Between 1980 and 1989, Paramount Pictures released eight Friday the 13th movies, a rate of almost one per year. Such a schedule for a horror film franchise is hardly extraordinary; the first seven Saw movies came out annually between 2004 and 2010, and a Paranormal Activity movie came out every year between 2009 and 2015, only skipping over 2013. So, why has it been almost 10 years since the last time we saw Jason Voorhees on the big screen? Is it really so hard to find a big stuntman to put on a hockey mask and chase a bunch of teenagers around a desolate camp ground?
Theoretically, no, but there are reasons. Let’s look at them step-by-step.
Friday the 13th Part 1: A Series of Unfortunate Events
For the record, work has been ongoing on some sort of Friday the 13th script since shortly after the release of the 2009 reboot. A horror hit collecting $94.1 million at the worldwide box office on a $19 million budget, a sequel was put swiftly in development, and a release date of August 13, 2010 scheduled. August 2010 came and went though with no sequel, which producer Brad Fuller blamed on the economic climate at the time with the two studios that owned the rights to Friday – Paramount and New Line Cinema – looking to streamline their release slate.
It would be a couple of years before Friday fans would get another bite of the apple. In 2013, it was announced that the rights for Friday the 13th had reverted back to Paramount in a deal with New Line parent company Warner Bros. Basically, in exchange for the option to co-produce Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Warner gave up their portion of the rights to Friday as well as a potential South Park movie follow-up to Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, for five years. According to Derek Mears, the man who played Jason in the 2009 reboot, it seemed like a new Friday was a foregone conclusion.
But then there was the game of musical release dates. Paramount marked May 13, 2016 as the release date for the Friday the 13th follow-up. Then it was moved to January 13, 2017. And then October 13, 2017. Obviously, there was no release of a Friday the 13th movie on either of the Friday the 13ths last year, and to anyone reasonable skilled at arithmetic knows, that window of sole ownership of the Friday rights is about to come to an end for Paramount.
And now, there’s a new wrinkle.
Friday the 13th Part 2: Too Many Lawyers
According to Friday the 13th lore, producer/director Sean S. Cunningham wanted to make something in the vein of John Carpenter’s Halloween, and all he had in mind was a title: Friday the 13th. It was Victor Miller who wrote a script called A Long Night at Camp Blood, a working title for what eventually would be the first Friday, about a group of camp counselors murdered by a grieved mother seeking revenge for son’s unfortunate drowning. His name was Jason, and the movie takes place on his unfortunately timed birthday.
Miller didn’t have much to do with any of the Friday the 13th sequels, but his name is very much in the news now with a matter before the courts that could either see a new Friday movie go forward, or see the franchise broken down for parts. Miller is looking to reclaim the rights to Friday the 13th using an amendment to the Copyright Act in 1976 that allows authors, or their heirs, to terminate a grant of rights and reclaim ownership of their written work. If successful, Miller would get the rights to Friday, and could pursue another deal and another direction for the franchise.
But not so fast, says Cunningham’s legal team. Papers they’ve filed in federal court says that it was the producer that came up with the idea for Friday the 13th, as well as the name, and having a hands on role in developing the script with Miller. This would essentially mean that Miller was a writer-for-hire on the project, and while he does enjoy residuals and payments from sequels, he has no rights on the intellectual property of the film in the same way if Friday the 13th was bought on spec. If Cunningham wins, that means everything stays the same and a new Friday can proceed, likely with Paramount and New Live co-producing again.
There is, however, a wrinkle. A potential third option could see the court allow the Friday series to move forward without a few key elements. Here’s how Bonnie Eskenazi, a lawyer representing the producers, explained it to The Hollywood Reporter last June:
“Miller’s purported rights could only extend to those elements of the screenplays that he actually created. Here, it is undisputed that Miller did not create either the title ‘Friday the 13th’ or the ‘Jason’ character as a living adult monster who is the villainous killer in all of the eleven (11) sequels. Instead, Cunningham created the title ‘Friday the 13th’ and Miller created a ‘Jason’ character that died as a young boy due to the negligence of his camp counselors. Accordingly, Miller cannot claim any right to the title ‘Friday the 13th,’ or the ongoing ‘Jason’ character, or Jason’s iconic look of a man in a hockey mask carrying a machete.”
Millers lawyers disagree, obviously, and are making the argument that while Miller developed the treatment with Cunningham, he completed the screenplay as a freelancer without input, and his benefits have not been as generous the producers are alleging. Either way, you’re not going to get another Friday the 13th until a judge rules.
Friday the 13th Part 3: What Might Have Been
While those legal and financial issues were keeping the camera from rolling on a new Friday the 13th, a couple of different writers and directors have been waiting in the wings to let Jason free again to terrorize young people at Crystal Lake. The writers of Friday 2009, Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, had completed work on a script creatively entitled Friday the 13th Part 2. Not much is known about it, but as was the style of the time, it was going to be released in 3D.
When production was back on a few years later, the 3D aspect of the film had been promoted from gimmick to title card. Nick Antosca, who has since created Syfy’s Channel Zero, is the credited writer of Friday the 13th 3D, which did not end up going in the direction of found footage as had been rumoured. The Signal’s David Bruckner was going to direct, and for fans of Stranger Things and IT, you’ll like this part, he was going to take us back to Camp Crystal Lake… in the 80s.
Set in August 1988 on the last day of summer camp, Antosca’s script introduces us to a murderer’s row of teen character stereotypes including jock Greg, stoner Weezer, summer lovers Brad and Amber, Vanessa the hot chick, the religious Kirby, and our final girl Sloane. In what’s a bit of a retcon, we hear about the killing spree of Pamela Voorhees in the 1960s at the old campsite, and when our heroes visit, they make the mistake of taunting and insulting the memory of Mrs. Voorhees. Someone doesn’t like that…
The script follows a typical Friday plot where Jason begins the process of methodically eliminating all the teen campers, while appearing himself to be rather invincible. To the credit of the screenplay, the victims don’t just lie down and take, they put in a concerted effort to fight back against the hockey mask-clad swamp monster. Indeed it’s implied that Jason is sustained by the restorative waters of Crystal Lake if he should happen to take too much punishment in the killing fields.
“..you can’t kill someone that’s already dead.”
Interestingly, the movie ends with the surviving teens seemingly triumphant over Jason, a coroner van even arrives to pick up the cadaver, but any good Friday fan knows that Jason doesn’t stay dead. Indeed, the film ends with Jason laying waste to the local police force, and Sloane and Vanessa getting away in a police care after two shotgun blasts to Jason’s face. As they speed away, they look in the rearview and see Jason get up again. As the script succinctly points out, you can’t kill someone that’s already dead.
Sadly, this straightforward but energizing chapter in the Friday series was not meant to be. Instead, the producers looked to Aaron Guzikowski, who’s best known for writing the script for Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. In the director’s chair, meanwhile, would be Breck Eisner, perhaps best known for one of the better horror remakes, The Crazies, not to mention The Last Witch Hunter. Under the tight deadline of October 2017, and the reversion of rights back to New Line, this was the team that was under the gun to make Friday the 13th Part 13.
Billed as “a unique retelling of the origin story,” this Friday goes further back in time to the summer of 1977, where the Voorhees family has made a nice life for themselves at Crystal Lake: park ranger Elias, camp cook Pamela, and their 16-year-old son Jason who hides his facial deformities with a surgical mask. Although our main characters are two sisters who are the daughters of the owner of Camp Crystal Lake, Friday Part 13 is really about the messed up family dynamics of the Voorheeses.
In this script, Guzikowski takes the unusual step of giving the audience not just one, but three killers. Elias, Pamela and Jason make up a trilogy of slaughter: Elias is a sack-wearing killer in act one, Pamela gets payback for Jason’s apparent drowning and Elias’ crimes in act two, and Jason returns in act three to kill the sisters after the accidental decapitation of Pamela as she’s chasing them around Crystal Lake. In this Friday, Jason isn’t quite the indestructible monster man that he is in other Fridays, but it is suggested that he has some kind of Shining-like ability where he can bring out the evil in people. It’s inferred that this is why Elias was killing camp counselors in act one.
For Fuller, missing the window to make Guzikowski’s script was particularly disappointing. “One of the biggest heartbreaks of the last couple years was that we were about to make that movie and it fell apart. That still hurts,” Fuller told Arrow in the Head in a recent interview.
Friday the 13th Part 4: Just Give Us Our Jason Back!
Despite all the production drama, Fuller is still willing to get back to Crystal Lake. “[T]he question is, do they want to make the movie with us? If they want to make that movie with us, we will drop what we’re doing to make that movie,” he added in that JoBlo interview.
“We had such a great experience making Friday the 13th, it was a dream come true to watch those movies as a kid and then be a part of it. So I don’t really have a clear answer.”
Fans, meanwhile, have made it through 10 chapters of the original Friday series. They saw Jason go to Hell, they saw him go to space, and they saw him fight Freddy and survive (ish). With the original masked slasher, Michael Myers, returning this fall, many fans might be itching for further exploits of other iconic killers, and they’ll be looking for Jason. And given his attitude towards camp counselors, you can just imagine the use that he has for lawyers and studio suits.