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Monday, October 4, 2010

Friday the 13th

       A young boy drowns in the waters off Camp Crystal Lake in the summer of 1957.  A year later, two young counselors are brutally murdered at the camp.  Fires and some poisoned water soon follow, and the camp closes.  Before long, it develops a reputation as having a "death curse".  Flashing forward to 1980, we find Steve Christy has put lots of time and money into the camp trying to bring it back to its original glory-, and has hired a bunch of young counselors to help him get it open.  Of course, they are unaware that a murderous presence is silently stalking the surrounding woods, watching them...

      I love this little slasher. I love everything about it. FRIDAY THE 13TH perfectly captures that "scary tale to be told around a campfire" atmosphere, and scared the living hell out of many youngun's of the early 80's, myself included. I grew up living in the woods and let me tell you- this was some seriously scary shit back in the day. This low-budget and unassuming little chiller captured the imagination of movie-goers in 1980, and became a smash hit and one of the most infamous films of the decade.  Second only to THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, FRIDAY THE 13TH opened on 1,127 screens across America on May 9, 1980 and would gross a staggering $39.7 million that summer. The film would actually outgross such high-brow thrillers as THE SHINING and DRESSED TO KILL.  And cause many to sleep with the lights on.

      Very much like HALLOWEEN used our childhood fascination and fears of the Boogeyman and trick-or-treating, FRIDAY THE 13TH also played off our childhood fears. We all know the woods can be scary.  We all have fears of the dark, of being alone. For many kids, going off to summer camp for the first time can be traumatic. The movie works on all those fears, and I think that's part of its success and longevity. It taps into something primal. What I love about FRIDAY THE 13TH is that it presented the story of Jason Voorhees and his demented mother in a mythical tone already, as legend. I distinctly remember kids whispering hushed tales of Camp Crystal Lake on the playground, as if it all really happened.  I remember my older cousins mentioning Mrs. Voorhees as a kid, trying to scare us younger ones in the woods.  It worked.

      Critics eviscerated FRIDAY THE 13TH- even the Catholic League of Decency placed this film on its list of movies not to see. (Which only made every kid in America want to see it...)  Regardless of the critics, I still find it to be one of the strongest slashers to come out of that period. One of the main reasons why is Betsy Palmer. She turns in a bravura and underrated performance as murderous Pamela Voorhees- and adds a dash of respectability to the movie, like Donald Pleasance did in HALLOWEEN. She's actually only on screen maybe 20 minutes tops, but it's an unforgettable 20 minutes at that. Pamela Voorhees is one of cinema's great female villains, and should be celebrated as much.  As great as Betsy was, Adrienne King is also quite wonderful as the final girl who barely survives the bloodbath at Camp Crystal Lake- her famed duel with Mrs. Voorhees is almost alone worth watching.  Adrienne is the main role of the film, and in my opinion does a beautiful job. Good stuff, kiddos. (The rest of the cast is also quite good- everybody comes off as realistic and likeable.  These were real actors- not polished models who only stand there looking good.  We identified with these characters- it was us up there on the big screen, creeping around the dark camp trying to stay alive.  Kudos to all of them.)

      FRIDAY THE 13TH introduced some spectacular effects by Tom Savini, that to this day top most CGI effects in modern movies. Savini's work truly needs to be seen to be believed, it's that good. This film widely known and acclaimed for its deliciously imaginative murder scenes and special effects. And as if Tom Savini wasn't enough to brag about, some of the most recognizable and scary music in any horror movie was introduced to pop culture in 1980 by the great Harry Manfredini.  This score terrified audiences and became as iconic as the scores to JAWS or HALLOWEEN- although why this score has never received a proper release is criminal!

     FRIDAY THE 13TH was new, hip, and fresh to audiences in 1980. It's cinematic language spoke to us with its dark shadows, incredibly visceral and shocking murder sequences, and iconic musical score.  Today, it's a part of our pop culture.  Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and many of us who were scared silly by it back in the 80's have now gleefully passed it on to the younger generation. It is now a rite of passage to watch a FRIDAY THE 13TH film.  It's truly like sitting around a dark campfire at night, telling your favorite scary story.  In a twisted way, it has almost become as American as apple pie and baseball. Pamela and Jason Voorhees are to the 80's what Norman Bates was to the 60's, and Dracula and Frankenstein were to the 30's.  I love this slasher, and I like to pretend that only the first four installments exist.  It's better that way.


pablo said...

Hello, I have a question: was Friday the 13th the first horror movie about a summer camp? People say no, but they don´t add titles.

J ROCK said...

Pablo, not 100% for sure, but I don't know of any other horror films taking place at a summer camp. I DO know that "Friday the 13th" caused a few knock-offs at summer camps- "The Burning" and "Sleepaway Camp" come to mind. But as far as I know, "Friday the 13th" was the first horror film about a summer camp. "Meatballs" was released in 1979, but it was a comedy, not a horror film. Thanks for the question, though!

pablo said...

Hi again! After doing some investigation, I didn't find a horror film placed on a camp before 1980, but I found films than can suggest the same idea. In Pirannha, from 78, pirannhas attacks a camp, and many die. The gang of The Chainsaw Massacre of 74 dies doing a summer travel in an isolated place, and it's a great slasher film. One expert told me there is a movie that looks like F13, a 1971 italian succesful film titled "Twitch of the dead nerve". Then there is a norwegian 1958 film available today called "Lake of the dead", located in a cabin in the woods. The last part of 1962 Cape Fear reminds the idea of F13; Gregory Peck and his family trying to survive in that bungalow at night while a crazy Robert Mitchum tries to kill them. In Leave her to heaven, from 45, Gene Tierney watches that disabled boy drowning in the lake without help him, who recalls Jason of F13. The slasher notion of bring some people to an isolated place to kill them one by one was suggested by Agatha Christie in her 1939 novel And there were none, and by its film from 40, and perhaps she was ispired by a 1932 RKO film called Phantom of Crestwood. However, F13 screenwriter Victor Miller wasn't ispired by any of these examples; he only recalled he was scared when he was in a camp when child and the histories his older brother told him about, and had the idea for the film. What I'm sure is I love F13 1980 as much as I hate the 2009 remake; it seems nobody of those who made the original like it.
Thanks for reading!

J ROCK said...

No problem! Thanks for reading my blog!

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