Friday the 13th

Release date: May 9, 1990

Director: Sean S. Cunningham

Cast: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram and Mark Nelson

By the time Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th went to the theater's in 1980, moviewatchers had already been exposed to the concept of the “dead teenager” film. In 1971, Mario Bava delivered Twitch Of The Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood), in 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Black Christmas were released , and John Carpenter’s Halloween was a huge success in 1978. The creators of Friday the 13th aimed to cash in on Halloween‘s success, using many of its ideas (killer-point-of-view, and so on), and their gamble paid off. The film was a smash and its influence on the slasher genre is obvious. (As of 2009, it has spawned 10 sequels and a remake and possible a second remake). The funny thing about Friday the 13th is how different it is from later films in the series like The New Blood or Freddy vs Jason; rewatching it, I felt a a small of nostalgia and admiration for its low-key attitude, simplicity and primal appeal.

Actually, the tone of this film and where it ends up narratively completely separate it from the later movies. The sequels are, for the most part, interchangeable in that a monster by the name of Jason Voorhees stalks idiotic and horny teenagers; this first movie is a slasher-in-the-woods creation made-up like an Italian giallo flick. It does away with any supernatural trappings and plants its feet firmly in the footprints of a "who did it", although it certainly isn’t as stylish as a Bava or Argento film and the reveal of the killer in the last thirty minutes is a complete cheat, since their was no information throughout the film as to who is the killer 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 teen counselors who are trying to open up Camp Crystal Lake for the summer are told that the place is cursed, that a young boy drowned there, that a series of suspicious fires and poisoned water shut the place down for years. Ralph (Walt Gorney), the town crazy, constantly harrasses the kids 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 teenagers (including a young Kevin Bacon) choose to ignore him. 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 comes 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 other 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.

It’s clear that the movie’s attention is centered on Tom Savini’s gore set pieces, which typically involve throat slashings and beheadings, but the camera doesn’t focus on the gore for too long as the director usually has the scene fade to white. There are a few scary moments that involve stalker-in-the-woods scenarios, the best moments coming at the end when our last remaining survivor fights the killer (channeling Jamie Lee Curtis, I’m sure). The movie’s most obvious weakness is in its pacing, especially in the middle. The scenes of Alice running around the cabin making coffee, securing doors and looking for weapons tend last too long; other sequences could have benefited from tighter editing. Then there’s a useless 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 that the movie maniac is Pamela Voorhees I’m not spoiling anything. 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 sometimes talks to herself using the voice of her "dead" son). The ending when you see 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.

There is no denying the effect of this movie on 80s horror flicks and even horror movies today. It has all the motifs, although the “have some sex and die” trope is probably a reach. Lets just say that the kids who don’t have direction in their lives will end up paying for their inattention.

Return from Friday the 13th to Top 50 Horror Movies

Return from Friday the 13th to Horror Movies Central

Are you getting our Horror obsessors?
If not then sign up for it below!

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Horror obsessors.