Do you remember? The lights went out in the cabin. The boy and the girl were freaked out. He wants to go back down to the generator room, but the girl is very nervous. She wants to go with him, because the rest of the people in the camp have seemingly vanished. He tells her not to worry, that he’ll be right back, but we notice that when he puts on his rain slicker, he has a rifle. As he walks down to the generator cabin, the camera stalks him, from various angles. The girl wakes up from a dream. Where is he? He should be back by now? She puts on her slicker and walks down the muddy path to the cabin. When she walks in, the door feels strangely heavy. She turns and there he is. Pinned to the door with arrows: in his eyes, his throat, everywhere. After he was dead, or before? She screams.
It’s so much fun to be scared. But that first terror experience is so visceral in it’s discovery, it’s almost like a sexual experience. “Friday the 13th” was a very scary film because it was the first of its kind – the slasher film. The film is calculating and sexist, yes, but how can you criticize a film that terrorizes you when you’re eight? I suspect many a young horror fan, or kid in general, has been deeply scarred by “Friday the 13th.” It’s great when a horror film damages your brain like that and “Friday the 13th” did that very thing.
The story of “Friday the 13th” is as old as time itself. Well, wasn’t 1980, in some ways, the dawn of time for us all? But what’s amazing is the monster that “Friday the 13th” created. Back in the ’80’s it seemed like the Friday movies would never end. Every year, the studio would emphatically deny the release of another sequel, but every year, with virtually no publicity, they arrived. Today, it’s gone. The “Friday the 13th” films as we knew them are gone, and that’s kind of sad, because that means the ’80’s really are over, and we’re not teenagers anymore.
The scariest scene in “Friday the 13th” was the one described above. It’s scary because your mind forces you to imagine what happened. When you see the film for the first time, you don’t know about Jason or his mother, Mrs. Voorhees(the film’s killer) or any of that stuff. It’s all new. But with all that’s happened in the slasher genre and the “Friday the 13th” series in the past twenty years, is it possible to watch the film with a fresh mind, open to surprise?
No, but who could’ve predicted the terrified reaction that fans like me experienced at an early age when Pamela Voorhees showed up near the end of the film; her smiling face masking total madness, eyes sunk in her sockets. As played by Betsy Palmer, she was the most terrifying villain of that era. Deeply, truly, terrifying. When the heroine(Adrienne King)tries to escape her, she keeps running into more bodies, which pushes our brains into terror overload. I love it when King first meets Palmer, and she points over to the generator cabin and says, “Bill’s over there.”
What makes “Friday the 13th” a good movie, as politically incorrect as that estimation might be? The director Sean S. Cunningham does a great job of creating discomfort and tension when the characters start vanishing. Scenes like the one where Kevin Bacon gets an arrow through his Adam’s apple are so dominant that we forget about the tense scenes where King and Bill(Harry Crosby) walk around the camp, searching for the others. They find a bloody axe. The car won’t start. The girl feels something is wrong. Then the guy goes down to the generator room. That’s cool. It’s also cool when the character Brenda(Laurie Bartram) is stalked by the camera at the archery range, and then we cut back to the main cabin, and hear her scream. “Friday the 13th” invented camera stalking, and it reminds us that killing and gore doesn’t necessarily have to take place in that order. Leave out the killing, and just show the gore, and you surprise the audience a lot more.
But what makes “Friday the 13th” so memorable to fans is it’s purity, that discovery you make when you watch horror films for the first time, and they really get in your head. Long before Jason, and the endless machinations of dumb sequels, “Friday the 13th” represented the purest form of terror. It was the first, and the first is almost always the best. It’s only when you get older do you realize, “hey, that was Bing Crosby’s kid hanging from that door!”
Get more and read our interviews with Friday the 13th actor Kane “Jason” Hodder and Robert “Freddy” Englund in FREDDY AND JASON RISE AGAIN>>>