Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Friday the 13th (1980)

The world of Horror Cinema has many subgenres contained in it. You have creature features, zombie, supernatural, sci-fi horror, vampire, werewolf, etcetera, that fall within the boundaries of horror.  But the one subgroup of horror that I think of when discussing horror films is slashers. Yes…slashers. Films that usually include a group of victims being picked off, one-by-one, at the hands of some mysterious—usually masked—psychopath, with the help of some sharp cutting tool (like a cleaver, kitchen knife, ax, chainsaw, etc.) is the definition of this subcategory. What films do most people think of when they hear that word? Well, for me—and I think for most—it’s the Friday the 13th films. 

The birth of Jason Voorhees, an iconic, yet fictitious, serial killer that has been a household name since the 1980s was started within these films. Although the character is mentioned and seen in flashbacks within this first film, he wasn’t center stage until part two and on.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, horror films were the way for an actor to get into the business, having to perform in these types of movies as discomfiture and a stepladder to get into more contemporary films. Usually, the casts of these slashers in the 1980s were virtually unknown and never seen again. Some of them, however, feature an actor or actress who becomes a star later in life, like Jamie Lee Curtis (from Halloween) or Johnny Depp (from A Nightmare on Elm Street) or Jennifer Aniston (from Leprechaun) and many others. In 1980’s Friday the 13th, the one player in that film who is most recognizable is none other than Kevin Bacon as one of the camp counselors in training, Jack. I know Curtis and Depp acknowledge and don’t mind talking about their start in horror (I don’t know about Aniston), but it seems that Kevin Bacon never mentions his role in this iconic film. Well, he wasn’t the hero, but merely (spoiler alert) just a hapless victim.

Friday the 13th went underway, knowingly, as an outspoken rip-off of John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece, Halloween. In interviews with Sean Cunningham (producer, director and co-writer of this film), he mentions that with no shame whatsoever. I mean, why should he be embarrassed when the franchise he started has made him so much money and has given movie patrons years of entertainment? In my opinion, and with the exception of the first Halloween film, the Friday the 13th collection of films are better and have more solid storylines. But that’s not saying much, seeing that
most plots of the sequels are pretty thin as it is. However, comparing the two baddies, Michael and Jason, the latter villain has the more understood reasoning. Jason has a hatred for anyone going into his turf, especially if it is teenagers looking to have fun with sex, drugs and drinking. That’s what led to his supposed drowning and subsequent death of his mother, so he has a solid motivation to kill anything that has to do with the tragedies in his life. What motivation does Michael have? Well…none in the first film. But as the story continues in the following sequels, it seems that he just wants to kill off his family members…no explanation needed. That’s kind of thin, in my opinion.

Anyway, enough about that, let’s break down the plot for Friday the 13th, shall we?

The film opens in 1958 with a group of camp counselors sitting together in a cabin, singing camp songs. The guy playing guitar smiles at one of the girls and the next scene shows them meeting in a dark storage building to have sex. From an unknown person’s point-of-view, the guy and girl are interrupted by the appearance and try to apologize. The guy is quickly dispatched and then the point-of-view is turned to the girl who is now being pursued by this mysterious person in the tight quarters of the room. The scene ends with the freeze frame of the girl screaming, obviously killed by this unknown assailant. The opens credits begin and then the movie starts in the present day. Camp Crystal Lake, where we find out shortly that’s where the prologue took place, is being reopened Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) with the help of a new group of camp counselors, arriving one by one. As the slasher formula has been set in Halloween, all the victims are killed in various ways until one is left.

It’s hard to believe anyone who’s a horror movie fan hasn’t seen this film, but if you haven’t (please turn in your Horror Movie Membership Card!) I don’t want to give too much away about the plot or how it turns out. But I love this film and watch this one as a start to a Friday the 13th movie marathon, usually in the beginning of the summer season. It’s not my favorite of the franchise, but you have to watch this one to get into the sequels…especially if you enjoy part two as much as I do.

First off, the music is legendary and is the quintessential music for a horror film. When I hear that theme music, it automatically fills me with a fun sense of dread (if that makes any sense). When Harry Manfredini composed the music for this film, he either knew what he was doing or happened to be lucky enough to make the best horror movie music ever. But I think he did know what he was doing, because it wasn’t only the music that was iconic, but what he created for the killer’s signature sound effect. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, a lot of people know this sound. You Know? The sound that everybody thinks is "chi-chi-chi, ha-ha-ha"? Well, it’s actually "ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma," as in "kill, mommy." Yes, Manfredini had the perfect idea to record the words in a whisper and add an echo effect to it. The end result? A very frightening sound that brings a sense of foreboding, knowing that something scary may—or may not—happen when we watch the movie. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, just with that music and sound effect alone.

Now, the acting in this film is a little subpar here and there, but that’s what gave horror movies its character in the 80s. But there were stand-outs throughout. Kevin Bacon, of course, was pretty believable; Mark Nelson, as the hilarious Ned (his screaming and running around with an Indian chief headdress still cracks me up) was good; and, of course, Betsy Palmer was marvelous. In my view, everybody gets a pass because this was a low budget horror film that was put together with the best intentions.

Being that this is now a 33-year-old film, when it comes to the fashion and styles the cast have, you definitely have to give them a pass. The one character that makes me laugh every time (and not intentionally) is Peter Brouwer as Steve Christy. When we’re introduced to him, he looks like a porn star. With his shirt off, a bandana tied around his neck, and his cut-off jean shorts (why are those shorts…so short?), I kind of get creeped out when he has his scene alone with Adrienne King toward the beginning of the film. If you can get past the ways of the day, you can easily enjoy this film. Hell, you can laugh about it all you want, but this film will make you think twice about camping out in the woods any time soon.

Another magic part of this film is the make-up effects, making it believable we’re seeing people get killed. This is where the contrasts differ when talking about comparing Friday the 13th to Halloween. See, Halloween is more about suspense and less about the killing, where Friday the 13th is more about the deaths and less about the ominous. In order to accomplish that, to show these victims die in very horrible ways, an awesome special effects and make-up artist was needed. Enter Tom Savini. Famous, at this point, for working on such films as Dawn of the Dead and Maniac, Savini was exactly what Friday the 13th needed. In this film, Savini created some excellent and memorable kill effects. Arrow in the eye socket, ax in the face, throat slitting, and a beheading…Savini really made this film what it was. Of course, the one kill that stands out (and unfortunately is exposed as looking fake when watching the Blu-Ray) is Kevin Bacon’s scene where his character gets the knife pushed through his throat from underneath the bed he’s lying in. Being 11 or 12 when I first saw this, it was years before I could get into bed without checking underneath first. Tom Savini is a genius.

My final "bit" on 1980’s Friday the 13th?

The film is a very nostalgic piece and is a must to understand how this whole monster started. In fact, most times when I intend to get into a marathon of these films, I only watch parts one through four; they’re the best of the franchise. But it all needs to start somewhere and that’s right here with the original. It’s filmed well, has some good scares, fabulous practical make-up effects, and is monumental in the solidifying of this movie franchise as one of the best slashers around. If you haven’t seen it and you’re a horror movie fan…shame on you!

Post "Bit":

Be warned, the snake death was not one of Tom Savini’s effects…it was a real snake that they killed for this movie. Growing up and watching this film countless times, I'd always thought it was a damned real-looking effect, thinking it was amazing how they were able to get this fake snake to keep moving around after getting its head and body chopped up by a machete. So, if you’re a little squeamish, you may want to turn away when this scene takes place.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.


No comments: