Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Sean Cunningham
Written by: Victor Miller
Starring: Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby & Laurie Bartram
Before it became a pop culture phenomenon, FRIDAY THE 13TH was merely a title without a script behind it. Filmmaker Sean Cunningham had made a few flops and needed a surefire box office success to pay the bills. So he decided to make a movie called FRIDAY THE 13TH. Through a simple one-page magazine ad, Cunningham was able to garner enough interest to get the movie made…cheaply, I might add. Though Cunningham claims that the hastily written screenplay was based on things that scared you as a child or teenager, it’s clear to anyone with a half-functioning brain that the movie was a cash-in on the slasher formula that John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN popularized. As it stands, the first FRIDAY THE 13TH is cheap, silly, clichéd fun that’s not technically a good movie, but can be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure or a wave of spooky nostalgia for those who grew up watching the series.
Twenty-one years after the gory double-murder of two promiscuous counselors, Camp Crystal Lake is reopening. Teenagers have been hired on as camp counselors and must renovate cabins before the children arrive in two weeks. It turns out that the teenagers aren’t the only ones in the woods on this gloomy Friday the 13th. Somebody is killing off the potential new counselors left and right. Strong-willed Alice watches as her friends disappear one by one, only to find that she could be the next victim. This is a slasher movie after all and it’s not a particularly complicated one. The plot serves as an excuse for a few jump scares, a number of gory kills, and easy money for the producers.
FRIDAY THE 13TH is recognized as one of the earliest slashers and was made long before the subgenre turned into the ridiculous gorefest that it is today. That’s not to say that FRIDAY THE 13TH isn’t ridiculous or dumb, because it’s very much both. However, it’s not quite the gorefest that some have hyped it up to be. It’s also not a film featuring Jason Voorhees as the killer. Instead, we get someone else in his place and this person lends a lot to the later mythology of the series. My roundabout point is that people without a prior knowledge to exactly what this first entry in the series is will be surprised that it’s not at all what they’re expecting. Though there are plenty of deaths, about half of them occur off-screen with the victims’ bloody corpses seen later on. For the kills we do see, the practical effects by Tom Savini haven’t exactly aged well, but hold a cheesy charm to them. This is especially true of Kevin Bacon’s demise which is easily the most memorable kill of the whole film.
As far as the production values go, Sean Cunningham was aiming for cheap and easy…rather than good and complex. The budget was at just over half a million and that’s very apparent in the poor lighting and amateurish camera quality. The acting is terrible from just about everyone and Betsy Palmer seems embarrassed for her brief appearance (which she admittedly signed up for in order to pay for a new car, thinking that nobody would pay to see the low-budget horror flick). It should also be noted that FRIDAY THE 13TH seems to have invented some of the more annoying slasher movie clichés including dumb victims who you could not give a shit about, a harbinger of death (in the form of an old kook named Crazy Ralph), and people who don’t know how to run from the killer (only to end up tripping several times in a row). This all being said, there’s something intrinsically fun to be gained in watching this silly 1980 slasher flick. It’s stupid, but it’s still enjoyable when taken on its own merits.
FRIDAY THE 13TH is only essential viewing for those who are deep into slasher films or want to see all of the horror classics. Is it a good film? Hell, no. However, it’s an entertaining guilty pleasure for those who grew up with this cash-grab franchise. Those who have the built-in nostalgia factor for this series will always have that special place in their heart for Camp Crystal Lake. I may have bashed this film a bit in this review as a cheap cash-in, but there’s no denying FRIDAY’s influence on the massive outpour of slasher flicks during the 1980s. I have a bit of that special nostalgia in my heart for this silly slasher series (I distinctly remember watching most of them on AMC’s Fear Fridays). FRIDAY THE 13TH is a guilty pleasure, but remains a pleasure nonetheless.