On October 5th, 2004 Paramount will release the first ever Friday the 13th box set, which includes the first eight films (New Line owns the rights to the more recent films). Not interested? I can understand… the franchise gets trashed all the time. It’s rare that anyone says anything good about it. Well, The Horror Guru has taken it upon himself to show you the positives in this series. Over the next two months, I’ll review one entry of the series each week, leading up to the release of the box set in early October.
Come on… it’ll be fun!
Opening the same day as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the original film in the Friday series is actually quite good… arguably the best (so good, they made it nine more times!) The first ten minutes give you a good background to the story that follows.
In 1958, two camp counselors were brutally murdered while doing… well, what camp counselors in movies do best. The killer was never found. There were numerous attempts to reopen the camp after that, but each time something strange happened preventing the camp from operating (arson, contaminated water). More than 20 years pass and the camp’s new owner, Steve Christy, drops a good deal of money to get the camp up and running again, despite warnings of a “death curse” on the area. The carnage begins as the curse proves true, putting the lives of the camp staff in mortal danger.
Long story short, the camp staff consists of six counselors, a cook and the owner. The cook, Annie, never quite makes it to the camp, as she is viciously slain by an unseen assailant with whom she got a ride. The other six — Alice (Adrienne King), Brenda, Jack (a young Kevin Bacon), Bill (Harry Crosby, Bing’s son), Marcie, and Ned — are soon left alone at the camp as Steve Christy leaves for an urgent errand in town. The counselors basically hang around until they get spooked by the local town crazy, Ralph. “You’re all doomed!” he warns.
Hey, kiddies… for future reference, when a crazy person tells you that you’re doomed, listen to the guy!
Soon enough, the requisite slasher-flick thunderstorm arrives. Marcie and Jack seek shelter in a cabin, while Alice, Bill and Brenda decide to play a rousing game of strip Monopoly. Marcie and Jack, thinking they’re alone, have a little “play” time.
Folks, pre-marital relations with a member of the opposite sex in a slasher will get you killed! Sure enough, once Marcie leaves for the bathroom, Mr. Bacon gets an arrow through the neck. Outstanding moment! Marcie, while washing her face, hears a noise in the showers. Of course, despite the better judgment of most people, she goes to see what’s going on and gets a splitting headache from an axe for her trouble. We’re about 45 minutes in at this point, so they’re dropping like flies now.
Meanwhile, a gust of wind blows open the main cabin door, interrupting the currently non-nude Monopoly game. Brenda conveniently remembers the windows to her cabin are still open, so she leaves… alone (a.k.a., big flippin’ mistake!). From her cabin, she hears a child’s cries for help, and… yep, goes to investigate. She reaches the archery range which is suddenly illuminated brightly, with Brenda standing directly in front of one of the targets. Hmm… I wonder what happens here… Alice and Bill investigate an apparent scream (detecting a pattern yet?), and happen upon a bloodied axe in one of the cabins. At this point, they realize something is wrong.
They try to use a phone but it’s dead (obviously). They try to start the truck but it won’t start (obviously), so they decide to go back to the main cabin. All the while, Steve, the camp owner, is stranded on the side of the road in the driving rain until a police officer kindly gives him a ride back to the camp. Steve, upon arrival at the camp, is greeted by someone off-screen who he recognizes… and gets a pleasant stomach-stabbing.
Right on cue, the power to the camp goes out, and Bill goes to check the generator. Alice decides this is a good time for a nap. Hmm… yeah, I can buy that. She awakens to realize Bill is still not back, so she goes to look for him. As expected, she finds Bill. She returns to “home base” and hides. That is, until she sees lights from a Jeep outside and, thinking it’s Steve, runs out to say, “Hi.”
Turns out it’s Pamela Voorhees, an “old friend of the Christy’s.” Pammy tells Alice about the boy who drowned in 1957 because the two counselors who should have been watching him were too busy gettin’ busy. The boy, Jason, was her son. As it turns out, it was Pamela who has been trying to all these years to prevent the camp from reopening. Resorting, ultimately, to murder.
Alice and Pamela duke it out in an old-fashioned cat-fight. Harry Manfredini shines here as the score brings the intensity of the picture to a whole other level. The “chi-chi-chi, ma-ma-ma” theme has become cemented in horror movie music history.
The acting is… typical early 80’s fare: a tad weak and very cheesy. Considering the genre, however, it’s really not that bad. Betsy Palmer, as Mrs. Voorhees, is amazing. Her innocent, smiling face masking her total madness… eyes sunken into her sockets… she was arguably the most terrifying villain of the time. Palmer was profoundly and truly terrifying because she can be equated to any sweet older woman that you know. It’s something you can relate to.
As a slasher, you’ve got your required guilty pleasures… although not as graphic as some of the sequels. The gore, though shocking for the time, is relatively tame by today’s standards. Nudity… well, there’s a little something for everyone here… Kevin Bacon’s rear getting squeezed, and one of Jeannine Taylor’s (Marcie) breasts.
This Friday film possesses something a lot of its sequels, and other slashers, don’t: Ambiance. The shots of the calm lake, the clouded moon, and its amazing score add volumes to an otherwise average flick.
Bottom line, this is one of the best slasher movies ever created, and to this day, has one of the most creative endings in the genre. The quality of the film can be debated. Many say you’ve got all your typical slasher stereotypes here (having sex = death, naked girls, lots of blood, idiotic characters, thunderstorms, etc.). The Guru doesn’t refute this point; and while it didn’t necessarily invent the slasher concept – John Carpenter’s Halloween generally gets that credit – it does perfect them in a way no other horror series ever did.
To this day, Friday the 13th remains one of the most influential films of all time.
Flick figures: 10 dead bodies; stomach-knifing; throat-slitting; face-splitting; arrow-sticking; head-hacking; frying pan to the head; snake-slaying; 1 breast; 1-½ butts.
Next Week: The Horror Guru takes a gander at the sequel: Friday the 13th, Part II.