I’m a perpetual editor. I think and rethink every word I write until I either achieve what I consider perfection or I become so frustrated with my inability to get my head out of my own a*s that I give up in total and utter disgust, flinging my unfinished work into the nether regions of my hard drive. Sometimes this results in perfectly good articles like this one languishing for years in some folder because I’m too much of a dumb c**k to bother with the damn thing. However, since a new “Friday the 13th” film has been announced for production in April, and a release in theaters a year from now, I feel that there’s no better time than now to hitch up my pants, admit to myself that I can’t really make this more perfect than I have and simply throw it out there for you guys to see. So here it is: The sum total of everything I’ve ever thought about the “Friday the 13th” films:
Coming in a distant third behind the “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies in the Slasher film “Hall of Fame,” the “Friday the 13th” franchise is very much like its recurring villain Jason Voorhees: a mindless, lumbering brute that gets the job done by crushing everything in its path in a blind rage. The formula was simple enough: You get a couple of affable young actors to play h***y teens, follow the ’80s teen sex comedy template of sex, pranks and sex, spend some time kidding around and getting the mood light, then get all serious and unleash a monstrous disapproving parental figure to brutally kill them one at a time. It was like a metaphor for life with a crappy horror movie wrapped around it.
Needless to say, I have a lot of affection for the films. Sure, they weren’t very good but they outlasted most of their competitors and that’s got to count for something right? Movies like “The Prowler,” “Madman,” “Prom Night,” “My Bloody Valentine,” “April Fool’s Day” and “Hell Night,” have long quit being anything but an anecdote in the history of Slasher films while the “Friday…” movies keep on making the cash register’s go “Ka-tching”. It’s not “Star Wars” or “Lord of The Rings,” but the money smells just as good to the studios no matter where it came from.
Although no one is a bigger fan, even I have to admit that their diminishing popularity isn’t hard to understand. The movies, to be diplomatic about it, are crap and they sure didn’t get better with age. The acting and directing were serviceable, sometimes even artistic, but were never as well written as “Nightmare on Elm Street” or as tensely directed as “Halloween.” As the installments progressed you almost got the sense that they were being used to give the camera operators and lighting crew hands-on experience rather than make an actual movie.
To review the films one by one is pointless since there’s only so many ways to use the words “camp,” “counselors” and “butchered” in your average sentence. So then, I was going to do a review of the series as a whole, but that would also be kind of unfair since the later entries are so inferior to the first ones that they’d totally screw up the grade average.
Thus, for simplicity’s sake, I decided to separate them into five distinct categories and review them that way:
It’s Got a Death Curse: The First Movie
Even though it didn’t create the genre, the original “Friday the 13th” became the template for almost all following low-budget slasher films, as other lesser (and that’s saying something…) horror films borrowed the ideas for their own productions; it’s easy to see why.
After years of being closed, Camp Crystal Lake is going to reopen with a new owner. As the final preparations are under way a mystery person is killing the counselors one at a time. Story-wise, it wasn’t much; but the plot was decently laid out with a lot of humor and empathy for the teens. The acting was surprisingly good, Tom Savini’s effects were flawless as always, the music was perfect and really helped cranked up the suspense and Sean S. Cunningham’s direction is nothing if not competent. The end result is a tight little thriller despite it being a semi-subtle rip-off of “Psycho” (Much like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Halloween” were) only with a role reversal at its center.
But the above almost makes it sound complex. It’s not. Although the film doesn’t reveal the identity of the killer until the end, it never really muddles the plot with any kind of red herring about who it could be. The ultimate brilliance of Cunningham’s direction is its minimalism. He prefers to focus on the teens themselves rather than the killer; which means that despite the clichéd story and lazy plot, we eventually see them as human beings and their deaths have some sort of meaning to us. For the next four films this became a cornerstone of the series and elevated it above similar dreck. When the films began to sour it’s because the focus turned to Jason, who really wasn’t an interesting character at all, or even a character for that matter. At best he could kindly be called a “presence.”
[Knox here… As a fan, I also have to vent about one other thing that’s always annoyed me: This whole consensus that’s grown over the years about Jason’s “motive.” The idea that he punishes the teens for having sex and partying came into being years after the series heyday and is incorrect. If you watch the first five films you’ll see that pretty much everyone gets eradicated regardless of their behavior. Likewise, the whole thing about “Only the virgin survives” is bullshit. “Friday 1” and it’s sequels had a lone girl live past the end credits because it ripped off “Halloween,” which had a similar ending. Also, if those girls were “virgins” then I’d hate to see what the sluts in Crystal Lake looked like. I know I’m being a nitpicking cockmonger about it, but I felt the need to clear that up because it always annoyed me that the “rules” of slasher movies were built around non-existent events. – J.K.]
Not to spoil anything, but Jason isn’t the killer. It’s his mother. She’s completely wacked out of her mind and reopening the camp is akin to killing her beloved Jason again. She’s going to stop it even if she had to TP the trees for two square miles with the counselors’ intestines.
The fun continues with the first real appearance of Jason in Part Two of “Friday the 13th”: A Series Retrospective>>>