Ranking the “Friday the 13th” Movies on Friday the 13th!

The Phantom of the Ville gives a golden hockey mask to the best and takes a machete to the worst of the entire “Friday the 13th” franchise.

Happy Friday the 13th, my River City fiends, it’s the Phantom of the Ville checking in from my secret crypt in Cave Hill Cemetery with a look at the entire film franchise for which this unlucky day was named. As a young horror fan, I was often annoyed that the professional film critics of the day spit their collective venom at all the “Friday the 13th” movies with equal bile and contempt, when as true fans of the genre, we all knew some of the movies were much better than others.

The following rankings of this bloody and much beloved B-movie franchise are only the opinion of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the larger Louisville Halloween crew. As far as credibility is concerned, I can only tell you honestly that I have seen every single “Friday the 13th” sequel, spinoff and reboot during its original theatrical release and have watched each and every one of them multiple times on cable, VHS, laserdisc and DVD over the years.

The original “Friday the 13th” (1980) was only the second R-rated film I managed to talk my parents into letting me see while it was still playing in theaters. The first was “Alien” just a year earlier. I’m a die hard Jason Voorhees fan, and for better or worse, I will go to the theater to see whatever the franchise owners have in store for our hockey mask wearing antihero in the future (even if it does turn out to be another “found footage” reboot).

Let’s start by wiping all the blood, guts and dirt off the bottom of the machete first and work our way towards the sparkling, shinning edge of the blade. Ki ki ki, ma ma ma—

12)Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” (1993): I hate this movie. I really, really hate this movie. In fact, I originally thought another series entry was going to come in last when I started compiling this list, but the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that “Jason Goes to Hell” can go straight to Hell itself. Apparently the screenwriters thought they were being particularly clever by abandoning everything we know about Jason Voorhees up to this point and suddenly making him a body swapping alien slug, a device probably borrowed from a forgotten little sci-fi film called “The Hidden” (1987), but they clearly forgot that fans like to have Jason in his rotting, hockey mask wearing body as the star of his own film and not a rotating cast of possessed character actors. Nothing in this piece of crap makes one bit of sense, and I really, really hate it.

11)Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning” (1985): I know that this sequel has its defenders, and I can respect that, but I remember it as a major disappointment in the theater and still don’t care much for it today. With Jason finally killed beyond any reasonable doubt in the previous film, the producers decided to play up the mystery angle of who was wearing the hockey mask this time (the only time the mask ever had BLUE stripes!), and the result was like a gory episode of “Scooby Doo.” If this sequel didn’t exist, it wouldn’t really matter.

10)Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” (1989): This sequel still takes the brunt of fan disappointment for pulling the biggest bait and switch of the entire series. After presenting fans with one of the best (and funniest) teaser trailers for any sequel in the franchise set to Frank Sinatra’sNew York, New York,” the movie itself delivers three fourths of its running time aboard a dingy cruise ship before arriving in Vancouver! The idea of taking Jason out of his natural environment in Camp Crystal Lake and placing him in the Big Apple was a novel one, but budgetary constraints forced the production to shoot in Canada, which doubled for NYC, and only around 60 seconds of footage was actually shot in Times Square. “Jason Takes Manhattan” is the true definition of a rip-off!

9)Jason X” (2001): Both the biggest budget film in the franchise and the lowest earner at the box-office, “Jason X” is often cited as the nadir of the series. After taking Jason to the big city and the gates of Hell itself, I suppose the only place left to go was outer space, so it was off to the final frontier for old Jason who ultimately gets an upgrade to the Terminator-esque, Uber Jason. As supremely silly as the premise is, I actually think “Jason X” is sort of fun. It plays like an episode of “Star Trek” gone wrong. The holodeck version of Camp Crystal Lake at the end generates some genuine laughs. In the end, however, it fails to do the one thing horror fans expect a horror film to do; be scary. Anyone can relate to the fear of being away at Summer Camp or camping in the woods at night. Very few folks can relate to being trapped on a spaceship.

8)Friday the 13th” (2009): This reboot of the franchise cycles through some of the best bits of the original film, “Friday the 13th Part 2” (1981) and “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (1984) while updating Jason Voorhees to a more athletic hunter who has learned to live off the land. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s not terrible. It takes a very, very simple premise and doesn’t monkey around with it too much. Kids go into the woods. Jason emerges from the mists of legend and the killing begins. Slick production values and above average acting boosts a mostly forgettable franchise place holder.

7)Freddy VS Jason” (2003): This comic book style smack down between the two greatest 80’s horror icons delivers what it promises in a bloody and energetic final duel to the death, but the road to the main attraction is as bad as some of the worst “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” sequels. In a lot of ways, “Freddy VS Jason” feels more like an “Elm Street” movie than a “Friday the 13th” movie, and a lot of this probably has to do with the great Robert Englund reprising his role as Freddy Krueger while the current “Friday” series regular, Kane Hodder, was unfortunately replaced by Ken Kirzinger. While Kirzinger is physically fine in the role, I think this film would rank higher in the hearts of fans if Hodder and Englund were allowed to face off as God intended!

6)Friday the 13th Part III 3-D” (1982): For all you kids out there who grew up watching this sequel in two dimensions on VHS, let me be the first to tell you that you didn’t miss a thing. I saw it theatrically in 3-D in 1982 and it looked terrible! You saved yourself a migraine headache. In “Friday the 13th” lore, this is the film where Jason first gets his hockey mask, so it has that going for it. It also opens with an amazing disco version of Harry Manfredini’s nerve jangling theme. Other than that, I’ve always felt that “Part III” was a pretty run of mill entry in the series.

5)Friday the 13th” (1980): Here is where I’m likely to lose some hardcore “Friday the 13th” aficionados by not immediately placing the original film in the top slot, but I honestly don’t think it merits that reputation. Sean Cunnigham’s original camp counselor bloodbath was clearly inspired by some of the popular Italian Giallo murder mysteries of the time, Mario Bava’sA Bay of Blood” (1971) in particular. Here, however, the mystery of who is killing the teens at Camp Crystal Lake is unsolvable to the audience because, in spite of delivering red herrings throughout, the murderous villain isn’t introduced until the very last reel. Even though the film certainly had the power to shock audiences back in 1980, by today’s standards it’s actually a bit dull. Still, the final coda delivers one of the greatest unexpected scares in the history of horror cinema.

4)Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (1988): The cruelest cut delivered in this chapter was not by Jason Voorhees, but by the Motion Picture Association of America who had by this point singled out the “Friday the 13th” series as a blight on civil society and the cause of all youth violence in America. MPAA demands made the filmmakers cut almost every drop of blood just to be granted an R-rating. In spite of having its teeth removed, “The New Blood” delivered a new twist on this now old story by giving Jason a nemesis with supernatural powers that could fight back against his unstoppable carnage. It was a “Carrie VS Jason” concept that included the very best Jason makeup of the entire series by makeup wizard and film director, John Carl Buechler. This entry has grown on me over the years and has eventually moved up several slots on my personal favorites list.

3)Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI” (1986): With a graveyard stake driven through his rotting, worm-ridden heart and a bolt of lightning from an ominous storm cloud, Jason is brought back to life as a supernatural force in an opening scene straight out of a Universal Studios monster movie from the 1940’s. By this point in the series, the silliness of the whole franchise with its shameless box-office cash grab mentality and indestructible villain had become a strain on even the most devoted fan. It was time to have some fun with Jason, and this sequel isn’t worried about whether or not the audience is laughing or screaming as long as they’re in the mood for a ride. From the James Bond spoof in the opening credits to the casting of “Return of the Living Dead” star, Thom Matthews, as Jason’s nemesis, Tommy Jarvis, “Jason Lives” owns its title. This is also the only “Friday the 13th” film to actually have little campers in the cabins when Jason attacks, and they’re pretty funny. One kid asks another one as they hide under their bunk bed, “So, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

2)Friday the 13th Part 2” (1981): This quickly assembled sequel to the unexpected box-office success of the original film is actually more action packed, more thrilling and scarier than its predecessor, in my opinion. Long live baghead Jason! For some reason, I’ve always thought the sight of Jason in a potato sack with one eyehole cut in it was just as terrifying as the hockey mask version. Like “Goldfinger,” which was actually the third James Bond film in the series, it was really this film, and not the original, that set the formula that this franchise would follow for the rest of its days. Amy Steel is one of my favorite “final girls” in any sequel and the coda here packs almost as big of a wallop as the one in the original.

1)Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (1984): Believe it or not, back in 1984 this really was going to be the end of Jason Voorhees, and the producers brought back practical makeup effects wizard, Tom Savini, who had created all the gore and dismemberment for the first film, to finish the job. To his credit, Savini delivers the best demise for poor Jason of the entire series. Even if “The Final Chapter” didn’t deliver the jaw dropping, head splitting end for Jason Voorhees that it appears to, this single series entry encapsulates everything that I love about “Friday the 13th.” Probably the best ensemble cast the franchise has ever lucked into, “The Final Chapter” delivers a nutty performance from Crispin Glover as a nerd who just wants to get laid and introduces Corey Feldman as Jason’s young nemesis, Tommy Jarvis. Erich Anderson also plays an interesting heroic role in the film as a guy who lost his sister to Jason’s rampage and is actually hunting the hockey mask wearing killer. Only final girl, Kimberly Beck, isn’t particularly memorable, but I’ll let that slide because everything else here is as sharp as the gleaming edge of Jason’s machete.

All of the “Friday the 13th” films are available to rent on Amazon.com and Vudu.com for $2.99 each. Most of them are also available for streaming on Netflix.

The Phantom of The Ville

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