Despite its possible roots in Christian lore (the death of Jesus having occurred on a Friday) or the phenomenon of triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13), the happenstance of the thirteenth day of the month falling on a Friday will be forever associated with Jason Voorhees, an icon of cinematic horror first spotted leaping out of Crystal Lake at the conclusion of the 1980 low-budget horror film Friday the 13th.
After thirty-five years and twelve movies (including a journey into space, a battle with fellow ’80s icon Freddy Krueger, and a 2009 remake), the murderous Jason is dyed into the wool of American popular culture, familiar even to those who avoid horror films—and, as I’d argue, can easily be read as something of a crusader for conservative Judeo-Christian morality.
In his classic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” 18th century preacher Jonathan Edwards famously writes :
The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.
This menacing portrait of God is still held by many modern religious—and in Edwards’ defense, Judeo-Christian scripture is rife with divinely wrought horror.
In the world of Friday the 13th where teens take drugs, engage in wanton sex, and…gasp…go skinny dipping, Jason Voorhees appears as a nightmarish fundamentalist Christian champion, God’s unstoppable angel of Death. He imposes judgment on those who fail to sprinkle their door with the blood of moral uprightness. He is the arrow straining against Jonathan Edwards’ righteous bow. (He is also the Moral Majority, the True Love Waits movement, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council…).
While in most fright films or literature the horror is a result of an inversion of the natural or sacred order (e.g. Dracula’s blood communion, Dr. Frankenstein creating life, etc.), Jason’s role is to preserve that order. In a culture that will only give up its moral judgment when you pry it from its cold dead fingers, the use of conservative religion as a blunt weapon against sex education in public schools, reproductive choice for women and families, or even drug legalization, seems to me to embody that same spirit of death and oppression that the demented killer Jason Voorhees represents.
Just as Jason returns again and again (sequels are always already in the works) it sometimes seems our culture will forever be fighting the conservative impetus to legislate and control morality—with a bloody (metaphorical) hatchet that menaces our rights as we look on in horror.
So how about we reclaim Friday the 13th? It could even become a day of giving to progressive causes and institutions, for taking a stand.
Less Jason, more justice.