Friday the 13th (1980) Review

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It could be argued that before Friday the 13th there was no slasher genre. The concept had been explored in everything from Black Christmas to Halloween, but the explosion of the low budget slice ‘n’ dice flicks that flooded the drive-ins in the early eighties were more a product of the success of Friday the 13th than of any film that had proceeded it. Thanks to ingenious marketing of Paramount Pictures and the groundbreaking special effects from Dawn of the Dead‘s Tom Savini, the movie’s reputation quickly grew through word-of-mouth and soon a cheap horror feature that had cost a mere $550,000 to produce was fighting for the top spot against such Hollywood blockbusters as Empire Strikes Back. The film immediately became a part of pop culture, with the monstrous child Jason Voorhees adorned across the covers of magazines, leading to every studio in town attempting to recreate that winning formula.

f13-1It is 1958 and a group of counselors gather around a fire at Camp Crystal Lake for a sing-song. During the festivities, two of the teenagers, Barry (Willie Adams) and Claudette (Debra S. Hayes), stare lustfully at each other. Once the song has finished, they discretely sneak away and head up into the barn to make out. But as they lay down and begin to kiss, a figure quietly moves below, climbing up the stairs towards them as they giggle and roll around on the floor. Suddenly, one of the steps creeks and Barry jumps up, immediately becoming defensive when he recognises the intruder. Protesting that they were being innocent whilst buttoning up their shirts, Barry is stabbed in the gut and falls to the floor. A moment later, Claudette desperately tries to escape but it soon cornered, when the killer pounces on her as she screams.

Flash forward two decades and a young girl called Annie (Robbi Morgan) arrives in town and heads over to a café to ask for directions. When she says that she is searching for Camp Crystal Lake everyone falls silent, until one of the patrons (Rex Everhart) agrees to give her a lift part way. Climbing into his truck, they head off through the country, with him attempting to convince her to quit for her own safety. It seems that in the years since the incident the camp has developed a reputation, with many of the locals believing the site to be cursed. With still several miles to go, Annie eventually manages to hitch a ride in a Jeep but the driver takes her in the wrong direction, forcing her to jump out into the bushes. Running through the trees, she is soon tracked down and begs for her life as her throat is slit open with a hunting knife.

f13-2Back at Camp Crystal Lake, Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) has hired a group of counselors to help him renovate the property in time for its summer re-opening. These kids include young lovers Jack (Kevin Bacon) and Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), their practical joker friend Ned (Mark Nelson), Brenda (Laurie Bartram), Bill (Harry Crosby) and Steve’s occasional girlfriend Alice (Adrienne King). But when Annie fails to show up, the group are one down and are forced to work harder in order to prepare the camp. But a figure is looming in the darkness, dispatching of the teenagers one-by-one as they spent most of their time having sex or swimming in the lake. With no adults or authority figures to protect them, they are left alone to fend for themselves. Eventually, the lone survivor is forced to fight for her life, as she discovers the horrifying truth behind the camp’s bloody history.

The filmmakers of Friday the 13th were always the first to admit how many ideas they stole from John Carpenter’s Halloween, such as the faceless killer, the promiscuous kids and the prophet of doom – with Halloween it was Dr. Loomis, here it is local soothsayer Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney). But whereas Carpenter’s film was a well crafted movie with professional cinematography, Friday the 13th was a cheap exploitation film directed by a businessman. But, despite its technical flaws, there are so many features to enjoy with this movie that it is almost guaranteed to entertain. The cast are mostly likeable, especially Crosby and Bartram, who portray their characters as genuinely pleasant teenagers. Morgan, too, makes her role sympathetic, with her passion for the camp clearly evident. Whilst Bacon and Taylor are fairly generic, Nelson adds a touch of humour as the joker (which would become a staple of the genre), and King proves to be a suitable heroine.

f13-3Each of the kills are handled adequately enough, with the camera slowly stalking the victim, although Savini’s makeup is by far the star of the show. Although these type of effects soon became commonplace, back in 1980 they were considered spectacular and managed to anger various critics and moral watchdogs. Whilst the final twist is unique and unpredictable, it is also a little ridiculous to believe that a middle aged woman would be capable of throwing bodies through windows and overpowering healthy young men. The fact that the killer clearly had hairy knuckles also makes the revelation a little unbelievable. But, its shortcomings aside, Friday the 13th is such an inventive and enjoyable movie that is is no surprise just how eager other producers were to capitalise on its success. Yet, unlike most of the films that followed, Friday the 13th felt fresh and fun, and thirty years later it still stands up as one of the best horrors of the era.

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18 Responses to “ Friday the 13th (1980) Review ”

  1. What a movie! I made the mistake of seeing this one after already seeing about 4 of the sequals – bt this one will probably always be my top Friday movie because its so damn suspensful and I rally love all the characters.

    It’s not fun seeing them die it’s horrible which for me makes this a successful HORROR movie.

    I am still glad to this day that Brenda’s murder was off screen – truly my top Friday 13th counseller/character – to see her get the old axe in face treatment a la Marcie would have just been too much!!

  2. What a movie! I made the mistake of seeing this one after already seeing about 4 of the sequals – but this one will probably always be my top Friday movie because its so damn suspensful and I really love all the characters.

    It’s not fun seeing them die it’s horrible which for me makes this a successful HORROR movie.

    I am still glad to this day that Brenda’s murder was off screen – truly my top Friday 13th counseller/character – to see her get the old axe in face treatment a la Marcie would have just been too much!!

  3. I agree with mark,it is one of the best of the 80s’ (second to sleepaway camp in my opinion)

  4. I LOVE FRIDAY THE 13TH.

  5. When I was 12/13 years old Friday was my obsseion. Id watch and rewatch the film trying to work out how each murder was done. Friday was one of several films that made me not just a slasher fan but a fan of makeup and special effects.

  6. Agreed!

  7. Thanks Sonny B, I also agree that Sleepaway Camp is a superb slasher movie, one of my all time faves too, I hope they keep the franchise going for at least the next movie if not more.

    Mystery slashers top any other kind in my opinion, a group of people dying off and ANYONE could be the killer – need more of these types of horror movies!

  8. Friday 13th really was responisible for the slasher boom. Slasher movies prior to Friday where mainly released by small indie distributors. Friday was realeased by Paramount a major studio. Friday’s success lead to other major and minor studios to jump on the slasher band-wagon. The slasher movies that came during the 80′s tried to copy Friday and not Halloween even though the latter is often called “the original” slasher.

  9. One of the aspects that worked so well in the first Friday was the mystery angle it had going for it. The audience not knowing who the killer was but the victims obviously knowing who their attacker was, gave the film an edge to it. Obviously the rest of the sequels were not able to achieve this other that Part 5 which was a bit absurd anyway.

    The mother of all slasher films this film deserves the respect it commands. Businessman or not Sean Cunningham gets an “A” in my book!

  10. This movie bored me – a mystery with little to no clues!

  11. While it’s true that the film lacks any clues to the killer’s identity (which is a bit of a cheat) it does offer loads of spooky atmosphere, a setting shrouded in darkness, gory death scenes, and Kevin Bacon. What’s not to like?

  12. I’d love to like it, Cheesy, I really would. It just never jumped at me. Perhaps it’s that lack of connection to the same mainstream success everyone has, that allows my radar to treat the lesser knowns more lovingly. Dunno.

  13. The first time I saw this movie was as a kid with my grandmother on a midnight viewing on an old Detroit public station. The best part about it is they played it completely uncut! (which I obviously didn’t know until the next time I saw it..) Even though we had to endure commercials the whole time, it was amazing. And my grandma even liked it! I still to this day wish I knew the story on how a low budget Detroit network got it’s hands on an uncut print in the mid 80′s.

  14. Great article! I think that, though Sean Cunningham’s only intention in making this film was to cash in on Halloween, it’s a classic in spite of itself and is full of brooding atmosphere, music, and IMO has much better than average acting from the whole cast compared to other slasher films of its era.

  15. I loved Friday the 13th and it remains my all time favorite Horror film of all time. I love Adrienne King ( Alice ) too. She was hot back in the day! My favorite kill was Marcie getting hit in the face with the axe. Awesome movie!!!!!

  16. I think Mark correctly notes one of the film’s biggest strengths, which is that the characters are actually likable. I much prefer the early 80s slashers because they tended to follow a “care about the movie because you care about the people in it” formula. Since this film was specifically modeled after Halloween, we can probably thank John Carpenter for inspiring Victor Miller to give us a similar set of likable young adults set upon by a mysterious lunatic. As the decade (and this franchise) went on, the casts became more and more obnoxious, and the films just became an excuse to off teenagers. It has a certain entertainment value, but it’s never as engaging as the earlier films in the genre.

    Friday the 13th is a classic, no doubt. The cast, the score, the effects, the scenery. It is iconic. Though I still find it hard to actually suspend my disbelief for the ending reveal. I understand that, at the time, it was the effective shock that Sean Cunningham was aiming for. But Pamela Voorhees just…is not imposing or threatening in any way. Sure, she sneaks up on most victims that may have otherwise fought her off (Jack comes to mind) but her feats of strength are utterly silly and unbelievable. For that reason (if not any other), the original Friday pales in comparison to Halloween. The Shape is a most menacing, terrifying figure. I would truly fear for my life in a situation that involved Michael Myers. But Pamela Voorhees? Come on.

    But hey, it is what it is. It’s still a genre classic. But I prefer Steve Miner’s two sequels, in which the series gets the villain it properly deserved. It may have taken some retconning, but the first film doesn’t exactly hold together perfectly anyway. And the addition of a true slasher villain to the mix is what really put the Friday series on the level with the other big franchises.

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