In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
Slashers Week continues this hot take! See the rest of the week’s coverage here.
Jason Voorhees is a universally recognizable pop culture icon. From his hockey mask to his machete to his ratty clothes with hints of rotting flesh behind them, few could look at Jason Voorhees and say “who is that?” Along with Freddy Krueger, the other baddy with whom Jason is frequently paired in the cultural lexicon, one doesn’t even need to watch a single movie in their respective franchises to understand who they are and what they do. Heck, most people know why these killers do what they do, even if they’ve never watched a single horror movie in their entire lives. Long before I was ever old enough to watch a Friday the 13th movie, I went as Jason for Halloween, and I knew that my motivation to kill was to avenge my mother’s death as well as my own. I knew the entire myth, likely through some sort of cultural osmosis. Jason Voorhees is so universally recognizable that many folks forget he wasn’t the villain in the first film — a piece of trivia that caused Scream’s Casey Becker her life, as well as the life of her boyfriend.
Even in canon, the iconography of Jason is so recognizable that a mentally unsound paramedic named Roy could don a hockey mask of his own and fool an entire town into thinking Jason had returned from the grave once again (see Friday the 13th: A New Beginning). Even Jason, whose body can heal in ways his mask can’t, sees his costume as a key part of his legacy. When he loses his mask at the end of Part 7, its only a temporary setback. He dons a new one (with more red triangles!) before “taking” Manhattan. The computers of the future also seem to understand how key the hockey mask is to Jason’s look. When our favorite killer’s mangled body is rebuilt by nanotechnology, the program builds him a brand new hockey mask to go with his new bionic, purply torso.
Basically, Jason is inseparable from his hockey mask. From Part 3 forward, he is rarely seen without it, and I can definitely understand this, as the mask makes him look like a total badass. But since he does not make an appearance until the end of the first film (a scene which has plenty of its own logistical issues regarding the “how” of it all), and he doesn’t obtain his mask until Part 3, we have a Jason Voorhees in Part 2 that doesn’t use a hockey mask at all. Nope, he instead wears a bag on his head like he’s about to share a bed with some asshole who considers him a butterface.
From childhood to recent years I was never a fan of Baghead Jason (which autocorrect DESPERATELY wants to call Baghdad Jason), mostly because what I had grown to love most about the franchise was the way Jason had become a sort of antihero. I’m not here to root for horny campers to survive. No, I’m here to watch Jason punch their dumb heads off, making them topless in two ways, and look like a fucking boss doing it. I’m here to cheer when he smashes a teen-filled sleeping bag against a tree. I’m here to laugh when he tilts his head in animalistic confusion toward a fearful human behavior before dishing out a level of bodily harm so egregious and heightened that it can only be received with humor. I want relatively anonymous victims running from a superstar baddy and not the other way around. Jason is the constant – and anyone who finds themselves in his path, as far as entertainment value goes, deserves to die. When you see that hockey mask, you know your seconds are numbered.
Yet my allegiances have since changed. My love for indestructible, giant, hockey-masked Jason will never wane, but it has been eclipsed by Baghead Jason for a few reasons, and all of them come from Friday the 13th Part 2.
Friday the13th Part 2 is different from every movie that succeeds it in that Jason is not really Jason yet, as it were. No hockey mask, no super strength, no iconographic identity for us to all glom onto. As depicted in the film, he’s an overall-wearing, backwoods hick who our harem of protagonists/potential victims refuse to believe is Jason, because to them, Jason is a little boy who died many years ago, and magic isn’t real. At this point in the series, there’s little by way of lip service toward logic either. The angle that Part 2 takes, once it is revealed that the killer is indeed Jason Voorhees, is that Jason wasn’t ever dead in the first place. It appears that he drowned, believably enough that his mom went bananas, and for some dumb fucking reason Jason decided to just live in a shack in the woods for a few decades, pretty much pretending to be dead, only to turn violent when he witnesses his mother’s death at the end of the first film.
I don’t much care for this version of the story, and instead choose to view the events of the wonderful comic book Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash as canon. In it, it is revealed that Pamela Voorhees used the Necronomicon (yes, that Necronomicon) in an attempt to bring her boy back to life in the hours before the events of the first film, and when that didn’t work, she decided to go on a killing rampage of her own. What she doesn’t know is that the magic spell did indeed work, but not immediately. Jason emerged from the dead juuuuust in time to watch his mother die. In this version of events, the “dream” at the end of the first film becomes real, and the adult Jason in Part 2 is indeed undead. I like this. It helps clean up a bunch of logistical issues that stem out from here.
Nonetheless, what does this have to do with Baghead Jason? Well, I’ll tell ya: Baghead Jason is the best Jason because he’s the Jason that we get to watch as he learns the extent of his abilities (whether they are supernatural or not is up to you and your own head canon). He’s the Jason that gets to be a bad guy instead of an antihero. He’s the Jason that’s shrouded in mystery (and a bag), and the Jason that actually has a slight chance of losing.
Friday the 13th is so much better than anyone gives it credit for, displaying some serious “I have no money but I have to get creative” directorial chops. Director Sean S. Cunningham is not afraid to admit that his goal was to rip off Halloween, and being a porn producer means he really wanted to lean into a more exploitative angle (Halloween is much, much classier). In doing so he pretty much set the tone for further ripoffs, including some of the later Halloween sequels. Part 2 exists somewhere between these flavors, with a large group of future dead bodies making up its cast, but also my favorite final girl in the genre at large, Ginny (Amy Steel). She’s strong, resourceful, and clever enough to pull a psychological trick on Jason, leading to a violent victory for our heroine, albeit an ambiguous one. This is key in my love for Baghead Jason. Had he been the hockey mask Jason of later entries, this sort of thing would carry no weight, because we all know that even when Jason dies, he lives.
Granted, this reading requires you to watch the movie in a vacuum, which I think is valid, given that was the nature in which it was originally presented. This also sorta cancels out my preferred notion that Jason is undead in this entry, but that’s really only relevant in the purview of later entries anyway. And really, looking back on this piece it looks like I’m less declaring my love for Baghead Jason and more declaring my love for the oft-overlooked second entry in the series — and entry that, at one point, I expressly disliked. So I’ll sum it up by saying this: In my book, Hockey Mask Jason is the king of the slasher baddies, but when it comes to making an effective horror movie and not just a piece of fun franchise material, Baghead Jason simply cannot be beat.
God bless the 2009 reboot for having the good grace to give us both.