US | 1980 | Directed by Sean Cunningham
Logline: A group of camp counsellors is stalked and brutally murdered by an unknown assailant while trying to reopen a summer camp which, years before, was the site of a child’s drowning.
I don’t have a lot of good things to say about this flick, despite its cult following, and the massive wake of copycats that followed. The intent is obvious, there is some aptitude, for sure, but the delivery and execution has dated something chronic! To be honest, it’s a real hack job (pun intended). In a making of featurette on the DVD producer/director Sean Cunningham admits he blatantly fashioned the horror after seeing how massively successful Halloween (1978) has been at the box office. He had a provocative title (during production, however, it was known as A Long Night at Camp Blood) and he sold the idea of a "stalk’n’slasher" to all who’d indulge him. Screenwriter Victor Miller also openly admits he borrowed everything he could from every horror movie he’d seen.
The result spawned more sequels than any other movie in history. To date there are eleven movies in the Friday the 13th series (as well as a late 80s television series, a 2009 re-imagining of the first movie, and apparently a TV re-boot and sequel to the remake in the pipeline). Do the sequels get better or worse? That is entirely debatable. Fans of the series all have their own personal favourites (many rate Part 2 highly, despite it receiving some of the worst cuts from the MPAA), some diehards lament when the series “jumped the shark”, while others state emphatically that Jason Voorhees is the ultimate horror villain. My "fave" of the series is probably The Final Chapter (1984), where Tom Savini pulled out all the stops, Crispin Glover plays an hilarious, brokenhearted Romeo, and hockey-masked Jason Voorhees has become one relentless demonic butcher indeed.
So is there anything going for Friday the 13th? Hmmm. Oh yes, Tom Savini’s special effects work, although most of the murders happen off-screen. Unfortunately Cunningham was forced to trim the effects work in order to receive the R rating (and not an X). Cunningham and Wes Craven had made The Last House on the Left (1972), which was originally slapped with an X rating after several submissions, but, notoriously, Craven wrangled an MPAA friend of his to give him an illegitimate R rating seal of approval so he could release it uncut! Cunningham knew that the board of censors had become savvy with the amount of onscreen violence being depicted in horror movies, and he needed the official R to ensue a wide release.
In an unprecedented move Paramount Pictures picked up the national distribution, while Warner Brothers handled foreign distribution. The movie racked in the millions, and had teenagers running screaming down the aisles in the droves, despite highbrow critics panning the film. Let's be real here, the movie hasn't so much as dated, it’s just taken me a long time to actually wake up and smell the coffee. They don’t make ‘em this bad anymore … Or do they? Yeah they do, but with bigger budgets.
WARNING! CONTAINS SPOILER!
The plot, in a peanut shell, has a group of young counselors at jinxed Camp Crystal Lake being picked off in brutal fashion, one by one, leaving final girl Alice (Adrienne King) and Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), mother of mongoloid Jason, a boy who drowned in the lake back in 1957. Mrs Voorhees only wants to protect the memory of her son by preventing the camp from operating, and to punish all these sinful, horny teenagers who never looked after her son. Friday the 13th is the only movie in the entire series not to feature Jason Voorhees as the killer. He begins his reign of carnage, wearing a burlap sack, in Part 2 (1981).
Kevin Bacon is the only actor in this movie who doesn’t shamefully overact, and then there is Adrienne King, who can’t even act at all. Of special note, King was stalked and terrorised after the movie came out and apart from her small role in the first sequel she has never acted again … whew). I’m sure Bacon has a guilty grin when he mentions this as part of his resume. Arguably his death is one of the best and most effective of the whole series: harpoon penetrates the bed he’s lying on and pierces up through his throat, with Tom Savini’s genuine pig’s blood providing a nice little geyser. Apart from Savini's work, the other element which lifts the movie’s game is Henry Manfredini’s inventive score with the now legendary “Ki Ki Ki … Ma Ma Ma” vocal echo effect.
Friday the 13th may have spearheaded the 80s slasher era with the emphasis on graphic violence, but it was by no means the first horror movie to do so. Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) had already been there (and with a lot more style and creepiness), while Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) holds the bloodied body count crown high. But it's Halloween - curiously with almost no bloodshed - that remains my favourite, by a country mile.
If you’re curious about where the slasher craze all began … throw a few grains of salt in the popcorn , some lashings of butter, and amuse yourself and a few mates.