31 Days of Horror
Ranking All 12 Friday the 13th Films
Friday the 13th, the iconic slasher franchise that helped build the genre. It’s an incredibly long-running series, with 12 film installments, a handful of novelizations, and multiple video game adaptations. The legendary Jason Voorhees hasn’t always hit the mark, but some of the films in this franchise are absolute classics that will forever remain horror royalty. After diving back in and watching through the entire series of Friday films, I’ve ranked them from worst to best. A lot goes in to being a good Friday the 13th film, but hitting all those marks without being a good film in general as well won’t win too many points. Without further ado, let’s get on with awarding a golden machete…
12. Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday
After being baited in by a naked woman, Jason is lit up by a whole special forces unit. Shredded by bullets and blown into pieces, the nightmare is finally over. Until the autopsy, where his strange heart seems to hypnotize someone into devouring it, and Jason’s spirit takes over. This sound like a Friday the 13th movie? It really doesn’t, and it feels just as out of place as it sounds. Jason Goes To Hell feels like someone had a script they wanted to shop around, and somehow a studio exec got it in their heads that if they slap Jason Voorhees and the brand of Friday the 13th on it that it’d sell more. A weird tale about Jason’s spirit inhabiting different random people and continuing his murder spree.
The acting is between meh and bad (without even the consistent great performance from Kane Hodder, seeing as Jason is barely in this film), and the writing is all over the place. This film feels desperate, and like the dying gasps of a franchise already milked dry. It’s strange that THIS mess is where Sean S. Cunningham, the director of the original film, decided to jump back into the franchise this time as producer. The kills aren’t even creative or much of a spectacle for the most part, and past a fun opening scene things just keep rolling further and further downhill. Plus a whole lot of the film is the Jason spirit acting wildly out of character compared to what we’ve seen through all these films so far.
I suppose, even despite this being the absolute dirt worst of the Friday films, there’s at least one really cool thing about it. Right at the closing moments of the film we see Jason’s mask laying on the ground, discarded, before THE Freddy Krueger’s glove bursts forth and drags it into the underworld. The titans of the genre have their first crossover moment here, at the end of a slog of a film. Comfortably the worst offering in the franchise.
11. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
Plagued by his trauma involving Jason, Tommy Jarvis is sent to a home to help with his mental issues. Disaster and murder seem to follow Jarvis here though, and people begin dying, is the figure taking out people left and right really Jason? Well, no, and this goofy mess may be a good bit of fun but damn if it isn’t rough. There’s some promise here, the home and a group with different mental issues facing off against a ruthless killer could make for some interesting messages and a triumphant plot, however, the reality is things are handled poorly and it comes off as the kind of schlock this many sequels often devolves into.
The film seems to want to go in a similar direction to where Part VI ends up going, but the comedy comes out weak and the self-awareness may be present but it’s still poorly executed. The makeup is weak and the kills are awkward, along with some similarly awkward performances this is certainly the drop firmly down into B-movie territory. Danny Steinmann, the director, was told to have a death scene every 8 minutes for some reason, which led him to introduce new characters every few minutes in order to kill them off, an awful decision and one that really bogs down the flow of the film.
There’s something to be said about the joy of even bad slasher movies. There’s a bit of fun to be had, but much more limited enjoyment comes from this entry than most of the rest of the series. The comedy feels awkward and silly, and the whole Jason copycat killer is an incredibly weak reveal. Plus, a stupid baffling ending to cap things off really sours the already poorly executed film.
10. Jason X
Infamous unstoppable killing machine Jason Voorhees is cryogenically frozen after being detained by the military. Centuries go by with him frozen in place, before a group of spacefarers pick him up and bring him on board their ship. After thawing out, he’s back to his murderous ways once more.
Another baffling entry that takes Jason into space, however at least this one has a load of fun along the way. It’s still one of the worse entries into the franchise, but it’s nowhere near as bad as its reputation would lead you to believe. Sure it takes things in a stupid direction, writes itself into a corner, and comes out of nowhere with its concept. Despite all that, it’s got the sense to just have fun with it, and thankfully it doesn’t try to take itself seriously. It does feel like the franchise had been milked for all it was worth though at this point, having to come up with wild changes to the story in order to squeeze another entry out isn’t a promising sign.
The sets and the effects both feel more dated than even the prior films, and the acting is a bit dodgy in quite a few places. But the creativity in the kills is what really gives this one a little something, it’s an enjoyable spectacle even if it’s corny sci-fi shoehorned into the Friday the 13th franchise. Turn your brain off and don’t consider it a part of the central Friday the 13th narrative and it’s a bit of dumb fun.
9. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
After being freed from where he lays chained at the bottom of Crystal Lake, Jason hitches a ride on a boat headed for Manhattan. The recent graduates on board the boat begin to realize, whilst a storm begins to rage, that they’re in grave danger. It’s corny, it borders on bad at times, but Jason Takes Manhattan is still a good bit of fun. This is the first Friday film to get right into the berserker phase, Jason is let free minutes into the film and immediately starts his killing spree. It’s more about piecing together an exciting movie with creative kills now than it is about building on the legend of Jason.
Despite the fun of this film, it really falls short in most aspects. It does get a worse rap than it should though, it’s got that core Friday the 13th energy, Kane Hodder behind the mask, and it’s mostly an entertaining ride. That being said the performances aren’t really on point outside of Hodder, the odd spin on Jason’s backstory feels out of place, and the setup feels low effort. Fred Mollin actually does a pretty good job with the music, but something feels missing without Manfredini’s approach to composing. On top of this studio pressure and budget restraints limited what the filmmakers originally intended, so things feel messy and don’t really come together super well.
Despite its flaws, Jason Takes Manhattan does provide all the fun it needs to and feels like the final ‘true’ Friday the 13th film in the mainline series. Certainly a massive cut above the entries it beats out on this list, but also a rift below the entries it loses out to. Everyone involved in the film seemed to want to please the fans of the series whilst working in their kind of odd change to the formula (bringing things onto a boat, then over to Manhattan), it’s hard to not enjoy the ride at least a bit. Suspend your disbelief, don’t think too hard on the plot, and you can have a pretty good time with this one.
8. Friday the 13th (2009)
Years after Pamela Voorhees went on a rampage and killed a host of counselors at Camp Crystal Lake before being decapitated herself, a group of co-eds takes a trip through the area. The ulterior motive is to find a plantation of weed that was rumoured to be there, but shortly after they find this they’re all picked off one by one by a mysterious figure with a sack over his head. Fast forward a bit more and we have the brother of one of the deceased back in the area searching for his sister, and an extra group of partiers for Jason to mow down.
The 2009 adaptation takes the first three films and pulls them all in for one remake. It’s a return to the more serious approach (there’s still a healthy amount of comedy amongst the horror, but they feel like two separate sides to the film) and sees Jason as a crafty and prepared psychopath. The traps, tunnels, and general intelligence of his murder spree is actually a fairly interesting spin on the character. Sure he had his moments all through the original run of films, but seeing it centered in on is interesting.
In the end, though this entry just isn’t as fun as a lot of the others. It’s made quite well but feels like the direction they decided to bring things it doesn’t quite hit the mark. It’s still an entertaining ride but is missing a lot of things it needed to have to really hit home for fans. The soundtrack feels weak without Harry Manfredini at the helm, and the direction tries to fit in with the horror films of the late 2000s and ends up coming up a bit lackluster.
On the positive side, Derek Mears is an incredible Jason and brings a real menacing aura to the role. I’d put Hodder as the top man behind the mask, but with this being Mears’ only time as Jason he really shines. It really is still an enjoyable film, and I was excited to see where the remake would end up going in the future, but unfortunately, the franchise’s messy copyright situation had it dead in the water.
7. Friday the 13th Part III
Recovering from his wounds suffered in the finale of Part 2, Jason hunkers down in a cabin by Crystal Lake. Soon enough a group of co-eds arrives for a vacation, and Jason gets right back into his murderous job. This is where the series picks up a lot of things that stick with it throughout, it’s the birth of the hockey mask, and the beginning of the highlight-reel creativity in the murders ramping up.
Something that’s a bit of fun, but also becomes a bit grating over time, is this film’s gimmick. It’s a 3D film, and that becomes painfully obvious almost immediately as almost every scene tries to find a way to shove something in your face. In the cinema watching this actually in 3D it’d be a bit of fun, but going back to it now it begins to feel more like the film was a vehicle for showing off 3D effects and making a quick buck off a trend. Ultimately the film probably suffered a bit from it, with actors stating there was more focus on finding cool things for them to do with the 3D rather than actually putting forward great performances.
Still, there’s a LOT of fun in this one, a cast of iconic characters, and the splatterfest kicks back up after the subdued second part in that regard. Steve Miner is the only director to take the helm more than once, and it does show with Part 2 and Part III feeling like a package together. It was planned to be the ending of Jason, and the end of the horrors of Crystal Lake as well, so even with a bit of an extra scare coming at the end things wrapped up nicely enough. This is also the final time the antagonist in the series appears human, with Jason limping after being stabbed and appearing more desperate in some of his attempts. One of the most important films in the slasher genre, and the real birthplace of the Jason we all know now.
6. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
After being chained to the bottom of crystal lake by Tommy Jarvis at the end of Part VI, Jason ends up just chilling underwater for a while. It seems like a place where he’d be kept away from people for a long time, but unfortunately for residents staying near the lake, a girl with telekinetic powers accidentally releases him.
From the outside looking in this is a strange entry, what with psychic powers being pitted against the undead killer Jason. But it does work fairly well, the series is already moved firmly away from realism and embraced the supernatural. There’s not really any of the fourth-wall-breaking pastiche and parody prevalent in Part VI, instead, John Carl Buechler decides to play things for the most part serious.
We get Kane Hodder, the most recognizable and arguably the most imposing Jason Voorhees actor in the series’ history, taking up the hockey mask and machete mantle. There were a LOT of cuts made to appease the ratings board, so unfortunately some of the violent sides of things feels muted, but we still do get one of the most iconic kills with the sleeping bag scene.
Still Part VII: The New Blood is a solid entry despite not really hitting the mark in a lot of ways. Tina, Friday the 13th‘s own spin on Carrie, was intended to become the new center of the series after Jarvis’ story was finished (hence the name The New Blood), but things didn’t really end up panning out that way.
5. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
It seems the nightmare is over, as infamous serial killer Jason Voorhees was mortally wounded at the end of Part III. His body is taken to a morgue, but he just won’t stay dead, rampaging from the hospital back to his home at Crystal Lake. The Final Chapter really does feel like it caps off the original Friday series. Of course, it’s been through 3 directors and countless writers, but with Tom Savini returning and this being the final film taking place directly leading on from a previous, it does feel like a very satisfying closing of things.
A great creativity is brought back into the series here. Part 2 feels like an unnecessary but very well-done sequel, Part 3 a grab at 3D spectacle, and whilst Final Chapter is reviving a series that had come to 2 soft ends already it’s just filled with so much slasher fun. This is one of the most recognizable ‘Friday‘ films, the one with final boy Tommy Jarvis, hockey-mask Jason in full swing, and his undeath finally coming to the surface.
There’s a subversion of things here, fresh ideas coming forth in a genre that had, by this point, started to move towards becoming bloated. The final girl isn’t on her own, she has a little brother that makes it as well, then there’s the strong male lead in Rob who actually meets his demise early without putting up too much resistance, going against expectation and putting Tommy Jarvis in that male lead position by the end instead. Corey Feldman as Tommy Jarvis and Kimberly Beck as his sister Trish put in some killer performances as Jason torments them.
4. Friday the 13th Part 2
After Pamela Voorhees is beheaded by Alice after the chaos of the first film, Camp Crystal Lake is officially shut down. A neighboring camp however is being set up, and the shores of Crystal Lake are still unsafe for the unwitting counselors beginning to gather. Part 2 brings us our first real look at Jason, outside of memory and a dream sequence.
Part 2 is still grounded in the real, not yet more a vehicle for kill montages but still finding a story to tell. Although, it’s not exactly the most cohesive direction to take things. Betsy Palmer (the actress who played Pamela Voorhees), Tom Savini (makeup and gore mastermind), and Sean S, Cunningham (the director of the first film) were all baffled as to why the decision to have Jason be alive all these years was made. It’s still a great ride of a film that gave further life to the slasher genre and one of the reasons why slashers became such box office monsters through the 80s.
The Halloween influence is very apparent here, even down to the name and the direct continuation. Then there’s the Town That Dreaded Sundown influence worn proudly as well, with Jason dressed exactly the same as the killer from that film. This could have straddled the line between homage and shameless ripoff, but instead feels more of an extension of the first film’s passion for the genre.
This is a strange entry in a lot of ways, but one that feels a lot more solid in concept than a good few still to come. There’s much less gore, as the studio told them to tone it down a bit. There’s no Cunningham (outside of casting and helping with a bit of the writing), no Savini, Jason isn’t yet the iconic hockey-masked meatbag he would become. But we do still have Manfredini, we still have some passionate performances, and even though it’s an unnecessary and forced sequel the series has plenty of life to give. Suspension of disbelief is the name of the game in Part 2, and with it, the film comes out as a great, fun, and tense entry
3. Freddy vs. Jason
After years of tormenting teens living on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger finds his power to be waning. The town of Springwood has managed to suppress the memories of the supernatural nightmare, and without knowledge of his existence and the fear of him, Freddy has faded away. In an effort to get his power back, and bring terror back to Springwood, he decides he can drag the damned Jason Voorhees out of hell and let him loose on the sleepy town. Unfortunately for him, Jason has no concept of being a lackey, and there’s not room for two unstoppable killers here.
Finally, the nightmare himself comes up against our boy Jason. This is the sort of ‘cinematic universe’ horror fans were clamouring for, plans fell through so many times that it felt like it was never truly going to come to be. Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger has such boundless charisma that he feels like the center of this film, but there’s still a good helping of Friday with the campgrounds, the teens, and Jason’s rampage. Freddy manipulating Jason also fits so damn well, it’s really just a series of scenes that make horror fans mark out.
This seems to be the sort of film that people love or hate, but it’s a hardcore thrill ride with great passion for both series. References to prior entries in both abound, and the general feel of things seems quite inspired by the post-Friday the 13th Part VI slasher landscape, with self-awareness healthily mixed with a focus on the blood-soaked action, plus a dose of comedy to top things off.
The Nightmare on Elm Street films have always been kings of creative kills, and mixing with Friday leads to a pretty incredible highlight reel for slasher fans. When it boils down to it, Freddy vs. Jason is a dream match meant primarily as fan service, and it exceeds expectations in that regard. The film itself even manages to come together with a fairly decent plot, perhaps underdeveloped but it didn’t need to place too much emphasis on it anyway. It’s a real spectacle and sits up close to the top on our list.
2. Friday the 13th
The beginning of it all, what began as Sean S. Cunningham trying to ride on the wave Halloween made turned into a phenomenon of its own. A few years after the unfortunate drowning of a child staying at Camp Crystal Lake, as well as a grisly double murder, a group of camp counselors returns to get the camp back in good condition to reopen. Shortly after arriving, however, they find there’s someone in the woods stalking them, picking them off one by one.
It may be a fairly low-budget film, one built on hopes and dreams as things went on, but everything comes together smoothly and fluidly. Cunningham brings an obvious passion for the horror genre into indie filmmaking. Through some expert use of voyeur shots and some well-managed mounting tension Friday the 13th stands the test of time as a thrilling slasher film. There’s some jank, and a healthy heaping of camp, but still, the series’ origin finds the perfect space to bloom into horror royalty.
Friday the 13th had all the right people to get a good start, from Cunningham as a passionate newer director, to the legendary Tom Savini in the makeup department, and a talented composer who brought the terror to life in Harry Manfredini. Manfredini really brought fireworks to the film, with the decision to make the audio more subdued, without a backing music track outside of scenes where the killer is present. This makes a tense buildup, and a chaotic ending sequence that sticks in the mind.
Despite being a large step away from what the series would eventually turn into, the first Friday is a gem of a horror film diving into how far a deranged woman would go to avenge her son, and how terrifying isolation can be.
1. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
And the golden machete goes to Part VI. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives finds itself somewhere post The Final Chapter, ignoring bits and pieces of A New Beginning due to… Well, it not being exactly very good. We find a determined Tommy Jarvis setting out to find Jason’s grave, dig him up, and get rid of the body for good. Old trauma kicks up and sends him into a rage, stabbing the corpse with a metal rod which then gets hit by lightning, reviving good old Jason once more.
Part VI doesn’t take itself too seriously, it understands exactly what it is, but where this one differs from the other entries that pull in comedy sensibilities and don’t play things fully straight is that it keeps that passion for the horror genre alive. Sure, things are goofy, over the top, camp in spots, and intentionally comedic in others, but it never goes too far off the rails. This is the inspiration for Scream, I would also point to this as the birth of pastiche in slashers, something that makes the genre so damn enjoyable. It’s one of the most fun slasher films ever made.
Thom Matthews, hot off his amazing role in The Return of the Living Dead, is a perfect choice for Tommy, replacing John Shepherd in the role and bringing real energy to it. Things can be a bit tense, things get gory very quickly, but Part VI never loses sight of the good time a slasher film can be. Unfortunately, C.J. Graham doesn’t deliver the best Jason, probably a side effect of the aura of the film, but even despite that Jason as an unkillable machine hell-bent on spilling blood truly begins here with his resurrection, Jason Lives is a milestone moment in the series.
The original Friday the 13th is an incredible film that helped kick a subgenre into hyperdrive, but Part VI has that something special that gives it the edge. I’d always give Part VI the crown, passion for the genre mixed with a great sense of humour and a whole lot of great performances makes for the best Friday the 13th film in the entire series thus far.