Contributor: Rick McGimpsey
Well it is the month of October again and that means it is time to review another horror series. Every few days I will release a review of each of the Friday the 13th movies just like I did last year with the Halloween franchise. It feels to me like Friday the 13th is the appropriate followup to Halloween and next year it will be the A Nightmare on Elm Street series that I review. Michael Myers, Jason, and Freddy sort of form The Big Three when it comes to slasher icons and so I chose this arrangement accordingly. What series I will do in 2019 remains to be determined.
As for Friday the 13th, the original 1980 version, it may come as a surprise to a newcomer or a casual horror fan that Jason is not the killer in this one. For the casual fan, newcomer, and young woman being stalked by Ghostface whose life I am now saving, it should be noted that it is not Jason; but his mother Pamela Voorhees who is the killer. Although, unlike in the other films in the series, the perp is not apparent.
Throughout Friday the 13th the Camp Crystal Lake counselors are being stalked and murdered by an unknown and unseen assailant whose motives are unknown and whose MO is both varied and vicious. We never see her face until the very end and she remains hidden by the power of POV shots for the majority of the movie.
The film opens in the 1950’s with a crowd of campers and counselors singing around a campfire singing hymns. Two of these devout worshippers decide to take a break and go to a cabin attic to have sex. If I was a bit more naive I would object to this depiction of two Christian teens having sex, but I have been around enough kids in Church youth groups to know that this is really not that uncommon.
The twain kiss for a bit, but they are interpreted by the killer who listens to the guy sort of sheepishly says “we weren’t doing anything” before she suddenly stabs him in the stomach just before turning to the girl and does her in as well.
Thus begins the most common trend in the Friday the 13th series: getting cockblocked by sudden violent death!
30 years later the Camp is getting reopened again and new counselors are preparing by rebuilding and/or renovating the cabins, fixing the plumbing, and landscaping. One of the counselors is named Annie, but she is late to arrive and she starts hitchhiking to get to her destination. And like every hitchhiker in a slasher movie she gets picked up by the killer and killed.
While the other counselors worry about Annie not showing up they work hard getting the place up and running. They do such important tasks as nail boards to the cabin roofs, sweep the rooms, kill snakes and other pests, jump around mimicking Indian yells, swimming in the lake, faking drowning so they can kiss the girl giving them CPR, having sex, and making fun of police men doing their jobs. I am starting to think if Pamela didn’t kill these assholes the Camp would still have been overdue and unfinished by time the children arrived.
After two of the counselors (one of them played by Kevin Bacon in his debut role) have sex in a bunk the girl heads to the bathrooms to clean up. Kevin Bacon remains lying in bed when suddenly from under the bed an arrow is thrust up through the mattress and through Kevin Bacon’s throat. The scene is very effective and the effects are impressive even to this day. The prosthetic work done to make the arrow look like it went through the real Kevin Bacon’s throat is the masterful invention of Tom Savini who also did the makeup work in Dawn of the Dead. Nowadays Savini’s career consists mostly of teaching the trade of prosthetic effects and making cameo appearances in horror movies (and The Perks of Being a Wallflower for some reason). But back in the 70’s and 80’s he was the go-to man for gore effects. He was a genius and this film is as good a resume as any.
Meanwhile the luckless Kevin Bacon’s girlfriend meets a dismal end herself in the bathroom. After pissing in the toilet, putting her underwear back on, and doing a terrible Kathryn Hepburn impression in front of the mirror she is suddenly struck in the face with a hatchet.
I kinda sympathise with the killer on this one. Kathryn Hepburn was a national treasure and her legacy deserves more respect. Cate Blanchett this woman was not and she should have kept her mimicry to that of valley girls and bimbos.
In another cabin some of the counselors start playing a unique version of Monopoly called Strip Monopoly in which landing on properties owned by people other than yourself costs you an article of clothing. How they came up with this game I have no idea, but I think they should invent Strip Uno next. It would make the game less apt to leaving all the players pissed at each other by time all the draw 4’s were used up.
However, the game doesn’t get far enough to show anything interesting as one of the counselors leaves to check the breaker. She hears what sounds like a child crying in the woods and when she reaches the archery range to investigate the lights suddenly flash on and she killed off screen.
Alice, our heroine who survives to the end, and Bill, the gentlemen who does not, wonder where their friends went so they go out to investigate. Bill goes to check the generator and is likewise killed off screen. For a raunchy, exploitative slasher flick this movie has a lot of off screen deaths. Two other characters similarly die off camera.
Alice later finds Bill’s body pinned to the door of the garage with a bunch of arrows. She does what any sensible person would do in such a situation and screams her head off and runs. She nearly bumps into an middle-aged woman driving up in a truck who says she is Mrs. Voorhees and that she is a friend of the people who own the camp.
Alice shows Pamela Voorhees the body and Pamela begins to pontificate that she had told the owners not to reopen the camp. She tells Alice that years ago her son Jason had drowned in the lake when the camp counselors were not watching him because they were too busy making love. Is that all these Crystal Lake counselors seem capable of doing?
As Pamela becomes increasingly irate as she recounts the story she suddenly turns on Alice and tries to stab her. The two fight and Alice tries to flee but the crazy woman chases her. Pamela starts talking to herself constantly as she chases the surviving counselor because she believes that her dead son is speaking to her and telling her to kill the counselors as if they were all responsible for his death. Even though most of these kids were not even born when he died.
To go into detail on the entire fight would be pointless and tedious, but suffice it say that after 10 minutes of hair pulling, kicking, slapping, biting, and rolling in the dirt Alice finally gets the upper hand and decapitates Pamela Voorhees with a machete.
Alice then crawls into a canoe and falls asleep over the lake, but when morning arrives she starts to wake up when suddenly she is grabbed and pulled under by a boy whose body resembles that of a decomposing corpse. She wakes almost immediately in the hospital and refuses to believe the incident with the boy was a dream.
I am not sure how to properly review a film like this as it never was intended nor marketed to be a good movie. It is exactly to the last degree what it sought to be. It is a cheap, sleazy, exploitative knock-off of Halloween in an attempt to capitalise on that film’s success. The violence is gruesome and lacking in style or any aesthetic merit, the plot is weak, stupid, and illogical; and it is peppered with marketable gimmicks such as nudity and sex to cater to its largely male audience. It’s the same sort of trash cinema that predominated the drive-in culture of the 70’s and 80’s. The only reason this film has become worthy of special note is thanks to its inordinate popularity that spawned its many sequels with the iconic figure, Jason Voorhees. By itself, this film is virtually indistinguishable from films like The Burning, The Mutilator, or Torso which only horror buffs even remember or care about. It’s such a sleaze-fest and I am hesitant to fault the film for being this since it aimed for nothing higher. To expect more would be silly.
To a horror junkie like myself who can, when in the mood, enjoy slashers, drive-in flicks, exploitation films, zombie movies, giallos, and even trashy mondo flicks a horror movie like Friday the 13th is hardly something I will stick my nose up at and snub. I am as much a film snob as any and I will always prefer movies like The Godfather or Citizen Kane, but I accept that different movies deserve different means of reviewing. I do not demand my sleaze to be as good as my critically acclaimed Oscar winners or Criterion DVD releases.
For what it is Friday the 13th is entertaining. It does not get boring by any means and it is not overlong. It works on the levels it is supposed to work. It is not supposed to make me think. Hell, it is not even supposed to scare me. It’s job is to excite. To cater to the lowest common denominator looking for a cheap fix of gore and boobs. And it achieves that end passingly enough that I can think well of it for reaching its aim.
The story doesn’t make much sense, but that doesn’t worry me. It doesn’t bother me that a middle-aged woman who is only about 5 feet tall managed to pin a full grown man to a door with arrows. I didn’t come to see a man pinned to a door with arrows by a plausible criminal with a legitimate motive. I just came to see a man pinned to a door with arrows. If I cared about the sense of it I would watch NCIS or a Coen Brothers film. And I will happily watch those too. But right now I am watching Friday the 13th and I embrace its stupidity and shameless depictions of sex and violence with the open arms of someone who appreciates the genre to which it belongs.