In the Spring of 1980, a little-known director named Sean. S. Cunningham made a low-budget horror film called Friday the 13th. It wasn’t supposed to do much. To tell the truth, it was a simple knockoff of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). Cunningham, who had made a few moderately successful sex films at that point and produced Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1974), saw the huge success of Halloween and figured he could make a few bucks riding its coattails. It should have gone nowhere. It should have been instantly forgettable. It should have been just one more slasher film in a giant, bloody pile of slashers being produced at the time.
It became a huge hit. It made $59 million off a budget of just over half a million. It became one of the most successful franchises in all of horror. It has (thus far) spawned ten sequels and a reboot, a television series, and numerous games, books, and comics. It created Jason Vorhees, one of the most iconic monsters in cinema. Although, as those who have seen the film or at least Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) know, Jason isn’t the antagonist in the first film, that would be his mother who is avenging Jason’s death at the negligent hands of his camp counselors. He does appear in the second film, but his iconic hockey mask doesn’t show up until Friday the 13th Part III (1982).
Paramount Home Entertainment has just released an 8 Movie Collection featuring the first eight films in the series on Blu-ray loaded up with extras.
As a child of the 1980s, I was a huge fan of these films, and slashers in general. I have strong memories of discussing with the boys in the locker room which Jason and Freddy films we had seen, which ones were the best, who would win in a fight, and who had the best kills, etc. We were all too young to be watching them in the theatres, but we all found ways to watch them on VHS or late-night TV. I was in the latter camp as my parents would never rent me such things as R-rated horror movies, but I’d stay up late and catch them on basic cable.
I watched them on stations like the USA Network or TBS and thus they were all edited for sex, violence, and language. I suspect part of the reason I loved these films so much growing up was that I filled in the blanks with my imagination. Just how much carnage did Jason get up to between the swinging of his blade and that annoying cut to commercial break? My pubescent brain swelled at imagining how much sex and nudity was being cut out for television audiences. I was actually quite shocked when all those years later I actually sat down with the unedited versions on home video. The violence was mostly quite tame (the filmmakers often having to make dramatic cuts to keep from getting the dreaded X rating) and the sex and nudity are kept to a minimal amount of thrusting, and a few naked breasts per film.
That’s the thing though, watching these films as an adult, as someone who appreciates great cinema, you come to realize that these are not good movies. I don’t think there’s anyone who really argues that point. Certainly, this series has its hardcore fans, and you’ll find plenty of folks who genuinely love them. But if you browse fan sites, the conversations veer towards the same topics me and my friends discussed in that locker room all those years ago – the sex, the kills, and which film is best. Virtually no one is talking about the artistry behind the cinematography or the deeper themes of the script.
I’m not judging here. I like a lot of bad movies. I still like these movies, more or less. Several years ago, after having not watched any of the Friday the 13th films in a long time, I decided to watch them all in chronological order. It took me about a year and I gave up after three films. I watched the first one, found myself disappointed it didn’t live up to my memory, then waited several months before I gave Part II a try. Several months later, I put in the third and wondered why I was even bothering. Having now watched the first eight films in about a week’s time, I can say they actually work better in a binge-watch than they do as separate viewing experiences.
Whenever I go on a long flight, I’ve learned to shut down my systems. I do deep breathing exercises. I slow down my thinking. I zone out. I’ll read a little, play games on my phone, and watch various TV shows and movies, all without giving any of them much thought. I become as passive as I can because staying alert would drive me crazy. Watching these movies, I slipped into a similar state. The plots are so similar I let them wash right over me. Doing so allowed me to concentrate on the interesting things each film was doing and enjoy that, rather than get bogged down in the ridiculousness.
The plots really are the same. Pretty much all the films boil down to sexy teens in an isolated location, getting stabbed, bludgeoned, and smashed to death by Jason (or in a couple of cases, someone else). That’s why fans tend to focus on the kills because everything else is pretty much interchangeable. Every now and again, they mix things up. In Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, they allowed Jason to stay dead and brought in an all-new killer. In Part VI: Jason Lives, Jason is literally resurrected allowing him to become a truly unstoppable killing machine (at least until he’s finally stopped at the end of the film). In Part VII: The New Blood, they introduce a psychic character and some much-needed humor (seriously, why are these films all so humorless? Nobody takes the action seriously). In Part VIII, Jason leaves the campground and goes to New York City (a strangely unpopulated section of Manhattan, but at least it isn’t the same old set of woods.). In Jason X, he goes to space. For the most part, any changes that stepped outside the established tropes were met with derision by fans. Go figure.
Watching these films on these new disks renewed my fandom. I’m not that same pubescent boy excited about a bit of bloody violence or a dash of naked flesh, but neither am I the snobby cynic who watched the first three films and called them garbage. These films are a far cry from what Martin Scorsese would call cinema, but in the right space with the right people, they make for some fun late-night viewing (especially if that late night is a certain day of the week during an unlucky number on the calendar).
A little over a year ago Shout! Factory released what they called Friday The 13th Collection: Deluxe Edition. It contains every film in the franchise, most contain the theatrical and unrated cuts. Each film came loaded with extras and the entire thing came in a very nice-looking collector’s box. It is still very much available which makes one ask the question: why are they releasing this set that pales in comparison?
I have some guesses. The Shout! Factory box retails at $159.98; that’s a chunk of change for movies that, as we’ve already admitted, really aren’t that good. Unless you are a diehard fan or a super collector, that’s probably more than you’d want to spend. This new set retails for $79.98 (and is currently on sale at Amazon for $49.47). That’s much more manageable for folks who aren’t collectors. The first eight films were all distributed by Paramount Pictures, after that they were picked up by New Line Cinema. Some fans naturally have an allegiance to Paramount and may consider all the films made after the switch to be inferior. If you don’t want the later films, then you don’t have to pay for them. Mostly, I suspect Paramount figured they could make a little extra cash by releasing this set yet again (beyond the Shout! Factory box, these films have been released in previous boxed sets and individually for years). Especially since that big box is, well, big and likely isn’t being sold by stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy where shelf space is premium.
But my place isn’t to figure out why this set is being sold; my job is to let you know if I think it is worth the purchase. For the reasons outlined above, the answer depends on your fandom level, the thickness of your wallet, and how much of a collector you are. If you are a diehard, you probably already own the Shout! box. If you are a casual fan and wouldn’t mind owning these films at a reasonable price, then this set is for you.
The films presented here do come with lots of extras. The first four films come with “new transfers”. They don’t say so but I’m quite sure these are the same transfers that came with the Shout! box. There are audio commentaries and various interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. All of which have been previously released in other sets.
Bottom line is that there is nothing new here. Other releases either contain everything you are going to get here or even more from this series. But if you are on a budget and aren’t a completist, then this set is perfectly fine.