This October, we’re celebrating some of the best horror films ever made. Look out for a new classic review daily across the month on The Film Blog, as well as more special treats along the way!
A classic we don’t rate on day eighteen…Friday the 13th.
Sean S. Cunningham must have seriously loved the opening scene of Halloween to be inspired to remake it over and over and over and over again in Friday the 13th. It’s just a pity that he and script writer Victor Miller forgot to borrow Carpenter’s villain to go with his knife. Friday the 13th isn’t really a film for horror fans, it’s a video nasty for people who really hated Meatballs and would later wish ill on the characters in American Pie.
Pop culture gained much more from the Friday the 13th sequels than their 1980 Cunningham predecessor. Jason Voorhees would only become the principle antagonist in Part 2, whilst his iconic goalie mask didn’t turn up until the entry after that. In fact, the first in the inexplicably long-running franchise is an essentially menial affair. This is a film in which characters that we neither know nor particularly care about are brutally slaughtered, one by one, by a foe who is hidden behind point of view shots until the very end and even then is revealed to be driven by deeply confused motivations.
A pre-Footloose Kevin Bacon plays one of six young councillors who converge at Camp Crystal Lake on Friday 13 June for its reopening, two decades after a series of tragic incidents. As local nutter Ralph warns them: there’s a ‘death curse’ on that there campsite. There’s a seventh youth too but she never makes it so far as to have a meaningful role in the improvement project. In the wake of a hard day’s work, the surviving troupe decide to split up for some camp copulation and a game of strip Monopoly, not realising that danger lurks in the forest around them. Knife-wielding, arrow shooting, axe grinding uber-danger.
Slumped uncomfortably between exploitative knock off and well-executed slasher romp, Friday the 13th’s main problem is that it is a grossly impatient feature – one so desperate to start slashing that suspense and build up were sacrificed on the cutting room floor. The film’s score epitomises this by mashing up Jaws’ rhythm and Psycho’s screeching strings in such a way as to substitute tension for noise. Sickening but inventive murders defy logic for effect and bodies begin to pile before we’ve even been given the chance to work out who everyone is – psychopathic killer included. Slasher films aren’t famous for character development but they do normally provide audiences with a baddie to fear; here there’s just a void and the odd hand of death.
It’s not even like the film has protagonists worth rooting for; Alice Hardy isn’t Nancy Thompson, never mind Laurie Strode. Whereas Carpenter denied that his characters were offed for their promiscuity, Cunningham seems to embrace the sentence. At times, watching the film is like seeing one of those insufferable American sex comedies – in which teens embark on a gross-out mission to lose their virginities – through the voyeuristic gaze of a long shot but with added massacre. Friday the 13th actually makes those film’s look gender balanced; whilst the guys get quick slits and stabs here, the girls are predominantly in their negligee and must first be chased.
To Cunningham’s partial defence, the film does contain within its runtime a handful of effective set-pieces and a final twist that does at least inspire a jump. Unfortunately, it also hammers home what the film as a whole sorely lacks; it’s just not scary. Little is done here to disprove the argument that less is more.