Running time: 95 min.
Release date: May 9, 1980
If Bob Clark's Black Christmas brought the slasher genre to the table for modern audiences, and John Carpenter's Halloween perfected the genre, Friday the 13th opened the door to let in hundreds of imitators to permeate video store shelves across the universe. The slasher genre was Hollywood's dirty little secret for a while, before a major studio like Paramount realized that it could make them some money. The original of a very long-running series hit screens at a time when people were still buzzing about John Carpenter's movie. Of course, no one knew how Friday the 13th would take off in terms of mainstream popularity and success (with eventual diminishing returns before the end of the series) but the bottom line certainly had studios scrambling to capitalize on that success. But is the original Friday the 13th any good? Well, that's why we're all here, isn't it?
The film opens with a prologue that takes place at Camp Crystal Lake in 1958. A couple of camp counselors sit around inside a cabin with their fellow counselors, singing good and wholesome campfire songs like "Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore" while making goo-goo eyes at each other and then run off to have sex. They don't get very far before they are murdered by an unseen psycho. These two victims are the first in a long line of empty characters that are completely indisposable. Flash forward to the present now as we encounter a young girl named Annie (Robbi Morgan), who is making her way to the newly reopened Camp Crystal Lake via hitchhiking. For you kids in 2017, you may need to Google "hitchhiking" to understand what I'm talking about. Crazy Ralph lets her know that the camp has a death curse, before drunkenly riding off on his bicycle. Sure enough, Annie is picked up by an unseen driver and brutally murdered in the forest. Why did we follow Annie from the beginning, as if she was the central figure, only to watch her get killed off? Because she is another meaningless character that is completely disposable.
|"It's got a death curse! So do ratings for the Tour de France!" *hiccup*|
Meanwhile, at the camp, we meet about six more young people and the camp's new owner, Steve (Peter Brouwer), who looks more like the cast member of an early 80s gay porn flick, with his cut-off jean shorts and shirtless torso. The only two members of the young cast that I would even bother shedding a light on are Adrienne King as Alice and a young Kevin Bacon as Jack. Spoiler alert (the movie is 37 years old, by the way): Alice will live to see the end of the movie. Jack will not. It's just that Kevin Bacon is really the only cast member who went on to do anything. I mean, there's The Son of Bing Crosby (Harry Crosby), but he's an investment banker now. He also gets killed. Six young interchangeable and fully disposable characters, each one with no discerning character traits because why bother? They're all going to get killed anyway. One of the female characters suggest they play "Strip Monopoly" and then later on goes to bed in a gown that is obviously from the Sexy Quaker catalog. Talk about a tease. The mystery killer pegs each of these losers off one by one, some off-screen. The ones that get killed on-screen are done so in brutal fashion, although the level of gore is pretty tame compared to later standards. The reveal of the mystery killer comes out of left field but at least it makes a certain semblance of sense in terms of motivation. Then near the end of the film, there is a jump scare that is almost on the scale of Carrie reaching up from the grave in Carrie. It's not totally logical, but it's really the only legitimate scare in the film.
|So much sexy that Alice can't help but to avert her eyes lest she succumb.|
Sean S. Cunningham both directed and produced the film, with the screenplay written by Victor Miller. The screenplay is devoid of any wit or intelligence, as the characters don't say anything of significance. There is a decided lack of humor as well, which later films in the franchise would attempt to correct. In terms of directing, Cunningham at least has a narrative that is easy to follow. He also employs a first-person point of view camera angle that feels like he's giving the audience a window to spy on the proceedings, as the camera peers around trees and corners. Some may think it's the killer spying on the campers, but more than once that idea doesn't have any logic behind it, as the killer appears to move from point to point with ease, no matter what the distance between may be. There isn't really any other remarkable aspects from Cunningham. The special effects by Tom Savini are quite effective, however, allowing him to earn his reputation as a gore-master in the effects department.
The cast has the dubious distinction of not really standing out because of the material. There isn't anything to learn about them other than Alice likes to sketch and one of the guys (doesn't matter which one) is a potential comedian with a poor Humphrey Bogart impression. That's it. That's all I got. As mentioned, Adrienne King plays Alice, who is quite possibly the only virtuous one (she's the only female that doesn't shed any clothing). She screams quite a bit and fights back against the killer, but these are the only reasons why she stands out amongst the rest of the cast. With Kevin Bacon, this isn't a star-making role for him (that would be Footloose), since he doesn't get to do much but have sex, smoke a joint and get murdered. I guess if I were to make a note about the cast after all, I would have to mention Betsy Palmer as someone who takes what she is given and goes completely over-the-top with it. A lot of what she does is corny as hell, but there's no mistaking her motivations that have led to her, uhhh...present behavioral condition.
Just in case anyone hasn't gotten the picture yet, this is not a great movie. Not by a longshot. However, I found myself guiltily enjoying it. That is to say, I liked it but I feel bad about it. Watching blank characters getting slaughtered may be cathartic for some. A flimsy plot rife with flimsy characters in a film shot without much style makes for a rather bad film. But don't let that stop you from sticking your head out the window and checking out the trainwreck.