Pop Optics: A Brief Synopsis of the Friday the 13th Timeline

A brief pondering on Friday the 13th, the most linear and coherent of horror films.

I won’t spend too much time discussing this topic. It’s something I’ve dwelled on a lot and would like to share. The Friday the 13th franchise might be the one horror film series that has the most consistent timeline of any other series, especially of the other Big 3 (Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street). How does this happen?

With a few exceptions, it’s pretty straight forward.

They established their timeline in the second film (which, personally, I feel is stronger than the first film and is more of “take two” than a sequel in my eyes), starting off with recapping the closing events of the first film via a dream sequence. We then transition to the present time with the surviving character from the first film, Alice, then being killed off in reality. The timeline then jumps five years, returning to Camp Crystal Lake where the events of the first film are brought up once again, confirming that this film is canonically linked.

They repeat this two more times, where the ending of the prior film is also the opening of the next, in both Part III and Part IV. Part III opens with Jason dragging his supposedly lifeless body out of frame with the surviving counselors being tended to by paramedics. We then cut to a country store run by a bickering couple where Jason has now wandered onto, steals some new clothes and dispatches the proprietors. From there, he makes his way to a farmstead where a group of young adults will be spending the weekend. The events of Part III occur the following day after the events of Part II.

Part III ends with a zoom-in of “dead” Jason, lying on the barn floor where he was “slain.” Part IV opens on this same scene, now with Jason’s body being transported to the hospital and dropped off at the morgue. He awakens from his nap and carries on like he never got an axe to the skull. So, Part IV also takes place within the same weekend as II and III. This is a long busy Friday the 13th for Jason, so I hope he’s getting paid overtime for his efforts.

Now, Part III was only tangiently connected to Part II thanks to a news report of the massacre at the camp. Part IV creates a new connection to Part II with one of the characters, Rob, being the older brother of a slain counselor from Part II and he’s out to get revenge. The wrinkle in this is that, if everything has happened in the same weekend, how can Rob have various articles on the exploits of Jason? Has Jason been murdering for longer than we know? Has his legend been more well-known beyond campfire stories? Who knows? I don’t think the writers really cared all that much about being internally consistent as much as wanting to expand the lore of Jason and the mystique of Crystal Lake.

Anyway, Part IV ends with Jason definitively dead and Part V takes a detour. Instead of opening with the closing events of Part IV, Part V kicks off with a dream sequence, with Corey Feldman returning for a cameo appearance as his character, Tommy Jarvis. Tommy wakes up in the new present, which is somewhere between 3-6 years after Part IV. It’s never really confirmed, but Tommy was twelve in Part IV and he’s being taken to a halfway house for teens in Part V, so he’d have to be no older than eighteen (having worked in behavioral health with teenagers, when they reached eighteen, they were being prepared for discharge, but this could be a home for older teens/young adults who have aged out of youth care – yes, I am thinking more deeply about this than I promised but I have thought a lot about this). So, we’re still theoretically in the same timeline, following an existing character in a new environment as they’re haunted by the apparition of Jason, who may or may not be committing their crimes on the periphery. It turns out some guy named Roy was cosplaying as Jason. Nice going, Roy.

Part V ends with the implication that Tommy will take on the mantle of Jason, but swerve! Part VI decides to reverse course and resurrect Jason for real, thus turning him into a true undead killer as opposed to a seemingly unkillable though mortal killer. Tommy is also here, played by a third actor, thus creating a mini-arc within the franchise (pretty bold for there to be a pseudo-trilogy of sorts in the middle of a series). Crystal Lake also isn’t Crystal Lake, now known as Forest Green with a desire to distance itself from the tragedies of the Crystal Lake name. This film concludes with Jason being drowned but not dead, closing the Jarvis arc.

Part VII moves further ahead into the future, but again, no concrete dates are given. The main character, Tina, was a child somewhere during the weekend of Parts II-IV, with her killing her dad with her mind powers, sending him to the depths below in the same lake a dead Jason slumbers. Now a teen, she tries to bring her dad back but it’s Jason who rises from the depths. He’s also beefier and grimey, probably thanks to being water-logged all this time. This is also probably the first film where the Jason lore isn’t really brought up a whole lot, but that’s negligible to the story itself, which is trying to position a girl with telekinesis against a brick shithouse zombie.

Part VII ends with Jason back in the water, being dragged down by Tina’s dad (yeah – that happens) and we move on to Part VIII, with Jason back in his new home under the lake. He’s once again brought back to life, via electric shock when a boat’s anchor cuts open power lines and they make contact with Jason’s body. Jason hops aboard, kills some teens then chills on the boat as it drifts to the ocean of all places and he decides to trade out a small boat with two dead teens for a large ship with more living teens he can kill off.

I’ll stop here as Part VIII ends the Paramount run of the franchise, with the rights being acquired by New Line Cinema and Jason Goes To Hell establishing a new timeline with additional lore. Though, one could argue that this entry treats the Paramount films as cannon up to a point  as Jason still has his signature hockey mask and stalks Crystal Lake to kill unwitting teens looking to have a good time. However, with it being ever present throughout the 1980s, the franchise dwindled in the 90s with just the one release, not seeing a new film until Jason X in 2002, nearly a full 9 years later. Basically, the first eight films did all the heavy lifting to provide a backstory for Jason, with New Line hoping to push forth with a new series of films, but the underwhelming performance of …Goes To Hell as well as the demise of the slasher genre in the 90s put a big ol’ machete in those prospects.

To recap, here’s the main points of consistency in the franchise:

  • Jason is first a child who drowns at Camp Crystal Lake
  • Jason’s mother, Pamela, kills counselors as revenge and is the main villain in Part I
  • Part II uses scenes from Part I as well as a character to connect the two films
  • Part II takes place five years after Part I, with Jason now aged up and serving as the antagonist
  • Part III takes place day after the conclusion of Part II
  • Part III also establishes that Jason has been alive for sometime prior to his appearance in Part II
  • Part IV takes place in the same weekend as Parts II and III
  • Part IV also has a character who is related to a victim in Part II
  • Part IV kills Jason
  • Part V is the first deviation from the established timeline, but follows Tommy Jarvis, introduced in Part IV
  • Part V has Jason has dead, with the murders being done by a copycat (Fucking Roy)
  • Part VI pivots and brings Jason back from the dead
  • Part VI again centers around Tommy Jarvis and his crusade to kill Jason for good
  • Part VII takes place years after Part VI, with Jason still in the lake
  • Part VIII takes place some time after Part VII, again with Jason back in the lake before being brought back to life
  • Part VIII concludes with Jason having been reverted to his child form, drowning in waste water in the sewers of Vancouver, I mean New York

You can see that past VI, the series loses the plot and stops caring about being as internally consistent as the previous films. They retain the established conclusions of the prior films, but you can tell that they knew the idea of teens being slashed in the woods was getting played out. Part VIII tries to shake things up by having Jason kill teens on a boat for the first hour, then he stalks them around the city streets of “Manhattan.”

Now, again, the series largely sticks to its established chronology and does better with connecting the dots than other long-running horror franchises (I’d say only the Nightmare series comes close with this, but that’s a conversation for another time). However, a few things have stuck out to me as I’ve thought about the canon and I have two pet theories I’d like to present.

Theory 1: Jason Isn’t Jason

In Part III, the main character of Chris Higgins mentions that two years ago, she was attacked in the woods by a deformed man, presumed to be Jason as we see in the same film. This is later confirmed when Chris sees the unmasked Jason briefly and recognizes him. Now, Part III is the same weekend as Part II, so that’s five years after Part I, which takes place 22 years after Jason’s drowning. Jason drowned in 1957, Part I is set in 1979, Parts II-IV are 1984. Let’s assume Jason was around age 12 in 1957, he’d have been 39 come the events of Part II. However, it’s clear in Part II that he’s probably somewhere in his early twenties, so let’s actually say Jason in Part II was 21. Well, we can’t. 27 years passed between 1957 and 1984. The youngest I’m willing to put Jason at in 1957 would be seven, thus making him 34 in 1984.

My theory is that the Jason we see in Part II and Part III isn’t the real Jason. Instead, I think the Jason we see in Part II is likely some hermit who lived in the woods, found Pamela’s body, and projected a life he never had onto her, assuming her to be his mother. This Jason is also not the same Jason as seen in Part III. We do see the wounded Jason crawl away at the start of Part III, but the Jason we follow in that film is noticeably bulkier, bald, and not wounded. There might be a relation between these two Jasons, but that’s left unknown.

Yes, they kept recasting Jason’s up until Part VII, thus creating an inconsistency in his depiction, but in this theory, this corrects that. Of course, saying that these aren’t the real Jason causes a new problem in that why would they assume the Jason identity? Why does Jason in Part II have such a strong reverence for Pamela as their mother figure?

Theory 2: Jason is Jason, but only for one film

Instead of the Jason in Part II not being the actual Jason, I will say that he actually is Jason, but not really.

Allow me to explain.

It’s established that Pamela only had one child, her son Jason, who drowned at Camp Crystal Lake in 1957. However, there’s nothing to say that she had another child, either biological or adopted. Let’s assume she had another child at some point after Jason’s drowning and after she got her first round of revenge. It would line up with how young Jason looks in Part II and makes sense as to why he would have a shrine to dead mother (complete with decapitated head) in the woods and be riding his own wave of revenge. I think Pamela raised another son in Jason’s place, referring to him as Jason as well, and projecting onto them the life he would have had.

Of course, does this mean that it is the same Jason in Part III onward?

No. I still think this is a different person. I think the Jason from Part II crawls away and dies from his wounds elsewhere. It’s never confirmed if his body is found or not. And, again, this Jason is bigger and older than Part II. My thought is that there was another hermit (there’s a lot of them in Crystal Lake come to think of it) lurking in the same woods. He’s never referred to as Jason in Part III – in fact, Part III really doesn’t make any attempt to suggest it is Jason beyond the opening scene. Even though he responds to being called “Jason” in Part IV, I don’t think that’s him acknowledging that he’s Jason, just reacting to someone getting his attention.

So, that’s my thought-dump on the Friday the 13th series.

Anyone have any other thoughts, theories? Share them in the comments below.