Look, I get it, scrolling through an infinite number of shows seems overwhelming; even when someone tells me, “Oh, you should check out such and such” I get a feeling of dread because who knows if it’s worth the time or hassle. Some series and pieces of media have countless episodes or have been running for decades and not all those episodes are going to be good; they’re going to be some clunkers.
I’m here to help you decide if something is a good fit for you by featuring a few highlights for you to check out and see if you want to watch more. These aren’t the best, they’re accessible and ones you can just jump into as a beginner.
As of 2021 there are 12 Friday the 13th movies (really, couldn’t there just be 13 already?) to choose from. The series has been going since 1980 with the most recent in 2009. These movies have a chaotic production schedule, Jason is played by half a dozen different actors, and the continuity is shaky at best.
And besides, let’s not pretend the plot is the most important aspect; if you like classic slasher trash with nudity and creative kills, this is the series for you.
12 of these movies is an investment; how do you know what’s good or where to start?
It’s not that the first movie is bad exactly; it’s a classic slasher on a shoestring budget. But the pacing kills the movie; there is an entire scene where a character makes coffee, and you see every step. There is even a plot point in this already slowly paced movie where the characters play the slowest paced game of all time.
The second movie was rushed out the following year on the successful heels of the first and it feels clunky. There are a lot of POV shots from Jason’s perspective that sort of kills the suspense because we as an audience know Jason is there, so it’s not really a surprise when he bursts out. It introduces a few concepts that stay with the movie series, like Jason has mommy issues and stores her head in his shack (like one does) but otherwise, not much really happens.
The third movie is in 3D, and that would be great if we could see any of that. The problem is that the movie was made in an era when 3D was “have stuff fly at the audience” but that won’t work anymore and unless you watched this on a literal silver screen in a movie theater with the red/blue glasses, the 3D effect is lost. What you end up with is lots of scenes of characters playing with yo-yos and yo-yo-ing or throwing popcorn at the screen.
Yeah, I get it. It was in 3D, but kind of isn’t now. Now it’s just awkward and distracting. Wow, that baseball bat sure is in my living room I guess, no you don’t need to show me that for 30 seconds!
My pick for the best place to start in this series is Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter.
You might have noticed that they didn’t number this one, and yes when it was created, it was meant to be the last one (the 2nd and 3rd didn’t do that well money wise) and kill off the character of Jason for good. Seeing as how this is the 4th out of 10 or 12 of them, that didn’t happen, but they went “out” on a high note!
Bottom line: crazy as it sounds, start with the “final” one first.
WHY? The opener is an excellent summary of the first 3 movies and told expertly around a campfire, exactly the way this story should be told. What’s cool is that all those characters are dead, setting the tone that nobody in this universe is safe. Thankfully, the plot of these movies is so damn basic, 3 movies can be summed up in about 2 minutes.
This movie has lots of fun characters, meaning that you care about them and want to see them do well as characters; except they’re going to get their bones stomped out by Jason. So again, don’t get too attached. And yes, Crispin Glover, old George McFly himself, is in this.
But this movie takes it one step further by having 2 sets of main characters; carefree teens there to be gutted and a family living next door. This helps raise the stakes a little. You’ve got a mom, a daughter, and Cory Feldman making monster masks and showing off his talents to the teens next door. There’s even a dog named Gordon.
Unlike the teens, you don’t want to see the family be murdered, adding some much-needed suspense. Jason is great in this, popping out and being surprising rather than lurking, and for the audience, it’s refreshing to have jump scares be startling, crisp, and threatening. Special effects master Tom Savini does some excellent practical effects work saying that the only reason he came back was to kill off Jason, a monster he helped create.
All in all, Part 4 is one of the best Friday the 13th films and is my pick as a standalone movie and a great introduction into the series as a whole. In box office terms, it made 33 million on a 2.2-million-dollar budget, making it one of the more financially profitable movies in the series. If you’re looking for a place to start first, start with the Final Chapter.
Looking for something new to watch? Check out my guide to MST3K here!