Most of our movie monsters are easily catagorized. Dracula is a vampire, the Wolfman is self explanatory, and so on. Zombies have an established set of rules and each movie can offer a variation on the rules, but zombies are zombies. We understand them. Serial killers, boogeymen, ghosts, and aliens… we’re all very familiar with them and the cinematic rules that they follow. In many ways the monsters of our pop culture are just as much our modern day greek gods as our superheroes. Much like the super heroes we venerate, our movie monsters can never truly die, and our movie studios will make sure of this as often as we the fans will.
Which brings us to Jason Vorhees, he of the Friday The 13th franchise. In the initial installment of the film, Jason is just a catalyst. The drowning of this developmentally disabled young boy brings his mother to a breaking point, and she systematically murders any camp counselor who would try to re-open Camp Crystal Lake because they should have been watching Jason when he drowned. But when audiences wanted more, a grown Jason was resurrected and became the primary connective tissue for the Friday The 13th franchise. For the most part, the first several chapters of the Friday legacy feature a human Jason Vorhees. The man is nigh upon indestructible and his only character trait is relentless murder, but he is a human nonetheless. But there are only so many crippling injuries a man can sustain from entry to entry, and before long we have a bolt of lightning hitting a rod in Jason’s chest in Part 6 and a previously rotted corpse is re-animated to wreak havoc once again. From here on out, Jason becomes something different, something more. But what exactly?
What is Jason Vorhees? Where does he fit in our monstrous pantheon? Can he be defined? Or does Jason Vorhees defy categorization? Initially I feel that Jason is a ghost. He appears in the first installment as a young boy and the lead character has several psychotic visions of the young boy. But it is clear that Jason Vorhees, as originally told by the first film’s creators, is long dead. It is his haunting story that propels his mother to mass murder. Pamela Vorhees has no reason to kill if Jason lives. But we all know that studio suits smelled too much money in the water of Camp Crystal Lake to let Jason rest in peace. And so we move from a ghost-character to a more well-defined mass-murderer. Although Jason began as a child and progressed first to a bag-headed stalker and then to a hockey-masked murderer, he is portrayed as quite human for at least four films. Part 5 is best left alone as it is a horribly mis-guided entry which features more of a copycat killer than the actual Jason Vorhees himself. But even this entry offers a Jason Vorhees that haunts the events of the film as if he were once again a ghost.
In the excellent sixth film of the series, as I mentioned earlier, Vorhees is resurrected and transforms from a hillbilly mass murderer to a Zombie-like creature with a regenerative quality that simply will not allow him to die. This “zombie Jason” who has returned from the dead solely to bring death wherever he goes transcends categorization. This is the Jason many of us know best. Informed viewers here in 2013 just plain KNOW that Jason Vorhees cannot be killed. He won’t be stopped. Just because the end credits are rolling and one final girl lived through the events of that chapter means nothing. We all know he’ll be back. But even zombies can generally be killed by the destruction of the brain, right? Well, that doesn’t work on Jason either.
Zombie Jason eventually “Takes Manhattan” in Part 8, launches into outer space in Jason X, and even squares off against Freddy Krueger in Freddy Versus Jason. But the 9th film in the series, Jason Goes To Hell, attempts something totally different and, much like Part 5 before it, fails pretty dismally as a film. But both Hell and Freddy Vs. Jason take Jason into the more spiritual realm, suggesting that perhaps Jason gets his supernatural abilities directly from a demonic and eternal source.
So across twelve installments in a wildly successful franchise, we find a ghostly Jason Vorhees, a mass murderer, a relentless zombie, and a soul-hopping demon. It is clear that Jason represents the relentless. Many argue he represents an angry god-figure who punishes wickedness (drugs, alcohol, and pre-marital sex) with the sharp point of his machete.
But once again, can Jason Vorhees be defined as any one particular type of creature? What is his placement amongst our dark pantheon of modern monsters? Though he might most easily be described as a Zombie, he clearly doesn’t ascribe to many zombie rules. Jason doesn’t kill for food… he is never shown to eat a victim in any of the twelve installments. And headshots don’t seem to keep him down. And though he is occasionally ghastly, Jason is far too visceral and physical and… present… to really be considered a ghost. I can’t take credit for what I ultimately believe Jason Vorhees truly is as a friend of mine developed this theory while we were discussing this very topic. Our conclusion?
Jason Vorhees is the golem of the movie studios that produced him. Meriam-Webster offers a very simple definition of a golem: an artificial human being in Hebrew folklore endowed with life. Traditionally the golem takes on whatever characteristics given him by his creators, and the golem can occasionally wreak havoc for following the orders of it’s creators too literally. As Jason takes shape over a dozen entries across multiple film studios and with a revolving door of directors and writers… it is clear that Jason can be molded and shaped into whatever scares us most at any given time.
Jason Vorhees, the great golem of Paramount Studios and Warner Brothers Pictures, will always be here for us when we need to be frightened, titallated, distracted, or when we need a laugh. Just be careful what you do with him, because once he gets going, he can be hard to stop.
Friday The 13th
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? Mongoloid Child Jason.
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? Yes
Best kill: You have to respect the arrow point through Kevin Bacon’s neck, but the final decapitation is probably the most satisfying.
Single sentence plot summary: A mysterious killer stalks the counselors who are trying to re-open Camp Crystal Lake for the first time in years after a previous tragedy had shut the camp down.
Single sentence review: While the final act revealing Mrs. Vorhees to be the killer is visceral and energetic, even Tom Savini’s great make-up effects can’t redeem the slog of the first two acts.
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? The definitive Hillbilly Jason. Complete with flannel, overalls, and a burlap sack on his head.
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? No, set at a new Summer camp directly next to the now condemned Camp Crystal Lake.
Best kill: The clear victor here is the machete getting lodged into the face of the wheelchair bound character. Mean, but incredibly well done.
Single sentence plot summary: A more likeable group of camp counselors are slowly murdered by a vengeful, mutated, adult Jason Vorhees nearby his old stomping grounds of Camp Crystal Lake.
Single sentence review: I think the kills are better, the characters are more engaging, and the presence of the adult Jason elevate this sequel to being superior to the original.
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? Hillbilly Jason complete with hockey mask.
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? No, set at lake house nearby where a recovering Jason is hiding/healing.
Best kill: In this 3-D entry, I favor the harpoon gun shooting straight at the camera and into a character’s eye. Although the machete through the mid-section of the guy doing a handstand is a CLOSE second.
Single sentence plot summary: A new group of unsuspecting teens on a weekend trip to a lake house near Crystal Lake are slowly murdered by a recovering Jason Vorhees who is hiding in a barn.
Single sentence review: Embracing the gimmick of 3-D fully, this entry has a ton of fun and finally elevates Jason to the iconic status he has enjoyed ever since.
Part 4: The Final Chapter
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? Last vestiges of Hillbilly Jason.
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? No, once again set at a pair of lake houses somewhere nearby.
Best kill: Without question, Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) “killing” Jason takes the cake in this entry, complete with a Tom Savini-built head-sliding-down-machete-skull-cleave.
Single sentence plot summary: Jason Vorhees re-awakens at a hospital and heads back towards the lake where he encounters and dispatches another group of vacationing teens and a few members of the Jarvis family at two bordering lake houses.
Single sentence review: Everyone loves little Tommy Jarvis getting to use his obsessive love for monster movies to get the upper hand on Jason Vorhees and gettin the upper hand… so much so that Tommy Jarvis becomes the focal character for the next two films.
Part 5: A New Beginning
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? None of the above. Jason Vorhees is only an imagined presence in this entry.
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? No, this film is set several counties away from Crystal Lake at a home for troubled teens.
Best kill: Killer slowly twists a belt around a guys face until it breaks in.
Single sentence plot summary: A grown Tommy Jarvis is haunted by his past with Jason Vorhees and a new killer stalks the other residents of his home for troubled teens.
Singe sentence review: I more or less hate this film not just because it features a “copy cat” Jason but also because it is terribly written, listless, mean-spirited, and almost no fun.
Part 6: Jason Lives
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? The original Zombie Jason.
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? Yes, the camp and town have been re-named Camp Forest Green to shed the Vorhees stigma.
Best kill: Jason presses a girl’s face into the side of an RV, leaving a perfect, face-shaped indentation.
Single sentence plot summary: Tommy Jarvis inadvertently resurrects Jason Vorhees from the dead via a lightning rod and Jason stalks Camp Crystal Lake once again… this time complete with child campers.
Single sentence review: Most likely the best in the whole series, Jason Lives resurrects the character and also offers a perfect balance of humor, horror, and self-awareness.
Part 7: The New Blood
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? Zombie/swamp-monster Jason.
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? Once again, Part 7 resorts to the old “2 lake houses next to each other” routine. But yes, they are houses on Crystal Lake.
Best kill: Arguably the greatest of all the kills in the series, Jason dispatches a girl inside her sleeping bag by slamming her against a tree.
Single sentence plot summary: The traumatized, telekinetic Tina unknowingly resurrects Jason from his watery grave and then must use her powers to battle him as he hunts her friends and family.
Single sentence review: Introducing telekinesis to the storyline, we get a supernatural battle between a “Carrie-like” teen girl with a terrible gift and their climactic battle is suitably fantastic.
Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? Zombie Lake-monster Jason, Round 2.
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? Don’t let the title mislead you. Yes, this film starts out at the town of Crystal Lake once again, until Jason hitches a ride on a teen-filled cruise ship to NYC!
Best kill: There can really be no debate here that the best kill is Jason’s confrontation with a boxer. The boxer gives it his all, but Jason knocks the dude’s head clean off in one punch. Then you get a first person decapi-cam, and THEN the head drops in a dumpster and the lid closes behind it. Yeah, this might even top the sleeping bag kill from Part 7.
Single sentence plot summary: A re-animated Jason Vorhees stows away on a cruise ship full of teenagers bound for New York City where a girl traumatized by the ghost of the child Jason must overcome her fears and destroy Jason once and for all.
Single sentence review: While a tight budget doesn’t quite allow for the film to live up to it’s title, Jason first takes a cruise ship before taking Manhattan and this change of scenary offers an appreciated freshness.
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? Demon-Spirit-Worm Jason
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? Vaguely set in the town of Crystal Lake.
Best kill: There’s a good old fashioned machete-through-the-camper-in-a-tent kill here where the girl gets split right down the middle.
Single sentence plot summary: The spirit of Jason passes from body to body as he tries to kill the last of his bloodline, who are the only people who can truly kill him.
Single sentence review: While Jason Goes To Hell tries something new with the soul-leaping concept, this installment tries to introduce too much non-pre-existing mythology and never quite delivers a cohesive and rewarding final product.
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? Zombie, then Uber-Mecha-Jason
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? Nope, there’s a nod to a “Crystal Lake Research Facility”, but this movie is set in space!
Best kill: Jason puts a scientist’s head into liquid nitrogen and shatters her frozen face.
Single sentence plot summary: In the not-too-distant future, a scientist attempting to put Jason Vorhees into cryo-sleep is frozen along with him, only to be awakened 450 years deeper into the future where Jason de-thaws to kill again… in space!
Single sentence review: Jason X is a ton of fun: a sense of humor and a cheesy sci-fi vibe thrown into the mix; but Blu-ray is not kind to this low rent entry’s computer effects.
Freddy Versus Jason
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? Zombie Jason From Hell
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? This movie is all over the place, from hell to Elm Street. But it does conclude at Camp Crystal Lake, yes.
Best kill: As a fan of practical stunts, I have to say my favorite kills here are when Jason is completely on fire in a real “full burn” stunt, but manages to kill 3-4 ravers with a machete in a corfield while on fire.
Single sentence plot summary: Freddy Krueger has been forgotten on Elm Street, so he resurrects Jason from hell in order to bring fear to the hearts of the teens of Elm Street so that he can live again; conflict ensues.
Single sentence review: I’ve traditionally felt this film had way too much set up and teen business, and way too little actual Freddy Vs. Jason; and while I still feel that way… the set up could have been a lot worse.
Friday The 13th (2009)
Hillbilly, Zombie, or Other Jason Vorhees? Hillbilly Jason Returns!
Set at Camp Crystal Lake? Absolutely, but this time the camp has been dormant for 20 years.
Best kill: Intelligent “hunter Jason” allows a cop to knock on the door of the house he is stalking , then he jumps down and puts a poker through the cops head and through the door right near our heroes’ faces.
Single sentence plot summary: This “back to basics” re-boot quickly recaps the Jason myth and returns us to a more human, ruthless, and intelligent Jason Vorhees… who stalks and kills immoral teenagers once again.
Single sentence review: A best case scenario for a horror remake, Friday The 13th reveres the Jason character and brings him back to his basic roots, but adds intelligence and speed to his arsenal.
The real treat with this enormous Blu-ray box set is getting all Jason Vorhees films all in one package. The first eight films are Paramount Pictures and after that New Line Cinema seems to have gotten the rights, which I believe is a company owned by Warner Brothers. So if you’ve been waiting to get all of these films together in one complete set, this is your chance. If I’m not mistaken, this may also be the first chance to get several of these titles in the blu-ray format at all.
That said, there really aren’t any new features available in this set. And fans who have been clamboring for Director’s and Unrated cuts of several of these titles, or even just a modern 3-D presentation for Friday The 13th Part 3, are going to be disappointed. While this is “The Complete Collection”, is certainly leaves room for a studio double dip “Ultimate Edition” somewhere down the line!