Friday, June 13, 2014

An Alternate History of Friday the 13th

Anyone who cares already knows that Jason isn't the killer in Friday the 13th. It's his mother, avenging his drowning. He then rises from the dead in the sequels with decreasingly comprehensible continuity, but how funny would Friday the 13th Part 2 have been if it was just about teens making the tarnished camp work? Camp Crystal Lake has an awful reputation, but just like most real life sites of horrors, there isn't another massacre. Just teens with nowhere else to go trying to make cash out of a camp.

Then Friday the 13th Part 3 features too many rich people buying lakefront property, and the counselors wishing a serial killer would whack them. But he doesn't. The zoning board is the villain. It's probably a bad Comedy, nothing like the next movie.

Friday the 13th Part 4 was the film no one expected to be nominated for an Oscar. It opens with kids playing in the lake while their parents ignore them, referencing the drowning of Jason Voorhees. What we don't expect is the children discovering Jason's body. It's not a monster, but the fish-eaten remains of a child no older than themselves, and the public discovery shakes the Crystal Lake community. More Stand By Me than a Slasher flick. Adults are finally brought to trial over negligence, and children reckon with how the adults in their lives haven't prepared them for mortality. The parents reckon on their shortcomings. "We are all the shadow of Jason" becomes a national slogan, a t-shirt, and a meme before the internet.

Part 5 is the movie everyone said you couldn't make, because how could you do a sequel to the deconstruction of the American dream? But it is made, and it sucks. It's a clumsy teen romance that the director later apologizes for.

We loosely call the next film Part 6, but it was actually a reboot given the minimalist title "13." Its cardinal sin is attempting to re-tell too much in one movie, containing extensive prequel material of Jason's tortured childhood, his death, his mother's rampage, and the pathos of his body's discovery years later. There's so much in it that it never delivers on its individual elements, and it never settles on a tone or characterization. It was the Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom of camping movies.

It's a strange alternate universe, probably the same in which Transformers is a series of educational engineering videos, and Godzilla is about the contributions of Asians to establishing the fossil record. In that world, Friday the 13th still isn't a particularly beloved series, but everyone agrees it's still go more merit than the Jungian snoozers of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
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