|The Plot: In 1957 at a north eastern day camp for young boys and girls called Camp Crystal Lake, a young boy named Jason drowned while swimming. This caused much outrage and anger within the community, as it was the fault of the camp counselors who were off making love while the young boy met his doom. One year later however, two camp counselors were found brutally murdered in a cabin where they had wandered off to in order to make out. This caused the camp to close permanently and seemed to spell the doom for Camp Crystal Lake. Several years later however, Steve Christy has bought the camp and soon plans to re-open it. Along with Alice, the two have been renovating the camp in order to make it safe and have invited several other young people along to act as counsellors in the no doubt soon to be bustling camp. However, as everyone is getting unpacked on this Friday the 13th, strange things start to happen. As the rainy night begins to lumber along, slowly people start to come up missing. There’s a killer on the loose, but who could it be?|
The Review: What is it that has made the Friday series so special? Here we are nearly thirty years after the creation of Jason Voorhees, with a total of twelve inclusions in the series counting the pairing of him (Jason) with Freddy Krueger as well as a remake. There’s also a sequel to the remake in the works and there has even been a terrible videogame made about the random wanderings of Jason Voorhees (for the NES, I’m sure most of you either played it or have seen it mentioned before). There are comic books, t-shirts, posters and tons of merchandising. Why all the interest, still to this day? Whereas the Nightmare On Elm Street series did actually have quite a few frightening moments throughout (between his wisecracks), the Friday series in my opinion never really went after the creepy scares hard and heavy. That isn’t to say that the series wasn’t intended to be “scary”, it most certainly was, but the kind of scares you find in a Friday film aren’t exactly built on moody lighting or eerie circumstances. They are packed with ‘jump’ scares and tension built from the frustration of the audience, watching these teenagers run around in a complete and utter fear driven panic. Within the early part of the Friday series, they were kept in a very Giallo-esque world where there’s more focus on the killer and the mystery surrounding him; as well as the kills, than actual attempts at being spooky or mysterious. Such moments have always been few and far between. In the case of the original Friday the 13th, this might be the closest the series ever came to actually tackling serious atmosphere and horror. This comes from the fact that, being our first time out, we really don’t know who the killer is. This mystery, as well as the great use of first person perspective camerawork through the eyes of the killer, actually makes this origin story one of the best in terms of being fairly ‘scary’ in a traditional sense. However, that doesn’t make it necessarily the best of the series. Although there’s a lot of nostalgic fun to be had when watching this originating classic, when watching a Friday film there’s always that feeling that Jason Voorhees is this impending character who all but makes the entertainment factor. The lack of Jason as an onscreen force, the killer is shown in that first person vision throughout the entire course of the film, certainly does lower its power in respect to the rest of the series. Still, it’s an underrated classic that all horror fans certainly need to get their hands on.
I think with a lot of horror fans, there’s an instinct to look back on the first Friday as something that we’ve grown up with. Especially for those in my age demographic or above. We look back on this film not as its own being, but as something that set up an entire legacy. Although in a lot of ways you might think that nostalgia might kick in and make the film appear better than it really was, I see it as very much the opposite. With the decades worth of additions to the myth of these films that follow the exploits of Jason as a character, when we go back and visit this original movie out of context to what was made at the time we see a fairly familiar slasher set of archetypes. Whereas many of us didn’t grow up watching the masses of Italian giallo pictures during our formative years, we as the same audience might go back and visit something like Stagefright (by Michelle Soavi) or A Blade In the Dark (Lamberto Bava) and see something completely new and alien to our eyes. However, you have to question how original anything can be after years of growth in any genre. The span between Mario Bava’s original gialli pictures to the later day films listed above, might make something like Twitch of the Death Nerve look almost minimal in terms of new advents that were offered. So, the amount of love and appreciation I find for this original Friday seems pretty limited amongst some hardcore fans. Personally, I’ve grown to really appreciate what Sean S. Cunningham did here and his accomplishments as a director. He took a lot from what John Carpenter pioneered in Halloween, but explored a lot of the space in between. Some might say he took what Carpenter did and simply made it a little trashier, but I think you can argue the case that what he did was take the bones of Halloween and placed them in a more realistic setting. Although the kids are still horny and out to party, they are not completely unlikeable in this first entry. In subsequent films we started to care less about the human characters and more about the fantastic ways that Jason might put an end to their lives. Here though, we still have our almost virginal leading lady and we still have the horny couples sneaking off to explore their own youthful urges. Only to find themselves spread away from the pack and easier to deal with, like a zebra leaving the herd for a lion to pounce upon. In between all of that there’s some interesting character bits that paint them with a human touch, especially in the case of Alice.
Keeping with that same Giallo formula (and I hate to keep mentioning it, as I know it makes me seem like some kind of elitist), killings play a large part in the series and this first entry really sets the bar in terms of onscreen violence. Taking up where Halloween (which was released a year earlier) left off, the level of onscreen violence is amped up to eleven. If you could say the Friday films left behind a legacy, you’d have to say they certainly brought gore into the mainstream more than just about any other horror series. Although Freddy Krueger was probably the more menacing when actually played for scares, his bodycount could never match that of the Friday series. Tom Savini’s expertly crafted effects work still doesn’t seem dated after all these many years. His simple but highly effective techniques helped put to bed the old custom of “what isn’t shown is more frightening”, then with this film and his future work throughout the eighties he would become a staple of the horror genre and one of the most well respected men in the field. The mix of believable characters and their fun, quirky performances helped to heighten the horror of their eventual demises. It’s hard to go through a review such as this one without mentioning spoilers, but I’m doing so for the younger audiences who may not have seen the godfather of the series. If you have not and you’ve somehow avoided spoilers up until this point, first of all kudos to you my friend but secondly make sure you get out there and see this film immediately. It’s a horror classic that may not rock your world in terms of extreme gore and it may not seem like the most original of all films at first; but there’s a heart and soul to this low budget effort that revitalized horror in the eighties and inspired your favorite post 1980 horror film in one way or another. I give it a four out of five. It may not be the most creative of all the films, but it does its best to creep you out and it really sets a gold standard in what a slasher really should be.