For the next ten days until Friday, April 13th, I’ll be watching and reviewing the movies in the Friday the 13th franchise from the very first through Jason X (I’m up in the air about including Freddy vs Jason). I’ll be counting kills, observing the bad behavior that gets teenagers killed at Camp Crystal Lake, chronicling the ways Jason and the other killers in the series bite it at the end, and awarding my favorite kill of the movie. Needless to say this is going to be heavy on the spoilers, so if you’re some kind of movie virgin who hasn’t yet bathed in the spring of Jason Voorhees et al, be wary.
Special thanks to Litmus Configuration for the amazing image above!
Friday the 13th (1980)
Kills: 9 (Two throat slashings, two arrow piercings, three stabbings, one axe to the face, one unknown cause of death somehow involving ropes and blood and being tossed through a window as a corpse)
Best Kill: Mama Voorhees plays a new version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: Sixteen Inches of Arrow through Kevin Bacon’s Neck.
Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll: Pre-credits sequence, fully clothed making out leads to brutal stabbings. Kevin Bacon and his girlfriend have fully naked sex (you see Bacon’s ass getting a mighty squeeze) before they are each offed. Bacon also lights up a joint before he gets his. In another cabin three kids play strip Monopoly while drinking beer. Bonus fun fact: landing on Community Chest does not get you your clothes back.
The Comeuppance: Mama Voorhees gets a whole new perspective on the world as a machete sends her head careening off of her neck.
The Movie: Right from the start of the first Friday the 13th many of the series’ signature elements were in place: extended shots from the killer’s POV, that ‘ki ki ki ha ha ha’ sound on the soundtrack, and teenagers getting sliced and diced as a result of engaging in some nookie in close proximity to Crystal Lake. But as the film goes on it becomes more evident how very different this one is from all the rest that follow.
Producer/director Sean Cunningham was obviously making a movie that ripped off the wildly successful Halloween, but watching the first Friday makes you realize that the touchstone was probably a little closer to Ten Little Indians than what we recognize as a slasher film today: the killer runs around without a mask or an identifying costume, and the whole movie is, ostensibly, leading up to the big identity reveal (which is totally botched anyway). The first Friday is also smaller in scale than any of the sequels, with only six counselors running around Camp Crystal Lake looking for opportunities to be butchered.
The film opens with a pre-credits prologue set in 1959, showing us the two murders that originally shut down Camp Crystal Lake. Flash forward to Friday, June 13 1980ish and the camp is re-opening, despite the warnings of local doomsayers like drunken loonie Ralph (whose dialogue is almost literally all doom saying. He pedals around on his bike like a deranged Margaret Hamilton repeatedly intoning ‘You’re all doomed!’ In an existential sense, who can deny that?). The first Friday is almost quaint in how small the cast is – there are six counselors and the camp owner, the porn-mustachioed Steve Christy (Agatha reference?). We’re introduced to him when he’s shirtless in cut-off jean shorts with a red bandana around his neck and aviator glasses perched just above his glorious mustache. I can’t imagine sending my kids off to any camp run by this guy, but then again we’re informed the campers will mostly be inner-city types, so I guess they don’t have much choice.
The killings begin pretty quickly – new camp cook Annie is hitchhiking to Camp Crystal Lake and has the unfortunate bad luck to be picked up by a camera operator. This film makes incredibly heavy use of the killer’s POV, mostly because they’re trying to save the reveal of the killer’s sex until the end. This gets pretty clunky, and you have to wonder why no one just thought of giving the killer a mask, since Michael Myers had already invented that look.
This first Friday doesn’t need to go into logical gymnastics to get the teenaged victims to different parts of the camp; there are very few moments in this film where you’ll be wondering why someone would be throwing away their life just to find their boyfriend/investigate a sound/getting a beer. Most of the splitting up is done while it’s still light out, and well before any killings come to anyone’s attention, and a heavy rainstorm explains why nobody notices that people are missing – everybody just assumes that everybody else is taking refuge in a cabin somewhere, getting high, laid or both.
The kills here aren’t the best of the series, although Tom Savini’s genius is obvious with a couple of inventive ends, including the Kill of the Movie, Kevin Bacon taking that arrow through the neck. Not only is this Mama Voorhees’ feminist response to the inherent violence of the patriarchal society’s sex act, which Bacon has just engaged in, it also sheds some weird light on Mama: she was under that bed the whole time Bacon was making sweet, whimpering love to his girlfriend, getting the springs sprung right in her face. What a pervert.
Since there are only six characters (early on Steve runs out to do some errands – read that as ‘be a weak red herring’ – and doesn’t come back until late at night and just in time to take a hunting knife to his rain slickered gut) the dispatching happens pretty quickly. Mama Voorhees shows a little bit of playfulness – she hides the bodies and then takes the axe out of one girl’s face and places it in her bunk, and even tucks it in! Maybe the strangest thing Mama does is hide outside one girl’s cabin and imitate her son, Jason Voorhees, drowning in the lake. When the girl follows the cries for help she ends up getting killed (offscreen), which raises an interesting question about Mama’s intentions. She’s there to keep the camp closed but also to get some transferred vengeance on the counselors who let Jason drown back in 1957 (for those keeping track at home, this date and his stated age make Jason older than my dad), but when a counselor reacts in a prompt and diligent way to cries for help, she gets killed anyway.
The group is whittled down to two and then just our Survivor Girl, Alice, is left. And this is where the movie really becomes very different from the rest of the F13 films: Alice runs into Mama Voorhees, who suddenly and without explanation completely changes her modus operandi. Previously, when the filmmakers were trying to keep her sex a secret, Mama Voorhees operated in complete silence. Now she introduces herself to Alice and pretends to be a friend before slowly dissolving into homicidal madness. This big reveal, by the way, completely fails because it essentially boils down to ‘All along the killer was… this character who never appeared at any other point in the film!’ It would have been so much more effective to introduce Mrs. Voorhees right at the top of the film. At any rate, the whole movie kind of falls apart here, as Alice and Mama Voorhees engage in a very long, very drawn out chase and fight. In later Friday films, Jason would take serious injuries that would seem to kill him and would then get back up to hunt his prey – his mom just keeps getting slightly knocked out before getting up again. The whole sequence is without pacing or tension, but it is endlessly hilarious to see a besweatered middle aged woman with Mr. Ed dentures going at it with a teenaged girl. Finally the fight ends up on the shores of Crystal Lake and Alice gets a hold of Mama’s machete and lops her head off.
The filmmakers would never kill Jason in so final a way, even after he became a zombie (with the exception of Jason X, but that was just a prelude to making him a cyborg), and you can see why – you just can’t bring Mama back for part 2. Luckily, Tom Savini had an idea for a final scare in the film, which was to rip off Carrie and have Alice floating on Crystal Lake in a canoe and dream that Jason jumped up from the depths and dragged her under. This wasn’t in the original script, but it did pave the way – conceptually, if not at all logically – for Jason showing up in Friday the 13th Part II. And while Mama Voorhees showed off some incredible strength during the course of the movie, most of Friday the 13th remained reality-based… up until this finale, which sort of hints that maybe Alice wasn’t completely dreaming. That opens the door for the series to go in very, very wacky directions.
By modern standards Friday the 13th is a little tame; it certainly has nothing on the Final Destination films, for instance (and by the way, wouldn’t a movie like Final Destination, where bad luck was killing people in entertaining ways, make more sense for the title Friday the 13th than some knife-wielding lady with a Sandy Duncan hairdo?). It’s also endearingly serious – not in that it thinks it’s a heavy drama, but in that it aspires to be a tense thriller and not just a body count pile up, as the later movies would become. And by keeping the killer almost completely offscreen, Friday the 13th is one of the few films in the series (and the genre) where the doomed teenagers are actually the protagonists – the reality of most of these films is that we’re rooting for the killer to do his work in entertaining ways, but the killer here is mostly a non-entity.
In a lot of ways Friday the 13th is The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings trilogy of Jason movies that would follow (Parts 2, 3 and 4 all take place over the course of about 24 hours). The first Friday establishes the world and the basic template, but the mythology really starts to grow in the films to follow. Actually, the Friday films most closely follow the Star Trek model – the first one is sort of ponderous and not exactly what you’re hoping for when you watch it now, while the next three are pretty terrific and tell one long story. Then there’s a fifth film that is like a smack in the face, a sixth that’s a return to greatness, and then a bunch of sequels featuring characters and concepts you don’t even recognize anymore. Also, there end up being space ships.
Friday the 13th scores:
Two and a half Retard Jasons out of four.
Next: Friday the 13th Part II introduces Jason, Mama Voorhees makes a surprise appearance, and a kid in a wheelchair takes the loss.