Ever since cult leader and convicted murderer Charles Manson made the cover of Time magazine following the gruesome slaughter of Hollywood actress Sharon Tate in 1969, popular culture has been obsessed with serial killers, sociopaths and monsters that take lives without conscience. Nowhere was this more evident than with the sudden popularity of the slasher film. Following the unexpected success of John Carpenter’s Halloween in the late seventies, an ambitious producer set out to capitalise on its popularity with a violent picture called Friday the 13th that would take the American film industry by surprise and launch a wave of endless sequels and imitators. Critics were reviled but audiences could not get enough of the graphic special effects and titillating softcore nudity, prompting major studios to greenlight any script that focused on nubile teenagers being picked off one-by-one by a masked maniac.
When the cameras first began rolling on Friday the 13th in September 1979, neither its director Sean S. Cunningham nor its writer Victor Miller could have imagined that forty years later filmmakers would still be developing sequels to their low budget picture. Produced for $550,000 and purchased as a negative pick-up by Paramount, the movie became an overnight sensation when it was released the following spring, drawing in large crowds despite the highly-anticipated Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back dominating the box office. Earning $5.8m on its opening weekend, by the end of its theatrical run Friday the 13th had grossed almost $40m and within twelve months Part 2 had been unleashed upon the world.
Friday the 13th was the epitome of everything that critics hated about the slasher genre, with its paper-thin storyline, lapses in logic and mean-spirited treatment of its female characters. ‘In the slasher film, sexual transgressions of both sexes are scheduled for early destruction. The genre is studded with couples trying to find a place beyond the purview of parents and employers where they can have sex and immediately afterward (or during the act) being killed,’ noted scholar Carol J. Clover in her acclaimed analysis Men, Women and Chainsaws. ‘The Friday the 13th series exploits this device at least once per film.’ Yet despite the controversy surrounding these movies, Paramount produced a new instalment at a rate of almost one a year throughout the eighties, eventually selling the property to a rival studio when audiences finally lost interest.
The centrepiece of the franchise was Jason Voorhees, a boy who had supposedly drowned decades earlier, causing his deranged mother to exact vengeance on those she felt were responsible for his premature death. But the inevitable sequel had forced the producers into a corner and with Jason eventually becoming the focal point of the story, his bloody legacy would rival that of Psycho’s Norman Bates or Halloween’s Michael Myers. And over the following decade Jason became something of a pop culture phenomenon, with his iconic hockey mask adorning posters and magazine covers around the world. Rivalled only by James Bond, Friday the 13th would produce no less than eleven sequels and spinoffs over the next three decades, culminating in a big budget reboot almost thirty years after Jason had first graced the silver screen.
But long before the hockey mask and the bloody legacy of Jason Voorhees there was just a title. ‘I’m there behind my desk and I think, ‘Friday the 13th. If I had a picture called Friday the 13th, that I could sell,’’ recalled Cunningham to author Maitland McDonagh fifteen years later. ‘I get this image in my mind of a television commercial starting with a little white dot coming straight at the screen and as it gets closer and closer you can read the big block letters. It says, ‘Friday the 13th. The most terrifying film ever made.’ Just as it reaches the final position, smack! It hits a kind of mirror and everything breaks. And this deep and menacing voice says, ‘Friday the 13th. The most terrifying film ever made.’’
In much the same way that the teenagers in Friday the 13th were running away from Jason Voorhees, Cunningham too was attempting to escape from a monster, one of his creation. In the early seventies he was a fledging producer in New York, working on a succession of sex education and softcore pictures in an attempt to capitalise on the growing interest in mainstream pornography. Having crossed paths with a young editor called Wes Craven, the two joined forces on an exploitation picture that they hoped would bring them both to the attention of Hollywood and the resulting controversy that surrounded The Last House on the Left proved to be both a blessing and a curse for the two filmmakers. The movie, a sleazy tale of rape, murder and revenge, finally brought much-needed success but its impact on the horror genre would ultimately typecast them.
‘I’m not even remotely interested in making a movie like that today,’ admitted Cunningham to author David Szulkin when looking back on his feature debut in 1997’s The Making of a Cult Classic. ‘You’re just there at a particular time and a door opens and you walk through it; you don’t know what’s going to be on the other side of the door. There’s no thought of, ‘Is this a career move?’ or, ‘Is this something I really want to do?’ or, ‘Is this something that I’m even going to be talking about twenty-five years from now?’ I can’t emphasise enough how far-removed Last House was from anything like that. The real question at the time was, ‘Could this ever be shot and cut into something that looks like a movie?’ I think one of the reasons why the film continued to be so successful, in however a limited way, is that in spite of its amateur quality, the story was strong enough to carry it…But I’m certainly glad to have made it because it made a whole bunch of other things possible.’
Desperate to distance himself from his earlier work, Cunningham attempted to emulate the success of the family-friendly hit The Bad News Bears with two similar sports comedies, Here Come the Tigers and Manny’s Orphans. With both pictures commercial failures, Cunningham began searching for a new winning formula and in the autumn of 1978 this would come with the arrival of Halloween. The film followed a basic structure – a maniac escapes a mental hospital and returns to his hometown to continue a murder spree – but its prowling camerawork and haunting score resonated with audiences and it was an immediate critical and commercial success. Cunningham soon realised that if he could replicate what had made the film appeal to such a wide demographic, he too could create his own slice-and-dice thriller.
While he had a title and an idea he was without a story and so turned to Miller, the man responsible for his two sports pictures, to help develop a script. ‘First came the concept that we emulate Halloween,’ explained Miller. ‘The idea for the summer camp came from my instinct that we needed a location where young adults would be cut off from all adult help, the basic idea of Halloween. The idea that Jason had died before the film began also came from the concept in Halloween, that there is a prior evil; Michael Myers murdering the babysitter, if I recall correctly. The rest of the story came as a result of the location and that one-by-one the campers would be eliminated by the world’s most protective (and insane) mother, Mrs. Voorhees.’
With Cunningham having placed a one-sheet advert in Variety declaring, ‘The most terrifying film ever made! Available December 1978,’ Miller commenced work on the first draft of a screenplay that he had entitled Long Night at Camp Blood and taking key plot points from Halloween a story slowly began to take shape. In the summer of 1979 a group of camp counsellors arrive at the remote Camp Crystal Lake to assist in the renovation of the facility before its grand reopening. Two decades earlier a young boy had drowned in the lake and the following year a double murder had convinced its owners to close the site indefinitely. Despite protests from the local community, many of whom believed the area to be cursed, the teenage counsellors assist in the new owner’s attempt at revamping the camp but within twenty-four hours of their arrival all but one lay dead, their killer revealed to be Mrs. Voorhees, the grief-stricken mother of the drowned child.’
I knew that Friday was going to be very gory
Although Cunningham was determined to dissect and replicate Halloween he was all-too-aware that he lacked the style and technical knowledge of John Carpenter and so decided that he would have to incorporate some kind of gimmick into the mix. ‘Halloween was a real artistic piece of work but I knew that Friday was going to be very gory and very much like a Bava film,’ he told writer David Grove in Making Friday the 13th. ‘I think the main inspiration I got from Halloween, aside from its success, was just the title. It was such a great title that, I think even if they’d made a bad film it would’ve done very well. I mean, some people said that Halloween copied Black Christmas, which came out years earlier. With Friday the 13th, I knew that the project was going to be nothing like Halloween, except that I wanted that same kind of impact; the jolts, the rollercoaster ride.’
In order to accomplish the task of duplicating the success of Halloween without employing the same techniques, Cunningham reached out to a rising artist within the film industry, one whose recent success with an acclaimed zombie epic had made him hot property. Dawn of the Dead, the long-awaited sequel to the seminal masterpiece Night of the Living Dead, had taken the horror scene by storm and much of its success was attributed to the graphic special effects, designed and created by Tom Savini. Having served in Vietnam, Savini had witnessed the mutilation of the human body and when he began working on low budget horror films following his discharge from service he employed much of what he had experienced into his work. Thus, his special effects on the likes of Dead of Night and the Ed Gein-inspired Deranged singled him out as an artist to be reckoned with.
‘A special effects artist is exactly the same as a magician, in that we try to make you believe what you are seeing is really happening, using misdirection and mechanical devices you’re not aware of,’ explained Savini on the magic that he would bring to a variety of horror films. ‘I enjoy magic tricks. That’s what special make-up effects are, magic tricks. I enjoy doing make-up effects that are combined with some sort of stage magic that fools the audience, making them really believe what they are seeing, right in front of their very eyes. That is where my strength has been, as well as creatures and the true depiction of what death does to people. That sort of thing I saw first-hand as a combat photographer in Vietnam. If the fake stuff doesn’t give me the same feeling I got looking at the real stuff, the fake stuff isn’t real enough.’
While the appeal of Friday the 13th would be the graphic murders, Miller’s screenplay adopted several key elements of Halloween and in turn these plot points inspired a generation of slasher films. In much the same way as the urban legends and nursery rhymes of old, the protagonists of Friday the 13th were isolated from the community and, specifically, parental figures, allowing them to disobey orders and wander from the path laid out before them. In Little Red Riding Hood it was the young girl literally leaving the path to pick flowers against the instructions of her mother, while in Friday the 13th it was teenagers indulging in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. In keeping with the template set out by Halloween, Miller’s protagonist Alice did not engage in sex and even remained clothed during a game of strip poker, but as each of her friends indulge in sex and mischief they are punished by the unseen killer.
The moral message of the slasher film was established very early on: sex equals death. The girl that wanders outside semi-naked or the boy that obsesses over losing his virginity to the popular girl at school will eventually be punished. ‘As in almost every slasher, in Friday the 13th sex and violence are inexorably tied together,’ described author Adam Rockoff in Going to Pieces. ‘As the prevailing theory goes, to satisfy the burgeoning sexuality of the predominantly adolescent male audience, numerous gratuitous scenes of nudity and sexual activity are inserted. To satisfy the hierarchical puritanical ideology which still pervades our society, those same teenagers who engage in these illicit acts are punished in the most brutal manner possible. However, in Friday the 13th, Cunningham justifies this post-coital slaughter by validating it with thematic relevance. Mrs. Voorhees doesn’t kill because of the sexual act per se but in retribution for the death of her son, whose neglect was prompted by the overriding sexual urge of irresponsible camp counsellors.’
There were several other tropes established in either Halloween or Friday the 13th that would lay the groundwork for the slasher film. With Friday the 13th’s Ned and later embellished with Part 2’s Ted and Part 3’s Shelly, the franchise utilised the concept of the practical joker, a character whose purpose to the story was both to provide comic relief in between the violent set pieces and create some false-scares before the murderer strikes again. And while the teenagers indulged in irresponsible behaviour, the authority figures would fail to protect them. Both the town sheriff and Myers’ psychiatrist in Halloween were unable to save the children from the deranged killer, much in the same way that the local police and even the owner of Camp Crystal Lake failed to protect the young counsellors in Friday the 13th. Even Ralph, the prophet of doom that warns the young protagonists of the fate that awaits them, makes no real attempt to save the teenagers, thus his ineptitude contributes to their demise.
With every other character either absent or dead, Alice is forced to face the killer alone and so resorts to her most primal instincts, using anything at her disposal to survive as the determined Mrs. Voorhees closes in for the kill. Just as Halloween’s Laurie had turned the tables on Michael Myers, Alice eventually gets the upper hand and decapitates the killer with their own machete. In the early hours of the morning the sheriff and his deputies arrive at the camp to discover the blood bath, with the lone survivor adrift on the lake. But as Alice awakens to find that she has been rescued a boy bursts out of the water and drags her down below. Sometime later she comes to in a hospital bed and is told that the young boy was just a dream but she is convinced that it was Jason, who has returned to his resting place at the bottom of the lake.
The revelation that Jason still haunted Crystal Lake was not an aspect of Miller’s script and had been devised at the eleventh hour out of necessity, with the filmmakers believing that the audience would need one last scare to leave them satisfied. Phil Scuderi, one of the film’s investors, was desperate to capture the same kind of final twist that Carrie had employed a few years earlier and so turned to one of his associates, a writer by the name of Ron Kurz, for assistance. While the epilogue had been intended as little more than a way to send the audience out on a high, unbeknown to all involved this final twist allowed the producers to bring Jason back from the dead for its sequel, thus introducing the world to one of the most iconic horror villains of all time.
Jason, as we know him, is my creation
‘I remember being out to dinner in Boston with Phil and his secretary and I told him of my idea to change the Jason character,’ explained Kurz in Crystal Lake Memories. ‘He then got up without a word and left the table, going into the lobby where we saw him pacing around. His secretary looked at me and said, ‘Wow, you got him good with that one.’ After that, the ending lake scene became Phil’s obsession. From what I understood, he was all over Sean to do it right, Phil all but directing it himself by some accounts I’ve heard. But let me make one thing crystal clear – the idea of making Jason ‘different’ was mine, the scene of him leaping out of the lake at the end was mine. The ending was mine. I conceived it, I wrote it. Phil, having the power over Sean, carried it through into film. Yet despite my contribution to the original film I’ve never gotten any formal credit, although I’m told some sequels state ‘based upon characters created by Victor Miller and Ron Kurz.’ It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, nor something I have ever trumpeted, but Jason, as we know him, is my creation.’
When Friday the 13th was finally released on 9 May 1980 there was very little in the way of competition at the American box office but with the imminent arrival of The Empire Strikes Back the producers were aware that their low budget picture could easily slip into obscurity like so many other horror films of the era. Convinced that they had a potential hit on their hands, Paramount invested heavily in marketing Friday the 13th but the highly-publicised release of such a violent movie resulted in an onslaught of negative press. ‘Friday the 13th was a ripe target for film critics and cultural commentators throughout the summer of 1980,’ detailed author David Grove in On Location in Blairstown. ‘The most influential opponent of Friday the 13th, by far, was Chicago Tribune newspaper film critic Gene Siskel. In 1980, Siskel was co-hosting – alongside Chicago Sun-Times newspaper film critic Roger Ebert – Sneak Previews, a weekly television film review programme that aired on public broadcasting. It was on this television platform that Siskel, who described Cunningham as ‘one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest the movie business,’ basically declared war on Friday the 13th.’
While Halloween had received unanimous praise upon its release, barely eighteen months had passed since its release and its most notorious successor, Friday the 13th, had only served to anger and disgust the film critic community. ‘Low budget in the worse sense, with no apparent talent or intelligence to offset its technical inadequacies, Friday the 13th has nothing to offer but its title,’ declared Variety in their scathing review, while the Hollywood Reporter added, ‘The kids are knocked off one-by-one, with the killer and clichéd motivations being finally revealed in the final sequence. Cunningham seems obsessed with shock value, which is the only thing he achieves during the ninety-one minute running time.’ If the critics were to have been believed then Friday the 13th was destined to disappear without a trace but as word began to spread from cinemagoers who were both fascinated and disgusted by the graphic onscreen violence, curious patrons were eager to witness the carnage for themselves.
The impact of Friday the 13th was immediate and soon other producers were desperate to repeat its success, much as Cunningham had done with Halloween. Even those films that had already completed principal photography by the time of Friday the 13th’s release were marketed by distributors in a similar fashion and by the end of 1980 the likes of The Boogeyman and Fade to Black were catering to the same audience. Over the next two years cinemas and drive-ins across America were awash with their own variations and these were manifested in the form of The Burning and My Bloody Valentine. By the time that Paramount released a sequel to Friday the 13th in April 1981 the market had already become saturated with a host of imitators but over the next few years the slasher genre would come to be dominated by Jason Voorhees.
But Cunningham had never envisioned Jason as the villain, nor had he intended on creating a sequel and so when Paramount expressed interest in developing a follow-up he refused to participate, instead turning his attention to a more respectable thriller called A Stranger Is Watching. Savini would also express his disappointment at Jason becoming the antagonist of a sequel and instead opted to work on other violent slasher films, employing his creative art on such classics as Maniac and The Prowler. With its two main participants having turned their back on their creation, Paramount and the property’s producers, Georgetown Productions, were forced to look elsewhere for a creative team that could bring Jason back from the dead. But as luck would have it, they wouldn’t have to search far.
Steve Miner had first made the acquaintance of Cunningham in the early seventies and had served in a production capacity on The Last House on the Left. When Cunningham had declined the offer to direct Friday the 13th Part 2, Miner was the most obvious candidate. ‘Because Georgetown wanted to shoot the sequel so quickly Sean wasn’t going to be able to do it,’ claimed Miner. ‘Sean was busy preparing a lot of projects at other studios. I was originally approached to only produce the sequel but it soon became clear to me that I would do as good a job at directing Part 2 as anybody else could.’ With a director finally in place, one who had cut his teeth on the original movie, now the producers were forced to develop a story, one that could justify its existence following the death of its villain and so the priority now became finding a way to continue the series with a new antagonist.
Another key contributor in the making of Friday the 13th who protested against the return of Jason Voorhees was his creator, Victor Miller. With his suggestion of the series working as an anthology overruled he failed to see the logic of Jason still being alive and so instead decided to reunite with Cunningham on his next project. ‘By the time Part 2 was in the works I was too expensive because I had written a mega-hit,’ stated Miller. ‘The principle of the sequel is you work cheaper, not more expensively. I probably would have fought the idea of making Jason the bad guy and been fired from the project anyway.’ Yet despite moving onto A Stranger Is Watching, the ghost of his previous movie continued to haunt him. ‘One of the problems with the publicity was that they tried to sell it as the work of the men who brought you Friday the 13th,’ Miller told Love-It-Loud. ‘I dine out on Friday the 13th, almost no one remembers A Stranger Is Watching.’
With Miller no longer in the picture the producers turned to Kurz, who had already demonstrated his talents on the first picture, to offer audiences more of the same. Two months after the massacre of Crystal Lake, Alice is struggling with what happened at what the locals have come to know as Camp Blood. A figure makes its way unseen into her home and claims his vengeance against her for the murder of his mother. Five years later a new summer camp training school on Crystal Lake welcomes its new counsellors under the tutelage of Paul Holt and child psychology major Ginny Field. The new arrivals are both unnerved-yet-curious about the legend of the nearby Camp Crystal Lake but are warned by their instructor that the murder site is off limits. Yet their mere presence attracts the unwanted attention of a prowler that stalks the surrounding woods and on their second night the group are brutally murdered by Jason Voorhees, leaving only Ginny as the sole survivor.
While Paramount had once again agreed to distribute the movie following the surprise success of Friday the 13th, the studio had little interest in the project providing it turned a profit and were instead preoccupied with the development of Raiders of the Lost Ark and a sequel to their first big screen Star Trek spinoff. With Georgetown under little pressure from executives, Miner set about ostensibly remaking Friday the 13th with a new villain and victims but the same recycled storyline and location. Once again an unseen killer stalks and slashes its way through a selection of nubile youths, with the motive finally revealed as revenge. But if Jason is still alive and his mother’s motive for murder had been his tragic death then where had he been hiding for the last twenty-five years? Part 2 would offer nothing in the way of answers and Jason, now depicted as a reclusive hillbilly, violently reacts to any outsiders trespassing in his domain.
I was so blown away and inspired
With Savini having moved onto other projects, Miner was forced to find a new special effects artist to create the elaborate murder set-pieces and on the recommendation of make-up legend Dick Smith he approached rising star Carl Fullerton. Under immense pressure to deliver the required effects in just a matter of weeks, Fullerton reached out to other artists that would be willing to work cheap and fast. ‘I’m very proud to have been lab assistant to whom I consider one of the greatest all-round make-up artists in the business, Carl Fullerton,’ claimed John Caglione Jr., one of Fullerton’s most trusted artists and a close friend of Russell Todd, one of Jason’s victims in the film. ‘Carl was the department head and he really designed everything and had it pretty much all figured out before I came on board. I’ll never forget my first day at Carl’s lab; he was finishing his sculpture of Jason on Warrington Gillette’s plaster head cast. I was so blown away and inspired. As for topping Tom Savini, Carl nor the rest of us ever considered that. I always felt that Carl tries to top himself.’
One aspect of Friday the 13th that appealed to audiences were its selection of young actors having sex and then being brutally murdered on screen and so Miner opted to follow the same formula by finding more newcomers for Jason to mutilate. Aside from the graphic violence, Friday the 13th and its sequels would be noted for their two-dimensional characters who, thanks to the talents of relatively unknown actors, allow the audience people they can relate to, thereby making their deaths all the more shocking. Cunningham had succeeded in casting a young actor called Kevin Bacon who, just a few years later, became a major star following his success with Footloose and while the assortment of actors under Miner’s charge may have lacked any future Hollywood stars, several of the characters would become fan favourites, while Amy Steel’s portrayal of Ginny gave horror audiences one of the best final girls of all time.
Although the characters of horror films are often tortured and then eviscerated, for the actors involved the experience of making a Friday the 13th movie would almost be like summer camp. ‘We had a blast out at the lake making the film. All of the crew and other actors would try and scare each other on the walk back from the lake to our cabins,’ recalled actor Russell Todd. ‘They would hide in the bushes and whisper or say the infamous ‘kill, kill, kill’ chant and then jump out. We knew we were making the movie and Jason wasn’t real but it still made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck now and then taking that route home at night! It was a great group of actors and crew that got along very well and we laughed often, perhaps to soften the gore we were creating all around us. May it play forever on every Friday the 13th!’
With an adult Jason Voorhees finally introduced to viewers, the filmmakers had the opportunity to unleash a boogeyman as iconic as Michael Myers upon the world, but with Part 2 the monster would be little more than a deformed redneck, albeit one with a dangerous mother fixation. Warrington Gillette had initially auditioned for the heroic role of Paul but after discovering that he had minor experience in stuntwork, he was cast as the killer. Struggling not only with the heavy prosthetics but also a sequence in which Jason was to burst through a window to grab the hysterical Ginny, Gillette eventually backed out of the role and was replaced by struggling actor and stuntman Steve Daskawisz, a close friend of stunt coordinator Cliff Cudney following their work together on the Sylvester Stallone thriller Nighthawks. While Gillette would retain official credit as Jason, the character finally came to life with the casting of Daskawisz.
Having left the NYPD to pursue a career in the film industry, Daskawisz had soon found himself out of work, with the Writers Guild of America having launched a strike in protest to a lack of compensation that artists were receiving following the rise of home video. But Friday the 13th had been given permission to continue shooting and so Daskawisz was called to the location in Connecticut to take over the role from Gillette. ‘My friend Cliff was working on a film called Jason,’ explained Daskawisz on how he was introduced to the world of Friday the 13th. ‘They had gotten permission from SAG to shoot before the strike started. He called me and said that the guy they hired to play Jason told them he could do all his own stunts, which he couldn’t when it came down to shooting the actual film. They knew they were in trouble and needed to find a Jason fast. Cliff called and I responded. I was the right size to fit the costume so off we went. He got the axe and I got the job.’
It was less than a year ago since Friday the 13th had first revealed its ugly head and yet on 30 April 1981 Paramount Pictures released Part 2. In the eleven months in between the slasher film had come to dominate the American industry, Halloween star Jamie Lee Curtis was now regarded as a ‘scream queen’ and the negative critical reaction to Friday the 13th had only served to generate more interest in the movie. With a budget of a little more than double its predecessor, Friday the 13th Part 2 became another hit for the studio and while its final taking of $21.7m paled in comparison to the previous year, executives had little doubt that they had a potential franchise on their hands and so wasted no time in rushing a third instalment into production. But with Part 2 having been savaged by the censors following the gruesome murders of the first movie, the producers soon realised that if they could no longer rely on explicit gore to sell their product then they would need a brand new gimmick.
By the early eighties the American film market had enjoyed something of a 3D revival following the release of Comin’ at Ya! in 1981. Having first gained popularity thirty years earlier with a variety of B-movies, the format had laid dormant for several decades but just as low budget monster movies were making a comeback at the dawn of the eighties, so too was 3D. Other cheap pictures during this time to utilise the technology were Parasite and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, both directed by B-movie icon Charles Band, while several noted franchises also explored the public’s newfound interest in 3D with Jaws and Amityville. With both of these embracing the technology for their third instalment, Friday the 13th followed suit when Part 3 was released during the height of the 3D revival. As its poster promised, this movie offered ‘a new dimension in terror.’
With Miner having delivered a sequel that had succeeded in drawing in audiences once again he was hired to direct the third chapter while Frank Mancusco Jr., the son of Paramount executive Frank Mancusco Sr., was brought on board as producer, having already served as an assistant on Part 2. With the studio abandoning plans to produce a Star Trek sequel in 3D, the technology was instead incorporated into the world of Friday the 13th, courtesy of pioneer Martin Jay Sadoff. ‘There was so much thought that went into this movie that people don’t realise. Nothing was an after-thought. Everything – the set design, the costumes – was done with 3D glasses on,’ explained Sadoff, who would bring another element to the series. ‘It is important to remember that, at the time, no one thought these movies would endure as long as they did, so Jason’s mask was really an aside. Anyway, there is a scene in the movie where Steve Miner plays a news reporter during a segment on TV and this was short very, very early on. It was actually done at the Samsung building on Wilshire and Le Brea. That is the birthplace of the hockey mask.’
Our 3D expert Marty played hockey and one day brought in a goalie mask
For a character to have some kind of longevity in the film industry they need an iconic look, a visage that is easily identifiable. For Michael Myers it was his faceless mask, but Jason had yet to find a distinct appearance. In Part 2 he had worn a potato sack over his head, somewhat reminiscent of John Merrick in 1980’s The Elephant Man but both Miner and the producers were eager to reinvent the character. While over the subsequent decade the mask would become synonymous with Jason and Friday the 13th, its introduction to the series came purely by accident. ‘It was not written in the script but I was looking for something other than the bag, which I ended up hating,’ admitted Miner. ‘Our 3D expert Marty played hockey and one day brought in a goalie mask and I said, ‘That’s it!’’
With Ginny having survived the night of terror, Jason crawls back to the sanctity of his hut where the decapitated head of his mother rests atop of a shrine. The next morning Chris Higgins, a young woman still traumatised by her encounter with Jason several years earlier, returns with a group of friends to her family’s barn near Crystal Lake. While her well-meaning boyfriend Rick attempts to help her readjust to life in her childhood home her pregnant friend Debbie offers a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. After slitting the throat of Shelly, the prankster and wannabe actor among the ensemble, Jason obtains his trademark hockey mask and, upon discovering the fate of her friends, Chris is forced to face her fears and defeat Jason before he claims his final victim. After suffering a nightmare that Jason has somehow survived she is finally rescued by the local authorities and taken to safety.
Following the troubled casting for Part 2, the first actor to don the soon-to-be-infamous mask would be Richard Brooker, a former trapeze artist whose large frame gave him an imposing appearance. The moment Brooker stepped out onto the set in his new regalia both the cast and crew knew that Jason had truly been reborn. Yet while the character had become far more brutal than his previous portrayal, the man behind the mask was anything but dangerous. ‘I remember having a real nice conversation with Richard and was sympathetic to how uncomfortable his mask was, especially during the warmer months,’ stated co-star Catherine Parks. ‘When the film has an icon that people can identify with, I believe it helps a lot. I’m grateful that the mask has caught on with the other Fridays as well.’
The producers were more than aware that seeing Jason stalk and bludgeon his victims in 3D would be the main reason that the public were going to return for another Friday the 13th and so the technology was utilised at every possible moment, with Miner thrusting yo-yos, joints, poles and even eyeballs at their audience. Both Jaws and Amityville had yet to hit the big screen and so Friday the 13th had the opportunity to be the first significant 3D event of the decade. Once again the Motion Picture Association of America, the censoring board that had become a thorn in the side of the franchise, were ready to impose strict cuts on the film and so 3D was how they would thrill the public. With a script even more hackneyed than Part 2, the most memorable aspect of the third movie, aside from the hockey mask, were the 3D death scenes.
Yet none would be as memorable as Rick’s in which, as Chris calls out his name, Jason grabs him from behind and crushes his skull until his eyeballs literally bursts out of their sockets, directly at the audience. ‘I loved the idea that the dummy was used, it was the most fascinating process,’ enthused Paul Kratka, the actor who was cast in the role of the ill-fated Rick. ‘Two months prior to starting the filming, I went to a special effects lab where they encased my upper torso and head in plaster to create a realistic, life-size manikin. The night we filmed that scene it was three in the morning; dark, cold and perfect for filming. When the special effects technicians wheeled my manikin out, it was so spooky for me to look at. The head was made of a special silicon material which allowed the skull to be crushed again and again. The eyeball was on a monofilament line that was attached to the lens dead-centre, so that it was not visible on the film as the eye came out. It was all very cool!’
One final attempt to draw in the crowds came with the film’s score which, as with the first two instalments, was composed by Harry Manfredini, but this time the opening credits were accompanied by a horror disco theme courtesy of composer and disco pioneer Michael Zager. ‘Disco was still hot and Harry, who was the only person on the film that I had contact with, suggested that I contribute a funky disco version of the traditional Friday the 13th riff,’ Zager told Grove. ‘I did the opening and closing and most of it was actually done in a bedroom. I’d never seen a Friday the 13th film before or since, but the Friday score I did became a big club hit and I still get residuals from Europe. I think that, primarily, the makers of the film wanted a record that they could sell from the film and the Friday the 13th Part 3 music ended up doing very well.’
By the time that the movie was released on 13 August 1982 the slasher cycle had started to lose momentum, with Halloween II having failed to receive the same kind of praise as its predecessor. Friday the 13th Part 3 had cost $1m more than Part 2, but when the movie finally earned over $36m during its theatrical run there was little doubt that a fourth film would be produced. But the producers were more than aware that their good fortune was coming to an end and so it was decided that they would kill off Jason once and for all. He had faced two strong young women who had brought him to his knees but now he was forced to suffer the wrath of his creator as Tom Savini returned one last time to lay Jason to rest.
Friday the 13th had first entered the public consciousness when the numerous deeds of Mrs. Voorhees graced the big screen in all their uncensored glory, but thanks to the strict regulations of the censors both of its sequels had felt somewhat neutered in comparison. By bringing back the mastermind of the original massacre, the producers were making a promise to the fans that Friday the 13th was about to return to basics. ‘I turned down Part 2 because they had Jason running around and it didn’t make sense to me,’ admitted Savini. ‘He was a kid that drowned in the first movie and the mother was the killer. What, he survived and nobody knew, even his mother? And what, he lived by the lake for twenty-five years, eating crawfish or something? And nobody saw him? But don’t forget, when the series was floundering and part four, The Final Chapter, was made they hired me to kill him.’
Both Georgetown and Paramount had enjoyed a successful run but it was time to lay the series to rest while they remained at the top of their game. Paramount had a variety of more respectable projects to focus on, such as the Raiders of the Lost Ark sequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the Eddie Murphy action comedy Beverly Hills Cop and so a sleazy low budget horror picture hardly seemed like a priority. Jason was about to make his swan song and all parties involved were determined to send Jason off in true slasher fashion. To help bring this horror finale to an end the producers turned to a filmmaker who had already created one of the most underrated slasher movies of the early eighties, one who had formed a strong creative relationship with Savini and one who had both the style and taste for exploitation that would bring the series to a satisfying conclusion.
‘The entire process of The Final Chapter was one of preconceptions that turned out to be different from what the reality was to be,’ explained Joseph Zito, the man who had created The Prowler and would be charged with giving Jason Voorhees his final moment. ‘So I studied all of the Friday films made up until that point every carefully. Because you had to understand you were going into something that had an audience with certain expectations and this had to be as good as, or hopefully better than, what they had expected. I know how pretentious that sounds but that’s the job. That’s what I reached for. When I got the call on The Final Chapter there was no story, there was nothing. I had some pretty aggressive ideas about it. I thought, ‘Okay, maybe we can do this a little differently than the other ones. How about if we set the whole film at night?’ Which is the most disastrous thing to suggest, production-wise.’
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter suffered from the usual clichés
The first step that Zito would take in developing the fourth Friday the 13th was to formulate a story and so turned to a young writer called Bruce Hidemi Sakow, an associate that the director had previously worked with on an unproduced screenplay called Quarantine, to help develop the basic structure. The producers then turned to Barney Cohen, a struggling writer who during the mid-seventies had authored two novels; the assassination thriller Coliseum and the monster horror The Night of the Toy Dragons. Joining forces with Zito, the trio locked themselves in an apartment and fleshed out Sakow’s concept into a workable script. While the story for Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter suffered from the usual clichés of the genre it was noted for one significant element: strong characters. This, however, was in part due to the casting of several talented up-and-coming actors that included Corey Feldman and Crispin Glover.
As with the two previous instalments, The Final Chapter continued the narrative from the end of the last film, with the body of Jason and his victims relocated to the local hospital, where Jason suddenly rises again and brutally murders the mortician. Returning to Crystal Lake he finds two households; one belonging to the Jarvis family and the second having been rented by a group of horny youths. Among these partying teenagers were the socially-awkward Jimmy and the troublesome twins Tina and Terri. But even as Jason closes in for the kill he encounters two imposing forces: Rob, the older brother of one of Part 2’s victims and Tommy Jarvis, a twelve-year-old special effects enthusiast. Rob is convinced that Jason has escaped from the morgue and will return to his old stomping ground but when Jason begins to slice and dice his way through the assortment of youths Tommy uses his knowledge of Jason to manipulate him, eventually resorting to his own murderous instincts to bring the legacy of blood to an end.
‘I wasn’t a big fan of the Friday the 13th films exactly but I’d seen the previous film and liked it very much. I quickly got into the series and what it was all about,’ said Feldman, the young actor who was cast in the role of Tommy. ‘Tom Savini created all of these make-up monsters for Tommy’s room and they looked great. Again, it was kind of awe-inspiring knowing that I was going to be the one who would have to fight and kill Jason.’ While Rob and Tommy’s older sister Trish attempted to save themselves from a ruthless Jason Voorhees, Tommy searched through Rob’s old paper clippings in order to better understand the demented killer. Eventually shaving his head to adopt the appearance of a young Jason, Tommy finally picks up the machete and brutally murders his attacker, the ambiguous final shot hinting that the young boy had inherited his evil impulses.
The standout moment and one that the filmmakers intended on using to send away audiences with a feeling of excitement was the movie’s most violent set piece, the death of Jason. Throughout the film he had sliced open one of his victim’s throats using a surgical saw and had crushed another’s skull in the shower but all this would pale in comparison to the fate that Jason would suffer. While his death was inevitable, it was the manner in which he died that made the biggest impression on his fans. ‘Jason’s death evolved when one of my crew guys held up the Dawn of the Dead machete to his head and that gave me the idea of hitting Jason in the head with a machete, but then making him slide down the blade,’ recalled Savini on how he devised the gruesome demise of his most famous creation. ‘They didn’t have an ending to the film until I showed up, replacing Greg Cannom and we came up with all sorts of things besides his death.’
Two years had passed, the longest wait in between instalments, when Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter finally made its way into cinemas on 13 August 1984. Without such gimmicks as 3D or disco, the movie had returned the series to its graphic roots and with a total gross of almost $32m the franchise had ended on a considerable high. ‘While not exactly an actress picture,’ declared Janet Maslim of the New York Times in her review of the picture, ‘The Final Chapter takes pains to make its characters a little more personable than the horror movie norm. This is unfortunate, since there is nothing to do during the second half of the film but watch them die.’ Sometime earlier, Sean S. Cunningham had embarked on a journey, one had soon changed the face of the horror genre. In barely a few years his low budget film had produced three successful sequels and transformed its monster into a pop culture icon. And while all involved had intended on saying goodbye to Jason, the box office results of The Final Chapter had instead convinced Paramount to keep the spirit of Friday the 13th alive.
Now Paramount faced a dilemma. Having killed off Jason so spectacularly, if the Friday the 13th brand was to continue then they would have to create an ingenious way to resurrect the series. They had promised an end and fans had flocked to the cinemas to witness his death but now, with the dust having barely settled, they were already preparing to go back on that promise with yet another sequel. No other horror franchises had been as shamelessly prolific and now the studio were reluctant to kill a cash cow. While Jason had overcome supposedly mortal wounds in the past, The Final Chapter had left the killer impaled on his own machete and had insinuated that if the horror was to have continued it would have been at the hands of Tommy Jarvis. But would audiences be willing to watch a Friday the 13th movie without Jason? He may well have been absent from the original film but since the arrival of the hockey mask in Part 3 he had become a modern day horror legend, much in the same way as Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster.
With Jason’s reign of terror having come to an end, how would the residents of Crystal Lake continue with their lives now that he had met his own death at the hands of one of his victims? More importantly, how would Tommy react to the way that he had brutally murdered the man that had slaughtered his mother and almost killed his sister? Would he remain mentally scarred by those events, leaving him traumatised and unable to form trusting relationships with those people in his life? And what about Trish? How would she react to her younger brother displaying such homicidal tendencies, even ones as justified as self-defence? He had been an avid horror fan and had even created his own latex masks, but had his love of monster movies warped his young mind? There were many unanswered questions but which would the makers of this new instalment choose to answer?
Six years had passed since the death of Jason Voorhees and life around Crystal Lake has seemingly returned to normal. With the body of the nation’s most notorious serial killer having allegedly been cremated, the locals no longer live in fear for their children. Having spent the last few years in mental facilities, Tommy, now eighteen, is transferred to Pinehurst, a minimal security halfway house where its residents prepare to re-enter society. But soon after his arrival one of the patients is hacked to pieces by a fellow inmate and in the aftermath of the tragic event a series of gruesome murders commence. While the local sheriff is convinced that Jason has risen from the grave, evidence points to the possibility that Tommy has picked up where Jason had left off, particularly when several victims are found slain in his room. But in a final twist the killer is revealed to be Roy, a reclusive paramedic who had abandoned his son years earlier, only to see his mutilated body having been chopped to pieces at Pinehurst. In a closing scene reminiscent of The Final Chapter, the movie hints that Tommy may have finally embraced his evil side.
I was allowed to throw out scenes
‘It’s basically the story of Tommy’s hallucinations, his ordeals, his trying to fight back this rage to kill. He’s still plagued by the memories of Jason and Jason is still a part of him. Jason, in fact, is seen throughout the film. Whether it’s the real Jason or not, that’s the focus of the movie,’ explained Danny Steinmann, the director selected by Paramount to resurrect the Friday the 13th label following the events of the previous movie. ‘Frank Mancuso Jr., the executive producer, really let me shoot from the hip quite a bit. For instance, there was the case of Corey Feldman, the actor who played Tommy in The Final Chapter. I wanted to shoot an opening sequence with Corey to bridge the two pictures. The producers went out and got Corey for me and they let me shoot it. Also, there were some scenes that were inconsistent with the character of Tommy and certain things which I thought would have made the audience lose focus on what this picture was really about. Either I was allowed to throw out scenes or to include scenes which I wrote, of course, with the producers’ approval. They were pretty generous as far as giving me a free rein to do what I wanted.’
Two years before Freddy Krueger terrorised disturbed youths in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors, a copycat Jason sets his sights on the patients of Pinehurst. And while previous Friday the 13th sequels had been directed by veterans of the slasher genre, for A New Beginning the producers reached out to a filmmaker who had cut his teeth on hardcore pornography. A decade earlier under the pseudonym of Danny Stone, Steinmann had entered the adult film industry with the explicit feature High Rise before embarking on commercial projects with The Unseen and Savage Streets. It would be the latter, in which he had replaced original director Tom DeSimone, that first brought him to the attention of Mancuso Jr. But his background in erotic cinema would bring a sleazier aspect to the new Friday the 13th that overshadowed the sex and violence of past entries and it was this sensibility that would find Jason once again falling foul of the censors.
The Final Chapter had succeeded in bringing gore back to the franchise and by all accounts Steinmann was determined to outdo his predecessor. ‘It’s amazing how incredibly horrific the first Friday the 13th seemed and now it’s tame,’ resident composer Manfredini told author Peter M. Bracke. ‘And as a result, on the sequels the envelope was constantly being pushed. Eventually the filmmakers knew that the MPAA would cut out a certain amount so they went way, way over the top, so far over that the movies contained more and more kills each time. I don’t know if fans want to hear this but I’ve seen the versions before the MPAA cuts – I scored them – and they are just as stupid. Only gorier. To me, they are like cartoons with knives…But the series was getting stale. I do think the introduction of the Tommy Jarvis character gave it a few more breaths.’
While Friday the 13th had regularly encountered hostility from the critics A New Beginning would also suffer the wrath of the fans. The movie may have delivered explicit gore and gratuitous nudity but the revelation of the killer merely being a copycat instead of the real Jason angered its target audience, resulting in the lowest profit that the series had received. Decades later it is still often dismissed as the Friday the 13th without Jason, despite the sex and violence on display. ‘I don’t claim to have my finger on the pulse of the franchise but many of the fans I met consider A New Beginning their favourite Friday film because it is so different,’ insisted Dick Wieand, the man cast as the homicidal Ray. ‘The fans are incredible, they amaze me. They know all the intricacies of it and seem to get a kick out of it.’
With a total gross of almost $22m on a budget of approximately $2.2m, A New Beginning had failed to bring back the large crowds that had lined up to watch the previous instalments and even more than ever, critics were disgusted – or even worse, disinterested – with the film. But was Jason truly dead? After all, it had been revealed that his body was cremated, but with audiences unwilling to watch a Friday the 13th movie without Jason then they could no longer elevate Tommy to the position of antagonist. They had promised a fresh start but even the most die-hard of fans no longer cared. Once upon a time Jason had been a pop culture icon but now if Paramount were to continue producing sequels then they were in desperate need of a makeover. And the saving grace would come in the form of a young filmmaker called Tom McLoughlin.
‘The primary marching orders from Paramount was bringing Jason back. I felt that if the boy, Tommy, had killed him in The Final Chapter then Tommy needs to continue the mythology,’ recalled McLoughlin to Love-It-Loud. ‘We totally didn’t know if there would even be another Friday the 13th. It was always that way back then. The hope is the audience comes and wants to see another but nothing is for sure. A New Beginning’s decision to not have the real Jason seriously hurt the return audience and box office for Part VI. I wrote it so it could end with him back in the lake to complete the legend bookend. I never conceived Jason as a zombie, as we normally think of zombies, but more in the Frankenstein tradition of a dead-but-now reanimated character who continues with his previous agenda of revenge. This time he’s targeting Tommy for bringing him back and will kill anyone that comes across his path.’
Still haunted by the ghost of Jason, Tommy Jarvis escapes from a mental facility with a fellow patient and heads back to the town formerly known as Crystal Lake. Arriving in the cemetery of Forest Green, Tommy digs up the rotting corpse of Jason Voorhees. But a bolt of lightning brings the long-dead killer back to life and, having witnessed the death of his friend, a hysterical Tommy makes his way to the local police station, where he attempts to convince the local authorities that Jason has been resurrected. Fearing the young man is dangerous, Sheriff Garris has Tommy arrested but later that night a couple are brutally murdered in the wilderness. Having caught the eye of the sheriff’s daughter Megan, Tommy is ordered out of town but when several mutilated bodies are discovered he becomes the primary suspect. Determined to send Jason back to the depths of Crystal Lake, he joins forces with Megan even as her father wages war against Tommy.
With each Friday the 13th the character of Jason had been redesigned and with Jason Lives, the sixth instalment, the killer was reborn as an indestructible zombie, a decaying monster with a relentless appetite for destruction. This task would fall to Christopher Swift with the assistance of Jim Gill and Brian Wade. ‘The job was spearheaded by Reel EFX. I was brought on by Chris Swift. I had worked with him on some recent projects and we liked working together,’ stated Wade, who had also made a name for himself under the legendary Stan Winston on the sci-fi horror The Terminator. ‘I had enjoyed some of the earlier instalments and at the time when I heard they were doing another one I moaned, ‘Oh no!’ But when they offered the Jason design to me I thought, ‘Well, at least I could have a chance to do a Jason.’ So I came on board. It turned out to be a great project to be a part of and I am happy I decided to do it.’
Unlike A New Beginning, in which Tommy had been portrayed as a near-comatose disturbed young man, in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives he was reinvented as an action hero. With Return of the Living Dead’s Thom Mathews cast as the survivor determined to return Jason to his original resting place, McLoughlin attempted to distance the series from the graphic exploitation of the previous film and into more light-hearted and self-referential territories. Foreshadowing the postmodern humour of Scream by a decade, Jason Lives served as not only an action-packed sequel but also a satire. With an opening credit sequence that referenced James Bond, McLoughlin’s script would playfully mock the clichés of the slasher genre while utilising them to their full advantage before finally returning Jason to Crystal Lake.
Our goal was to make the effects as big as possible
Yet even the playful atmosphere and charismatic hero was not enough for the MPAA to overlook the graphic set-pieces that Reel EFX had conceived under the direction of McLoughlin, which included a triple beheading and Jason tearing the beating heart from one of his victims. ‘We were definitely disappointed that many of the things we worked on in the movie didn’t make it to the screen. But there’s not a lot you can do when the ratings people go quite literally through the movie saying, ‘Sorry, you can’t do that,’’ explained Gill to Fangoria. ‘At that point, the biggest challenge was not so much what we could get by the ratings board but more of giving them something they would accept. Our goal was to make the effects as big as possible and to have something we could live with when the board ultimately told us that we had to cut back.’
If Jason was to be reintroduced to the world in a new and exciting way then it was integral that he once again infiltrated popular culture and what better way than to conquer the most powerful media tool of the decade: MTV. As Jason desperately attempted to reclaim his audience he would find a kinship with a rock ‘n’ roll icon who, much like the killer of Crystal Lake, was ready to be reborn. ‘I love the children of Jason,’ declared rock legend Alice Cooper regarding the music video for He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask), his contribution to the franchise. ‘In a way, the character of Alice Cooper and the character of Jason come from the same sort of weird place…I fell all over myself saying yes when the people at Paramount asked me to help score the film. Jason is a real heavy metal kind of character and Alice is more than a bit influenced by horror. Doing the video and the music for Part VI is like a dream come true for me.’
Making its debut in the summer of 1986, the same season that brought The Fly and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 to the big screen, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives continued the commercial decline that had begun with A New Beginning the previous year. While the world had started to lose interest in the series now that the slasher heyday was long behind them, the critical acclaim to the sixth chapter of the Crystal Lake legacy was a notable improvement on Steinmann’s effort. ‘Writer-director Tom McLoughlin, who made the scare entry One Dark Night, puts a comic spin on the predictable material and turns in a reasonably slick performance under the circumstances,’ declared one reviewer. McLoughlin may have given Jason a new lease of life but Paramount had plans for the franchise, both with and without their iconic killer.
Barely a year after Jason Lives, Friday the 13th would surprise both fans and detractors alike by making the leap to the small screen with a syndicated television show that centred around an antique store called Curious Goods and its trio of owners, whose assortment of peculiar items served as the basis for each week’s episode. An anthology of loosely-related supernatural stories, Friday the 13th: The Series made the bold decision to distance itself from the movie franchise by abandoning Jason in favour of ghost stories and murder whodunnits. Despite many convinced that the show would fail halfway through its first season, it ran for a total of seventy-two episodes, finally coming to a conclusion three years later in April 1990.
For both the studio and producers, the greatest obstacle that they faced was creating a television series that distanced itself from its big screen counterpart. ‘It was never my intention to present a watered-down version of a movie or a weakened version of something,’ claimed Mancuso Jr. ‘Friday the 13th: The Series is a different product completely. The series reflects the horror genre in more traditional terms. We’ve taken the classic gothic approach to the series and returned to the origins of what made the earliest horror films work; the mystery, the suspense, the intensity of frightening situations and events. We’ve tried to create a classic sense of good and evil…Each episode is unique; however, when properly placed, each fits very well into the larger puzzle. To impose cinematic thought and execution on television in such a way as to bend and force out the perceived walls of what we know as television.’
Even as Friday the 13th: The Series gained positive ratings, Paramount turned its attention back to Jason Voorhees and the possibility of producing a crossover with A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger. The latter had made his debut in 1984 and had become a critical and commercial success, allowing its creator Wes Craven to experiment with surrealism while introducing a new horror boogeyman to the world. Talks had first begun when Mancusco Jr., impressed with McLoughlin’s work on Jason Lives, approached the director with the possibility of helming a spinoff that would see both Jason and Freddy fight to the death. Taking the pitch to New Line Cinema, the company’s head Robert Shaye was equally impressed but even as they began to discuss the cinematic potential of such a project neither studio were willing to relinquish their interest in the property in order for the production to move forward.
While one actor could not take credit for the popularity of Jason Voorhees, the man who had portrayed Freddy through two pictures was eager to see both killers coming face-to-face, even as speculation began to grow in the media as to the possibility of Freddy vs. Jason becoming a reality. ‘I had always gotten a little defensive when people were whispering, ‘They’re trying to milk the last dime out of these franchises!’ Because, in fact, Freddy vs. Jason is fan-originated,’ claimed Robert Englund, who would play Freddy for almost twenty years, across eight motion pictures and a television series. ‘I remember as far back as 1984 or 1985, guys were coming up to me and going, ‘What would happen if Freddy Krueger ran into Jason in an alley? Could you kick his ass?’ It’s always been a curiosity.’ But after negotiations between studios finally came to a standstill Paramount instead turned their attention to Friday the 13th Part VII. The story of Tommy Jarvis had been laid to rest and now the masterminds behind the series were forced to create a new adversary to stand up against Jason Voorhees.
The enduring appeal of the Friday the 13th franchise would continue to confuse its detractors and delight the studio, but with each new instalment, the producers faced a backlash due to both the repetitive nature of the series and its treatment of the teenage victims. ‘You have to understand what the Friday the 13th films were all about,’ insisted Mancuso Jr. in 1990. ‘These films were never intended as a set of horror films for all people. These films are formulaic in structure, simplistic in their level of execution and deliberately conceived to be viewed in a theatre with other people. These films, like the Nightmare and Halloween films, function best in a situation that calls for a collective, visceral response. You don’t normally get that kind of response when you’re sitting home alone watching them on video. The phone rings, or you go to the bathroom. I believe that people will, through watching these movies over and over again on video, get to appreciate the way these films were conceived and made. The feeling toward them will be more technical than visceral. I just don’t know if the Friday films will ultimately stand the test of time. I do think they will come to be understood in a different way.’
The task of following in the footsteps of McLoughlin fell to John Carl Buechler, an experienced special effects artist and veteran of Charles Band’s legendary Empire Studios. Having first made a name for himself on the sci-fi show Jason of Star Command, Buechler became the latest protégé of influential producer Roger Corman but it would be under Band that he made his directorial debut with the 1986 monster movie Troll. Having made a suitable impression on Mancusco Jr., who was always searching for potential filmmakers to take the helm of their next instalment, Buechler was approach to helm Friday the 13th Part VII and despite his reluctance to direct a sequel to a fledging slasher franchise eventually agreed to come on board. Having recently contributed special effects to the highly-anticipated A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master, Buechler was about to witness another young woman with special powers facing-off against a horror icon.
I really wanted a more action-orientated horror film
‘Freddy vs. Jason was discussed but, at the time, neither Paramount nor New Line could figure out how to go to bed with each other. The only discussion regarding carrying on the story from Part VI actually came from me. We knew we had to recap the end of the previous Jason adventure and show how he ended up at the bottom of the lake,’ explained Buecher. ‘The script went through several rewrites. I really wanted a more action-orientated horror film with more character-driven elements. I very much approved of the supernatural aspect and wanted to go even further with it. To me, the whole thing about what makes Jason scary is his ambiguity. Not understanding what makes him tick, why is he the way he is and how he gets around so fast, with always just the right killing instrument. The supernatural element would be another terrific element to keep the viewers on edge.’
Entering production under the pseudonym Birthday Bash, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood represented what Paramount hoped would be a fresh start, as they attempted to revamp the series to compete with A Nightmare on Elm Street. With writer Darly Harey pitching a concept that immediately made executives think of Carrie vs. Jason, the studio realised that if the Friday the 13th brand was to continue they needed something fresh and exciting. Years after causing the death of her abusive father with her telekinetic powers, Tina Shepard finally returns to her family’s home by Crystal Lake with her overly-protective mother and the manipulative Dr. Crews. While attempting to unlock her hidden memories she accidentally resurrects Jason from the bottom of the lake, who targets the group of partying youths that have moved in next door. But Jason is about to come face-to-face with his greatest foe yet and during their final showdown the spirit of her father returns to drag Jason back down into the ice cold depths of the lake.
While the filmmakers’ attempts to inject new life into the old formula received a mixed response, one aspect of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood that would win over long-time fans was the arrival of stuntman Kane Hodder, who would take on the role of Jason. ‘When I was officially cast in the role I went back and watched all the films, taking notes on what I liked and didn’t like. Though I loved the movies there wasn’t much in the like column regarding the character after I analysed him,’ recalled Hodder in his book Unmasked. ‘What I felt the character was missing was some depth and emotion, which is beyond hard to pull off when you wear a mask and have no lines in a movie. You can only act with your body movements and your eyes, or in his case eye, which is incredibly hard to do. The word natural just kept popping into my head. I wanted what I did to feel natural and to do that I knew I had to let out my inner demons.’
Hodder’s performance may have elevated the character of Jason to new heights but in reality there was some resistance from the studio to cast the stuntman, who had previously worked with Buechler on the recent horror flick Prison. Fearing that he lacked the physical attributes to make Jason an imposing figure, Mancuso Jr. relented and so the director arranged a make-up test, bulking up Hodder with prosthetics and thus allowing chunks of flesh to be removed from his body, each representing the injuries he had sustained in the previous movies. While character development and a coherent script were somewhat absent, Hodder’s dedication to the role brought a new aspect to Jason: personality. The movie may not have explored the mythology of the killer or brought anything new to the overall narrative of the series but fans were treated to a Jason far more brutal than ever before.
The third Friday the 13th to be released on the eponymous date, The New Blood made its debut on 13 May 1988 and in following the tradition laid out by A New Beginning and Jason Lives continued the decreasing profits at the box office, earning $19.1m on a budget of $2.8m. By this point critics had all but forgotten Jason Voorhees and so the film passed by with little fanfare but the presence of Hodder had an impact on the fan base, with magazines praising his performance as the best of the franchise. But where could Jason go now and for how much longer could they keep recycling the same tired formula before even the fans lost interest? They had tried to end the series once before but impressive box office returns had demanded more sequels. Now, almost five years had passed and Friday the 13th was no longer the lucrative property it once was. Perhaps it was time to bring an end to a decade of terror.
Having already demonstrated his talents to the producers on Friday the 13th: The Series, Rob Hedden was offered the chance to both write and direct the eighth chapter in the Jason Voorhees saga but following the relatively disappointing reception to The New Blood there was little enthusiasm for the project at Paramount. For Hedden, this was a chance to return Jason to his watery grave, much like McLoughlin had done three years earlier. ‘I’d studied all the previous films in one big marathon viewing session and I was confused of how we were going to continue after Part VII because Jason was dead,’ recalled Hedden in Making Friday the 13th. ‘I was told I didn’t have to worry about the previous stuff, to feel free to branch off in a totally different direction. Looking back, I was given a lot of creative freedom with Jason Takes Manhattan, maybe too much. I asked about killing Jason and they said yes, I could kill Jason if I wanted to…I definitely wanted to explore the child inside Jason because the whole series goes back to the story of Jason Voorhees, the young boy, drowning in Crystal Lake.’
Jason has become a legend, a tale very few children remember but those that do like to scare their friends with its gruesome details. Now resting at the bottom of the water, he is brought back to life when faulty cables electrocute his body. Climbing on board the SS Lazarus, bound for New York City, Jason stalks the decks as the graduation class of Crystal Lake celebrate their first step into the adult world. Among them is Rennie, a young woman with a phobia of water, after having almost drowned as a child, accompanied by her domineering uncle. With only a few survivors finally escaping the ship in a life raft, they make their way to land and into the Big Apple but Jason, determined to butcher the children that had escaped his domain, relentlessly pursues them through the city until Rennie traps him in the sewers as they flood with toxic waste, reverting him back to the scared young boy who drowned in 1957.
The shadow of A Nightmare on Elm Street and the enduring fascination that horror fans had with Krueger was cast over the making of the eighth instalment of Friday the 13th, with the endless possibilities of the dream world that Freddy inhabits allowing filmmakers to experiment with surreal visuals and horrific set pieces. But Friday the 13th, which had forced itself into a corner with its tried-and-tested formula of an indestructible killer preying on sexually promiscuous youths at a summer camp, had grown somewhat stale in comparison. But as cameras began rolling on Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan in Toronto, British Columbia in March 1989, a recently launched late night chat show had taken the country by storm, beating its more established competitors in the ratings and attracting an assortment of celebrity guests that included Robert Downey Jr., Little Richard and Robert De Niro.
It had barely been two months since it had made its debut but already the Arsenio Hall Show, hosted by a comedian best known as Eddie Murphy’s sidekick in Coming to America, had become the surprise success of the year and its laidback attitude to the formula had proved to be something of a refreshing change. Ever since twenty-three-year-old Brooke Shields had been the first to grace his studio, Hall had become a household name and by the time that filming on the latest Friday the 13th had come to an end he was already beating veteran host David Letterman in the ratings. Much like Friday the 13th, the Arsenio Hall Show was the property of Paramount, having been developed through its small screen division with the participation of the host’s own production company Arsenio Hall Communications. With approximately 1.9m viewers per episode, Hall had become a television sensation and celebrities of all kinds were only too eager to appear on his programme.
It’s not mocking the character
But even regular viewers were taken by surprise when, on 28 July 1989, Hollywood stars Bo Derek and Ursula Andress were joined in the line-up by Jason Voorhees. ‘It’s not funny at the expense of the character, you know what I mean? It’s not mocking the character but it’s done in a funny way where Jason is still Jason and somebody else is the funny one,’ explained Hodder on Jason’s chat show debut. ‘He never told me what he was going to ask me,’ he said in a later interview. ‘He said, ‘I want you to be a guest on my show’ and I said, ‘Great!’ And then he said, ‘I want you to be in character as Jason’ and I said, ‘You stupid fuck, I don’t talk as Jason. How am I going to be a guest?’ He said, ‘That’s the whole point. It’ll be funny.’ And I said, ‘Ah, I see what you’re saying now.’ So it was a lot of fun and he was a lot of fun to work with, because he totally made the whole bit work just with his delivery.’
With a budget of $5m, Jason Takes Manhattan was by far the most expensive entry in the long-running franchise and despite the studio’s best efforts to promote the movie the final gross of Jason’s latest was almost $4m less than its predecessor. As the decade came to a conclusion Friday the 13th was no longer a profitable endeavour. ‘I remember the decision as being something of that moment, that we would simply not do another Friday the 13th next year, or maybe even the year after that,’ former studio CEO Frank Mancuso Sr. told Bracke. ‘Then I left Paramount in 1991 and eventually they sold off the rights to somebody else. At the time it had probably become stale, in our minds. When you’ve stretched it as long as we did, I don’t know if there was anything else different you could do with it. Although we did use the title for the television series, that never crossed over to the movies…How many more can you make?’
His son, a veteran of the Friday the 13th franchise throughout the eighties, shared a similar opinion as the decade came to an end. ‘I’m not going to say that if, in a year or two, a real good story were developed, we might not go back and do another one,’ Mancuso Jr. admitted to Fangoria. ‘But there’s nothing being developed for 1990, nor for the immediate future.’ In the same interview he would add, ‘One thoery is that people did not want to see the films anymore because they weren’t delivering on the visceral level. That would definitely be due to the restrictions put on us by the ratings board. It’s common knowledge that we always had a hard time getting an R-rating on these films. That’s not meant to be a value judgement on whether what the MPAA did was good or bad. They do the best they can, based on what they think their place is. It’s just that when you go back and look at the early Friday the 13th films and the later ones, there’s an obvious difference in what we could do.’
The end of the eighties effectively brought an end to the slasher film. Following the release of 1989’s The Dream Child, New Line Cinema announced an end to their Elm Street series with the 3D finale Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers proved to be such a disappointment that it would take six years before producers developed another sequel, while 1990 marked the closing chapter of the Norman Bates saga with the made-for-TV movie Psycho IV: The Beginning. ‘I loved the way that Henry Thomas portrayed the young Norman Bates and I thought I played a psychotic, perverse mother rather well. Scared myself in a couple of those scenes,’ co-star Olivia Hussey told Love-It-Loud. ‘It was also wonderful to get a chance to work with Anthony Perkins, who was the original and great Norman Bates.’ But since the release of Fatal Attraction in 1987, horror had been side-lined by the more respected psychological thriller and over the next few years audiences rushed to see such suburban chillers as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Single White Female.
‘For a long time the series was a cash cow, a way to print money. I think the studio was happy to do it, even though they kind of wound up with dirty hands,’ explained Sean S. Cunningham who, after an attempt at finding similar success with the House series, returned to Crystal Lake after a decade of absence. ‘Frank Mancuso Sr.’s son produced them all and it was a real good way to keep him financially viable. It was a sweetheart deal for all connected. And then, when all of a sudden, instead of being sure of making five or six or ten million dollars or however much money they were making at the end of the day, they were making marginal profits. I think they started feeling they weren’t making enough money for the aggravation. So I reacquired the rights and New Line came to me. They said they would be interested if I would make it, but what they’re really interested in – and I guess I am too – is making a Freddy vs. Jason sequel. In order to do that we had to get all the rights together in the same place at the same time and now we have to figure out how to make a movie out of it.’
A crossover between Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street had been in the works since 1987, the same year that Freddy Krueger’s status was elevated with Dream Warriors, but with both Paramount and New Line unwilling to allow their rival to retain creative control they remained in a stalemate. When the latter finally obtained the rights to the Friday the 13th brand in the early nineties, all their resources were unable to conjure up a workable concept and so work commenced on a brand new Jason movie, one that served to keep his name alive in the hearts of horror fans. The mastermind behind his comeback was Adam Marcus, a long-time friend of Cunningham’s son Noel and who, as a child, had spent time on the set of the original Friday the 13th. With a story that owed a debt to Jack Sholder’s 1988 body-jump sci-fi horror The Hidden, itself a hit for New Line, Marcus was approved as director and his basic concept was adapted into a screenplay by a young writer called Jay Huguely.
‘The film starts where Friday the 13th Part 2 left off. Basically, we felt the subsequent movies had pretty much treated the audience as fools. And, being a member of that core audience, I was always offended that we couldn’t have the rollercoaster ride without bad direction and dumb dialogue,’ insisted Marcus to Shivers. ‘The Final Friday answers some previously unexplored questions about the character. For example, how does Jason keep returning to life? Well, we say he’s a sentinel of the devil with the blackest heart who murders people and sends them elsewhere. In the meantime, people’s normal everyday lives are suddenly and ruthlessly interrupted by this guy. Therefore, Jason becomes more of a present day serial killer than some fantasy figure about whom we’re making a movie. So instead of revolving around Jason, the film focuses upon the other characters. Jason is merely the evil that screws up their lives.’
Marcus was determined to distance the series from its summer camp roots and so expanded on the mythology by exploring the essence of Jason’s evil. Did Jason became a killer purely because he had witnessed his mother’s murder or was it always in his blood? ‘In tone, this movie is much closer to John Carpenter’s The Thing and Aliens. This movie has a lot of battle scenes and sieges. It’s not the same old formula. This is an intelligent Friday the 13th movie that won’t look down on its audience as being a bunch of idiots,’ claimed Marcus in an interview with Fangoria prior to the release of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. ‘We’ve gone into this with the idea that Part VIII never existed and that Jason, as a character, has been used up. This is a more magical, supernatural movie that will explain what Jason really is and, more importantly, how he keeps coming back to life.’
While the basic outline had been devised by Huguely and Marcus, the producers felt that the concept had not been fully developed and so Cunningham turned to another writer on his payroll. Dean Lorey had graduated from NYU Film School and, much like Marcus, had become close friends with Noel Cunningham. Having submitted a script entitled Johnny Zombie, Lorey was approached to rewrite the latest Friday the 13th sequel. ‘I really liked the first couple of Friday the 13th movies and had seen some, but not all, of the ones that followed,’ said Lorey. ‘As for the body jumping idea, that was Adam’s and it was the core element of his very first outline. I always felt that a Friday the 13th movie without Jason was going to ultimately be unsatisfying, so the first thing I did in my draft was to add Jason to the beginning and end of the movie, making it about a quest for him to return to his body. That way, it kept the premise of the entire script but allowed you to at least see him in the movie, which I thought was critical.’
Late one night a young woman arrives at Camp Crystal Lake and immediately strips off, enjoying a long shower until the power in the cabin suddenly cuts off. Wandering outside to fix the generator, she returns to find Jason wielding his machete. Running into the woods, she is pursued by Jason but as he prepares to strike he finds himself surrounded by the FBI. His body finally destroyed beyond all recognition, the remains are taken to the local morgue where the coroner, deranged at the sight of the still-beating heart, becomes possessed by the spirit of Jason. When bounty hunter Creighton Duke reveals that the only way for Jason to be reborn is through a relative, in this case his niece Jessica, her former boyfriend Steven wages war on the killer. Taking the form of a demonic parasite, the essence of Jason transfers from one body to another until it finally enters the corpse of Jessica’s mother, Jason’s sister. But during the final battle both Jessica and Steven finally send Jason to Hell.
He really wanted to top the other films
When Marcus and Cunningham delivered Jason Goes to Hell to New Line, the studio were disappointed at the lack of trademark slasher scenes, with only the opening segment set in a summer camp environment and so the filmmakers were instructed to shoot an additional sequence that offered fans graphic violence and titillating nudity. With Jason having finally been killed once and for all, three campers make way into the woods near Crystal Lake. With one friend eviscerated against a tree, a young couple are brutally murdered while engaging in unprotected sex. ‘Adam was great to work with and very open to ideas,’ recalled Robert Kurtzman, one of the founders of KNB Effects, the company responsible for the elaborate special effects. ‘He wanted the effects to be as gruesome and fun in the over-the-top Friday the 13th tradition. With the girl-in-the-tent kill, he really wanted to top the other films by doing something a bit bigger and grander in execution.’
If the critics of the eighties had been repulsed by Friday the 13th then those of the next decade were nothing more than indifferent to the series. Jason had been laid to rest four years earlier but now New Line, the studio that had brought Freddy Krueger to the attention of the world, were attempting to inject new life into Jason Voorhees. ‘While the Nightmare on Elm Street movies possess a slick-yet-clever surrealism and the first Halloween was at least well-crafted, the Friday the 13th series has always been the cut-rate horror franchise, offering barely-functional sex and slash pitched straight at the moron brigade,’ declared Entertainment Weekly. ‘Jason Goes to Hell varies the formula a bit, with ideas swiped from The Terminator, The Hidden and Alien, but after nine instalments the impalements and dismemberments all look the same. So go to Hell already Jason and take Sean Cunningham, the brains behind this dreck, with you.’
After the commercial disappointment of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, New Line had given their first Friday a reduced budget of $3m and while the movie would earn a little more than its predecessor it had failed to reignite the fire at the heart of the series. While merely a potboiler to keep interest in the property until the arrival of Freddy vs. Jason, Jason Goes to Hell was released on 13 August 1993 but found its true audience on home video. Three years later the slasher genre was finally resurrected with the postmodern blockbuster Scream and once again horror became a major box office draw. In the wake of its success, Michael Myers would make a return with Halloween H20 and with Cunningham still developing a crossover between Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, it was only a matter of time before Jason made his return.
Much like The New Blood, the filmmaker responsible for spearheading the tenth entry in the seemingly never-sending Friday the 13th saga was a special effects artist who had trained under veteran Chris Walas and cult director David Cronenberg on The Fly before taking the helm of the troubled slasher The Horror Show in 1989. Produced by Cunningham and released as part of his House series, the film had been a frustrating experience for James Isaac and it would be another decade before he returned to the director’s chair. With Cunningham working tirelessly on Freddy vs. Jason, which had spent over a decade in development hell, Isaac approached the producer with the proposition of a new Friday the 13th. With his background in effects he had the chance to create a Jason movie that stood out from its predecessors and in this post-Scream landscape they could make an intelligent and satirical horror picture. As long as his film did not have a negative impact on Cunningham’s pet project then New Line were willing to produce one more sequel, as a way of keeping the property under their control.
‘Sean owned the rights to the Jason character. I basically told him I thought it was time to dust off Jason and make a movie. He was developing Freddy vs. Jason with New Line at the time, which I was helping on a little but it was going slow,’ recalled Isaac. ‘Todd Farmer, Noel Cunningham and myself pitched Sean a few different story ideas. He liked Jason X the best, so we started working on it. I worked with Todd on the story and he wrote a killer script in about three weeks. We took it into New Line and they loved it. That’s how Jason X was born… I wanted to have a little fun with Jason X. I was tired of seeing the same dark, dirty horror films. I simply wanted to do something different. I was pretty familiar with the Friday legend. I tried to be different with the story and characters but stay true to the formula: if you have sex you die. That’s a big one!’
Finally captured by the American government and subjected to all manner of experiments at the Crystal Lake Research Facility, Jason Voorhees is to be transported so a sadistic doctor can learn the truth behind his regenerative powers. But as he attempts to escape he is trapped in stasis by young scientist Rowan. She too is frozen in time and is revived more than four hundred years later to find herself on the Grendel, a spaceship that houses numerous students who have also discovered the remains of Jason. Eventually coming back to life, he begins to slaughter the crew one-by-one as they make their way back to Earth Two, mankind’s new home. But after the ship gives Jason an upgrade and transforms him into a cyborg he becomes even more indestructible than before, forcing Rowan and a handful of survivors to abandon the Grendel in an escape vessel. The last thing that they witness of Jason is his body hurtling towards Earth Two, landing near a lake and attracting the attention of a young couple who decide to investigate, insinuating that his murder spree is about to start all over again.
‘From the beginning the tone in my head was Alien or Aliens. Alien is dark, secluded and scary. That’s what I wanted, although I appreciated the Bill Paxton humour in Aliens. But it wasn’t jokey. It was simply Paxton freaking out and doing so in a way that made you laugh,’ explained Farmer, who would not only write the script but also played a supporting role in the movie. ‘But over the course of development, more and more humour seeped into Jason X. I think the overall feeling was that this was the tenth film and you could no longer take it seriously. I still disagree but it was the choice made and I can’t argue that one is better than the other. As for the character of Jason, I did think more could be done. For instance, the one consistent in most of the films was Jason’s momma’s boy loyalty. I thought we could flip that on its head. In the original draft, after Jason returned as what has affectionately been termed Über Jason, I thought we could show not only his physical change but an emotional change as well. I was told that Jason’s mother was his one consistent and I couldn’t screw with it.’
Jason X would mark Hodder’s fourth time behind the hockey mask and while he had previously been sent to both New York and Hell, this time Jason was sent to twenty-fifth century deep space. Once again returning to Canada, following in the footsteps of Jason Takes Manhattan, the budget of Jason X would far eclipse that of every other entry with approximately $14m allocated to the project. With Isaac reuniting with many of his former associates to bring Farmer’s vision to fruition, including Cronenberg in a brief cameo, the production commenced with the blessing of New Line’s president of production Michael De Luca. Having first proved his worth as the writer of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, De Luca quickly rose through the ranks of the studio and by the mid-nineties had climbed to a position of authority. But by the time filming came to an end a major shift within New Line had caused the project to grind to a halt.
‘You never know what is going to happen after you deliver a film,’ detailed Isaac. ‘Two days after we delivered Jason X, Mike De Luca left New Line. He was the one who loved the first script and gave us the greenlight and, because it was a negative pick-up, New Line did not have much to do with it during production. And then when we delivered it there was nobody around. It was like a ghost town over there after Mike de Luca left and it took a while for them to regroup. Jason X just sat on the shelf for a while. It just wasn’t on their radar until we bugged them about it, then they jumped on board.’ Finally seeing the light of day on 26 April 2002, almost two years to do the day since principal photography had come to an end, some fans and critics appreciated the imagination and humour on display but its delay caused Jason X to suffer greatly from a commercial perspective, barely earning back its budget. But now, after fifteen years, the time had finally come for Jason to face his greatest foe, one who had threatened his existence since the late eighties. But first, New Line decided to get their house in order.
We want Freddy vs. Jason
In January 2001 Michael De Luca was fired from his position as president of production following several box office disappointments for the studio. Only a few days earlier the company’s parent Time Warner had completed a merger with America Online and following his dismissal all eyes turned to founder Robert Shaye and his company’s president, Michael Lynne. With De Luca stepping down his successor was Toby Emmerich, who would come to serve as the head of production throughout the studio’s most profitable era. ‘When I came in to run production, getting sequels made was clearly Bob’s big priority,’ Emmerich told the Los Angeles Times two years later. ‘Bob and Michael Lynne were very frustrated by how hard it had been to get sequels going. They said, ‘Don’t drop the ball. We want Freddy vs. Jason, a Dumb and Dumber prequel, another Friday sequel and another Blade movie.’ One of the reasons Bob was so attracted to shooting the Lord of the Rings movies together was that if the first one worked, we had two more in the can.’
By the time that Jason X was released, Freddy vs. Jason had seen an assortment of writers come and go, each one attempting to create a marriage between the characters that not only continued the mythology of each franchise but also offered audiences something new and exciting. And even as New Line was preoccupied with developing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, executives finally gave their approval on a screenplay from writing duo Damian Shannon and Mark Swift. Robert Englund had attempted to capture the public’s interest through media appearances but for Friday the 13th fans, Freddy vs. Jason suffered a major tragedy early in the casting process when it was announced that Kane Hodder, the man who had portrayed Jason Voorhees over four films and fifteen years, was to be replaced.
Hodder had given the same kind of passion and commitment to Jason that Englund had shown for Freddy, appearing at numerous conventions over the years and eagerly meeting his fans. He had been the only actor to play Jason more than once and the only cast member to have survived the shift from Paramount to New Line but as Freddy vs. Jason went into production it was revealed that the new man behind the mask was Ken Kirzinger. ‘The room started spinning, I wanted to throw up and smash something at the same time,’ admitted Hodder in his memoir. ”What the fuck was going on? Was this for real? Did they actually have someone else? I am Jason! The fans even said that all the time. How could they, why would they, replace me? Four films and suddenly I’m out on the street?’ I had put my heart and soul into playing this character. It can’t be possible.’
When it first made its debut in the mid-eighties A Nightmare on Elm Street was praised for its intelligence and surrealism, giving the horror genre a much-needed shot of adrenaline after several years of low budget trash but with each sequel, many felt the tone had shifted too far from its roots and into slapstick comedy and pop culture references, losing the very essence of what had made it so popular to begin with. Friday the 13th, meanwhile, had always been considered crass and amateur, catering to the juvenile fantasies of its adolescent fan base. So how could producers bring together two such distinctive franchises in a way that would capture the spirit of the characters while targeting mainstream appeal? There were numerous directors considered for this assignment but in the end they chose one who had already successfully revamped a horror icon a few years earlier with Bride of Chucky, a postmodern spin on the Child’s Play legend. But could lightning strike twice, could this man now do the same for Jason and Freddy?
Following his recent success, Ronny Yu was called into the offices of New Line to meet with Robert Shaye. ‘I got a call from New Line saying, ‘Would you mind if we flew you over to talk to our boss, Bob Shaye?’ He has a project for you,’’ recalled Yu in Crystal Lake Memories. ‘Bob asked me if I had seen any of the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. I said no. He said, ‘You mean no Jason, no Freddy?’ It’s funny because the same thing happened with Bride of Chucky. I had never seen a Child’s Play film. But I think my lack of knowledge worked in my favour because the studio was looking for somebody who could come in with a fresh take and new ideas. They gave me the script and said I needed to tell them yes or no right now, because they’d waited for so long. They also wanted to start in two months.’
Jason Voorhees is in Hell. Ever since he was sent to the netherworld at the hands of his niece Jessica he has remained trapped and it is here that he is discovered by Freddy Krueger. The children of Springwood no longer fear Freddy, he has become nothing but a legend and has lost his hold over the town. Determined to stalk their dreams he decides to release Jason from his bonds, sending him to Elm Street where the resulting terror will strike the hearts of the children and make them fear Freddy once again. Using the image of Mrs. Voorhees to manipulate Jason, the man behind the mask heads to Springwood and as the body count rises Freddy’s power begins to grow. Among the residents of the small town is Lori, whose mother was murdered by Freddy years earlier and whose boyfriend Will is now locked away in a psychiatric hospital. Escaping with his friend and returning to Springwood, Will fights alongside Lori in an effort to banish Freddy back to the dream world, but standing between them is Jason Voorhees.
Although Yu had allegedly championed the casting of Kirzinger over Hodder, Englund would return to the role of Freddy, having already portrayed the character for almost twenty years. Through his work with the series he had become very protective of his character. ‘People are very cynical about films like this and I understand that, but the fact is that none of us would’ve been involved with Freddy vs. Jason if it wasn’t a good story,’ Englund told writer David Grove. ‘The last film I did before Freddy vs. Jason was New Nightmare and everyone thinks the movie bombed. What happened was that the film came out two years before Scream and we just kind of missed the curve. When Scream came out, everyone went out to rent New Nightmare and I heard that it ended up making about $60m.’
After over a decade in development and with countless writers and directors coming and going through the halls of New Line, Freddy vs. Jason was finally unleashed upon the public on 15 August 2003. Following an aggressive marketing campaign and armed with a budget of $25m, the impact of the movie far surpassed the expectations of the studio when it earned more than $114m worldwide. Even the reviews had been an improvement on previous Friday the 13th features and despite talk of producing a follow-up by incorporating the hero of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, after the hype had died down a second confrontation between Freddy and Jason failed to materialise. While its final moments may have seen Jason walking from Crystal Lake with Freddy’s decapitated-yet-very-much-alive head in hand, Freddy vs. Jason would mark the final chapter in the story of Friday the 13th. When Jason eventually returned six years later something had changed; the producers were resetting the clock and the horror of Jason was about to begin all over again.
They decided to return to the roots of Jason Voorhees
New Line Cinema, the company who had become a major Hollywood enterprise with A Nightmare on Elm Street, had attempted to resurrect Jason with two critically-mauled offerings before finally giving fans the sequel they had been waiting for since the late-eighties. Yet despite earning back its budget on opening weekend, the studio was hesitant about producing a new movie and it wasn’t until Platinum Dunes, the production company owned by Hollywood filmmaker Michael Bay and producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, came on board that a new Friday the 13th picture entered production. With their reboot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre having become the surprise success of 2003, they decided to return to the roots of Jason Voorhees with a new version of his origin story. While Cunningham’s Friday the 13th had focused on the actions of Mrs. Voorhees the new version, directed by Marcus Nispel, the man responsible for injecting new life into The Texas Chainsaw Maccare, would follow Jason as he protects his domain from a group of tourists who are partying in the woods nearby.
Over the course of almost thirty years Crystal Lake had witnessed dozens of bloodbaths at the hands of Jason Voorhees; a copycat targeting a halfway house for disturbed youths, the repeated death and resurrection of an unstoppable killer and the final showdown between Freddy and Jason. He had been sent to Hell and deep space but now he was returning to the woods of Crystal Lake. ‘We wanted to have a fun horror movie. When I say fun I don’t mean funny, but every day kids hanging out and drinking and smoking weed and having sex,’ claimed Form in an interview with Suicide Girls. ‘As a production company and producers, Andrew and I have spent so much time in basements dismembering people. It kind of wears on you so we wanted to kind of get out of that and have a movie that takes place outside and have hot girls running around, a more fun type of horror movie.’
A group of teenagers lay dead, having been butchered by a deranged mother devastated at the loss of her son. With one counsellor left standing, the vengeful woman is finally brought to her knees as her young son Jason watches on hopelessly from the shadows. Years later the boy has become a man, a reclusive monster that prowls the woods of Crystal Lake. When Whitney Miller is kidnapped and her friends are slaughtered, her older brother Clay arrives in town in search of his missing sibling. Another group of youths arrive at a summer house and immediately attract the hostility of the figure that prowls the woods, hunting them down like wild animals and butchering them with no emotion. Having rescued Whitney from Jason’s lair, the two turn the tables on the masked maniac until finally they bring an end to the bloody legacy of Jason Voorhees.
Freddy vs. Jason had demonstrated the flair of a computer game and all the subtlety of a comic book and so for the revival of Friday the 13th brand, the powers that be at Platinum Dunes decided to incorporate the sleaze and explicit violence of their Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot into the world of Jason. ‘As stylised as my film might come across, I don’t like to go in and get overly fancy,’ claimed Nispel, whose background in directing music videos had resulted in collaborations with artists as diverse as Cher and Faith No More. ‘Then really, especially being blessed with a great cast of kids, my job is really to sometimes just blend into the wallpaper, almost like you’re doing reality TV and let the cameras rattle and make sense of it later in editing, so it seems somewhat authentic and not contrived. I saw a director’s commentary on Halloween and he says that you don’t want to spoil a hamburger. He said he’s seen his own movie being remade, sequelised, prequelised so many times, ripped off so many times, whenever people try to change it or better it by putting a bigger budget behind it, celebrities, special effects, music video-type looking films, that’s really where they lost it. That’s where they failed.’
Hodder may well have been replaced by Kirzinger for Freddy vs. Jason but the producers of Friday the 13th were eager to recast the role yet again for Jason’s origin story, which would take elements from the first four films to form a new narrative. The latest actor to don the hockey mask would be Derek Mears, an actor and stuntman whose prior credits had included a remake of Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. ‘In my head my take on Jason is that he is a mixture of John Rambo from First Blood, a bit of Tarzan and a little bit of the Abdominal Snowman from the Looney Toons cartoons,’ explained Mears prior to the film’s release. ‘Tarzan, because he’s the alpha male of the woods. He’s never come across anything that’s higher than himself on the food chain. He’s like John Rambo because he’s smart a hunter. He’s been rejected by society and he wants to be left alone. The kids in the film trespass on his territory and he is pushed into a corner.’
Less than a month after Lionsgate released a 3D remake of the slasher classic My Bloody Valentine, courtesy of Jason X writer Todd Farmer, Platinum Dunes’ reboot of Friday the 13th made its long-awaited debut on the big screen. When it was released on Valentine’s Day 2009 it was a considerable success, falling short to that of Freddy vs. Jason but far outgrossing the movies that had come beforehand. Within months of its arrival a script for Part 2 was already in development from writers Shannon and Swift. During initial discussions the screenplay had included sequences of their antagonist butchering his victims in the snow and once again the studio considered utilising 3D which, much as in the eighties, had made a revival on the big screen. The producers had also intended on the movie being released the following summer and would have finally seen the death of Jason.
Another potential way to capitalise on the Friday the 13th brand would have been to bring the character of Jason to the small screen. This would not have been the first time the franchise had made the transition to television, with Friday the 13th: The Series having made its debut over twenty years earlier, yet with its original incarnation the studio had attempted to distance themselves from the slasher formula by abandoning the story of Jason. But in 2014, almost five years after the release of the last film, Cunningham’s production company Crystal Lake Entertainment had entered a deal to develop a new show that would focus on Jason over several hour-long episodes. ‘Jason Voorhees is synonymous with the genre and we plan to build on this legacy with a provocative and compelling take that expands upon the storylines that have already thrilled millions worldwide,’ claimed Cunningham when the show was first announced.
Yet two years later the studio had abandoned the concept and would instead focus on producing another big screen instalment. This had in part been as a result of an agreement that New Line’s parent studio Warner Bros. had made with Paramount over the co-production of Christopher Nolan’s science fiction drama Interstellar, which had forced the company to sacrifice their interest in the Friday the 13th series and had thus allowed Paramount to develop a fresh reboot without having to compromise their vision with another studio. But the negative reaction to A Nightmare on Elm Street, another attempt by Platinum Dunes to reinvigorate a horror franchise, had cast doubt over Friday the 13th and so producers struggled to find a concept that could inject something new into the formula.
After briefly considering following in the footsteps of Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity by utilising the found footage concept, the producers of Friday the 13th eventually decided that the series should return to the basics and offer its core audience what they demanded. ‘At the end of the day those movies are so fantastic because Jason Voorhees is such a dynamic presence and people love to see him do what he does well. We hope to put Jason in a situation where he’s able to do that again and it doesn’t feel like you’re seeing the same thing over and over,’ Fuller told Coming Soon in 2015. ‘Listen, there was an outpouring of negative sentiment when it was revealed that Friday the 13th might have been a found footage movie. That was very clear to us that there was not a groundswell of support for that. That had a tremendous amount of impact on us and only substantiated our concern about doing it as a found footage movie.’
A very timeless, nostalgic experience
With Shannon and Swift having long since moved onto other ventures the task of resurrecting Jason Voorhees would fall to Nick Antosca, a young writer whose prior work had included episodes of Teen Wolf and Hannibal, both of which had been adapted for the small screen from motion picture franchises. Another release date was set, Friday 13 May 2016 and David Bruckner, having first gained recognition for his contribution to the anthology V/H/S, was hired to direct the picture. ‘It was a proper reboot,’ claimed Bruckner. ‘It was a proper ‘end of the summer’ summer camp movie that took place in the late eighties…I like to say that Dazed and Confused was a huge inspiration to me in how we approached the character relationships, just because that’s a movie that captures a kind of a timeless – even though it takes place in the seventies – a very timeless, nostalgic experience.’ But within a few short months Antosca would be replaced by Prisoners screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski and the date was pushed back once again.
Following another attempt with director Breck Eisner, who had already gained minor acclaim for his remake of George A. Romero’s horror classic The Crazies, events took an unexpected turn. In February 2017, almost eight years to the day since the last instalment, Paramount finally announced that they had ceased development on another Friday the 13th picture. With the movie removed from its expected October release, the studio instead turned its attention to distributing mother!, the latest feature from noted filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. Yet the movie would receive a considerable amount of animosity from audiences and before long talks had resumed regarding bringing Friday the 13th back to the screen. And while as recent as October 2018 LeBron James had expressed interest in revamping the series, Jason would face his greatest threat to date: lawyers.
In June 2017 it was announced that Victor Miller, the man who had been credited as the screenwriter for the original movie almost four decades earlier, had taken his former collaborator Sean S. Cunningham to court over the 1976 Copyright Act that would allow an author to reclaim ownership over their work after a period of no less than thirty-five years had elapsed. Yet Cunningham had claimed that Miller was a writer-for-hire and that it was Cunningham, acting as both the producer and director, who had first conceived both the name Friday the 13th and the outline of the story, which had been inspired by the phenomenal success of John Carpenter’s independent horror Halloween. ‘Sean called me up and told me about the great business that this film Halloween was doing,’ recalled Miller in 2005. ‘I came up with the summer camp idea and it seemed perfect except for the fact that there were lots of kids at summer camp. Where’s the terror in that? That’s when I thought that it was a summer camp that was just about to open. I also knew that we had to begin with some kind of curse on the camp.’
The ownership of Friday the 13th has caused much deliberation over the decades since its release and is now under even more scrutiny following the legal issues that have arisen. While both Cunningham and Miller had conceived the basic concept together the writer had created the character of Jason Voorhees but only that of a drowned boy, the catalyst for the murders that would dominate the original movie. Yet it was Ron Kurz who had allegedly conjured up the final twist, in which Jason emerged from the depths of the lake and it would be this crucial moment that introduced audiences to Jason. Kurz had claimed ownership of the character and was subsequently hired to write Friday the 13th Part 2, in which the focus of the story would shift from the vengeful mother to the murderous rampage of her supposedly-deceased son. Another important participant on the first movie who would later claim to have been the one responsible for Jason’s brief appearance during the climactic scene was special effects artist Tom Savini. ‘My true inspiration was the idea that the audience wouldn’t know what was real or not and that’s why I think it worked so well,’ he later stated.
Despite each party having previously staked their claim in the legacy of Jason the legal battle would be played out solely between its director and credited screenwriter. ‘As for his version of the working relationship, Miller says he wrote a fifteen-page treatment (called The Long Night at Camp Blood) and screenplay on spec at his home without daily supervision,’ explained an article published by the Hollywood Reporter. ‘Miller contends he worked as a freelancer over the course of two months and that it was up to him when and for how long he worked. The writer says he was paid $5,569 upon delivery of a first draft and $3,713 upon delivery of a final draft screenplay. He says that revisions with the exception of a new ending were minor.’ By September 2018 Miller would score his first victory, with the court granting a summary in his favour. Miller, who was a member of the Writers Guild of America, had been in the legal dispute for over a year when the verdict was given, which could result in the writer obtaining the rights to the story domestically while the producers would control them overseas.
Larry Zerner, a veteran of the series who would later embark on a new career as an entertainment lawyer, explained to Arrow in the Head that the legal proceedings could continue for another couple of years if an agreement cannot be reached between the two parties. This has thrown the future of the franchise into turmoil, as not only had this legal dispute threatened the release of a highly-anticipated computer game, but the thirteenth Friday the 13th picture has remained trapped in development hell as a result. Over the last decade a host of writers and directors have attempted to bring Jason back from the dead in new and exciting ways, yet each time the project has stalled before cameras have even begun to roll. While Platinum Dunes have remained determined to return to the series once again, Blumhouse Productions have expressed interest in following their successful reboot of Halloween with another horror revival. Even as the Friday the 13th brand remains the victim of a legality, fans have continued to keep the spirit of Jason alive with a succession of low budget, self-distributed features that have attempted to recapture the spirit of the official instalments.
Twelve years since the box office success of the 2009 reboot, and four years since Miller had filed a lawsuit against Cunningham, and his late-seventies enterprise, the Manny Company, over the 1976 Copyright Act, and finally the legal proceedings have finally gained some headway. In the final days of September 2021, Chief District Judge Stefan R. Underhill of Connecticut ruled in favour of Miller, arguing that the conditions in which he conceived the original screenplay for Friday the 13th in 1979 was not as a writer-for-hire. ‘At some point following Cunningham’s recruitment for the horror film project, Miller saw Halloween, discussed ideas and locations for the film with Cunningham, came up with the idea for setting the film at a summer camp before it opens, wrote a sixteen-page treatment for the horror film, titled The Long Night at Camp Blood, wrote the first draft screenplay and second draft screenplay, and made revisions to the second draft screenplay, including adding a new ending,’ dictated Underhill in his summary. ‘Miller wrote the various versions of the treatment and screenplay over the course of approximately two months. As with Miller’s and Cunningham’s prior collaborations, Miller and Cunningham met at each other’s homes to discuss ideas for the film, and Miller drafted the treatment and screenplay at his own home.’
Throughout the document, Underhill would explore the development of the project from page to screen, including the financing, courtesy of Georgetown Productions, and complications that would arise with Miller regarding future profits from the series. ‘Disputes arose as early as 1980 regarding whether Miller was receiving additional sequel and residual payments, allegedly due to him under the MBA, and in 1989 Miller received an additional $27,396.46 in settlement of such disputes,’ continued the Judge. Miller was provided with exclusive ‘written by’ credits for the film. Two days before the public release of the film, Manny sold to Georgetown all of its ‘right, title, and interest’ in and to the screenplay. The agreement between Manny and Georgetown described the screenplay as written by Victor Miller, as ‘author for [Manny],’ and ‘Manny represent[ed] and warrant[ed]’ in the agreement ‘[t]hat Victor Miller is the sole author of the [s]creenplay.’’
Even as this legal battle had continued through the Coronavirus, in January 2021 Cunningham had turned his attention to both Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. over profits he claimed were owed to him by the studios. Paramount Pictures had purchased the domestic rights to Friday the 13th in 1980, while Warner Bros. had obtained international rights to the picture, but following the sale of the brand to New Line Cinema in the early nineties, the series was continued without the use of the Friday the 13th moniker. When New Line merged with Warner Bros. in 2008, the studio negotiated with Paramount Pictures in order to produce a reboot with the participation of Platinum Dunes. ‘I got a hold of the new Friday the 13th lawsuit and can give you a little more information,’ announced Zerner the same day that the legal action had been revealed to the public. ‘The Plaintiffs are Sean S. Cunningham Films Ltd. and Horror, Inc. The Defendants are Warner Bros., Paramount and New Line…The lawsuit ONLY concerns profits of the 2009 F13 reboot. None of the other films are part of the suit. The lawsuit alleges that the Defendants basically used ‘Hollywood accounting’ to cheat Sean out of the profits he was supposed to get from the reboot.’
We reject that argument
On 30 September 2021, a second document was published by the courts revealing the final ruling. ‘Manny argues primarily that Miller’s membership in the Writers’ Guild of America, East, Inc. (WGA), and Manny’s participation in the producers’ collective bargaining agreement with the WGA in the same period, established that Miller was Manny’s employee for Copyright Act purposes,’ explained the summary published by the United States Court of Appeal. ‘We reject that argument and conclude that Miller was an independent contractor when he wrote the screenplay, and is therefore entitled to authorship rights. Accordingly, the notion of termination that he gave under Section 203 is effective as to Manny and its successors. We therefore affirm the District Court’s order granting summary judgement to Miller.’ The document concluded with, ‘We have considered the companies’ remaining arguments, and find in them no basis for reversal. For the reasons set forth above, the judgement of the District Court is affirmed.’
Once again, actor-turned-entertainment lawyer was on-hand to both explain the verdict to his followers, and offer his own opinion on the ruling. ‘The Second Circuit upheld the decision of the trial court that when Victor Miller wrote the F13 screenplay. He was acting as an independent contractor and not as an employee. Therefore, the termination of copyright transfer that he filed is effective, and he has successfully reclaimed his rights in the first F13 screenplay,’ wrote Zerner. ‘On appeal, Horror, Inc. (the company that controls the F13 rights) made a number of arguments that Miller’s WGA membership should have been considered as a factor in determining Miller’s employment status. But the Court shut all of those arguments down. The Court (correctly, IMHO) held that while union membership has bearing for employment in labour law, it really has no bearing in connection with Copyright Law. Once the Court rejected the arguments based on the WGA membership, it analysed the CCNV v. Reid factors, which are used in copyright cases to determine if the author is an independent contractor or employee, and held that Miller was not an employee. So, what happens next?’
Forty years ago a producer and a writer started on a journey, one that was intended to be little more than a potboiler, just another movie in an ever-growing résumé. But instead they created a small piece of cinema history by launching the slasher boom of the early eighties, transforming sequels into a legitimate commodity and turning a backwoods killer into a pop culture icon. ‘It was only after the picture started doing a whole bunch of business that people looked at it a second time and said, ‘There must be something good here.’ Then the Friday the 13th look-a-likes showed up,’ lamented Cunningham on its endearing legacy. ‘The only downside of Friday the 13th over the years has been that, although it allowed me, theoretically, to do a whole bunch of different things, it tied me to its reputation. When people meet me, generally their reaction is, ‘Oh, you don’t look like the kind of guy that would make horror films. You look like a normal person!’ I hope I’m a normal person. I think that I am not obsessed with darkness. I am not obsessed with fear.’
For better or worse, despite long and respectable careers, many of the creators of Friday the 13th will forever be known for their association with Jason Voorhees. ‘I believe the thing that made Friday the 13th a surprise hit was the fact that I took the concept of ‘Mom and Apple Pie’ and turned it on its head,’ declared Miller. ‘Betsy Palmer, as Mrs. Voorhees, was a mom who wielded a machete, used a bow and arrow, skewered Kevin Bacon and spent most of her adult life doing what she had failed to do for her unfortunate son, Jason…protect other children from being killed at summer camp. Unfortunately, her methods were downright homicidal. The sequels brought the dead Jason to life and he became the ‘hero’ of what followed. All the juicy Freudian goodies and the insanity of this mommy dearest were lost as we got the cranky son. That said, I am pleased and proud that the franchise has entertained so many for so long.’ And with the recent success of a Halloween reboot proving that even in an era of Netflix streaming there is still an audience for an old fashioned stalk and slash horror movie, perhaps once the producer and writer of Friday the 13th can come to some kind of agreement, Jason Voorhees will return for a new beginning.