It’s a movie that one of its stars called, “a piece of shit”. Gene Siskel loathed it so much he referred to the director, Sean Cunningham as “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest the movie business.” The late Chicago critic even went so far as to publish the address of the chairman of the board for Gulf+Western, which owned Paramount at the time, to express contempt for the movie. It also of course sparked one of the most notorious episodes of Siskel and Ebert’s Sneak Previews. In fact, if you can bare the pomposity, they do have some interesting points to make, and offer some food for thought.
The brunt of their wrath was aimed at this year’s franchise review, Friday the 13th. I find it odd as the hero of the movie is a woman, and manages to kill the murderer, though the same can’t be said I suppose, for the other victims in the movie. Still, compared to what’s come afterwards, including many of the F13 sequels, the original seem very tame by today’s standards. Aside from the violence, the most gratuitous thing in the movie is Kevin Bacon’s schlong bouncing around in a Speedo.
Much has been written about the history of this particular franchise, so there won’t be a lot of that mentioned. I’m simply going to talk about the movies, how much I enjoyed them (or didn’t), and make snarky comments along the way. Having said that, I will mention that F13 was a direct result of the success of Carpenter’s Halloween (a better made movie perhaps, but a much slower pace). Sean Cunningham had previously worked with Wes Craven on the classic Last House on the Left, so if anyone was made to make a Halloween knock off, it was Cunningham.
Friday the 13th starts off in 1958 at Camp Crystal Lake. The counselors are sitting by the fireplace singing songs (as teens are wont to do), and before you can say Tom Dooley, a couple sneak off for some good old fashioned 1950’s nookie. The duo find a secluded spot, only to have a case of coitus interruptus as both are slashed to death (talk about a boner killer). We then flash forward 20 years and see groups of teens in their early to mid twenties making their way to the camp.
We’re introduced to Annie as she backpacks her way to the camp. As she stops in town for directions, and eventually a lift from a truck driver, she’s accosted by Ralph, the town crazy, who tells her the camp has a “death curse”. Even the trucker who gives her a lift part way tells her it’s not a good idea and to stay away. Annie has other plans, and when she’s dropped off at a crossroads, she’s picked up by another driver who is unseen. After the turn off to the camp is passed, Annie starts screaming to be let out, and ultimately jumps from the moving jeep where she’s pursued by the driver, and then has her throat cut. Always listen to the town lunatic!
Another group, including Kevin Bacon and his penis, arrive at Crystal Lake and are immediately put to work by the owner, Steve. We know Steve is in charge because he’s the only one sporting a porn ‘stache. Being that he’s in charge, he leaves the other counselors to ignore his orders while he goes into town to get supplies. He says he’ll be back after lunch, but…well, we’ll get to him after a bit.
Once Steve leaves they all strip to their swimming gear and take a dive into the lake, where Kevin Bacon’s penis seems to be having a lot more fun than anyone else. All throughout the movie, including this scene, there are camera shots that look as if they could be someone watching. Indeed, that is the case much of the time, but Cunningham mixes up the shots to such a degree that you never quite know if it’s the killer’s POV or not. It creates an uneasy atmosphere, and one of the reasons why the film works so well, when others do not.
A thunderstorm approaches, and we have our first kill of the counselors, which surprisingly, takes place off screen. Ned, the jokester of the group goes wandering off into a cabin after he thinks he sees something, never to take a breath again. Kevin Bacon and his girlfriend (I could look up their names, but it doesn’t matter they won’t be around long), sneak off for some god old fashioned 1970’s nookie, with Ned’s corpse in the top bunk. Sadly it’s here we say goodbye to Bacon and his penis, as he gets an arrow through the throat.
Rather than go through all the kills, we know everyone dies, including Steve who doesn’t manage to make his way back to camp until after dinner! No one likes a liar Steve. The only counselor left is Alice and she does an admirable job facing off against the villain, who it turns out is the mother of the child who drowned there 20 years earlier. I know! I was just as shocked as anyone else! This also makes me take what Siskel and Ebert said about F13, with a grain of salt as it not only had a female hero, it had a female villain (in a bit of a twist on the Norman Bates character).
With all of the movies that have come out since F13’s release in 1980, it’s easy to forget, as I had, that the end was mostly a fist fight. It seems rather antiquated now, but I was surprised because I had forgotten that. And then we have the now classic ending, which Tom Savini suggested, and was directly inspired by the ending of Carrie. That’s right it’s when Jason jumps out of the lake and grabs Alice, thereby giving Ari Lehman a lifetime job at comic conventions. Never has 5 seconds of screen time produced so much. I’d always thought they should have left it there, but we then see Alice in the hospital and she’s told there was no boy that they found. We then cut to the lake and see Jason’s fart bubbles rippling to the surface.
I was 15 when this came out, and while I loved horror movies, I wasn’t that enthused about the graphic violence I heard people talk about. However, when I finally saw it a few years later on VHS, I was rather amazed by the effects. Watching it now, I’m really rather surprised at how it holds up. There’s a timeless quality about it, which makes it seem as if it could have happened just last week. Cunningham did a great job with the direction, and even if I don’t like jump scares, that’s exactly what these movies are for. Light on atmosphere, heavy on the scares no matter how they’re gotten.
There are also some beautiful shots as well, and a couple I plan on making the background on my laptop. The effects, with the exception of Bacon’s kill, which looks even more fake in higher definition, are Savini doing what he does best. The acting is nothing to write home about, and the dialogue isn’t going to remind anyone of David Mamet (“How do you call a snake?”), but they all work together and make for a fun, scary ride.
If Halloween paved the way for F13, then this franchise really opened the floodgates for the slasher genre, and unfairly or not, will be remembered as the juggernaut of all slasher movies.
Friday the 13th gets 8/10 machetes from me.