — the “Final Girl” — who survives and ultimately triumphs over the Monstrous-Feminine, yet the message Friday the 13th attempts to send is unclear at best.  Inverting the notion of the male gaze, the “Final Girl” serves as the viewer’s chief identification within the narrative; however, the “Final Girl” inhabits the physical characteristics of the Monstrous-Feminine, in that Alice is capable of using her fists rather than simply screaming.  Like Mrs. Voohees, she is in no way a passive character, and neither one is particularly feminine in the classical sense of the word, choosing to wear clothing that downplays their sexuality and wearing hairstyles that border on masculine.  While Alice’s physicality is hinted at (she sleeps with camp owner Steve Christy on Thursday the 14th, and later participates in a game of Strip Monopoly), she never fully inhabits the full-blown characteristics of a sexually-aware woman.  For this reason, she triumphs over the Monstrous-Feminine by inhabiting similar characteristics she shares with her adversary.  Yet despite the fact that she survives the climactic confrontation, Alice is dispatched by Jason during the opening sequence of Friday the 13th Part 2.  The “Final Girl” always manages to escape, but she is never truly free, and eventually falls victim to the monster.

The notion of the Monstrous-Feminine is apparent is other horror or suspense films (most notably Psycho, IT, and Dressed to Kill), but it’s a concept that has been only touched on within the genre.  Typically, Slasher films are dominated by male killers enacting female punishment fantasies via decidedly phallic weapons, but the notion of the “Bad Mother” is one that appears in surprisingly few films.  While it has endured thousands of years and repeated retellings, it surfaces rarely now, perhaps because of the uncomfortable implications inherent within the concept.

Kelly:

I would say this is probably the most ridiculous Friday, but I’m pretty sure that’s actually Jason Takes Manhattan. Either way, this is the most ridiculous of the three I’ve rewatched so far. It’s in 3D, which is completely cheesy (although generally it’s just weapons coming toward the screen but sometimes juggling fruit and in one lovely case, an eye. So there’s that).

The opening credits music is very disco, and it’s goofy as hell but I love it. The Friday the 13th title track is one of the most iconic horror themes (second only to Halloween and maybe “Tubular Bells” from the Exorcist?) and the disco version is really fun.

The rest of the movie? Well, it’s where Jason gets his famous mask (thanks to Shelly, the biggest jerk ever) and there’s a motorcycle gang and sex in a hammock. (Like all sex in horror movies, the aftermath is brutal.) On to part 4, where we meet Tommy Jarvis.

Favorite Kill: I think Rick? (I can only remember one non-Voorhees character name per movie, and this one is Shelly.) Either way, it’s the guy who looks like an actual Ken doll and whose death is clearly due to 3D. Who doesn’t love an eye coming toward you?

Nick:

Is it bad I have I have the disco theme music on my computer?

Anyway, I actually kinda like this one. The kills are memorable: Vera gets shot in the eye with a arrow, Debbie (who by the way is possibly pregnant) is killed a la Kevin Bacon, and her boyfriend Andy is cut in half basically with a machete.

And yes. THIS is the one where Jason gets his iconic mask. This takes place two days AFTER the events of Part 2, so there’s some continuity.

Bring on Part 4…

Erik:

In discussing Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, I referenced the unfortunate resurgence of 3-D in the early 1980s.  While it seems a format tailor-made for a subgenre of Horror built around the idea of stabbing, impaling and otherwise launching bodies toward the audience, it was never successfully utilized in this fashion; to wit, Friday the 13th Part 3 is more concerned with allowing viewers to revel in the sight of a yo-yo descending toward camera, or characters juggling because Fuck You, It’s 3-D.  For a series of quickly-made and cheaply-shot exploitation cash-ins, the third installment was exhaustively taxing for director Steve Miner, who had to worry about novel concepts like lighting and focus.  These latter points are particularly important to anyone only saw Part 3 on television or home video, as the 3-D process, stripped of the theatrical effect, results in a film that is excessively over-lit, and soft in terms of overall clarity, due to the merging of two separate images for a two-dimensional render.  As such, it’s an ugly-looking film filled with people awkwardly shoving things in your face for absolutely no reason.  In other words, it’s a Friday the 13th movie.

It’s a bit early to get into the issues of continuity that first appeared in the second film and then run rampant here in the third episode; the series becomes even more bewildering as the sequels pile up, and as Jason’s overall look and motivation cause one to have the same brain-melt that occurs when trying to do long division in your head.  We’ll get there, I promise.  However, it’s absolutely worth noting that this is the first and only film in the series that depicts Jason as being both developmental disabled (when unmasked, he appears to have Downs Syndrome rather than a nebulous disorder), and it’s also the one time that it’s suggested he might enjoy slipping his female victims more than just a knife, AMIRIGHT?  By the time we come to the climax, which manages to merge a genuinely terrifying image (Jason at the window of his victims’ house, grinning stupidly at The Final Girl just outside) and the inane (the nonsensical faux-jump scare involving Mrs. Voorhees aping her son’s leap from the water in the first film, albeit in a pond that’s supposed to stand in for Crystal Lake), it’s clear that the filmmakers don’t give a shit about whether any of this makes sense, and neither should you.  You have to admire the series its refusal to care.