Recently, I watched a few of the Friday the 13th movies. I did this a few years ago too when I got easy access to films online. I wanted to see if I would like them. People talk about them so much and I do like a good horror although I tend towards ghosts and demons than psychopaths and zombies. Back then, I watched the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and the Halloween movies too. Well, the first installment of both of those two are better than Friday the 13th. It’s pretty poor. I don’t think it stands the test of time well. Critics at the time didn’t think much of them but they certainly gained a cult base. The name of Jason is up there with Michael Myers in the pantheon of horror villains. Perhaps not quite a household name as Freddy Kruger but Freddy does have a better name.
By even broadly dissecting what makes up a classic slasher, I am obviously echoing the Scream franchise too. Where, particularly in the first film, the ”rules of horror” are laid out.
So the original Friday the 13th, from 1980 is directed by Sean S. Cunningham. (He sounds Irish enough). It is one of the first of the cabin-in-the-woods-type slasher movies where a group of carefree (or careless) young folk are picked off one by one by an unseen or masked killer. What gets old pretty fast about these movies is the fact that the same things keep happening. It’s all about who dies next and how. The how element is perhaps the most important part. Novel ways of killing someone seems to get a chuckle from time to time. I would say that most people watching these movies find them amusing more than terrifying. Aside from obvious cliches like the spooky location, a dose of coitus interruptus, the ”I’ll be right back”, and the shower scene, the most tired component is the use of the jump scare. It is all over the place in these movies. It is obviously a kind of cheap thrill but maybe nonetheless a staple of the quintessential slasher movie. I would say, that half the time their is a jump scare in one of these movies, it turns out not to be the killer but one of the other camp counselors goofing about. Maybe this was something different in its time. Mostly though, I could predict which it was going to be. I don’t know how. It seemed obvious in spite of the ominous music.
The influence of Bernard Hermann’s score is all over this one too. Granted many horror music composers knew that they there was something special about the score for Hitchcock’s Psycho. Apart from Jaws, it’s the only horror music I can think of that has made its way into popular culture to such an extent. The repeated shrieking strings in the iconic shower scene killing of Marion Crane. Most of us have imitated that once in our lives, complete with the downward stabbing mime. The other noticeable motif of the Friday the 13th soundtrack is the panting sounds, if you could call them that. ”The ooh ooh ohh ah ah ah” sequence. Not wanting to be too poetic about it. These sounds must have been unnerving in the cinemas in the early 80s.
One of the best things about the first movie is the reveal of the killer who turns out to be the mother of Jason. The boy who drowned at camp because the counselors weren’t paying attention. There is more than a hint of the notion that promiscuity will get you killed. This is a common theme in teen slasher movies. It’s not good to be a the slasher movie slut. The mother wants revenge. Played by Betsy Palmer, she is one of the best things about the movies. Particularly creepy is when she impersonates the voice of her son, Jason telling her to kill. It’s pretty effective stuff.
Kevin Bacon has a part in this first movie too and is nice to watch but unfortunately he doesn’t survive very long.
There is also a notable amount of skin on display and a lack of underwear too which was less to do with fashion and more to do with distraction. No doubt this helped to sell the movies. Neither would it be quite the same if Jason or his mum showed up in an old folks home to their worst. Honestly, I wouldn’t rule that out as a sequel.
The next day after watching the first one, I watched Friday The 13th Part 2 and actually enjoyed it a lot more. I thought it was sharper and quicker. Within the confines of the genre, script and actors of course. They did have twice the budget to play with than the first one, which can help. I could somehow relate to the characters more but, let’s not get carried away here, it’s not like we explore the depths of their complex psyches. Still there are levels of connectedness with individuals. The dialogue is perhaps a little better too. It was a ”fuller” movie in general.
The next day, I started watching the third part and got bored after twenty minutes. I half-watched it til the end mainly cause I wanted to see Jason don the iconic mask. Yes, it doesn’t happen until the third movie. The third does try to incorporate more of the world outside of camp and a greater mix of characters but that doesn’t really help it. There are no less than 9 more movies in the franchise! I can’t even imagine looking at any of those. Although, perhaps one of the recent ones might be interesting.
When you watch these movies it is natural to wonder who the final girl will be. Who will make it to the end. Incidentally there is a decent horror called Final Girls from 2015. Which is a kind of meta-slasher. Worth a watch. The engaging Taissa Farmiga is in it too (the exceptional actress Vera Farmiga’s younger sister). And other good slasher movies? Well, I would still recommend giving the first two movies a watch. They are short and easy to digest. The Burning (1981) is a totally respectable addition to the summer camp slasher and Sleepaway Camp (1983), in similar vein, is underrated with a good twist. Obviously don’t expect Fellini.
If we want more recent movies set in the woods. Cabin in the Woods from 2012 is probably the best. Second to this would probably be Evil Dead (2013). A real rarity. A remake that actually works.