Friday the 13th is an iconic series for a reason, and whilst the quality of the franchise definitely has its peaks and valleys, the films have been massively influential on not only the slasher/horror genre, but also on popular culture as a whole. Starting with a small film with a humble budget of $500,000, the franchise became a wild success, spawning many consecutive films, a TV series, video games, merchandise and much more, but how did it come so far?
With the semi-recent release and success of Friday the 13th: The Game by Illfonic and Gun Media, I found myself enticed to finally get down to watching the vast majority of the franchise, excluding only the 2009 reboot, which is still on my extensive list of films to watch.
Without going into the near-limitless depth and discussion on the storytelling techniques, character portrayals and cinematic processes behind each individual film, the franchise no doubt started off strong, with the first few films offering a truly sincere sense of threat and tension. So many films nowadays epitomize their scares with menacing backing tracks and cliched jump scares, and whilst Friday the 13th was indeed one of the innovators of this trope (though not to such an extreme extent, for the most part), the early offerings offer something else; the sense of a looming presence.
With the first two films leaving the antagonist unseen for a good portion of the movie, even though the iconic killer(s) have been immortalized and visualized through many mediums throughout the decades, there is still a very real sense of tension that is hard to avoid. Even though the films were never initially intended to spawn a wildly large franchise, the foundation of creating an attractive premise was there. Making your viewer feel something within your film is important. The worst films are the ones that have no effect on the viewer, and the mix of tension and fear from the looming presence of the killer, and the shock and awe at both the reveal of the killer themselves and the incredibly gory kills that quickly became a staple of the franchise, and undoubtedly helped coin the term and popularity of the Slasher genre.
Whilst the franchise was initially intended to end after the first three films, then was further extended to a fourth, eventually ending its initial "canon" run with a tenth and final foray into space, not counting the Freddy vs Jason spinoff and the 2009 reboot. How does a franchise manage to stay interesting after 10 installments? Its difficult for sure, and there is definitely the argument that the final two or three films of the saga descended into ridiculousness, but no person would debate the fact that Jason remains one of the coolest and most iconic characters to grace the slasher genre, and definitely up there among the great anti-heroes of similar films. Jason's intimidating presence and tendency towards some of the most graphic and idolized kills within the slasher genre are what carried this franchise through its multiple iterations. Friday the 13th became less of a franchise about the threat and horror of a looming killer, but rather the marvel and spectacle of how the killer takes out his victims.
A recent quote from Friday the 13th: The Game's Virtual Cabin, an in-game developer diary and also a point of reference for the backstory and development notes for the films themselves. In one of these notes, it describes the films as "creating characters you want to see killed", rather than building the deep character connections you'd expect from say, a drama movie. This is exactly what kept Friday the 13th going for so long, not trying to create emotional ties with relatable characters, but instead playing on the massive fan culture behind Jason Voorhees, and capitalizing on the desire from fans to see more outrageous kills, and continue the tropes of the franchise. A movie can only keep the same thing scary for so long, and when that fails, you should identify what the fans want to see, and that is what made Friday the 13th so popular for so long, and cemented its legacy in both the Slasher genre and popular culture in general.