I remember hearing that story when I was younger, the one about the mom who was filled with such maternal adrenaline after witnessing her kid get trapped under a car, that she was able to lift the car off her kid all on her own. Apparently, a mother’s love for her child is a powerful and scary thing – so best of luck to you if you happen to put their child in harm’s way…or worse.
During the mid and late-70s, there was sort of a boom when it came to psychotic-and-overprotetctive-moms in film. It started overseas with the Italian giallo film Deep Red (1975) (this is interesting because the giallo movement would be a direct influence on the American slasher craze, especially the early Friday the 13th films. Deep Red and Friday the 13th share another random bit of trivia: at the end of Friday, after Mrs. Voorhees gets a little taken off the top, we see her hands ball up into fists; these are actually special effects assistant Taso Stavrakis’s hands. Conversely, the closeup shots of the female killer’s hands in Deep Red, clad in black leather gloves, were performed by director Dario Argento.)
All of these films saw the mother either:
- being driven to kill because someone had wronged their child
- being driven to kill because their child had wronged them
- birthing hideous, tumor-like growths that develop into little murderous albino kids (that’s The Brood)
Then in 1980, Friday the 13th was released – a little low-budget film that was intended to cash in on the success of the ultimate low-budget slasher, Halloween. For those of you visiting from another planet, the film is about a mother who avenges her child’s death by killing off the counselors at the camp he drowned many years before.
But as for a sequel? There weren’t plans. The film was meant as a stand-alone. Here’s what Friday writer Victor Miller had to say about the film:
“I took motherhood and turned it on its head and I think that was great fun. Mrs. Voorhees was the mother I’d always wanted—a mother who would have killed for her kids.” Miller was unhappy about the filmmakers’ decision to make Jason Voorhees the killer in the sequels. “Jason was dead from the very beginning. He was a victim, not a villain.”
In addition to Deep Red and Halloween, Friday the 13th ripped an idea from another infamous horror flick, Carrie. No, not the pig’s blood. I’m talking about the final dream sequence. In fact, the idea of Jason appearing at the end of the film was initially not used in the original script, and was actually suggested by makeup designer Tom Savini:
“The whole reason for the cliffhanger at the end was I had just seen Carrie, so I thought that we need a ‘chair jumper’ like that, and I said, ‘let’s bring in Jason.'”
The final scene from Carrie was actually inspired by the final scene in Deliverance, but alas that’s how the world of horror goes: reduce, reuse, recycle.
According to Victor Miller, Jason was only meant as a plot device and not intended to continue on his mother’s grisly work. But then sequelitis struck, and well, we all know how that goes.
The initial ideas for a sequel involved the Friday the 13th title being used for a series of films, released once a year, that would not have direct continuity with each other, but be a separate “scary movie” of their own right. If that sounds familiar to you horrorhounds, it’s because Halloween (the film Friday was originally trying to emulate) was toying with the same concept. This is what Tommy Lee Wallace, director of Halloween III, said about the Halloween sequel and future of the series:
“It is our intention to create an anthology out of the series, sort of along the lines of Night Gallery, or The Twilight Zone, only on a much larger scale.”
Friday producers insisted that the sequel have Jason Voorhees, even though his appearance in the original film was only meant to be a joke. And so, in 1981, Friday the 13th Part 2 was released. Halloween II was released just five months later.
Like the dead teens from the first film, the proposed sequel was already busy creating another heap of casualties: the entire team that had created the original. No one came back – not director Sean Cunningham, not writer Victor Miller, nor special effects maestro Tom Savini. Director Steve Miner came on board to take over, with Ron Kurz writing (Kurz had done uncredited writing on Friday the 13th.)
For Jason’s big screen debut, the production team decided to model his character after the killer from The Town That Dreaded Sundown by throwing a burlap sack over his head.
This ‘baghead’ look actually became popularized back in 1957, in the first episode of Perry Mason, “The Case of the Restless Redhead”. Coincidentally, 1957 is the same year of young Jason Voorhee’s supposed drowning.
Since the release of Friday the 13th Part 2, the look would become synonymous with scary villain and would pop up in horror films like The Strangers, Triangle, and even westerns like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
The look was even the basis for the semi-parody mumblecore film, Baghead, starring indie darling Great Gerwig.
Friday the 13th Part 2 would ‘borrow’ from the giallo movement once again. Two of the more memorable scenes – one including a machete to the face, the other seeing two lovers speared simultaneously – were lifted directly from Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood.
This was the first and last time Jason Voorhees had any sort of motivation for his killings, and therefore the last time he’d be portrayed as an empathetic character. The series began tragically – a boy drowning, his mother avenging his death, and then that same boy later avenging her death. But as with most franchises (especially A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween), the future sequels lose sight of what the characters original motivations were. But when your villain is 8 or 10 sequels deep, you’re bound to muddy the waters a bit.
Join me for my next installment where I visit the next two Friday the 13th sequels, with “Hockey Masks, the 3D Boom, & Final Chapters”!