Sean S. Cunningham
Well, this one has been a long time coming. Anyone who knows me in any way is aware of my deep seated love for the Friday The 13th films. Growing up I was always more into Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare On Elm Street, but somewhere along the way I became a Friday fanatic. To me, the enjoyable thing with a Friday The 13th film is that you really don’t need to have any expectations, except to go in, enjoy the dumb fun and have a great time. But enough about my love of the series, I am sure that will come out over this series of articles covering them, as I have the enviable privilege of tackling both the good (like Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter) and the bad (I’m going to actually have to sit through Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan for you people!) of the entire series, starting with the original Friday The 13th all the way through Jason X. Of course, as we near the end of this series of articles, and because the Survivor Series articles on A Nightmare On Elm Street have already been completed (if you haven’t check out the recap HERE which contains my rankings of the series, as well as links covering each individual film) we will also cover 2003’s Freddy Vs. Jason, leading into the forthcoming Originality Redux where the 2009 remake of Friday The 13th and the 2010 remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street will be compared and contrasted with their original films.
Back in 1979 struggling filmmaker Sean S. Cunningham came up with the brilliant idea that many other people would also do, and that was to make a low-budget horror film and try to hit it big. At the time, all he had was a title, which was Friday The 13th. Cunningham had even taken out an ad in Variety advertising the film, which garnered quite a bit of interest. Unfortunately for him at that time, he didn’t have anything else to work with. His writing partner at the time was Victor Miller, who he gave simple instructions to….rip off John Carpenter‘s 1978 masterpiece, Halloween. What he came up with would spawn one of the longest and most enduring franchises in not only horror history, but movie history as a whole. So let’s take a look at where it started.
The film begins in 1958, where we see a group of counsellors huddled around singing campfire songs. Two of the counsellors sneak off for a little alone time, only to be followed and swiftly brutalized for their actions. We then move forward to the present day (well, it was in 1980!) where Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) is looking to reopen Camp Crystal Lake. We meet Annie (Robbi Morgan) who is on her way to be the cook for the reopening camp, and looks to hitch a ride from one of the locals. She gets a lift about halfway there with Enos, a truck driver who spends the entire ride attempting to persuade her to not go, informing her of the history of “Camp Blood”, to no avail. In the filmmakers homage to Hitchcock‘s Psycho we are led to believe that Annie will be our main character, only to have her offed soon after. We then meet the rest of the counsellors, including Alice (Adrienne King), Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), Brenda (Laurie Bartram), Jack (Kevin Bacon), Ned (Mark Nelson) and Bill (Harry Crosby). After some time spent getting to know all of the characters, night arrives and they all separate, being picked off one by one until only one remains to face off with the unseen (until the final reel) killer.
As many are aware, the series we all know and love had its groundwork laid here, but is much different than most people remember it. Of course, the biggest of these things is that we do not have good ol’ Jason Voorhees as the killer, but rather his beloved mother Mrs. Voorhees, played with sadistic glee by Betsy Palmer. And the film is nowhere near as gory as most people remember it as well, although it certainly does have more blood and guts than Halloween or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which were both rather bloodless for the most part. Of course, that is not meant to discount the terrific effects done by the legendary Tom Savini, including the infamous arrow through the throat of future superstar Kevin Bacon and of course Mrs. Voorhees’ beheading at the end of the film. While many of these effects do feel dated (watching the film on blu-ray it is incredible how noticeable the prosthetic is for Bacon‘s death scene especially) they still retain a charm that can’t be matched by all the CGI in the world.
As with many films from the late 1970s and early 1980s, the film has not aged as well as most would hope. It’s incredibly strange to see how poorly the film has aged especially when compared with its sequels which are for the most part from the same era. I am not really sure where the blame for this can be placed, but it’s strange to see how well 1984’s Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter has aged in comparison, and its only four years apart.
The film has set the basic template for what all of the other Friday The 13th films would follow, but again many of them would improve upon it. Whether that be adding more bodies to the body count, more suspense or scares, or just better acting (although the series never really got “good” per se) one still must respect the groundwork that is laid here.
Another thing that differentiates the film from its sequels is the sense of mystery that comes from not knowing who the killer is. Most films of this nature would lay some sort of hints or even give up a “red herring” but Friday The 13th takes great pains to make the reveal something absolutely no one saw coming. While this would be slightly retained in the first sequel, and subtly revisited in Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning, it was unique to the original film giving it a slight feel of difference from all of the other films in the series.
Overall, the original Friday The 13th is more to be lauded for changing the landscape of the horror genre in the early 80s, really being the film to set the slasher sub-genre into the stratosphere. It is far from being the worst film in the Friday The 13th series, but is also nowhere near being the most enjoyable entry.
Stay tuned for the next entry as I will soon be tackling Friday The 13th Part 2, where “The Body Count Continues!”.
Body Count: 10
The arrow through Jack’s throat from underneath the bed.