Friday the 13th 1980
Directed by: Sean S Cunningham
Starring: Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Betsy Palmer
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s a known saying amongst film fans that the first actor that you see who plays Bond will always be your favourite. There’s most definitely some truth in this, because I watched The Spy who Loved me when I was about six years-old and Roger Moore, despite being nowhere near as cool as Sean Connery, is inexplicably the one that I like the most.
I wondered if a similar method could work on Friday the 13th films. Now first things first, I’m a massive fan of the franchise. I mean massive. I live in London, but flew to the US specifically to attend an advanced screening of Jason X when I had barely turned 20. It cost me an arm and a leg, but it was worth it. It all started because I was desperately searching for some more slasher action after watching Halloween when I was knee-high to a hub-cap. Back then, without the Internet, we had to rely on the stock of our local video stores for selection choices and there I found the extremely Michael Myers-alike back-cover blurb of Friday the 13th Part 2. So that became my first taste of the Voorhees legacy.
Straight after, I began visiting all the mom and pop rental shops within a 100 mile radius until I’d tracked down every single entry to the story. In Spain, Paramount distributed parts 2 to 8, but this film, the opening chapter, was released by Warner Bros. It could be because they didn’t print as many copies on VHS, but bizarrely enough, this was the last of them that I got to see.
Taking a browse around the other websites, I noticed that it is perhaps the most highly rated by my fellow stalk and slash critics in the blogosphere. Justin over at Hysteria Lives gave it a full five-stars, whilst Hud from Vegan Voorhees did the same. In my review of Friday the 13th Part 2, I said that it was my número uno of the series and one of the best slasher movies ever made. I have watched it at least ten times, whereas I’ve only seen this on two occasions and both were many many moons ago. I guess that the point that I’m trying to make is would a mind completely free of bias or any kind of sentimentality really call Sean S Cunningham’s notorious shocker the best of the collection? Is it really THAT good?
A local businessman has decided to reopen a summer camp that has remained in his family for almost fifty years. Previous attempts to restore Camp ‘Crystal Lake’ have always met with ominous incidents that began after the drowning of an unfortunate child. The following year, two youngsters were brutally murdered and when the killer was not apprehended, the cabins were closed and abandoned. Nowadays, townsfolk call it ‘Camp Blood’ and gossip amongst them states that it is cursed and so it has remained uninhabited since that fateful night. Steve Chrysty doesn’t believe in those whispers and has already hired a group of counsellors to help him with preparation for the grand opening. As soon as they’ve began to settle however, they are stalked and ruthlessly butchered by an elusive psychopath…
Whilst the filmmakers have admitted both privately and in interviews that this was little more than a cash-in on the success of Halloween, the key source of inspiration behind the picture was Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood and knowing that allows you to clearly see the nods and winks. Cunningham makes great use of the campsite location and the crisp photography laps up the greens and browns of the forest to give the picture a colourful radiance of a backdrop. After a brief (and surprisingly – keeping in mind that Savini was on board) gore free murder in the pre-credits, we get introduced to the first of our counsellors. What is interesting is that Annie, a bubbly hitchhiker, is given enough screen time that would lead you to believe that she could become our heroine. She’s sweet, fiery and sincere and offers something of a backstory to her persona. The opening scenes with her are intriguing because we don’t get a clear picture of what we can expect to happen. Crazy Ralph’s warnings are that ‘Camp Blood’ is doomed. Does that mean haunted? Are we about to watch a ghost story? Whilst of course we know now that wasn’t the case, the film does begin with a feeling like we could be up against something more supernatural than a twisted killer.
Victor Miller’s screenplay manages to break archetypal slasher movie boundaries even before they were set by killing off that first, well developed, character almost immediately and letting us know that no one is safe from the unseen menace. Whilst the world and their mother are aware by now of who the antagonist of this feature turned out to be, audiences of 1980 had no idea, and the story plays like something of a regular giallo/whodunit. Sean Cunningham didn’t get the breaks that would build careers for Carpenter, Craven and Hooper, but what is clear to me here is that he got the right performances from his inexperienced cast. Whilst none of them are given complex enough dialogue to really steal a scene, infamous moments such as Marcie’s Audrey Hepburn in the mirror, Ned’s practical jokes and Alice’s hysterical heroine were all pitch perfect for this campy horror classic
Once the night scenes come around, the movie really steps up a gear and delivers a genuinely dark and tense atmosphere. The backgrounds are shot in a tone that’s almost grey scale and the constant barrage of rain is a horror cliché that is used to the best possible effect. If Cunningham deserves credit for helping sustain a sense of mystery and suspense, the film really belongs to Tom Savini’s make-up effects and Bill Freda’s razor sharp editing. The pair create some amazing death scenes; with the impalement of a young Kevin Bacon and Jeannine Taylor’s gruesome end being two of the most memorable slasher murders of all time. Harry Manfredini’s musical accompaniment is powerful enough to single handedly change the mood and the poignant tranquility of his last piece, which successfully builds up to the closing jump scare – Jason’s screen début – is creative and unique.
When the killer is revealed and finally shows her face it’s a genuine shock, but also a bit of a cheat. The majority of the runtime sees suspicion point at Steve or maybe one of the campers but then it turns out to be a face that hasn’t yet been introduced to us. It’s hard to believe that this could really be the person that we have seen ramming axes through people’s faces and nailing counsellors to cabin doors, but once the final battle gets going, we just let the filmmakers take over and it turns out to be one of the best showdowns of the cycle. Betsy Palmer was heavily criticised by Roger Ebert and the like and Gene Siskel even went as far as to tell fans to write to her expressing their disappointment that she accepted such a poor choice in role. She was also nominated for that year’s supporting actress Razzie – one of the worst and most insulting things that can happen to any screen performer. Personally, I really enjoyed her natty Mrs Voorhees and think that she did exactly what was asked of her. That hammy as a sandwich schizophrenia is surprisingly effective and I just couldn’t imagine how the film would play without it. Oh and by the way Señor Siskel, Señora Palmer later stated that she received exactly 0 complaints through the mail and only letters praising her inclusion in the picture. So there :p
Friday the 13th is, for me, a four star slasher movie. It’s a suspenseful and exciting killer in the woods flick that has a couple of memorably edited scares, a wonderful final battle and some of the best character-driven situations of the entire genre. The only thing that it lacks is a solid central antagonist; or to be more clear, a Jason Voorhees. Of course though, we have to keep in mind that without this, we would never have had a mass-murderer in a hockey mask and the greatest legacies have to start somewhere. Whilst I am still convinced that part two, the first that I ever saw, is the best in the series, I have only the tiniest of disagreements with those that consider this to be their favourite.
Maybe it is just like what they say about Bond and that I saw the sequel first…?
Final Girl: √√√√
Friday the 13th Part III 1982
Directed by: Steve Miner
Starring: Dana Kimmell, Richard Brooker, Tracie Savage
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s ten pm on Friday the 13th of January 2012, I’m browsing through the channels to see what’s on Sky and gawd damn – they’re showing the entire Friday the 13th series from one to six! Awesome – I’m not working tomorrow, I’ll crack open a bottle and order a pizza. “You look tired baby, might as well go to bed”, I told the Mrs. This is a night that I just had to experience.
So I missed a couple, but now it’s part 3, not my all time favourite, but hey; it’s from Steve Miner, the beers are cold, the pizza’s hot and I have time to burn burn burn…
Friday the 13th part 2 had been a very good, although not great success, but Paramount knew that there was still more cash to be made. They came up with the idea of shooting the next one in 3D as a hook and it paid off with the movie making a box office killing almost immediately. I have a copy on DVD that is in complete three-dimension, which you need glasses to watch, but even on a huge screen, it is no substitute for how this must’ve looked in theatres.
A few hours after the massacre from part 2 and Jason is still on the loose, taking out an amusing and undeserving couple in the first ten minutes. Next up we meet a group of youngsters who are heading to a site not too far away from camp Crystal Lake. After they arrive, we soon notice that someone is watching them and it doesn’t take long for the killings to start…
Aside from money, do you know the one thing that I don’t have enough of now I’ve turned the thirty-year corner? It’s time. On top of my job, having two kids, a demanding Mrs AND this website, I would kill to purchase a few extra hours on eBay if I could. Sometimes, when I’m writing these reviews late at night and I have work the next morning, I notice that I lack a creative spark. Tiredness makes me type without focus and I reuse stuff I’ve already written and when I read it back, it just seems – well, dull as the paint in a doctor’s reception. Now I love Steve Miner and Friday the 13th part 2 is arguably the best slasher movie anywhere ever. But here, like a worker in his fourth hour of overtime, he has lost some of that innovation. It’s almost like he put his all in to the previous chapter and this time around was suffering from a dose of director’s block. He seems to have blatantly copied so much from the last two entries and re-shot it that the movie feels slower and drained of freshness. It came as no surprise when I learned from Martin Jay Saddof that production on this had started even before the second instalment had hit cinemas, so the time needed to refuel the artistic engines of imagination was extremely short and you can see it in the end product.
With that said though, Part 3 is still a good slasher flick, which finds retribution in its huge body count and outstanding final twenty minutes. It also has some cool characters, including the first Latin female in a slasher and the fat practical joker whose demise leads to Jason finding his hockey mask for the first time. The strength of some of the performances are key to what lifts this above mediocrity, including a wonderful turn from Richard Brooker as the marauding Jason. Dana Kimmell is interesting as the virginal heroine and she does well in her battle with the killer, even if she was responsible for changes in the script. Brought up in a very religious family, she felt uncomfortable with some of the violence and pleaded with Frank Mancuso Jnr to allow her character to survive. Three endings were filmed and in the first alternative, Jason decapitates her with a machete, leaving no survivors. In the second, she escapes with Ali, who lives after his duel with Mr Voorhees, but the camera cuts back and the fiend’s body is not there. Now these were definitely shot, but whether Paramount kept the drums of leftover footage is another matter. People who have had access to the vaults have said that most of the leftovers have been destroyed, so a director’s cut with what we most want to see is highly unlikely. In fact, it’s impossible unless there’s a miracle discovery.
This also means that we will never get Andy, Debbie or Edna’s full death scenes, which from what I hear, were absolutely fantastic in their entirety. It’s so frustrating to me that I can never witness the effects that I’ve read about so many times and I believe that for a series with such a large cult following, it’s just unforgivable from Paramount. If it’s not bad enough that we can never view the reputedly brilliant double impalement from Part 2, it’s awful that this one will also never be played as it were intended.
Although the pace is nowhere near as intense throughout the runtime as it was in the previous rounds and much of the fear factor has been replaced with cheese, the last chase sequence between Chris and Jason is immense. Watching it on widescreen is a breathtaking experience and even if Miner may not have built as taut a stream of tension this time around, he still pulls off some fantastic stalk and slash postcard shots like the one of Jason watching Debbie and Andy through a barn window. Gerald Feil and Miner really put effort in to some of the photography and its those small things that cover up some of the lesser parts, such as the heinous sense of continuity. Jason had in the few hours after having a machete stuck in his shoulder, not only managed to remove it, but also he found new clothes, a hairdresser and someone to give him plastic surgery to change his entire appearance from the last film.
This is most certainly not one of the best of the franchise and it was the first dip that was thankfully well recovered by Joseph Zito in ‘The Final Chapter’. It still has its moments, one of them being the first sighting of Jason in a hockey mask and some great gore that we may never get to see.
Steve Miner is underrated as a horror maestro, which is a shame, because for me he is just that. Nevertheless, this is still an important chapter in the franchise and to the entire genre in general. It’s a disappointment that it was so rushed and it’s a slasher film in third gear instead of fifth, but that’s still a darn site quicker than the crap we get more recently and an all round treat for horror fans
Final Girl: √√√
Friday the 13th Part II 1981
Directed by: Steve Miner
Starring: John Furey, Amy Steel, Kirsten Baker, Marta Kober
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The Friday the 13th series has become almost comedic nowadays. Long gone are the times when Jason was scary. The signature Hockey Mask has turned into a ‘loveable’ image and I read a funny comment online the other day where a girl on the IMDB was asking about generally terrifying horror films and she said, “Not little-kid stuff like Friday the 13th”. However that wasn’t always the case and Steve Miner’s pulse raising sequel is easily the best of the F13 series. Dare I say it? It’s almost as good as Halloween (there I said it). Put it this way, if I were to be abducted by aliens and they said, “Hey earthling lead us to the best Friday film” I would offer this version in a heartbeat. This is an ideal example of what a real slasher movie should be: Fast, suspenseful, creepy and ultimately out of your seat-jumpingly scary.
Many people forget – and Kasey was brutally reminded in the opening of Wes Craven’s Scream – that Jason was nothing but an unfortunate pup in the first film that popped out of the river as a kind of joke-scare for the climax. Even the, ahem, ‘lazy’ continuity of this particular franchise could not bring Madame Voorhees back for another stab at a campsite massacre and so the screenwriters turned to her ready and willing son. I have it on good authority that a second installment was always on the cards and it was part of the initial plan when the first chapter was seeking distribution. Sean S. Cunningham passed up on the chance to return, leaving directorship to his buddy Steve Miner who was heavily involved in the development the first time around. They say that inside every producer lies an eager director and he proved to be the perfect choice, as he showed a previously unseen flair for suspense that would make this film the classic that it has become.
Five years after the now notorious Camp Blood killings, life is getting back to normal in the vicinity of Camp Crystal Lake. Paul Holt, an ambitious local, has decided to open a counselor training complex and invites some teenage applicants to begin training in the secluded location. Of course, they are not alone and before long the silhouette of a mysterious prowler is seen stalking the campsite.
Writer Victor Miller has openly admitted that the mission statement behind Friday the 13th was to literally rip-off Halloween and Carrie and make a quick buck. With that in mind, I must admit that it’s more visible that Steve Miner is paying homage to Carpenter’s film here than it was in the previous episode. The lengthy opening borrows heavily from Halloween, especially in the POV shots of Jason stalking the house and there’s a similar mystery of keeping the killer in the shadows for the first part. You could count on ten hands the myriad of references to Carpenter’s signature piece, but one less obvious one is where Jason hides under a bed sheet and sits up (really taut sequence), which clearly mimics a scene in 1978’s slasher template-setter when Myers makes his ‘telephone strangulation’. The fluidity of the direction is so good here though that the film stands on its own as a suspense marathon and therefore feels not so much a rip-off and more of a deep lying respect for Carpenter’s masterpiece.
Whereas later entries to the F13 chain would seem to roll out victims just to show their face and get killed, this screenplay spends time here developing the lesser characters and it’s one of the best things about the feature. There are some unique personalities that help to unravel the first half of the picture and I remember having such a crush on Marta Kober’s Sandra when I was thirteen that I ended up dating a girl called Tracey Coster who looked exactly like her. (I even showed her the similarities; probably not the most thoughtful thing that I have ever done.) Whilst there are no obvious weaknesses in the performances of any of the supporting characters, it’s the two leads that walk away with the biggest adulation. Amy Steel is widely regarded as the greatest final girl of all time and I don’t remember seeing many that put up such a good fight against their assailant. The later chase sequences are effective, because Ginny is markedly intelligent and doesn’t make the usual mistakes of running upstairs when the door is open or walking straight in to the bogeyman’s clutches. I also liked the child psychology angle and the quick-witted way that she momentarily disables (and almost defeats) Jason. John Furey’s Paul may not be given get the same opportunities as his co-star to shine, but without his fearsome support of our fiery heroine, we never could have seen such a pulsating showdown .
Amy Steel may deliver an almost perfect example of a woman in peril fighting back, but it is Steve Miner’s direction that is the REAL star of the show here. Each shot seems more creative than the last and he makes the most of an absolutely terrific score from Harry Manfredini. There are more popcorn-jolts in these 83 minutes than in many of the later continuations and thanks to some brilliant photography, Jason’s revelation (he had only been seen in silhouette up until that point) is well worth the anticipated wait.
Steve Miner’s focused work with Warrington Gillette and Steve Daskawisz created the most creepy and least cartoon-like Jason that later entries lost when they turned him into a marauding zombie. Ron Kurz and Phil Scuderi’s script delivers much more of a motive that is expressed with pathos by Amy Steel’s speech in the bar about his ‘child like’ mentality. He seems nowhere near as indestructible here and shows fear when he becomes the victim of defensive attacks from intended victims (the chainsaw scene for example). Obviously there’s no hockey mask and I personally prefer the potato-sack, backwoods lumber-jack get-up. This may have been lifted from The Town that Dreaded Sundown and Charles Pierce could have sued if it wasn’t for the fact that the disguise was taken from witness descriptions of the fiend from the real-life ‘Texarkana Moonlight Murders’. It worked for me, because it was obvious that a more ‘alive’ Jason could be embarrassed by his disfigured features, which added sympathy to his character and brought to mind John Hurt’s wonderful portrayal from The Elephant Man, who also wore a similar headpiece.
The only problems come not from a fault of the production team but from the bullshit work of the MPAA. There’s hardly any blood on display and you can tell (despite some decent re-editing) that the kill scenes should be longer. The most recent copy has a 15 rating in the UK, I mean how bad is that? Nowadays, it’s alright to watch Quentin Tarantino characters use a sword to dismember countless victims, or the numerous grisly murders from the SAW series, but a few outdated effects cannot be restored to Friday the 13th? I mean, really? Is Paramount really going to lose credibility for re-submitting this uncut? Come on! It looks however, like most of the footage has been destroyed and we will never get to see the movie how it was intended, which is a major disappointment. We can only live in hope, I guess… If I seriously dislike any major studio, then it is Paramount for their scalping of the F13 series, My Bloody Valentine and even Scott Spiegel’s Intruder. The twin murder of Jeff and Sandra was shown to special effects guru Greg Nicotero from KNB on video tape (maybe the only copy anywhere) and he commented that it was ‘shocking’ and that ‘the look on Sandra’s face as blood spurted from her partner’s back was horrible.’ He meant that as a compliment of course to his friend Carl Fullerton, but damn what I would give to see it
As you can tell, I love Friday the 13th Part 2. It’s a fantastic slasher movie and a fine example of everything that’s great about the genre. The only sequels I have time for are this, Zito’s ‘the final chapter’ and the incredibly cheesy part six. I would love to have not already seen this addition and could still have the opportunity to enjoy it for the first time. If you truly love your chills, grab a beer (or preferably a few Kopparbergs) some snacks, turn the lights down low, make sure you watch it with an easily scared partner and enjoy… Just enjoy!
Final Girl √√√√√