This article originally ran on Mike Podgor’s Monsters of Multimedia on April 13, 2018
It goes without saying that most slashers are capable of monstrous feats, but today we ask: when does a slasher truly become a monster? There’s a different answer for each slasher. Freddy Kreuger of the Nightmare on Elm Street series was a monster even before his first movie, a child killer turned dream demon attacking young people in the sanctity of their dreams utilizing powers far beyond the ken of mortal man. Michael Myers of the Halloween series, on the other hand, is a trickier subject we’ll get back to later. In honor of today’s date, we’ll be exploring the star of most of the Friday the 13th films: Jason Voorhees.
Mister Voorhees, like most famous characters, has been the subject of a wealth of ancillary material exploring his origins and adventures beyond the silver screen. While these may offer untold insights to the question at hand, we’ll be ignoring all of them and focus only on the main series of films. We will be disregarding the reboot, which I saw but cannot remember a single thing about, and focus on each film from the original Friday the 13th to Jason X, including the original Jason’s final filmic outing, Freddy Vs. Jason.
The first Friday the 13th is very light on Jason Voorhees, focusing instead on the efforts of his mother, Pamela, and her quest to avenge his untimely death. He and his death are obliquely referred to early in the film but it’s not until Pamela arrives on screen that we learn his tragic backstory. All she really divulges is that he wasn’t a very good swimmer, though a pregnant pause during her reminiscing reveals that there’s more to the boy than she’s relaying though this lack of swimming skill is all we know about him by the end of this movie. Once Pamela starts stalking the protagonist Alice, she does start evoking Jason, but unless Jason has some sort of psychic ability this is not the man himself. After she’s dealt with, Alice does have a nightmare where a rotted and malformed Jason drags her into the depths of Camp Crystal Lake, but this is the extent of Jason’s appearances in this movie. Basically, he’s not in this entry at all and unless he does have some sort of psychic ability the only bearing he has on movie’s events is that he died and needs avenging. Alice is haunted by her vision, claiming that he’s still at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake.
Alice’s fears become a reality at the opening of Friday the 13th Part II. He’s revealed himself to avenge his mother, and gained some notoriety as, well, not an urban legend. Let’s call it a rural myth1. Stories of his survival have permeated the nearby town which is filled with people who want nothing to do with the lake. Despite this, a new camp has formed and it’s filled with potential victims for our man Jason. When he finally does appear, he seems to be mostly human. He is stymied by a swift blow to a groin, and later by a structurally unsound chair.
Jason’s origins are given no thought. It’s merely accepted that he survived his drowning, though final girl Ginny does attempt to get into his head and posits that he’s intellectually stunted. It’s also claimed that he wandered into the woods and has lived there for some time, stealing what he needed and hunting for food when necessary. We do find that he’s built a house for himself, complete with a window and toilet. It can only be assumed that Pamela Voorhees never learned this, as her son’s survival may have nipped her murderous impulses in the bud. There is the possibility that she did know and went about her murders regardless. In any case, taking only the information on-screen into account, we’re left to believe that Jason is still only a man and not yet a monster according to the criteria of this site (i.e. fundamentally inhuman in some way) even though he did kill a dog.
One lingering question does remain: like the first film, Jason returns after being dealt with to lunge at the final girl. Did this scene actually occur? The dog is in that scene and I’m reasonably sure it was dead so it may have all been in Ginny’s head.
The third film, which is imaginatively titled Friday the 13th Part III, acts as if that final scene did not occur. More importantly, it adds the all-important hockey mask to Jason’s motif. Other than that, the contributions to the discussion of whether or not he’s a monster are few. We do learn that Jason had gone after this movie’s final girl, Chris, at some point between the first two movies. Other than that, Jason’s abilities remain mostly human if accelerated. After being stabbed in the leg, Jason hobbles for a little while before recovering and while he’s pursuing his prey a number of things slow him down. Jason’s abilities become inhuman when he is able to survive being hanged, and is only stopped with an ax to the noggin. This may be the first hint of Jason’s burgeoning monster status, or it may simply be a symptom of the monster he may have always been.
There’s another thing to consider: Chris is the third woman in a row who immediately had a psychotic break upon dealing with a member of the Voorhees clan. Jason may very well have some sort of psychic effect that kicks in after he’s defeated in a last-ditch attempt to incapacitate them, or it may be a way of weakening them so that he can more easily pick them off later. If he truly is psychic, he may well have been speaking to his mother in the first film. One could also chalk this visions up as hysteric breaks after experiencing heavy trauma. Jason’s maskless visage also differs from what we say in the second film, and while the above screencap is from a fantasy sequence it does mesh with a brief look we had gotten at Jason earlier. Does this confirm that everything we had seen in the second movie in the final scene happened in Ginny’s head? There are no answers. On a side note, in the first act they placed several full cans of gasoline in a barn but these were not used to thwart Jason and this annoyed me.
Back to the task at hand: Jason may be a monster at this point, as he oscillates between human and superhuman levels when it comes to surviving damage. He may also have some sort of psychic ability. Onward to the fourth film.
The fourth film, erroneously subtitled The Final Chapter, begins with Jason rising from the dead. He heals from the ax to his noggin and just keeps on killing. This is also the film that reveals that Jason has been deformed since childhood, though this has no bearing on his monster status. A simple deformity doesn’t make you a monster unless you’re from France2. Jason’s regenerative powers do lend credence to his monster status, though Jason is really no different than Marvel’s Wolverine and he’s generally not regarded as a monster though his body count probably puts Jason’s to shame. We can only decide that Jason is not yet a true monster, especially since he’s still able to be delayed and eventually stopped through mundane means. Indeed, Jason dies once again, this time at the hands of Tommy Jarvis and a machete to the temple.
Tommy Jarvis holds the twin honors of being the first male to stop Jason and being the first person to stop a Voorhees without immediately suffering a post-victory vision. We can only assume by this that Jason was truly killed at this point, though the ending does hint that Tommy himself may soon take on Jason’s mantle. He did hack mercilessly at Jason’s skull despite his sister’s protests. He did it far beyond the point when it was probably necessary to continue, really, and if it had occurred on screen it would have been very gross. This begs the question: did Tommy have this hint of derangement the entire time, or was Jason somehow able to weasel his way into Tommy’s head?
Jason doesn’t even show up in the fifth movie, A New Beginning. In fact, one character mentions that he’s very sensibly been cremated. The movie does lend some credence to the idea that Jason has somehow infiltrated Tommy Jarvis’s mind as the young man is on the border of sanity due to his violent encounter with Jason. This even leads to him donning the mask of this movie’s faux-Jason, seemingly ready to take on the Voorhees mantle. Tommy also has several visions of Jason, but are these some sort of psychosis or is Jason really in Tommy’s mind? If Jason has been able to infiltrate people’s minds throughout the films then he’s been more of a monster than earlier hypothesized, especially if none of of the hallucinations were trauma-induced.
Jason Lives proves that the people of Crystal Lake were not as sensible as previously believed. Jason was not only not cremated, but he was buried inside of a coffin in a marked grave. All three of these decisions are baffling, since you’d at least want to put someone like Jason somewhere he could not be found. This is also the movie when Jason unequivocally attains monster status. He is no longer a man, but an unstoppable rampaging undead force capable of superstrong feats. The only thing able to slow him down is a direct shotgun blast, and even this works only for a moment. Tommy Jarvis, who has also returned and is still troubled but not a slasher, eventually takes Jason down by turning to the occult which involves forcing Jason back to Crystal Lake, since it was his initial resting place, and trapping him at its bottom. This also insinuates that Jason not only died before, but resurrected, which may mean that he has always been undead and that this film’s resurrection merely stripped away his potential psychic abilities and supercharged his physical attributes. After all, this is the first film in which Jason doesn’t appear in a post-victory hallucination. We must continue forward to fully comprehend Jason’s monster status.
We will not find these answers in The New Blood, though it offers ther insights into Jason’s new status. He is able to be revived if freed from his resting place at the bottom of Crystal Lake. Jason’s regenerative powers are not as potent as one may think, since you can tell that time has not been kind to Jason. Not only does he still bear the scars of every injury he’s sustained (ax to the noggin! machete to the temple!) but the ravages of his various deaths. This is also the film that properly introduces psychic powers to the series meaning that Jason may well have had psychic powers in his pre-undead state. I don’t think the next film is going to offer any more information than this one.
A proud man admits when he is wrong, and boy, was I ever wrong about Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes
a Boat Ride Manhattan. Not only do we get a better look at pre-transformation Jason, but we discover that before he emerged from Crystal Lake he was apparently swimming around and grabbing people, like he did with this film’s final girl, Rennie. This makes her the second girl to encounter Jason before Friday the 13th Part II. Child Jason also keeps making psychic contact with Rennie, begging her to keep him from drowning, which more or less confirms that Jason has some level of psychic power. Since this would mean that Jason survived his initial drowning, this would confer monster status to Jason far beyond his first appearance.
This is one of the stranger entries in the series. At one point, Jason has the presence of mind to scare away a gang of youths by showing them his face. They are among the only characters to directly challenge Jason and live without fighting him. The method of Jason’s demise in this film is also rather bizarre. He’s submerged in toxic waste and reverted back to his child form, at which point it’s assumed that he’s dead. Let’s move forward to see how the next movie addresses this.
Jason Goes to Hell answers many questions. In fact, it almost answers all the questions except whether or not Jason had some sort of psychic ability. At the film’s start, Jason has proven to be such a nuisance that the government decides enough is enough and they bomb him to death. In this way, it’s revealed that Jason has some sort of parasite inside of him that can restore Jason’s body so long as his heart is beating. As this is later shown to transform a woman’s body into Jason’s, it could probably do the same with a child’s body. The parasite’s existence is half-explained by the presence of the Necronomicon in the home of Pamela Voorhees, meaning that she most likely turned her son into some sort of Evil Dead Deadite without realizing that it took. Jason also had a sister who probably decided to change her name once her brother and mother became infamous, and she’s part of Jason’s quest to find a new body that can house his essence. Since his only candidates are blood relatives, it becomes a race to find a dagger that will allow one of those relatives to finally stop him. While Jason does momentarily get a new body by taking over his sister’s corpse, his niece manages to do him in and his hockey mask is dragged to hell by Freddy Krueger.
At this point, it seems that Jason was a monster the whole time and his initial vulnerability was due to the fact that he still possessed living tissue. This is backed by the fact that Jason’s temporary vessels possess similar levels of vulnerability as pre-Jason Lives Jason. We have most of our answers, but will continue anyway.
Instead of visiting the next Jason movie, we’ll be looking at Freddy Vs. Jason since it delivers on the promise made by the ending of Jason Goes to Hell. The two slashers went head-to-head in a way that miraculously made some amount of sense. While it added very little to the Jason mythos, it did show us that Jason not only dreams but is vulnerable in them. Jason’s defeat in Jason Goes to Hell also still resulted in a usable body for him to inhabit. There’s also an odd bit about Jason fearing water, but this may simply be a subconscious fear since it only really occurs in his dream.
Jason also shows a weird sense of honor, since he allows the two surviving protagonists to escape after his duel with Freddy. It’s his only truly heroic act, as he and Freddy came to blows since Jason refused to stop killing. He is still a better option than Freddy, since one is a misguided murder man-child and the other victimizes children in their dreams. Also, I think Jason winds up killing most of the protagonists while Freddy maybe kills one person during the entire movie.
Jason X is largely superfluous to this entire thing and we’re only looking at it for completion’s sake. After Jason survives various executions, he’s frozen in the far-flung future of 201X. Even further into the future, he is able to revive himself on a spaceship. While this does reveal that his biology is not that of a normal human, it does little else for this project but make him even more of a monster by infusing him with nanobots.
When did Jason Voorhees achieve monster status? After viewing all the films, we can correctly ascertain that he was always some level of monster. Due to his Necronomicon given powers, he was able to survive far more than a mortal man though he sometimes needed a jolt of electricity to get his heart pumping again. While he did not have super-strength until after his Jason Lives resurrection, he may have had some sort of psychic abilities to compensate. That’s really the only question left, and one we may never know the answer to.
I’m going with yes, though. Jason Voorhees had psychic powers. Thank you for reading.
1. [With apologies to Terry Pratchett, whose book I borrowed this from.]
2. [According to the French, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Phantom of the Opera are both monsters. They’re both just deformed gentleman. I suppose this also applies to the freak shows of yesteryear.]