Rated R for slasher violence, sexuality, nudity, and some dated race humor. While everything might be considered tame compared to what the sequels would spawn, there's no denying that there is some truly horrifying shots in this movie. It's a sleepaway camp murder spree. It's not for the faint of heart.
DIRECTOR: Sean S. Cunningham
I know! How basic, right? I went from not being into spooky season to kind of getting excited. And then, for a Friday the 13th to come around in October. Here's the scoop: I loved the original Friday the 13th. I used to watch it all the time. But something happened and I stopped rewatching Friday the 13th. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I don't rewatch movies as much as I used to because there are so many movies out there that I'll never have time to see. But this was an opportunity. This lifestyle has opened a door that was an unexpected treat. I was able to watch Friday the 13th quasi-fresh. See, I still knew that Mrs. Voorhees was the killer in the first one. I still remember how Kevin Bacon dies. I also remember Jason jumping out of the lake. But the other stuff? It's kind of fresh. Do you understand the happy accident that I got to enjoy? I love the first Friday the 13th. I mean, I was also able to be a little more objective about it this time, but it's still a pretty great horror movie.
The one thing I never realized is that it is an inversion of Psycho. I mean, it's right there. Listen, I know I have to be last coming to the party on this one. But since this is my blog, I'm going to explore the concept to death. Also, it's the basis of this blog and it's going to give me content. And Lord knows that people be loving content. I'm actually playing the soundtrack right now. It's a thing I do to remember the different parts. (Why am i explaining myself to you?) Anyway, the Bernard Herrmann score? Harry Manfredini probably owes him a couple of bucks. Not the whole thing. But there's an active decision being made. See, I love Psycho. It's great. Hitchcock offers his audience a terrifying premise and then gives us something even better with the twist. The notion of Norman's mother murdering people at the hotel is a scary concept. The reveal, that Norman is the killer while embodying Mother's essence is better. The only problem is that we are starved from the one thing that we were promised: a showdown with Mother.
Now, obviously the Friday the 13th sequels don't exist yet. The notion of hockey mask Jason won't show up for a couple more movies. But Cunningham is doing the same thing that Hitchcock is doing: manipulating expectations. There is an assumption that the killer is a big burly man. I mean, I said I would be critical of this movie now that I have some distance from my obsession with this movie. But it also only makes sense that the killer was a hulking mass, not an old lady. But when Friday the 13th is watched in conjunction with Psycho, it pays off the promise of the first movie while maintaining the same twist. We get to see what it is like for a scary grandma to be killing everyone. And, honestly, it's probably more realistic than it deserves to be. Instead of being this unstoppable grandmother, you can kind of, just, push her over. Yeah, that makes you really wonder how she managed to dispatch everyone earlier. Because I want the movie to be a functional film, I employ my suspension of disbelief. In most of the film, she uses the element of surprise to kill people real quick. But when she attacks Alice, for some reason, she feels the need to reveal her entire backstory.
I keep hearing that people aren't really into Friday the 13th. Why am I alone in the like for this franchise? Like many of the horror franchises, the series goes off the rails pretty quick. But I'll take Friday the 13th and Halloween over Nightmare on Elm Street any day. I feel odd waxing poetic about this, but there's something kind of fun about the slasher movie than something supernatural. I mean, don't get me wrong. A good vampire or zombie movie is super fun. I'll always be down for watching The Lost Boys or Night of the Living Dead. But there's something so basic about a summer camp slasher movie that is fun. Part of it comes from the fact that we're almost meant to instantly bond with archetypes. Yeah, it's not good filmmaking in the grand scheme of things. But there's this notion that we almost become friends with this group of intense personalities. I know that Friday the 13th is not the first summer camp film. But I also think that it may serve as the bible for other summer camp horror movies. Cunningham is giving us a bit of a shortcut into figuring out the dynamics of the people at the camp. Because these characters are thrown into a group of strangers, we too are meeting them as strangers. And thank goodness that they're all extroverted or else that wouldn't be very fun.
What is interesting is that this is the movie that also establishes the morality rules that horror movies are so infamous for. Mrs. Voorhees doesn't necessarily hate teenagers. She hates teenagers who are so overwhelmed by their own vices that they let her poor boy drown in Crystal Lake. It's why Randy talks about no sex, drugs, or alcohol in Scream. A lot of it stems from Mrs. Voorhees's revenge plot and her skewed sense of morality in keeping the camp closed. Now, I love this. I think it is a great storyline. But I also love that Mrs. Voorhees kind of just ignores her own rules because she's full on bananas. (Also, tied to Psycho where she has that D.I.D. because "Kill her, Mommy") Annie never shows up at the camp. She's picked up by Mrs. Voorhees (also, very cool with just hitchhiking. Totally Killer should have discussed that one) and goes into this message of how she would be the ideal camp counselor. She talks about her love for kids and how she was going to do this for a living one day.
And then Mrs. Voorhees kills her real bad. Like, real bad. Now, this is the moment that I have a hard time settling. Ignoring the fact that it doesn't align with Mrs. Voorhees's entire worldview of what camp counselors are about, Annie has a pretty good idea that Mrs. Voorhees is coming after her. She jumps out of the car. Sure, she has car-jumping damage. But she could take out an old lady. She's really running from Jason in that moment. But I want this movie to work, so I'm going to give her points saying that she's inherently non-violent and predisposed to flight instead of fight. Still, poor Annie, right? She makes no sense because she's wired to be the ultimate final girl. After all, Alice does drink and play Strip Monopoly. Just because she's good at Strip Monopoly doesn't mean that she's the paragon of virtue. She just has that subjective goodness.
Now that I think about it, it is really weird that this movie becomes about Jason as an adult murdering counselors later. I mean, the movie's last two minutes introduce the idea that Jason might be in that lake, killing people. But even in that narrative, the Jason she sees / dreams is a kid. Where is the jump where not only is her potential hallucination true, but also that Jason grew up in between sequences? I mean, sure. This could have been a very different franchise had it been a deformed little dead kid murdering people over and over. But still, I'm just going to have to bow out here because I'm not going to be talking about the sequels any time soon.
As much as I love the first movie, I have no desire to watch the sequels. It's not that I wouldn't have a good time with them. But I also know that there's going to be a sense of diminshing returns coupled with the knowledge that there are a billion great movies out there. You might be shocked about that argument considering that I'm going to be writing about Plan 9 from Outer Space pretty soon. But that at least will have some context.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.