Jason Voorhees As A Cultural Icon
Horror movies have become a staple of pop culture, appearing on TV shows, music, comics, clothing and on all types of collectibles over the years. Of all of the monsters that have graced our screens and imaginations over the years, who could have ever thought that a character that appeared in a dream sequence at the end of Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 classic FRIDAY THE 13th would become one of the most iconic and beloved killers in celluloid history?
While Jason was originally not going to be the main antagonist of the series (each succeeding film would be its own story and not related to any previous film under the Friday the 13th moniker), the idea of expanding upon the “boy in the lake” was too good for the producers to pass up. So when FRIDAY THE 13th Part 2 hit the theaters on April 30th, 1981, an adult Jason began stalking and killing anyone who came to Camp Crystal Lake in innovative and gory ways that have been copied in countless genre films and talked about by fans ever since.
The thing that puzzles people the most who are not fans of the series is why Jason is so beloved by fans worldwide.
Upon watching the original film, we are told by Jason’s mother Pamela that her son drowned in the lake when camp counselors were off having sex and not paying attention to him. What made the character even more sympathetic was the fact that he was born with birth defects that included a hydrocephalic head and possible retardation (as an interesting side note, the character was originally conceived as a normal child, but the crew thought it would be more effective if he was deformed in some way).
As the series progressed, the theory (which I subscribe to) was advanced that Jason did not die as a child and actually saw Alice decapitate his mother with a machete. He grew up living in the woods and murdering anyone who came to the camp in an act of vengeance for his mother. When you add up the factors of almost drowning, seeing his mother killed, his deformities and possible mental capacity, it became hard not to cheer for him as he offed teenagers having pre-marital sex, drinking and doing drugs on the land he called home and in the name of his mother.
One of the things that really launched the popularity of Jason was when he picked up the iconic hockey mask from one of his victims in Friday The 13th Part 3.
If you remember in Part 2, he simply wore a pillowcase on his head (very similar to the killer in 1976’s THE TOWN THAT DREAD SUNDOWN that was based loosely on real life events that took place in 1946 in Texarkana, Texas). But once he donned that mask, it made the character that much more intimidating and gave him a very distinctive look.
The other thing that pushed him into legendary status was how damned tough he was. While arguments could be made that his “deaths” in Parts 2 and 3 would have been enough to kill the average human being, it is POSSIBLE that he could have survived them to continue upon his path of unmerciful vengeance. It would have seemed that the series would end after Tommy Jarvis (played by Corey Feldman) splits Jason’s skull with a machete in Part 4, but a whole other spin was put on the character AFTER his death.
While the series continued with the story of a now adult Tommy dealing with the psychological aspects of what happened to him and his family in the previous film in Part 5, it is important to note that Jason’s only appearances in this film are during very vivid hallucinations in his mind. As Part 6 hit theaters, Tommy accidentally resurrects Jason’s corpse when it is struck by lightning, and he becomes the undead and unstoppable killing machine that we know today. While a rotting hulk with massive strength and a healing factor that rivaled Wolverine’s, the audiences became even more rabid for him as he tore through his victims with a variety of garden tools and other inanimate objects.
While they understood that he was the personification of evil and vengeance, you could still hear them whisper about how he was still a tragic anti-hero of sorts. Maybe it had something to do with how he would kill with a furious passion or how he would look at things with an almost child-like quality, but the sympathy was still there, in particular when Jason enters the children’s cabin but harms none of them.
Part 7 saw him come back and kill what was probably the most obnoxious bunch on teenagers ever while fighting against a girl with CARRIE-like powers. By this point, the fans just wanted to see the body counts get higher and more messy. Not much was done to make him a sympathetic character in this one unless you want to argue that his resurrection was the spark. In Part 8, we see Jason take Manhattan in furious storm of blood and gore. We even see him transformed back into his childhood state by toxic waste in the NYC sewers, bringing the original series back to a full circle with a scared and vulnerable Jason — and with it the sympathy you felt for him in the earlier films.
JASON GOES TO HELL and JASON X seemed to leave the more sympathetic Jason behind, making him even more of a force of nature, but fans kept cheering him on. Freddy Vs. Jason made him sympathetic again, with Freddy taking advantage of Jason’s emotions about his mother and even tormenting him in the dream world as a child.
Over the years, Jason has become a further icon, appearing in a myriad of books (Mother’s Day, Jason’s Curse, The Carnival, and Road Trip by Eric Morse), including The Jason X series that included Jason X: The Experiment, Planet of the Beast, Death Moon and To the Third Power, as well as a series of novels that are not part of the Jason X series entitled Friday the 13th: Church of the Divine Psychopath, Friday the 13th: Hell Lake, The Jason Strain and Carnival of Maniacs. He’s also appeared in his own comic book series (published by Topps Comics, Avatar Press, and DC Comics imprint WildStorm), along with video games (Friday The 13th game for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum, Friday The 13th from LJN for the Nintendo Entertainment System, a mobile phone game from Xendex and the upcoming Friday the 13th: The Game from Illfonic and Gun Media) and over 100 licensed products that have grossed more than $125 million in revenue!
There have even been two documentary books released about the film series and Jason (Making Friday the 13th: The Legend of Camp Blood by David Grove and Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th by Peter M. Bracke), as well as a film documentary called HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13th.
Jason has become THE icon most horror fans associate with for a variety of reasons.
Much of Jason’s appeal is due to the fantastic actors that have played him over the years, including Ari Lehmen, Steve Dash, Warren Gillette, Richard Brooker, Ted White, Tom Morga, CJ Graham, Kane Hodder, Ken Kirzinger and Derek Mears. Each one has imbued the masked maniac with all the subtle nuances we have come to know and love. Whether you see him as a misunderstood man/child with diminished mental capacities or simply a murderous psychopath who simply enjoys killing because he can, it can never be denied that he has slashed his way into our hearts and the very fabric of pop culture that we as fans worship at on a daily basis. Jason is the definition of an icon.