Director – Sean S. Cunningham
Cast – Adrienne King, Betsey Palmer, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson, Peter Brouwer, Rex Everhart, Ronn Carroll, Ron Millkie, Walt Gorney
Release Year – 1980
Reviewed by John of the Dead
One of the most recognizable titles/phrases of all time, “Friday the 13th” is a series of words known by all, hated by some, and loved by many. The reason behind this infamous phrase giving fearful reminders to many is the success of this awesome film, which has remained a staple film in the slasher genre and helped kickoff the 80s slasher sub-genre that ruled the decade. Fresh off of the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, director Sean S. Cunningham and writer Victor Miller set off to create their own monster of a film, and while this series’ later entries were not what this duo had in mind, they set forth the formula and campy horror atmosphere that has resulted in some of the genre’s most memorable films to date.
Friday the 13th follows a group of young camp counselors arriving at Camp Crystal Lake to prepare for the upcoming summer camp sessions. The counselors have been kept in the dark over the history behind Camp Crystal Lake, and rightfully so. The camp is reopening for the first time after the traumatic drowning death of a young boy due to the negligence of some fornicating camp counselors…who were brutally murdered following the little boy’s death. Despite warnings from the local townsfolk to stay away from Camp Crystal Lake, the new camp counselors go about their business getting the camp ready…until they begin falling victim to a killer who will not allow the camp to open again.
What a hell of a way to kick off the 80s. This was not the first slasher released in 1980(He Knows You’re Alone released a few months prior), but this was the first slasher released in the 80s that came with the fun and “campy” tone that preceded the 80s slashers of the same element that we were given later on in the decade. Prior to this film AKA the 70s, we were given slasher films with a serious and more mysterious tone, which I did enjoy, however I can and do appreciate this fun turn-of-events for the slasher genre and believe this turn-of-events is one of the biggest reasons why this film has stood the test of time in the genre and popular culture as well.
Story-wise this film follows the usual formula of a vengeful killer suffering from some evil background beset by a frantic event, and the naïve protagonists who fall one by one to this killer while most of their cohorts pay no attention to the death around them. This flick does add some interesting elements to this formula though, including a twist ending that I am sure most NEVER saw coming, as well as a unique and different way of displaying the background of the antagonist. In most slasher films we are made aware of the reasoning behind the antagonist’s vengeance fairly early in the film, usually no later than the beginning of the second act(30-45 minutes into the film), but that is not the case with this film. We do not get any information whatsoever regarding the reasoning behind this antagonist’s actions until about the 75 minute mark into the film, which is quite a substantial amount of time given this flick’s 95 minute runtime. I did not mind this overly long wait for development, but in my own personal opinion I prefer to be made aware of what is going on with the killer way before the 75 minute mark of a 90something minute film. I noticed that this overly long wait lessened my interest at times, although that does not say for the least bit that I was not interested. This film had me hooked from the get go, I am only saying that I would have been even MORE interested had I been given the information I was desperately seeking at reasonable point in the film.
Sean S. Cunningham’s execution is good for this type of film, and he positively set the tone for the many copycat films that would follow. His up close and personal camera work added some fun for the viewer, and his camerawork during the intense stalking and kill scenes was nicely done and executed properly. The musical score is one element that really stood out to me, and much praise goes to composer Harry Manfredini for this film’s excellent and spooky score that provided a perfect blend of fun and chills at the same time. I don’t know how he was able to strike both emotions out of me via his musical score, but he did it, and he is a champion for that.
Overall, this is a great watch for horror and slasher sub-genre fans that set the tone for the upcoming slew of campy 80s slashers that followed this awesome film. There is a reason why Friday the 13th has stood the test of time, and if you have not seen this one yet then I suggest you give it a watch and see for yourself what I am talking about.