All the classic slasher franchises have their famous foes, strong-willed women meant to drive their respective (and mainly male) serial killers to continue their, well, work. The Halloween series repeatedly pits Michael Myers against former teen babysitter Laurie Strode. The Nightmare on Elm Street films are obsessed with the Nancy Thompson/Freddy Krueger dynamic. Hell, even Hellraiser brings back Kirsty Cotton to reunite with Pinhead and the other Cenobites (not to mention the truly underrated villainess Julia Cotton) in the first sequel. Then, of course, there is the Scream saga with its trio of survivors, including two final women (enemies-turned-allies Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers). Really, the only major slasher series that don’t follow the standard final girl formula are The Texas Chainsaw Massacre — arguably more focused on its killer family than their victims — and Friday the 13th, which began with Sean S. Cunningham’s simple, yet groundbreaking 1980 film.
Yes, there is technically a final girl in Friday the 13th (1980) — her name is Alice Hardy and she’s played by Adrienne King — but she doesn’t make it past the opening scene of Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), where one of the most underrated slasher survivors, Ginny Field (Amy Steel), takes over … for one summer. And every movie following Friday the 13th Part 2 has a different last woman standing (or, in the case of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, a woman and an eternally scarred young boy named Tommy Jarvis), with fresh-faced heroines going up against victim-turned-villain Jason Voorhees as he travels from Crystal Lake to Manhattan (!), then from Hell (!!) to space (!?), and back to Camp Blood again (!!!!). The only woman you can count on reappearing in the next Friday the 13th film is neither a friend nor foe to Jason. She is his late mother and — let’s be honest — a fall fashion icon.
“Pamela’s sweater isn’t a particularly bold statement. In fact, you might wonder what costume designer Caron Coplan was thinking […]”
If you’ve seen any Friday the 13th film (or even just the opening scene of Scream), you know who Pamela Voorhees (or Mrs. Voorhees) is. Aside from being Jason Voorhees‘ mom, she is the original baddie of the Friday the 13th series, the vengeful mastermind behind both the massacre in 1979 and the original Camp Crystal Lake murders in 1958 (not to mention the other “incidents” at the camp in the years in between).
Originated by Betsy Palmer (see: the original film and Part II) and later portrayed by Marilyn Poucher (1982’s Friday the 13th Part III), Paula Shaw (Freddy vs. Jason) and Nana Visitor (the 2009 reboot), Pamela Voorhees is a recurring force in the Friday films, her disembodied voice often encouraging her machete-wielding spawn to continue what she started after his drowning at Crystal Lake in 1957. And while Pamela doesn’t physically appear in all the films, when she does she is most likely to be seen wearing one key clothing item: a baby blue knitted sweater.
Pamela Voorhees is wearing that very sweater in the finale of Friday the 13th (1980), where she is beheaded by a sensibly dressed Alice (hello, high-waisted jeans and not-too-plunging neckline). The sweater also plays a key role in the 1981 sequel, where blonde-haired badass Ginny dons it to distract a burlap sack-wearing Jason (the hockey mask wouldn’t appear until Friday the 13th Part III) during their final showdown. Even today, you can use the woolen wardrobe staple as a weapon in the Friday the 13th: The Game (but — in a fittingly Freudian twist — only if you’re playing a female character).
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Unlike some of other ensembles discussed in Final Girl Fashion, Pamela‘s sweater isn’t a particularly bold statement. In fact, you might wonder what costume designer Caron Coplan was thinking putting this middle-aged murderess in such a heavy fabric given that the film obviously takes place in the summer, when a simple light jacket should suffice (see: Alice‘s yellow raincoat, seemingly the only non-neutral item she brought with her to Crystal Lake).
“Perhaps Coplan’s styling of Mrs. Voorhees was done more practically than creatively […]”
Perhaps Coplan’s styling of Mrs. Voorhees was done more practically than creatively, with the sweater being used to keep Palmer (then in her 50s) warm on the late fall night shoots. Or maybe the thinking was that the relatively petite Pamela would want to bulk up in an effort to protect herself on her evening prowls for promiscuous teens. Either way, the sweater has become the second-most iconic piece of clothing in the Friday the 13th universe (the first, of course, being Jason’s mask), a warm reminder of the franchise’s stereotype-defying origins.
Seasonal appropriateness aside, the sweater is a perfect complement to the rest of Pamela‘s outfit in the 1980 film, with her also donning a plain plaid shirt, black trousers and bulky boots. But before the finale, all we see of the film’s killer is their notably sensible lower half. It’s a choice meant to mess with our expectations, using traditionally gendered clothing items to trick the audience into thinking that — much like in Halloween (1978), and Black Christmas (1974) before it — the person stalking and slaughtering all these young people is a man.
Truth be told, we don’t realize Mrs. Voorhees is the killer when she first pulls up to Camp Blood near the end of the film. Wearing the sweater and a smile, she seems harmless, and perhaps even a possible ally to Alice. Then Pamela starts telling the story of Jason and the terrifying truth is revealed: those boots we thought belonged to a madman were hers all along. Take away the shoes and Pamela‘s overall look is actually quite soft. The key is that sweater, which conjures up images of knitting, often (unfairly) deemed a feminine activity and specifically attached to older women, who are (again, unfairly) deemed unthreatening. What’s more, sweaters are generally well-worn items, loved season after season for their ability to keep you cozy on even the coldest nights. Like any “good” maternal figure, they can be a source of physical and emotional comfort, a layer of protection from the horrors both inside and outside your home (here’s looking at you, self-judgment and Canadian winters!).
In that way, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Friday the 13th films cling to Pamela‘s sweater. Jason Voorhees is, after all, a bit of a tragic villain, once bullied for being different and eventually killed for reasons out of his control (if it wasn’t for those damn hormonal kids!). When he finally emerges from the depths of Crystal Lake at the end of Friday the 13th (1980), the only person who loved him is dead. Her sweater — and severed head — are all he has left to help him remember the life and support system he once had. They will become his one and only weakness, used against him by not only final girls, but also other slasher icons (see: Freddy vs. Jason, where Freddy Krueger pretends to be Pamela — albeit in a red sweater — to lure Jason back for one more killing spree).
“[…] the sweater has become the second-most iconic piece of clothing in the Friday the 13th universe (the first, of course, being Jason’s mask)”
Of course, mommy issues aside, there is no defending Jason‘s actions after the events of Friday the 13th (1980). He is, like his mother, a bonafide serial killer and no amount of therapy (retail or otherwise) can change that. Still, there is an innate relatability to his and Pamela‘s story and the need to project feelings onto physical objects, especially clothes.
I myself have childhood memories of using my mom’s hand-knitted sweater as a blanket on nights when she wasn’t home to tuck me in. I also wear my late grandmother’s ring almost daily, making a point to pull it out when I need some extra strength (i.e. on the day of an exam or a big presentation). And just last week while cleaning my closet, I found myself yearning to put on my favourite pink cashmere pullover — a piece that I wore at least once a week last year — and pretend it was a crisp fall day. (Instead, I sensibly put on a cinnamon-scented candle and watched Friday the 13th.)
Seasons may change their amount of usage, but certain items of clothing maintain the same level of meaning year after year. Even if it is hidden in the back of your closet (or, in Jason’s case, the cabin) for months at a time, there’s comfort in knowing that your favourite shirt — or scarf, or vintage tee, or whatever else carries emotional weight for you — is somewhere close by, waiting patiently for a chance to rise again and help you defeat your inner and outer demons through the fine art of familiarity.
That’s how I think about Pamela Voorhees. Sometimes forgotten entirely and more often unseen, she will always be an essential, even powerful, part of the Friday the 13th franchise, haunting us (and her more famous son) in ways only an overprotective mother and a well-made sweater can.
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