Written By: Victor Miller
Directed By: Sean S. Cunningham
Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartham, Mark Nelson
Country of Origin: United States of America
Friday the 13th. What can I possibly say that will offer up a new dimension to the most exhausted, most lucrative horror franchise in the history of American cinema? The Jason Voorhees hockey mask is as iconic to the silver screen as the three circles that form a Mickey Mouse emblem is to children. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a series as important to the genre that specializes in blood, guts, and gore as Friday the 13th.
What was once a scarier-than-hell exercise in torture and panic has become an almost essential date movie, luring in fans of all ages to jampacked theaters in hopes of seeing their least favorite counselor get strewn across the screen in a violent rampage. It has been deemed everything from revolutionary to obscene and holds as many special awards from around the globe as it does cease-and-desist letters. When you’re talking about horror movies, it would be impossible to ignore the mammoth contributions of the series that brought red meat back to the American movie theater.
As a reviewer for a website that specializes in bad movies (or good movies people think are bad), it has been a long, strenuous battle as to whether or not the Friday the 13th series belongs as a prominently featured piece. The fact of the matter is that with all the references, rip-offs, and wannabes flooding the market nearly thirty years later, an important history lesson might well be the best way to tackle the franchise, one film at a time. With that in mind, we begin with the movie that notoriously knocked The Empire Strikes Back from its box office pedestal in the Summer of 1980, Friday the 13th.
Starting with a 1958 flashback, Friday the 13th wastes little time setting the tone for a creepy and violent exhibition for the macabre only. The first in a slew of counselor purges occurs when an unidentified stalker leaps out of the shadows with a butcher knife and thirst of blood. Fast forward to present day (or 1980), and it appears as if the new class of counselors for Camp Crystal Lake are reading to begin again despite the history of the infamously named “Camp Blood.”
And now, I will attempt to give you a brief but not too confusing history lesson on Camp Crystal Lake. In 1957, the camp experienced a major tragedy when a young boy drowned in Crystal Lake. The following year, our aforementioned double murders took place, making the came uninhabitable for over 20 years. No one ever found the murderer on that evening, but since time has aged the old campground past the point for “Reasonable Suspicion,” these young up and comers believe they can revive it to a prosperous summer oasis once again. The townspeople respectfully disagree, hence the bastardization “Camp Blood.”
Now that you’ve been given the basics of the story, I guess there’s nothing left do but watch the heads fly as the campers get dead one by one like they’re part of an Agatha Christie epic. Rather than keep you preoccupied with minute details, I’ve decided that this series requires a different sort of review, so spoilers abound in the next few sections.
Body Count Roll Call:
Barry, 1958 Camp Counselor: Stabbed in the abdomen while attempting to defend himself from sexual prosecution.
Claudette, 1958 Camp Counselor: Killed during ensuing struggle, death not shown.
Alice, Camp Counselor/Cook: Throat slashed in the woods.
Ned, Camp Counselor: Throat slashed in a cabin.
Jack, Camp Counselor: Gored through the throat with an arrow.
Marcie, Camp Counselor: Axed in the face.
Brenda, Camp Counselor: Murdered off-screen, later thrown through a window.
Steve, Camp Owner and Counselor: Murdered off-screen, strung upside down in a later scene.
Bill, Camp Counselor: Shot repeatedly with arrows.
Pamela Voorhees, Killer: Decapitated.
Murders by Pamela Voorhees: 9
Murders by Jason Voorhees: 0 (though a pretty traumatic attempted drowning at the end)
Men Killed: 5
Women Killed: 5
Camp Counselors Killed: 9
Animals Killed: 1 snake
Total Body Count for the Series: 10, including Mrs. Voorhees but not including animals.
The original Friday the 13th is everything that’s right with horror encapsulated in a 90-minute free ride. The story is loosely tied together by an “urban legend” style haunting that keeps you spellbound while the producers create cheap scares in between death scenes. The counselors are believable enough as a crew of ragtag misfits assigned to keep the place from burning down, if they don’t do it first by partying too hard. The acting isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either, and that’s not just because of Betsy Palmer and Kevin Bacon. Musically, this movie was one of the first to understand that a dramatic score can make a suspenseful sequence that much better. Original credit for that should probably go to John Carpenter’s Halloween, but the perfect execution of sound and sight is truly here. We’re even treated to the incarnation of one of the greatest standards in horror: Do bad things and you die. Taking in pleasures of the flesh, or enjoying drugs and alcohol is a nice way to mark yourself for termination. And of course, let us never forget that in a genre obsessed with pseudo-endings and swerve surprises, this was always one of the best. Pamela Voorhees’ emergence as the lead antagonist borrowed elements from the twisted Psycho while keeping the same tongue-in-cheek dark humor that gave The Last House on the Left a reputation. Tom Savini was at the top of the peak with makeup and special effects artistry here and two years previous on the set of Dawn of the Dead. Commercially speaking, it seems highly unlikely that we will ever see such a perfect collaboration hit the screen for a genre that lately makes its money by rebooting and rehashing everything in sight. Then again, the most lucrative parts of the Friday the 13th franchise stem directly from such an idea, so perhaps it is “point proven” for executives looking to slash budgets as well as fresh teenagers.
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