Sunday, July 22, 2012
Friday the 13th (1980) Slasher
Friday the 13th (1980) - I don't know if it was because I was a self involved teen or that we had so little money for seeing movie but somehow when this movie came out I was not in the wave of people who saw it. I remember hanging at the Mills St. park in Dorchester MA and hearing the buzz it created within the circle of high schooler but I don't recall it on the big screen. Friday the 13th created a buzz in that it was a movie with a bunch of unique and gross deaths and all us teen smoking weed and drinking beers thought that was amazing. Years later watched alone in my apartment in Mission Hill and saw quite a different movie. Instead of the series of unique murders I saw some throat slashing and a pretty cool Kevin Bacon death but the little revenge film I saw on VHS could not have been the hit all the kids were talking about years before? Could it?
Certainly watching it today I could link the slasher genre to that of the Italian Giallos with all the stabbing and killing but those tended to be more mystery than slasher. Here though in the first of the series of what eleven films there is no hockey masked supernatural killer stalking the counselors of Crystal Lake. No this is a simple revenge story with a twist ending about who the killer is and that is very much giallo in nature. The story of the vengeful mother who kills seven counselors at the camp where her mongoloid boy drown is now a classic. I remember the controversy more than the film. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in there show Sneak Previews spent an entire show ripping apart this film as the worst thing to happen to society in a generation. This spurred them to do another two part series on the horror genre. In that they seemed disturbed by the killer point of view shots (POV) and how they thought it was a way to have the audience connect to the killer instead of the victim. Essays by smarter people than me have been written on this but certainly the technique was stolen from the Italian Giallos and translated effectively to the horror films of the 80s.
Early in the film we travel with Annie (Robbi Morgan), a hitchhiking counselor still 20 miles out of town at Camp Crystal Lake. Checking in at the local eatery she gets some strange looks from the patrons when she says where she is going. Each time the camp was do to reopen some tragedy happened there to stop it. A murder or a fire it did not matter, fact was that folks about these part just thought the place was cursed. In fact the local loon "Crazy Ralph" (Walt Gorney) was happy to tell Annie about "Camp Blood" and its "death curse". Annie the eternal optimist will not be deterred from her summer employment though and takes a ride half way to the camp, then plans on walking or hitching the rest of the way.
Now hitchhiking for you youngsters was a very common way for kids in my generation to travel. It now would seem odd to see a girl hitch hiking through the wooded country side but let me tell you it was very common in those days. Many a weekend I would use my thumb to travel to this party or beach without a second thought to the dangers of it. In fact the advent of 24 hour media and the horror genre were probably directly responsible for all but ending the practice. The media because as cable and 24 hour news became the norm you would here every incident no matter where in the country it happened, we would get the blow by blow on who was assaulted or killed, or just plain scared by a stranger in a close call. The horror genre because slasher films shifted the scare from the environment or monsters and ghosts to a very personal danger from other people. I think it really shifted our thinking about what our personal safety is.
Funny thing is for Annie the hitch-hiking does not have the best outcome. She is picked up by an unseen stranger in a jeep. Annie always pleasant makes small talk that is in no way responded too. The film does several things to hide the identity of the killer for most of the movie so having line at this time would not be good. When the driver passes by the entrance to Crystal Lake Campground Annie becomes alarmed. She pleads with the driver to stop the car. Finally jumping out of the car while it is still moving. Then comes the first chase and murder. Well done with effective music we have set the stage. Annie gets in a jeep similar to that of her new boss but that is just to throw the viewer off.
Now we know about the camp, the tragedy that happened there and how some locals feel about it reopening. We know there is a killer and have seen the first killing, still there is the mystery of who and why, as well as how and what will happen to the remaining counselors at the camp. The film spends a small amount of time defining the counselor, you don't need much because they are just fodder for our killer but enough to know their names. There is the couple that dies after having sex, Jack (Kevin Bacon) and Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), the pretty girl Brenda (Laurie Bartram), liked by Bill (Harry Crosby). The Joker Ned (Mark Nelson), Camp owner Steve (Peter Bouwer) and final girl Alice Hardy (Adrienne King).
As a storm roles in we will see each counselor isolated at some point and the dispatched, with the most inventive kill to Jack, post sex of course. What this film does well is hides the killing of the counselors from each other. Really there is no reason for the counselors to suspect anything is going on until there time has come. Ned is killed before Jack and Marcie come into the cabin to get it on. They never see his body on the top bunk. Marcie goes to the bath house after and Jack is left alone to meet his fate. When Marcie hears sounds in the bath house she thinks the other counselors are messing with her prior to getting an axe in the head. Brenda breaks up the game of strip Monopoly to go close the windows of her cabin thus making her a good candidate to go next.
Music is very effecting and effective throughout the film. The killer theme is excellent at raising the audience level of attentiveness. We get some interesting POV as the killer follows Brenda through her bedtime routine. Just a note candles as a lighting source really against regulations for a camp. Brenda's doom is inevitable but the buildup is great with a child sound saying help me off in the distance as the thunder and lightening mask the sound. Brenda rushes to help the person shouting in the dark, lured out onto the archery range she is the perfect target when the flood lights are put on.
Its not until the final girl is the last one when she sees what is going on. Moving a door to find Bill hanging to the backside, riddled with arrows now we get the final panic fight for survival. Alice questions whether she can do it but it would not be a good film if she didn't. The false hope in the arrival of Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) brings the final sequence into play. When she starts her rant showing her insanity we are treated to the classic fight between the revealed killer and the final girl.
I always have maintained that I was not a fan of the slasher film. As I watch more of these films though there is a quality that I like, sure the subtext is not to be glorified but the plight of the final girl is usually very compelling. As I write this review I am also thinking about another film Maniac (1980) that was not as good as this. It follows the craziness of the killer from beginning to end. Making the audience live through his murderous masochistic violence all the while trying to get the audience to identify with the suffering he went through as a child. It is an ugly and vile film compared to Friday the 13th. The later is horrible in the killing of all the innocent counselors but does a more effective job of creating tension and understanding to the motivations of the killer. Unlike Siskel and Ebert I don't see the genre as a end to modern civility nor do I think there is any redeeming message in the film. What it is, is a well put together slasher, and because it made almost 40 million dollars on a half a million budget changed Hollywood's approach to marketing. From this film on the genre will gear towards teen audiences a trend that continues to this day.
Rating (6.7) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others