It’s tacky and it’s spooky, and also kind of kooky but still I take a looky at Friday The 13th
Created intentionally to cash in on the audience response to John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN released two years previously, FRIDAY THE 13TH ended up becoming every bit as iconic as the movie whose coattails it was trying to ride. While it wouldn’t really be until the sequel that its would-be leading man would earn his place amongst the pantheon of horror greats, many of the tropes and traditions of the slasher genre would be established by this movie, not least of all the tongue-in-cheek ending which was intended originally as a joke before it became the pathway to an ever-expanding franchise.
Hitchhiking to her new job at the soon to reopen Camp Crystal Lake, camp cook Annie is picked up by a truck driver who tells her about the camp’s troubled past which began with the accidental drowning of a young boy in 1957. When the truck driver, who can only take Annie half way drops her off, she hitches another ride from an unseen driver who eventually slashes her throat, killing her.
As a thunderstorm approaches the camp, the new owner who intends to reopen the camp leaves for supplies, leaving the rest of the counsellors to finish refurbishing the cabins. One by one, the counsellors are picked off by an unseen assailant whose identity is eventually revealed in a shocking twist.
An independent production which was then hawked out to the studios in a bidding war, the film has a dirty, low budget feel and admittedly at over forty years old is starting to show its age. The pacing is a little slack in places, especially in the first forty-five minutes but once the mayhem begins properly, it’s still quite the rollercoaster ride. Director/ Producer Sean S Cunningham chose his cast of largely unknowns (although at various points, Shelley Winters was offered the role Mrs Voorhies and Sally Field was considered for the role of final girl Alice), with the only famous face nowadays being EE Spokesperson Kevin Bacon – looking for naturalistic performances. It’s a relatively effective approach even if the dialogue doesn’t always lend itself to sounding entirely natural at times and often leaves scenes where there’s nothing much happening with an air of amateur dramatics.
Where the film really excels is in the effects work of Tom Savini, elevating the whole thing far above its station and earning the movie its place in the horror classic firmament. It was also reputedly Tom Savini who came up with the idea for the CARRIE-style shock ending although it probably wasn’t his idea to feature an actual death on screen – the snake which is killed in the cabin was killed for real.
FRIDAY THE 13th really cements the sex = death trope that Randy Meeks would be so vocal about in SCREAM as well as introducing the archetype of the ‘practical joker’ character who would go on to become a staple fatality of future slasher films.
Like HALLOWEEN, it’s outlived its potency as an objectively scary movie, with time and improving production values having blunted the edge of its weaponry and innumerable homages, rip-offs and spoofs diluting the impact but, also like its inspiration, its transcended its original role to become a cinematic milestone, a trailblazing trailmarker for the genre and an indelible part of modern pop culture.