VHS Revival gives you the lowdown on horror’s most unlikely compulsion
Like him or loathe him, the irrepressible Jason Voorhees is one of the most recognisable figures in all of horror. Panned by critics and parents alike, his brand of seek-and-destroy barbarism has caused quite the stir over the years, creating the kind of public outrage that would see the slasher genre receive a self-reflexive makeover. The Friday the 13th movies range from average to terrible, with only a couple of high points to lay claim to, but the franchise has always proved a financial winner, with young audiences flocking to the theatres in their bloodthirsty droves.
So what is it that makes the series such compulsive viewing? VHS Revival has the answers.
When it comes to murder, Jason Voorhees is a connoisseur, but it didn’t happen overnight. After years of unlikely anonymity in and around the woods of Camp Crystal Lake, the killer in the peephole cushion cover would slice his way to vengeance, but slitting throats and hacking faces simply would not suffice.
Graduating to a hockey mask for Friday the 13th Part 3, Jason would also up the ante in the killing stakes, crushing skulls and harpooning eyeballs as a gaggle of 3-D gore hounds screamed their approval. A year later The Final Chapter – accurate in the sense that it was Jason’s pre-censorship hurrah – would offer twisted necks and sliced torsos as our killer prepared to cross over into the boundaries of meta.
From there it all grew a little bit tame, but that didn’t stop us from gobbling up the kind of self-aware violence that made Voorhees the star of the show as casts of increasingly peripheral teenagers were subjected to hot coal impalements and pugilistic decapitations.
For series die hards, the man in the hockey mask was all the incentive needed to visit the franchises’ annual slaughterhouse, but for producers it always paid to have a flimsy gimmick to fall back on.
After lukewarm reviews for Jason’s inaugural killing spree, Paramount would turn to the short-lived Reagan era 3-D fad to give the series a much-needed boost before censors imposed the ‘final chapter’ ploy to ensure the series received a sound financial send-off. Of course, The Final Chapter was anything but – there was simply too much money at stake.
A New Beginning would pull the rug out from under us with an impostor killer and improbable motive, while Jason would rely on James Bond impressions, telekinesis, and the false promise of New York City to keep the post-censorship franchise burning. Even Fred Krueger would make a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.
How many anthologies can boast that kind of cynical marketing?
Blaring Inconsistencies and Improbable Incidents
Hardly renowned for its steadfast continuity, the Friday the 13th series would throw up some rather dubious inconsistencies during its tireless 14-year run, while some occurrences proved beyond all mortal comprehension.
Tommy Jarvis – perhaps Jason’s most famous foe after appearing in a record three instalments – was just 12 years old in 1984‘s The Final Chapter, although a year later he would reappear as a fully grown man in A New Beginning. Quite the growth spurt!
Friday the 13th Part VII was subtitled The New Blood, but who exactly were the writers referring to? Was there an air to Jason’s throne who I somehow missed? Was the title referring to the blood of a new batch of victims? According to those behind the screenplay, they had no idea either.
When Voorhees succumbed to a sewer-bound toxic waste bath in the climactic scene of Jason Takes Manhattan, his fully formed, six-foot body dissolved into that of a child’s as the movie’s heroine watched on with a peculiar, disbelieving sense of maternity.
I’m not even going to touch that one!
Ignorance is Bliss (and Bloody)
Fourteen years – more than enough time to realise that Camp Crystal Lake probably wasn’t the best location for a summer vacation of drunken frolicking, but almost every year the infamous hunting ground of the world’s most unrelenting serial killer would be reopened without discussion. Talk about slack law enforcement!
Ironically, the only time a resident sheriff was able to put two and two together and figure out that Jason was behind the town’s latest murder spree was during A New Beginning, a movie that wasn’t set at Camp Crystal Lake at all, proving the only sequel in which Jason wasn’t to blame!
Dumb luck aside, we should also discuss the plain stupidity on offer, particularly the fact that endless parents sent endless teens to their slaughter, and cop after cop dismissed the likelihood of Jason reappearing again and again and again.
When screwy old Tommy Jarvis was confined to a cell in Jason Lives! after warning Sheriff Garris of Jason’s impending return, he would question why the phone lines were suddenly down.
As far as Garris was concerned, the answer was obvious: they clearly hadn’t paid their bill.
The Immortal Jason Voorhees
Last but certainly not least, the star attraction himself: Jason Voorhees. While Michael Myers may be considered the first indestructible killer of the sub-genre, he simply cannot hold a candle to Jason’s capacity for regeneration ― that much has never been contested.
While surviving the odd hack and stab may have seemed remotely plausible for a being of Jason’s brutish frame, toxic baths and year-long burials would prove just a little harder to swallow, while grenade explosions informed us that Jason’s immortality transcended the boundaries of physical flesh.
So impervious to human endeavour is Jason that during the course of eight instalments he would be drowned, hacked, maimed, electrocuted, shot, buried, blown up, burnt alive, hung from a ceiling, mowed down and melted.
If that’s not reason enough to watch the entire series, then I don’t know what is.