Franchise Friday - Friday the 13th (1980)
“Anyone can die at any time.”
Of the many ways one can describe the body count of a ‘drive-in movie’, that’s definitely one of the most apt. And the original Friday the 13th plays to that extremely well. But before we dive deeper into that, for those of you who may be approaching this film for the first time, let’s check out that synopsis:
Camp Crystal Lake is about to re-open, but not everyone is thrilled about it. Every time there’s an attempt to do so, a tragedy befalls the camp on the outskirts of a small New Jersey town. As a group of teenage counselors converge on the camp to get it up and running for the summer, once again dead bodies start turning up. Will anyone survive long enough to unravel the mystery of Camp Crystal Lake and how it ties in with the drowning of a small boy back in 1957?
You see, the original Friday the 13th was released before slashers started turning into morality plays…in their own twisted way. I mean, some of that is here, for example, the couple that has premarital sex does indeed die…in this instance with Kevin Bacon getting the classic arrow through the throat while his special lady friend would take an ax to the face a bit later. And while beer and weed are mentioned, well, the weed certainly falls short of ‘Chekov’s Gun’ as no one smokes a doobie within the 95 minute run time. Sure, the beer is drank, but it’s done so in an innocuous way…simply over a game of Monopoly. Hell, it could just as well have been soda, coffee or any other beverage, alcoholic or otherwise. In fact, let’s face it, by the time you finish watching the film, you come away with the understanding that this is more about **SPOILER ALERT** Mrs. Voorhees’ madness more than any morality play.
What we get here is kind of a prototype of the sequels and slashers in general to come. Yes, the kills are effective, but not too over the top. As such, while some of Tom Savini’s more subdued work, the gore effects all work and are believable, even by modern standards. But there’s a key difference here. The kills are almost strictly for the benefit of the audience…well, and of course Mrs. Voorhees. The reason I say that is because our final girl here, Alice, played by Adrienne King, really doesn’t see her first dead body until late in the film. Of course, when she does, she starts seeing all of them…almost like Mrs. Voorhees was saving them for a rainy day…ha…ha ha ha…ha. This is kind of the thing that a modern horror viewer has to keep in mind and possibly adjust to while watching this for the first time. Our heroine simply knows that everyone is missing…she doesn’t know why. This way, we don’t see her terror building over the run time of the film, discovering body after body and thus inching up the stakes more and more as the movie progresses…and in some ways, if I’m being honest, it almost feels like a missed opportunity. But even with the onslaught of cadavers at the end of the film, even then Alice really isn’t aware of the full body count, as dead Ned and dead Jack are never shown.
The ending of the film can certainly be read a couple of different ways. Knowing of the many sequels to come, one could argue that the filmmakers did a good job in shifting the role of the killer from Pamela Voorhees in this film to her son Jason in the subsequent ones. And while I’m sure this might have been on their minds, well, no movie ever truly knows if it’s going to get a sequel or not until those box office returns come in. As such, we can read the ending a second way, with Jason coming out of the lake as possibly a form of Alice’s post-traumatic stress surfacing. Adding to that, her reaction in the hospital and her insistence that the boy, Jason, is still out there may simply be her first steps down the road to madness…a fragile mind that has finally shattered after seeing so much death firsthand. This would certainly fit in with some of the more nihilistic movie endings present in 70s filmmaking (although this film was released in 1980).
Lastly, no discussion of the film would be complete without at least some mention of Harry Manfredini’s score. Yes, while chock full of stingers, it does provide us with the classic ‘ki-ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma-ma’ and for that it’s worth it’s place in cinematic history. However, for the nature shots Manfredini does bring us some tranquil moments and thus displaying some range that’s most welcome.
So, as the film that set loose 11 other films (12 if you count the crossover with Freddy), how does it hold up? I gotta say, not bad. As stated above, it does require that the viewer recalibrate their expectations of current horror films, but once you’re in the right frame of mind, the kills are solid and, again, anyone can (and likely does) die at any time. All in all, it’s worth checking out and certainly deserving of its place in horror movie history. This earns it our Happy Cat rating.