Shocktoberfest: A Halloween month Friday the 13th is delightfully horrific
Sometimes it sneaks up, like menacing, goaliemasked Jason, until we realize — too late! — that the horror is upon us: It’s Friday the 13th.
Whether it conjures visions of the famous movie franchise, historic connections to the Knights Templar or just plain superstition, the day offers a chance to suspend disbelief and approach life with a sense of foreboding, impending bad luck or perhaps even a magical aura of possibility, says Stephen Graham Jones, creative writing professor at the University of Colorado and author of horror novels.
“We live in a world where it feels like we shine light into all corners, we can see everything,” says Jones. “That makes it smaller. But if we extract magic out of the world, we feel part of a bigger story. Little superstitions like Friday the 13th allow the world to be bigger.”
Part of the superstitious appeal of the day might be its irregular appearance that enables it to creep up on unsuspecting folks looking forward to the weekend. On average, the 13th falls on a Friday every 212.35 days — slightly more often than any other day of the week. In 2017, it fell in January and now October.
From 2010 through 2020, it appears on the calendar 20 times. By 2050, it will have greeted us 50 more times, always at least once a year, but never more than three times. Jones figures that the fact that this month, when a transposed 13 becomes 31 — Halloween — the day carries even more meaning.
Origins and perpetuation of the superstition derive from several sources, ranging from Biblical times (some believe Eve chomped on the apple on this day) to the Middle Ages, when the arrest of many Knights Templar occurred in 1307, to publication 600 years later of the Thomas W. Lawson novel “Friday, the Thirteenth,” to the mention in novelist Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” that this day marked the execution of the Templar Grand Master, who laid a grand curse on his way out.
“Of course, you can’t look away from the film franchise, either” adds Jones. “That has been in the back of our minds since the 1980s. It’s associated with terrible things happening to campers and counselors, definitely — terrible, unfair things. That unfairness aligns with our sense that it’s unlucky. It all gets packed into the same snowball, getting bigger and bigger.”
The original “Friday the 13th” movie centers on the character Jason Voorhees and mass murders at a summer camp. It went on to become a highly successful string of productions. But even in the slasher-movie context, the sense of fear and foreboding comes linked to a sense of fun that draws many to horror films in the first place.
Jones points out that the most intense, jolting moments that elicit screams from the audience often are followed by a sense of relief and laughter. And maybe, in a larger sense, that’s how many approach Friday the 13th.
“At the end of the day, your continual or pent-up stress or anxiety about this being Friday the 13th leaves you to finally relax,” he says. “I feel like we all sigh in relief when nothing bad happens.”
One of Jones’ own novels, “The Last Final Girl,” was inspired by the slasher films. And for those who might have their own ideas for advancing the superstition surrounding Friday the 13th, the author will teach an advanced horror fiction course
later this year that includes a week-long residency at the Stanley Hotel, which has its own heartpounding baggage.
But Jones also notes that the day can suggest more than blood-drenched horror or the fear that bad luck is waiting for us from the moment we reluctantly slip out of bed in the morning.
“Superstition cracks the door open on good and bad stuff,” he says. “Friday the 13th might be portentous in some way, but once you allow that magic into the world, it’s also about allowing good things as well.”