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John’s Horror Corner: Friday the 13th (1980), before the days of Jason Voorhees.

October 2, 2017

MY CALL:  Forever a classic.  Yet I am hesitant to recommend this low budget slasher to anyone who didn’t grow up in this era.  It’s no longer exciting to me, but it holds a special significance.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Friday the 13thFor more classic ‘early modern’ slashers one should venture A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Sleepaway Camp (1983), The Burning (1981) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

The young counselor staff are stalked and murdered one by one by a mysterious killer while preparing to reopen Camp Crystal Lake which, decades earlier, was the site of a child’s drowning—Jason Voorhees.  Among our summer staff of victims are Alice (Adrienne King; Friday the 13th Part 2, The Butterfly Room), Jack (Kevin Bacon; Hollow Man, Tremors) and Brenda (Laurie Bartram; The House of Seven Corpses).

Harbinger SIDEBAR: One of the more celebrated horror tropes has been the harbinger—the warning sign (person, symbol, legend or otherwise) suggesting you turn back now. We’ve seen inbred hillbilly attendants of near-abandoned gas stations, twitchy hitchhikers, or crazy old town criers up and down the genre saying things like “you don’t want to go down there” or “not since all those murders” or, in the case of this movie, a “death curse; you’re all doomed.”  Well, this classic has two back-to-back harbingers who garner an awful lot of screen time.  Apparently, after a 1957 drowning there were two murders in 1958 resulting in closing the camp.  So, I guess whatever teenagers take this summer job deserve to die for ignoring all the warnings.

Throughout the film we’re left to wonder just who the killer truly is.  We catch glimpses of the killer’s hand and shirt, appearing to be that of a totally normal person—no monstrous hands, tattered blood-stained garments or over-sized build.  So, when a tightly wound sheriff (Ron Millkie; A Return to Salem’s Lot) or one of our looney harbingers (Walt Gorney; Friday the 13th Part 2 & VII) or Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer; Friday the 13th Part 2) shows up at camp, our guard is up.

As someone who grew up on this franchise, I continue to enjoy it for what it meant at the time and my own nostalgia.  First-time viewers won’t be so impressed as the pacing is quite slow by today’s standards and the third-act confrontation (basically a long cat-and-mouse skirmish with the killer) probably won’t feel exciting compared to the fast-paced shock value so often found in modern horror.

With a humble estimated budget of $550K, director Sean S. Cunningham (DeepStar Six) brought us an iconic summer revenge slasher.  We often enjoy the killer’s POV, but the kills almost entirely occur off-camera.  Being early in the new wave of slashers, the death scenes aren’t yet overly clever. Some implied stabbings, a slit throat, an arrow through the neck (Kevin Bacon), an axe-impaled head, and a rather classic decapitation. Reminiscent of Halloween (1978), one counselor is found pin-cushioned against a door.

For older horror fans this will forever be a classic.  For younger fans…I really have no idea and am hesitant to recommend this to anyone who didn’t grow up in this era.  It’s no longer exciting to me, but it holds a special significance.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2017 8:37 pm

    Having seen Halloween, I always wondered if this was worth watching. I’m glad that somebody doesn’t blindly praise this movie and actually recognizes problems with it unlike many horror fans it seems.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      October 3, 2017 8:42 pm

      Yeah, I still enjoy it. It’s just…yeah. I try to be “fair.” And people reading reviews today probably want to know if it’s worth watching for the first time “today.” If the year was 1985 (even 1989) or earlier, I’d say watch it for the first time ASAP. It’s greatest point of interest “today” is to see how much the franchise and character/killer has evolved.

Trackbacks

  1. John’s Horror Corner: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Jason Voorhees avenges his mother’s death and brokers a slasher franchise. | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. John’s Horror Corner: Friday the 13th Part III (1982), making Jason more boring, 3D and campy than ever. | Movies, Films & Flix

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