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Every slasher villain has an object, an event, a time or a place they’re associated with. Freddy Krueger has nightmares. Michael Myers has All Hallows’ Eve. Leatherface has a rural Southern abattoir. Jason Voorhees has summer camp, but he also has a number, 13, and a day, Friday, to his name; you can steer clear of supervised children’s leisure programs settled on a lakeside in the middle of nowhere, but you can’t avoid the calendar, and if you can’t avoid the calendar, then you can’t avoid Jason.
Picture it: You come home exhausted from a late-night gym session, and all you want is to hop in the shower, freshen up, catch up on your favorite TV shows and settle into bed. So you shut the bathroom door, crank up the hot water and start belting out songs from your running mix, still stuck in your head even though the treadmill is but a distant memory in your mind. But you hear something, a “thump” perhaps, or an errant creaking floorboard; you hear the squeak of an errant door hinge and you pull back the shower curtain, assuming that your significant other is the source of all the creepy noises echoing through your house. You’re greeted by a raggedy man in a hockey mask whose driving goal in life is to show you how sharp his machete is. You didn’t check the date. Most a pity.
The slasher isn’t a bygone horror niche in 2017, but it’s less ubiquitous today than it was even a decade ago, and also less effective as a tradition of horror. Maybe Scream took all of the fun out of slashing, but this isn’t quite true; MTV’s reboot of the Scream franchise got off to a limp in its first season and improved in its second, while American Horror Story and Scream Queens, both products of Ryan Murphy, sustain classic slasher tropes in exasperatingly self-aware fashion. Meanwhile, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre saga has added two new entries to its tangled canon in the last four years (including the upcoming Leatherface), there’s a new Child’s Play movie available to stream on Netflix, Hollywood is still churning out Hatchet films, and David Gordon Green is inexplicably directing a follow-up to John Carpenter’s Halloween, opening in 2018. (And that’s to say nothing of Christopher B. Landon’s Happy Death Day, out Friday.)
So the slasher isn’t dead, and horny, rule-breaking teenagers aren’t safe from sudden and bloody death at the hands of a masked psycho. But just as Freddy loses his power the more that people forget him, so too has the slasher category lost much of its cultural cachet as horror has evolved, adapted and shed its old skin to take on entirely new forms. Horror just doesn’t need killers like the ‘80s icons of old anymore.
That doesn’t make them any less iconic, though, and among them, Jason’s iconography remains strongest. In part, that’s credit to simplicity in design; Jason is in many ways the perfect slasher, a lumbering, relentless, omnipresent killing machine, silently stalking the woods where we spent our summers growing up. He is glacial, but inevitable, death incarnate. He hides his face behind a mask, much like Michael Myers, except Jason’s chosen disguise blunts any recognizable traces of humanity. Put more straightforwardly, Jason looks “cool” in the primal, terrifying ways that only a slasher can, a hulking, expressionless, raggedy monster with an aesthetic that’s instantly memorable, though of course memorability is subjective. (Freddy’s look is memorable, too, what with the claws and the Cosby sweater and the worn-down fedora.)
Slashers are more than the sum of their style, though, and that’s where Jason has an edge over his ’80s peers: He has no constraints. Freddy can only get you in your dreams. Michael only does his thing at the end of October. But you can never let your guard down with Jason; he’ll pop up any month of the year he feels like. The 13th falls on two Fridays in 2017: The first in January, and the second today. It’ll occur twice a year up to 2020, too, giving Jason more opportunities to catch unsuspecting victims by surprise. Who would expect Jason to appear during Winter holiday festivities, or at the onset of pumpkin spice season, or in the doldrums of Spring? Jason has no moorings confining him to specific spaces or occasions. He’s everywhere. He’s anywhere. He’s as happy to kill you around Thanksgiving as he is in June.
And that’s scary as hell. The 13th falling on a Friday is bad enough luck on its own merits, should you be the superstitious type; tack on a Jason Voorhees rampage, and “luck” doesn’t matter. Hitting every red light on your commute when you’re already late for work is bad luck. Haplessly stumbling onto Jason’s radar when he’s on the warpath, that’s basically a death sentence handed down from on high. It’s fate.
Maybe staying relevant is easy when you’re functionally immortal. Maybe it’s easier still when you’re also a massive influence on an entire genre sub-category. Jason’s relevance is assured by his symbolic trappings more than his stubborn deathlessness. Neglect your calendar at your own peril.
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