Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th.  So naturally I watched a couple of the Friday the 13th movies.

Here are some notes on the first one.
First things first:  what a GREAT poster!

While watching this movie for this first time in almost 5 years, two things struck me:

1)  There are better slasher movies than Friday the 13th.

2)  There are better Friday the 13th-movies than Friday the 13th.

I guess when I say "better" what I mean is "better, or more preferable, to me personally."

I could probably name 10 slasher films that I personally like better than the original Friday, and at least one of them would be a Friday sequel.  If I'm being totally honest, the OG Friday might only be my third favorite film of the series.

It sounds like I'm starting to diss Friday the 13th.  Well, let me reverse that.  I like the movie.  It's fun, it's got some good scares, great gags, and some goofy bits I like.  The movie is very economical in the way it was made, very straightforward, non-fancy.

This is the only Friday the 13th movie that has any sort of mystery element, and I appreciate that.  In the subsequent movies (except for the weird 5th entry), you always know who the killer is (SPOILER: It's Jason).  Also, you cannot disavow OG Friday's importance to the slasher genre (and modern horror films in general) or its iconicism and influence.  Props got to be gived.

The filmmakers behind Friday the 13th (director Sean S. Cunningham and screenwriter Victor Miller, with an uncredited assist from Ron Kurz) took the formula established by Halloween (1978) and Black Christmas (1974), filtered it for simplicity, and finished the recipe by adding some of its own ingredients, most of which would become staples of slasher films to come, such as:

The isolated setting that would become more common than not in most slasher films, with a few even directly cribbing the summercamp locale (Sleepaway Camp, Madman, The Burning, etc).  Cunningham admits to being inspired by Mario Bava, and the influence of A Bay of Blood (1971) can be seen on the setting in this picture (as well as in some of the kills in Part 2, but we'll get to that..).

There's the doomsayer character, in this case Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney), who warns the kids about the "death curse" that haunts Camp Crystal Lake.  Doomsayers would pop up occasionally in other slasher films.  In addition to being creepy, they usually also provide a red herring for the movie.
Crazy Ralph doing his crazy thing. . .
There's also the 2nd protagonist, the person (usually a guy) who almost makes it to the end, but dies suddenly or shockingly.  In this case, that would be poor Bill (Harry Crosby; and yes, he's Bing Crosby's son).  The 2nd protagonist doesn't always have to die, but if they don't they're proven ineffectual when compared to the Final Girl.

And of course, there is the practical joker character (goofball Ned, played by Mark Nelson), a character-type who seemed to show up in almost every single slasher movie post-Friday, and to take it another step, practical jokes would become important plot devises in some slasher movies and the source of a few killer's origins, like in The Burning (1981) and Slaughter High (1986).

Speaking of Ned, I feel sorry for the guy.  He seems to be forgotten about by his friends after he disappears around the middle of the movie.  Later, when Alice and Bill are looking for everybody, they're all "Where's Jack?  Where's Brenda?  When is Steve coming back?"  They never once say anything about or go looking for Ned.  Poor doofus. . .

For a movie that was censored by the MPAA and considered to be a wild blood-fest when it was released, there are a surprising amount of offscreen kills in Friday the 13th.  Like I said, Ned just disappears, but the reveal of his throat slashed body ties into the best kill in the movie, the arrow scene with Jack (Kevin Bacon), so I'll allow it.  Also, Bill dies offscreen, but when his body is found it is an awful bloody mess (still not sure how he's stuck to that door, though), so it's also allowable.

The one I have the biggest problem with is Brenda.  She is perfectly set up for an onscreen kill down at the rainy archery range all lit up with floodlights, but all you get is an offscreen scream, and since you know she's dead it is not as big a surprise as it should be when her body comes crashing through the window later, freaking Annie out.  The other offscreen kills make sense to me, Brenda's does not.

As for the kills that DO happen onscreen (provided by legend-in-the-making Tom Savini), well like I said, the arrow scene with Kevin Bacon is the standout, but you also got to give it up for the decapitation scene at the end.  Good job there, guys.

And of course, there's the shock ending with Jason popping up. . . massively effective and a perfect way to end the movie.  It totally works.  Friday the 13th didn't introduce the shock ending to the horror film (that would be Carrie in 1976), but it definitely popularized it.  The most important thing this ending did though, was open the door for sequels. . .

Check out the original theatrical trailer.
It's number counting fun!

Gotta mention the score by Harry Manfredini, with its iconic "ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma" sounds, as another in a long line of horror scores that are indebted to Bernard Herrmann's classic work on Psycho (1960).

Other things:

Give it up for Steve Christy and his yellow raincoat!  I also love his no shirt/jean shorts/red neckerchief outfit he has earlier in the movie.  Steve Christy!

As you've heard, Kevin Bacon is in this movie.  Here's a shot of Kevin's bacon.
Whoa jeez!

Officer Dorf!
And finally, you got to give it up for the original Friday Final Girl, Annie, played by Adrienne King.  GO ANNIE!

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