As well as watching all of the James Bond films in the run-up to next year’s Bond 25 , I’m also in the middle of watching the Friday The 13th films in order. I’ve seen them all before, multiple times, but it’s good to rewatch them as I’ve been listening to the great In Voorhees We Trust podcast, hosted by the very funny Matt Gourley and Paul Rust.
Friday The 13th has always been my favourite horror franchise. There’s just something more lovable about the series than the lame comedy-horror of the Nightmare On Elm Street sequels, or the dull-as-dishwater Halloween films after the brilliant third installment.
Jason Voorhees is just a lovable guy. He might be disfigured, wander around in the dark, and kill campers with a machete, but what a guy! He doesn’t limit the terror with wisecracks like Freddy Kreuger, and he’s far more animated than the passive Michael Myers. Although I don’t like the superpower qualities he adopts in the later sequels, it’s great to see Jason’s character develop through the first four films.
Of course, as every trivia expert knows, Jason isn’t the killer in the original Friday The 13th film. It’s his Mom. The matriarch of the Voorhees family, Pamela wears fisherman’s sweaters and looks a little like a menopausal Steven Tyler. The film opens on Camp Crystal Lake in the late 1950s, with Momma Voorhees as an unseen killer, in POV. She kills a pair of camp counselors who allowed her son Jason to drown while they had sex.
Enter plucky young hitchhiker Annie, on her way to Camp Crystal Lake. A intertitle informs us it is now the present day, AKA 1980. The camp is being re-opened for the summer, but Annie doesn’t get there. First, she meets Crazy Ralph, who warns her against going to the camp (“It’s got a death curse!”), and then she gets a lift from the POV killer who dispatches her in the woods.
Cut to camp, and we find the enterprising Steve Christy, who’s rushing to refurbish the camp before its first guests of the season arrive. He’s employed a team of young counsellors, including Bing Crosby’s son Harry, and Kevin Bacon, to fix up the place. Interspersed with these establishing scenes are shots of the killer, hiding behind trees, watching the counsellors in POV. It’s far less scary when you know it’s an old lady watching them. At this point, it’s important to note that Kevin Bacon cannot dive very well. Before he meets Mrs. Voohees, he almost kills himself with a belly-flop.
The killings start almost immediately without a chance for any character progression. Day turns into night and the counsellors get picked off one by one during a rainstorm. The murder scenes are great, aided by special-effects maestro Tom Savini, and do for campsites what Jaws did for beach-swimming five years earlier.
Harry Manfredini’s score has just enough innovation in it to sidestep any accusations that it takes a little too liberally from John Williams’ Jaws and Bernard Herrmann’s shower scene in Psycho. The repeated ‘Ki-ki-ki, Ma-ma-ma’ sound-effects, representing Jason’s pleas of ‘Kill her, Mommy’, are just brilliant and effortlessly lift the film’s sound-design above its contemporaries.
It’s a simple film; over as soon as it’s set up. And of course, the location is superb. I’m not sure if sequels were considered before its runaway success – it made $40 million in the U.S. alone, from a $500,000 budget – but the location easily allows for subsequent films, as new, unknowing victims turn up at the camp each summer.
In the episode of the In Voorhees We Trust podcast which covers this film, Matt Gourley and Paul Rust debate whether or not the title card, at the top of the film, flies into view and breaks the camera lens or the viewer’s screen – or whether it’s supposed to be a mirror breaking, as per the film title’s link to superstition. Rewatching it, I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be the lens of the camera, although it’s a missed opportunity for the film not to reference the theme of superstition a little more:
Final Girl: Oh, Mrs. Voorhees, what a pretty black cat you’re holding.
Pamela Voorhees: Oh yes, dear, I’ve just come from my Amateur Dramatics class where we’re rehearsing the Scottish Play…or should I say…Macbeth!
Final Girl ducks out of the way, under an open ladder, as Stevie Wonder’s Superstition plays over the soundtrack.
And speaking of Mrs. Voorhees, I fully agree with Gourley and Rust that she would have been soliloquising with each character, refining her back-story down to a tight-five, before murdering them.
Pamela’s head rolls, as do the credits, and the only thing missing is a post-credit sequence with Crazy Ralph grinning at the camera, joyfully exclaiming “Called it!”
Hit: Overlay Of Evil / Main Title
Hidden Gem: Banjo Travelin’
Body Count: 10