The Friday the 13th movies are some of the most popular and successful horror films in history. They tell the now iconic story of Jason Voorhees, a man who wears a hockey mask and kills people because teenagers killed his mother, but only because his mother killed teenagers, but because teenagers killed him first.
The twelfth and most recent installment, a reboot directed by Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), earned a respectable $91 million off of a $19 million budget. So you would have thought that that sort of success would have led to another sequel, and another sequel after that, and so on, ad infinitum, and would have been wrong. Dead wrong.
Because it’s been eight years since the last Friday the 13th came out. What used to be a low budget franchise, developed quickly and with little regard for any sort of coherent story continuity year after year, has been trapped in development hell for the better part of a decade. And even though it looked like there was finally going to be a new movie later this year, directed by Breck Eisner (The Crazies), Paramount has officially canceled the production on Friday the 13th.
There are a billion factors that go into decisions like this. Hollywood Reporter suggests that Paramount may be disappointed in the box office returns of last weekend’s Rings, and might now be a little gunshy about rebooted any other horror franchises. But that’s probably not enough on its own, especially considering that everyone in town knew that Rings was a troubled project (it had been finished and sitting on the shelf for over a year).
The cancellation of the new Friday the 13th movie may also be a legal matter, since the original film’s screenwriter Victor Miller has been suing for the rights to the franchise. If Paramount is concerned that they may lose that suit (which still appears to be ongoing), then making a film to which they could immediately lose the rights, in one form or another, may simply be more trouble than it’s worth.
But even that perfectly plausible theory would only explain why Friday the 13th is getting delayed right now. It doesn’t explain the eight years in which Jason went to development hell, in which producers tried and failed to execute different ideas for the next installment of the franchise. There was an early suggestion that would have put Jason Voorhees in the snow, for some reason, and that didn’t go anywhere. Then there was a tumultuous time in which the producers thought it would be a good idea to do a “found footage” Friday the 13th movie, but that idea was scuttled when just about every single fan of the franchise disagreed.
The most recent attempt to make a new Friday the 13th movie, which was slated to go into production as early as this March, was rumored to feature – for the first time in the series – Jason’s father. And it looks like we may never see that film either.
Is Friday the 13th really cursed? I suspect it is, but it’s a curse of the producers’ own making. The Friday the 13th franchise used to come out with a new movie practically every year, cheaply and efficiently, sometimes with very little regard for common sense. Watch all the movies in a row today and you’ll find it one of the most scattershot film franchises in history. Jason Voorhees wasn’t the killer until the second film. He didn’t wear a hockey mask until the third film, shot in ultra-gimmicky 3D. Jason wasn’t even the killer in the fifth movie. The sixth film waved “bye bye” to plausibility altogether and turned him into a zombie. In the seventh film he fought a psychic hero inspired by Carrie and Firestarter. In the eight film he went on a tourist trip to Manhattan. The ninth film claimed he was a body-hopping demon. The tenth film sent him to outer space.
And fans loved him for it.
Sure, a lot of those movies aren’t particularly good. But all of them are violent delights, endearing in their sheer laughability. The sheer ubiquity of the Friday the 13th series made its many flaws forgivable, and the fact that the series was usually rather difficult to take seriously smoothed over any other creases one might reasonably find.
In short, the producers of the newer Friday the 13th movies have been overthinking it. These movies used to be a cheap cash grab for Paramount, a cavalcade of popcorn-throwing shockers that made enough of a profit that they offset some the losses from the studio’s more ambitious releases. Turning Friday the 13th into a major production was always a bad idea, threatening to give cheap, schlocky, b-movie entertainment too much money, too much oversight, and too many complications.
Give any filmmaker 9 months, $2 million, and free reign to go as gory and crazy as possible. That Friday the 13th movie would make money, and even if fans didn’t care for it, the whole franchise was built on making huge and sweeping changes with every film anyhow. The next filmmaker can do whatever the hell they want too. Fans will pick and choose whatever bits they like and they will add it to the mythology, and Jason Voorhees will live again as the patchwork horror monstrosity he always was.
Yes, the Friday the 13th movies have been cursed, but it’s a curse that could have been lifted at any time. Hopefully it’s not too late to bring Jason back from (development) Hell.
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Top Photos: Paramount Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.