Friday the 13th
Updated: Aug 3, 2019
That One Time, at Camp Crystal Lake...
reviewed by Liz
Genre: Summer Slasher, Horror
Why We Watched: The recent slow-horror sensation Midsommar reminded me that summer is an underappreciated season of horror. (And also that cults are creepy and Ari Aster is a genius.) While we may think of October as the harbinger of frightening flicks, let's not forget that camp/camping/cabins in the woods rank high on the list of scary-movie settings! Enter Friday the 13th, the OG summer scare.
You Might Also Like: In 1996, Wes Craven revived the slasher genre with his spoof Scream (on Netflix), and a slew of "neoslashers" followed. I Know What You Did Last Summer (for rent on iTunes, Amazon, etc.) comes in a close second in terms of best summer slashers. Starring our favorite 1990s heartthrobs Jennifer Love Hewitt, Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillipe, and Freddie Prinze Jr., the film is a throwback to more innocent times. Times when a group of teens might just casually run a fisherman off the road while drunk driving after a night of having premarital sex... Of course, they spend the rest of the movie paying for their moral transgressions with death, dismemberment, etc.
I love slasher movies. There's just something about a monstrous serial killer murdering teenagers that I find really entertaining. Maybe it's how B-list they are, with bad acting and low-budget special effects making them a little less scary. Or maybe it's the fact that they manage to take risky moves (both technically and plot-wise) despite a flimsy framework. Or it could be that I'm a psychopath? Who knows! Regardless of the reasoning, this genre is my jam and, I would argue, we have Friday the 13th to thank for that.
Originally titled "A Long Night at Camp Scare"—a terrible but accurate name—Friday the 13th follows a group of counselors as they get ready for campers to arrive at the newly re-opened Camp Crystal Lake. But Camp Crystal Lake is no ordinary retreat for upper-middle-class youth to spend their summers. While every camp has its share of ghost stories, most aren't known by locals as "Camp Blood." Note to self: If when heading really anywhere someone yells at you, "You'll never come back again! It's got a death curse!" maybe you should just go home?
In the summer of 1979, director Sean S. Cunningham took out an ad in Variety proclaiming Friday the 13th to be "The Most Terrifying Film Ever Made," even though not a single scene had yet to be filmed. But the ad helped drum up enough buzz to generate financing from Georgetown Productions, an independent film studio hoping to see the same success that Halloween had the previous year. In 1978, Halloween became the highest-earning independent film ever to be made, grossing $47 million at the US box office from a budget of just $300,000. Cunningham made Friday the 13th with the help of screenwriter Steve Miner, Paramount Pictures picked it up for distribution, and the movie went on to gross $40 million at the box office from a budget of $550,000. After that, everyone wanted a piece of the murder-pie. Sequels and spinoffs were made to ad nauseam for the next decade, and thus, dear readers, the slasher film cycle was born!
In addition to proving the financial viability of slashers, Friday the 13th stabilized the cycle's formula by repeating a lot of the tropes introduced by Halloween. For example, we're given a Final Girl—the plucky female survivor lucky and brave enough to only witness the death of her friends rather than die alongside them. (If you've watched the 2018 Halloween [on HBO GO], you know that this is perhaps a fate worse than death.) It also hammered home the logic of survival in slashers. As horror-buff Randy explains in Craven's Scream, "There are certain rules you must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance. Number One: You can never have sex." In general, moral transgressions equals death in slashers. Smoke weed? Have sex? Sneak out after curfew? Sorry, but you probably won't make it to the sequel 🤷.
But Friday the 13th wasn't just repeating everything that Halloween had done the year prior. One of its main innovations was the unattributed point-of-view shot, a camera angle that records a scene from an unknown character's line of sight. (See the above image of Final Girl Alice for an example.) In the case of slashers, the unattributed POV is almost always that of the killer and so we call it the "Killer POV." Killer POV shots were all but nonexistent in 1980. Black Christmas, a 1974 Canadian slasher, is attributed with the birth of the angle, but Cunningham took Killer POV to the extreme in Friday the 13th. He uses it throughout to build mystery around who the murderer is and to make us feel like we're the ones stalking our prey. Honestly, it's very disconcerting, and I've seen this movie several times.
Friday the 13th holds a special place in my heart. Whenever my loving husband wants to scare me, he sneaks up behind me and makes the film's signature "ch ch ch, ah ah ah" creep chord. After a recent viewing, though, he looked totally baffled. "I thought Jason was the killer in this one?” Thanks to the Killer POV, we don't know who the murderer is until the final sequence, and even then, we're left reeling. But what about... Where's the hockey mask? Where is Jason? What's happens next?? Thankfully, there are twelve more films in the franchise to answer (kind of) all of your questions. And, more to come if superfan LeBron James has anything to say about it!
Friday the 13th offers up scares, nostalgia, and authentic 1980s-ness by the canoe-loads. The low-budget special effects! The very fake blood! The haircuts! The creep chord! Did I mention Kevin Bacon? Prepare for the summer rewind you didn't know you wanted.