Friday the 13th (1980) Movie Review

Some movies achieve their infamy based on their content. They become classics or crap because of what is actually up on the screen. Then there are those titles that, while seemingly inauspicious in their debut, take on greater significance as the franchise moves forward. Such is the case with Sean S. Cunningham's Halloween riff. Inspired by the John Carpenter hit, the films of Mario Bava, and his own success with fellow fright filmmaker Wes Craven (he helped produce Last House on the Left), Friday the 13th would go on to be a "monster" success for Paramount, spawning 10 sequels and a formidable fan base that sees nothing wrong in celebrating a sick spree killer and his unwholesomely high body counts. Yet to look at it now, you'd never guess it was so important.

In 1958, Camp Crystal Lake was the scene of a notorious double murder. It closed down amid scandal and a soiled reputation. Now, 20 years later, Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), the new owner of the property, wants to reopen it. He hires a group of counselors and invites them out to the location for help fix up the place. Little do they know, there's another in their midst, an individual bent on revenge for the events that took place all those years ago. As a horrific storm hits, the group indulges in some random sex and drugs, unaware that, lurking outside the cabins, a killer awaits.

For all its mythos, its legacy of slasher lore and foundations in fear filmmaking, Friday the 13th is, in 2009, a rather hit and miss affair. It starts out strong, grows dull in the middle, and then picks up steam right as Betsy Palmer, as Mrs. Voorhees -- mother of the now iconic horror figure Jason --arrives to tear the roof off the sucker. While its violence is horrific, one single scene in Hostel contains more onscreen grotesqueries. Sure, there is some fun to be had in spying the future star(s) (Kevin Bacon, um...) among the nobodies, yet director Cunningham is not out to make some sort of suspense classic. Instead, this is more in line with his exploitation effort with Craven -- a bare bones, no-nonsense morality tale where excess leads to evisceration.

Of course, a lot has been made of Tom Savini's make-up and effects work here, and there is indeed a lot to be celebrated. His throat slashings were definitely ahead of their time, ultra-realistic, and incredibly brutal, and the many divergent methods used to off people set the tone for the entire genre to come. In fact, some could argue that because of Savini's participation, the entire horror category earned a kind of visceral renaissance. Of course, Paramount and the MPAA mandated massive cuts, and until recently, few have had an opportunity to see the bloodshed uncut and unrated. Still, sans the splatter, Friday the 13th works -- that is, if you don't expect to be frightened out of your post-modern wits.

Inevitably, time and changing macabre temperament have not been kind to the film. Like any origin story, it takes far too long to establish Crystal Lake's creepshow past, and once the characters start carrying on like party neophytes (Strip Monopoly, anyone?) things grow incredibly dull. But the final 20 minutes zing, thanks in no small part to the incredibly odd juxtaposition of Palmer playing psychotic. As an icon from the '50s, best known for her work in hour-long dramas and as a correspondent on The Today Show, it seems almost unnatural. But then again, a lot of Friday the 13th seems otherworldly... especially today.

Cast & Crew

Director : Sean S. Cunningham

Producer : Sean S. Cunningham


Friday the 13th (1980) Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 1980


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