Friday the 13th (1980)

15 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Friday the 13th” started a ridiculously popular series of deplorable slasher films, neither of which I can recommend. Did this film deserve a sequel to lead to more sequels? Well, no. In fact, I really don’t understand why the film was so popular with the horror-movie crowd. It’s poorly made, slow moving, and, to be honest, not very memorable, save for a few creepy moments.

It is, however, another example of a slasher film in which teenagers, mostly women, are alive at the beginning, and then dead by the end. Ever since the iconic “Halloween,” there have been so many of these going around. Heck, the filmmakers actually make a note that their intention for “Friday the 13th” was to “rip off ‘Halloween’”—class act. All that was missing was the tension, excitement, and suspense—instead, we just have pretty, poorly-developed young people as characters waiting to be hacked off one by one.

The story pretty much sets them up for it. It’s about a closed-down summer camp that is finally about to be reopened years after supposed deaths. There is rumors spread by the nearest town’s loony that it has a “death curse,” and the locals refer to it as “Camp Blood.” But the new owner Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) decides to get finally get things up and running again. The movie takes place in a day and night at the camp in which six counselors get everything prepared for campers. But someone is watching them from afar…

Many people know the killer Jason from the “Friday the 13th” series—the husky, silent killer in the hockey goalie mask that never stops killing and never dies permanently (he always comes back). But wait a minute—Jason isn’t the killer in this movie. In fact, he doesn’t even appear until the very end of the movie, and that’s just Jason as a little boy, in a dream. And I have to point that that dream sequence in which little Jason suddenly pops out of the river, grabs the Final Girl, and pulls her under (then she wakes up) is a shocker, although I think the better credit for that should go to the music accompanying it.

Speaking of which, Harry Manfredini’s music score for “Friday the 13th” is simple but effective, and it really ups the creepiness when the killer is around and something is about to happen. I don’t normally like it when the music sets up something big to happen, but the music here is something that gives “Friday the 13th” some merit.

And there are times when “Friday the 13th” is atmospheric, using the outdoors as the wide-open space that it is, where there are many places to run, but not always to hide.

The characters are paper-thin, and there are only three that are memorable for unfair reasons. One is Jack, played by Kevin Bacon—the reason he’s memorable is because…he’s played by Kevin Bacon, who went on to bigger and better things long since this movie. Another is Ned, played by Mark Nelson—he’s memorable because…he’s annoying as hell. And then there’s Alice (Adrienne King). She has no personality, but we’re supposed to follow her because she’s the film’s obligatory Final Girl who fights off the killer in the final act. Only one character seemed kind of interesting—an independent young woman named Annie (Robbi Morgan), the camp’s hired cook, who is hitchhiking to get to the camp…and gets murdered for it. I liked her; she had an appealing presence and before they could develop her character, they killed her off after a few scenes.

Another problem with “Friday the 13th” is its terribly slow pacing. The scene just goes on and on with many characters, individually, until the killer finally kills them off. We’re just stuck waiting and waiting for the person to die, without any sense of nail-biting tension. This is the movie that people are afraid of? I can’t imagine an audience being on the edge of their seats during this movie.

The final twenty minutes of the film is where the action picks up, as Alice is forced to fight against the killer after learning the killer’s identity. I won’t mind giving away the “big secret” because a lot of other people have. The killer isn’t Jason—it’s his mother Megan Voorhees. She’s played by Betsy Palmer, in a Razzie-worthy performance; her role and her motive is laughably absurd and her wide-eyed imitation of her son saying, “Kill her Mommy! Kill her!” is just embarrassing.

“Friday the 13th” is unremarkable. It’s a deplorable, weak rip-off of “Halloween” (and no, that’s not a compliment to the filmmakers). It was just another one of those unnecessary movies that led to unnecessary sequels and you can’t believe it got this popular status.

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