WARNING: Some of the below clips are NSFW
It’s that day again: the unlucky day, the day from which comes misfortunes, the day the Earth got dark, Jason’s birthday… of course, this long-superstitious date has been the namesake of one of the most iconic of horror franchises: Friday the 13th. And long time friends are also aware that it’s a franchise that is pretty close to my heart in an idiosyncratic way: my attitude and relation to it has changed in the 20 years since I first saw a Friday the 13th picture and that change feels like an anchor to how I’ve developed as a slasher AND a horror fan.
I’d of course love to go into further detail movie by movie on that personal history, but I’ve felt like I’ve watch several of these movies WAY too many times in the last five years (including a full binge between 2020 and ’21 when that awesome Scream! Factory set dropped) so I think that’ll have to be left for a distant future when I’ve given them enough space to hit me again. Still, I simply did not want to let a Friday the 13th pass me by without some acknowledgement of the franchise.
I figured what better than to list my favorite examples of that franchise’s raison d’etre: the continuous body count in creative and ludicrous ways, playing into my thrill watching special effects transform a muted bit of play-acting into an awe-inspiring work of grisliness.
2 Honorable Mentions from the unearthed Part 2 gore footage so they don’t count really:
– Alice Hardy (Adrienne King), whose pick to the temple was way too tame and finding out the full shot revealed the point poking out on the other side of her nose turning it into a genuinely disturbing effect.
– Jeff Dunsburry (Bill Randolph) and Sandra Dier (Marta Kober), speared mid-coitus in a way that is way too obvious a rip-off of Twitch of the Death Nerve but still absolutely disorienting in its marriage of this subgenre’s fascination with sex and violence.
1 Honorable Mention from the first movie just to round this list fully to number one:
– Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) – the villain of the first film – getting decapitated by Alice. Less for the actual decapitation effect, impressive as it is, but for the grim aftermath of watching her hands come out and try to reach where her head used to be before her corpse falls.
(FTR, if you happen to own the Scream! Factory set, I HIGHLY encourage you to watch the uncut gore effect footage of both Part 2 – which was at one point thought lost and has a fascinating story as to its recovery – and The Final Chapter. They are very much the most thrilling special features in a very jam-packed set)
10. Tina (Camilla More) in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter – Defenestrated from outside, landing on a car
Real talk: there’s two other deaths from this fourth entry coming but I could easily make half of this list using only this movie (big ups to Crispin Glover taking a cleaver to the face – I just really love a classic backwards-run film effect – as well as Alan Hayes being lifted up by a harpoon gun to the groin and Lawrence Monoson getting stabbed in the back of the head against a projection screen and leaving a trail on it).
Being the triumphant return of movie gore genius Tom Savini so deep into his career, he seemed to genuinely treat this opportunity as a real homecoming ceremony. And yet I chose one of the least gory deaths for my number 10 largely because of how… honestly, how stately it feels: utilizing what I expect was the stunts background of both Ted White (the actor who plays Jason) and Savini*, there’s a real sense of pose to each shot of this scene amplified by the slow-motion and punctuated by the illogical explosion of the car Tina lands on. It makes no sense but each visual is high impact: the hands crashing through the window, the outstretched crouch of Jason on the roof, the horizontalness of Tina’s final landing. Elegant and brutal without feeling as exploitative as the series usually goes.
9. Amanda (America Olivo) and Richie (Ben Feldman) in Friday the 13th (2009) – Sleeping bag immolation for her and machete to his brain after being caught in a bear trap
Yeah, ok, I included two people dying in the same scene as one setpiece. Sue me, I had a lot of Friday the 13th kills to talk about and this pair is a brutal set and among the meanest. Since the opening 20-or-so minutes of this remake operate as a little fan film, there’s no time to waste dilly-dallying. By having Amanda and Richie killed in such close proximity that one of them watches the other die, it brings a grim fatalism and involving the bear trap as a bit of pre-murder torture for Richie reintroduces the earthy human woodsman that Jason originally was before the franchise transformed him into an impossible zombie halfway through. A physical personality we are more intimately introduced to once Jason himself appears in the movie and promptly jams that machete blade into Richie’s head.
8. Axel Burns (Bruce Mahler) in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter – medical saw to throat and head twisted 180 degrees
Apologies to Colby Johnson, a bit player in Freddy vs. Jason, whose head twisting death was on an earlier draft of this list until I revisited this clip and found “oh no… this is the superior effect”, even in its abrupt cutting (for the record, the poke to the chest Jason does to Johnson in the Freddy vs. Jason variation is the only beat I love out of Ken Kirzinger’s Jason performance). I think there’s maybe an argument that the ridiculously short screentime the killing blows have (compared to the uncut footage in the special features) suggest a bleak abruptness to the act but I’m not that convinced for the saw part of the death (there’s so much fake blood letting we could have gotten out of it). The head twist, though… just suddenly cutting once the turn is complete is a real “lights out” attitude.
7. Deborah (Michelle Clunie) in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (unrated home video cut) – Bisection mid-coitus
The most puerile one of my list, which is just fine. The subgenre and franchise are both puerile and did way too much to run away from that (because otherwise the MPAA would punish them), but this is the high watermark of marrying that sex and violence altogether. It’s also simply the case that a good bisection death is among my favorite ways to play a horror movie death and while this may be among the fakest (if you slow the clip down, you can tell the fake torso already has a path for the impaling spear cut out of it), it’s that wonderful grindhouse attitude that endears the sequence to me. Right down to the final crash zoom between the cut pieces of the boyfriend freaking out as he’s sprayed with blood.
6. Jack (Kevin Bacon) in Friday the 13th (1980) – Arrowhead poking through the throat
Come on, you can’t beat a classic. Savini’s work on the first film may have been inhibited by a few things – his relative green status even with Dawn of the Dead already behind him, the miniscule budget, the ruthless cutting of the MPAA – but the arrow death never fails to impress me as a small-scale and uncharacteristic work of patience from this franchise: watching that dark little point break its way through the fake neck and just move around so the fake blood can rise up to a puddle. Extremely slow sequence implying a whole lot of misery just from one neat trick. And the amusement that the person who got such a death went on to be such a huge movie star.
5. Mark (Tom McBride) in Friday the 13th Part 2 – Machete to the face
Twice in a row, a relatively minimalist kill whose memorable aspect is more from the aftermath than the actual blow (in fact, it is unbelievable that the machete would hit Mark at such an angle without him seeing the assailant in advance, but anyway…). After the straightforward slamming of the machete right across Mark’s face, his being in a wheelchair means that the swing gives him enough momentum to slide backwards lifelessly down an endless amount of stairs in the rain. That image is really what delivers graveness to the scene, even with the corny freeze frame and flash to white. Impressive how well the effect survives the MPAA’s notes.
4. Julius (V.C. Dupree) in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan – Head gets knocked out in boxing match
The bravest motherfucker on this list and in turn the stupidest. It’s a long rooftop gag to have Jason mutedly execute a rope-a-dope on this character’s barrage of haymakers. But the final note of it pays off when we see Jason throw a punch that decapitates Julius with cartoonish cleanliness and lands right into an open trash container on the streets below. This is one of the four Friday the 13th movies I’ve seen in a movie theater and the audience was quiet and reserved throughout (which makes sense… this is my pick for the most boring entry, if not the worst). And then this sequence happened and everyone lost their hea– uh… went wild. Saving grace.
3. Jason Voorhees (Ted White) in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter – Machete to the skull
The big man himself, finally taking what he spent three movies dishing. And in a particularly grisly fashion that suggests Savini saved his most grotesque trick for Jason, less out of watching that machete get stuck halfway through his face by fellow 80s movie icon Corey Feldman but watching Jason fall so the handle sticks the machete upwards and his head just slides slowly and gruesomely down that blade until it looks like the entire top of his head is about to slide off. Among the masterpieces of Tom Savini’s career, just as much as that arrow death.
2. Adrienne Thomas (Kristi Angus) in Jason X – Face frozen in liquid nitrogen and then smashed open
Come on, how could this not place so high? In a franchise full of creative deaths, this one is the most creative: playing into the futuristic science fiction elements to suggest just how much worse things can get with the advent of progress. You have your face shoved into an instantaneously freezing substance that instantly kills you inside so you don’t have to feel your skull shatter into a million pieces against a nice hard worktop surface. If I were Kane Hodder on that set playing Jason, I’d be excited for multiple takes of multiple fake dummies having their multiple fake heads slammed on that counter. It looks very stress relieving.
- Judith Williams (Debora Kessler) in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood – Sleeping bag swung into the tree
My list changes throughout the years, but this always remains my single favorite scene in the whole franchise even in its relative bloodlessness (I mean, the body is covered when it hits the tree so there’s no ability to exhibit that until the aftershot). Obviously, a big part is the novel use of something as quintessential to camping as the sleeping bag for a weapon against the flora of the grounds, representing an underappreciated part of this franchise and its fascination with the arboreous setting and outdoor activity. But really what ensures it’s place at number one is what it establishes about Kane Hodder’s portrayal of Jason, my favorite of all the fine burly actors to have portrayed the hulking brute, in his very first movie under that mask. He’s big, he’s direct, and he’s very very pissed off. I imagine having to drag Kessler’s weight in that bag was a very exhausting activity even for an already veteran stuntperson like Hodder. But he really transforms that frustration into a merciless carriage that he maintains for the remainder of his time in the role. When he finally connects that bag against the tree and walks away, the message of the scene was made clear: Kane Hodder’s Jason was not here to fuck around.