Surprisingly, the only time I’ve written about Friday the 13th (1980) was when I compared it to its 2009 version in an old Remake Rewind column for Downright Creepy or Boom Howdy that I’ve never added to this website. It’s one of those movies for which I probably couldn’t produce an original thought. Nevertheless, I’m compelled to say something about it.
It’s not a tradition for me to watch the film whenever a Friday the 13th arrives on the calendar, but I decided to do that this year. I hadn’t seen it since several years ago when I attended a drive-in event in Kansas City. While it was playing, I realized there are several things I didn’t remember about it, and those are the comments I want to share.
If you haven’t seen Friday the 13th in a while, chances are you’ve mixed it in your mind with any number of its 10, count ‘em 10, sequels. My overall impression this time was that the original is very different from the 1980’s slasher movies that it inspired. I’m not just talking about the fact that – spoiler – Jason Voorhees, wearing a hockey mask or not, is not the killer.
I’m thinking instead of the… style. First and foremost, it’s a well-made film. It’s not that the sequels or its imitations weren’t well-made (at least some of them), but just the fact that it’s so solid. Regardless of the template it created, I’m not sure it would have experienced the success and longevity if the filmmakers had been less committed to the project.
Next, and contributing to the substance of the movie, is Harry Manfredini’s music. It’s impossible to forget the repeating, whispering chant, which I interpret as, “Kill… kill… kill… ha… ha… ha…” However, there is much more to it than that. It’s a full, orchestral score (without 80’s synthesizer) that contributes to the suspense and terror. At times it evokes Psycho, but…
…it’s not the only component that evokes Psycho. Of course, the reveal of the killer is a variation of Norman Bates and his mother… a reversal, I guess. But there’s also an homage to the shower scene and a hanging light that’s knocked. It swings wildly, casting its glow into the dark shadows of the scene. Here, it’s the bathroom instead of the basement.
Jumping ahead, let’s talk about that reveal. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t know Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) was the killer. During this viewing, I watched and listened for clues to her identity. There are none. She arrives out of the blue near the end of the movie, soon spouting crazy talk that exposes her.
Up until then, I don’t believe we have any idea about the identity of the killer. There aren’t any real red herrings. In this way, Friday the 13th isn’t a mystery. By the time the characters discover they’re dying, there isn’t time for them to ponder who’s responsible. I get it; that’s not the point. The related backstory is compelling enough that saving it for the end works.
The truck driver (Rex Everhart) that takes Annie (Robbi Morgan) to Camp Crystal Lake tells her that’s it’s “jinxed”:
Did Christy ever tell you 'bout the two kids murdered in '58? Boy drowning in '57? Buncha fires. Nobody knows who did any of 'em. In 1962, they was gonna open up... the water was bad.
Earlier descriptions described the fate of Camp Crystal Lake more generically. A woman in town asks, “Camp Blood? They’re opening that place again?” And, of course, the legendary Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) warns Annie that “it’s got a death curse.”
So, something happened at Camp Crystal Lake that caused it to be closed for 22 years. I guess we’re supposed to think that “something” is still there and it’s some force of evil, whether human or supernatural, killing the kids who’ve arrived two weeks before it officially opens to get the place up and running.
There is evidence that an unknown person is there and it’s probably the killer. Someone driving a green Jeep gives Annie a ride, then stalks her in the woods. Ned (Mark Nelson) follows someone into a cabin, then is found dead about eight minutes later. Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) recognizes someone when he returns from running errands in town.
For me, this isn’t the focus, though. There’s so much other… “action” happening. If you remember that Friday the 13th is a non-stop bloodbath, you’re wrong. Sure, a couple of the murders feature classic Tom Savini gore effects, but there are more kills that aren’t seen than there are kills that are seen. Allow me to remind you…
During the first five minutes of the film, Barry (Willy Adams) stumbles back from the camera and his stomach is bleeding. We do not see the wound inflicted.
Soon after that, Claudette (Debra S. Hayes) moves away from the camera in slow motion; the frame freezes as she screams and the opening credits begin. We do not see her murder.
Running through the woods, Annie falls at the feet of the killer. We see her throat slashed.
Ned (Mark Nelson) follows someone into a cabin. We do not see his murder; however, his body later lies bleeding on the top bunk while Jack and Marcie fool around on the bottom bunk.
Lying in the afterglow, Jack (Kevin Bacon) lights a joint and we see his throat pierced from under the bottom bunk by an arrow.
An arm raises an axe, knocking the hanging light. We do not see her murder, but Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) stumbles back and the axe is stuck in the side of her face. (Later, Alice discovers her body in the back of Mrs. Voorhees's Jeep.)
Brenday (Laurie Bartram) follows the sound of a child crying, "Help me," when the archery field is suddenly lit and she stumbles back toward a target. We do not see her murder as the camera focuses on her open cabin door and we hear her scream. Later, her body crashes through the window of the cabin where Alice is hiding.
Bill (Harry Crosby) examines the generator to learn why it has stopped working. We do not see his murder; however, when Alice later searches for him, she closes the shed door and he's hanging on the other side, throat slashed and arrows sticking out of his eye and neck.
Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) returns from errands to discover someone standing in the rain. We do not see his murder. Later, his body swings down from a tree branch as Alice runs from Mrs. Voorhees.
I know, I know… the aftermaths of the murders are bloody. In my memory, though, I saw the murders actually happen. That’s my point. Friday the 13th requires its viewers to use their imagination most of the time. As the series continued, and imitators proliferated, the movies became more blatant and graphic.
Another thing I didn’t remember is a repeated trick of the camera used to create false scares. Point of view shots are frequent as we are forced to look through the killer’s eyes without knowing his or her identity. However, there are also POV shots that are from only the camera, not the killer. This keeps us on edge as we think someone’s about to be killed, but then isn’t.
Neither did I remember that, with an exception or two, there’s not much nudity in Friday the 13th. In fact, the boys reveal skin more consistently than the girls. Steve Christy is shirtless while chopping wood, as is Ned when he’s costumed as a native American chief. Bill wears only suspenders on his torso as he paints the dock. Jack wears his shirt open to the belly button.
My final comment regards not something I didn’t remember, but something I can never forget: the infamous final scare as Alice floats peacefully in her canoe on Crystal Lake. Again, maybe it’s because I can’t remember a time that I didn’t know it was coming, but it has never made me jump. For me, it’s a pale imitation of a scene Brian DePalma did better in Carrie.
On the other hand, I did not remember that this isn’t really the final scene. What happens in the hospital afterwards is more frightening and compelling to me with its simple dialogue. Alice asks, “The boy, is he dead, too?” The police officer responds, “Ma’am, we didn’t find any boy.” She then quietly whispers, “Then he’s still there…”
The movie closes on the water of tranquil Crystal Lake. This might have been a better opportunity for the jump scare. Imagine the hideous-looking Jason popping out of the water at this point? Regardless, Friday the 13th ends perfectly as it does. Sure, it allows for a sequel, but it could also be a standalone film, the final scare a product of Alice’s nightmare.
Written by Victor Miller
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Starring Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson, Peter Brouwer
RT 95 min.
Released May 9, 1980
Home Video Paramount Home Video (Blu-ray)