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Friday the 13th (1980)
4th Mar 13
20 years after being closing down, Camp Crystal Lake is reopening. Someone is very keen to stop that happening, and start a franchise at the same time.
The movie opens with a scene setting with a jump back to the late 50s at Crystal Lake, where a couple of teenage camp counsellors are sneaking off to have sex, until they’re interrupted by a point of view shot. “Oh it’s you…” they say to POV shot, and start to make an excuse for what they’re doing there, but quicker than you can shout “Mario Bava” the POV shot knifes them to death.
Roll on twenty years later, and the camp is finally being reopened. A few of the camp counsellors have arrived early to help clean up the place, or are arriving as the film chugs along. One by one, each counsellor is killed off by the POV shot in quite gory fashion until we’re left with uninspiring final girl Alice (Adrienne King) who is confronted by Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer). She turns out to be the face behind the POV shot and a chase ensues, which ends with the unlikely but highly video rewindable moment of Alice decapitating Mrs Voorhees with a machete. Then Alice gets in to a canoe, floats out to the lake, and then some kind of zombified boy jumps out of the lake and drags her under.
Everyone has heard of Friday the 13th and it’s many sequels, so we’ve always wanted to go back and revisit these so called classics that shamed the genre and did a lot for cementing the slasher rules that would later be mocked so effectively in Scream. It’s interesting how Friday the 13th came about. Sean Cunningham had worked with Craven on Last House on the Left and, having seen the financial success of Halloween, wanted to match that. So he went to work creating the Friday the 13th brand while Victor Miller went about writing the script. The filming, as we’ve joked already, is heavily influenced by the Mario Bava giallos of the 60s and 70s, with the teenagers in peril idea borrowed from Halloween, but the main difference between this film and John Carpenter’s true classic is the acting and pacing. Here it’s awful, and as a result the first half of Friday the 13th drags horribly.
But does that actually matter? Cunningham made the smart move of getting Tom Savini to do the special effects and they are really quite something for the time. This was a time when gory cinema was a relatively new concept, so to see an axe in the face, a throat cut, an arrow through the throat, a decapitation, etc, all with unflinching close ups was a rarity. And this was when Savini was on a roll – gone is the bright red gooey blood from Dawn of the Dead, replaced with realistic looking dark red claret. So for this to be brought to the mainstream US audience by Paramount Pictures must have been quite an eye opener at the time, and a daring move that paid considering that, in adjusted dollars, the original Friday the 13th is still more financially successful than any of its sequels.
And that’s Friday the 13th in a nutshell – a badly paced film with bland actors that either can’t act or overact, but leading to a very cool gory finish. Oh, and it has very cool music that perpetuated the sequels, a simple scary “ki… ki… ma… ma…” (short for ‘kill kill mama’ if you didn’t know) started whenever the killer was at the scene (not necessarily in shot) but always stopped just before the money shot, to catch the audience a bit unawares. In retrospect a grubby little movie that’s not that great if you compare to the hundreds of slashers that followed, but a lesson in how to spot a gap in the market and cheaply finance a movie to fill it, with a lasting brand legacy.
While we’re mentioning legacy, we should mention the final scene, where Jason pops out of the water. That was full-on intended to be a jump scare dream sequence just to freak the audience out. The story goes Tom Savini had just seen Carrie, and he wanted to add a big scare so suggested they bring in Jason. It worked excellently as you’ll see in the film, but ironically it’s the literal translation of this scene which justifies the sequel and many sequels. The double irony is Savini passed on the sequel (the mother’s dead, Jason coming back from the dead is a ridiculous idea) and went over to make The Burning, which in its uncut format is a much better movie in every way (i.e. good characters, good story, good pacing, good acting AND good gore effects from Tom Savini)
Versions US 'R' rated and uncut version exist, so really you should be hunting out the uncut blu-ray. Be warned the version on the 'Camp to Crystal Lake' box set is the cut version.
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the film’s central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.