12 Days of Friday, Day 1: Friday the 13th

Editor Alex Vo watches a Friday the 13th movie daily until the reboot.



Day One: Friday the 13th

Welcome back, counselors! Crystal Lake re-opens in two weeks with Marcus Nispel's Friday the 13th reboot, returning Jason back to his old haunting grounds after stints in Manhattan, suburbia, and, uh, deep space. As intrepid head counselor, everyone's invited along for my Friday movie marathon, exploring the franchise's transformation from indie shocker to horror icon, one a day up to February 13, 2009.

First, my brief history with the franchise: I bought the Paramount box set in 2004, having not seen any of them, though childhood was thoroughly haunted by the unbeatable NES adaptation. I watched the movies over the course of a month for absolutely nothing more than boobs and blood, because, hey, that's all they offered, right? I've forgotten pretty much everything about them, except that The Final Chapter was my favorite and I found Jason Takes Manhattan borderline unwatchable.
So here we are. Crystal Lake. First blood. Friday the 13th isn't necessarily a good movie, but it does seem to develop beyond its origins, at least more than when I last saw it. Grabbing my attention this time is how Friday the 13th is less a slasher and more a giallo flick, that subgenre of horror combining mystery plots and slick kills, popularized by early Dario Argento and Mario Bava. Even from their first movies, the Halloweens and A Nightmare on Elm Streets maintain momentum by forcing audiences to guess who will survive. Friday the 13th's driving question is less who will survive, but rather who is the killer? (Of course, we all know now it's Jason's mother.)

I get the feeling director Sean S. Cunningham resented for a long time that his modest thriller gradually morphed into a monster slasher. He took obvious pride in Friday the 13th, as evidenced by the very first shot:
No production companies. No actors or crew are listed. And the very next shot opens on a moonlit Crystal Lake in 1953, with no further credits until after Pamela Voorhees knifes two horny counselors. And I thought Kubrick went to great lengths to emphasize a movie was "his" during the credits!

Check out Cunningham in the video interviews on the uncut DVD coming out tomorrow: he comes off a bit dismissive or uncurious about why America has latched onto Jason Voorhees as an icon. It was never really his bag. Cunningham's early career displays a fascination with sexuality, whether in drama (1971's Together, which always struck me as America's answer to the I am Curious movies), comedy (the softcore Case of the Full Moon Murders), or horror (he produced The Last House on the Left). Friday the 13th represented an accumulation of these interests: beautiful kids running around, screwing, smoking dope, getting killed. No monster necessary.

For a movie famed for being shot on the cheap and quick, there's a tiny abundance of cinematic flourishes, enough I guess to drive a director to "stamp" Friday the 13th with his name. For example, after lone survivor Alice (Adrienne King) finally discovers her friends are dead, she flees to her cabin. As she barricades the door, we're treated to a handheld, three-minute single take, a patient accumulation of dread and choreography rarely seen in slashers, before and after:
Yet for all of Cunningham's machinations to create a mystery out of a slasher, to humanize his teenage bimbo victims, to add texture to his camera shots, they all fall flat. Because Friday the 13th is a mystery without suspects; Pamela Voorhees and her motivation appears at the end, out of nowhere. Cunningham has trouble seeing teens beyond carnal desires, and even one my favorite shots, that single take, is rendered moot: a minute after setting up the barricade, Alice simply knocks it out of the way to go outside. There's a habitual lack of payoff, subtle but jarring, in Cunningham's movie that prevents Friday the 13th from being placed in the same league as, say, Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street.
So we forget about what Cunningham tried and failed to do with his movie, and we remember the more schlocky elements that, while exploitative, were at least effective. Things like Tom Savini's special effects (Kevin Bacon and the post-coital arrow through the neck!) are so visceral and gory that they overpower the movie's quieter elements. We remember, in a gloriously camp performance during the final reel, Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees. We remember the supernatural elements, that a child drowned may raise from the dead.
Anyways, this is as cerebral as the series gets. Tomorrow, let's party with Jason Voorhees proper in Friday the 13th Part 2!

Schedule of Fridays:

Comments

rt-ryan

Ryan Fujitani

I hope you enjoy your ride as much as I enjoyed mine. I loved this first writeup.

Feb 2 - 06:54 PM

JAKEofMIDWORLD

Jake Almond

I grew up with these and the Nightmare on Elm Street films. The first two Fridays are really good. 2 is my favorite. The Final Chapter (4) and Jason Lives (6) are very good too. Seven is sort of different so I liked it, but I agree with you that 8 is horrible. Jason goes to Hell is fun and I never saw Jason X.

In the future, somebody has to go through the Nightmare movies.

Feb 2 - 07:20 PM

JAKEofMIDWORLD

Jake Almond

Great article by the way.

Feb 2 - 07:22 PM

JAKEofMIDWORLD

Jake Almond

Sorry, I need to think out my comments before I keep posting more (too much Irish Ale) but I wanted to tell Ryan that I enjoyed the Bond thing as well. I forgot to thank him for it back when he wrote them. I am using it to go through the series again myself. I will have to go through this series again as well. The best way to watch them is on shi**y VHS. It puts you in the 80's mindset.

Feb 2 - 07:25 PM

Alex Vo

Alex Vo

I like that VHS idea. Besides playing the game over and over, my only exposure to the series as a kid was wandering down the horror aisles at rental shops, looking over the sinister faded boxes. Definitely a unique quality missing out with a disc standard!

Feb 2 - 09:58 PM

RamALamADingDong

That Guy

Honestly, I think you hit the nail exactly on the head there. I can't think of one thing I could say any better regarding that movie.

Feb 2 - 07:54 PM

inactive user

Jared King

This movie is "Citizen Kane" in comparrison to the sequels. But I plan tuning in for the rest of your reviews. There's no denying Jason is a good, if not B-list, villain. I can't wait for your take on "Jason Takes Manhattan", that was hilariously awful.

Feb 2 - 08:02 PM

jihad

jud winter

so ledawg your sayin the sequals are better cause CITIZEN KANE SUX.

Feb 2 - 08:47 PM

inactive user

Jared King

No.

Feb 2 - 09:38 PM

J-Wes22

John Wesley

I bought the first two simply because I was interested to see how things have evolved. Quite different, but in context is still a lot of fun to watch, expecially with your 80's buddies who can relate as well.

Feb 2 - 08:02 PM

willywonkanobi

Evan Godbold

The last seen in the lake is the creepiest moment in the entire franchise. There is not really anything else good about this movie.

Feb 2 - 08:41 PM

jihad

jud winter

so ledawg your sayin the sequals are better cause CITIZEN KANE SUX.

Feb 2 - 08:47 PM

inactive user

Jared King

No.

Feb 2 - 09:38 PM

The Great One

A Z

Jason Lives: Part 6 is by far the best in my opinion...I find The New Chapter very overrated...do people love it just because its Feldman and Glover?

Feb 2 - 08:48 PM

greg b.

greg baltzer

I agree that The Final Chapter was the best,along with Jason lives. To me nothing was worse than Jason Goes to Hell. Even Jason Takes Manhatten is better than that. I recently watched all ten movies, and they were all pretty bad. Jason to me is an iconic horror movie character whose movies never lived up to his persona.

Feb 2 - 08:57 PM

ColinTheCimmerian

Colin Hay

Hehe, I don't think this movie should be compared to Citizen Kane in any context, but ok, interesting analogy.

Good review; I'll read the whole series, though I doubt I'll enjoy it as much as the Bond one. I've always liked the Bond movies and own them all so I could follow along when I felt like it, but Friday the 13th isn't really my thing, and I only have the first 3. JakeofMidworld, I agree about the VHS thing; I deliberately bought them in that format for that reason. Some things just look better on tape.

Feb 2 - 09:10 PM

therealboltcutters

Arthur Nelson

I personally hate The Final Chapter. Along with Jason Takes Manhatten and Jason Goes to Hell I think it's the worst of the series. The first three are great, while A New Beginning, which many hated but I enjoyed, Jason Lives, The New Blood, Jason X, and Freddy Vs. Jason were good. I'm a fan of the series, though I'll admit it's not . . . life changing cinema, they're definately fun. It's not like Halloween, which is a hit or miss series, or Nightmare, which has 2 amazing movies and the rest terribly ****ty, it's pretty decent throughout.

Feb 2 - 09:22 PM

inactive user

Jared King

No.

Feb 2 - 09:38 PM

utkipp1

Anthony Kipp

Jason X... good? Really? I thought that was by far the worst of the worst. I still have not seen a movie that bad. It was like those Sci-Fi Channel original movies, only worse. Freddy vs Jason was good though. It had its moments of just stupidity but overall it was enjoyable.

Feb 2 - 09:43 PM

Alex Vo

Alex Vo

I like that VHS idea. Besides playing the game over and over, my only exposure to the series as a kid was wandering down the horror aisles at rental shops, looking over the sinister faded boxes. Definitely a unique quality missing out with a disc standard!

Feb 2 - 09:58 PM

blattman

Mike Greenblatt

I used to turn the sound off and turn on a rock album. It seemed more entertaining since plots were fairly minimal.

Feb 2 - 11:45 PM

dean r.

dean robinson

fantastic! i am really happy this website decided to run with another movie marathon write up. i enjoyed the bond one so much, it made me want to watch them all for the first time (most of them) and it has turned me onto a whole different world.

Friday the 13th has always been a curious string of movies to me, i really like the concept of Jason's character, but whenever i watch them i am always disappointed at how little they live up to his icon.

i was planning on watching them all in the run up to the release of the reboot, and now i have another RT marathon to refer back to :) thank you Alex Vo, i look forward to reading the rest of this.

Feb 3 - 02:24 AM

smartmoviekid

jonathan ramirez

i also immensely enjoyed the bond marathon..as it compelled me to purchase all the films on dvd....still haven't seen em all yet tho..with friday the 13'th..i actually liked the 1'st one...2 and 3 were solid, 4 was fun, 5-6 were ehh. didn't see the other ones.

Feb 3 - 04:14 AM

aawolve

A A

I also loved the Bond verison of this. Good start, I look forward to the next eleven segments.

Feb 3 - 07:57 AM

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