Saturday, October 1, 2016

31 Days of Horror: FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

Welcome, horror fans, to Day 1 of the 31 DAYS OF HORROR! In honor of Halloween this month, we're counting down the days until All Hallow's Eve with a different horror film for all 31 days. Today, we begin our countdown with a classic of the genre...the original FRIDAY THE 13TH. Enjoy!

In the history of horror, few can agree on what the first true slasher movie was. Some say as early as 1960's Psycho to '74's Texas Chainsaw Massacre to 78's Halloween, but as a commercial and popular genre, nothing defined the slasher movie as well as 1980's Friday the 13th. Spawning one of the most iconic horror franchises of all time, as well as one of the genre's most enduring icons, the unstoppable Jason Voorhees. That being said, people often forget how humble the franchise's beginnings were, with this entry even lacking Jason altogether. Don't let the absence of the famous hockey mask fool you, however, this is every bit the Friday the 13th movie as any of the ones featuring Jason.

The story is as iconic as slasher movies get. A group of teens have been hired to work as camp counselors for Camp Crystal Lake, known to the locals as Camp Blood due to the myriad of deaths that had occurred there over the years. Ignoring their warnings, the teens head out, ready for a summer of sun, fun, and a bit of good old fashion premarital sex. Unbeknownst to any of them, watching them. This sets the stage for some now classic slasher scenarios, with the killer taking these kids down one by one in brutal fashion. Much of the story and character development comes secondary to the body count, as it tends to in these kinds of movies.

That would be the caveat to give for this, and really slashers in general. Friday the 13th set the standard for the bad acting, the over the top characters, and the cliché scenarios that would be the standard for the genre. The film's low budget and amateur quality also shows constantly throughout the film, with some pretty hilarious performances and some odd moments, such as a weirdly drawn out scene of one of the teens making coffee. At the same time, it's also not quite as schlocky, and therefore, not quite as fun as later entries in the series. Entries like Part 3 would embrace their silliness more so than this initial entry would. Part of this is down to the fact that the killer's identity is hidden throughout so much of the film, which robs the film of some of the personality that the presence of Jason would give the later entries.

So, why does this movie hold up so well if there's so much wrong with it? Well, for much the same reason that the original Evil Dead movie works, and for the opposite reason that the later entries in Friday the 13th would: the movie is genuinely good at setting up its scares. The age has taken its toll on how shocking a lot of the violence was, but the set-ups and the kills were not only so creatively done, but were also set up very well. The film manages to effectively build tension and suspense, something that even a lot of modern horror fails to do a lot of times. In that way, it's somewhat smarter than its clichéd set-up would lead you to believe.

Director, Sean Cunningham, managed to find ways to keep you on edge once the film reached its point of no return, with one of the best decisions being to show the killer's perspective while they remain in hiding. This technique, lifted from Halloween, has become a pretty big cliché in the genre, but it's used to such good effect in this film, that you can't help but feel tense. The film finds interesting camera angles, drawing attention to places that the killer MIGHT attack from, and lets the mystery sit and eat away at the audience. And when the killer DOES strike, the kills are very well done with some excellent gore effects (done by the legendary Tom Savini), most notably the arrow-through-the-neck, which to this day makes me squirm. And that's why Friday the 13th still works so well. The dressing may be questionable, but the core of the experience is still as good as it always was, even 36 years later. That's why Friday the 13th is worth watching again and again, and why it was able to spawn such an iconic franchise. Even without Jason, the core of the franchise is strong, and that's why Friday the 13th is worth revisiting this Halloween, warts and all.

Tony's Score: 7.5/10

Be sure to stay tuned throughout the rest of the month! We're posting a new horror review every day all throughout October, both old and new! Check back to see what movie we'll have you covering your eyes from next!

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1 comment:

  1. I just re-watched this for the first time in many years and I was kind of disappointed with how it didn't hold up for me. I appreciate it as a route for a lot of interesting slasher horror and for a lot of the simplicity of what it does but, as a modern viewer, it was so easy to see through the scares and the tension for me. I also thought a lot of that schlock and amateurish filmmaking you brought up made it really not hold up or work as well for me. I'd give it a 6/10!