As a horror series, Friday the 13th stands out with its iconic imagery. Those too young to see horror or too freaked out to jump into the genre already know who Jason Voorhees is and can link his trusty hockey mask to his image, fueling early word-of-mouth urban legends about the killer — whether based on his dark deeds on film or completely made-up.
For the only Friday that falls on the 13th day of the month this year, fans may think it has to count for the best of what the franchise has to offer. And while that is an honorable sentiment, it’s easy to see how the same handful of movies celebrated over and over by our fellow hockey-heads can get stuck in a rut of endless repetition. These installments are great, truly, and point directly to where the series gets the most dramatic & thematic mileage for its efforts. It’s already not worth talking too much about since they get so much of the spotlight (movies like the original Friday the 13th, Part II, Part IV, and Part VI for the curious).
So here we are championing the underappreciated and unsung accomplishments the other sequels have made, because if you’ve seen any two of these films they do not and cannot exist in a vacuum; the Friday the 13th films are designed specifically to (ahem) bleed into each other, each chapter following the last. In some cases a film serves as a transition point between what most would regard as superior films. So without any further ado, let’s get into the underappreciated sequels of the Friday the 13th franchise.
Friday the 13th Part III, dir. Steve Miner
It’s unclear if Part III is underappreciated by the same levels as the installments that follow, but it’s always a good idea to sing praise for it. As the only film in the franchise that was shot in 3D (by cinematographer Gerald Feil, who also did the 3D photography for 80s slasher favorite Silent Madness, making that and Part III the only 3D slashers to come out of the 80s), people will notice the gimmick very quickly as objects either fly at the camera or shots held on closeups of items for much longer than usual, often to hilarious effect. But here’s the thing: that hilarity is completely intentional.
The series’ format of recapping the film that came before it for this sequel even intentionally changes the ending of Part II to serve its own tone. The seriousness of the second movie is still there, but director Steve Miner (who also helmed Part II) has a different vision for his own franchise follow-up. Plus, Amy Steel from Part II declined to return to reprise her role as Ginny, which would have seen her as a returning final girl hellbent on tracking Jason down after finding her boyfriend dead in her college dorm room. So the choice to make this a campy venture from the get-go seems to have been a wise one.
As is usual for most of the Friday films we follow a new group of kids (they’re obviously not just by looking at them but it’s easier to just say ‘kids’ instead) as they travel to whatever Camp Crystal Lake is called these days and party down. We have the usual archetypes in attendance, but one in particular stands out: the prankster Shelly, who not only brings his own cabinet of curiosities but an array of masks and horror gags as well.
Among these is the hockey mask that would give Jason a much more recognizable image, sure, but Shelly’s sad journey in Part III counters the tongue-in-cheek nature of most of the rest of the film. The other kids come to their own judgements of him early on, but it comes from a more spiteful place than Shelly’s purely jocose motivations to shake things up. It’s a nod to how Jason was othered as a young camper, but doesn’t get hammered into the audience’s heads, instead balancing what can be argued as the best ratio of cheese to social drama in the franchise.
The kills get better and better as the film goes on, and the ending nearly rivals the sequel that came before it. It gives us another “final scare” from Jason whose image has no problem getting stuck in our heads. Plus, Part III has the best theme music of the entire franchise. Hands down.
And if your eyes can take the effects, the 3D pushes Part III into an even more enjoyable experience. Embrace the gimmickry!
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, dir. Danny Steinman
This is the black sheep of the series, without a doubt. Many people would happily ruin it for others about to get into it, waiting to see how Jason gets back to killing kids after Part IV. The killer in the Friday the 13th series has never been a secret past the first film, but what you’ve heard about who the killer is and is not is likely true. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.
Despite Part IV‘s moniker of being the Final Chapter, it really serves as the first film in the trilogy following Tommy Jarvis. Jarvis is the first one to emerge in the franchise as someone who can truly go toe-to-toe with Jason Voorhees. He did so at an extremely young age, as played by Corey Feldman in the previous installment and in the introducing scene of A New Beginning. While the sequence is that of a nightmare, it provides valuable insight to a much older Tommy Jarvis who has been tormented ever since that fateful night. Almost as a rule, the middle film of trilogies tend to get pulled down in the weight of minutiae that are obligated to serve as a bridge between the bookending sequels, which can sap the identity from the entire thing if not properly handled. Part V actively tries things that don’t pan out, but it does make fan-favorite Jason Lives more effective for what Part V does here. The fact that the film swings and misses a few times doesn’t mean that the swings weren’t worth it.
Tommy Jarvis is at some older age in his teens maybe (who can say, really) as he’s being transported to a halfway house to help facilitate his mental health following the trauma of facing Jason Voorhees at a very young age. We can tell that he doesn’t want to be there, but neither do virtually any of the other kids once we meet them.
In talking about the film, series composer Harry Manfredini talked about approaching this sequel differently than the rest, and his reasoning permeates the movie and the entire justification of the murder of the kids therein. It’s the essence of Jason Voorhees and his vengeance that matter the most, rather than the heart belonging to Jason. Like Part III before it, it establishes a sense of humor about itself early on, a little darker this time, but with some decent dramatic beats that hit better in the opening and closing acts.
The first kill of the movie isn’t even part of the main body of murders intended for any of the kids in Part V, rather the catalyzing incident for the rest of the murders to take place. The first murder is a result of pent-up aggression, and the kills that follow end up mirroring and adding to the pain Pamela Voorhees emotes in losing her own son to the inattentiveness and aimlessness of the surrounding counselors. In A New Beginning, the aimless & inattentive nature is attributed to the staff and residents of Pinehurst Halfway House. Dr. Matt Letter, the manager there, decidedly takes a laid-back approach to enforcing the rules, which leads to enragement by neighboring residents, which foster repeat visits from law enforcement.
Tommy Jarvis bonds early on with one of the younger residents of the Pinehurst house, Reggie, in a heartwarming moment that doesn’t really get proper development throughout the film. Nor do most of the other kids in the halfway house, which is the most disappointing part of the movie because their characterizations are interesting and honestly have some of the coolest looks in the series. The scenes involving Reggie and his family particularly carry a wholesome nature to them that poke out of the rest of the film. One tender moment in question is when Reggie’s brother, nicknamed Demon (played by genre favorite Miguel A. Nunez, Jr.) spends some time in an outhouse (“It’s those damned enchiladas!”), but not until his girlfriend messes with him by shaking the surrounding sheet metal and sings to him outside it. They exchange a sweet call and response, and even though these are not main characters you can’t help but feel entertained and charmed by it all. Of course, it leads into a kill sequence but what comes before could be more memorable than the relatively bloodless murder that follows.
The drama that could help to kinetically fill the rest of the movie and inform a better sense of stakes eventually takes a backseat as the kills take priority. This makes sense in a way as it is a Friday the 13th movie. But instead of continuing the dramatic arc started by Jarvis’ arrival, later scenes begin to lend dramatic tension to serve the kills and their setups. We almost forget that Tommy Jarvis is in a place he doesn’t want to be, physically and emotionally. It’s almost of two minds, and unfortunate that they don’t end up connecting.
A New Beginning might not be what people wanted or expected from a Friday the 13th sequel but at least it tries to do something earnest. The motivation for the killings isn’t as focused as it could be, to put Jason’s drive of family vengeance across to others with the potential to be as brutal as he. The end result manages to carve out a decent offering in the similar brand style of slasher fare expected of the Friday series in the middle of it all.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, dir. John Carl Buechler
Friday the 13th Part VII is inarguably one of, if not the most underappreciated sequel of the series. Following Jason Lives, which saw the killer literally come back from the dead and don a supernatural presence, this installment seeks to do more of the same. Jason is still the same undead creature from before, but now the floodgates are open to more new possibilities.
The film is celebrating its 34th anniversary this week on Friday May 13.
The film focuses on Tina Shepard, a girl who is struggling with the belief that she killed her alcoholic father after seeing him abuse her mother on the dock near their lake house. When her father pursues her in an attempt to stop Tina from escaping the chaos, raw telekinetic energy emerges from Tina’s intention to protect herself, destroying the dock at the lake, killing her father in the process as he falls in and drowns.
As Tina grows into her teens, her mother takes her to psychiatrist Dr. Crews, who says he is there to help Tina get over the guilt of her father’s death but instead devises a set of experiments to provoke the telekinetic abilities she claims to have tapped into that night. This starts with verbal assaults and escalates from there, all while putting on a front to Tina’s mother, Amanda, that progress is being made slowly and surely to work through Tina’s past trauma. He ends up successfully triggering her powers and Tina runs outside to get some air, but the telekinesis energy she exudes in thinking about wanting to get her father back ends up reviving Jason Voorhees instead, still chained to the bottom of the lake.
What follows is a successfully spun story focused on an individual like Tina, but with a neighboring group of kids occupying a cabin house who are just there to party, unaware of Tina and her abilities, nor Jason’s re-animation for that matter. The New Blood does what A New Beginning tried to do and failed, but learned properly from its mistakes. Tina constantly feels othered by the cool kids at the cabin, targeted by her psychiatrist and her mother for different reasons, all of which make for a compelling use of drama that makes what comes later hit the mark true as an arrow.
A lot of people pitch this sequel as Jason vs. Carrie and that’s pretty close, to be honest. Once Tina faces Jason down she ends up realizing that she has the ability to put him back in the ground, and Jason becomes more tenacious as a result. The showdown eventually leads to a chase through the grounds and during that, Jason — of course — leaves a trail of blood in his wake, culminating in Tina leading him back to the body of water from whence he came. The ending final scare is also one for the books, but something so perfect for the series simply can’t be spoiled here. You’ll have to see it for yourself.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, dir. Rob Hedden
Originally tasked as a send-off for Jason Voorhees, Jason Takes Manhattan doesn’t completely fulfill on its promise. Part of it is the title’s misleading nature but part is also the audience reaction to the 8th film in a franchise that doesn’t do what they feel was promised in a series that has proven repeat offenses in the past. Why would Jason Takes Manhattan be any different? Well, if you focus on what it wants to do, then it does a lot of things right. It successfully brings Jason’s present undead vengeful identity full circle to his helpless child form, where it all started.
The movie follows a group of kids on a high school graduation cruise, ending in a docking in Manhattan to see the sights. But before they sail off from the dock, a re-re-animated Jason Voorhees climbs on board and stows away on deck of the ship, aptly named the SS Lazarus. During the scenes set on the ship, plenty of attention is paid to each individual room, hallway, and deck to make it as tightly confined as possible. This time the woods aren’t an option for kids to run and hide in. Director Rob Hedden made clear that he wishes more of the film could have been set in New York City than was actually put in, but the footage and location that is in the final cut does work to the best of the film’s ability. It even gets in a sweeping shot of Jason in Times Square as he catches up to his final victims.
While the film did indeed suffer not only from fan expectation and the MPAA’s ceaseless meddling of kill footage (robbing the full effect of the VFX by supervisor Dale Fay), it does find footing in landing its brutality against each and every one of the kids’ deaths. As the film starts in a similar nature to The New Blood reviving Jason from a body of water, so too does this one with it’s main character Rennie.
At the start of the film Rennie is dropped off for the start of the cruise. Rennie is described as having aquaphobia early on, and some are surprised to see her there. But the ability to see her boyfriend mixed with the prospect of traipsing around New York City is too enticing for her to pass up. Just like Tina in The New Blood, Rennie has an inherent ability bound to trauma, in this case her fear of the water being the catalyst. She sees a little boy all around the ship, pleading for help or drowning, unable to get to the surface. Rennie’s powers manifest more empathically than Tina’s did in the previous movie. This is something that has been missing since Part IV‘s The Final Chapter where we’re shown Jason Voorhees as a camper going into the lake, sent off by his mother and then drowning as the lifeguard becomes occupied in other matters.
In some ways Jason Takes Manhattan brings an energy to itself that urges its audience to just go with it, and “just go with it” energy seems like a thing bigger and more prevalent the weirder horror and other genre movies get as time goes by. The more we “just go with it” the more it’s realized that Jason takes Manhattan underdelivers in compelling character drama & relationships. However, the film makes up for this in its atmospheric portrayal, going between the claustrophobic visuals and soundscapes. We are made to feel like we’re on this boat with Jason. Once we make it to New York it does have an immediate opposite feeling of openness, but gets quashed by what sinister things the big city has in store for our survivors. Plus, Jason always finds a way to track you down.
We’re offered a shockingly gruesome and heartachingly somber finale that leads into the sewers underneath the city, and finally get a glimpse of the face behind the mask as Jason meets his next demise. Part VIII may not be at the top of anyone’s best-of sequels but offers a nice repose for the majority of the film’s cruise before the NYC portion kicks into a much higher gear. Plus, it’s a great double feature with Part VII.
Friday the 13th Part IX: Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (UNCUT), dir. Adam Marcus
So here we make it to the last entry in the gallery of underappreciated Friday the 13th sequels.
“Wait! Where’s Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason?!”
Surely those are underappreciated by some stretch of the imagination. A few years ago I’d agree with you, but now it seems that those films are appreciated by those who accept them for what they are, and that kind of defeats the idea of touting them as not being valued enough by fans and non-fans alike. Those films do exactly what they need to do and people who come to see it understand that. Anyway.
Bear in mind that this recommendation goes for the uncut version of the film, not the theatrical.
Jason Goes to Hell starts off with a completely different-looking Jason as he chases someone through the woods. He gets caught in a trap with bright stadium-like lights and a team of special unit forces pump hundreds of bullets through him, then explode him into at least a dozen pieces. We’re ignoring the end of Jason Takes Manhattan because this film can do what it wants. We have to accept that, and we might as well rip that bandage off here and now.
It’s another return to camp when the supernatural aspect kicks back in, this time in absolute overdrive. During Jason’s autopsy, the coroner succumbs to an overwhelming urge to consume Jason’s still-beating heart, imbuing the spirit of evil he’s been inhabiting since the early 1980s. It seeks to define its unspoken rules, through the mouth of Creighton Duke, a new monster killer on the block, as he emerges to eradicate Jason Voorhees once and for all. Duke is by far the most compelling challenger to Jason in the film and seems almost as knowledgeable as a Witcher when it comes to pinpointing Voorhees’ weaknesses.
The film plays out almost like an Amityville Horror sequel with its “just go with it” energy and its new mechanism for Jason to get around. This time using human bodies as vessels is the only way the evil part of his spirit can do anything in the physical realm, but they deteriorate quickly. So we have a new reason for part of the body count, the other reason being that he’s trying to get to his distant relative to become reborn. This gives the sequel more of a possession angle with creepy crawlies as the catalyst, which is always a welcome sight in horror.
Things do sag in the middle, but things really do pick up for the better. Stick with me. We follow Jessica, a blood relative to Jason, as she begins dating Robert Campbell, a tabloid TV reporter of local fame. Campbell zeroes in on the Jason angle and ends up planning a Voorhees special, investigating the house of famed mass murderer Jason. What follows is Campbell thumbing through a book on a table in the living room, presumably belonging to Pamela Voorhees, which is none other than the Necronomicon as shown in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead.
Things get goopier and gorier from there, and the uncut version also shows some shockingly unflinching shots of the effects work on full display, from a human face pushed through meshed steel grating like a garlic press to a full-on body split from shoulder to waist mid-coitus (can’t mess with a classic), and that’s only in the first half. There’s always something interesting on display each time “Jason” switches bodies. The finale even co-opts the Kandarian dagger from Evil Dead, complete with scurrying critters, and even a dead body in the fruit cellar. By the time the credits roll for Adam Marcus’ Jason Goes to Hell Uncut, it can’t be said that anything that came before it is anything resembling disappointing. The only exception of which is Harry Manfredini’s score, which is usually the most dynamic part of every film he’s worked on, but the computer-generated orchestral hits provide a weak backbone for this otherwise kick-ass refocusing of a modern legend.
Hopefully this serves to help readers revisit the above movies with fresh eyes and perspectives. It’s not expected that you share & identify with every thought I have on them. All I ask is to give these guys another chance. You might find something in there you didn’t notice before.
Andre is an avid film watcher, blogger and podcaster. You can read his words on film at letterboxd and medium, and hear his voice on movies, monsters, and other weird things on Humanoids From the Deep Dive every other Monday. In his “off” time he volunteers as a film projectionist, reads fiction & nonfiction, comics, and plays video games until it’s way too late.