Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Film Appreciation - A Pop Culture Sensation

Guest contributor Rich Stange discusses the 1980 horror classic Friday the 13th for Film Appreciation.

There is so much more to Friday the 13th (1980) than anyone gives it credit for. When you mention this series of films, many people either dismiss them for being "just slasher movies" or "Halloween rip-offs." Most people do not see the artistic value in Friday the 13th because they simply do not expect it to be in this kind of movie or do not want to acknowledge it, as a result of already having their closed minds made up.

First off, Friday the 13th is not a Halloween rip-off. When Carpenter's equally classic Halloween generated top box office revenue in 1978 and 1979, many eyebrows raised within the film industry. Among those were the brows of a few people in particular. Sean (director) Cunningham, Victor (credited writer) Miller, Ron (uncredited writer) Kurz, Steve (producer) Miner, and Georgetown (independent film production company) Productions all wanted in on the profit made by the Halloween. The only sensible thing they could think of doing was to produce a similar product, which became Friday the 13th.

Cunningham wanted to make the same kind of money that Carpenter made, but he knew he would have to make his film a little different. He and Miller came up with a story that is equally brilliant. Sure, certain scenes in Friday the 13th may have been taken from Halloween, but you can say the same thing about Halloween taking some scenes from Psycho.

Friday the 13th, whether it was on purpose or not, utilized a couple of really good themes in their storytelling, beyond the typical moral theme that everyone associates with these movies like "sex leads to death".  


The first theme that Friday the 13th throws in your face is the idea of isolated mass hysteria. Camp Crystal Lake and the town of Crystal Lake are haunted. They are not haunted by ghosts and goblins, but by unsuppressed dark memories of a little boy drowning and a string of unsolved murders among other things, which all have to do with Camp Crystal Lake. Every person in town believes that there is a "Death Curse" upon the camp, and they refer to the place as "Camp Blood".

When the character Annie walks into the restaurant near the beginning of the original and asks some people how she can get to Camp Crystal Lake, they all look at her and two people try to warn her to stay away from the place. They say the place is jinxed and has a death curse.

They are terrified of it because of its dark history. To me, that is probably the best thing about the original film. The Crazy Ralph character is really just an amplification of the Crystal Lake residents' feelings toward the place. I think THAT is what really makes the film work.

Not revealing the murderer until the end also makes the original Friday one of the most suspenseful horror films, and I think that it is very underrated just because Jason is not the killer.

Pamela Voorhees was a mother who lost her child to negligence. Psychology is only a little more then 100 years old, but we know that parents have a strong "connection" to their child even after the umbilical cord is severed. For a parent to have to bury their own child is probably the most devastating thing that can happen in their life. What must be even worse is if you feel someone is responsible for it.

Mrs. Voorhees loses her son to a tragedy and little by little she snaps. She tries to give him life by giving him a voice at one point (just like Norman Bates did for his mother in Psycho), and that voice tells her to murder those responsible for her son's death.

When I was a kid, the most frightening part of the original for me was when Mrs. Voorhees went on her "kill her mommy kill her" tantrum. When she spoke to herself in Jason's voice and answered in her own was the scariest part of the movie by far. I first saw the movie when I was either eight or nine years old. I also remember hearing the chchchhahaha sound in my sleep, that got me good too. The ending scene where Jason jumps out of the lake is THE most effective scene in the entire series.

For the horror fan there is also enough blood and murder to please. Mrs. Voorhees' decapitation even today is the most disgusting, realistic, believable, and best looking decapitations recorded on film. Not only does Tom Savini's gore in the neck really sell the effect, but the hands coming up and reaching for the head seems like a very animalistic instinctive reflex, such as a chicken running around without a head. I don't know if that would happen if someone was really murdered that way, but watching that film I can believe that it might. The effect itself was glorious, as Tom puts it.

Of course Friday the 13th (1980) is a horror masterpiece all of it’s own, however, Friday the 13th as a series of films certainly has something to offer a movie-going audience. Not only does it offer countless interesting death scenes by such artists including Tom Savini and John Carl Buechler. Not only does Friday the 13th offer adult entertainment for the viewers’ pleasure. Friday the 13th also offers an iconic character whom is instantly recognizable and whom has a backstory that haunts his every waking hour, as shown in Freddy vs. Jason (2003) and Friday the 13th (2009).

Friday the 13th Part III

Jason was born into a world he did not fit into. He was treated badly and neglected and left to drown and nobody cared.

The documentary His Name was Jason said that Jason was the outcast who was mistreated during his formal life, but when he came back for revenge (especially once he became a zombie) it was Jason who got the last laugh.

Jason in a way is a mascot for anyone who has even been deemed "different" by society and/or picked on in school, etc. He is the one who was shunned for not fitting into society's box, yet he came back to fight back against those whom are considered by society's standards "the in crowd." That makes a whole lot of sense to me. Jason is of the people.

For me it is hard to not feel sympathy toward both Mrs. Voorhees and Jason.

The Friday the 13th films are true rebels in cinema history. They do not care what critics think of them. They do not care for what is considered to be conventional "good filmmaking". Friday the 13th movies are movies that truly march to the beat of their own drum, and that is a very loud beat. That beat has been heard for the last thirty years in twelve of the most popular and important films in the history of the horror genre.

All in all Friday the 13th is a powerful, tragic but frightening story of love, loss, superstition, and murder.


  1. Awesome commentary! I always wondered though about the sign. What are the green and red things in it? Looks like a safety belt.