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Review: Friday The 13th (1980)

Reviewer: Christopher Youngblood


In 1980 Sean Cunningham was busy producing some children's movies and had to do a film to make some money to "keep the lights on" as he puts it so he began researching an idea to do a horror movie with his friend Steve Miner. Sean Cunningham had the notion of doing a film called "Friday The 13th" without any idea what the film would be about. So he released an ad in Variety and advertised his idea as "The scariest movie ever made". Without a story or a script he had his film name and allot of interest due to the ad he ran.

The film takes place at Camp Crystal Lake and follows the story of an old run down camp that has been closed for years and is busy preparing for a reopening. The camp shut down years earlier due to several deaths of the counselors and a young camper named Jason Voorhees. After the death of the little boy, several counselers were murdered and fires were set around the camp. The camp eventually shut down and was left vacant until it was bought by Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) with plans to re-open the the camp later that summer. As the counselors arrive and begin prepping the camp they begin to fall victims to an unknown slasher.

Friday The 13th managed to do many great things. It's best feature was the fact that it remained so mysterious through out the film not revealing the killer or the motive until the final act of the film. The film was truly a roller coaster ride that started out slow and became more gruesome as the film went on. The first deaths showed no gore and were essentially done off screen. This enabled the viewer to get comfortable and feel safe. As the death's continued they got more elaborate and gory all the way to the beheading of the killer shown on screen in the last act. This film also set the way for the slasher frenzy that ruled the 1980's. Another great fact of this film was the casting. Sean Cunningham and his casting agents managed to cast people that looked the part of late teens - early twenty somethings to play the part of the doomed counselers. Casting all unknown actors (Kevin Bacon was an unknown when he was cast for this film) ensured the faces would be fresh. But Cunningham's brilliance came when casting the killer...Pamela Voorhees portrayed wonderfully by Betsy Palmer. Palmer was known for playing sweet endearing motherly characters and Cunnigham knew that the audience would not expect her to be the killer and would be comforted to see her when she appeared on the screen. When she turned out to be the killer he knew the audience would be shocked!

One of the greatest pieces of Friday The 13th history was the music. Composer Harry Manfredini perfectly created the music and created what is arguably the most recognized music in movie history. The music was such a big part of this film and in ways was a character of it's own. His music created feelings of terror and tranquility depending on what the script called for at the time. The film shot in Blairstown New Jersey captured beautiful scenery and a perfect location for Camp Crystal Lake. With great direction from Sean Cunningham the location managed to look beautiful and menacing at the same time. One of the best locations in any camp slasher film done all the way until today. Friday The 13th made on a minuscule budget was not meant to be the film it became. In fact it was only meant as a way for Cunningham to make a living while his other projects began to go into development. The funny things is that his "other" projects never got off the ground and was this filler film that gave the man his career. There were never any thoughts of sequels (There are currently a total of 11 Friday films) during filming and in fact the movies star (Betsy Palmer) was sure that nobody was even going to see the film.

When the film opened in New York it was not only the audience that was shocked but the producers and Paramount Pictures with the instant success that the film achieved. Often imitated but never duplicated the film goes down as being one of the finest slasher films ever made and is often held in contention with John Carpenter's masterpiece "Halloween". Shunned by the critics at it's release the film still remains popular today.



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