by Patrick Bromley
I have spent so much time and energy on this site writing and talking about the Friday the 13th franchise that I'm sure you are all sick of it. I can't help it. It makes me happy. There are movies in pretty much every single other horror franchise that I love much more deeply and passionately than any individual entry in the Friday the 13th series (even you, A New Beginning), but taken as a whole there is no horror franchise I enjoy as much or revisit more often. Just a few days ago, we got the super-rare gift for horror fans of a Friday the 13th falling on the calendar in October, which means more people were marathoning their favorite entries in the series than on a typical Friday the 13th. And, sure, it's a fun way to celebrate the date and all, but there's more to it than that. It's not as though everyone marathons all of the Halloween movies every October 31st. No, there's a reason we are drawn back to the Friday films again and again and again, turning them into an institution in a way no other horror franchise really is.
This was a question posed on Twitter this past Friday the 13th by Vox.com journalist Dylan Scott, who writes across a series of tweets: "I’d read a good essay on why Friday the 13th has proven so resilient, when it seems obviously inferior to its horror peers. Lacks Halloween’s craftsmanship, Elm Street's imagination or Chainsaw’s inspired derangement and yet 13th is as persistent as those franchises. Jason Voorhees doesn’t give us anything that Michael Myers (silent masked killer) or Leatherface (***almost*** weirdly sympathetic) didn’t. There is no heroine in the 13th franchise who is anywhere near as memorable as Laurie Strode or, hell, even Nancy Thompson. And yet, Friday the 13th and Voorhees have become as iconic as these self-evidently superior competitors. It’s weird!" Knowing of my affection for the franchise, Dylan brought this "Why Friday?" question to my attention. And because I like both Dylan and the Friday films, I told him I would try to tackle it. So, sorry Dylan. You don't get to read a "good" essay, but you do get to read this one.
I can't provide an official rationale to explain the longevity of the franchise, as I wouldn't dream of speaking for others as to why they've embraced it. But I do have some ideas as to why I've always enjoyed it and why I still enjoy it to this day. For starters, it's the ultimate campfire tale. Literally. As early as Part 2, the movies would show a group of campers and counselors gathered around a fire, sharing the tale of Jason Voorhees, the boy whose mother went on a mad murder spree and Camp Crystal Lake. The boy who is still out there, waiting to spring out and attack any one of us. Both Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger are more regularly -- and more accurately -- referred to as "the boogeyman," there's something about the oral tradition of Jason Voorhees that lends itself to the longevity that the franchise would enjoy. He's a story passed down from camper to camper, from sequel to sequel, from horror fan to horror fan.
I would also make a case for the characters in the Friday series, even though I know that flies in the face of what almost every horror fan believes to be true about these movies. They aren't well-known for having three dimensional characters, and instead have the reputation for filling the films with fodder for Jason's machete -- the stereotype of the generic and interchangeable horny teens of the slasher genre is more or less borne out of the Friday films. But ask any of the series' fans who their favorite characters are and they'll immediately start rattling off names like Ginny and Shelly and Tommy and Terry (#HorrorsBestShorts) and Alice and Jimmy and, of course, Joey (#RIPJoey). I'll admit that the later installments got away from this quite a bit, presenting characters who were either forgettable or altogether unlikable, but the first five or six films are filled with charming young people in whose company I like to spend time. Obviously it's not true of them all; there are plenty of annoying characters (looking at you, Ned) and douchebags, but every time I revisit the earlier films I'm reminded of how much I like some of these actors. We remember them or get to know them over the course of watching the series again and again, recalling who they are based on their personalities and relationships instead of just a single character trait gimmick that leads to their murder (as in the lesser Nightmare movies). I like the Halloween movies, but I can't name many of those characters outside of the original. The same goes for most slasher movies. Yet when it comes to the Friday series, I know most of these characters as though they're my own friends.
What it comes down to, ultimately, is that the Friday the 13th series was once like a Halloween party that got thrown every year and continues to feel that way today. The time of year would roll around and audiences would show up for a bit of irresponsible fun: there were some scares, some people looking sexy, some drinking or casual drug use and an overall good time. We would go back every year because we remembered having fun last time, and even though not every party was as good as some others, we wanted to see how everyone came dressed and who got into what kind of trouble. It became an institution -- a dependable good time. Now we keep the movies on our DVD shelves or in our streaming libraries, records of the parties should we ever want to experience them again. We don't need to watch them in sequence, as one rarely has anything to do with the rest. We can relive them in any order we want, skipping over those we didn't enjoy as much and just sticking with the ones in which the best memories were made.