Monday, January 26, 2009

Friday The 13th (1980)

Reviewed By: Billy

Once upon a time, my father imparted some very special wisdom to me; he said, “Always remember this: Psycho is the Granddaddy of all slasher films, and Halloween is the father of all slasher films.” Yes, this is the type of knowledge Billy and JM gained from our father, which could explain why we turned out the way we did. Anyway, in keeping with this familial theme, I’ve decided that Friday the 13th is kind of like the grandmother of all slasher films. You know…she’s actually really annoying and kind of crazy, and you’d rather just not see her at all – but you feel obligated to love her because she’s family.

See, the biggest problem I have with Friday the 13th is that the sequels are SO MUCH BETTER. In less than a year after the original, we get Part II, which kills off Adrienne King, adds Amy Steel, and gives us Jason with a bag over his head. Basically, things start to really click. A year after that, we get 3-D – popcorn, eyeballs, and all – and there’s just no turning back. So why even bother with the original, which is kind of boring and features the blandest counselors this side of Camp Arowak? Well, attention must be paid. If not for this movie, we would never have gotten Part VI: Jason Lives, one of the greatest movies of all time. So, like our mother says (and even in our 30s, our mother mind controls us like Pazuzu over Linda Blair), we’re going to show up on Easter morning, dammit, and we’re going to give Grandmommy a kiss on the cheek.

Friday the 13th opens with a preposterous scene set in 1958 – preposterous because the Sean Cunningham and company made absolutely no effort to make this part look period. Seriously…the kids sport feathered hairstyles more 70s than John Travolta at an arcade. Anyway, two of the counselors go into another room to “fool around” – and quicker than you can say “It’s got a death curse!” – they’re hacked up in bizarre slow motion. This is False Start #1. False Start #2 comes next, as camp cook Annie hitch-hikes to Crystal Lake in present day. She runs into a bunch of townspeople, all looking like they taught at my Middle School, who call it Camp Blood and start warning her about the place. She laughs is off and says, “Guess I always wanted to work with children…when you’ve had a dream as long as I’ve had, you’ll do anything.” Now, if you’ve ever seen a Lifetime movie, you know dialogue like that means only one thing: she’s going to get attacked. And, next thing you know, Annie’s getting chased through the woods and hacked up by a machete. I guess in a way, Annie’s kind of our Janet Leigh in this movie. Only without the acting chops and sexy black bra.

Finally, we’re introduced to the rest of the staff at Crystal Lake, who apparently have two weeks to get the place ready before the kiddy campers show up. Our group of kids, including Kevin Bacon in his film debut, all look like they’re coming straight from 70s porn. Mr. Christie – the guy “in charge” – particularly looks kind of like John Holmes with a less misshapen head. Adrienne King, meanwhile, stands proudly amongst a group of similarly asexual, stocky women who would go on to star in slasher films (see: Linda Blair in Hell Night, Ellie Cornell in Halloween 4, Neve Campbell in Scream). Again – attention must be paid: we get all the character stereotypes here that will follow in the rest of the series: Ned the prankster, Brenda the sophisticated slut (who responds to the question “What kind of ice cream would you be?” with a sexy “Rocky Road!” – as if that’s some kind of double entendre), and even Crazy Ralph, who should have won an Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of drunken madness. I particularly love Brenda because she introduces us to “Strip Monopoly” – which has got to be the longest, most boring form of foreplay known to man. In Part VI, “Strip Monopoly” will become a confusing card game called “Camp Blood,” which sounds similarly interminable. Haven’t these kids ever just heard of alcohol?

Anyway, people don’t watch Friday the 13th to dissect the character types (well, except for me and JM), they watch for the innovative death scenes. There are a few good ones here, like Kevin Bacon’s arrow through the neck. Again – they get much, much better (and much more numerous) in the sequels…but, credit where credit is due. I should probably mention the character of Marcie, who gives us an insane scene where she imitates Katherine Hepburn in an outhouse mirror (and what better place for a Hepburn imitation?) before getting an axe in the head. Not only was I glad to see her go, but the gore makeup is actually pretty good.

So…one by one, our counselors are killed by the man with large hands and feet, until Adrienne’s the only one left and we find out that the killer is…Betsy Palmer! I should probably spend a minute talking about Betsy because, quite simply, she’s the best thing about the movie. JM and I met her at a horror convention once (where, assuming we are much smarter than we are, she called us The Brothers Karamazov), and we instantly fell in love with her. Her performance as Mrs. Vorhees is probably the only reason there were any sequels in the first place; even though there’s no way that those size-13 feet are hers, the sheer craziness of her performance makes us believe this 50-something year old woman could easily outrun and slice up virile teenagers. In fact, the last few scenes (as Betsy stares starry-eyed into the camera whispering, “Kill ‘er, Mommy, kill ‘er!”) are so much fun, you kind of wish we’d known it as her all along. That way, we could have followed her through all the killings, kind of like we do with Angela in Sleepaway Camp 2, giving her a chance to throw out some nice one-liners after each bloodbath.

But, alas, we don’t know it’s Betsy – and nor could we, as she’s never introduced until there’s only ten minutes left in the movie. She and Adrienne end up in a very clumsy catfight before Adrienne finally grabs a shovel and beheads the tough old broad. Next thing we know, Adrienne is calmly floating on a canoe in the middle of the lake, and everything’s going to be OK. Well…not really. That’s False End #1. Suddenly, little mongoloid Jason pops out of the water and pulls her under. That’s False End #2. Then Adrienne (in a scene cribbed straight from Carrie) wakes up screaming, realizing it was just a dream…or was it??

So, my friends, that’s all she wrote. Deep down, the grandmother of all slasher films is not that bad. It injects a measure of fun that’s missing from Halloween and Black Christmas, and sets up the template for the entire series. But in every sequel through Part VI (because, for us, the series ends after Jason Lives), the cast and filmmakers improved upon the original. That makes it really easy for us to overlook poor old Grandma. So this year, on Easter morning, don’t make the same mistake we do sometimes; instead, show up, pay your respects, then pop in Part IV: The Final Chapter for a really good time.



  1. Thank you for the acknowledgement, son. What I actually said, however, was "'Pycho' is the Granddaddy...'Halloween'is the father...AND 'SPIDER BABY' IS THE WEIRD OLD UNCLE...Your loving Dad, Ralph Merrye.

  2. I have such a soft spot for this dreadful movie...I guess because the film makers at least, attempted, to set up something of a mystery as opposed to showing us the killer at the start of the film. Of course when you realize later that little Jason is still alive, it sort of makes Mrs. V's revenge killings something of a moot point...I mean, she had no idea that her ONLY SON, was still alive???

    PS, your father is a very wise man!

  3. I's hard to not like this movie, in spite of its flaws. And I also had the recent realization that mother's killing spree was all for nothing!