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The entire Friday the 13th story finally explained

In the wake of John Carpenter's 1978 horror smash Halloween, studios attempted to cash in on the new slasher movie craze — and in 1980, the next masked killer to darkly enchant audiences arrived in Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th. With practical special effects that have mostly aged well over time, as well as production design that's turned Friday the 13th films into horror movie time capsules, the franchise's following has only grown over the years.

Friday the 13th is one of the first and few horror film series to feature a bait-and-switch killer, as well as a copycat down the line. It also established many of the current slasher movie tropes that continue to persist — sex, drug use, and death are almost always linked in Friday the 13th. The frazzled old man with a warning to young folks started here.

According to mythology, the number 13 has long been considered unlucky. But thanks to the Friday the 13th franchise, horror lovers around the world have reclaimed this day as a celebration. That being said, after all these years and so many sequels, it can be hard to remember what really happened in all the Friday the 13th movies. Let's dive into Crystal Lake and take a look at the entire Friday the 13th story, finally explained.

Friday the 13th

In the original Friday the 13th, audiences first hear the tale of young Jason Voorhees, who drowned at Camp Crystal Lake while two counselors who were supposed to be watching him had sex. Those two counselors were murdered, and the camp shuttered. Two decades later, as the reopened camp's tragic reputation continues to precede it, Annie (Robbi Morgan) is a new counselor, hitchhiking to Crystal Lake and not heeding the warning of Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), who tells her the site is cursed. Sure enough, Annie is the first of the fresh crop of counselors to be killed by an unseen assailant who chases her through the woods. At camp, Counselor Alice (Adrienne King) and camp owner Steve Christie (Peter Brouwer) fight after she breaks up with him. Smart girl, because every other counselor hooking up gets brutally murdered, sometimes in the act.

Friday the 13th franchise dabblers sometimes forget that Jason Voorhees, the iconic hockey mask-wearing antagonist for the majority of the series, isn't the killer here. Instead, the machete-wielding murderer is Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), who objects to the site of her son's death reopening to the public. Twenty years of grief have curdled into madness, and Mrs. Voorhees hears her son's voice urging her to kill — the refrain that inspired the "ki-ki-ki-ki Ma-ma-ma-ma" music motif that shapes every installment. Alice decapitates Mrs. Voorhees and survives, but after one of the great jump-scare endings in horror history, we're left with the terrifying notion that Jason still lives in Crystal Lake.

Friday the 13th Part 2

At the end of Friday the 13th, Alice has a nightmare in which she's attacked by the rotting corpse of young Jason Voorhees, who emerges from Crystal Lake. She claims this event actually happened, but police find no trace of a body in the water. Two months later, Alice remains haunted by the night she killed Mrs. Voorhees. Little does she know that Jason (Steve Dash) did survive and has been living in the woods. He stalks Alice to her home, leaving Mrs. Voorhees' head in her fridge before killing her. 

Just as it's often forgotten that Jason isn't the killer in the first Friday the 13th, it's also frequently overlooked that Jason's trademark hockey mask doesn't make its first appearance until the third installment. Part two features Sackcloth Jason, who goes after the new crop of counselors near the original site of what they now call Camp Blood. The legend of Jason Voorhees has only grown over the years, with head counselor Paul (John Furey) explaining how Jason never actually drowned and lived feral in the woods. Adding a hammer, a spear, and a knife to his machete, Jason stalks and murders the counselors until only Ginny (Amy Steele) is left. She finds his shrine to his mother with her decapitated head front and center and tries to pretend she's Pamela Voorhees, but Jason doesn't fall for it. Ginny almost dies at his hands, waking up in an ambulance with no sign of her colleague Paul. 

Friday the 13th Part 3

We have two big changes for Jason Voorhees (Richard Brooker) come Friday the 13th Part 3 — starting with the debut of his hockey mask, which elevates Jason from a campy figure to a truly terrifying one. This is the first installment in which a camp setting and counselors doesn't drive the plot. Instead, we meet Chris (Dana Kimmell) who was attacked by a masked figure years before in the woods near her home on Crystal Lake. Chris confronts her trauma by returning to the scene with her friends, hoping this will help her heal. Instead, Chris' friends antagonize a bunch of bikers who follow them to Chris' house and set fire to the barn. A wounded Jason had been hiding there healing, and emerges to kill each character one by one. During Chris' final confrontation with Jason, he reveals his face to her, confirming he's the one who stalked her years ago. She plants an axe in his head, and Jason is left for dead. 

This 3D film was released among a glut of early '80s 3D horror sequels, including Jaws 3D and Amityville 3D, but it does feature at least one unique twist — the cast includes an African American man, biker Ali (Nick Savage), who shatters the "first to die" trope and is killed by Jason last. 

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

After his seeming death in Friday the 13th Part 3, Jason is taken to the Higgins Haven morgue where he revives and escapes (but not before killing again in newly inventive ways, like with a scalpel and a hacksaw). Crystal Lake beckons, and Jason makes his way back home.  

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter introduces audiences to Tommy (Corey Feldman) and his sister Trish (Kimberly Beck), who are visiting their Crystal Lake summer home and meet a rowdy group of high schoolers hanging out in a neighboring house for the weekend. Tommy is a quirky kid obsessed with creature features, and even makes his own monster masks. 

As Jason's killing spree inevitably brings him to Tommy and Trish's house, the quick-thinking Tommy fights back using everything he's heard about Jason Voorhees. He shaves his head, covers his face with white powder, and deepens his eyes with black makeup, attempting to appeal to the child in Jason by reminding the masked killer of himself at a young age. This gives Trish a chance to use Jason's machete against him, revealing Jason's monstrous face onscreen for the first time. After Trish fails to kill Jason, Tommy picks up the machete and hacks at him over and over again; in the end, after Jason is finally "killed" once more, a traumatized Tommy looks into the camera in a way that suggests he might never recover.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

Witnessing and committing so much extreme carnage at such a young age severely damages Tommy Jarvis (John Shepard) for the long term. Five years after the events of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Tommy is still under severe post-traumatic stress, experiencing flashbacks, extreme anxiety, and hyper-vigilance. He's enrolled in a rural mental health treatment facility where the staff of Pinehurst Halfway House can help him get a better handle on his past. But on Tommy's first day, patients Vic (Mark Venturini) and Joey (Dominick Brascia) get into an altercation and Vic murders Joey with an axe. This does not bode well for anyone. 

Soon, employees and patients alike are under attack by a killer wearing a hockey mask who they all assume to be Jason Voorhees (Tom Varga), far from home and here for Tommy. The hockey mask has blue stripes instead of red, which is a clue the killer isn't who he appears to be — and in fact might be Tommy. In the end, it's revealed that Joey's father Roy (Dick Wieand), the paramedic called to collect his own dead son, had a psychotic break after the murder and copycatted Jason because of Tommy's history.

A New Beginning features a record three survivors: Tommy, Pam (Melanie Kinnaman), and Reggie (Shavar Ross), Reggie being one of the only African-American characters to survive an entire horror film. It also foreshadows the events of Part 6 with Tommy's flashbacks and flash-forwards.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

As predicted in A New Beginning, Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) cannot leave well enough alone. He finds Jason's (C.J. Graham and Dan Bradley) grave in Crystal Lake, digs it up, and puts a metal spike through Jason's rotting corpse — but, this being Friday the 13th, it has the opposite of its desired effect when a bolt of lightning hits the spike and reanimates Jason, who resumes stalking Tommy. Crystal Lake has been renamed Forest Green thanks to Jason's terrible legacy, and the police department refuses to listen to Tommy, believing his past mental health issues are responsible for his dire warnings. The sheriff's daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) is an independent woman who holds her own counsel, and is the only one who believes Tommy, deciding to help him. 

Jason has made his way back to the site of his original murder, now called Camp Forest Green, where for the first time in Friday the 13th history children are already there for the summer. Jason scares the kids but doesn't hurt them, giving Tommy time to lure him out to the water where Tommy wraps him in chains and drowns him again at the bottom of the lake formerly known as Crystal.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

In the Friday the 13th film that was supposed to be nominated for an Oscar (for real), we meet Tina Shepard (Lar Park Lincoln), a telekinetic girl who accidentally killed her abusive father by drowning him in Crystal Lake. She's understandably traumatized by what she did, and years later, her therapist Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser) pressures Tina and her mom into returning to Crystal Lake to confront the incident. Or so he says. What he's really trying to do is understand the scope of Tina's powers by triggering her. Experiencing a fit of grief in the place where her father drowned, Tina senses a presence and sends out her energy thinking it's her father; instead, it's Jason (Kane Hodder), who breaks free from Tommy Jarvis' chains. Next door, a group of kids are celebrating a birthday, and Tina meets hunky Nick (Kevin Blair). They get together, giving Tina brief respite from violence. 

After Jason kills everyone except Tina and Nick, Tina has an epic showdown with Jason during which her powers are on full display. She unmasks Jason to reveal the grotesque effect that all these years underwater have had, after which the ghost of her father helps chain Jason to the lake floor once more. Friday the 13th: The New Blood was ahead of its time in that a sexually active woman (and her partner) survives to the end, predating Scream by eight years. The New Blood is also the one in which Jason's notorious sleeping bag murder takes place. 

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

The eighth Friday the 13th is a two-for-one. The first half of Jason Takes Manhattan takes place on a cruise ship taking Crystal Lake's graduating seniors on their class trip to the Big Apple. Little do they know that another boat on the lake got its anchor crossed with wires underwater, sending out an electrical current that zaps Jason's chains and reanimates him once again. He climbs aboard the cruise ship and kills the seniors without anyone even suspecting it's him — except a drunken deckhand that everyone disregards. Once Jason properly reveals himself, the survivors take an emergency raft to Manhattan's shore, not knowing the killer has followed them. Rennie (Jenson Daggett) and company are set upon by various seedy New Yorkers, and Jason even ends up rescuing her from being assaulted by two men who also non-consensually injected her with heroin. 

As it turns out, Rennie has a past with Jason: she almost drowned as a child and was convinced it was Jason who pulled her underwater. In the end, as Jason drowns in toxic goo, flushing him back out to Crystal Lake, Rennie is finally able to put that childhood trauma in its place. While every other Friday the 13th uses the "ki-ki-ki ma-ma-ma" aural motif from the first film, Jason Takes Manhattan features a similar "jay-jay-jay son-son-son" refrain that puts it outside the Crystal Lake stories. 

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

Just as The Final Chapter was far from the end of Friday the 13th, the franchise's ninth installment, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, would not be the last we'd hear from Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder). In this chapter, the FBI intercepts Jason on his way back to Crystal Lake and definitively kills him — except then, the medical examiner (Richard Gant) feels an ungodly compulsion to take a bite out of Jason's still-beating heart. This Cronenbergian body horror setup leads to a Friday the 13th featuring a spirit Jason who takes over bodies using a fetus-like creature to infect them. 

Jason Goes to Hell introduces a new supernatural element to the franchise saga, revealing that only a member of Jason's bloodline can kill him, and only with a special dagger. This feat falls to Jason's half-neice Jessica (Kari Keegan), as spirit Jason is trying to get into her infant baby's body to be born again. Jessica stabs Jason with the magical blade, releasing the souls of all Jason's victims, who'd been trapped in purgatory all this time. At the end, Jason's mask is all that remains... until Freddy Krueger's claws emerge from Hell and drag it down, along with Jason's body. 

Jason X

In the most absurd chapter of the Friday the 13th franchise, Jason X takes us not only deep into the future, but into outer space. As the story opens, Earth has been ravaged by overpopulation, war, and climate change, and scientists from Earth 2 are on a field trip to take samples. They discover the cryogenically frozen Jason in the Crystal Lake Research Facility where he'd been captured, and they bring his body on board their ship Grendel. Jason X basically pretends Jason Goes to Hell never happened, and Jason was frozen 445 years ago. 

Jason thaws out aboard the ship as an increasingly convoluted plot that draws heavily from Alien and Terminator unfolds, leading to Jason killing almost every member of the crew. Jason fights an android, KM 14 (Lisa Ryder), who badly injures and almost kills him — but of course, yet again, he isn't quite dead. Earth 2 also has a Crystal Lake, and the last we see of Jason is his shuttle pod crashing into the lake as two youngsters go to check out what just fell from the sky. 

Freddy vs. Jason

The epic serial killer monster mashup teased by Jason Goes to Hell heralded a new dynamic for 2000s horror movies that would combine previously competing franchises. In Freddy vs. Jason, child molester and serial killer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) can no longer haunt people's dreams because nobody remembers him. In Hell, he poses as Pamela Voorhees and awakens Jason's (Ken Kirzinger) human form in order to help reintroduce fear — and help himself get new victims. Jason's "job" is to remind the folks of Springwood of Freddy's reign of terror. But it doesn't go as planned when Jason's own bloodlust has him killing victims when they're awake instead of bringing them to Freddy in their dreams.

The group of teenagers at the center of the story, led by Lori (Monica Keena), concoct a plan to bring Freddy out of Hell and into reality so Jason can kill him. The horror titans' eventual fight plays strongly to character for both of them, with Freddy loading up on one-liners and Jason maintaining his silent, singular focus. Lori ultimately decapitates Freddy, but his severed head gives the audience a wink, suggesting these two aren't done battling. 

Friday the 13th (2009)

The 2009 Friday the 13th reboot, directed by Marcus Nispel and written by the same team who brought us Freddy vs. Jason, attempted to reset the franchise by drawing from the first few films. In this version, Jason (Derek Mears) witnesses his mother get decapitated by a camp counselor during her murder spree, and builds a shrine to her in the Crystal Lake woods. Decades later, a group of youngsters heads to the lake to search for an illegal pot farm they heard was in the area. Jason stalks them and kills all but one, including a gory homage to the infamous sleeping bag murder of Part VII: The New Blood. Jason kidnaps Whitney (Amanda Righetti), who looks like his mother, and keeps her prisoner. 

Weeks go by and Whitney's brother Clay (Jared Padalecki) is still looking for his missing sister. As Clay goes house to house he connects with Jenna (Danielle Panabaker) who helps him until they fall under Jason's attack. After Jason claims more victims, Clay finds his sister and frees her, and these sibling survivors unite to kill Jason. Clay dumps his body into the lake, but at the last second Jason jumps out and grabs Whitney again. This would have been a great place to start a new series, but the studio put it on hold; the franchise remains dormant, like Jason at the bottom of Crystal Lake. 

Friday the 13th movies as cautionary tales

A steady current that runs through the entire Friday the 13th series — with only one exception in The New Blood — is that sex outside of marriage is punished by violent death. This old-fashioned trope might have been relevant in its day, but as years have gone by it's an aspect of Friday the 13th that sometimes makes the movies more funny than scary. 

But ultimately, at the heart of all Friday the 13th movies, there's a cautionary tale about being careful before you go in the woods — and a reminder to take certain legends seriously, especially if they're based on true events. The levels of gaslighting that take place, especially after people have had actual encounters with Jason Voorhees, often add a melancholy touch to these gory films. There isn't a ton of serious subtext to the Friday the 13th series, but if you're looking for a little additional meaning beyond simple slasher thrills, it's there.

Trauma creates all kinds of monsters

Another foundational aspect of Friday the 13th is the idea that unresolved trauma can lead to violence. Pamela Voorhees loses her son tragically, but she never gets help for her grief or PTSD. Instead, she takes her pain to a dark place and sets decades of violent events in motion. Jason as monster emerges after witnessing his mother's decapitation, and he channels his rage into a hulking strength that annihilates almost everyone in his path. Tommy Jarvis is so broken on multiple levels by his encounters with Jason that he ends up accidentally bringing him back. Roy, the paramedic from A New Beginning, takes his shock and anger after his son's untimely and brutal murder to don a hockey mask for his own revenge. 

While Tina is a monster fighting for the forces of good, it is the trauma of surviving domestic violence as well as killing her abusive father that activates her telekinesis. Had it not been for those violent events, Tina might have grown up to lead a normal life — but Friday the 13th wouldn't have been the same without her.