Friday the 13th
directed by Sean S. Cunningham
(Paramount, 1980)

The original Friday the 13th is not the first, most original or best slasher film ever made, but it is arguably the most influential. You almost have to take off one of your socks to count all of the sequels (and impending remake) this slasher granddaddy has spawned, and I daresay the majority of slasher films littering the genre in all the years since were constructed on the generic and simple framework of the Friday the 13th formula. Critics are still foaming at the mouth in indignation over this film all these years later, so you know it did something right. Of course, by today's standards Friday the 13th registers low (if at all) on the fright meter and really isn't all that gory, but no one can dispute the fact that this film set the stage for innumerable bloody slasher films to come.

Halloween, which is technically a much superior film to this one, had already been released and made lots of money, so it's easy to see why Sean S. Cunningham (who had already cut his horror chops on The Last House on the Left) wanted to try his hand at creating a scary slasher film of his own. Cunningham did not have a big studio backing him, so he had to make this an independent, low-budget (barely more than half a million dollars) project. With almost all of the action taking place at Camp Crystal Lake, all Cunningham had to do was to find a viable old campsite, populate it with unknown actors (one of which, Kevin Bacon, went on to become a household name), kill his characters in compellingly different yet simple ways and smack an ending on top of it.

In some ways, it sounds like an almost haphazard project. The controversial gotcha scene near the very end, for example, was never in the original script -- instead, it was added late in the game on the advice of special effects makeup guru Tom Savini, who had just seen Carrie. That is only one of several obvious influences worked into the film -- even the famous Jason music leaves a trail of musical crumbs back to the shark music in Jaws. Despite of everything, though, Paramount liked the final product, bought up the distribution rights and the film hit box-office gold. The rest is horror -- and cinema -- history.

As we all know by now, little Jason Voorhees drowned in 1957 while the counselors who should have been watching him were busy having sex. A year later, two counselors at the camp were brutally murdered (as they were getting it on, of course), with the murderer never being caught. That was more than Camp Crystal Lake could endure, and it soon closed its cabin doors for good. The residents of Crystal Lake know to stay away from the lake and "Camp Blood," but Steve Christy has decided he's going to open the place back up. He's supposedly been working to get the place ready for a year, but it's still a run-down dump. He's hired all of the requisite randy teens to serve as counselors/murder victims (anybody who plays strip Monopoly out in the middle of the woods is practically begging to be eviscerated by a mad killer), though, so everything is in place for good, old-fashioned bloodbath. All we need is a killer.

The one thing I've always admired most about the slayings in the Friday the 13th movies is the sheer efficiency of them all. Even at the beginning, before Jason himself ever lifted his first machete, the killer is all about getting the job done and going on to the next victim. That's not to say the murders aren't stylish and impressive, though. I just wish they would have been a lot gorier. Clearly, this film does have a few problems. When you figure in the immense influence this film has had on the horror movie genre and pop culture itself, though, I think it rightly deserves full accolades.

If you've never seen the original Friday the 13th, you need to see it -- especially if you've watched several of the sequels. After all, an incorrect answer to the question of who did the killings in the original Friday the 13th film will get you banned from all horror fan clubs for life.

review by
Daniel Jolley

19 June 2010

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