Friday The 13th and a question of villainy

How did Jason Voorhees become a modern day horror icon?

Note: Some massive great spoilers lie ahead for Friday The 13th…

To date, the Friday The 13th collection of movies spans a dozen releases that, as you’d expect, has seen a sizeable evolution. What’s happened over the course of the franchise is the promotion of the character of Jason Voorhees into a modern day horror movie icon.

Yet if you go back to the original film, released in 1980, the character of Jason was never intended to be a horror icon at all – that honour initially went to Jason’s mother Mrs Voorhees instead. The film was initiated by director Sean S Cunningham, who was actively looking to make a low budget horror, that could capitalise on the thirst for such pictures at the time. He recruited a friend of his, Victor Miller, and the pair of them put together a screenplay, and conceived the Jason character in doing so.

But Jason wasn’t the villain, and this is often forgotten. Cunningham and Miller actually put Friday The 13th together as a story at heart about a mother on the rampage for revenge over the death of her son. As Miller would post on his own website, “I still believe that the best part of my screenplay was the fact that a mother figure was the serial killer – working from a horribly twisted desire to avenge the senseless death of her son, Jason”. Said mother figure was played with chilling effect by late Broadway legend, Betsy Palmer. Her nervous, fidgety performance, combined with her high-pitched whispering, to this day has an ability to get utterly under the skin.

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Here are a few nerdy extra facts about the movie, and we’ll continue this tale on the other side…

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The character of Jason does, of course, appear in Friday The 13th, but only in earnest surprisingly late in the day (in fairness, he is dead from the start). When he eventually wreaked his own havoc, that paved the way for the swiftly-generated sequels to start following.

However, the actual villain of the first film was very much intended to be Mrs Voorhees. The central idea of taking a mother who would kill for her kids, and actually having her do just that was the foundation of the film. Jason, insists Victor Miller, is as much a victim in the first movie. His full piece can be found here.

The evolution of Jason, though, hasn’t been a bad thing. It’s hardly unusual for horror-tinged films to have their foes gradually take full centre stage as a franchise develops, and perhaps it was therefore fitting that Freddy Krueger and Jason would directly go head to head in a single film back in 2003.

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Notably, though, that film also saw a revival for the character of Pamela Voorhees too (albeit now played by Paula Shaw). A potent reminder of who the underlying villain of Friday The 13th really was…