REVIEW: Friday the 13th (1980)

Time to review a proper horror classic. The 1980 film Friday the 13th revolutionized the slasher sub-genre and started one of the most recognizable horror franchises in history.

 

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Meet the gang.

The Rundown 

There may be very little purpose in writing a review for the 1980 film Friday the 13th, mainly because it is one of the most talked about horror films in history and has already spawned a barrage of movie reviews elsewhere – many, undoubtedly, more articulate than anything this author could muster up.

However, classics tend to be forgotten or worse – overshadowed by their more recent remakes. Part of the reason why I felt compelled to cover FT13th is to remind horror fanatics of this piece of history and to educate the much younger horror fans of its greatness.

I do admit, the first installment of the franchise is lacklustre compared to its more successful sequels. Also, the success of this film is mainly due to how different its era was. It may not appeal as much to younger horror movie fans, but if you’re serious about understanding the horror genre then this is a must-watch for you.

The Synopsis

The story is about a group of camp counsellors converging at a newly-reopened summer camp that had closed down due to an accident a few years earlier.

Under new management aiming to revive the camp’s fortunes, young adult counsellors find work at the camp – arriving early to undergo training and some decadence. They become aware of the history of the camp, especially after being reminded by the local town crazy named Ralph.

Ralph is one reason why you should think twice before dismissing the local looney as merely that – as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day. The film’s novelty character correctly warns the counsellors of an impending danger to them if they choose to stay at the camp grounds.

We see more foreshadowing in the film. There was a scene where the camp counsellors get together to kill off a snake that had found its way inside one of the cabins, just hiding in the shadows under one of the bunk beds. This scene seemed insignificant at the start, but was a very apt analogy of the events to come.

Things take a turn for the weird when one of the counsellors, Annie, who was hired to work the kitchen failed to show up. Dismissing it merely as an employee who had reneged on their agreement, management does not bother looking for her.

friday-the-13th-axe-to-the-face
Not the hot one!

Little do they know that Annie was bound for the camp, rather enthusiastically, I might add. However, she decided to hitchhike and found herself a very unreliable ride.

 

As with any slasher film, our protagonists find themselves getting picked off one by one by an unseen assailant. They had become disjointed due to a massive storm wreaking havoc on the camp grounds.

The camp leader, Steve, leaves at the height of the storm to go to the city center. As he was enjoying his warm supper at a diner, his recruits are being bludgeoned off back at the camp grounds. He makes the grim discovery when he makes his way back to the camp grounds, unfortunately just shortly after being picked off by the killer himself.

Our last person standing is Alice, the character falling under the “responsible, reserved girl” horror-movie archetype. She survives the carnage in the middle of the night and when she hears of a car engine just outside the camp grounds she follows it thinking it was Steve returning from his visit to the city.

The vehicle had actually belonged to the film’s protagonist. But enough of that for now.

The Good

Friday the 13th was one of the pioneers of the “young-adult slasher” flicks popular in the 20th century, the other being the equally-successful “Halloween” (1978).

Arguably, being two years younger than the latter one could say that Friday the 13th was an attempt to imitate the film and emulate its success, but the dynamism of this film attributed to the writing talent of Victor Miller ensures that it does not wade in the shadows of John Carpenter’s classic.

Friday the 13th stands out as a horror classic distinct to both Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre because of how much humanity was bestowed on the character of the antagonist. The antagonist of this film had a more touching backstory. Obviously that doesn’t excuse the merciless execution and murder of the characters, but at least we are able to empathize.

Note, I don’t explicitly name who ever the killer is — that is part of the film’s success. We all are familiar with Jason Voorhees being the killer of this franchise, indeed he was for most of it – but as the Scream series may have taught you, not in the first installment.

Though, that isn’t to say Jason didn’t make an appearance in this film. *hint*

The Bad

As noted prior, Friday the 13th comes off as an average film at most, even mediocre for today’s standards. Its success is driven mainly due to how revolutionary slasher-horror was during its era, the success of Halloween also helped its fortunes.

Why FT13th is remembered as a classic is because it spawned a franchise and the sequels are indeed amazing. So if you find yourself disliking this movie, be encouraged by the fact that it only gets better.

My biggest complain with FT13th is perhaps the underwhelming climax, the death of our killer. The method the killer was taken out with was good, just the reaction of the actor was downright terrible – in fact, it made me chuckle at how unrealistic it was.

Another issue I had was how predictable the scenes were. There was this time where one of the counsellors had wandered off camp grounds and discovers the residency of our antagonist. It would make sense if it was hidden in the thickness of the woods, but it wasn’t.

Instead, it was just a few metres away from the archery range. Wouldn’t the camp owner have canvassed the surrounding areas, for safety regulations? You’re going to run a campsite for kids, aren’t you going to ensure no pedophile, or perhaps a psychopathic killer, lives within the vicinity?

Sounds strangely implausible to me.

The Verdict

There may be no point to add anything else here, given that I’ve touched on what I needed to say regarding this film.

What I will mention is that the ending of this film, a fine plot twist that left even myself surprised, was instrumental in spawning the franchise. The appearance of this character is what made the sequel so popular, why so many flocked the cinemas at the sequel’s opening week.

What I’m trying to say is that the success of the FT13th franchise is more about the franchise as opposed to this first installment, but take note – you can’t grasp the overarching story unless you watch this film first.

Friday the 13th (1980) gets a respectable C+.

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