Friday The 13th – Still Frightening After 35 Years

By 1980, moviegoers already had a long fascination with Horror films and the macabre, going all the way back to the silent era with 1922’s Nosferatu. With the inception of the first Halloween film in 1978, the public was already terrified at the thought of twisted psychopathic killers,  so when Friday the 13th hit the screens on May 9, 1980, teenagers did not feel safe at home or at summer camp. Friday the 13th brought Horror films to the forefront of cinema and established a number of groundbreaking firsts, including the concept of the first supernatural slasher, one who would not die according to established rules. It has been said that Friday the 13th was created to “cash in” on the success of Halloween, although it was in itself a successful and vastly different film. This led to Paramount Pictures purchasing the full rights to the future of Friday the 13th, which would go on to include eleven sequels, one remake, a television show, novels, comic books, and film merchandise over the past thirty-five years.  

Still from Friday the 13th

The film was by written by Victor Miller, who went on to have an award winning career that included such films as Jury Duty (1995), and Asylum (1997), and directed by Sean S. Cunningham (We Craven’s The Last House on The Left 1972, Freddy vs. Jason 2003), who joined together to bring the characters of Jason Voorhees and his mother to the big screen. Cunningham had been inspired by Carpenter’s Michael Myers and wanted to make a truly epic Horror film that had both scary aspects and made the audience laugh. Initially it began as merely a title, but Cunningham truly believed in the idea and began heavily advertising. After much hard work by Cunningham and Miller, Friday the 13th made it to theatres, blazing a trail on screens across America and paving the way for the future of Slasher films, more than ably competing with the Halloween franchise. It also marked the beginning of more than one film career, the most well known being Kevin Bacon (Footloose 1984, Apollo 13 1995). Despite the success of the first film, neither Miller nor Cunningham returned to work on any of the sequels. Perhaps they felt their vision had already been adequately conveyed in their original film.

Most Horror aficionados can recall the tale of Jason Voorhees, his mother Mrs. Voorhees, played by the late Betsy Palmer (Mister Roberts 1955, The Tin Star 1957), and Camp Crystal Lake. Back in 1958, a young boy drowned while swimming at Camp Crystal Lake when he was left unattended by teenage camp counselors, a tragedy that forced owners to shut down the summer retreat. The local townsfolk avoid the general area, as there is a shared opinion that the place is cursed. For years after the incident, several fires and other strange incidents had occurred at the camp’s supposedly vacant location, until Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer: One Life to Live TV series, All My Children TV series) decided to fix up the camp and reopen it for the season. Now, a bunch of kids are due to spend their summer holidays at Camp Crystal Lake in just a couple of weeks, so Steve has the other counsellors assist him in preparing the grounds, including Annie (Robbi Morgan: What’s the Matter With Helen? 1971I Married A Centerfold 1984), Alice (Adrienne King: Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming 2013, Tales of Poe 2014), Marcie (Jeannine Taylor: The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana 1982), Bill (Harry Crosby: Double Trouble 1984, Hollow Venus: Diary of a Go-Go Dancer 1989), Brenda (Laurie Bartram: Another World TV series, Emergency! TV series), Ned (Mark Nelson: The First Wives Club 1996, Spin City TV series) and Kevin Bacon’s Jack.

Still from Friday the 13th

Despite its dark history, the enthusiastic group jumps right in to fixing up the camp. They do not take matters too seriously and have some fun, at the same time completely unaware that someone is lurking in the woods, watching them. As the first day draws to a close, the group relaxes around a fire, playing games and singing, but they are not alone. As the night wears on and counselors continue to drop like bloody, skewered flies, Alice discovers that Mrs. Voorhees (Palmer), the mother of the drowned boy, Jason Voorhees (Ari Lehman: ThanXgiving 2006, Easter Sunday 2014), is out for brutal revenge against all camp counsellors. One by one, the young adults are hunted and maniacally slaughtered, leaving only Alice left to tell the tale. But did she really survive? Filled with plenty of blood, gore and the requisite amount of sex, drugs and immorality, Friday the 13th has been cemented in Horror history as the bloody poster child for all things Slasher. Jason went on to die and be resurrected in each of the sequels, but not before getting his fill of brutally slaughtering irresponsible teenagers, and always leaving open endings that hinted at his subsequent return.

The special effects by Steven Kirshoff (Independence Day 1996, A Beautiful Mind 2001) and make-up effects of Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead 1978, Creepshow 1982) were innovative at the time, and, along with the infamous soundtrack composed by Harry Manfredini (Swamp Thing 1982, House 1986), helped cement Friday the 13th as the pinnacle of Slasher films. Cunningham slyly used the creepy music to imply a killer without actually showing one, a tactic that helped immensely to build tension. The theme had to be powerful enough to adequately represent the killer, and after being inspired by the 1975 killer shark film Jaws, Manfredini created the subliminal “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” that Mrs. Voorhees hears as “Kill her, Mommy!” a line she repeats over and over in the final credits. Of course, Jason’s hockey mask is also forever etched in viewers’ minds as the ultimate Horror totem, making a perfect go-to Halloween costume.

Still from Friday the 13th
Still from Friday the 13th

Worldwide, the film and its sequels have taken in more than four hundred sixty-four million dollars worldwide, numbers that include the widely popular 2003 crossover film, Freddy Vs. Jason. While the sequels have met with mixed reviews, there is no denying that Friday the 13th has a devoted following that produced a long running series that is considered to be one of the most successful media franchises in the world. One of the main factors is due to it still being just as popular and thrill-inducing today as it was thirty-five years ago, an amazing feat for a movie about a silent, hockey mask wearing zombie. It is time to dust off those old VHS, Beta tapes, or DVD copies, friends, and sit down on the couch with some popcorn to start a Friday the 13th marathon, and what better way to do that than with the original that started it all.  

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

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