In the sordid history of slasher movies, two films can take credit (or blame, depending on your point of view) for being the foundation upon which the rest of the genre was built: 1978’s Halloween, which introduced the world to the seemingly unstoppable serial killer Michael Myers, and 1980’s Friday the 13th, which brought forth the mother-obsessed mongoloid Jason Voorhees. Both of these movies have achieved lasting recognition, and enjoying one in no way hinders one’s ability to enjoy the other. But since we love an argument, we have to ask: Which is better? Specifically, which one left a greater legacy? To answer this question we must consider several criteria, beginning with perhaps the shallowest indicators:
1. COMMERCIAL SUCCESS
HALLOWEEN: Grossed around $70 million worldwide off of a $325,000 budget, making it the most successful independent film ever made at the time of its release.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: Cost $550,000 and brought in around $60 million worldwide.
WINNER:Halloween. Both films were smash hits, but Halloween smashed a little harder.
HALLOWEEN: You can kind of see a little blood in the opening scene, if you look really closely.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: Throat-slitting! Neck-spearing! Decapitation! An axe embedded in a woman's face! If Halloween invented the slasher flick, Friday the 13th's cringingly convincing gore effects (created by now-legendary goremeister Tom Savini) added the graphic bloodshed which would come to be seen as an essential ingredient of the subgenre.
WINNER:Friday the 13th. One doesn't have to judge a horror movie by its gore, but if one does, Halloween doesn't have much to offer.
3. ICON STATUS
HALLOWEEN: Michael Myers was the first masked slasher to stalk the screen, and his eerily pale mask has undoubtedly popped up in countless nightmares since his debut. Also, the film's theme music (composed by writer/director John Carpenter) has more or less become the anthem of the entire Halloween season.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: After 1980, summer camp never seemed quite as innocent or safe. Perhaps more important, however, is Jason's appropriation of the vintage full-face fiberglass hockey mask (which, to be fair, didn't come into play until 1982's Friday the 13th Part III). The hockey mask became an almost omnipresent pop cultural symbol of slasher movies, and came to be associated more with serial murder than with goaltending.
WINNER:Friday the 13th, if we can count the hockey mask. The Friday the 13th series took a sporting accessory and made it synonymous with homicidal mayhem; despite the Halloween series' best efforts, William Shatner's face remains synonymous with comically overblown egotism.
HALLOWEEN: Popularized almost all of the major elements now associated with slasher movies (many of which would show up in Friday the 13th two years after Halloween's release): Tracking shots filmed from the killer's point of view, horny teenagers, the innocent Final Girl who ends up having to confront the killer on her own, etc. On the other hand, many of these elements actually originated in the little-known (but excellent) 1974 film Black Christmas, which seems to have inspired many of Carpenter's directorial choices.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: As stated earlier, Friday the 13th began the trend towards graphic onscreen gore. Also, the series as a whole managed to produce new entries on an almost yearly basis throughout the 1980s, establishing the template for long-running horror franchises like the Saw films. (We're not saying this was necessarily a good thing, but still...)
5. CRITICAL ACCLAIM
HALLOWEEN: Wasn't universally praised upon its release, but did receive enthusiastic support from some prominent critics, including Roger Ebert, who called the film "an absolutely merciless thriller, a movie so violent and scary that, yes, I would compare it to 'Psycho.'" Halloween currently holds a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is often listed as one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
FRIDAY THE 13TH: Always more popular with audiences than with critics, some of whom (including Ebert) objected to the film morally as well as aesthetically due to its depiction of violence. Its reputation hasn't particularly improved with age; it now stands at 60% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Taking these criteria into account, we now present our final verdict:
OVERALL WINNER:Halloween. Both films are giants in slasher history, but Halloween is simply a better movie. Meticulously and intelligently constructed on almost every level, it still functions as a persuasive demonstration of the genre's value and potential.
Of course, there's still one question we haven't addressed which has nothing to do with cinematic quality, and yet is integral to our discussion:
6. WHO WOULD WIN IN A FIGHT?
MICHAEL MYERS: Characterized as an embodiment of "the boogeyman," Michael may or may not be a demon created by a Druidic cult, depending on how seriously you take Halloween 6. Either way, he appears to be basically unkillable and sometimes demonstrates superhuman strength by smashing through glass and/or people with his bare hands.
JASON VOORHEES: A hulking mutant hermit, Jason's death-defying resilience seems to be more genetic than supernatural. Nonetheless, he's arguably more imposing and athletic than Michael and seems to take even more sadistic pleasure in destruction.
WINNER: Michael would kill Jason. Jason would get struck by lightning and come back shortly thereafter, but regardless…
We still consider you very scary, though, Jason. Seriously, no offense. Put the machete down, please…
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