If Books Could Kill: Jason Voorhees in Print
Somewhere along the way, Friday the 13th got a new mascot. Instead of an unlucky black cat — back arched, fur standing on end, claws bared, hissing — the official symbol of this unofficial holiday became a mute serial killer in a hockey mask.
His name is Jason, and today is HIS day. Today, you won’t be able to look at social media without seeing his masked mug on every other post. There will be lists about his best kills, and debates about who is the best “Final Girl” (it’s Ginny, from Part 2), and arguments over which is his best movie (it’s The Final Chapter).
Here at Cemetery Dance, we love movies, but we live for books. So on this, the last Friday the 13th of 2018, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at the Jason Voorhees story as it has played out in print. As you’ll see, the authors who have tackled the character of Jason Voorhees over the years have taken him on a ride as wild — and wildly uneven — as the film franchise itself.
The first Friday the 13th film to get the novelization treatment was not the first Friday the 13th film — it was the third. The first Friday the 13th Part 3: 3-D novelization was written by Michael Avallone and published by Tower & Leisure Sales Co. in August 1982 — the same month the movie was released. The paperback’s cover illustration contained a couple of subtle spoilers concerning Jason’s look; specifically, his hockey mask, new to him in this installment and missing an ax blade-sized chunk on the left side, right where Chris Higgins lands her killshot in the movie.
Avallone’s book sticks very close to the movie; I thought we might get more details on the “did-he/didn’t-he” debate that surrounds the early Chris Higgins/Jason encounter, but it’s presented in the book almost exactly as it is in the movie.
In 1986, paperback publisher Signet commissioned Simon Hawke to novelize Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, and gave him a whopping seven days to do it. Hawke wrote about his experience novelizing the film on his Goodreads blog, detailing some severe restrictions imposed by Paramount Pictures, and explaining how author Steve Rasnic Tem and rock icon Billy Idol helped him write the book.
Hawke delivered the book on time and the powers-that-be enjoyed his method of taking readers inside Jason’s head enough to hire him novelize the first three movies (including, yes, the already-novelized Part 3). He got a week apiece to write those, as well, but unfortunately the books didn’t do well enough at the time to justify closing the gap with novelizations of The Final Chapter and A New Beginning.
Another chunk of movies was skipped over, and it looked like Jason’s time in print was over until New Line Cinema and Black Flame Publications brought in Stephen Hand to novelize the wildly anticipated crossover flick Freddy vs. Jason in 2003. Black Flame went on to publish the Jason X novelization in January 2005. It would be the springboard for a whole slew of Jason titles to come from Black Flame in the months ahead.
With the January 2005 publication of Jason X, Black Flame jumped into the Jason business in a big way. Over the next 18 months they released 10 books revolving around Jason Voorhees – five Jason X titles and five Friday the 13th titles. Pat Cadigan and Nancy Kilpatrick were the MVPs of the Jason X line, writing two apiece (Jason X and The Experiment by Cadigan; Planet of the Beast and To the Third Power by Kilpatrick). Five different authors took on the Friday the 13th books, including a returning Stephen Hand.
In the case of both series, Black Flame seemed to take a wide-open policy when it came to the concepts they allowed the authors to purse. The Jason X series followed the new cyborg version of Pamela’s boy through a set of adventures that mixed sci-fi concepts like cloning and super soldiers with more straightforward slasher conceits — in Death Moon, for example, the action is set in a school for troubled girls.
The Friday the 13th series of books kept things more grounded, at least as far as the setting is concerned. Most of the stories take place in and around Crystal Lake, although Hell Lake does begin in, well, Hell. In Church of the Divine Psycopath, Jason is worshipped by a religious cult; in Carnival of Maniacs, he’s a sideshow attraction.
Like the franchise they were born of, the Black Flame books vary in tone and quality. Still, it’s fun to see all the different directions these writers chose, and to watch them take chances in print that the franchise’s film overlords would never allow.
Sadly, all of these books — the novelizations and Black Flame books alike — are out of print. They’re easy enough to find, but they fetch fairly large prices from collectors, particularly Hawke’s novelizations, which can go for several hundred dollars apiece. I know the rights situation around the Friday the 13th series is a gigantic mess right now, but I can only imagine that reprints of these books, as well as new novels centering around the Friday franchise, would do well in a world where NECA is releasing action figures of Jason and you can buy the soundtracks of the first five movies on lushly packaged vinyl.
Somewhere along the way, someone was looking for new ideas for the Young Adult fiction market, and their thoughts turned naturally to the Friday the 13th series. Along came “Tales from Camp Crystal Lake,” a loosely connected series of tales written by “Eric Morse,” the pen name of William Pattison.
The central concept is that Jason’s hockey mask is possessed by his evil. In each book, someone gets hold of the mask and is led by the spirit to wreak bloody havoc on a variety of victims. The first two books, Mother’s Day and Jason’s Curse, follow the saga of a young man and his sister who run afoul of the curse. Books three and four continue the hijinks with a carnival and a bus crash, respectively.
Publisher Berkley ended the series after the fourth book, but Pattison went ahead and wrote a fifth entry called The Mask of Jason Voorhees, which attempted to explain the resurrection of Jason and also addressed elements from the short-lived Friday the 13th television series. Lacking a publisher, Pattison made the book available as a free download, which is amazingly still floating around.
The “Making-Of” Books
The best making-of book dealing with the Friday the 13th franchise is, in my opinion, the best Friday the 13th book, period. Peter M. Bracke’s Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (originally published in 2005 by Sparkplug Press and available now from Titan Books) is a massive, gorgeous love letter to the franchise and everyone involved in it. It set a high standard that making-of books in general, and those revolving around horror franchises in particular, should aspire to. It also inspired a sprawling documentary, likewise called Crystal Lake Memories, that is a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in the franchise.
Crystal Lake Memories is a hard act to follow, and David Grove’s examination of the series, Making Friday the 13th: The Legend of Camp Blood, suffers from a lack of the production values and depth of information that help Bracke’s book stand out. Grove’s On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday the 13th focuses squarely on the first movie, and that narrow treatment serves it well; it’s packed with the kind of minutiae that die-hard fans crave. Both books are entertaining and worth tracking down.
More recently, Dustin McNeill brought us Slash of the Titans: The Road to Freddy vs. Jason, a detailed account of the many attempts at bringing these two slasher icons together onscreen. McNeill spills the details on 12 (!) different treatments and scripts; it seems like nearly everyone in Hollywood took a crack at it, from horror author David J. Schow to comics writer Mark Verheiden to current DC Universe screenwriter David Goyer. The suggested plots take these titans of terror through convoluted storylines and settings that include televangelists, courtrooms, the Netherworld, seventeenth-century Italy, and so much more. McNeill packs the book with interviews, synopses and fascinating behind-the-curtain details. It’s an enthralling look at the exhaustive process New Line Cinema undertook before settling on the somewhat bland, WWE-style slugfest they eventually released.
Okay — here’s where things really get crazy. The website Den of Geek did a fantastic job of examining the weird history of Friday the 13th comics, so I’m just gonna touch on some highlights before sending you their way.
Topps Comics took the first crack at Jason in 1993 in the fourth issue of a series called Satan’s Six. Jason is summoned by a demon to do some damage, but the whole thing devolves into a barely-disguised advertisement for Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, the ninth movie in the franchise and the one which Topps Comics was coincidentally adapting in a series by Andy Mangels and Cynthia Martin.
As you know, Jason Goes to Hell ends with the most iconic tease in horror history: Freddy’s glove dragging Jason’s mask straight to Hell. So, naturally, Topps followed up their Final Friday adaptation with…Jason vs. Leatherface?
That was it for Topps and Jason, and it took a whole decade for another publisher to jump into Crystal Lake. Avatar Press — never one to shy away from ultra-gory exploitation action — ran hard with the sex ‘n kills formula of the movie franchise, putting out a series of one-shots featuring Jason killing a bunch of people in creatively violent ways.
DC’s Wildstorm imprint grabbed the reigns next, sticking mostly to the basics but emphasizing the supernatural elements of the Jason story in their comics. They ended their run with Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, based on an unfilmed Freddy vs. Jason sequel script. The comics were a messy, mythos-laden nightmare and died a quick, quiet death.
If anything, stepping back and looking at the history of the Friday the 13th franchise in print proves that there’s a lot of potential for growth despite the simple premise of the movies themselves. I have no doubt there’s an audience out there who would embrace more written adventures centering around Jason Voorhees, but considering the complicated legal mess the rights for Friday the 13th material are currently embroiled in, it’s more a matter of “if” it will happen than “when.”
Blu Gilliand is the managing editor of Cemetery Dance magazine and Cemetery Dance Online. In 1984 he talked his dad into taking him to see Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, and things were never the same. He’s got the perfect idea to reboot the Friday the 13th franchise, so keep an eye out for that. He likes to talk horror, football, and other stuff, so hit him up on Twitter: @BluGilliand.