Friday, June 13, 2014

Long Night at Camp Blood

Cody Hamman and Priscilla Tuboly show Film Appreciation for the first entry in their favorite franchise, Friday the 13th (1980).

The original Friday the 13th, the film that kicked off the 1980s slasher horror boom, begins on a very dark summer night at Camp Crystal Lake in 1958. The young campers are asleep in their cabin beds as someone's P.O.V. walks among them. The counselors are gathered in the main cabin, having a good time singing folk songs like "Down in the Valley", "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore", and "Tom Dooley".

I've always found the opening to be one of the most sinister ones I've seen in a slasher movie. The folk songs are almost creepy in a way, and that combined with someone walking around the cabins and the outside shots just makes it very spooky. Speaking of the songs, the only other time I've ever heard any of those was "Tom Dooley" in a Gilmore Girls episode.

The counselor playing guitar, Claudette, hands the instrument off to someone else after a couple songs, getting up to leave with the fellow counselor who has been staring at her, Barry. Barry and Claudette have a thing going on, even though Claudette seems to suspect he's been messing around with a girl named Mary Anne, too. Her suspicion isn't enough to stop her from going up into a storage loft with Barry for some heavy petting...

Claudette was totally into Barry. He was a player, and I'm sure she knew... but that didn't stop her from wanting an extra something something from him.

It's a tryst that gets interrupted by the P.O.V. that has been roaming the camp. A P.O.V. belonging to a person that has no interest in hearing Barry's "We weren't doing anything" excuse.

The person stabs Barry in the stomach, making this character, a role which the film's production assistant Willie Adams pulled double duty to play, the first victim on the Friday the 13th franchise's very lengthy body count. As the killer advances on Claudette (Debra S. Hayes) to make her the second on the list, the film stylishly segues into the title sequence with a freeze frame and a fade to white.

The fade to white and the way the title appears on the screen always make me wonder how the audiences must've felt watching this on the big screen back when it came out. It has such a serious tone and shocking first scenes, I'm sure it got a lot of people freaked out by then.

When the title appears on the screen, it's not simply a line of text. It's a huge, specially designed logo that comes smashing through a pane of glass, the film aggressively announcing itself as a force that is out to terrify the audience.

The title sequence is also a showcase of the incredible score composed by Harry Manfredini, a cacophony of horns, violins, and sound effects. Manfredini too often recycled the exact same style for other composing gigs like The Children, Swamp Thing, and The Hills Have Eyes 2 (1984), but that didn't water it down any - it is still distinctly the Friday the 13th sound, and Manfredini's '80s F13 scores are some of my favorite scores of all time.

And they're also a huge part of what differentiates the F13 movies from other slashers. I think they're extraordinary and love them dearly. They're definitely some of my favorite scores, too.

When the title sequence has ended, the film has caught up to present day. Friday, June 13th. And though a tombstone in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter suggested the events of this film may have occurred in 1979, the film's release year of 1980 makes sense to me, since 1980 actually did have a Friday the 13th in June.

The first character we meet in present day is Annie, played by Robbie Morgan, first seen walking into the picturesque little town of Crystal Lake (Blairstown, New Jersey was the filming location) with a heavy backpack strapped to her. Annie seems like a great person; happy, smiley, friendly to animals, and dedicated to working in a field where she'll be able to help children. It's that dedication that has brought her to Crystal Lake on this Friday the 13th. She has been hired to be the cook at the soon-to-be-reopened camp, where she'll be cooking for fifty kids and ten staff members.

Annie is extremely smiley, as is Robbie Morgan. She is always smiling when we see her in documentaries, but that doesn't mean she's a bad actress. When in danger, that smile goes away completely, and you can feel the panic in her eyes, so she did her job well.

Although she's excited about her summer job, everyone Annie meets has an unnerving reaction to hearing that she'll be going out to the camp. When she asks for a ride at a diner twenty miles from the campsite, everyone gets quiet and looks at her strange. A scraggly drunk called Crazy Ralph - Walt Gorney as the most famous doomsayer in all of horror - refers to the place as "Camp Blood" and tells her she'll never come back from it.

Crazy Ralph is great. They tried to have similar types of characters in a couple of F13 sequels, but it was never as effective as Ralph. Walt Gorney was absolutely perfect for the role.

Even Enos (Rex Everhart), the truck driver she gets a ride from, who gets angry with Ralph for being so creepy, rants out a warning about how dangerous the camp is.

Enos looked like a very nice guy, though he did get a little too friendly with his hands all over Annie's butt when he was helping her get up in the truck.

Ralph said the camp has "a death curse" on it. Enos says the place is jinxed, and gives Annie an overview of everything that has gone down there over the past twenty-plus years. A boy drowned in Crystal Lake in 1957. Two counselors were murdered in '58 - we knew that. There were fires on the property. When an attempt was made to re-open the camp in 1962, "the water was bad". Now a young man named Steve Christy, son of the camp's former owners, is trying to open it again, dropping $25,000 into fixing the place up. Enos predicts Steve will wind up "crazy and broke", and advises Annie to quit. Her reply is that she's not afraid of ghosts.

The scene between Enos and Annie is great. There's a lot of exposition delivered during their ride together, but it feels completely natural and Enos really seems concerned about what might go down at Camp Crystal Lake.

The trucker's route causes him to have to let Annie out at a crossroads halfway between the diner and the camp. She gets dropped off right outside the gate of the Moravian Cemetery in Hope, New Jersey, then continues on her way.

If only Enos had been able to drive her all the way to the camp. Someone driving a Jeep that looks a lot like the one camp owner Steve Christy drives picks Annie up as she hitchhikes her way to work, but instead of taking her to the camp they go right past the road they should have turned onto. Annie notices this, but the more she asks the unseen driver to stop, the more they speed up. Clearly this is not a good situation to be in, so Annie bails from the speeding vehicle.

The way she jumps and falls looks really painful, and I think Robbie Morgan did that stunt herself, which makes it even more impressive.

Up to this point, it would have made sense if Annie ended up becoming the film's heroine. It might have been interesting if she had been, she could have been a good one.

A lot of people felt like she might have been the final girl, and she could have been. You'd think that after telling the killer about her plans and how she loves children, they'd let her go... but no.

She gets chased into the woods by the driver, whose identity is never revealed, and who soon catches up with her. With a knife slash across the throat that leaves behind an impressive and painful looking wound created by special effects artist Tom Savini, Annie exits the picture quite early on.

I remember watching F13 when I was around 3 - 4 years old. I knew it was fake, but even years after that, I could not believe it was possible to make those death scenes look so real. Annie's and Jack's especially. Watching the movie on Blu-ray now shows that it's fake, those parts were not meant to be in high definition, which is such a shame since Savini's work was so amazing in this.

While Annie is making her arduous and ill-fated journey to the camp, all of the other staff members are already there and working on getting the place ready for the arrival of the campers, presumably later in the month. In addition to owner Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer), who suspiciously heads out to run some errands right before Annie is murdered, there are Adrienne King as our true heroine Alice, Harry Crosby as nice guy Bill, Kevin Bacon and Jeannine Taylor as dating couple Jack and Marcie, Mark Nelson as Jack's jokester pal Ned, and Laurie Bartram as vegetarian health nut Brenda, object of Ned's desire.

Annie must have been rounding up with her "ten staff" comment, because even if she was counting herself, there would only be eight staff.

Steve makes it very clear that he's into Alice, but she's apparently not really into this whole camping thing, she seems troubled about something... She's considering going back home to California, but Steve convinces her to think about it over the weekend.

It seems like there might have been something between them, based on the way he talks to her and how she tells him he looked that way "last night". But at the same time, I get the impression that Alice was actually into Bill, and that the only reason nothing happened between them was because he didn't make a move. Maybe he was trying to be nice, respecting Steve's feelings. I guess we'll never know. But someone else liked Steve, as we'll see later in the movie.

I would be troubled if Steve and his porn 'stache were hitting on me, too.

So would I.

When Steve leaves to run some errands, he tells his counselors to get as much done as possible while he's away. From what I can tell, all they accomplish is hanging up some busted old targets at the archery range. Next thing you know, they're swimming and lounging around the lake.

I can't blame them. The lake is beautiful. It looked perfect out there, what a nice location. I would've wanted to go swimming as well.

As the counselors take a swim, someone is watching them from the edge of the woods. Someone witnesses as the group's fun time ends with Ned scaring everyone witless with a prank, pretending to drown just so he can force a kiss on Brenda while she's giving him mouth-to-mouth.

The killer should've turned around and gone home then. I mean, they witnessed first hand how prepared this group of counselors was in case a drowning occurred. Jack and Brenda jumped right into the water, Marcie and Bill got a canoe and Alice throws a floating device in. That's as safe as it gets!

They do more than was even necessary, Alice didn't need to toss that floating device in when Brenda had Ned about a foot away from the dock.

The counselors also have to deal with a snake that has gotten into the cabin Alice is staying in, get a visit from a ridiculous motorcycle cop called Dorf who warns them that Crazy Ralph might be coming their way, and do indeed find Crazy Ralph waiting in a pantry to repeat his "death curse" line and let them know that they're doomed if they stay at the camp. Ralph doesn't stay. His message delivered, he hops on his bike and peddles on out of there.

Dorf says they won't stand for weirdness in his town, but he's so weird. And he could not ride that motorcycle, clearly. It looked like he was about to fall.

Ralph was smart to get out of there when he did. I wonder how long he stood in the dark pantry before creeping Alice out.

Night falls, a storm moves in, and while Jack takes the storm-fearing Marcie to their cabin to "calm her nerves", Alice, Bill, and Brenda settle in for some drinking, pot smoking, and a game of strip Monopoly...
Alice is clearly not as introverted and chaste as some of her fellow horror heroines.

Sometimes I get the feeling that Brenda sort of had a crush on Alice, but I can never be sure. I change my mind about it a lot.

She definitely seems interested in getting Alice to show some skin during their game. "Just when it was getting interesting..."

Along with the storm and the dark of night, the killer also arrives at Camp Crystal Lake, and Ned is the first of the counselors to die when he wanders off by himself and spots someone lurking around one of the cabins. He follows the rain slicker-wearing figure into the cabin... And the next time we see him, he's a corpse, his body stuck on the top of the bunk bed Jack and Marcie have sex in. They never notice.

The reveal of Ned's corpse, a pan up from the orgasming Marcie on the bottom bunk to his dead face and slit throat on the top bunk, is very unnerving.

It is. And thinking that the killer was also there, under the bed, during their fun time is also really disturbing.

The killer proceeds to knock off the counselors one-by-one, stalking the thick, dark woods around the isolated camp, waiting to strike when a character goes off alone, even drawing Brenda out to get killed on the archery range by crying out in a voice that sounds like there's a child in distress. As the characters are brutally removed from the film, there are more impressive Savini effects on display.

I go to a cabin in the woods sometimes, and the number one thing I think about is curtains. I'm glad it has curtains in every window, because every time I see the cabin Brenda was staying in, the complete lack of privacy freaks me out. Thinking that someone could be out there watching her every move (and they were) is very unsettling.

My personal favorite of the kills the film's slasher commits is the death of Marcie. Hearing a sound, Marcie goes to investigate. She pulls aside a curtain quickly, expecting to find one of her pals there. "Must be my imagination," she says, as the shadow of an axe being raised splashes across the wall behind her. She turns around, sees the killer ready to strike, lets out a scream... And that axe gets planted in her face.

My favorite death scenes are Marcie's and Jack's. But Jack's only works watching the old DVD, LD, or VHS. The bathroom scene with Marcie is really good, and so is the one with Brenda.

The way you actually get to know pretty much all of the characters to some extent, is another thing that sets it apart from other "similar" movies. Even Annie, who gets killed off first, we know what she's about, we care for her. And it's the same with the rest of the camp counselors. They all have very distinct personalities, there's something for everyone to relate to, and they're not empty, just there for the body count, either.

I love the bathroom scenes that I just mentioned. Marcie goes in there first, she tries to get the faucet working, and when it doesn't happen, she figures out that maybe the water is turned off, and she gets it on. Then when she feels like someone else is in there, she goes check it out. Brenda goes in there later on, tries to get the water running and when she can't, she simply tries another sink, and when she feels like someone is there, she goes away instead of checking it. It seems silly, but to me, it's those small things that make the characters deeper and likeable, and true individuals. Because that's how it is in reality, we're all different people who react a certain way in a situation.

Who is killing these people at Camp Crystal Lake?

Could it be Steve, gone for way too long in the Jeep identical to the killer's? No, he's out at a diner chatting with a middle-aged waitress named Sandy and then having a lot of trouble trying to get back to the camp. He'd do well not to go back at all.

Sandy's the one who likes Steve. Now, if only he'd have accepted her offer for a night out together, he'd not only be still alive, but he'd get to spend the evening with Sandy and her glorious wig.

Could it be the oddball cop Dorf? Crazy Ralph making his own prophecy come true? Enos?

It could be Bill. The look on his face after he kills the snake, and the way he's always carrying a machete is kind of suspicious.

Eventually, Alice and Bill are the only counselors left alive, and they slowly begin to realize that there's something very wrong at the campground. Everyone's missing. There's a bloody axe on Brenda's bed. The phones in Steve's office are dead (the camera shows the audience that the line has been cut). The truck Ned, Jack and Marcie arrived in, the only vehicle they have access to, won't start. The power is out, but at least there's the generator.

By now Alice is really worried. She breaks into the office, she suggests that they hike out of there. Bill should've listened to her...

Then the generator shuts off. Bill goes out to fix it and doesn't come back.

Alice is alone, trapped out in the dark wilderness, and now the killer is coming for her, looking to finish the job.

Friday the 13th has become so ingrained in pop culture since its release that surely anyone seeing it for the first time these days would go into it already knowing that the killer is a woman named Mrs. Voorhees, a character we're not introduced to until she drives up to the camp's main cabin in her Jeep and introduces herself to Alice.

I can't remember which F13 I watched first, but I knew even as a toddler that the killer was Jason's mom before I watched it. I think my brother was the one who told me.

For me, watching Friday the 13th for the first time at a very young age, the reveal of Mrs. Voorhees as the killer was a total surprise. The first movie was not the first Friday the 13th I watched, Jason Lives was, so I only knew Jason as the killer in these movies. When Annie gets picked up by Mrs. Voorhees in her Jeep, I was shocked. "Jason can drive?!" I didn't even consider the fact that Annie seemed to be totally fine with a guy wearing either a sack on his head or a hockey mask driving the Jeep, just the idea that Jason might be able to drive a car was enough to blow my mind.

At first, Mrs. Voorhees seems like a very nice, pleasant, helpful lady. She's played by an actress the audiences in 1980 surely would've thought they could trust - '50s television star Betsy Palmer. With a smile on her face, Mrs. Voorhees tries to get Alice, scared out of her wits after discovering the bloody corpse of Bill and having Brenda's body tossed through a window she was standing beside, to calm down. She seems horrified herself when she sees what has become of Brenda. She asks, "What monster could have done this?"

Betsy Palmer is perfect as Pamela Voorhees. When she starts telling Alice about Jason and Camp Crystal Lake, her eyes tell the story in such depth. Her expressions are so intense, you feel bad at first because it's clear that the pain she's in, after losing her son, even though it's been years, has driven her into absolute madness.

Mrs. Voorhees shares the opinion other locals have that Camp Crystal Lake is a bad place. Steve never should have tried to open it again, there's been too much trouble there. Mrs. Voorhees begins to tell a story... The sad story of the little camper who drowned in Crystal Lake in 1957, a boy whose name was Jason. Apparently Jason was born with both physical and mental birth defects, and the youngster was also not a very good swimmer. He required constant supervision. But when a couple counselors snuck off to make love rather than watch Jason, he went for a swim... and drowned while calling out for his mother.

Mrs. Voorhees was working at the camp when it happened, she was the cook. Jason was her son, and today, June 13th, is his birthday.

Ever since her son died there, Mrs. Voorhees has done everything she could to make sure the camp would remain closed. She killed Barry and Claudette in '58. She started the fires. She tampered with the camp's water in '62. And now, she has been spending her late son's birthday murdering the counselors who were trying to re-open the place.

I wonder if other people knew that she had lost her mind or if she lived alone, isolated from others. That might have been it, because how else would she get away with everything she had done over the years?

Looking back, Ned really should have gotten it worse than he did. He should have gotten a more brutal murder than anybody, because Mrs. Voorhees witnessed him making a mockery of a drowning. He should've gotten a very harsh punishment for that... Instead he simply got his throat slit offscreen.

And Annie should've been spared, since it was clear that she was all about making the kids happy. But none of it meant anything to Mrs. Voorhees, since she was completely mad.

When her story has been told, Mrs. Voorhees' demeanor changes. In her mind, she hears Jason calling out for her help. She snaps, pulling a knife and flying into a rage, attacking Alice, kicking off a lengthy chase sequence set around the camp and in its cabins. As Mrs. Voorhees pursues Alice, she hears Jason's voice spurring her on, she even speaks to herself as if it's her son talking to her, telling her, "Kill her, Mommy!"

This line Mrs. Voorhees has speaking as Jason was the inspiration for the famous sound effect Harry Manfredini included in his score. The sound that represents Jason and the franchise, the sound that many people believe is "Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha". It's actually "ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma", Manfredini saying the first parts of the words "kill" and "mommy" and running it through a machine called an echoplex.

While I believe that Friday the 13th is a fantastic film overall, one of the best slasher movies ever made and the beginning of what I find to be the greatest horror series of all time, a series that means a lot to me, I do feel that its climactic sequence could have been handled a little better.

I have no problem whatsoever with the way it was handled, and I understand why it was done that way.

There is some needless time filler in the film once Alice finds herself alone, things that seem awkward, like how we watch the entire process of her barricading a door and then just moments later she has to undo all the work she did on that door to get back outside.

I think that just like the scenes in the bathroom, this is about exploring the character further and trying to make the audience relate. When she's making coffee for herself and Bill before she finds him dead, and then how desperate she gets, trying to protect herself. It just shows how the character thought and felt, and a lot of people would've reacted the same way in a situation like that. So, I think showing it all adds to making the character a regular, relatable person. And that door opened to the outside... I find that so bizarre.

Once Mrs. Voorhees takes a break to have a chat with her last victim, she also loses her stride, she seems very inept when dealing with Alice. I suppose this is because she had the element of surprise on her side when dealing with nearly everyone else she killed in 1980. Alice is the only one she takes a screaming charge at, and it doesn't work out for her.

All the madness and hatred turned Mrs. Voorhees into a super malignant force. How else would she be able to hang Bill the way she did, or throw Brenda through the window, or lift Steve's dead body up the tree.

The climactic chase is really just made up of Mrs. Voorhees quickly getting knocked to the ground by Alice, then Alice runs off and cowers in another spot until Mrs. Voorhees catches up with her, tries to attack her, and gets knocked to the ground again. The murderous mommy gets bashed with a fireplace poker, a rifle, a frying pan. She tussles with Alice pretty well a couple times, but puts in a really poor showing overall.

Alice definitely shows her the error of her ways. The audience may not get as close to her character as some of her horror heroine peers, but she does show us that she's a girl who can handle herself.

She was pretty badass. She broke into Steve's office and was looking to run out of there, those were already displays of self defense. Sure, she had a few chances to off Pamela and make the whole chasing part shorter, but if you think about it, it takes some time to work up to killing someone, especially someone who looked "normal" and was a victim of awful circumstances themselves. But when she finally does it, she does it, and it's great. And the look on Alice's face right after she's done with Pamela is almost delirious... she knows she's done something awful, but the relief overwhelms her and it shows.

Adrienne King did fine work making her character likeable and someone the audience could get behind. Betsy Palmer is incredible as Mrs. Voorhees, taking on a role that was totally unexpected for her and truly coming off as a complete lunatic, driven mad by the loss of her child. The rest of the cast also did good work in their parts, every character makes an impression of some sort and nothing rings false about their performances.

The cast is great. The group of counselors worked very well together and they all had something to offer. The weakest of them was probably Jack, which is funny since Kevin Bacon only became bigger and bigger after the movie.

Friday the 13th was the brainchild of producer/director Sean S. Cunningham and screenwriter Victor Miller. After making a couple unsuccessful family-friendly movies in the late '70s, Cunningham was looking to return to horror, a genre he had previously had success with when he produced Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left in 1972 and was looking even more promising after John Carpenter's Halloween became a big hit in '78. Together, Cunningham and Miller came up with the concept and the setting, and though the early working title was Long Night at Camp Blood, it eventually occurred to Cunningham that supposedly unlucky date of Friday the 13th would make a good title for a scary movie.

With an ad in Variety that was merely a shot of the title logo smashing through glass and the promise that Friday the 13th would be "The Most Terrifying Film Ever Made!", Cunningham was able to raise a budget of $550,000 from investors and the movie went into production in New Jersey.

Coincidentally, another independent horror movie was being filmed at the same time in the same area, Charles Kaufman's Mother's Day. Mother's Day was filming at a Girl Scout camp while Friday the 13th was filming across the lake at the Boy Scout camp. In fact, when Ned, Jack, and Marcie are first introduced while driving to the camp, they've driving along one of the same roads that the characters in Mother's Day are seen driving on during their trek out into the woods.

Even though Mother's Day is fun, I'll say this again... the location is all that they have in common. The movies are on completely different levels, they can't be compared, for obvious reasons.

Mother's Day went on to have its own cult success, while Friday the 13th got picked up for distribution by one of the biggest studios in Hollywood, Paramount Pictures, and became an even greater success than Cunningham and Miller could have possibly imagined. Friday the 13th became a pop culture phenomenon and the franchise it spawned was one of the dominant forces in the 1980s box office. These films spawned a large, dedicated fan base that remains strong to this day.

Of course, the most popular element of the series is Jason and his exploits in the sequels, but it all started with this humble production.

It was the perfect way to start, too.

Cunningham and cinematographer Barry Abrams perfectly captured the darkness and isolation of their wilderness setting, Manfredini scored it with instantly iconic music, the actors capably brought their characters to life, and Tom Savini's effects brought those lives to shocking ends. Everything came together on Friday the 13th just right to make it one of the greatest slasher movies of all time.

This is one of my favorite movies, period. Of course it has to do with me watching it so many times growing up that I know every single line and repeat it during some of the many occasions I watch it every year, but it's also simply due to its greatness. Writing, directing, acting, score, cinematography, makeup, story and atmosphere are all above what you'd expect from a slasher back then and it all works. It is a great movie and I have nothing bad to say about it. I truly love it.

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  1. This is a marvelous post - it's a lot of fun to read the thoughts of people who love this movie and series as much as I do. Thank you, guys.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to read it. I'm glad you enjoyed it!