Friday, 13 September 2013

(Happy) Friday the 13th (1980): Review

Friday the 13th is a 1980 summer camp slasher film. Directed by Sean Cunningham (producer of Last House on the Left and the "House" franchise) starring Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King and Kevin Bacon (Tremors, Stir of Echos) with special effects by Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Maniac). The film kick started a slew of early 80s summer camp movies and spawned 7 direct sequels of its own.

Friday the 13th opens, as many of it's sequels do, with a group of young, good looking camp counsellors arriving at camp Crystal Lake to get the place in order for the upcoming season. However, through a series of POV shots, and a local raving madman, we learn that the counsellors are not alone as one by one they are dispatched by a mysterious knife wielding maniac. We also learn that this is somehow related to the drowning of a child called Jason in the early 50s as a result of negligent counsellors and the general consensus seems to be that camp Crystal Lake is doomed...DOOOOMMEED!

Ok, I'll stop patronising you. We all know the twist, Scream made sure of that, the killer is, SPOILER ALERT, not the iconic Jason Voorhees but rather his psychotic mother Mrs Voorhees on the revenge path. We all know this now but think what a shocking twist this must have been at the time. Horror movie killers were rarely female much less middle aged mothers, and has to go down as the 2nd biggest twist in summer camp slasher history! (touche Sleepaway Camp (1983). Despite not having the franchises famous son on board the film really lays the blueprint for the rest of the franchise and most other slashers of the 80s (along with Halloween (1978) before it) ie. boobs, blood, drink and drugs!

More than anything the film is one big homage to Psycho (1960) and the works of Alfred Hitchcock, certainly Cunningham is not alone in this as many slasher directors of the time were huge admirers of the great man. This influence manifests in the fantastic string based score, the POV stalking and the mother/son dynamic that would be developed in future instalments and is lifted from Psycho almost verbatim. However, rather than come across as a derivative copy of Psycho, the film succeeds in freshening up the formula for a new generation. The protagonists in Hitchcock films were rarely young adults and this extra dynamic allowed Cunningham and his contemporaries to tap into a more lucrative market with unprecedented success.

I've seen this film many times and Jason Voorhees was one of my childhood heroes (yeah I've been a horror nerd for a looong time!) but it still entertains and hasn't aged as much as some of the 70s horror films. It isn't a massively cerebral film and is very derivative in it's execution but it is a lot of fun with some groundbreaking special effects. Some of the later instalments weren't half as good even with the benefit of such an iconic character in Jason, so do yourself a favour this Friday the 13th and take a little trip down memory lane.....all the way to Camp Blood!

**** 4 Stars

When did you last see the film? Does it hold up well against other 80s slashers?


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