Over the weekend, I came across the original film in the Friday the 13th movie series, and I’ve got to say, it still holds up quite well. The first film in the series isn’t the bloody gore fest that its sequels became. It’s simpler in its scare tactics and depiction of murder largely due to the budgetary limitations of the time, but that’s not detrimental to the film which makes up for it with creepy, atmospheric tension rather than gore. With that said, it is campier (and not just because it takes place at a summer camp) than its superior and far more chilling predecessor Halloween, but it works.
The first part of the film is a tad dialogue heavy as it focuses on a group of six camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, a defunct summer camp believed to be cursed due its history of unsavory events. The property’s new owner, Steve Christy, is determined to reopen the camp. As day turns to night, Alice, Marcie, Brenda, Jack, Bill and Ned do what teenagers do; some sneak off and have sex (a staple of the horror movie template), while others play “strip monopoly” or go off for a solitary stroll in the woods. There’s a killer on the loose eliminating the counselors one-by-one. Sex is relevant here, as it tends to be in the horror movie formula, as it serves as the sin the killer punishes the “naughty” teenagers for.
The film even borrows from Psycho ever so slightly. It suggests there’s one killer, but reveals an entirely different killer in the end. There’s no hockey mask in the original film. The hockey mask-wearing, machete-wielding monster doesn’t appear until the sequel. Jason Voorhees is certainly relevant to the story. His alleged death by drowning as a young boy at Camp Crystal Lake in 1957 is the killer’s motive for the carnage that she inflicts. That’s right, she. Jason isn’t the murderer. The unmasking of the real psycho is nothing like Psycho’s bone-chilling and shocking revelation that Norman Bates, dressed as his mother, is the killer and not his mother who is discovered mummified and dead.
In Friday the 13th, the mother is the killer. This revelation is a bit anticlimactic and laughable, but it’s entertaining in a “so-bad-it’s-good” kind of way. Betsy Palmer is effectively creepy as the vengeful, disturbed and psychotic Mrs. Voorhees who blames the camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake for the drowning of her son. “The counselors weren’t paying any attention. They were making love while that young boy drowned. His name was Jason,” Mrs. Voorhees explains before the “big reveal.” Thus comes into play the sex as sin and slaughter as punishment game that has become a staple of the horror movie genre.
Friday the 13thshows its age and its amateurish qualities upon re-review, but it’s still an entertaining film. Harry Manfredini’s score is fantastically creepy and deserves the credit for preserving the suspense and tension that can still be felt from the original.