Why Friday the 13th Is The Ultimate Slasher Franchise
The world of slashers is a giant, campy, trashy, cacophony of murdered teenagers and busty women. Slashers are certainly not for everybody, but I adore them. Something about their simplicity appeals to me in a way few other things have before. They don’t often concern themselves with philosophical musings on the human condition or amazing performances or dialogue, and they don’t need to. They are made to be spooky and showcase horrific violence.
So, does enjoying them make me a sadist? Jury’s out, but I don’t think so. Slashers exemplify the fun and fear that the horror genre is built upon. Now, as an avid slasher fan, I recognize the three juggernaut slasher franchises. It’s important that I say "franchises," because films like Black Christmas, Texas Chainsaw and Psycho, are monumentally significant in the slasher landscape without spawning a successful series. So, as I was saying earlier, the three principal franchises are Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Each franchise containing everything from bonafide classics to whatever the hell Friday Part 7 was. Each series has both a cult fan base as well as bitter haters, and the argument over what the superior franchise is continues to rage on to this day, so I’ve decided to add my own two cents. Regardless of critic reviews, series high points, remakes or cultural significance, I staunchly believe that Friday the 13th is the best slasher franchise.
Now, before you take out your pitchforks, let me explain. I love the original Nightmare on Elm Street and the first Halloween is one of my favourite movies of all time, but remember, we’re viewing these series as a whole. And, as a whole, Friday the 13th takes the cake.
The key to Friday’s power as a franchise lies in two things: consistency and self-awareness. Friday the 13th is not a great movie. It’s not terrible, but it is a shallow, basic and derivative rip-off of Halloween. A few inventive kills and a fairly unique score also lend it a sense of originality, but let’s not kid ourselves, this is no Citizen Kane, and neither are any others in the franchise. A slasher is a slasher, that’s the most important lesson to remember when talking about the genre. Kills, sleaze, and scares that’s all you need to make a good slasher. Although you can add a lot more nuance, like Texas Chainsaw or Halloween, straying too far from those basic ingredients can make it a bit messy. Friday almost never strays from those infallible slasher roots. Each film adds its own small unique element to the basic outline to lend itself some quirks, but never too much, except for Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X, which are series low points. This repetition can make space for more creativity, but it can also box you in. Luckily, Friday never feels like they need to shoot for the moon, except for the time they actually went to space. They experiment within the slasher conventions by adding a bit of supernatural, some new locations, some humour, but never something too audacious. It creates an effective pattern that genuinely piques the viewer’s interest into what they’ll do differently next time without having to worry about them jumping the shark.
You also have Jason Voorhes, a perfect slasher franchise antagonist. His simple backstory, which is explained in the original, is never tampered with. His motivations are never nonsensical, and his appearance only gets better with each installment. He’s a big brute who wants revenge on the entire teenage population, perfect! He looks scary and he kills, do we need anything else? He’s been altered in some ways, but it all fits with the perfect origins the character always had.
Consistency and self-awareness are certainly not part of the vocabulary of Halloween and Elm Street. Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers are terrifying in their first film, once again as a result of a simple origin story. Freddy Krueger: The soul of a child murderer who returns to enact revenge on the people who killed him. Does it make sense? Yes. Easy to follow? Yes. Convoluted? No. Michael Meyers: A man who was born fundamentally evil who returns to his hometown to continue what he was born to do. Does it make sense? Yes. Easy to follow? Yes. Convoluted? No. Now, let’s look at Freddy in the last film.
The bastard son of 100 maniacs who may have also been a sexual predator whose dream powers now extend outside of the dream reality who eats souls and apparently has mommy issues, and he longer kills for revenge, it’s to feed himself. Does it make sense? No. Easy to follow? No. Convoluted? Very much so. Now we can look at Michael.
Laurie Strode is his younger sister not to mention his niece might be evil too and he was also a by-product of an evil Celtic cult which explains how and why Michael is the way he is. Does it make sense? No. Easy to follow? No. Convoluted? Absolutely.
Halloween and Elm Street insist on constantly pushing the boundary, yet it never succeeds. They just end up with continuity errors and convoluted timelines. Instead of sticking to the basics and adding their own flair, these series rewrote the formula but still stayed within the confines of a slasher. What we get is a jumbled mess of movies that are barely connected while simultaneously adding continuous spinning plates to something that thrives on simplicity.
Friday understands what it is and why people watch it. It knows that being too audacious not only alienates a large part of the audience, but also has the potential to destroy the legacy the original left. The other two don’t know who they’re for, instead piling a billion and a half little things atop one another until crashing and burning, leaving only the first film intact. Movies that understand themselves and love their fans are the best kind. Knowing that you don’t need interesting complex characters or complex lore grants you the ability to enhance the aspects that people love, particularly goofiness and scariness. When a franchise isn’t aware of why they succeed and why people love them, they end up throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, and more often than not, nothing does.
For one final example I’ll compare what is considered the worst of the Friday franchise, Part VII Jason Takes Manhattan and the worst of the Elm Street franchise, Freddy’s Dead, the Final Nightmare. In Manhattan Jason murders a bunch of horny teenagers, the kills are brutal, and the body count is high, consistent with what fans want. The twist is that the story takes place on a cruise and in New York City. The characters are there but too much time isn’t wasted on getting to know them, they’re bait. Jason’s backstory factors in, but it tells the same story we’ve heard, so we’re not waiting for dumb twists or revelations. In Freddy’s Dead, Freddy murders a couple teenagers, the reason the audience is there is present, but it’s not the focal point. The movie spends way too much time dissecting Freddy’s past as well as including the surprise reveal that he had a daughter this whole time. We spend way more of the movie unravelling this disappointing mystery than watching Freddy do his schtick. What we get is a failed experiment first, and an Elm Street movie second.
Aside from a handful of films, nothing from these franchises will ever be included in a ‘best of’ list, and that’s perfectly fine. There’s hardly any display of genuine artistry at work, and if you want a good slasher, there are about a billion others to choose from. The reason people love these are because of how much fun they are. There’s nothing to dissect, nothing to keep track of, nothing to get emotionally invested in, for a little while all you have to care about is watching dumb teenagers get murdered in scary and creative ways. And to me, the pinnacle of that will always be Friday the 13th. Other slasher franchises try to distance themselves from the trashy and campy slasher landscape by adding bad word-building, mystical elements and poorly executed comedy and drama, but Friday wears its trashiness like a badge of honour. There’s nothing like a movie that loves itself and you can’t get much better than Friday the 13th, the ultimate slasher franchise.