You know what day it is. I know what day it is.
I feel compelled to address this movie that is so well endeared to the horror community as a classic that it is irreversibly attached to the day of Friday the 13th.
Shit, it’s in the movie’s fucking name.
In spite of becoming a cultural phenomenon over the past 34 years and having made an icon out of hockey masks and machetes, I have to admit I, an unabashed fan of horror fiction and non-fiction to an obsessive state, think very little of the Friday the 13th series on an objective standpoint and I especially think little of the debut film – which features very little of Jason Voorhees and is completely devoid of hockey mask. And really there’s not much of the film that comes of as necessarily anything more than an attempt to get some money…
You get Sean S. Cunningham, director, producer, and father of the franchise, who decides he wants to drum up money based on the success of recent slasher films on the coattails of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween and he makes it without any intention of rising up above the rising white noise of [Insert Generic Teen Slasher 80s Flick Here] (though that criticism is unfair and I’ll explain in a second) and matching the quality. So he goes ahead and grabs probably the first name he can grab to write, Victor Miller, and, in possibly the only show of inspiration out of the whole production has gore magician Tom Savini, straight from Dawn of the Dead to create a bloody whirlwind with bland substance.
The substance can be easily translated as: Friday, June 13th – Robbi Morgan, trying to be a character, arrives at Camp Crystal Lake to help Peter Brouwer, pretending to be a guy named Steve Christy, and a few other soon-to-be counselors into re-opening the camp, 20 years after a young boy named Jason Voorhees drowned and the camp closed down.
Except Robbi Morgan never makes it. She is killed in hilariously outrageous fashion on the way and the film instead focuses on the seven people who did make it to the camp, as they go through their repairing shenanigans while being warned by the only convincing performance in the whole movie, “Crazy Ralph” (played by Walt Gorney, a man on a bike who is exactly what I picture when I hear Chamillionaire’s “Riding Dirty”).
HATERS GONNA HATE.
It doesn’t take long before his warning of a death curse proves true as every single character starts losing themselves to the designs of Savini’s comic-book-red glee and we’re meant to ponder as to which of the survivors is the killer, before each suspect is murdered as well.
Until Pamela Voorhees – a small little woman who won’t shut the fuck up about how her son died here in a sycophantically smiling fashion – shows up out of nowhere, at which exact point, we know she’s the killer. You don’t need to be familiar with the series to realize that they are introducing her so that she can be revealed as a villain and motherfucker, I gots words about that shit.
When I read Arthur Conan Doyle’s works of Sherlock Holmes in high school, I was very quick to pick out how the dirty secret of the stories were that some detail would only come up after Holmes would find it and reveal, leaving us to find the mystery unsolvable until Holmes solves it first. It got on my nerves fairly quickly, but I forgave it because it was a deliberate trick with only the intention to heighten Holmes’ skills as an observer.
This shit, pulling that shit where we don’t get the killer introduced until the last 20 fucking minutes of the movie, this shit is unforgivable. Especially when the movie has barely anything going for it to begin with.
Honestly, Savini’s kills, as realistic as they are in this film, are very underwhelming and not in a graciously low-key manner, but like I feel he must have been frustrated with how small his scope had to have been for the designs in this movie. Even if he had as much fun as we knew him to have, the camera does it no favors – among its many shots of total dark with no possible knowledge of how to reasonably light a night scene… It’s the sort of crap I made when I was a little kid with a camera, not knowing why my camera didn’t work at night.
And the plot is boilerplate: Nothing is meant to be taken out of it except for a situation for kids to do bad things and get bad things done to them. And if you’re going to say that slashers are only meant to be watched for their sex and suspense – First off, you have got to put a higher standard to film, brah! Second, disappointment there too… The suspense is not there at all and the sex is condensed to one flash.
And there’s no Jason until, well, I’ll leave that appearance to surprise you if you haven’t seen the film yet. But even then, the basis of his appearance is so frustratingly ambiguous that, given how shitty the script is, I’m to assume Miller had no idea what he was doing rather than making it deliberate.
It’s the sort of bad movie I would’ve been into back in middle school when I was fascinated with the slasher genre of films and listened to Slipknot and such (I still listen to Slipknot, but you get my point). Its only intention is to exist with a killer, killings and the only shock being the revealing of the killer, like a dimestore EC comics knockoff that you still feel ripped off by buying.
Part of what I hold against Friday the 13th is that those white noise relatively-sleepy not-really-scary generic 80s slasher films, they came out after the movie. You know why?
Because Friday the 13th showed you don’t have to care how you make your slasher film movie. Its unwarranted success by being grade-school racy in a semi-conservative time basically said “Hey, guys, you can make it cheap… you can make it shitty… and you can still make money.” Roger Corman had better respect than that.
But, there is one credit that is to be owed from Cunningham not knowing what he was doing: The movie is pretty savage. It is clunky in a very brutal way, it only knows how to show the gore in close-ups, it only knows how to rawly grab the dark rain in little lines of white light poking through the darkness…
And it does have a certain garish aesthetic that probably would have never been found if not accidentally by cinematic buffoonery. It’s worth keeping in the back of the mind when a slasher movie is made by someone who does have a semblance of cinematic talent, like John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper.
But, that doesn’t outweigh the blandness of the film – the brute peeks through once in a while, but it doesn’t pass over the whole film, which is way to stuck in its very obvious 80s feel. In spite of its attempted vibes as a slasher film worth its weight in bloody gold, Friday the 13th as a film and its series remains a bad omen in the back of my mind as what horror filmmakers are used to doing with a genre that can terrorize people when done right.
It can smash a reflection of the beauty of the fright and then try to imitate the original in the cracked and fractured glass. Well, you may get your money that way…
But remember, you bootleggers, a broken mirror is seven years bad luck… And this franchise’s luck ran out relatively quick.