Review : Friday the 13th (1980)

After reviewing the entire Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, it seemed natural to move on to the other big guy, Jason Voorhees. Friday the 13th, produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham, was released in 1980 and was the starting point of a decade of slasher goodness. Apparently, the film was written as a Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) rip-off. However, the film is vastly different, from tone to story, and thus never feels like a rip-off.

The opening scene shows Camp Crystal Lake at the end of the 1950’s. Two counselors sneak away from a campfire to have sex, when they are brutally murdered by an unknown assailant. Twenty years later, the camp is re-opened and counselors are there to prepare everything before campers arrive. On Friday the 13th, counselors are being killed one by one.

Friday the 13th, though not the first slasher, was an undeniable influence on all slashers which would be produced in the 1980’s. I hadn’t watched the film in a while and going back to it, knowing the franchise it spawned, was a weird and surprising experience. It is common knowledge [but, just in case, spoilers ahead] that Jason doesn’t appear in the film, except briefly, as a child. Jason was the child who drowned because counselors neglected their job in order to fool around. This is the reason Mrs Voorhees, Jason’s mother, is set to kill all camp counselors who set foot at Camp Crystal Lake. There is a interesting hint at a Psycho mother-son relationship with those two characters ; or maybe Mrs Voorhees simply had a mental breakdown following her son’s death. Overall, there isn’t much character development and it is a flaw when it comes to Mrs Voorhees. The other characters are designed to be killed off, which is fine for a slasher.

As a slasher, Friday the 13th is great. Tom Savini did a marvelous job with the make-up effects. The only negative I noticed is the color of the flesh never matches between the actors’s skin and the prosthetics. The film is surprisingly not very bloody but every kill is entertaining and some are very memorable such as the axe in the face or the arrow in the throat. Though I found scenes in between kills to be quite dull, it is worth getting through them to finally get some slasher goodness.

My only main issue with Friday the 13th is that it is a whodunit and in that regard, it is a complete failure. The killer is never shown on screen when the murders occur so we are supposed to be wondering who it could be : a counselor ? someone from the nearby town ? The game doesn’t work because we are never introduced to the character before the reveal. This is not how a whodunit is supposed to work.

Friday the 13th is really not a favourite of mine because I love the character of Jason Voorhees. How can I love a Friday film without Jason ? I do enjoy the film quite a lot though I found it quite dull this time around. The kills are definitely the main appeal and as a slasher, the film doesn’t disappoint. However, I’m just waiting for Jason to show up so watching the first entry in the franchise almost feels like something required before having access to the good stuff.

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