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Anniversaries Tales From the Vault

Tales From The Vault: Friday The 13th Turns Forty!

Friday The Thirteenth
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Written by Victor Miller
Starring Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, and Kevin Bacon


If I’ve made one observation about the very few times I’ve written about film over music, it’s that film is far more vulnerable to showing age than music is. Thanks to the changes in technology, cinematography, culture, and the very idea of pictures and sounds depicting the art rather than sounds alone, movies tend to get observed under many microscopes. With that being said, looking back at a film that came out forty years ago makes for all sorts of fun that you may not find with looking back at, say, Iron Maiden’s debut album. Friday The Thirteenth is hitting its fortieth lap around the sun, making this an ideal opportunity to reflect on it. As you should know, if you haven’t seen the movie, this will have spoilers! 

Considering that this came out right around the explosion of slasher films, and a time where horror was taking significant turns, it should be no surprise that it can be easily lumped into the mass of trashy ’80s movies that many adore anyway. Following Halloween wouldn’t be an easy task, a film that is often compared to Friday The Thirteenth. But the reality is, this is far more of a “slasher” than the original Carpenter film ever was (even though the franchise went into that direction). The basis is similar; a group of teens goes about their young shenanigans, sex, and drinking adventures while a stalker slowly eliminates the cast, with one character able to survive and outsmart the stalker. The difference here is that Friday gave the illusion that the audience was the killer, showing much of the stalking and killing in the first-person perspective.

Going back to 1980, that’s a pretty ingenious idea. It begins by showing the first person slaughter of two promiscuous teens sneaking off in camp, taking place in 1958. The story then skips to the present day, where Camp Crystal Lake opens back up, and we see one of the counselors get this same treatment before she even reaches the camp. Turning out that she actually hitch-hiked with said killer, it lays out the beginning of the “eliminate the cast” type storyline that rides all the way out until the end. There are clues throughout that might point to Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), such as his disappearing at the beginning, the jeep that looks oddly similar to the hitch-hiker, or the general masculine appearance that can be seen for the few glimpses of the killer (mostly clothing). What was so jarring was when it was revealed that the killer is actually female, the infamous Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer). Though it may not matter much today, it was rather unconventional forty years ago. She goes on about how teen sexuality and carelessness lead to her son Jason’s drowning in the lake, which explained the motive behind all of the killings that happened on Camp Blood turf.

Betsy Palmer and Adrienne King

The real question at hand, however, is how well it holds up. The brutal truth is, no, it really doesn’t. Set aside the scoring, quality, and characters making the 1980 film extremely dated for a second. If you view this for your first time knowing nothing about it, you’ll likely find a lot of it to be corny and possibly humorous. However, if you’re anything like me, then you’ll view this as being part of the charm behind Friday The Thirteenth. There are admittedly a few parts that are pulled off exceptionally that I find stellar without the “trashy fun” aspect. Brenda Jones (Laurie Bartram) is tricked into running out into the rain due to a false child’s cry, the lights all flick on, which was an interesting way of executing a kill. Jack Burrell (Kevin Bacon), getting stabbed in the throat from underneath the bed, is also a pretty shocking moment, as well as the aforementioned hitch-hiker slicer.

But as a whole? You’ll find that Friday is far more dated than a lot of movies of its time. Usually, when viewing an older film, I’ll mentally put myself in the time period of its release, and view it through that eye. For entertainment purposes, it’s still a fantastic flick that I can watch over and over again. The story itself is a bit lacking, though. The characters also aren’t the most likable, so there isn’t much in the vein of rooting for them. The exception is Alice Hardy (Adrienne King), who winds up being the one that can take on Mrs. Voorhees at the end, ultimately beheading her. That scene in itself is a bit laughable, considering the slow-motion and facial expressions. All of the fights that lead up to this are also more funny than scary, as mundane objects do more damage than they really should. It’s also somewhat awkward, which is another thing that drastically dates the film. 

For me, knowing Friday The Thirteenth as “the Jason films” before ever viewing any of them, I was surprised to find that the hockey-masked, machete-wielding monster was not behind all of these attacks. As the franchise built itself around Jason and that mask as the movies got more famous, it’s another thing to keep in mind forty years later. Unless you know absolutely nothing about these movies, you’re going to go into it with a mindset different from when it came out.

Even if time may not have been too kind to Friday The Thirteenth, it still makes for an essential classic that captures the essence of the entire genre better than any other (remember, Halloween is hardly a slasher). It also spawned nine sequels, a reboot in 2009, and a crossover film with Nightmare On Elm Street. Without going too far into these, they all serve entirely different purposes and slowly become self-aware of the levels of trashy fun that went into the films. Without this one, we wouldn’t have gotten any of those, and the famous hockey-masked man would never exist. Don’t walk away from this thinking that I’m telling you to avoid this film; I probably watch it at least once a year. The bottom line is that it may be a bit over-hyped, and the dating of it is impossible to overlook. In 1980, this was probably something of a monumental jump, wherein 2020; it may be underwhelming. 

Friday The Thirteenth came out on May 9th, 1980, distributed by Paramount Pictures. 

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