Friday the 13th - It's Got A Death Curse



Friday the 13th
Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham 
Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Not Kevin Bacon, Ms. Not Kevin Bacon
Release Date: May 9, 1980
Run Time: 95 minutes 

Body Count: 11 (if you include the snake)


In the late 1970's an exploitation filmmaker named Sean S. Cunningham placed a full page ad in the papers to drum up interest in a movie. He had no backing, no script, just a name: Friday the 13th ..."The most terrifying film ever made!" The name sounded cool and nobody sued him over it, and that was all the green-lighting he needed. He took the most memorable parts of Halloween and Psycho, sprinkled in some Kevin Bacon, and a franchise was born. 


Off to a great start

It’s 1958 and the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake are gathered around a campfire in the middle of a sing along, because of course they are. The only Summer camp I've ever been to was the one in Heavyweights but from a lifetime of watching 80’s slashers I know two things about them: there will always be someone with an acoustic guitar and there’s going to be some teenage boning. I can't play guitar and my toxic personality repulses other people, so I'm forced to take the movies' word for it. Two counselors ditch singing Hallelujah  in order to get a spiritual release of their own. Before they can even get their clothes off, they're murdered by an unseen attacker in the middle of a furious dry humping session. Poor Barry doesn't even reach first base, he gets hit by the pitch. Take your base, idiot.  

You know there’s a lot of tropes I hate about horror movies, but the pre-credits murder isn’t one of them.

After approximately 4 hours of opening credits consisting solely of plain white text on a black background, we travel to the present day. Friday, June 13, The Present. We're not given a year but I'll eat my hat if it's anything later than 1979.  The unmistakeable scent of segregated water fountains permeates through the film. Some girl who probably has a name but who cares is wandering through a small town. She serves no purpose other than to ask a bunch of yokels how to get to Camp Crystal Lake so we can watch them gawk at her like she's the first person with a full head of teeth they've seen in a coon's age. It's one of my favorite parts of the movie. She asks some general store cashier how to get to a Summer camp in their ass backwards swamp and everyone stops talking and stares at her in unison like she's asking how to get to Camp Voldemort. 

I don't get it. 2 people died at some camp 20 years ago and now you can't even mention it without everyone getting Forrest Whitaker eye and yelling "YOU MEAN CAMP BLOOD?" Fuck off with the lot of you. As insane as they are, no townie is more committed to this ghost story than Crazy Ralph. Crazy Ralph might not just be the best part of this movie, he might be the best part of this entire franchise. He appears, makes this face



informs her kindly that Camp Blood has a death curse, and then casually rides off out of frame on his bicycle. If you’re sitting at home wondering why this movie spawned a dozen sequels and why My Bloody Valentine , April Fool’s Day, or New Year's Evil had no such luck, look no further. I’m not saying that this insane old man’s one minute on screen made this movie the cultural milestone it is today, but I’m not saying it didn’t either. 

Pretty Girl McDeadMeat narrowly avoids decapitation via podunk strangler and chooses to tempt fate further by getting picked up by a truck driver, because it was the 70s and that was still OK. The nice trucker not only doesn’t rape her, he also tells her a charming story about a boy drowning at the camp she’s going to work at. That boy, Jason Voorhees, drowned in 1957, one year before the double murders that opened this movie. COULD THOSE EVENTS BE RELATED? Spoilers: yes. 

The trucker lets her out halfway to the camp, he cant go any further because DEATH CURSE. If the South is known for anything it's their intense superstitions and Jim Crow laws. She’s picked up by a Jeep and informs the driver (whose face we never see) how excited she is to go to camp and how she’s going to live a long and fulfilling life in which she will aid others and put smiles on the faces of children and food in the mouths of the poor. Then she gets her throat slit by a bowie knife being wielded by a pair of massive hairy-knuckled man hands that couldn’t belong to anyone other than a large, burly grown ass gorilla. 

So she's dead, and I hope you kids at home liked that kill, because it’s going to have to tide you over for a solid 45 minutes of bullshit. The rest of the counselors have arrived at Camp Blood, and boy howdy are they remarkably unmemorable. It’s an all star cast of Alice, Kevin Bacon, and Kevin Bacon’s equally successful costars. Do they have names? Yes. Will I look them up? No. Absolutely not. I’ll tell you who I will look up, and that’s the camp’s owner Steve. I’ll look him up and down and back again, drinking in every single detail. I won’t miss a bead of sweat on that mustache. 
Drink it in slow, don't wanna get a brain freeze

Imagine I’m sitting next to you. Your parents went out of town and you convinced your brother to rent this super scary R rated movie for us. Imagine ordering a pizza and psyching yourself up to watch a bunch of scary kills and being too scared to walk down the hallway without all the lights on. Now imagine I picked up the remote and fast forwarded straight to the final 30 minutes. A lot of horror movies suffer from a boring second act, but oh my God it’s insufferable here. As the series progresses they’ll get better about having things happen in the middle of the movie and not book-ending all of the kills, but it’s a snoozefest here. I’m going to skim right through it and get to the good stuff because I love you.

Watch the teenagers be terrible interact so you'll "care" when they die. Swimming in the lake. Pretending to drown. Awkward sexual tension. Mustache. Local sheriff accuses kids of smokin’ dope and then drives right out of the movie never to be seen again. Strip Monopoly. And who could forget your favorite staples of slasher movies: poorly delivered dialogue and nobody getting fucked or murdered.

I’m sorry, I misspoke. There’s a murder. The actors straight up murder a real live snake with a machete on film and in the movie for some bizarre reason. Apparently back then you could literally murder animals for your trash can horror movie and nobody really noticed or cared. Greatest Generation my ass.

Finally, seventeen hours into the movie, kids start droppin’ dead. Some Guy Who’s Not Kevin Bacon follows a mysterious stranger into a cabin (because it’s a slasher movie) and meets a terrible fate…offscreen. We're 47 hours into this movie and at a 2:1 human to snake murder ratio. Kevin Bacon and Female Not Kevin Bacon have filthy premarital 3D sex, sealing their fates with their impure actions. Ms. Not Bacon goes to the bathroom to cope with the fact that having sex with beautiful, perfect in every way Kevin Bacon was the peak of her life at the ripe age of teenager years old and it’s all going downhill from here. Kevin Bacon looks into the camera and tells me he only finished because he was thinking of me remains in bed, probably thinking about how excited he is to grow old and raise a family and watch his children and his children's children grow into beautiful adults. Right up until this happens.

If you're thinking of commenting "...until I took an arrow to the neck" please leave

Female Not Kevin Bacon is oblivious to the most devastating loss of life in human history and continues rinsing the filth off of herself. The deed is done, she has sown the seeds of sin with her lovemaking and must eat an axe as punishment. This is why I will never have sex. Also because nobody else will let me. 

While all of this is happening, Alice and the other dead meat counselors are off playing Strip Monopoly. Y’all thought I was joking. I cant imagine anything less sexy in the world than this. You know, that game you associate with breaking up families. Flipped tables, crying babies, and dad's belt passing Go and not collecting 200 dollars. Nothing gets my testosterone pumping like four hours of blue balling foreplay. Oh yeah babe Im so hot right now, what with sitting in this freezing cold cabin in nothing but a wifebeater and my clearance Star Wars boxers because I landed on Baltic Avenue. Who the god damned FUCK puts a hotel on the purple squares, Susan? 

In the middle of the game, with literally nobody nude (except for the naked contempt of the filmmakers who refuse to show me one god damned titty for CHRISTS SAKE), one of them stands up and says “oh fuck I forgot to close my windows. Also it’s raining. I’m probably not going to die. Well, bye.” We follow her all the way back to her cabin and watch her close the windows in painstaking detail because filling 90 minutes is harder than you think. She hears a child’s voice yelling “Help me” from the woods, so she does what any of us would do and wanders into the pouring rain with a flashlight. Just like me. I definitely wouldn’t pretend I didn’t hear anything and put my headphones back in and watch anime.

She ends up in the archery range and I sit up in my seat and stop shoving handfuls of popcorn into my gaping maw. "They teased her nearly getting hit by an arrow earlier, this is going to be delicious payoff.” Those were my last words before it cut away and she was killed off screen. Hey movie, you know how many offscreen deaths you get? 1. Fucking one. I've seen as many dead kids as I've seen dead snakes and I'm not gonna sit here and take it like some kind of schmuck. It’s like they showed up for filming and then remembered they already used an arrow on Kevin Bacon. Fuck it, just cut away and we’ll have someone find her corpse at the end of the movie. Scratch that, just give Ted Raimi 20 bucks and a rucksack full of Lunchables, slap a wig on him and have him jump through a window. That's a wrap on Brenda, everyone.

Alice and Dead Meat hear other Dead Meat scream and investigate her cabin, but all they find is a bloody axe in her bed. Blah blah blah, can’t find her. Blah blah blah, phone lines are cut. Blah blah blah, cars won’t start. I’m sure this was probably really intense and groundbreaking in 1980 but I can’t make myself pretend I haven’t seen it a thousand times. The movie is slowing down a bit but fear not, Constant Reader. The best character in the movie is coming back into town.


I know what you’re asking yourself. Where has this Adonis been hiding this whole time? At a diner in town, eating dinner while children were slaughtered like pigs. Fear not, he remembered he’s supposed to be in this movie and drives back to camp to congratulate them on a job well done of painting the cabins and not being murdered by arrows. His drive back is filled with thrills and chills such as getting stuck in the mud and a policeman picking him up and giving him a ride back to camp. 90 minutes is a long time folks, and filling it with a thousand dollars, actors working for sandwiches, and a rented out Summer camp ain’t easy. After a spine tingling conversation with someone whose acting leads me to believe is one of Sean Cunningham’s friends, Steve is dropped off near camp. As he nears the entrance, he notices someone approaching. Someone he recognizes. Why doesn’t he say their name? Because it’s a big dumb Scooby Doo mystery movie, silly. He gets the fuck murdered because he was too beautiful for this garbage world.

The movie continues to go on while I grieve silently into a pillow. At this point in the movie there are two people left alive: Alice, and A Guy. I’ve seen a horror movie before, so I’m going to go ahead and assume this random Joe Blow isn’t the Final Girl. The power goes out in the cabin and the guy goes to check the generator and in doing so disappears from the movie. He’s probably fine. Alice walks around for a while, takes a quick nap, and then realizes he’s still not back but is probably alive and OK. Sure all of her friends are dead, but sometimes you need a little cat nap to clear your head and really use your noodle. She searches for him and finds him pinned to the door by several arrows. Three arrow deaths. Way to think outside the box, Sean. 

Alice is all alone and does exactly what I would do and shits her pants and cries runs back to the main cabin and hides. It's quiet. Really quiet. We watch her make tea in painstaking detail. Its still quiet. We watch her go to the pantry to get more stuff to dump into the tea. It’s still quiet. She goes to find A Guy or Non Kevin Bacon Teenager Number 5 as I've come to know him internally, comes back and sets traps and blocks the door. Still quiet. She finds more heavy shit to put in front of the door. Still quiet. CORPSE COMES FLYING THROUGH THE WINDOW. Once I’m done screaming and trying to play it off and pretend I was coughing, Alice hears a vehicle pulls up outside and sprints for it, thinking Steve’s mustache has come to rescue her. 

I'd trust that beautiful caterpillar with my life too

Alice runs outside and finds a middle aged woman who introduces herself as Mrs. Voorhees. WAIT A SECOND THAT NAME SOUNDS FAMILIAR.

Alice is in hysterics as she rambles on and on about how Kevin Bacon and also other people were murdered. Mrs. Voorhees hams it up in magnificent fashion and reveals herself to be the mother of the boy who drowned in 57 (my favorite Springsteen song). She blames her son drowning on those counselors whacking off in her toolshed. She tells Alice that today is his birthday: Friday the 13th. Get it. Like the title. 

Mrs. Voorhees pulls a knife and attacks Alice. Long ass chase, tripping over a bunch of furniture, standard Final Girl fare. Pamela Voorhees chases her all around the camp, Alice finds bodies along the way. We laugh, we live, we learn. 

Mrs. Voorhees talks to herself a lot in Jason's voice. It's equal parts dumb and hilarious. It's like Psycho, but the opposite. It’s not a rip off if you flip the mother and son angle, right? There's more Tom and Jerry bullshit including Pamela slapping the shit out of Alice and Alice retaliating by hitting her in the head with a frying pan. It's exactly as great as it sounds.  Alice runs out of places to hide and sprints daintily out to the lake. Mrs. Voorhees comes out of the darkness like a bat out of hell wielding a machete. Alice knocks it out of her varicose veined old woman hands with a paddle and the two of them rassle around in the sand. Alice overpowers her, grabs the machete, and decapitates her. In slow motion. It's glorious. 

I don't know what I love more, the man hands or the toothpicks 

Alice has done it. All her friends are dead, but she's murdered the senile old broad responsible. She's the only survivor at Camp Blood, so she takes a moment to gather her thoughts and takes Mrs. Voorhees' truck into the city to talk to the police. Just kidding, she gets into a canoe and paddles out into the middle of the lake and falls asleep. Curses, I always knew narcolepsy would be her undoing. Maybe this will cleanse her mind of the lasting memories of her closest friends and also Steve being brutally slaughtered. 

Morning comes and she's still in the canoe. Police arrive for some reason even though nobody called them and yell at her until she wakes up in a stupor. She sits up, contemplates what a gift life truly is and how you can't take it for granted because you never know when it can end and OH JESUS GOD WHAT THE FUCK

Author's note: I made this gif at 5 am and promptly turned the lights on afterwards. I'm 25 years old.

That's where the movie should end. But it doesn't. It would be perfect if she went down into the lake and credits rolled. Unfortunately, she wakes up in the hospital where an officer tells her they pulled her out of the lake. She asks about Jason, but the officer tells her they never found a boy. She responds "Then he's still there" and credits roll, leaving us to find out in future sequels what her sentence will be for beheading a geriatric woman.  

***

Friday the 13th is a weird movie to revisit. It is one of the most influential movies in the slasher genre, but when watching it in 2015 there's nothing truly spectacular about, I'm going to put myself into the mindset of a teenager walking into a theater in 1980 and experiencing it without a lifetime of sequels and spinoffs clouding my mind. I'm gonna do a lot of coke and vote for Ronald Reagan and prepare myself for a new name in terror. So what made this movie the cultural mainstay it is today? I'm going to credit three things. 

Friday the 13th had something other slashers didn't have: Tom Savini.  Tom Savini, the genius behind the makeup and gore from Dawn of the Dead and complete asshole to everyone he runs into at a convention that doesn't have huge tits. Allegedly. This movie isn't gory by today's standards, but you have to remember this was made in a different time. His effects were good enough to get an X rating, and even when it was trimmed down to get an R audiences all over America ate that shit up. That arrow going through Kevin Bacon's neck is still imprinted in my brain to this very day.

Then there's that final jump scare of Jason coming out of the water. I'm probably giving it more credit than it deserves, but I can speak from personal experience that seeing this scene as a child haunted me for years. I've watched hundreds of horror movies in my life and I'd say roughly 99% of them have blended together in my mind. I couldn't differentiate Jason Goes to Hell from Hellraiser 3 from Wishmaster , but I will never forget that scene. I will be an old man on my deathbed and when my son tells me he loves me, I will look back at him with an empty expression. I will have no idea who this stranger is, but I will leave the world remembering that zombie boy pulling Alice into the lake.

I still don't know why she gets in the boat, though. 

The final thing? The final factor that makes this an important piece in horror history?



I don't know anything about no Camp Blood, but you could drown in the lake on my tummy right now. 

***

Friday the 13th is a weird franchise. It never reaches the heights Elm Street  or Halloween  reach. Friday stays more or less consistent throughout its sequels. Some are absolute trash, but the gap between 1 and 7 is nothing like the gap between Halloween  and Busta Rhymes kicking Michael Myers. The weird thing is how both Elm Street and Halloween start strong. Both of their first entries are strong contenders as two of the best slashers ever. But Friday? Well, its ok. Its so influential in the genre that its easy to forget how boring it is before you sit down and watch it again. 

Don't get me wrong, it's got some great stuff scattered between the kills. Crazy Ralph hiding in the pantry just so he can yell “YOU'RE ALL DOOMED” and go scampering off into the night. The cop asking kids if they smoke dope and then almost falling off his motorcycle because the actor had never driven one before. The element of the killer being anywhere in the woods at any given time. Some great tension in the final chase. Literally every single second of Betsy Palmer on screen, hamming it up and talking to herself while slapping the shit out of poor Adrienne King.

But thats padded out with nothing happening for about 45 minutes. I understand having time to decompress to give the kills a bigger impact, but it s impossible to watch Alice make coffee without wanting to rip your hair out. Every genre has its growing pains, but watching these insufferable kids chop wood and play Monopoly for a half hour is hard to stomach when you have ten other options in this franchise alone. 

What bugs me more than anything is the reveal of the killer. It's bullshit, plain and simple. It doesn't make any sense. It's a character you've never seen or heard of before. It's cheating and I will impotently post on the Internet about it until I receive an apology. Someone tell me how in the blue hell Betsy Palmer supposedly threw that corpse through the window. I love that the movie is a mystery, a classic who-dun-it, but the fact that it flat out cheats just to give you a “gotcha” twist can eat my balls. Weirdly enough, Mrs. Voorhees being the killer is retro-actively a twist. It's not that she's the killer instead of one of the campers or Ralph or Steve, it's that Jason isn't the killer. It's strange that the twist works better in hindsight if you know the franchise's iconography and are watching the films for the first time. There are entire generations that have never seen a Friday the 13th movie but know the name Jason, the hockey mask, and the machete. Won't they be surprised when an old lady in a grey turtleneck is responsible for all these dead kids?

Sean S. Cunningham has admitted numerous times that his inspiration for this movie was watching Halloween, seeing how successful it was, and saying “yeah let s go ahead and do that.” Its amazing to me that a movie that ripped off Halloweens premise, cribbed Psychos twist and score, and lifted Carries iconic jump scare is one of the most important horror films of this era. Friday the 13th isnt great, hell it s barely even good, but its the prototype for the decades of copycats that followed. Without this, the world wouldnt have hundreds of teen slashers, and I would have talked to girls instead of watching edited horror movies on AMC every October. Thanks for nothing, Sean. 













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