Home > Reviews > Review: “Friday the 13th” (1980)

Review: “Friday the 13th” (1980)

Directed and Produced by: Sean S. Cunningham
Written by: Victor Miller
Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Ari Lehman
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Year: 1980


Friday the 13th.

A Nightmare on Elm St.


Child’s Play.

These are the films that influenced my opinion of horror as a child. Tacky, cheap-looking thrillers (that were often just cheap in general) that focused more on pop-up scares and implausible concepts that really instilled no sense of fear in me. Growing up, more than a few of my friends tried to get me to watch these movies. I refused. Not because I was scared (though I was possibly scared of finding out in front of all my friends that these movies scared me), but because I deemed them unworthy of my time. … Perhaps I was a bit of a pretentious snob at that age.

The thing is, while I was pretty closed to ideas and concepts as a child that I thought to be stupid, insulting, ridiculous, or even dangerous, I’d like to think of adult CJ as being a little more enlightened and open to the possibility of finding value in even the cheapest of thrills. With the Halloween season upon us, I decided that I should revisit past prejudices and give the films I shunned a proper chance at proving me wrong.

However, despite my pretensions, I’d already developed a certain morbid curiosity for these inexplicably popular films, many of which have already seen remakes, reboots, reimaginings, and all sorts of other re-et ceteras to give me even more pause for thought. Unfortunately, these morbid curiosities, I must disclose, may have robbed me of truly experiencing these films as they were originally intended for first time viewers to experience them, since my Wikipedia explorations and retrospective review readings have already spoiled many of the twists and intriguing details for me.

How little they suspect...

Friday the 13th, my first choice, is a perfect example of one of these films being spoiled for me. Coming into my maiden voyage into what I had often considered horror schlock, I already knew that (SPOILERS) Jason Voorhees, the franchise’s hockey-masked villain (a look I already know he didn’t gain until the third film in the series, despite not having seen any of the sequels),is not the villain at all in the first film, and I spent the entire time watching this film waiting to see how long it would take before hints would be dropped that it was the mother who was responsible. (END SPOILERS)

I must say, though, that the movie keeps its secrets pretty close to its chest. I can’t say that the filmmakers had as firm a grasp on creating a quality film, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that, had I not known them before, I probably would have been moderately surprised.

The basic plot follows a group of young camp counselors who are helping to reopen a summer camp known as Camp Crystal Lake. While there are rumors going around that the place is cursed, due to the murder of two counselors in 1958 and the accidental drowning of a young boy the year prior, the new recruits continue their work on rebuilding the camp to be used by the first flock of kids to arrive since then. Of course, little do they know that there’s a far greater threat out there than any of them could have predicted…

Despite knowing the details of the film ahead of time, I still expected some entertaining building of tension throughout the film and a fun time picking out all the times the characters adhere to the classic horror movie rules of not splitting up, not going out in the dark alone, etc. Unfortunately, the most exciting thing about this film for me was remembering suddenly that Kevin Bacon had an early role in this film as one of the camp counselors.

Watch, as Kevin Bacon's head achieves six degrees of separation from the rest of his body!

I was pretty upset that my first foray into the slasher genre as it came to be known was such a let down. The tensions don’t really rise until the main antagonist finally shows up on screen and begins terrorizing the last victim. Even the case’s promise of  creative death scenes went unfulfilled. Is it too much to ask the filmmakers to have a little more imagination when they’re punishing these kids for their sexual misdeeds?

Yes, with possibly one exception, this film follows the well known “Have sex and die” rule of slasher films, even going so far as to “punish” characters who are only implied to have had it or are skimpily dressed. It’s a funny bit of moralizing from a genre better known for corrupting the nation’s youth, but it does at least somewhat add to Voorhees’ motivation to kill these kids off.

Director Sean S. Cunningham, who worked on The Last House on the Left, hoped to get away from the serious subject matter of that earlier film by making Friday the 13th a roller coaster ride of fear. I’d say it’s more like a kind of low budget haunted house. Dead bodies begin popping up left and right just to achieve jump scares, with little thought put into developing the characters who end up becoming unwitting props in a ghastly thrill ride.

The film’s theme, featuring fricative whispers and other spooky sounds, was immediately iconic to me, but once I learned that the whispers were taken from one of the silly, pathological phrases repeating in Voorhees’ head as the victims are being chased (with the camera often showing the events from the killer’s perspective), it, too, immediately became more silly than unsettling.

Other than that, I really feel as though there isn’t much more to say about this film. I guess it’s worth mentioning that it was one of the first slasher films to secure large studio support?

Friday the 13th was a dull and disappointing experience, lacking any true scares and spending too much time focusing on trying to build tension that the film really is in short supply of. Overall, a pretty “Meh” way to start trying to change my mind.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2 / 5


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