Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the 13th: A Lucky Day for the 80s

In May 1980, Friday the 13th became more than just a superstition...it became one of the most successful and iconic horror films of all time. Friday the 13th would spawn a franchise that would continue to slash movie critics over the course of 29 years and 12 films, making over $465 million total at the box office. Novels, comic books, video games, and a television series would also further entrench the franchise into movie history. Although it was the 1978 film Halloween that really initiated the popularity of the slasher-type horror movie genre in the 80s, Friday the 13th created what most believe to be the formula for other successful horror franchises to come. Let's explore the history of the franchise and how Jason Voorhees has become one of the most recognizable names in movie history.

On the heels of Halloween's success ($47M box office sales on a $325K budget), Paramount Pictures set out to achieve similar success with the release of Friday the 13th in May 1980. Paramount would become the first major production company to release a slasher film. Friday the 13th is a story about a serial killer who terrorizes and murders teenagers at Camp Crystal Lake. The film starred Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, and Kevin Bacon in one of his earliest film roles. It was a huge box office success bringing in $60M worldwide on a $550K budget, despite being dismissed heavily by film critics. Gene Siskel of Siskel & Ebert at the Movies was quoted as calling director Sean Cunningham as "one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest the movie business." The reason for the backlash on Friday the 13th and other slasher movies at the time was that critics felt it made the audience as fans of the serial killers that were portrayed on screen.

Assuming most of you reading this have seen the film (or have not and probably will not. SPOILER AHEAD!), the original Friday the 13th killer is not Jason Voorhees, but rather his mother who seeks revenge for her son's drowning. The film ends with the truth that her son Jason is actually still alive, leaving the audience on edge and primed for a sequel. Initially, thoughts for sequels would be in just name only, but original producers and others insisted that Jason be in them. "The body count continued" in Friday the 13th Part II which was released a year later in May 1981, It featured an unmasked Jason as the slasher, avenging his mother's death. Although it only brought in 1/3 the profit that the original landed at the box office ($21M on a $1M budget), the film gave what many fans would call "classic horror moments" with Jason breaking through windows and holding his knife aloft. Friday the 13th Part III  would be released the following year in August 1982, the first Paramount film produced in 3-D since 1954. It would pick up where Part II left off and begin the use of the iconic hockey mask to cover Jason's deformed face. It would achieve more success ($36M on a $2.5M budget) and seemingly wrap up the ongoing story plot and end the series. But the franchise and Jason would continue antagonizing innocent people throughout the 80s with five more films. Here is Jason on Arsenio Hall promoting Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.


New Line Cinema would take over the franchise in the 90s and would release four more films up until the present day. Those film's included the crossover film with A Nightmare on Elm Street villain Freddy Krueger in Freddy Vs. Jason and also a recent reboot in 2009.

The franchise has been developed into many formats other than film. Friday the 13th: The Series  was developed for television in 1987 and would run for 3 seasons through 1990. The TV series was associated to the films only by name and by Frank Mancuso, Jr, who produced 7 of the 8 films in the 80s. The plot (similar to the SyFy show Warehouse 13) mainly consisted of finding cursed objects with supernatural powers and then locking them in a vault beneath an antique store for safe keeping. Episodes can still be found on the SyFy and Chiller channels on cable. In 1986, a video game was developed for home computer consoles. Then 3 years later in 1989, Nintendo got in the act with what many gaming critics agree (including Nintendo Power magazine) as one of the worst video games of all time.



Six of the twelve movies have also been written as novels throughout the franchise's history, plus many others with original Jason Voorhees stories. Several comic books have also been published since New Line Cinema took over the franchise. Over the past few years, many documentary films have been produced on the film franchise and the TV series.

In 2016, the CW television network decided to pass on a new series titled Crystal Lake. The next film has also been set for a October 13, 2017 released and will be distrubed by Paramount. And if that's not enough to entice fans, a new video game is scheduled for release in early 2017 produced by Gun Media.