Written by: Matt Molgaard
It’s funny how the puzzle pieces find a way to tumble into perfect position from time to time. You know what I mean, those ideas and setups that should never work, but somehow do. Kind of like the Friday the 13th’s of the world. The film was an on the dime production with an assortment of unknown actors (with the exception of Betsy Palmer) and a concept that borrowed very, very freely from previously successful works like Halloween. In truth, Friday the 13th was little more than a simple exploitation pic. A quick bid to cash in on the success John Carpenter had recently enjoyed.
That said, it is one of the greatest exploitation pics ever filmed. And from a technical perspective, it’s rather underrated, even if it is something of a rip-off at its core.
Unlike the wave of slashers that would directly follow the birth of the Voorhees legend, Friday the 13th was a very suspenseful film. The first person POV shots we get are fantastic, and they never give anything away in regards to who the mysterious villain may be. But subtle red herrings are dropped throughout the film that bring up pertinent questions (notice that Steve Christy’s vehicle definitely bears some similarities to the vehicle driven by the picture’s antagonist; now, once we realize the synchronicity of the sub-plots we realize Steve can’t possibly be the killer, and Sean Cunningham doesn’t hang on to that deceptive marker long, but it’s there, briefly), just as an actual story exists within the film’s frames.
Pamela Voorhees had damn good reason to want to slaughter camp counselors. Years prior they neglected her handicapped son, Jason, and ultimately allowed the boy to drown. She’s still hurt. She’s still in a state of mourning. She’s still a lost mother. She’s still mad as a machete wielding murderess. And we the audience can actually sympathize. No parent wants to lose a child. Those God Damned kids deserved every last slash of the blade they got. Even if the primary group targeted in the movie weren’t the direct culprits, they sure didn’t seem too responsible either, and another camp accident certainly wasn’t out of the question. It was probably inevitable.
If you’re a parent, ask yourself this: What would you do?
Okay, so most of us wouldn’t embark on a killing spree. But hey, it’s a valid motive, right?
Beyond the mystery and the story wait the visuals. And the visuals are something truly special. In addition to a great set location and wondrous natural lighting that helps create a dreadful atmosphere we’re also treated to special effects from maestro of realism, Tom Savini. Some of his death scenes are genius. Who’s ever going to forget Kevin Bacon (yeah, he pops up in a very early career role) having an arrow shoved up, from beneath the bed, straight through his throat? I’ll never forget iconic moments like that. And neither will the majority of the masses, which is why the brand is still a sought after commodity. There are still plenty of people out there eager for the next Friday installment, and they’re still buying collectible memorabilia and new editions of the films. They’re still here because this was one of the greatest over achievers in history.
Friday the 13th deserves every bit of praise it has been bestowed. This crew worked on a shoe string budget and little more than heart and determination togenerate true fear. And it worked. It turns out there was a lot more magic on hand for that shoot than the entire cast likely ever believed possible. The franchise has migrated away from the now deceased Pamela Voorhees, and now focuses on her grown, vengeful son, Jason. And Jason, as well as his trademark hockey mask has become legends in their own right. This is a brand that may never die, as is evidenced by the countless sequels to follow, and the planned future installments still to come.