Look, it’s not often the tenth film of a franchise is the best one
Friday the 13th was pretty much my introduction to the classic horror genre; it was my dad’s favourite of the eighties teen slasher films, and I snuck a copy into the DVD player at fifteen to watch it in secret. It scared the bejeesus out of me (it did not help that I lived in the middle of nowhere and had to walk half a mile through the woods in the dark to get home from school every day), and it really kicked off a love affair with the genre that, even to this day, I have a real soft spot for. I’m not convinced the original movie is a downright masterpiece, but it’s absolutely iconic in what it did for the genre, and there’s still a lot to love about it: a few inventive kills, solid special effects, some genuinely unsettling stalking sequences, and, of course, the iconic Mrs Voorhees twist.
What I am convinced of, though, is that the rest of the franchise is Really Not Very Good. Which is not to say I don’t like and even love some of them, but I would never really try to defend them as anything more than the messy cash-ins they are. The direct follow-up to this, Friday the 13th Part II, is genuinely dreadful in an almost impressive way.
In the enormous twelve-movie Friday the 13th franchise, though, I do think there is one exceptional bright spot, and that is Jason X. It came out back in 2001, a full eight years after the release of 1993’s The Final Friday, and it might well be my favourite movie of the whole franchise.
I think a big part of what I love about Jason X is the way it tries to explore exactly what the existence of something like Jason Voorhees would mean for (what passes for) the real world. They’re not going into any deep philosophical places here, and I wouldn’t really want them to, but it’s fun for the writer Todd Farmer and director Jim Isaac to delve into the entertaining silliness of people taking a scientific approach to this faceless horror villain.
And this premise is what leads us to the masterstroke of this movie: a shift into sci-fi mode. Sci-fi horror movies that actually work are few and far between, even though there are some incredibly iconic examples of them turning out downright brilliance, but Jason X is amongst the ones that does. A lot of sci-fi movies take on a sort-of slasher approach (Alien being the prime example), but Jason X has the boon of actually sticking an icon of the genre in that role. The spaceship both makes for a suitably enclosed and claustrophobic setting, and it’s one that’s totally unique for the franchise and the classic slasher genre as a whole. We’ve moved on from stalking about suburban streets and hiding behind hedges, baby – this is luxury space slasherism, and you need to get on our level.
This is also the first Friday the 13th movie in a long time that feels like it’s trying. The kills – especially the iconic frozen face moment – are inventive, the meta-commentary is fun and functional to the plot without feeling too much like just revelling in the glory days, and the design on the final form of mecha-Jason is genuinely cool as shit (or maybe that’s just the nineties kid in me loving all that chrome). It’s got the same feel that cringe-favourite Dracula 2000, the Y2K vision of horror that’s sort of awful at the same time as being instantly recognizable and iconic.
Jason X is a standout for this franchise, and for slasher cinema in general – it’s fun, with a clear vision for visuals and a new approach to the story that breathes some genuine life into it. It might be so deep into the franchise that a lot of people have never bothered with it, but trust me, for Jason X – tenth time’s the charm.
By Lou MacGregor
(header image via fridaythe13thfranchise.com)