Jason And Me: Video Store Memories Of FRIDAY THE 13TH

I was always a monster kid. Scooby Doo and My Pet Monster were some of the first cartoons I ever watched. I was lucky enough to grow up in the Universal Monster resurgence of the early ‘90s. Not only did my Dad pick me up the entire collection on VHS, but I had the coloring book, I got the Happy Meals. Those characters were everything to me and formed my introduction to the genre as a whole, alongside classic kids books and TV shows like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? By the time I was in first grade, I was already priding myself on knowing everything there was to know about monsters. How to kill vampires, werewolves, these things were all second nature to me. I’d spend my days in class drawing comics about Dracula.

And around that same time, we had a new kid, Chris, who walked in with a yellow slicker looking exactly like Georgie at the opening of IT, who would wind up becoming one of the absolute best friends of my childhood. I was always excited to get to know the new kids because my town was small and uninteresting unless you wanted to talk about hiking or lobster. I showed him my drawings of Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. And then he looked at me and said, “Well, what about Jason and Freddy?”

I said, “Who?”

He answered. And my whole world changed. He’d seen everything, he explained to me the backstories of the characters, how Jason died, how he came back, and most of it was absolutely wrong because we were seven, but I was completely fascinated, nonetheless. A kid who died in a lake and came back as a vengeful monster. This was my introduction into modern horror at a very early age. I knew nothing about Jason except what I would hear secondhand from friends. Just as he existed in the movies themselves, Jason Voorhees was very much a campfire story to me. And just like most campfire tales, the story as I began to understand it was almost completely different than what it was actually based on.

Having seen not so much as a second of any of the movies, I began to fill in gaps in my own mind. I didn’t know how Jason drowned, but I naturally assumed he’d been out on the ice playing hockey when the lake was frozen over and simply fell through. I’d known of the “ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” sound effect, which I had been told was the sound of the undead Jason’s labored breathing.

I lived for imagining these details. My drawings of the classic monsters were thrown to the side as my art now became devoted to artist’s conceptions of Jason, vague sketches of what he might look like, like renderings of Bigfoot based on secondhand accounts.

And then, finally, Chris came over for my first-ever sleepover and we somehow convinced my mom to let me rent the original Friday the 13th. She did pause once to ask what it was rated, but we lied through our teeth and said “I don’t know.” I was beyond excited. I couldn’t wait to finally see Jason in action. Right from the beginning, I heard that classic sound effect I had already memorized in my own mind. I knew what it meant. Jason was near.

We were seeing the kills through his eyes, but that didn’t matter. That was OK. Jason was on the screen doing his thing and I knew I’d get a good look at him eventually, even if the movie made me wait for it. More kills racked up. I was seeing gore on the screen that I had never seen before. When Annie’s throat was slit against a tree, it traumatized me so much that as many slashers as I would go on to rent as a kid, I could never watch anyone get their throat cut because of that. I still think it’s a gross one in general.

Then, finally, we started nearing the end. Alice was the last one left. A kindly older woman pulled up in her jeep (a jeep that, at seven, I didn’t recognize at all) and smiled warmly at our heroine, insisting everything would be all right. I turned to my friend and grinned. “She’s gonna get it,” I said with full, unwavering confidence.

She began to talk about a poor boy who drowned in the lake. I knew this story. I had it memorized. I knew what it meant. He was coming! Jason was, finally, on his way. I’d been waiting over an hour for this moment—Hell, I’d been waiting months for this moment, since I’d first heard his name.

And then she kept talking, brandished her knife, and it all became clear. My heart sank and my blood boiled. I felt a child’s tantrum boiling up inside me and the only thing that suppressed it was shock. I’d been cheated. Betrayed by my own friend. But I at least began to understand, even in the moment, that my friends didn’t always watch movies the way I did. They didn’t focus on the details, think about them long after they were over or, in this case, even really pay attention to which movie in the franchise was which.

When Jason popped out of the lake at the end, I cheered. And even though the filmmakers insist it wasn’t the intent, my seven year-old ass absolutely believed the ending to be setting up the sequel. I knew exactly how many other movies there were. I would gaze at them in the video store, trying to determine the plot strictly from the box art. I knew there were several sequels. But I didn’t trust them anymore.

I felt so betrayed by my viewing of the original Friday the 13th, in fact, that I skipped right to Jason Goes to Hell for the next one because his name was in the goddamn title. I had to watch it at someone else’s house because it was so much newer and the packaging did nothing but insist upon how gory it was. I’d been captivated by the front cover for months, from the flames, to the demonic worms to the metallic mask. I couldn’t wait to see this one. I knew Jason would actually show up this time. I sat down to watch it later that night and right from the opening moments, this thing was exactly what I had always imagined a Friday the 13th to be. I was beyond excited.

A minute later, Jason was blown to pieces.

I kept waiting, waiting, waiting until he came back for two more minutes at the end only to be dragged down to Hell and that was apparently that. Even a movie called Jason Goes to Hell couldn’t be trusted to give me Jason. I was so stunned and angered by that that I probably wouldn’t have even continued on with the franchise had it not been for a little movie called Scream.

At the same house I got to see Jason Goes to Hell, on the same couch, I saw Scream and was blown away. But the moment that Ghostface mentions in his twisted trivia game that “Mrs. Voorhees was the original killer. Jason didn’t show up until the sequel,” I immediately took note. I finally had confirmation that if I tiptoed back into the waters of Friday the 13th, I would find Jason, and the franchise would not in fact turn out to be one huge, elaborate con as I had begun to suspect.

I rented Part 2, got more excited, but man, I thought, how come he wasn’t wearing the hockey mask? Keep in mind, I still didn’t “get” it. Any of it. I was eight. By Part III, I started to really get into it, but it took until the last half hour or so to give me that Jason I’d dreamed of seeing. And then, working my way down the line, I reached the entry that had always captivated me most when studying the Friday the 13th tapes in the video store. The image of a knife stabbing through Jason’s hockey mask, blood pooling out from underneath it, was so simple and so evocative.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter floored me. It was everything I’d imagined I’d wanted in a Jason movie, yes, but it was so much more than that. It had all the elements in place to make me truly fall in love with this franchise as a kid. Jason was front and center and mean as hell. The deaths were memorable and numerous and started right off the bat. But most importantly, it starred a kid. A kid who was my age and who loved horror as much as I did. Like me, this kid read Fangoria and had started to learn what special effects makeup was and how to excel at it.

Tommy Jarvis was the kid I dreamed of being. I loved masks and makeup and thought they were cool as hell and here was a kid already doing professional quality work at my age. More than that, he uses that knowledge of makeup and that love of horror movies to outsmart the killer. This kid gets to be the one to actually kill Jason at the end of the movie. It was absolute wish fulfillment for someone who loved horror and was roughly the same age as this boy who was, essentially, the protagonist of the movie. Considering how many kids read Fangoria and loved the Friday the 13th franchise, even if they had to work a little harder to see it, the decision to make Tommy that age was kind of ingenious.

Once I found Final Chapter, that was it. It took me forever to keep moving forward with the franchise after that. When I would walk down to the video store every Friday afternoon, like clockwork, I would usually walk out with either Puppet Master, Waxwork or Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, only rarely branching out. I didn’t even feel compelled to keep going because I just loved this one so much.

But Chris, that friend that had gotten me into all of it in the first place, insisted that Part V: A New Beginning was his favorite of the bunch. It had the best kills, he said. He told me that Jason fell onto a bed of spikes (technically true, I guess) and that when Jason’s mask was knocked off, his face was made of nothing but blood (not remotely true at all) and having already fallen in love with The Final Chapter, I could not have been more excited.

I swear he wasn’t doing this on purpose.

When we got to the end of A New Beginning I just turned and stared at him blankly, while he insisted he’d forgotten that part, and I believed him. Thankfully, it didn’t keep me from continuing on with my journey watching through this franchise. The next one was called Jason Lives and I trusted the fact that there were Jason movies that actually had Jason in them, by this point. I carried on and on watched my way through each further film, consecutively. But it’s because of that weird, jarring initial distrust (and my tendency to keep renting Puppet Master over and over) that I wound up taking years to work my way through the Friday the 13th franchise.

The things that drove me crazy about it when I was seven are things I love about it now. Friday the 13th is a phenomenon. It’s a little movie that haphazardly fell into becoming a franchise. It’s so weirdly diverse and yet you can expect the same basic things out of every single entry. I absolutely love that about it. Renting that original Friday the 13th, as much as it made my blood boil at the time, is what made me start browsing the horror aisle of the local video store and—because of that—is really what broadened my horizons and truly kicked off my love of horror in the first place.

Yes, I had been a monster kid and I had seen the classics, but I may never have fallen into the genre, into the slashers and monsters and forbidden stuff I wasn’t necessarily encouraged to see, had it not been for Friday the 13th.  Those memories of standing in that aisle, being memorized by the box art but unsure if I could trust any of them to actually include Jason were frustrating at the time, but I look back on them with incredible fondness. I remember how that video store smelled. I remember when it briefly served pizza and how disastrously that turned out. And I remember walking down there every Friday after school, excited to rent the next movie in the franchise, the next Jason flick I hadn’t seen yet.

And walking out with The Final Chapter instead.