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THE ORIGINS of Friday the 13th being an unlucky date are shrouded in mystery, but did this play a part in Hollywood axing Jason Voorhees’ return to the big screen?
Features / Published 6 March 2023 @ 00:09 AM
Friday the 13th was all set to return to the big screen this very year until Rings underperformed and Paramount decided against risking its bucks on the project in case it crashed and burned, pulling the film from its release schedule completely. Horror Media outlets had previously been told that the next instalment of the long-running franchise, which was being produced by Platinum Dunes, was targeting an October release date and planned to start shooting this spring in Georgia.
But with less than six weeks go to before the start of principal photography Paramount shut down the Friday the 13th project without warning, and while no official reason was given for the studio’s sudden action multiple sources stated it has to do with Rings’ lacklustre box office.
With only one factor being the fear of another poor performance for the studio at the box office it’s unlikely there will be any further theatrical outings for Jason for the foreseeable future until studios can see a real need to revive the long running series. The cursed production Friday the 13th was allegedly aiming to restart the franchise, much like they hoped with Rings that cost $25 million and bowed to $13 million over its first weekend, leaving executives second-guessing Friday the 13th, believing it would have chased a similar audience, although fans online have pointed out that the project is on the opposite spectrum of the horror scale and already has a built-in audience, unlike Rings.
But the very same argument could be used when referring to Platinum Dunes and Paramount’s other franchise vehicle revival, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The follow-up, Out of the Shadows, had a production budget of $135 million and underperformed upon its theatrical release, making around 50% less than its predecessor, which had grossed $493 million, forcing the studio to get cold feet and abandon any further TMNT movies.
Part of the reason diehard movie buffs are often at odds with major studio executives is that film fans have different definitions of success when it comes to a movie. Fans consider a creative, exciting experience a triumph in filmmaking, but producers aren’t satisfied unless there’s a heavy return on its investments. Ask a fan to rank the Friday the 13th franchise and it will look very different on paper than a ranking of the franchise instalments based on Box Office return.
Friday the 13th Part 3, directed by Steve Miner, took a domestic total of $36.69 million, making it one of the franchise’s biggest triumphs, following close behind the original Friday the 13th directed by Sean S. Cunningham, which earned $39.75 million. The most successful in the series, not including Freddy vs. Jason, was Marcus Nispel’s 2009 franchise reboot, which took a domestic total of $65 million, yet the series stalled and no further movies were made.
Friday the 13th 3D was one of the entries horror fans never really warmed to, while John Carl Buechler’s reincarnation, which pitted Jason against a telekinetic teenager (Carrie v Jason as it's often referred to), was praised for being diverse and a fresh take on the series, yet it made just over $19.17 million. Another favourite among Jason fans was Friday the 13th part VI, which also struggled at the box office but found a fan base when on VHS.
But with all this in mind could there be a much darker and more foreboding reason that the movie failed to go into production? Friday the 13th, after all, has long been regarded as an unlucky day, and during the filming of the series various odd occurrences occurred. Could this have had something to do with it being linked to the day most considered as a day of bad luck, and did that put the studio bosses off?
But why do we choose this day in particular to fear for our lives? Superstition surrounding this day has been thought to have come about during the Middle Ages, long before the Friday the 13th movies even saw the light of day, and may have a certain element of Biblical origins according to historians who have claimed it was the day on which Eve took a bite out of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. In the New Testament there were 13 people present for Jesus’s last supper on Maundy Thursday, the day before his crucifixion on Good Friday.
The Hollywood establishment is extremely superstitious and may have come to the conclusion that having this unlucky number associated with their studio could have been the reason for their recent crop of bad box office mojo. Hollywood is a superstitious place, thanks to the extreme pressures on the numerous figureheads needed to bring a film to life and the amount of money a movie can lose if it flops in theatres, so could this have been Jason Vorhees’ final nail in the coffin? After all, they even ditched Friday the 13th from the film series title back in 2002 when Jason X was released.
Born of these showbiz superstitions is the legend of the curse. Since countless storytellers have made a home in
Hollywood myths and rumours get started extremely easily. These can escalate and mutate to become full-on urban legends… some of which can even become tales of curses. Difficult productions, or tragedies that strike while the cast and crew of a movie are still working together, can create reactions of anger and sadness. The great weight of these negative feelings can mix into tales of the supernatural, and of dark forces at work on a film. Friday the 13th is just one of those alleged cursed productions, among the crop which includes Poltergeist, The Omen and Twilight Zone: The Movie.
All twelve movies have provided audiences with jump-scares, exploding eyeballs, Jason’s transformation into a zombie and inventive death after death, and these are just a few of many of the highlights viewers have been treated to throughout the years. But along the way there were a fair number of real-life nightmares for the cast and crew of the original Friday and its eleven sequels. Movie-making can be challenging and at times a hellish nightmare, but some of these behind-the-scenes tales are truly shocking and have led to many calling the series cursed!
The alleged curse dates back to the first film released in 1980 and directed by Sean S. Cunningham. The film stars a bunch of good-looking white American teenagers who would be right at home in a Pepsi commercial and follows them as they are stalked and murdered by an unknown assailant while trying to reopen a summer camp which, years before, was the site of a child’s drowning. The scene linked to the curse in question is extremely shocking and downright barbaric, and involves the Crystal Lake camp counsellors discovering a snake that they actually kill on screen. The scene was originally not even in the script and was an idea from Tom Savini after an experience in his own cabin during filming. Like Poltergeist using real skeletons, this is believed to be where the curse stems from. Many of the cast from the original also died very sad deaths or at least suffered tormented personal lives thereafter.
Adrienne King was Friday’s first final girl Alice, her character being the one who discovered the snake as she brushed her hair on screen. She may have survived the fury of Mrs. Voorhees, played by Betsy Palmer, and a young Jason, played by Ari Lehman, but a real life nightmare began once the film was released. King was stalked relentlessly following the film’s notoriety. The actress received death threats which escalated into an actual home invasion where the stalker tried to break down her apartment door. Shaken by the experience, King decided to take a break from acting. In 2008 she was approached to appear in the reboot of Friday the 13th, but just days later the production contacted her again, stating that they had reconsidered and now wanted no-one from the original to appear in the reboot. Was this because of the rumoured curse?
Others cut down by the alleged curse included Laurie Bartram, who played Brenda. The actress died tragically in 2007 from pancreatic cancer, and while filming Tom Savini’s arrow shot scene the arrow narrowly missed Laurie by inches when she was setting up the archery target.
The Friday the 13th curse, very much like the Poltergeist curse, followed on to later films in the franchise and during a run-through of the climactic fight in Friday the 13th Part II between Jason, played by Warrington Gillette, and Ginny, played by blonde bombshell Amy Steel, the moment where Jason raises the mattock to block Ginny’s machete swing Steel stated that on the first take the timing was badly wrong and she accidentally got Steve Dash’s finger! Steve was rushed to a local emergency room and, remarkably, returned to the set the very same day to finish shooting the scene, but was left shaken by the experience. Later, during the scene where Jason is chasing Ginny and she jumps out of the woods, Dash ended up falling on the pickaxe and breaking his ribs – talk about bad luck! Another on-set accident involving Jason is when he crashes into the window and grabs Ginny. Warrington Gillette, who played Jason, was actually badly hurt. He tried to break into the window but it didn’t shatter, and he ended up banging his head on the glass. The 6ft 1in actor later recovered and filming recommenced.
Other issues on set during the filming of part 2 came after Savini left the production to work on the underrated knock-off The Burning. The studio in a panic then hired Stan Winston, who unfortunately was also forced to leave the production due to scheduling conflicts, making way for Carl Fullerton. Years after the film’s completion the alleged curse caught up with Tom McBride, who played Mark. He sadly died in 1995 due to complications from AIDS, only two weeks from his forty-third birthday. He was among many to be linked to the continuing F13 curse
Friday the 13th Part III, which was the first in the series to use the iconic hockey mask that has been in every sequel since, was relatively problem free, but there were issues. The man-made lake featured in the film wasn’t properly sealed, and consequently all the water drained into the soil during the first week of filming. Steve Susskind, who played Harold, died tragically in 2007 in a car accident, while David Wiley, who played Abel, died of cancer. Could the alleged curse have bypassed the third film because it didn’t take place on Friday the 13th, but on Saturday the 14th?
The Final Chapter is another film that escaped relatively problem-free, and like the third film it doesn’t take place on Friday 13th but begins on Sunday the 15th, with Tuesday the 17th being the climactic night. Troubled Corey Feldman, who brought young Tommy Jarvis to life, was the only actor to experience any real issues during the final chapter’s filming. It’s been alleged he was often legitimately terrified on purpose to bring qualities the director thought the previous films lacked, and additionally Ted White hated him!
Ted White, who played Jason, did not favour the young actor and later referred to him as the “meanest
goddamn little kid” he’d ever had to deal with, and he seemed to have a chip on his shoulder due to his voiceover work on Disney’s The Fox and the Hound. As such, when it was time to film the famous scene where Jason reaches through a broken window to pull Tommy out of a house, White got to genuinely act out his frustration and didn’t hold back.
Once again, however, the curse returned when Friday the 13th A New Beginning began to roll. Actress Melanie Kinnaman and director Danny Steinmann did not get along during filming. Kinnaman claimed Steinmann was hostile and unapproachable as a director and caused the experience to be overall upsetting. Although A New Beginning was a financial success, the production was very troubled and proved to be Steinmann’s final movie. He was announced as the director for a proposed sequel to The Last House on the Left but the project never came to be and he hung up his director’s hat. On December 18, 2022 he passed away.
The film was so plagued many of the cast later retired from acting, including Deborah Voorhees, yet the curse followed her career and she lost several teaching jobs when the schools discovered her New Beginning sex scene.
The curse also allegedly followed Mark Venturini, who is better known for his role in Return of the Living Dead. In New Beginning he played Victor alongside Kinnaman. He sadly died of leukaemia in 1996, adding him to the tragic deaths linked to the series.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, directed by John Carl Buechler, got off to a bad start when the original writer, Daryl Haney, was sacked after his agent contacted executive producer Frank Mancuso Jr. and told him that Haney would not do any more work on the project unless he received a large pay increase. This time it wasn’t an actress who had a difficult time but the director, John Carl Buechler. He has since stated that he clashed with associate producer Barbara Sachs continuously over many ideas that he had for the film. This included showing Jason unmasked for quite a bit of the movie. She vetoed the idea, but he ended up going behind her back and filming it anyway, causing further issues. Buechler was also not happy with the final cut of the film and was hoping one day to do a director’s cut, but all hopes were dashed when it was revealed that the footage no longer exists as Paramount destroyed all the outtakes.
Kane Hodder, who played Jason this time around, also had a near-fatal take. In the scene where Jason falls through the stairs only a certain number of the steps were meant to give way, but they didn’t, and Kane’s head narrowly misses one of the actual steps as he goes through, which could have been fatal. Many years after filming Susan Jennifer Sullivan, who played Melissa, was another cast member struck down by cancer, dying in 2009.
While the curse seemed to have slowed down over the years, much like The Grudge franchise, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives wasn’t void of its fair share of on-set problems. Originally the casting department wanted John Shepherd, who starred as Tommy in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, to return but after A New Beginning he became a born again Christian and did not want to reprise the role, which went to Thom Mathews instead. The original actor hired to play Jason was fired during the first day of shooting for being too fat, and they recast the part with C.J. Graham, a restaurant manager with no stunt experience but a military background as an Army soldier. The scene where Jason lunges at Nancy McLoughlin’s Lizbeth with a spear through the car’s windshield was almost a fatal moment during the shoot; the stuntman was supposed to aim at the opposite side, but due to the impact from the windshield the trajectory of the real and very sharp spear was redirected toward McLoughlin, who narrowly avoided being impaled.
Jason Lives was also a major box office flop upon its release, making only $19,472,057 on a budget of $3,000,000, making it the first time that a Friday the 13th movie did not gross over $20,000,000. This began the general decline in box office returns for the franchise.
The curse later struck down Ron Palillo, who played Alan Hawes; in 2012 he suffered a massive heart attack.
Studio heads hoped Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan would renew the public’s interest in the series but sadly the curse in the declining box office had well and truly set in and it was the last film in the series to be produced and distributed by Paramount. The studio’s plan to revive the series was to bring back one of the previous leading ladies to reprise their role as the final girl. Lar Park-Lincoln was invited back but she demanded more money and Paramount conveniently lost her number. Amy Steel purposefully asked for way too much money during sequel negotiations as she didn’t actually want to come back but didn’t want to burn bridges by simply refusing to return. In the end final girl went to Jensen Daggett.
Now with New Line Cinema the franchise took a complete U-Turn and Friday the 13th was retitled Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Issues with the film continued throughout and even managed to upset Tom Sullivan. The Necronomicon book found in the Voorhees house was actually a prop created by Sullivan for The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead II movies. Allegedly Sam Raimi gave the book to Adam Marcus to use in the new movie and upon the film’s completion sent a letter asking Sullivan to forgive him for not asking permission to borrow Sullivan’s Evil Dead II props for the Jason movie. Tom Sullivan said he was not paid and would never again loan out props without granting permission first.
There were allegedly issues between Michael B. Silver and Michelle Clunie, who respectively played Luke and Deborah. Prior to filming they had been a couple in real life but broke up shortly before filming began. This made for some initial awkwardness when they discovered they would be working together in such an intimate manner. It was also claimed Adam Marcus wanted Kari Keegan, who played Jessica Kimble, to do
the shower scene completely nude. Keegan has since gone on record stating she told them from the get-go she wouldn’t do nudity, while Marcus maintains she was never upfront with him about that. During the scene Keegan wore a flesh-coloured bathing suit. She claimed the water was so hot that she was literally crying from pain. Keegan complained about the whole thing to her agent, who then confronted the production team and Marcus. It was later claimed the situation between her and the director got so bad she was forced to walk off the set causing Cunningham to take the movie away from Marcus and come in to direct the final couple of days so that Keegan would return to set. Jason Goes to Hell was just that, a nightmare. It was finally released on August 13th 1993 and grossed $15.9 million, a big improvement over Jason Takes Manhattan. However, this still made it the second lowest-grossing Jason movie released up until that point.
From the start Jason X was a cursed production. Development began in the late 1990’s but was pushed back several times in favour of a Freddy v Jason outing. Finally Sean S. Cunningham decided that he needed to reintroduce Jason to a new generation of horror fans and/or at least retain some of the already established fan audience. The film was conceived by Todd Farmer. Lexa Doig and Lysa Ryder were both cast in major roles but they were contractually only allowed to do Jason X if they were released from the production by a certain date to free them up to begin filming Andromeda. As per this agreement, the production company couldn’t even afford to go over schedule by a single day with either actress.
There was a lot of infighting between Jim Isaac, who wanted the movie he directed to be tongue-in-cheek, Todd Farmer, who wanted the script he wrote to have cool sci-fi and a whole lot of gung-ho action, and Noel Cunningham, who wanted to produce something that came in on time and on budget with no issues. Sean Cunningham, on the other hand, just wanted a Friday the 13th movie, so he went over all of their heads and had Jason X re-written.
The movie was completed in April 2000, but was not released until April 26, 2023 due to New Line’s President of Production, Michael De Luca, getting fired in January 2001 after years of controversy and a string of box office flops. De Luca was the only person at the studio at the time who actually believed in Jason X, and his replacements didn’t know what to do with the movie, so it sat on a New Line shelf gathering dust until it was leaked online. By the time it finally hit theatres the hardcore Jason Vorhees fans had long since had the chance to see it already and the film bombed.
Is Friday the 13th series really cursed? I suspect it is, but it’s a curse of the producers’ own making as opposed to the on-set murder of the snake. The Friday the 13th franchise used to come out with a new movie practically every year back in the 80’s, cheaply and efficiently, sometimes with very little regard for common sense on the previous year’s chapter. Watch all the movies in a row tonight and you’ll find it one of the most scattergun film franchises in history if you don’t include the Children of the Corn franchise. Jason Voorhees wasn’t the killer until the second film. He didn’t wear the now famous hockey mask until the third movie. Jason wasn’t even the killer in the fifth movie. By the sixth film we waved “bye bye” to plausibility altogether and turned him into the walking dead. In the seventh film he fought a psychic hero inspired by Carrie. In the eighth entry he went on vacation to Manhattan. The ninth film claimed he was a body-hopping demon. The tenth film sent him to outer space, but still he continued to hold some sort of following.
Sure, a lot of the movies in the series (not including the first four films) aren’t particularly any good, but all of them are violent delights, endearing in their sheer laughability. Jason Lives also inspired Kevin Williamson to pen Scream. The sheer ubiquity of the Friday the 13th series made its many flaws forgivable, and the fact that the series was usually rather difficult to take seriously smoothed over any other cracks one might reasonably find, such as how the hell Jason got himself back to Crystal Lake from Manhattan.
In short, the producers of the newer Friday the 13th movies have been over-thinking the pitch. These movies used to be a cheap cash cow for Paramount, a popcorn-throwing shocker where you could switch your brain off at the door; it was the Blackadder of horror films. Give the likes of Pascal Laugier nine months, a budget of $3 million and free rein to go as gory and as crazy as he likes, to choose whatever bits he desires from the mythology (excluding Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X), to revive the Jason Voorhees the fans always loved, to bring back Kane Hodder and to take it direct to VOD or Netflix.
Yes, the Friday the 13th movies have been cursed, but it’s a curse that could have been lifted at any time. Hopefully it’s not too late to bring Jason back from (development) Hell. It happened with Chucky and Michael Myers, so let’s see it happen here. After all, we are not talking about Shawshank Redemption 2 – it’s a Friday the 13th movie!
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