Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: Looking At The Friday the 13th Ripoffs

January 28, 2016 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Friday the 13th. We all love the movies, at least most of us do. It’s the horror definition of comfort food. We know exactly what we’re getting with each entry and we can watch them and be entertained. Jason’s always there and once Paramount gets their stuff together, he’ll be back. But what if we’re tired of waiting and just need a fix of horror movies set in the woods/at camp?

I think it’s fair to say that while Halloween, Psycho and Peeping Tom gave rise to the modern slasher movie, Friday the 13th perfected the formula. It brought in the various stereotypes, put them in a single location and let them get hacked to pieces by both Pamela and Jason Voorhees. It was so popular when it was released in a 1980 that it sparked a slasher boom in the 80s that didn’t really die out until the 90s. Not just slashers, but the kind that use the Friday formula. Then Scream came around and created its own boom. Now we’re in 2016 and there aren’t many slashers of any kind. But that’s a rant for another day.

In addition to the wave of holiday-themed horror films and slashers that use this particular style, there were also many slashers set in camp or the woods, especially in the wake of Friday the 13th. Some of them were rip-offs, some of them did their own thing but are still called rip-offs anyway.

So this week, I’m going to take a look at this trend in horror where every studio tried to make a quick buck on someone that’s not Jason killing people in a place that’s not Crystal Lake. To be a little more specific, this is about slasher films set in a camp or the woods that take place after the release of Friday the 13th (May 9, 1980). If it happened before that or it doesn’t involve a psychopath butchering helpless people, it doesn’t matter for this conversation. So while The Evil Dead is set in the woods, it has nothing to do with this topic. Let’s start in chronological order with…

The Burning is not a Friday the 13th rip-off, at least it’s not an intentional one. The story was in development in 1979, even if it did open almost a year to the day from the original Friday (and came a mere week after Part II). Even if it’s not a rip-off, it’s certainly seen that way by a lot of horror fans. It’s easy to see why someone might think that. It’s set at a summer camp, people are killed one by one and it’s a disfigured killer doing the job. Tom Savini even did the makeup effects. Of course, Cropsy is based on an urban legend that was popular in the 1960s and 70s, so even though Jason (even as the villain) came first in movies, Cropsy is based on the legend and is in no way a rip off.

Even if it was, it’s a really good slasher movie. It’s probably one of my favorites of the 80s, even better than some of the Friday the 13th films that followed it. It features some of Tom Savini’s best work, The scene on the boat where Cropsy springs up and murders a bunch of campers with garden shears is one of the most underrated sequences in horror film history. Of all the movies on this list, you should have already seen this.

I’ve called this a Friday rip-off in the past but even though it arrived a year later, Just Before Dawn was in production before the first film was released. Still, it feels like a rip-off, which is probably why it gets lumped in with them. A group of hikers go into the woods only to get picked off one by one by a mountain man. This is a better movie than you’d think. It’s well-shot, the killer is creepy and there’s a twist I didn’t see coming.

However, it still shares a lot of similarities with the other slashers that arrived during this time. It features a pretty crazy kill in the opening but depending on what version you get it could be blood free. When I first saw this movie I got the edited version and was sorely disappointed. However, even without blood it still has moments (however fleeting) of suspense, the twist is cool and the actors all have great chemistry. They feel like friends instead of a group of people bickering until they die. That makes a huge difference in getting you to care for the victims and not seeing them get it in nasty ways.

The last of 1981’s slasher movies set in the woods is probably the worst. Don’t Go In The Woods (or Don’t Go In The Woods…Alone) is probably best known as being on the video nasties list, which was banned in the UK. I’ll do something on that trend eventually, because it was absolutely ridiculous. Anyway, this movie arrived in September of ’81, meaning there was more than enough time to put it together after Friday‘s release.

There’s a bunch of people, including campers, in the woods and a backwoods psychopath is offing them. It’s considered one of the worst horror films of the 1980s by several people, with almost everyone agreeing that it’s not good. If it wasn’t banned in the UK, it wouldn’t be remembered. The biggest crime is that even with the bad script, bad acting and bad everything else, it’s mostly just incredibly dull. That’s something that not even the worst Jason movie can claim.

Next up is 1982’s Madman. The film was originally also supposed to be about the Cropsy legend, but then the writers learned about The Burning and quickly changed things up. Now it’s best known as a Friday the 13th rip-off, almost by accident. Madman isn’t terribly original, but there are moments of fun here and there. I imagine having to completely overhaul the script didn’t do any the film any favors.

There’s not much I can say about a movie like this. It’s a generic slasher. As long as they’re not boring, I can get behind most of them. This isn’t boring, as it benefits from the use of gore and the idea of the killer being a local legend that’s summoned. Madman isn’t anything special, but you could do far worse. At least they tried to invent their own boogeyman instead of blatantly stealing from Friday, unlike other movies on this list.

This is probably the most well-known of the Friday the 13th rip-offs. Fans of the film try to defend it and say it’s not, but outside of that twist at the end, it’s totally a Friday clone. At the very least it tries to set itself apart with its killer and backstory, but that only happens at the beginning and end. Everything else is a hidden killer stalking teenagers at a camp, killing them one by one. It even has all the stereotyped characters these movies are known for. The only difference is that the campers are dying in addition to the counselors.

The sequels are even worse about being knock-offs, to the point that the cover of Sleepaway Camp 2 has a hockey mask on the cover and someone dresses like Jason. Of course, the sequels are just terrible movies, period. At least the first is mean-spirited and has that ending that no one saw coming at the time. Of course it’s been spoiled to hell and back these days, but if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’ve seen it anyway.

Never heard of this movie? Neither have I! Well that is, until I watched it for this week’s column. At this point, the movies are completely blatant. The last one is the only one that is more of an homage than an outright ripoff, but we’ll get to that. This movie doesn’t just rip off Friday the 13th, it has an opening that is a mix of the openings from The Burning and Prom Night.

The rest is standard stuff, only really low standards. It’s not even worth watching, unless you’re just hard-up for something new from the 80s and have to get your slasher fix. The movie feels lazy, mostly. It’s a really cheap cash-grab, even shot on the same set as Friday the 13th Part III, if IMDB is to be believed. That means it wasn’t released until five years after it was shot, which I probably should have read about before sitting down to watch it.

Cool poster aside, this movie is also another “killer at camp” Jason clone. However, it benefits from not taking itself too seriously. You can tell that just by looking at the trailer, which features the dorkiest rap song about murdered cheerleaders ever. And hey, Leif Garrett is there too, if you’re old enough to remember him. This is an obvious rip-off but it’s also kind of fun to watch, which is rare with late 80s slashers.

It has all the stereotypes Friday fans are fond of, with all of the gore and nudity to boot. It got a loosely-related sequel called Camp Fear in 1991, but that was about a cult and mostly not connected outside of some shared actors. If you’re going to blatantly rip off a movie, at least make it a fun watch and not something that feels like a chore. You’ve seen better movies than Cheerleader Camp but it’s entertaining for what it is.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A masked figure stalks the woods, dispatching campers one by one. This movie is such a cliche-ridden, no-budget affair that is so blatant, the box cover is clearly meant to evoke Jason. Look at that mask, it even looks like a hockey mask if you squint your eyes. This movie is something you’d find on the video shelf in the late 90s and not even think twice about it. It doesn’t even have the notoriety that the next film on the list has. It’s just bland and boring.

I think the worst part about Memorial Day is that it doesn’t even try to be anything else. It’s a Friday clone in an era when everyone was doing Scream clones, so it has a little bit of that in there too. It’s a self-aware horror movie that isn’t self-aware about being a complete knock-off of better, more memorable movies. That’s probably why Maverick Entertainment lets you watch the movie for free on Youtube. It doesn’t expect you to actually pay for it. You’re welcome?

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about Bloody Murder and it probably won’t be the last. Buying this in a cheap 8-movie pack was my inspiration for this edition. There was a time in my life where I was just getting into horror and so I watched everything I could grab at the video store. Sometimes that resulted in discovering my love of Full Moon or undiscovered gems like 2001’s Slashers. Other times it resulted in finding movies like this.

Bloody Murder attempts to be a Scream for Friday the 13th fans. The result, however, is a completely unlikable horror film that doesn’t feature the blood and nudity you’d expect from a movie like this. So who, exactly, was this movie made for? I’m still not sure. It’s a movie that thinks it’s clever because it has a hero named Jason and a killer named (are you ready) Trevor Moorehouse. This movie actually got a sequel in 2003, which isn’t anything special but at lest it manages to be what slasher fans generally look for. Go find that and ignore this one completely.

It would be taking it a little far to outright call the Hatchet series a group of Friday the 13th rip-offs. Sure, it’s about a large, disfigured, supernatural killer played by Kane Hodder, but it’s set in a swamp! This movie is actually more of an homage, and a chance for Kane to do what he does best, violently butcher people. I actually prefer Hatchet 2 to the first film, and the third isn’t all that bad either. The first seems like it’s trying too hard for me. Maybe I just got caught up in the hype and was disappointed that it didn’t live up to it.

Victor Crowley is a fun horror villain that I hope keeps coming back for more movies. The Hatchet movies are wonderful for horror fans, especially those who are really into gore. These movies are notoriously nasty, even in a world where we have The Human Centipede. At least there’s a point to Hatchet.

Ending Notes:

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