The FRIDAY THE 13th series is the most prolific of the slasher genre (as of right now, there are 12 films in the series if you include FREDDY VS JASON and the reboot they did a few years ago. Of course, right now they’re threatening a 13 film, another reboot. DAMNIT HOLLYWOOD, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM!!!), certainly not the best of the slasher genre, but definitely has the most sequels. Not too long ago I got the entire series on blu-ray in a really cool collector’s set and here we are, reviewing 12 FRIDAY THE 13th films, beginning with the original, simply called FRIDAY THE 13th.
The writer, Victor Miller, has always been pretty honest about the first film. Sean S. Cunningham (director and producer of the first film) called him up and said something to the effect of “Hey, HALLOWEEN is making a lot of money, let’s rip that off”. So Miller went to see HALLOWEEN and had the whole breakdown by the end of the film. You start with an evil that dates to before the movie starts, get a bunch of teens in a location where they can’t be aided by adult or authority figures, and then start picking them off one by one, especially the ones that have sex or do drugs.
The funniest part about this is…he’s right. He nailed the HALLOWEEN slasher formula nail right on the head. Thus was born FRIDAY THE 13th. All of the components are there, start with the murder of two counselors that pre-dates the main action of the film, then introduce all the teens, get rid of the only adult, then the kids start dying one by one until there’s only one left, insert final battle, rip off the ending of CARRIE, end credits.
I grew up on these films, and I’ve seen them all many times. The collector’s edition of the series comes with the uncut version of FRIDAY THE 13th. But other than showing a few more seconds of the decapitation sequence at the end, and the killer wandering through the children’s bunks at the beginning of the movie, I can’t really put my finger on what’s new and what’s always been part of the movie.
In my opinion, the FRIDAY THE 13th movies are the most basic in the slasher genre. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But when I think of the big three (HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13th, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET), FRIDAY THE 13th falls the most into the category of clichés. Which, since it was ripping off HALLOWEEN, means of course it has all the clichés. But whereas A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET had a talking villain, HALLOWEEN (at least in the beginning) had some pretty decent storytelling, FRIDAY THE 13th is almost completely concerned with knocking off the kids in elaborate and gruesome ways. There isn’t much of a story there, it’s more or less the same movie every time. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it’s not broke don’t fix it sort of mentality I guess. If I ever want to research the slasher genre, FRIDAY THE 13th is my go to every time because of how much it embodies the best, and sometimes worst, of the genre.
I lied a bit, the first FRIDAY THE 13th does have decent storytelling. SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FIRST FILM, YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH. Remember, Jason—as the killer we all know and love/fear—doesn’t show up until the sequel. In the first film it turns out the murderer is Jason’s mother, Mrs. Vorhees. Her story is a sad, crazy, one. Her son, Jason, drowns in the lake because the counselors weren’t paying attention years ago, so she seeks revenge, first against the counselors, then after the camp itself, trying to keep it from ever opening again. Somewhere around then she snapped and went a bit nuts, and now she only exists to avenge the death of her son. Watch out, because she has a strong bitch-slap (as seen during the somewhat longish fight sequence at the end of the film)
I’m a fan of these films, but especially this first one. After this it’s a slow downhill slide (with the exception of a few of the later sequels). But FRIDAY THE 13th was the first, before it started relying too heavily on horror tropes and clichés, it was too new for us to know the filmmakers were barely trying in some cases.
It also has one of the most memorable scores of any film, thanks to Harry Manfredini. Those string stings are classic, and a masterpiece.
The real star of the show are the FX done by Tom Savini, fresh off his work with DAWN OF THE DEAD. Decapitations, arrows both through the body and through the throat, an ax to the head, and general all around stabbiness. All of it looks great thanks to the expertise of Mr. Savini.
Regardless of how basic it is, and how similar the sequels are to each other. There is still a warm place in my heart for these films, it’s a part of history, horror history. This one is definitely worth your time. And if you’re like my partner, Patrick, and you haven’t seen this film yet, HOW!?!?!!?! Go watch it immediately as punishment for not having seen it yet!