Strong, Silent and Broken: How to Fix Jason Voorhees

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Before we get underway, I want to mention that Post Mortem Press, the publisher of my novel The Cage Legacy, will have a table at Philadelphia ComicCon this weekend, from May 30th through June 2nd…and I’ll be there!

Well, I’ll be there on Saturday, at least – Saturday, June 1st- while Post Mortem Press will be there throughout the whole event.  That said, if any of you guys are going to be around, drop by and say hello!  Post Mortem Press has an excellent assortment of intriguing new dark fiction available, all of it definitely worth checking out.

Now, moving onto the main focus of this bog…let’s talk about a mutual friend of ours.  Yeah, he doesn’t talk much – or at all, really.  He’s not very social.  He’s also bit of a nut – some might say he’s a tad psychotic.  But despite his flaws, some of us are still very fond of good ol’ Jason Voorhees, aren’t we?

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The Friday the 13th series has always been a guilty pleasure of mine (translation: I own the DVDs of every flick, and I have watched most of them many, many times), and my favorite Friday movie is easily Part IV: The Final Chapter.  While Part IV still possesses some of the series’ all-too familiar narrative weaknesses – unlikeable drunken teenage victims, strange jumps in logic, and so on– what makes it stand out is the fact that it’s an ’80s slasher movie with the guts to take itself a bit more seriously.  The movie presents the infamous Jason Voorhees as being a relentless, unstoppable juggernaut – a horrifying force of nature – and yet, as the movie’s compelling ending reveals, Part IV‘s Jason is also eerily human.

SPOILER alert, for those who haven’t seen the movie – but The Final Chapter‘s legacy as one of the best Friday movies is largely due to the power of that aforementioned ending.  After Jason has killed most of the cast and is about to murder the final girl, he’s suddenly confronted by Tommy Jarvis – a young boy with a makeup/special effects obsession, played by (of all people) Corey Feldman.  See, young Tommy has done his homework; he’s studied the mentally-unhinged, hockey mask wearing murderer’s background—the tragic story of a boy who drowned—and to confront Jason, Tommy has shaved his head, done his own makeup and, basically, made himself look much like Jason did as a boy.

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Jason—due to his fairly severe mental disabilities—is utterly perplexed by this.  Why is he seeing himself?  What’s happening?  And right as Jason reaches out to the figure that he believes is his younger self, Tommy lays the killing blow, finally putting an end to Jason’s murderous rampage.

Er, well…for a couple movies, anyway.

The Friday the 13th series never quite reached the heights of Part IV, ever again.  After the so-called Final Chapter, it largely turned into just another slasher series; it became too self-aware, too repetitious.  There’s a lot of fun movies in there, no doubt—but there’s something missing.  Friday the 13th isn’t another Leprechaun; even today, the Friday series still has an enormous amount of untapped potential, and it’s enough to drive a fan crazy.

So, where is that potential coming from?  What is the underutilized factor that Friday needs to explore in more depth?

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Believe it or not, the answer is Jason.  Yes, Jason.  Despite all of the movies he’s appeared in, the character of Jason is still shockingly unexplored.  Jason has all the makings of an intriguingly tragic character, a character who in the right hands could be both terrifying and sympathetic.  Even though Jason wasn’t the killer in the original film – just ask Ghostface—at this point, Jason IS the symbol of the Friday the 13th series.  He’s the reason people watch these movies, and it’s really quite disappointing that the character’s potential is still so unrealized.

When Platinum Dunes rebooted Friday the 13th back in 2009, I had high hopes.  While reboots are a dime a dozen these days, Friday the 13th was a series that truly could’ve benefited from a new take on the material.  Rebooting the brand was a great opportunity to revitalize a dated series. Unfortunately, the reboot completely blew it.  It’s not a bad Friday movie—actually, it’s very fun to watch—but the problem is that it’s just more of the same.  The same setup, same formula, same plot.  With a few scene deletions, the flick could’ve easily been another sequel. And in today’s world, the standard slasher plot line doesn’t work.  Everyone knows that passé formula far too well.  Another generic Friday the 13th movie might make money, but it isn’t going to wow horror audiences, and that’s why the series is currently still in limbo.

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Let’s face it; if we want more Jason movies, then the Friday the 13th brand needs to be redefined.   It needs to change with the times.  And to do that, we need to start by redefining – and finally explaining – Jason Voorhees.

Jason needs to come out of the shadows.  There’s no point in trying to make Jason too mysterious at this juncture; everyone knows who Jason is.  People own stuffed dolls, action figures and t-shirts of Jason.  In order for a contemporary version of Jason to work, he need to be fleshed out. People are far too familiar with Jason to be scared of him…unless you give them a reason to be scared.

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So, where do we go from here?  Well…

While fans will always love Kane Hodder’s Jason (and with good cause!), there’s a reason that the more vulnerable Jason of parts 2, 3 and 4 was far scarier than the immortal zombie Jason that Hodder went on to play, and it’s the same reason that the ridiculous “demon” Jason of Part 9 was such a joke.  Why?  Because the earlier Jason was human.  The human Jason made mistakes, messed up, sprinted right after his victims instead of zombie-walking—whereas zombie Jason was a perfect, efficient killer who never messed up.  While the later Jason might seem more threatening on the surface, the early Jason was actually a hell of a lot scarier; he was scarier because a human, flawed Jason is more identifiable, more believable.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I like the supernatural zombie Jason as much as anyone.  I’m a big fan of Jason Lives, and I’ll even admit to having a great fondness for Jason X. But I like zombie Jason in the same way that I like movies like Them!, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Killer Klowns from Outer Space—because campy B-movie concepts like zombie Jason and/or Jason in space are a lot of fun.  But this raises a question; since we’ve now seen the fun Jason, how can a new movie make him scary again?  Is it possible?

I believe that it is.  I believe that, with the right approach, Jason can give us nightmares again; to do this, however,  the filmmakers must  embrace the character’s more human side.  Instead of portraying the character as a slow-moving Terminator, Jason needs to seem real; a new Friday film needs to create a Jason who is believable as a real human being – a Jason who seems like a real serial killer, one who might at this very moment be stalking us in our own backyards.

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This is one thing that the reboot got right – to an extent.   The reboot made Jason physically human again, but the character himself was still a cipher.  Any other slasher movie antagonist could’ve fit into Jason’s place, and the movie wouldn’t have changed a great deal.  Why use even use Jason at that point, other than name value?

At this point, what the next Friday the 13th really needs to do is get behind Jason’s hockey mask and tell us who he truly is.  What drives a sad, lonely, deformed Momma’s boy to become a remorseless serial killer?  What are Jason’s motives?  What was he like as a child?  What kind of man was his father, Elias?  How did he survive drowning in the lake?  Who is Jason Voorhees, really?

I’m ready to find out.  I’m ready for a Friday movie that tells us more about Jason, instead of spending all its time with a bunch of drunken teenagers.  And maybe, just maybe, the next Friday the 13th movie – whenever it comes out – will finally be ready to give us some answers.

-Nicholas Conley

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8 thoughts on “Strong, Silent and Broken: How to Fix Jason Voorhees

  1. These movies are great guilty pleasures of mine too. I’ve seen them all dozens of times as well. Great article. I would love to see a good combination of writer/director get their hands on Jason and make a movie, or trilogy of movies to reestablish the character in a meaningful and truly scary way.

  2. Nice article. I think an investigation into the deeper character of Jason could work because, as you say, he is most terrifying when he is humanized. The initial terror of the franchise is the neglect and death of a developmentally disabled child. A film that could tap into that deep tragedy and the subsequent psychological scarring would be pretty great. This differs from the much maligned Rob Zombie Halloween remake in that the initial terror of Michael Meyers is that there is no apparent motive or reasoning behind his behavior. He is simply evil incarnate.

    Films that go deeper into a character are great, but only if they are consistent with the existing mythology. I think a character study works for the Friday the 13th franchise.

    • Yes, agreed completely. The first time I watched Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, I actually remember thinking there in the theater that the film’s approach to the material – the way it did that detailed examination of this monstrous, silent serial killer from childhood to adulthood – is a take that would’ve worked far better with Jason than Michael Myers. Michael was never supposed to be realistic, never supposed to be sympathetic; in contrast, Jason’s childhood back story has many sympathetic elements that have yet to be properly explored, and if the filmmaker’s were brave enough to humanize Jason instead of making him a super villain, the character would be come truly terrifying in a way that he currently isn’t.

      I think that’s part of why the Friday remake – though it was certainly a fun Friday movie as I stated in the blog – was very disappointing to me, in this respect. Now that it’s in the past I’ve come to enjoy the movie a great deal, but at the time I was hoping for something that went above and beyond instead of just retreating back to the earlier films for inspiration.

      Unfortunately, current rumors suggest that the producers are aiming at taking a “found footage” approach to the next Friday movie. The lack of creativity smacks of desperation to me, but I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

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