Every Friday the 13th I treat myself to a marathon of my favorite slasher franchise. In total it encompasses over 24 hours’ worth of film footage. And every second of it is dedicated to some guy in a mask killing teenagers. And it’s wonderful.
It’s a franchise that has milked the concept well beyond the point of ludicrous. It’s moved from horror franchise to comedy and back to horror without dipping in popularity. Jason’s mask has become engrained in our culture along with Dracula’s cape and Frankenstein’s bolts. How can a franchise based solely on predictability be so popular?
What’s interesting to note is that the first Friday the 13th was actually a fairly unique movie for its time, more so in content than the actual story. For the most part it was just a rehash of the earlier hit Halloween, only now it’s set in a camp ground. However it did set the ground rules for all the other sequels to follow. A hidden figure killing teens when they least expect it, followed by a jump scare when the hero thinks she is safe. And with very little exception this concept has been strung along with an increasingly loose story for twelve installments.
This familiar rhythm helps the franchise. The joy of Friday the 13th comes from the dread of anticipation. That deep unease in the pit of your stomach, or the giddy excitement nibbling at your fingertips. They can only be created when the audience knows exactly what’s going to happen. Everyone knows the dumb jock is doomed, everyone is waiting on pins and needles for it happen. It’s like the slow drag up a roller coaster, it’s not the fall that gets you, its the waiting around.
Friday the 13th has shown mastery over this anticipation. But a buildup is only as good as the payoff, if it isn’t than it’s draining not enjoyment. Each installment follows blindly with its predecessors, but each one also upping the ante. To the point where the audience is left asking themselves, “What could they possibly do next?” They made him a zombie, sent him to Manhattan, and launched him in space, and still they make more. In the same way I’m impressed with the Simpson’s couch gag, I’m amazed at how many ways there are to kill a teenager while wearing a hockey mask.
So let’s not look at this upcoming sequel the reboot as something unoriginal. It’s originality shaped by the vestige of an old familiar story.