Although Jason Voorhees has become the face (or mask?) of the Friday the 13th franchise, the best installment of the series - the very first movie - doesn’t exactly feature the famous slasher. Friday the 13th has expanded to other forms of media, such as comic books and video games, which have kept it active and successful, but the franchise is best known for its movie series, consisting of 12 titles including a crossover with Freddy Krueger.
The series began in 1980 with Friday the 13th and continued until 2009 with Marcus Nispel’s reboot of the same name. The main villain of the series is Jason Voorhees, one of the most popular slashers in cinema history, known for wearing a hockey mask to cover his deformed face and for killing all those who arrive to Camp Crystal Lake and its surroundings – but the best movie from the Friday the 13th franchise doesn’t have Jason as the killer. In fact, he doesn’t even appear as the character viewers now know.
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham, 1980's Friday the 13th introduced the legend of Camp Crystal Lake (or the “death curse” as some town residents call it), but even though Jason was what triggered all the murders, he wasn’t the killer at first: it was his mother, Pamela Voorhees. Because it was the first movie, it set the basis for the rest of the Friday the 13th franchise, taking its time to build suspense with the help of point-of-view shots from the killer and the music score (made by Harry Manfredini). In fact, the Friday the 13th theme has its own story and “hidden” message, which makes it an effective tool.
Unlike other slasher films where the killer is shown at the beginning, Mrs. Voorhees didn’t appear until late in the third act, presenting herself as just “a friend of the Christies” and playing innocent for a few minutes before revealing her true intentions – and what can be interpreted as a double personality or the presence/memory of Jason taking over her. Mrs. Voorhees’ reveal was also a good twist as most viewers would have expected a male character to be behind all the murders. But a big part of the movie’s success is thanks to special effects and makeup artist Tom Savini, who not only helped create Jason’s design but he was also the one who came up with the idea of having him pop out of the water at the end, a decision that ultimately helped build Jason Voorhees’ legend.
Jason’s final appearance during a seemingly happy ending (with Alice being rescued from the canoe) that turned out to be a hallucination is also key in the character’s legend, and left the door open for the rest of the series and Jason’s post-drowning story. Surely, Friday the 13th doesn’t include as many jump scares and graphic deaths as other entries in the series, and compared to titles like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter it lacks good direction (and some fun moments like in Freddy vs Jason), but without it there wouldn’t have been the Jason Voorhees viewers now know so well.