Slasher movies, much like their monsters, never seem to die. The genre's foundations were laid by films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and solidified by John Carpenter's infamous Halloween. Since those days, we've seen hundreds of masked murderers, supernatural and otherwise, be labeled as slashers. While many of their myths have faded into obscurity, there are several names that stand tall. Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Chuckie, Leatherface. But perhaps the most recognizable, and one of the most infamous among them, is the hockey-masked avatar of teenage demise Jason Voorhees.
While Friday The 13th was accused of being a cheap cash-in on the success of Halloween, I'd argue that Jason has grown to be one of the (if not the) greatest of the slashers, for several different reasons.
Reason #1: Biggest Body Count
While all slashers are killers, some take their art to a whole new level. And while Mr. Voorhees is known for using his trademark machete, he hasn't been shy about beating, spearing, goring, crushing, drowning, or sawing his victims into pieces, either.
The result of his eclectic style is that Jason has the most kills under his belt among his peers. This infographic from Geek Tyrant shows that the closest challenger to his number of Michael Myers, but even he can't keep up with Jason's raw bloodlust. A doubly impressive feat, given that Jason didn't kill a single person in the first installment of the franchise he would become the face of.
Reason #2: An Iconic Appearance
While Jason wasn't even in the first Friday The 13th except in a flashback, and he wore a bag over his head in the second installment of the film, there is no denying that no one thought a hockey mask could look that sinister before it was worn by this not-so-gentle giant. The mask (which started as a design from the Detroit Redwings) has gone through a lot of different iterations over the years, but it is instantly recognizable.
What makes Jason's mask so special, though? After all, a lot of slashers are huge guys with their faces covered. I'd argue it's because Jason's mask pushes a lot of buttons simultaneously. On the one hand, it's a normal piece of sports equipment. Because it's put in such a bizarre situation, though, it immediately creates a sense of unreality that casts an everyday item in a different light. It also shrouds the wearer's identity, but it does so without even trying to look human. Also, unlike many other slasher masks, Jason's constitutes a piece of actual armor. It's inherently aggressive, while at the same time being unchanging, unmoving, and unfeeling.
Reason #3: He Has Standards
Creating a character on film is a chimera of different inputs. You have the scriptwriter who lays the groundwork, the director who offers tweaks and touches to the vision, and then you have the actor themselves who is the final layer on the cake. Jason has been portrayed by more than a dozen actors, all told, but perhaps the biggest impression was left by Kane Hodder, who wore the mask in four different films. And it was Hodder who made it clear that even though Jason was a brutal killer, he did not select his victims willy nilly.
A good example of this was how Hodder refused to go through a scene where Jason was supposed to kick a dog in order to stop it from barking. Kicking a dog is often movie shorthand for who the bad guy is, but Hodder felt strongly that Jason simply was not that evil. Additionally, while we see him kill all sorts of teens and adults, we never see Jason attack children. Part of that might be the sense that slashers enforce cultural norms (hence going after teens who are breaking the rules), or it might be because none of the filmmakers wanted to cross that line, but the end result is that Jason has a clear sense of who is worthy of death, and who isn't.
Reason #4: Silence Breeds Sympathy, as Well as Scares
Jason is far from the only silent slasher (well, mostly silent, anyway), but his silence achieves multiple things. The first is, obviously, that it forces us to focus on his physical presence and performance, which can make him seem intensely threatening. At the same time, though, his silence allows us to put our own interpretation onto him and his actions. So whether you think he's compelled to kill, or you think he just doesn't know any better, that creates a unique relationship between the audience and the killer. It's reminiscent of how, when the Frankenstein monster was silent in the Universal films, the audience could treat him like a blank cypher. This often made him, ironically, both more interesting and relatable than the film's actual heroes.
Reason #5: Jason Is a Victim
Slashers, as a group, tend to be victimizers. Chuckie was a career criminal and sadist dabbling in dark powers, Krueger is a child molester as well as a child killer, and no one really knows what went wrong in Michael's head. Since Jason was meant to act as motivation for his mother's killing spree, though, his supposed drowning in Crystal Lake due to counselor negligence immediately makes him a sympathetic character. If you add in that he saw his mother murdered, grew up in the woods far away from human contact, and that his mental disabilities make him very childlike in a lot of ways, you have a recipe for a character that's much more human than a lot of the other killers. Even after he becomes an undead killing machine, that sympathetic origin as a victim does a lot to make him stand out from his peers.