I want to take you back for a moment. Past the violent blood filled kill-fests we call “gorno”, back past the era of the endless horror sequels, to a time where shoulder pads and frizzy hair are just about to become cool, disco was dead and the film ‘Can’t Stop The Music’ was the thing that killed it.
The year is 1980, and the slasher flick was just finding it’s feet. The 70’s are over and horror was about to have an unprecedented boom. ‘Halloween’ had hit cinemas only two years previous and laid down the rules and style template to work off. Herein lies the birth of modern horror.
For newcomers to horror, or children of the current generation, it is important to remember that things have changed a lot since these times. In this time period the genre was more focused on the art of scaring the audience rather than visually abusing them, to scare you without ever over indulging is the sign of a true ability and Friday the 13th was one such film.
Now, Friday the 13th is far from a perfect film and Sean S. Cunningham is even further from a perfect director. However, sometimes fate just puts the right components in the right place at the right time and things just work. The cast is full of believably innocent plebs to carve into, the story has that great “campfire story gone wrong” feel and the basic cinematography and sound work makes the whole experience seem eerily real.
The film is simple, as is the way with classic horrors. It follows a small group of camp councilors who have taken a holiday job working to repair and run the infamous Camp Crystal Lake, which up until late has been closed due to a series of “mysterious accidents”. Now, the plot doesn’t really get more complicated than “everyone gets killed”, and even though the film does have one reasonable twist at the end it will not be what you remember the film for.
It’s power lies in the fact that it plays on one of the oldest of human fears, the idea of someone watching us. That creepy sensation of feeling like your defenseless and alone. This and the fact that the first half of this film is setup, meaning the characters (though annoying) do develop a personality and this makes their deaths just that little bit more effective.
This film does suffer from one unfortunate flaw though of being very reliant on the idea that it’s audience is shocked by it’s violence and not tittering over it’s cheap effects. Due to the generational gap, this may not be as effective as it once was, years of gore, violence and watching the news has changed our perceptions on what is disturbing.
None of this however makes it any less of an experience. It still has some scares, a decent dose of blood and a great performance by “crazy face” Betsy Palmer. The film’s pace works slowly but once the killing starts, the intensity rises exponentially all the way to its powerful conclusion and rewards those willing to take the ride.
Plus, like any great horror, it will effect camping and rural areas at night for the rest of your life (even if only momentarily).
It’s funny to even consider this a classic, and older film critics may choose to disagree with me. However, those of you that call yourselves horror buff must watch this film, if nothing else just to see the beginning of an era. This is what a fresh director with an idea and some decent tricks up his sleeve can do. Most of our current masters of horror will have this film in their collections, and so should you.
Friday the 13th (1980 – Paramount Pictures) – Produced & Directed By Sean S. Cunningham – Written By Victor Miller (& Ron Kurz – uncredited) – Starring Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon and many other expendable teens. Iconic Music by Henry Manfredini.