Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Friday The 13th: A Study In The Evolution Of The Great Slasher Part 1 (March 2006)

Having viewed the first four of the original Friday the 13th films, I will take this opportunity to delve into a few observations about the conceptualization and evolution of one of the best known slashers in Horror history: Jason Voorhees.

We all know 'Jason' to be a huge hulking invincibly strong man with a hockey goalie's mask, but allow me to enlighten you in the culmination of this archetype, and you may find, as I did, that he is quite different.

The original Friday the 13th (1980) was about an unknown killer who stalked Camp Crystal Lake years before. No one really knew the reason. At this stage, Jason was nothing more than an abstract. Even by the end of the film, he, as a mindless serial killer, is still a foggy concept. His role in the killings is questionable. His 'self' is rather ghostly. His existence may not even be completely corporeal, a haunt. Surprising, isn't it?

The great mystery of Jason not having been resolved, we jump into a sequel, produced a year later in 1981, set years in the future, at the same lake. The counselors know a lot about the details of the last murder spree, and they discuss the reasons for the last wave of killings, even going into the psychology of Jason himself. The subject of the murderous character here serves to heighten fear, without explaining away his mystery. By the end of this one, Jason is clearly a man, an individual twisted by birth and fate, but merely a man, tough though he was. You might be surprised to know that there is still no sign of any mask. He's just a freak with a white cloth bag over his head.

Friday the 13th Part 3 was quickly produced the following year (1982), jumping right back into Crystal Lake, presumably a year later. By now, visitors are still the prey, reinforcing the symbolic fear of 'man outside of his element' however they are going to a cottage with a barn, with more amenities and comforts of life than in the previous films. This is where we get the first look at Jason with a hockey mask, which he picks up randomly, off of one of his victims and heck it's armour too. The intimidation factor of this item earned its place in all future films, with its unseen eyes and a stoic expression of blank hatred. We see at this stage that as a man he is large, but not inhuman, just scarier. The concept that he is invincible has not yet burgeoned, until Part 4.

Now 1984 was when Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter would be made, right on the heels of the last one. A child character is in this one (Corey Feldman) for the first time and somehow we know that he's too young to die, introducing the unwritten rule that innocence must be rewarded, just as sinful youth engaged in premarital sex and drinking deserve a nice impaling. This story starts the day after the last one ends, and Jason is made a little tougher, implying the potential of immortality, of revenant status. He wakes up at the morgue and goes back to Crystal Lake, though this time he goes to a community of inhabitants. He's still wearing the same mask, though dented, and his hands are twisted and monstrous, different than the normal hands seen in a close-up in Part 3. So far, the closer we approach to a person's 'comfort zone' (their very homes) the more frightening and invincible Jason needs to become to offset that. There is no doubt that by the end of this one, Jason is a mangled piece of mush, finally killed, Dead Forever, that's it, no coming back, Goodnight Vienna.

Or was it?

When looking at Jason's Raison D'Etre, he's more like a champion of morality, destroying sin rather than someone with a self, a past, like Halloween's escaped mental patient Michael Myers, who hunts after his sister or Freddy of A Nightmare on Elm Street, who suffers for his mortal crimes, living in a sort of Limbo, eternally. Jason's past is not one requiring him to be sent back to earth to pay his Purgatorial dues, it's unbiassed territorial vengeance. His story is almost noble: he drowned in a lake due to neglect.

He is the least like any other Horror character out there, he's an Avatar, an embodiment of mindless violence, which is pretty frightening if you think about it, because he doesn't even have the capacity to be able to be reasoned with.