Book I (Chapters I-IV)
Upon reflecting on the Friday the 13th saga, people rarely remember any characters outside of Jason Voorhees. And it is true that Jason is the star of the show; the marquee player. It is interesting, however, that the writers made their main character one devoid of personality and speech. This is probably why Freddy Krueger was the more popular slasher of the 1980’s- Mickey Mantle to Jason’s Roger Maris.
When watching the series front to back, the fact that the writers did attempt to infuse min-dramas for all their characters of the story became evident. This is especially true of Book I, which is essentially the story of the Voorhees family. Boiled down to its essentials, you’ve got a mother mourning the supposed death of her child in 1957, expressing her grief by mowing down teenagers until 1979, where her not-dead son, now mourning the killing of his mother, continues her killing spree as an act of misplaced aggression. The rest of the characters are just people who stepped in front of a speeding train and were treated with the courtesy of Ray Brower from Stand By Me.
“Did you know a young boy drowned the year before those two others were killed? The counselors weren’t paying any attention… They were making love while that young boy drowned. His name was Jason.”- Pamela Voorhees (Friday the 13th)
Pamela Voorhees from Chapter I is the heart of the first book, and although she is decapitated at the end of that chapter, her presence remains a spectre throughout Chapters II-IV. Her severed head plays an important role in Chapter II as both a grisly totem that Jason carries around with him (do you suppose he carries it in a carry-on? A bowling bag?) and as a nice centerpiece to Jason’s backwood hut’s kitchen table. Pamela also makes a surprise appearance in Chapter III, pulling Chris out of her canoe in much the same fashion as her son did to Alice in Chapter I. This is obviously a hallucination, as she now has regained her head and, well, the simple fact that a decomposing woman can’t burst forth from the briny deep (outside of the King Arthur legend, that is). While Jason remains a presence throughout both books, the presence of Pamela Voorhees isn’t really felt after the events of Chapter IV, and the story as a whole suffered for it.
“You son of a bitch! I’ll give ya something to remember us by.”- Trish (Friday the 13th Part IV)
As any good writer knows, it is important to identify with your story’s protagonist. Since the focus of the Friday the 13th story is on the antagonist, the writers had to infuse their ever-changing cast of “good guys” with some elements of humanity. Chapter I’s Alice, for instance, was an aspiring artist. We see many of her sketches in Chapter I, and even some lying around the house in the opening of Chapter II. We know she is recovering from a gone-south relationship with Steve Christy, who is trying to reopen Camp Blood. Her artistic streak is further on display as she strums on a guitar before the mayhem begins. Artist, musician… lover. Alice was a triple threat. Not to mention her bob haircut, which gives the viewer an subconscious connection to Dorothy Hamill, lending yet another level of comfort before the nastiness of later in the evening. Alice is the only survivor of the evening, lending to the idea that the concept of art and creation trumps unstoppable evil. At least in this case.
Chapter II’s Ginny demonstrates her individuality not through art, but through empathy and a toe-dip in the psychology pool. Like Alice, she is a blonde and is in a relationship with the head of the camp (this time its Paul, the head counselor). Ginny probably likes Paul for more than just his Aryan good looks and his being in touch with his feminine side (he recommends that the girls keep clean while on their menstrual cycles. While he seemed embarrassed to say this, it was a nice thought directed toward the fairer sex. Bears suck). You see, Ginny is an empathetic protagonist; one who obviously looks at a person beyond the aesthetics. After Paul’s ghost story at the campfire that told “the tale of Jason,” Ginny seems to be the only one who felt any sympathy toward Jason. Is he a “deranged psycho? Frightened retard?” she wonders. Unfortunately, Jason turns out to be the former, and all the armchair psychology in the world didn’t really make a difference to this set of counselors. Still, of all the protagonists of the series, Ginny came closest to understanding the motivation of the Voorhees family in Book I: a mother seeking revenge for what happened to her son. She even put herself in Pamela Voorhees’ shoes (or cableknit sweater, as it were) in an attempt to confuse Jason in Chapter II’s climax. I like that she even played with her hair a bit, you know, just for that extra bit of verisimilitude. The viewer relates to Ginny because she tries to get inside the head of Jason; to see what made him tick. Who knows, if she had gotten to him a bit earlier, maybe she could have gotten through to him.
What we do know is that her attempt at head-shrinking did not result in any breakthroughs on the couch for poor Jason; instead, it led to the events of Chapter III. As in Chapter I & II, our protagonist Chris Higgins is involved in a broken relationship with resident hunk Rick. Chris, you see, has had a “traumatic experience in her past that she’d rather not relive, yet is returning to the scene of said traumatic experience in an attempt to overcome it.” Whatever, it means that Rick has been taking numerous cold showers, according to him. We discover later, of course, that this “traumatic experience” came courtesy of one Jason Voorhees. I’m not sure what it is about being attacked by a member of the Voorhees family that makes one want to return to where it happened to “get past it.” It didn’t work for Alice in Chapter II, and one enters Chapter III with low expectations in regards to the future happiness of Chris and Rick. And in true Voorhees style, Jason works through his aggression by killing everyone at Higgins Haven, save Chris. She seems shocked when she confronts an unmasked Jason and it turns out to be the very man who accosted her in her “traumatic event.” Who else would it be? How many “deranged psychos” or “frightened retards” are running around these woods? Nevertheless, one roots for her to overcome her fear by once again facing Jason in a fight to…, well if not the finish, then at least to “right now.” On a side note, another thing about tussling with a Voorhees? It causes you to decompress by taking a canoe to the middle of the lake where you hallucinate that a member of the family rises from the depth and pulls you under. We last see a clearly disturbed Chris being taken away, presumably to the booby hatch.
While Chris survives, we never hear from her again in the series. Our sympathies immediately transfer to the Jarvis family in Chapter IV, the last chapter of Book I. The Jarvis’s are comprised of Mom and her two children, Trish and Tommy. Their absentee father is estranged from the family, and doesn’t fit into the story at all. Trish is an average teen who lives in the middle of nowhere, and Tommy is established as a technological wizard with a penchant for creating Hollywood-caliber horror masks. For the first time, the protagonists have no previous connection to Jason- they aren’t camp counselors who were indirectly responsible for his own drowning or the death of his mother, and they haven’t been once accosted by him years earlier. No, these are heroes who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and because of this, your sympathy naturally lies with them. In much the same way Hitchcock used the theme of “wrongfully accused everyman” in several of his films, the Jarvis kids serve as “wrongfully placed everyman” in Chapter IV. Tommy, who goes on to be the protagonist in the first two chapters of Book II, begins on his path of tortured soul at the end of Chapter IV. He takes advantage of Jason’s extreme susceptibility to imitation by shaving his head and actually pretending to be Jason as a boy. I can only wonder what Jason would have made of a professional mimic like Rich Little if he is so easily fooled by Tommy here and Ginny in Chapter II. He’d most likely soil his khakis at how uncanny Little’s Sammy Davis Jr. was.
That’s it for main characters. Tomorrow, we’ll look at a few of the more minor characters on the chopping block.