The slasher movie that came along after Black Christmas and Halloween and somehow launched a franchise that would overshadow both of those titles, Friday The 13th is a fun thrillride, plain and simple.
Sean S. Cunningham is in the director’s chair, and Victor Miller (with uncredited work by Ron Kurz) handles the writing duties, and the stall is set out from the very first scenes.
It’s 1958 at Camp Crystal Lake and a couple of counsellors slip off to fool around in a barn. The audience approaches the couple from the killer’s POV and, after some screaming, we then get to the credits and a movie title that almost literally smashes its way out of the screen.
Present day. Camp Crystal Lake is being reopened and the staff are there for a couple of weeks before the kids arrive. They have a lot of oddjobs to do to make sure everything is shipshape. Of course, they still have time for swimming, cavorting, strip monopoly and many other activities that make the mysterious killer see red once more. Will anyone survive the night?
While it certainly is a bodycount movie (the kills are pretty evenly spread throughout before a finale that sees the corpses popping out as the killer is revealed), Friday The 13th is also a decent whodunnit with plenty of red herrings throughout. Of course, you haven’t got a clue who the killer is but everyone shows that they’re handy with sharp implements, crazy Ralph appears to scare folks and tell them that they’re doomed and that memorable score from Harry Manfredini could accompany a moving tree branch to make it look dangerous.
The cast are all quite good but this is really the start of the “disposable teens” era in the slasher movie subgenre. Okay, they may not be teens but these young people play second fiddle to the killer and the inventive death scenes throughout. Kevin Bacon has an early role here, and makes quite an impression at one point, while the only others worth noting are Betsy Palmer and Adrienne King. That’s not to say that the others are terrible. Robbi Morgan, Laurie Bartram, Jeannine Taylor, Harry Crosby, Mark Nelson, Peter Brouwer and everyone else onscreen do okay. But the kills are easier to remember than any names, with many thanks to the great Tom Savini and his sterling work.
Over 30 years later, Friday The 13th has spawned nine direct sequels, one crossover movie involving Freddy Krueger and one remake/reboot. That’s not to mention the numerous offshoots in other areas and the number of movies that came along afterwards and tried to copy it’s success (just as Friday The 13th lifted ideas from classics that came before it). The franchise is a juggernaut but the first movie remains one of the best and is rightly beloved by fans.
DIRECTOR: SEAN S. CUNNINGHAM
STARS: ADRIENNE KING, BETSY PALMER, KEVIN BACON, ROBBI MORGAN, HARRY CROSBY, LAURIE BARTRAM, JEANNINE TAYLOR
RUNTIME: 95 MINS APPROX