WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!
Though I’ve written extensively about the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, I have somehow failed to review any of the films since started this site back in 2000! Therefore, I decided that today was the day I would correct this injustice that I have committed against the slasher franchise I love so much. And I can think of no better way to begin making amends, then to review the film that started it all!
After being closed for a number of years due to a double murder and other strange incidents, Camp Crystal Lake is preparing to open again. Purchased by the porn-stached Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), a small group of counselors have arrived to help make repairs and get everything prepped for the new Summer campers. But after Steve heads off to run errands in town, the “teenagers,” now left to their own devices, begin to explore the campgrounds (and in some cases each other), while a mysterious stalker watches their every move.
Then as night falls on that stormy Friday the 13th, the killer strikes, picking off the counselors one by one until only Alice (Adrienne King) remains. Frightened and alone, Alice must fend for herself, as the movie builds up to its big reveal, and unforgettable twist ending. Who is the killer and what is their motive? Will Alice survive the night?! Honestly, if you don’t now the answer to either question, I highly suggest you stop reading now and go watch this Horror classic!
Filmed on a rather modest budget of just over half-a million dollars, FRIDAY THE 13TH opened to $5.8 million on its opening weekend! By the time its worldwide theatrical run had ended, this indie Horror hit surprisingly garnered almost $60 million in ticket sales! Needless to say, Sean Cunningham’s little slasher flick was an astounding success!
At the time, FRIDAY THE 13TH featured a cast of relative unknowns (including a young Kevin Bacon!), and for the most part everyone turns in a decent performance. The characters are all likable, and you genuinely don’t want to see anything bad happen to them. (Not even that goofy prankster Ned, who is portrayed by Mark Nelson.) But “they were warned, they are doomed, and on Friday the 13th, nothing will save them!”
To create the gruesome ends for the hapless counselors, Tom Savini was brought on board. Fresh off a slew of other genre classics (e.g. DAWN OF THE DEAD, MARTIN, EFFECTS, and MANIAC), Savini developed the memorable deaths of Kevin Bacon’s Jack (arrow through the throat), Jeanine Taylor’s Marcie (hatchet to the face), and Robbie Morgan’s Annie (slit throat). He also had to create the mangled corpses of the other victims, as well as the big money shot at the end of the movie. A lot of this still holds up extremely well, and was a crucial inspiration for the era of “body count” flicks that followed!
Arriving a few years after John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH utilizes many of the same slasher film conventions. There are several jump scares, and scenes shot from the killer’s point of view are present throughout. But unlike HALLOWEEN, this movie keeps the identity of its villain a secret until the final act. While this is definitely one of the film’s strengths, I always found it odd that no major effort is made to set up any red herrings (aside from half-hearted attempts to raise suspicion towards Steve Christy and Walt Gorney’s Crazy Ralph), and no clues are dropped to help viewers guess whom the killer may be. Speaking of which….
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
As of my writing this, it’s been nearly forty years since FRIDAY THE 13TH made its debut, so I’m assuming that just about everyone knows who is responsible for the slayings. At this point in the Camp Crystal Lake saga, Jason Voorhees is merely part of the Camp’s dark lore. So who is behind the murders? Well Jason’s mother Pamela Voorhees of course! Played fantastically by the late Betsy Palmer, Pamela is a complex character that steals the show in the film’s final act.
Shortly after Alice discovers the bodies of her friends, she ends up running into the kindly Mrs. Voorhees. But moments later, the warning bells begin going off when Pamela begins recounting the Camp’s troubled history, and the accidental drowning of her son Jason. As she wraps up her tale of woe with the words “You let him drown! You never paid any attention. Look what you did to him. Look what YOU DID TO HIM!”, both Alice, and the viewers, are completely certain that Pamela is off her rocker.
Driven mad by her son’s death, it would seem that Mrs. Voorhees will do anything she can to make sure that Camp Crystal Lake remains closed. And as she plays a deadly game of cat and mouse with Alice, we really see how deep the psychological scars run, as Pamela “speaks” in her dead son’s voice (“Kill her, Mommy! Kill her! Don’t let her get away, Mommy! Don’t let her live!”), and then answers back in turn. (“I won’t Jason! I won’t!”)
Eventually Alice turns the tables on Pamela during their final battle on the edge of Crystal Lake. She manages to break free from her attacker, then picks up the machete that Pamela dropped, leading to one of the most memorable decapitations in cinematic history! Then, as the film ends on a hopeful note, Cunningham and friends toss in an amazing surprise scare that is still effective all these years later!
FRIDAY THE 13TH is a master class in making a slasher film, and delivers memorable kills, a somewhat sympathetic villain (depending on your point of view), and contains a totally unique (and iconic) soundtrack by Harry Manfredini that adds to the film’s atmosphere. This movie has rightfully cemented itself as one of the greatest titles in the slasher sub-genre, and though it isn’t my favorite film in the franchise, I respect the hell out of FRIDAY THE 13TH, and deem it worthy of: