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The untold truth of Friday the 13th

The name Jason Voorhees is synonymous with horror. The hockey mask-wearing, machete-toting maniac has terrorized unsuspecting precoital teens for decades. Since Friday the 13th hit screens in 1980, the franchise has produced 12 movies, a TV show, a series of graphic novels, and a brutal video game, but audiences still want more. Jason's origin and evolution are known to many genre devotees, but a look behind the scenes at how he came to be one of the most recognizable movie monsters of all time reveals how close he also came to total obscurity. Here are some things we learned while looking back at the Friday the 13th franchise.

Jason's signature mask was almost a burlap sack

Many fans may not realize it, but Jason didn't take his current form until Friday the 13th: Part III. In fact, while the character was created by screenwriter Victor Miller and director Sean S. Cunningham, the hockey mask was a contribution from Part III director Steve Miner. According to Cunningham, Miner had directed numerous hockey documentaries, and the mask was an addition made during filming. Jason was outfitted with a burlap sack in Part II, but Cunningham wanted to switch it up to give Jason a more signature style, as well as achieve a more dynamic look for lighting. The mask worn by Jason in Part III was replicated from a Detroit Red Wings goalie mask, and variations appeared throughout the rest of the series. Miner's flippant suggestion of the hockey mask secured Jason as an iconic figure, making the third film into the starting point of Jason's reign of terror as we know it today.

Jason was originally Josh

Miller originally wrote the character of Jason Voorhees as Josh, but changed the name to make him scarier and avoid giving him the same name as Miller's own son, Joshua. (Needless to say, Josh Lives, Josh Goes to Hell and Josh Takes Manhattan don't have quite the same ring.) At the time, the character's name had little significance—he wasn't even written to appear in the film until later drafts, and even then, only in his mother's dream sequences.

Jason almost didn't appear in the first movie

We've seen him in space, we've seen him go to hell, and we've seen him vie against fellow horror heavyweight Freddy Krueger. But did you know we almost didn't see Jason at all? His first appearance, as a deformed child at the end of the first film, is one of the most memorable final scares in horror, but this scene was unscripted. Several contributors claim credit for the last-minute filming decision, including the legendary makeup artist Tom Savini, who single-handedly created the visual appearance of young Jason. According to Miller, that last chair-jump was created to mirror the ending of Carrie, and the scene never appeared in his drafts of the screenplay.

Camp Crystal Lake is a real camp and is still operational

Camp Crystal Lake is actually called Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco, or the North Bergen Boy Scouts camp, and has been operational since 1927. The New Jersey summer camp runs regular day tours of the grounds to satiate the curiosities of Friday the 13th fans, but No-Be-Bo-Sco is otherwise closed to the public, used exclusively for Boy Scout activities. According to the official site, tickets sell rapidly, but if you're down to shell out a hundred bucks, you can get a five-hour guided tour of the of all the key massacre locations. If you'd rather imagine the geography of the bloodstained stomping grounds from the comfort of your home, however, you can easily purchase a chunk of the original Camp Crystal Lake dock, a slab of log cabin, or a bottle of water from the lake in which young Jason famously drowned.

The original writer hates the sequels

Victor Miller's original script had virtually nothing to do with Jason Voorhees as a villain. The story was first written to revolve exclusively around the bloody revenge spree of a grief-stricken mother. Miller was more interested in telling a story about a mother's love for her lost son than launching a grotesque franchise—in the early drafts, Jason was just a normal kid who had drowned due to the negligence of horny camp counselors. Miller has admitted to having no interest in the story without the original's central element. As he explained in a 2007 interview, "I have not seen any of the sequels. I think my thoughts about Jason are already pretty clear. He is just a stock villain and I don't have much sympathy for him." Miller's dramatic story interests would later lead him to a successful run writing for television soaps such as Guiding Light and All My Children.

The kid who played Jason in the original now has a metal band called "First Jason"

As a child, Ari Lehman was cast on the spot to play the disfigured child who emerges from Crystal Lake. He was just the first of nine actors to step into the role of Jason over the years. Aside from countless appearances at horror and comic conventions, Lehman has also started a Jason-themed punk-metal band aptly titled First Jason. With titles like Machete is My Friend and Jason Never Dies!, the former child actor seeks to expand on Jason's pathology through song, wielding a mean keytar all the while. Lehman said of his musical mission: "First Jason is a musical experience that channels the inner workings of the mind of Jason Voorhees. Jason is silent: First Jason is the voice of Jason Voorhees."

The first movie had a title before it had a script

Following his work on Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, director/producer Sean Cunningham sought to capitalize on the growing slasher trend. In a pretty brilliant guerilla marketing move, Cunningham took out an ad promoting the film before he had any financial backing whatsoever. The entrepreneurial strategy worked, as word spread of what the ads called "the most terrifying movie ever made," and investors actually started reaching out to him. Banking on interest following the success of John Carpenter's Halloween paid off for the producer, and he found himself with a budget for a film with a title but no plot or characters. Mimicking the date specific model set forth by the Michael Myers spree, Cunningham nailed down Friday the 13th as a title before anything else. When he contacted Miller to write the script, he pitched A Long Night at Camp Blood as a working title.

Betsy Palmer initially called Friday the 13th a 'piece of s**t'

After failing to cast Shelley Winters in the role of Mrs. Voorhees, the ragtag production team sought out veteran television actress Betsy Palmer. When offered the part, Palmer initially turned it down. She hadn't appeared in a film since the '60s and was eager for a screen part, but when she read the script, her reaction was, "What a piece of s—! Nobody is ever going to see this thing. What an awful thing this is." Palmer eventually caved and took the role because she desperately needed a new car. She drove her broken-down Mercedes to the New Jersey camp for 10 days of shooting exclusively so she could afford a Volkswagen Scirocco.

She gradually changed her tune about playing the murderous matriarch during conversations with effects artist Tom Savini. While making a cast of her head for the decapitation scene, Savini showed her some pictures of his effects work. When a picture of the makeup for young Jason came up, he told her, "That's your son."

Palmer exclaimed, "Then I found out that Jason was a Mongoloid as well. I thought, 'Oh, my god! Everything has really been dumped all over this poor woman!'" From that point on, Palmer started developing a rich backstory for Pamela Voorhees and delivered a performance that would become a milestone of her career.

Kill her, Mommy

Friday the 13th's signature sound cue is actually the voice of composer Harry Manfredini saying "kill her, Mommy." The effect would work itself into the overall score of every movie in the franchise, but started as a simple bit of ingenuity on the part of the composer. Cunningham approached Manfredini to create a musical cue that would characterize the presence of the killer onscreen. According to Manfredini: "Mrs. Voorhees doesn't pop up until the last reel. So we have an entire film with a killer who you never see: it's almost like Jaws. So the killer had to have an identity throughout the picture." Manfredini applied a heavy reverb to his voice, producing the sound "Ki-Ki-Ki Ma-Ma-Ma." The effect that was initially created to foreshadow Mrs. Voorhees would cue the presence of Jason in all the films to follow.

Jason has the horror genre's highest body count

The actual number of deaths attributed to Jason throughout the series is debated. Kills have been tallied at numbers ranging between 158 and 300. We're not sure how these numbers were calculated, but it's unanimous that Jason is responsible for more onscreen fatalities than any of his horror villain contemporaries. There's plenty of room for speculation considering Mrs. Voorhees is the original killer, a grief-sick father emulates Jason in Part V and many of his kills in Freddy vs. Jason are attributable to Freddy via mind control. However, as Den of Geek calculates, with Jason's prolific spree running through ten of the 12 features, even the lower-end figure lands Jason at 15.8 kills per film, putting him miles ahead of Freddy Krueger, Leatherface or Michael Myers.

Jason is all "grown" up

As of the 2009 reboot, Jason been played by nine actors, each taller than the actor to play him previously. 6 foot 1 inch-tall actor Warrington Gillette played the first adult Jason in Part II; 6 foot, 3 inch-tall Richard Brooker played him in Part III; 6 foot, 3.5 inch-tall Kane Hodder portrayed a hulking muscular version of him in Part VII through Jason X, and in the 2009 remake he was played by the towering Kevin Mears, who measures 6 feet, 5 inches, tall.

Jason can never die

The legendary movie monster has undergone some huge transformations since he was first written. While co-creator Miller will always see Jason as "a victim, not a villain," Cunningham has seen the character's murder spree through a bizarre, winding, and mostly campy evolution. From his inception as the drowned mongoloid boy to a pro-wrestler sized movie monster, Jason has endured multiple deaths and reincarnations, cryogenic freezing, and a trip to Hell. He's been mimicked by a vengeful copycat killer and has battled his nemesis Freddy Krueger. With each installment of the Friday the 13th franchise, its timeline explores the silent character through a different lens. While the theme of vengeance and the ominous warnings against casual sex are still thinly maintained throughout the series, its antagonist has been explained through phenomena ranging from pathology to paranormal activity to outright evil.

But whether he is a colossal zombie or a tragically lost orphan, even at his campiest he still embodies our worst fears. After all, as we guiltily anticipate the dismemberment of another annoying horny teenager, we are all secretly rooting for Jason. He represents the battle within each of us—for and against our own humanity.

Every single movie was critically derided

Today, whole generations have grown up knowing Friday the 13th as a classic series, but there are likely still some critics who would scoff to hear them say it. In fact, every movie in the Friday the 13th series was raked across the coals by critics, with the most well-received movie, the original, still topping out with a "rotten" ranking by Rotten Tomatoes' reckoning

Many of the high-profile film critics who wrote about the series used it as an excuse to pen famously lacerating reviews. Gene Siskel found the original movie so distasteful that he used his write-up to both spoil the movie and encourage readers to write letters to Paramount in protest of the film.

This continued through the entirety of the series, even for above-average installments that you'd think wouldn't warrant the treatment. Roger Ebert called the fourth one — which is probably the best one — "an immoral and reprehensible piece of trash."

There's an interesting parallel that can be drawn between Friday the 13th and the Saw series. Both are long-running, bloody horror franchises with a seemingly omnipotent enemy, thinly-sketched protagonists who only exist to be murdered, and a history of doing very poorly with critics while working just fine for audiences. In Friday the 13th's case, critics almost seemed vindictive, wondering how people could enjoy and financially reward such a formulaic series of violent trash. You'd think they would've figured out by movie six or seven that the violent trashiness was the whole point.

Televised tales of terror

Friday the 13th: The Series ran for three seasons from 1987 to 1990, with Jason Voorhees and Camp Crystal Lake showing up a grand total of zero times. 

According to David Grove's Making Friday the 13th: The Legend of Camp Blood, the television series was meant to serve as more of a spiritual companion to the movies than a story extension. Originally developed under the name The 13th Hour, the series was melded with the movie brand by producer Frank Mancuso, Jr., who justified the link by calling the title a reference to "Friday the 13th" as a bad-luck concept in general.

The series, which ran for 72 episodes, followed two cousins, Micki and Ryan, who travel the world with an occultist researcher named Jack to collect relics which possess magical or cursed properties. The open-ended story allowed for an episodic series in the vein of Supernatural, The X-Files, or Warehouse 13, with one technically overarching plot connecting otherwise standalone tales.

While the series is up-and-down in terms of quality, it's associated with the earlier work of a few great filmmakers, with episodes directed by David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan. Filmmaker and actor Sarah Polley, who would later star in the Dawn of the Dead remake, also appeared in the series' pilot episode.

Not surprisingly, Friday the 13th was soon joined on television by a Nightmare on Elm Street spinoff series called Freddy's Nightmares. While that show didn't last as long, it did at least have its famous killer, Freddy Krueger, in the cast.

They tried to kill the series several times

According to the Crystal Lake Memories documentary, series producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. was so confident that the series was over after movie three that he declared aloud at the movie's wrap party — which celebrated Jason's demise with "Happy Death Day" cake — that he was not going to produce another one. 

"What I want to do now is I really want to bring this thing to an effective close," he said of his thinking at the time in the documentary. "We'll do something that refers to our past, we'll bring this thing to its rightful conclusion, and we'll be done." 

It was an ill-advised decision that everyone involved had to walk back after Part III opened to the tune of $9 million, which at that point was the most successful opening weekend the series had seen. This time, they decided to be decisive with it, giving the fourth entry the subtitle of The Final Chapter. This being a 12-film franchise, we all know how that turned out. 

Even at the time, it seemed producers had cold feet about truly killing Jason — as Crystal Lake Memories reveals, special effects designer Tom Savini and his team of artists made several sculptures that showed Jason dying not just by taking a machete to the face, but from being fully decapitated. These effects, of course, went unused.

Friday the 13th would ultimately end up having two inaccurately-named "final" chapters: the fourth movie and the ninth, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.

Tommy Jarvis almost replaced Jason

Producers broke their promises a second time and brought back the series with a quickness following the success of The Final Chapter. Despite this, curiously, they still returned determined to make the death of Jason stick.

Appearing in a lead role in three of the franchise's movies (portrayed by three different actors, including Corey Feldman on the cusp of child stardom), Tommy Jarvis is arguably the second-most important character in the Friday the 13th franchise. But for all his longevity in the movies, his character makes almost no internal sense. Twice, the filmmakers ended a sequel with the tease that Tommy was damned to become the new Jason, possessed or corrupted by his spirit, only for the concept to be walked back each time. 

The fifth movie appeared to end with Tommy on the verge of murder, having been driven insane by visions of the Camp Blood killer. The setup for a sixth movie with Tommy as the new Jason could not have been clearer or more explicit, which makes it all the more jarring when the sixth movie begins with him as a hero once again. Evidently, his insanity was cured off screen. Not that we're complaining, of course — in a franchise as shallow as Friday the 13th, the tragic story arc of a killer Tommy is probably best left unexplored.

VI was made with one rule — bring Jason back

For as iconic as Jason Voorhees is now, the producers of the Friday the 13th series went to puzzling lengths at times to diminish and sideline him.

In Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, the series tried to have it both ways, keeping Jason dead while bringing in a ruthless, hockey mask-wearing copycat killer to slay in his stead. When the murderer is revealed to be a minor character in the movie — a paramedic named Roy Burns — audiences scratched their heads. What's interesting about that?

In the Crystal Lake Memories documentary, producer Jeff Katz calls it "one of the least satisfying endings in the history of film." It's certainly the least satisfying in the Friday the 13th series.

The failure to effectively switch up the formula was acknowledged at the start of the next movie's production, with a directive coming down from producer Frank Mancuso, Jr. to bring Jason back for the sixth movie, no matter what.

Jason wasn't the only Voorhees who was dug up for the sixth movie, at least not at first. Initially, the production planned to end the movie with the introduction of Jason's father, Elias Voorhees. While the ending was never filmed, it was storyboarded. Instead, they kept it simple — Jason's back, he's here to kill, end of story.

Freddy vs. Jason was in the works for awhile

Not counting their respective remakes, both the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series ended in a long-awaited collision: 2003's Freddy vs. Jason

While the movie might strike the uninitiated as a cynical way to wring one last payday out of both franchises after they ran out of gas, the first attempt to make it actually took place in 1987, when the Elm Street series was ascendant and Friday was just beginning to see its box office fortunes decline. 

At the time, both properties were owned by different studios, meaning any crossover would involve tricky negotiations that proved difficult to navigate. Paramount owned Friday while New Line Cinema owned Nightmare, and both parties wanted the upper hand. As a result, progress on putting the movie together was full of starts and stops, not coming together until after New Line became the owner of both properties in 1989. 

With the franchises united under New Line, the crossover was teased at the end of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday in 1993, with Freddy's fist bursting from beneath the earth to drag Jason's mask underground. Even so, ten years and two more movies — Jason X and Wes Craven's New Nightmare — would see release before the fight flick finally came together. 

Fortunately, after all that buildup, they ended up sticking the landing — not only is Freddy vs. Jason a pretty fun watch, it's also the highest-grossing movie in either series by far. Teamwork — that's how you go out on top. 

Carrie on

With Jason revived and the Freddy showdown stuck on the backburner, producers moved forward chasing a different sort of trend — Stephen King-esque psychic teen girls. 

Pitched as "Jason vs. Carrie", Friday the 13th: The New Blood took advantage of the series' newly-embraced supernatural elements by introducing a telekinetic young woman to face off with Jason in a battle to the death. Not a particularly great entry in the series, The New Blood was also neutered by the MPAA with unusual ruthlessness, with almost all of the movie's kills being severely chopped down.

In the book Crystal Lake Memories, the movie's co-writer Daryl Haney recalled coming up with the idea during a spitball brainstorming session, throwing it out there after the rest of his ideas had been exhausted. 

"I pitched [producer Barbara Sachs] a few ideas and she shot them all down," Haney said. "I only had one more. I said, 'I notice that at the end of these movies, there's always a teenage girl who's left to battle Jason by herself. What if this girl had telekinetic powers?' Barbara immediately said, 'Jason vs. Carrie. Huh. That's an interesting idea.'"

It's sort of hilarious to think about now, but Sachs openly had ambitions to make the seventh Friday the 13th win an Academy Award with — hopefully — the most artful entry in the slasher series yet. (To date, the series has still never been nominated for an Oscar, though its first sequel did receive a nod from the illustrious Stinker Bad Movie Awards.)

VIII had its budget slashed to pieces

The most disappointing Friday the 13th installment is easily the eighth one. Subtitled Jason Takes Manhattan, the 1989 release is well-known for notoriously, for the most part, not taking place in Manhattan. Instead, the majority of the movie's action takes place on a small boat slowly (and improbably) floating from the Midwestern confines of Crystal Lake out to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

This wasn't a creative decision, but rather an inconvenient financial limitation. Many fantastic, NYC-centric setpieces were planned for the movie, almost none of which were actually accomplished on the film's $4 million budget. 

"Everything about New York was going to be completely exploited and milked," said producer Rob Hedden. "There was going to be a tremendous scene on the Brooklyn Bridge, a boxing match in Madison Square Garden, Jason would go through department stores, Broadway plays. He'd even crawl onto the top of the Statue of Liberty and dive off."

"In the very beginning there were so many extras," actress Sharlene Martin said of the shoot's limitations in Crystal Lake Memories. "And then, as the shooting went on there was less, and it was probably a budget issue."

To save money on location shooting, the production shot most of the scarce Manhattan material in the not-quite-lookalike city of Vancouver. 

"So there was a joke running around," Hedden said in the Crystal Lake Memories segment on the sequel. "And it was 'Jason Takes Vancouver.'

The game is lovingly detailed

While the Friday the 13th movie series has been dormant since the 2009 remake, the property has had a recent resurgence as a (surprisingly addictive) video game. 

Developed by the independent studio IllFonic with largely crowdsourced funding, Friday the 13th: The Game is a uniquely loving tribute to the film series that shares its name. An asymmetrical multiplayer game that pits a team of weak camp counselors against the strong and unkillable Jason, Friday the 13th is full of inside jokes and references that only big-time fans of the series would get. Jason's murder scenes, for instance recreate fan favorites, like VII's classic sleeping bag kill

Game Jason possesses the ability to literally teleport, a nod to the seeming omnipresence of the hulking killer in the movies, always lurking around every corner no matter how slowly he seems to walk. Additionally, in a nod to Part 2, one counselor gets a tad bit cheeky with a recognizably racy pair of jean shorts

Several performers from the movies (including the series' most beloved Jason player, Kane Hodder) came on board the game's development to digitally recreate their roles through motion capture, voiceover, or both. Altogether, the abundance of considered touches do a lot to elevate the game above typical movie tie-in fare. Of course, just about anything would've been better than the notorious 1989 game for the original Nintendo, widely considered at the time of release to be one of the worst games ever made.

Jason looms underwater in real life

Friday the 13th owes its success with audiences to the thrill of watching other people run around in mortal danger — the whole experience would be a little less fun if any of it were, y'know, real. Which makes it highly amusing that one artist brought the movies to life by building a lifelike statue of Jason and installing it, in a terrifyingly fitting way, at the bottom of a lake.

While Jason's origins revolve around his drowning at Camp Crystal Lake as a child, the adult Jason ends up in the drink again at the end of Jason Lives, the sixth movie in the series, when Tommy Jarvis succeeds in defeating the undead killer by anchoring him underwater. While it's a good enough move to stop Jason's reign of terror temporarily, it doesn't send him back to Hell, as the movie ends with Jason floating quietly, chained down but waiting for a chance to rise and strike again.

According to Bloody Disgusting, an artist named Curtis Lahr built the Jason statue in 2014. Instead of putting his work on display somewhere kitschy, he went for the inside joke, and sank the statue to the bottom of a submerged iron ore pit in Crosby, MN — reportedly a popular spot for divers. It's the sort of surprise sight you'd probably only appreciate after you've escaped the water and staved off your rising heart attack — as fitting a tribute to the '80s slasher king as there could be.