The History of ‘Friday the 13th’ and Jason Voorhees
In honor of Friday the 13th, we’re going through the history of the film franchise of the same name.
The “Friday the 13th” horror franchise is one that most of us know and that has influenced many horror films that followed. The character Jason Voorhees is iconic having appeared in 12 films that spawned from the 1980s all the way into the 2000s. On the surface, the “Friday the 13th” seems simplistic and campy (in many regards) but the history and milestone moments of the franchise contain a few lesser known details that actually provide some depth. Here are a few details that you may have not known.
“Friday the 13th” Was Created to Cash in on “Halloween’s” Success
The original film was directed by Sean S. Cunningham. Cunningham had previously worked with the late Wes Craven on 1972’s “The Last House on the Left” before taking the director’s chair for 1980’s “Friday the 13th.”
After working with Craven, Cunningham was inspired by another film that released in 1978. “Halloween” introduced him (and audiences) to Michael Myers, a deranged, supernatural-like serial killer that killed without purpose and without saying a word. He even had a signature score associated with his appearance on screen (see the correlations yet?).
While obviously inspired by “Halloween,” Sean S. Cunningham wanted more for “Friday the 13th.” He wanted a “roller coaster ride” of a film that was meant to be “a real scary movie” but also was infused with a bit of humor. These elements were definitely present in the film but when you compare Michael Myers with Jason Voorhees, you can definitely see the similarities.
“Friday the 13th” Spawned the Rule About Sex in Horror Films
By now you all probably know the rule about remaining abstinent to survive in a horror film. Many films have used this element as a subtle means of predetermining who will live and die in a horror film, but “Friday the 13th” had its foundation based upon this principle.
In the original film, Jason’s mother Pamela Voorhees was determined to prevent Camp Crystal Lake from re-opening. While many expect Jason to be the killer in the first film, it was actually his mother fueled by the loss of her son who drowned years ago at this camp. If her son’s death was just an accident, she may have not sought vengeance, but the reason her son drowned was due to the negligence of two staff members. While they should have been watching Jason and could have saved him, they were instead having sex.
Throughout the franchise from the first to the last, sex has been a key factor in determining who will die next. In some films it could be dismissed as a comedic element of determination, but in the “Friday the 13th” franchise this element has both an origin and purpose.
Jason’s Score Was Intentional Trickery
Harry Manfredini created the famous theme music for Jason Voorhees but in doing so also created an foreshadowing plot element. The music is only played when the killer is around as a means of reassuring the audience that the killer does or does not appear in certain scenes. But while a majority of the scenes used this theme as means of “murder notification,” Manfredini would occasionally trick the audience by purposefully leaving the score out of a scene with the killer to catch everyone by surprise.
Even more interesting is how things were laid out for the first film. Since Jason’s mother was the killer in the original “Friday the 13th,” Manfredini had to create a score that would represent Jason without him being present. Taking inspiration from the 1975 film “Jaws,” he borrowed the methodology from John Williams who used his signature music to announce when the shark was present in the scene regardless of whether audiences could see the shark or not.
The final bit of inspiration came from a piece of music from Krzysztof Penderecki. In that song from Penderecki, there was a chorus that contained a similar style of pronunciation for the “Friday the 13th” film we know so well. From that inspiration, Manfredini came up with “ki ki, ma ma ma” which was based on Mrs. Voorhees’ line in the film, “Kill her mommy!” To create the sound, Manfredini spoke the two words “ki” (representing “kill”) and “ma” (representing “mommy”) distinctively and rhythmically into a microphone then added reverb. The finished product was the iconic score we know today.
92% of the Franchise Films Were Box Office Successes
Many may not know that horror films are one of the most successful genres and the “Friday the 13th” series is one of the most successful in this genre. Adjusted for inflation, the original “Friday the 13th” is the highest grossing horror franchise in the United States earning $687.1 million. That number put it ahead of films such as “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Halloween,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Given the success of the first film, Paramount was more than willing to move forward with a sequel, and many more to follow. Of the 12 films they released from 1980 until 2009, only one was considered a true failure. The 10th film in the series, “Jason X,” had a budget of $14 million but pulled just under that number in domestic sales. But with that one outlier, the franchise itself has seen a ~92% success rate for its films overall.
The Future of the Franchise
The last film in the franchise was released on February 13, 2009. Since then producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form had expressed interest in a follow up with a Warner Bros. announcement to release another sequel in on August 13, 2010. Unfortunately those plans fell apart and Brad Fuller announced the cancellation of the planned sequel in April 2010. The following year a script for another film was announced and Brad Fuller was ready and willing to move forward depending on New Line Cinema’s participation in the project. That project remained stagnant but in 2013, Warner Bros. released their rights to the franchise and the rights reverted back to Paramount.
Currently we do not know what the state of the franchise may be. Paramount had originally set a release date of May 13, 2016 but (obviously) that didn’t happen and it was reported that the film was pushed back to January 2017. There have been reports of a television series set to be produced by The CW and having the original director Sean S. Cunningham on board, but since that announcement in March 2015, there has been little news that followed.