Hell To Page: Friday the 13th Church of the Divine Psychopath

Welcome to “Hell to Page!” This is a new column at Ghastly Grinning in which we look back on the expanded worlds of our favorite horror films. From novelizations to tie-in books, spinoffs, comic book adaptations, crossovers and more. If it made it to the page, it could be covered here. Sometimes novelizations rehash the story and don’t add much, it’s true. But every so often, there’s a great writer with a great take, one who expands on the things we didn’t see in the movie and allows us to look at the material with new eyes and offers an entirely new way to experience the story. Sometimes there are spinoff novels and comics so good they could and should have been actual sequels.

And yes, sometimes you can tell when a writer is phoning it in, when they’re grateful to have the gig, but their passion just isn’t in the material. Both are worth looking at. Either way, this is an endlessly interesting way to expand on the stories we’ve come to love on the screen.

In this first installment, we’ll be looking at Friday the 13th: Church of the Divine Psychopath. This was the first of the Black Flame Friday the 13th novels in the 2000s, following their novelization of Freddy vs. Jason. Even that was hardly the first time Mr. Voorhees had appeared in a novel. The first three movies saw novelizations, as well as the sixth, and the early ‘90s saw a series of Young Adult books from author Eric Morse, all about different people being possessed by Jason’s evil or using it to cover their own tracks—which only made sense in the days following Jason Goes to Hell.

The book is written by Scott Philips, who has written a slew of different books and comics and even screenplays over the years, most notably the screenplay for 1997’s underrated Marc Dacascos direct-to-video action vehicle, Drive.

Church of the Divine Psychopath was the start of a new series of original stories set within the world of Friday the 13th, geared toward adults and featuring the classic flesh and blood Jason that people knew and loved. Black Flame even launched two separate series of Jason books at the same time, with Friday the 13th and Jason X books being released simultaneously, along with series based on A Nightmare on Elm Street and Final Destination as well. It was a remarkable time to be a fan of these franchises and this kind of book.

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Of the five original Black Flame Friday the 13th novels, Church of the Divine Psychopath remains—for me, at least—the best. It’s not as hokey as one would expect from its embracingly B-Movie title, but it’s still just as pulpy as it should be. It reads like an ‘80s splatterpunk book with Jason at the center, where he belongs. The concept, though, is what really sells it. Church of the Divine Psychopath has a great hook.

I probably don’t need to explain to anyone that there was a bit of a moral crusade against the Friday the 13th franchise in the ‘80s. Parents groups and Christian activists rallied against the violent franchise, spearheaded by Siskel and Ebert’s very public condemnation of the brand. Cast and crew member’s phone numbers and addresses were given out on air so that they could be hounded and harassed by people who were encouraged to tell them just how ashamed of themselves they should be.

But there was another extreme at that time, and it’s never really gone away. Some evangelical types saw a message in the Friday the 13th movies. They saw Jason as someone who was weeding out the sinful. And even now many, many fans can only see the franchise as a virtue-cemented moral high ground. That these movies are about people doing drugs, having sex and getting killed for it and that only the good, respectable young women who don’t engage in that kind of behavior are allowed to live. It’s a massive generalization, one that’s contradicted numerous times just within the franchise itself—the heroines in both the first and second movies are implied to have sex and the ninth protagonist literally has a child—but it’s the perception that matters.

And it’s that perception that Church of the Divine Psychopath plays with in really smart and interesting ways. The book opens as any standard Friday might. Jason has been bested by teens and found himself chained to the bottom of the lake, but he breaks free and causes more havoc and the status quo of Crystal Lake remains unshaken. Then, we’re quickly introduced to our heroine, Kelly.

This is a very different girl than we’re used to seeing for most of the sequels. She’s far from meek, far from quiet, feeling more like a combination of Part 2’s Ginny and Part VI’s Megan—two of the best heroines the series has seen up to this point. Except she’s far hornier, she loves to drink, loves to smoke, and is far from virtuous in any kind of way. And that’s completely the point, given the direction things are about to take. We meet her as she’s headed to church, and she’s only there because she wants to sleep with the priest. Badly.

His name is Father Eric Long. He’s in his forties, handsome, and he has a way of speaking that just draws people in. He’s an intense presence and she’s drawn to something like that. The book even goes out of its way to point out that this isn’t just lust, either. She has a tremendous amount of respect for the man, despite her best intentions. She actually cares about this guy.

There’s only one person in this whole congregation she really likes, and that’s a teenager named Meredith who seems to idolize Kelly. She wants to be just like her and Kelly repeatedly explains that she’s a terrible role model, but it doesn’t matter. Meredith can’t help thinking Kelly is absolutely the coolest and always gravitates toward her whenever Kelly shows up to church events.

Long explains that the church is being moved to the now-vacant grounds of Crystal Lake. And that’s where we get in to the basic setup. Long is a little more Old Testament than we’ve been led to believe. He is taking everyone within the church up to the lake under the guise of a retreat to celebrate the opening of their brand-new church, only to actually plan to unleash Jason on them as a foolproof way to weed out the sinful among his followers.

Obviously, things get out of hand pretty quick. But the terrifying and really smart thing about this is that once Jason starts slicing his way through everyone and not just those with the most impure thoughts, Long never once questions his decision or realizes that he’s made a mistake. When Jason kills his best and oldest friends instead of the people he knows are engaging in sinful behavior, he barely bats an eye and reacts by basically thinking “Huh, I didn’t know Sharon and Jim were dirty sinners unfit to walk the earth, imagine that.” He’s the villain of the piece, without a doubt, Jason is just a force of nature doing what Jason does.

At the same time all of this is going on, we’re also dealing with a SWAT team officer who’s been shaken and dealing with some degree of PTSD after a mission that went bad and left the wrong people dead. When the shit hits the fan at Crystal Lake, he and his crew are called back in to put Jason down, but there’s a very real and present question of whether or not he’s ready for something like this. While the SWAT stuff is interesting, if a bit generic, the book really shines when it’s focused on this insane, Jason worshipping cult. It’s scary not just because of Long’s willingness to sacrifice his flock, but in their sheer and desperate willingness to be sacrificed.

There’s a great question at the heart of Church of the Divine Psychopath that seems to ask how possible it is to save people who ultimately don’t want to be saved. Kelly is looking to do whatever she can to survive. She wants no part of this and she takes center stage as a resourceful and capable heroine. Then we’ve got the SWAT team rushing in to save people from Jason, only to find that these people have no intention of being saved, but that they will even fight back against it. The last third of this book is basically the equivalent of dropping Jason into Red State, and I love it for that. It works so well.

Church of the Divine Psychopath doesn’t just hold a satirical mirror to organized religion and evangelical Christianity. It’s smarter than that, I think. It really looks into what makes a good person and the fact that those questions run much deeper than the superficially “good” or “bad” things that someone has done in their life. After all, Kelly’s exactly the kind of person that Long would be disgusted with, but she’s a relatable and endearing heroine. He, on the other hand, is a real piece of shit.

The way these questions can eat at someone brought up in that religious environment are best embodied in Meredith, once it turns out that she doesn’t just idolize Kelly, she’s actually in love with her. Meredith has been holding this to herself, being a deeply religious teen still living under her parents’ roof. She knows that homosexuality is a sin, and her belief in that is unwavering to the point that Kelly has to talk Meredith into even attempting to try and survive.

Meredith’s situation also highlights Long’s hypocrisy. She’s regularly abused and assaulted by the priest’s right-hand man, Rickles, a former marine. This is a man with no good qualities whatsoever. He is pure, despicable trash, but he is loyal to Father Long so the good priest is forgiving. He needs him, because he needs muscle, and so he willingly gives him underage girls as long as he gets what he needs out of them. It’s disgusting, it’s the thing that really reveals just how terrible of a person is behind this whole operation and allows for to get those Dr. Crews archetypes times 1000, giving us characters that we cannot wait to see come face-to-machete with Jason.

Friday the 13th: Church of the Divine Psychopath is often pulpy, even crude in its writing, but it’s also smart. There are some surprising, intentional threads that don’t feel out of place and develop organically and it never loses sight of what it is ultimately about. This was a fantastic start to the Black Flame Friday books. It is currently out of print, and even though it’s only been out of print for a little over a decade, it still tends to be a little pricey, currently going for $47 on Amazon. If you’re on the lookout, though, I’d keep my eye on that price. One of the most bizarre things about collecting these rare and out-of-print books is that they can be $200 one week and $20 the next.

If you can find a copy, if by some miracle you come across one at a used bookstore, definitely pick it up. It is one of the best original Friday the 13th novels to date. And even if you don’t, that’s also what this column is for, in a way. To highlight those rare, bizarre and sometimes incredibly intriguing corners of our favorite franchises that have largely gone unnoticed.