Friday the 13th (1980)
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Starring: Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Kevin Bacon, Peter Brouwer, Walt Gorney, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram
1/2 (out of 4)
Six pieces of Kevin Bacon
WARNING: Some spoilers ahead
By the time Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th appeared on theater screens in 1980, audiences had already been exposed to the concept of Ebert’s “dead teenager” movie. In 1971, Mario Bava delivered Twitch Of The Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood, which is the source of a lot of inspiration for some of Friday the 13th Parts 1 and 2 death scenes), 1974 saw the releases of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Black Christmas , and John Carpenter’s Halloween was a huge hit in 1978. The creators of Friday the 13th aimed to cash in on Halloween‘s success, using many of its tropes (killer-point-of-view, and so on), and their gamble paid off. The movie was a smash and its influence on the slasher genre is obvious. (As of 2009, it has spawned 10 sequels and a remake). The funny thing about the movie is how different it is from later films in the series like The New Blood or Freddy vs Jason; rewatching it, I felt a minor wave of nostalgia and admiration for its low-key attitude, simplicity and primal appeal.
Thanks for lookin' out for us, Ralph. Really.
In fact, the tone of the movie and where it ends up narratively completely separates it from parts 2 onward. The sequels are, for the most part, interchangeable in that a monster/golem by the name of Jason Voorhees stalks dimwitted horny teenagers; this first film is a slasher-in-the-woods creation made-up like an Italian giallo flick. It forgoes any supernatural trappings and plants its feet firmly in the footprints of a whodunit, although it certainly isn’t as stylish as a Bava or Argento film and the reveal of the killer in the last half hour is a cheat, since no information is given that would enable anyone to solve the mystery except for the idea that it is somehow connected to events in 1957.
Friday the 13th plays on the idea of curses and prophecies. The camp counselors who attempt to open up Camp Crystal Lake for the summer are told that the place is jinxed, that a young boy drowned there, that a series of mysterious fires and poisoned water shut the place down for years. Ralph (Walt Gorney), the town crazy, constantly badgers the teens with warnings like “it’s got a death curse” and “you’re all doomed!” Head counselor Steve Christy ( Peter Brouwer), his assistant Alice (Adrienne King), and a group of horny teens (including a young Kevin Bacon) don’t listen. The book of Revelations is given acknowledgment as Cunningham shoots the full moon covered by black clouds, and one girl actually dreams of rain turning to blood. The date Friday the 13th itself stems from the unlucky symbolism of the number 13 and the sixth day (in Christian mythology). It’s even more ironic, especially when viewed in light of the Friday the 13th films, that in the pre-Christian era Friday was associated with love and fertility. Actually, the movie is very light on sex and nudity. A game of strip monopoly (which our later heroine happily plays, by the way) never ventures beyond the PG-13 stage.
Aspirin might not be strong enough for this
It’s obvious that the movie’s attention is centered on Tom Savini’s gore set pieces, which naturally involve throat slashings and beheadings, but the camera doesn’t linger on the gore for too long as Cunningham usually has the scene fade to white (it looks like a film overexposure). There are some creepy moments that involve stalker-in-the-woods scenarios, the best moments coming at the end when our last remaining survivor (or “final girl” as termed by Carol Clover) fights the killer (channeling Jamie Lee Curtis, I’m sure). The movie’s biggest weakness is in its pacing, especially in the middle of the picture. The scenes of Alice running around the cabin making coffee, securing doors and looking for weapons tend to meander for too long; other sequences could have benefited from tighter editing. Then there’s a scene with a motorcycle cop that has no payoff, except perhaps to establish the care-free attitude of the teens.
I hope that by telling you the killer is Pamela Voorhees I’m not spoiling anything (at least you’ve seen Scream, right?). She’s played by Betsy Palmer, who adds a manic energy to the role, even though the character is somewhat derivative of the Norman Bates type (she occasionally talks to herself using the voice of her dead son). The final scene of Jason rising out of the lake is genuinely scary, even though it comes straight from Carrie. Even Harry Manfredini’s score, while now-famous, seems inspired by Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho. No matter – there is no denying the effect of this movie on 80s horror (including the superior Nightmare on Elm Street) and even horror movies today. It has all the motifs, although the “have premarital sex and die” trope is probably a reach. Better to say that kids who don’t have direction in their lives will end up paying for their inattention. It seems like a theme that teens and twenty-somethings at the end of the tumultuous 70s took notice of.
somebody is in sore need of mosquito repellent
There’s a brand new “Deluxe Edition” of Friday the 13th and it’s finally uncut. (In both DVD and Blu-ray versions). Kevin Bacon’s, Jeannine Taylor’s, and Betsy Palmer’s deaths are all extended. The print is anamorphic widescreen with a Dolby 5.1 surround soundtrack. There are also some decent extras, including a cast/crew commentary, some video footage of a reunion panel (King, Palmer, Victor Miller, Harry Manfredini, Tom Savini, and Ari Lehman all make an appearance), an interview with Sean Cunningham (who shows off his nice house bought with your cash), and a new retrospective called “Fresh Cuts”. Oh yeah, there’s also some crappy short film called “Lost Tales From Camp Blood” which looks fan-made to me. Did somebody win a contest?