Director: Sean S. Cunningham Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor & Kevin Bacon Synopsis: “Camp counselors are stalked and murdered by an unknown assailant while trying to reopen a summer camp that was the site of a child’s drowning.” Runtime: 95 minutes
“Oh, good Lord! So young. So pretty. Oh, what monster could have done this?”
The original Friday The 13th movie was never meant to be the huge success it eventually became. As it was almost certainly made to cash in on the success of previous low-budget horror classic Halloween, the ensuing cult following & mass market appeal was surely something the original creative team never saw coming. The film itself has some good moments, particularly a young Kevin Bacon & also features some masterful effects work from the great Tom Savini. Despite looking dated now, the film still remains watchable and its influence on the slasher genre is clear for all to see.
The film begins with a flashback to 1958 at Camp Crystal Lake, where we encounter two counselors at the camp who sneak away from the rest of their group to get “romantic” in a nearby barn. Unbeknownst to them, they are being followed by an unseen stalker who eventually charges at them and kills them both. We then fast forward to the reopening of the camp, despite the protests of the locals who believe the camp to be cursed after the numerous deaths and other grisly incidents that have occurred there over the years.
We are then introduced to a cast of characters who, SPOILER ALERT, all meet a grisly end at various points during the movie. I’m really not spoiling anything here at all though, this is a horror movie after all and the story is just about existent throughout, and we are only really here to see how each character gets picked off. The cast is your standard horror clique of guys and girls, they smoke, they have sex and play strip Monopoly. All the characters are perfectly likeable and the actors play them adequately, but they remain slightly bland and it’s hard to feel much sympathy for them once they are faced with a vicious killer.
As the, barely there, story plods along, no attempt is even made at character or plot development as we are instead treated to some great death scenes, which even though they will look dated now and are clearly of their time, they do show off a craftsmen in Tom Savini doing some of his finest work.
Whereas the film this is clearly copying had a great & iconic protagonist in Michael Myers, the first Friday The 13th has a killer who goes largely unseen, until the final few scenes anyway, and for anyone who hasn’t seen this film yet, it is simply not the person you think it is. Having the big bad stay in the shadows for the majority of the movie worked well for Halloween, but in that movie we were familiar with the character from the start, and we had some great scenes of Myers stalking his prey. Friday The 13th doesn’t quite manage that, whilst it does have some creepy scenes as we watch the victims from the killer’s point of view, the impact can be lost at times and the threat that should be there, quite simply isn’t.
Upon its release, Friday The 13th came out to poor reviews with some critics in particular making some extremely sharp remarks toward the film’s director and one critic even went as far as to give away the addresses of producers of the film & that of actress Betsy Palmer so they could also vent their disgust at the movie. Inevitably the film was one of the highest grossing films of 1980 and went on to create a strong and devoted fan base that would help spawn a TV show, comic books, novels and 11 sequels, one of which was a crossover with fellow horror icon Freddy Krueger in Freddy Vs Jason.
In summary: Friday The 13th is a far from perfect movie, and hasn’t aged especially well. It is however, still essential viewing for any budding horror fan and remains one of the original slasher movies and helped to define the genre for years to come.