Movie Discussion: Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980)

  • Monthly Theme: Slashers
  • friday_the_thirteenth_xlgThe Film: Friday the 13th
  • Country of origin: U.S.A
  • Date of U.S. release: May 9, 1980
  • Studio: Paramount Pictures, et al.
  • Distributer: Paramount Pictures
  • Domestic Gross: $5.8 million
  • Budget: $550,000 (estimated)
  • Director: Sean S. Cunningham
  • Producers: Steve Miner, et al.
  • Screenwriter: Victor Miller
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematographer: Barry Abrams
  • Make-Up/FX: Tom Savini, et al.
  • Music: Harry Manfredini
  • Part of a series? Yes, this is the first film in the storied Friday the 13thslasher franchise, followed by 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2, 1982’s Friday the 13th Part III, 1984’s The Final Chapter, 1985’s A New Beginning, 1986’s Jason Lives, 1989’s The New Blood, 1989’s Jason Takes Manhattan, 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, 2001’s Jason X and one cross-over film, 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason.
  • Remakes? Yes, Marcus Nispel’s Friday the 13th (2009) that incorporates elements from the first few films in the franchise.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? No.
  • Other notables?: Yes. Future Hollywood star Kevin Bacon.
  • Awards?: n/a
  • Tagline: “They were warned… They are doomed… And on Friday the 13th, nothing will save them.”
  • The Lowdown: The enormous financial success of John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978 inspired Paramount Pictures to want to emulate its model: a slasher like Halloween could be made on the cheap with no-name actors and reap huge profits, even if only moderately successful at the box office. Friday the 13th, made really only as a cash-grab using this new formulaalso went on to great financial success. Made for around $550,000, the film grossed more than $39 million, despite an extremely negative critical consensus. This was also the film that kicked off the iconic “summer camp” setting that has become a slasher standard in such subsequent films as The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, Madman and Cheerleader Camp, as well as most of the Friday the 13th sequels. As of 2012, the series includes nine direct sequels, one crossover film with A Nightmare on Elm Street and a 2009 reboot that combined elements of the original Friday and its first few sequels. The biggest legacy of this franchise is its key antagonist, Jason Voorhees, a deformed boy thought to have drowned in New Jersey’s Crystal Lake in the late 1950s but who returns as a feral adult killer after the events of the first film. Jason’s iconic hockey mask and machete are, for many fans and detractors, the most potent and recognizable symbols of the slasher genre. But the original Friday the 13th is a bit of an odd film: it has bizarre soliloquies about violent, prophetic dreams, a lingering fetishization of classic Americana, and a killer who is revealed to be a deranged middle-aged woman.

If you haven’t seen Friday the 13th our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: Ok, so I am putting on my Prof. Slasher cap. Can I say some opening things?

Kristine: You may.

Sean: Okay, I just want to point out that this movie is weird and sort of an atypical slasher. It really takes the Halloween formula – deranged killer loose amongst a bunch of sexy teens – and combines it with two other traditions: 1) The Italian giallo film and 2) Agatha Christie thrillers.

Kristine: Is it weird because you don’t see any conflict between the killer and the victims until the end?

Sean: No, that’s standard slasher stuff. The unseen killer who picks the characters off one by one until s/he is finally revealed in the final act. The killer’s motivation is usually its always revenge, though, like in this movie.

Kristine: What does Friday the 13th incorporate from giallo films? Is it how the killer stages all of the bodies for the Final Girl to find?

Sean: No the giallo elements are more the way the kills occur (slashers really borrow the stylistics of violence from Bava and Argento movies, to a shocking degree) and also the identity of the killer. In lots of giallo films the killer is revealed to be a deranged woman, sometimes an older, matronly woman and other times a young sexy sicko.

Kristine: But the staging of the bodies for other soon-to-be-victims to find is a thing, right?

Sean: Yes, that’s a thing but I’m not sure what movie did that first. Halloween, I guess? That’s an American slasher thing, because giallo movies usually involve the police finding each body and it being made public. There’s more of a detective element. American slashers are much more compressed than the average giallo, though Twitch of the Death Nerve, the movie that is the godparent to all American slashers, has a similar remote, disconnected setting to Friday the 13th. But the Agatha Christie connection is: a set of predetermined characters, sharing the same setting, that are picked off one by one. That body countdown, that is all And Then There Were None/Ten Little Indians business. At the start of most American slashers you get a set of characters introduced, and the narrative of the movie is seeing them picked off one by one. You’re like, oh there’s eight teenagers so that means seven kill scenes, one Final Girl. Sometimes random side people will wander in and get killed to up the body count, but that core group is what the film focuses on.

Kristine: Right.

Slasher Reason Teens Must Die #73: They like folk music.

Sean: Last thing, the setting of a slasher or serial killer movie up until this point was very often aspooky old house or big old building. In Black Christmas, the movie considered to be the first American slasher proper, the setting is a big, spooky sorority house (which is itself a reference to one of the earlier classic protoslashers, Thirteen Women (1932), which revolves around sorority sisters being picked off by a deranged lesbian half-breed). In fact there’s a movie from 1932 called The Old Dark House about people seeking shelter in a mansion populated by maniacs, and a whole slew of movies that came after it in the 1930s and 1940s were referred to as “old dark house pictures,” because they all involved some sort of Gothic mansion and a bunch of characters trapped in the house trying to survive the night. But Friday the 13this the first “summer camp” slasher, which obviously has become an iconic setting.

Kristine: I think you know that one of the only horror movies I have ever seen before our horror movie club is… Sleepaway Camp.

Sean: I remember you telling me that, and it is so random that that you just happened to have watched that movie.

Kristine: Well, Angela holding her boyfriend’s head and having a penis and grinning dementedly in the final scene haunted me.

Sean: That ending is so fucked up and terrifying.

Kristine: I have found that no one will ever admit to being scared of that movie, but I was. I also thought the curling iron in the snatch scene was pretty awful.

Sean: No, I was so freaked out by that ending also – I remember she’s making a fucked up hissing noise….

Kristine: Yes. Like, snorting through her nostrils and hissing.

Sean: Terrifying. Yes, Mrs. Voorhees is no Angela for scariness. She’s more like Joan Crawford in a cable-knit sweater.

Kristine: Exactly. I have to say… I was very disappointed.

Sean: How come?

Kristine: I actually thought Mrs. Voorhees at least added some energy to the movie. It was campy and weird and not what I was expecting, but the movie became way funner with her on the scene.  Because before that I was totally bored. So I went from bored through 3/4 of the movie to kind of entertained at Mrs. Voorhees’ antics to screaming once at the very end and then it was over. It was a weird movie experience.

Sean: You were bored with all of the beginning?

Kristine: Not at the very beginning, but I thought all the killings were boring. Remember I was asking where Jason was.

Sean: I totally agree with you that the movie has a tedious stretch – for me its from the time that Brenda is killed to the time that Alice finds Bill’s body. All that walking around fiddling with generators and shit I thought was so dumb and boring.

Kristine: Yes, exactly.

Sean: I loved the killings. Marcie’s is my favorite and the one I want to talk about the most.

Kristine: Also, I didn’t care about any of the characters. Is Marcie the one who bones Kevin Bacon? I was surprised at their fairly graphic sex scene.

Sean: Yes, Marcie is the girl who fucked Bacon. That sex scene was graphic. Her hand clutching his naked buttock?

Kristine: I thought all the red herring stuff with “the Fool” character was annoying. I hated that character.

Signifiers of Americana like crumpled Ed Norton hats can keep a psychokiller at bay.

Sean: Ned or Crazy Ralph?

Kristine: Ned. Ned is “the Fool.” Crazy Ralph is “the Prophet of Doom.” See, I watched Cabin in the Woods.

Sean: He died soon. He actually was first to go, right? Yes, Crazy Ralph is a total slasher trope, the guy who warns the kids not to go to X and then they do and they die. This movie had a lot of the slasher character archetypes: the Spazz, the Lovebirds, the Den Mother, the Knight, and the Final Girl. I just have to say – all the male shirtlessness and short-shorts wearing was very erotic to me.

Kristine: The ladies were all stripping down to their skivvies, too. I think that’s just the skanky ‘80s.

Sean: Was the Kevin Bacon sex scene hot?

Kristine: It was hotter then I expected it to be. You know one thing I noticed that was surprising and maybe not a big deal, but it did stand out to me?

Sean: What?

Kristine: Did you notice that despite it having all those classic slasher tropes, that the gender roles were pretty equitable? I mean, you see all the ladies being just as physical and capable and working as hard as the guys around the camp. And though the killer toys with the women more (and just straight up kills the guys, mostly off-camera), the women aren’t extensively tortured, Wolf Creek-style.

Sean: The torture thing isn’t usually a part of the slasher formula. The deaths in a slasher are quick and explosive, and over quickly. But, yes, I did notice the gender stuff during Ned’s fake drowning, in how athletically the girls all respond, diving in and taking charge right along side the guys. They weren’t like, standing on the dock watching the boys rescue him. That was refreshing. I like that aspect of the gender politics of Friday the 13th.

Kristine: God that fake drowning was so dumb. Ned was atrocious. Also when the Final Girl is like, hammering a house together on a ladder, and Mr. Christie is just watching and holding the ladder for her.

Sean: But I kind of felt like Alice’s spazz-o reaction to the snake undercut some of that gender equity. In the drowning scene they’re all competent and athletic… then in the snake scene they’re all throwing shoes and screaming, while a boy with a machete deals with the problem. But the sexual tension between Alice and Steve (a.k.a. Mr. Christie) is interesting to me, and that drawing of him we never get to see where Alice says, “That’s what you looked like last night…” I think she’s kind of not virginal.

Kristine: I did think it was kind of scary when the tall, athletic one (Brenda?) is lured out to the target range… and then the floodlights go on. I thought the killer was going to start firing arrows at her and it would be terrifying. But that didn’t happen and I was bummed out.

Sean: Yes we got cheated out of that arrow death.

Kristine: Don’t you think that would have been good? And then her body all impaled on the target?

Sean: Totally. Did you know Alice was the Final Girl right off? Or did you think it was one of the others?

Kristine: I figured it was dopey Alice because she wanted to leave and was the voice of reason and wore high-collared blouses and blah blah. I hate bargain basement Meredith Baxter Birney.

Sean: Yeah and she never takes her shirt off in Strip Monopoly…

Kristine: Exactly

Sean: …which was headed for a three-way, I thought. It was kinky and I think Brenda was a sex freak who wanted Bill and Alice to worship her ladyhood. Can we talk about Marcie’s death scene?

Face menses.

Kristine: Okay, Marcie… She gets an axe through the face?

Sean: Yes. I think her murder is the film’s major set-piece, and it is the “midpoint’ of the film. But there’s a lot of build-up to it. It is one of the scenes with the most suspense.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: We spend about seven or eight minutes with her in that sequence.

Kristine: And she actively confronts the situation, and does not wait for someone to get her. When she thinks someone is in the shower stall, she marches over there and rips the curtain aside, which is ballsy. Shower stalls are empirically scary, especially post-Psycho. I think that was a sly little nod to Hitchcock there.

Sean: Yeah, I will say that for a cheap little exploitation movie, there are a lot of loving references to other movies. It is well-studied. I think what defines a slasher is a lot of the formal techniques involved, and the way the camera moves here is classic “slasher.” Because we’ve been put in the killer’s point-of-view so often up until this scene (remember, that’s how the film starts, with us in the killer’s position while everyone sings Kumbaya outside), when the camera pushes in on Marcie at the sink, it feels threatening. The camera itself is menacing her, and I remember when she’s standing there washing her face and the camera starts to push in, I thought we were in the killer’s P.O.V. and that when Marcie looked up, she’d scream or react. When she didn’t I was like, ‘oh.’ But the camera itself is a menacing presence, exuding danger, moving through the scene like the killer, even when it is not assuming the killer’s P.O.V.

Kristine: Yeah, the camera movements – especially in that Marcie sequence – really drive home the fact that these people are being hunted.

Sean: That is classic slasher right there – the camera that has a sadistic relationship to the characters/victims. I also thought it was odd that Marcie does her Hepburn impression in the mirror, referencing this older cinematic tradition, this Old Hollywood glamour. It makes her seem both whimsical and sympathetic, but also sad and small and a million miles away from the world. She’s just a silly young woman in her underwear pretending to be Katherine Hepburn.

Slasher Reason Teens Must Die #109: They return the camera’s voyeuristic gaze.

Kristine: Yeah, I thought that was odd, too, especially after having orgasmic sex. Though that sex scene did perpetuate the idea that all a guy has to do is stick his penis in a woman and she’ll come. Which is a lie.

Sean: Remember, Ned also did a Groucho impression, which also aligned his character with a “classic” archetype. But I really want to talk about Marcie’s weird dream that she tells Kevin Bacon about. That is not something that is often in an American slasher, that kind of thematic monologue. She “forsees” the violence as a coming storm, a rain of blood.

Kristine: She’s the most finely drawn of any of the characters, much more so then Final Girl Baxter Birney.

Sean: Yes, agreed. And the shadow of the axe on the wall behind Marcie right before she gets it is the most stylish moment in the movie. Also, the most directly ripped off from Italian giallo films.

Kristine: I loathe Alice. How do you feel about her?

Sean: Alice is… not the best Final Girl.

Kristine: She so dumb and awful.

Sean: The way she cringes and cowers after Brenda’s body crashes through the window is comical. And then the stove like, pulls her rain coat off of her, and she looks ridiculous and inept and clumsy.

Kristine: Small aside: did you think it was weird that the athletic girl (who does doff her clothes in Strip Monopoly) wears a full-length, high-collar, prairie nightgown to bed???

Sean: Brenda’s nightgown is ridiculous.

Kristine: Like, it’s fine to run around the woods in bra-and-panties and a rain slicker but for bed she puts on an ankle-length long-sleeved nightgown?

Slasher Reason Teens Must Die #5: They make granny nightgowns seem slutty.

Sean: Her nightgown just makes no sense. I like that panties/rain slicker look though. It’s sexy. I do think the scariest part of the movie (besides the jumpscare at the end) is Brenda in bed hearing that far-off weird voice calling out “Help me.” That voice scares me.

Kristine: Yeah, her being lured was pretty good, I guess. But that nightgown… Were any of the males sexy to you?

Sean: Um… all of them. That ‘80s skeezy vibe really does it for me.

Kristine: Gross.

Sean: Yeah, I want them all. At once.

Kristine: Even “Mr. Christy”? You would have loved to have gone to that camp and gotten a merit badge in give and take.

Sean: Yes. I actually love all of them together hanging out at the beginning. I am fascinated by the idea of the summer camp as an iconic American suburban rite of passage. “Going to the woods.”

Kristine: Did you ever go?

Sean: I never did. I never would have as a kid, I was so afraid and anti-social.

Kristine: I did, sort of. I went to a sleepaway camp for one week on an island in Malaysia, called “Camp Castaway.”

Sean: Wow.

Kristine: And then I went to Outward Bound for a month, as a high-schooler.

Sean: Did you make out with a boy?

Kristine: No, but I had a crush on a fellow camper.

7rcdhE1Ea6P2YHIHszZeOSgSir9Sean: Hmmm. Did you canoe?

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: Did you put on a talent show?

Kristine: Yes. I remember it being very RuPaul – all the boys dragged out in sarongs and the girls hooting and hollering. I must have been 11.

Sean: Remember when they find the axe in the bed?

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: That image. It’s like, the image that represents what a slasher movie is. It’s like, the semiotic “sign” for slasher. Why do you loathe Alice, for reals?

Kristine: Because she’s a drip. She is always kind of mooning around, and strumming a guitar, just being passive and not fun like the rest of the kids. And her hair and outfits bug. The other girls were cute.

Sean: She reminded me of the mom from The Partridge Family.

Kristine: I never watched that show. I liked the other gals way more, but I didn’t really care about any of them.

Sean: So did you think Jason was the killer the whole time?

Kristine: I guess I did.

Sean: When Mrs. Voorhees showed up were you like, What the fuck?

Kristine: Not… really. I mean there are all these red herrings that it might be Mr. Christy. I was annoyed with the movie and bored at that point so I was glad when someone showed up and was crazy and fun.

Sean: He says “They are babes in the woods…LITERALLY” to the truck stop waitress.

Kristine: He was a creep.

Sean: He was the Big Bad Wolf and Alice’s vagina is a red hood.

Kristine: Mrs. Voorhees is so “Whatever Happened to Baby Jason?”

Sean: I love that. Amazing. So I want to play “Slasher Psychoanalyst” with you. Here’s how we play: I give you one of the murders from the movie, you say what it means in Freudian psychoanalytic terms. What the “subtext” is. Ready?

Kristine: Yep.

Sean: Kevin Bacon smoking a joint after sex and getting a spear in his neck.

Kristine: Pole smoker. Next.

Sean: Wait, what does that mean? “Pole smoker,” is that a thing?

Kristine: Pole smoker like he was smoking and got a pole stabbed in his throat and that it is a slang for fellatio. I am being funny.

Sean: Does it mean he secretly sucks cock?

Kristine: Yes, because he is a hedonist and unabashedly sexual.

Sean: Ok. Brenda getting lured to the arrow range and then tossed through a window wrapped in rope. What does it “mean,” doc?

Kristine: Ummm, I don’t think I am good at this game. I am still mad Brenda didn’t get pinioned to the target. What does it mean, Prof?

Sean: She’s too wrapped up in herself, and so she never hits the mark.

Kristine: Okay, Marcie with the axe to the face.

Sean: Split personality: virgin/whore.

Kristine: Okay Jewboy being in the upper bunk is pretty easy, I think.

Sean: Oh is it? What’s your read?

Dead spazz.

Kristine: Because he is always the third wheel… that his corpse is present when Marcie and Kevin Bacon fuck really adds insult to injury, don’t you think?

Sean: Ned gets killed off-screen so: abandonment issues. Also you’re right – his body in the top bunk means: performance anxiety. He hides from sex because of his fear of impotence and failure.

Kristine: What about Mr. Christie?

Sean: Neurotic extrovert. Overly social. He gets killed greeting her and making smalltalk – classic neurotic. He can’t stop talking and interacting. Also, megalomaniac, which is why he was strung upside down.

Kristine: Why doesn’t Mrs. V. kill Alice right away?

Sean: Because this movie makes no sense is why. Because the script needs her to explain herself to the audience.

Kristine: Weak. She WAS fun though. I loved her slapping Alice.

Sean: Awesome, right? Oh I love Mrs. Voorhees.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: I love her baby voice of Jason. “Kill her mommy!”

Kristine: I must make a point. The actress who played Mrs. V is SO Sharon Gless. I was dying.

Sean: Omg, Sharon Gless is so much prettier.

Kristine: It was like Sharon Gless and Meredith Baxter Birney were fighting to the death. It was ‘80s dyke icon realness.

Sean: Mrs. V was serving L.L. Bean Ventriloquist realness.

Kristine: Right?

Sean: That sweater.

Kristine: I mean, can we address her dykiness?

Sean: She is definitely masculinized.

Kristine: No mention of Jason’s father. Also, she is… of the land.

Sean: Her killings of the girls is more lurid, or at least of Marcie.

Kristine: Hates heteros.

Sean: Yes, hates heterosexual coupling, because it caused the death of her pet mongoloid, Jason.

Kristine: I don’t totally get that story. What exactly was wrong with Jason?

Sean: Waterhead. Mongoloid. Did you see him drowning? It was Eric Stoltz in Mask realness.

Kristine: Waterhead is same as mongo?

Sean: Yes. He has water in his head. His brain is a water cracker.

Kristine: Hmmm.

Sean: A briny aquarium.

Kristine: I couldn’t really see him in the drowning scene. I was sad.

Sean: Tell me about your piercing, roommate-annihilating scream.

Waterhead waterlogs a water nymph. Footage at 11.

Kristine: Okay, when Jason comes out of the lake and grabs Meredith Baxter Birney, it totally shocked me and it was pretty fucking scary, but also exciting because I wanted her to die, not be drifting in a canoe on a sun-dappled lake.

Sean: Did you totally wake up the house? Was your roommate mad?

Kristine: No, but he was like, Jesus that was loud. It was just so weird being bored the whole movie and finally being scared.

Sean: I was praying that the last jumpscare would get you.

Kristine: It did. Is it famous?

Sean: Yes, notorious.

Kristine: I was so sad it wasn’t real.

Sean: In 1980, a million girls jumped in their theater seats at that.

Kristine: C’mon, not just the ladies. I am shocked this movie was such a big hit. Explain.

Sean: Well, it was engineered to be a rollercoaster ride and I am not kidding.

Kristine: Umm. It was more like a broken carousel.

Sean: Because a lot of ‘70s exploitation was just grueling torture (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Last House on the Left), they wanted this movie to be funny and fun. There are actually a lot of jokes in the movie. It’s just, they’re dumb. But it worked. 1980 audiences loved it and thought it was a blast.

Kristine: Huh. But there is no attempt to make Jason/Mrs. V/whatever even remotely sympathetic. I mean, Angela from Sleepaway Camp is a better villain. She has a backstory.

Sean: The slasher villain is just usually a deranged killer.

Kristine: Even fucking Mick from Wolf Creek gets a scene that somewhat builds his character.

Sean: There’s no big to-do about backstory usually, other than some flimsy sense that they were wronged in some way and are taking revenge. They’re always unseen until the final confrontation. That is Slasher 101.

Kristine: Why even bother with the story about Mongoloid who drowned? Why even make it about revenge?

Sean: All slashers are, “In high school we made fun of Joe, now he’s back to even the score!” The killers are always wronged parties. It’s always about social revenge.

Kristine: I like Angela. She has a right to be fucked up and pissed.

Sean: I mean, what do you think Jason’s motivation for killing will be in the later Friday films?

Kristine: None. Crazy water in the brains. Site of his trauma.

Sean: The murder of his momma.

Kristine: Was this movie made to be a serial?

Sean: I don’t think so. It was just such a huge hit, that they cranked out Parts 2 and III like, immediately. The same director, Steve Miner, made both 2 and III and they really have the Friday flavor that people associate with the franchise. This movie not so much. It stands out from the others, stylistically and in other ways.

Kristine: Are the sequels good?

Sean: The original Friday the 13this my one of my least favorites of the first six. The first six movies are the canonical movies to me, with one slight exception. Part VII and onwards is just absolute dreck, total garbage even by dubious slasher standards.

Kristine: Listen, forget the canon and all that. As a movie, do you think this is good? If you just forget about the canon and it’s “place” in horror. Just the movie itself.

Sean: I do, actually. I got a lot out of watching it this time with you.

Two girls, a Village Person and Bing Crosby’s son.

Kristine: Hmm…

Sean: But it is virtually impossible for me look at it out of context, as an homage to giallo films and stuff, and also as the birth of a new form. That’s part of why I like it. I think it is an incredibly important movie as a cultural/historical document. I get that it’s a cheaply made piece of trash. But there’s something actually sweet and nostalgic about it, when looked at in retrospect, especially in light of how debased the genre can be. In light of how nasty later slashers – even later Friday films – can be, and of course the “newer” form of torturey business. I would actually really love for us to revisit this in a few years, especially after you’ve seen the other Friday movies and other slashers and stuff. I wonder if that perspective might raise the film in your estimation. Maybe not, but I wonder. As far as this original Friday the 13thI will say that Alice is a pretty shitty Final Girl, maybe one of the weakest in the series. The next movie has a much better one, I think.

Kristine: Is Alice’s basic ass in it? Nothing I hate more than a Basic Woman.

Sean: Alice is in Part 2, yes.

Sean: So the last thing I wanted to bring up is this: I think Marcie is the most important character in the movie…

Kristine: I agree.

Sean: …and the second most important is…

Kristine: The camp.

Sean: Annie.

Kristine: You know, I was going to talk about Annie. She’s the earnest hippie. She was interesting.

Sean: She is like, the focus of the first quarter of the movie, and I think that scene of her walking into town is really key to unraveling what the movie is playing with, though perhaps it’s doing so unconsciously. She’s the one who comes to town and is made to feel like an outsider by all the creepy locals at the diner (another classic slasher movie trope – the unfriendly locals – but remember the patrons of the Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London? So maybe it’s just more of a general horror movie thing). Also she’s the one who walks into that Norman Rockwell scene of the little Main Street with the old 1950s-style gas pumps with the dog lying lazily in the dirt. I want to point out also that when she goes up to the dog she says, “Hi girl…. Oh! Hi boy, sorry!” which I think was just something dumb to try to get a laugh from the audience but is actually the beginning of the film playing with gender confusion. The original Friday the 13this sort of the most genderfucky, with the “masculine” killer revealed at the end to be a woman, with the androgyny of Alice and the couple making out in the cold open, most obviously. Annie, Marcie and Brenda are all more traditionally “girlish,” but they’re actually more interesting than you’d think a dumb little slasher would allow for  – the idealist, the seductress and the athlete, but just a touch multi-faceted in each case.

Kristine: Remember also that Annie says the camp will cater to kids “from the inner city” and she tells Mrs. Voorhees that “When you’ve had a dream as long as I have, you’ll do anything.” The movie focusing on her death first is interesting; she could easily have been mistaken for the Final Girl instead of Alice Baxter Birney. She’s also very nonchalant about the pervy trucker who gives her a ride and ogles her.

Sean: Right. When he warns her about “Camp Blood” she mocks him and says “You’re an American original; at least I’m not afraid of ghosts!” She’s the total new generation – unafraid, done with classic Americana, ready to take on the world and transform it with her idealism and adventurous spirit. Of course, since horror movies are mean-spirited and want to slaughter all our sacred cows, she dies before she even gets to the camp. Her idealism actually blinds her and leads to her demise, She’s too trusting. This movie is, in some ways, a warning to youths about how dangerous the world is, even how the previous generation might try to eradicate you – Mrs. Voorhees is the Angry Mommy wiping out all the kids for their bad behavior. One of the biggest critiques of the slasher is that it’s fundamentally conservative and a reflection of the values of Reagan’s America – the counterculture, the hedonists, the rebels, the sex maniacs all die and are punished. But there’s a way to flip that on its head and think about how, if this movie is made for the kids, it could be construed as a warning to the kids and also a joke directed to the kids about how loony, incoherent, superstitious, small-minded and repressed the older generation actually is. This reading might not apply to any of Friday the 13’s sequels, but it might work for this movie because of Mrs. Voorhees. Because really Annie’s brave and also right – ghosts don’t exist. But the crazy older generation does, and it slaughters her for her youth, for her idealism.

Kristine: Yeah Annie’s death, of all those characters, seems the most… unjust somehow.

Sean: That makes sense. She is the youthful idealism of ‘60s counterculture living on into the late 1970s/early 1980s.

Hippie tracheotomy – meant to relieve the pressure of too much earnest sloganeering.

Kristine: If she hadn’t jumped out of the Jeep (how 1979/1980s is a Jeep?) to try and get to the camp, would Mrs. V have killed her? Did she pick her up to kill her or to drive her away from the camp? Because, as we’ve said, she wasn’t yet a part of the camp.

Sean: Good question. I think the movie suggests that she’s a goner. I think Mrs. V kills any and every youth associated with the area. It’s the re-opening of the camp that triggers her killing spree and her psychosis. It is the incipient event in the return of all her repressed rage. Though there are hints that she’s been doing this perhaps since the late ‘50s when Jason drowned. The cold open takes place in 1958. The rest of the movie states it is set in the “Present Day,” so what has Mrs. V. been doing for the last 20 years?

Kristine: I don’t know, I think there is a hint that Mrs. V. was trying to save Annie from the camp and thus from herself. Annie was going to be the cook, remember? Which was Mrs. V.’s job when she worked there back in the 1950s. And Annie loved kids, like we can assume Mrs. V. did before her spazz-out. I think Mrs. V wanted to scare her away from the camp so she could save her, and when Annie jumped out she was like, That’s it.

Sean: Maybe, but I think her speeding up like that is menacing and violent. It seems like an assault has begun before Annie jumps out. But it is interesting that she doesn’t kill Annie right away. Like how she randomly decides to pretend to be normal with Alice, even going to look at Brenda’s body and saying, “So young so pretty what kind of monster would have done this?” like she is not the killer. If they’re implying she actually has a split personality (like, her normal side and her baby-voiced Jason killer side) then it’s not rendered very effectively. But again, Annie could easily have been our Final Girl, and probably would have been a better one than Alice.

Kristine: Oh, god yes. So much better. But Mrs. Voorhees only sped up when Annie kept saying the camp’s name and asking her to stop. I really think she wasn’t going to kill her. Also about the camp being a character… I thought the camp itself, being rundown and isolated, was way scarier then the killer.

Sean: Yeah it is a cool location. What did you think of the “ch-ch-ch-ch, CHA-CHA-CHA-CHA” sound effect?

Kristine: I thought the “ch-ch-ch-ch, CHA-CHA-CHA-CHA” was really awesome and creepy. I didn’t know it came from this movie. I think I have this and Halloween confused in my water brain.

Sean: Yeah, the “ch-ch” is Friday the 13th. Okay, I have decided that at the end of every theme month, I will administer a quiz.

Kristine: Umm… Yay?

Sean: I want to turn you into a horror movie necromancer/ninja. I want you to be able to decimate people you meet at parties with your knowledge.

Kristine: Hmmm. My boyfriend will be thrilled.

Sean:  So here are some study questions for Friday the 13th: What is the name of camp?

Kristine: Camp Crystal Lake. The camp next door is Camp Machete.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Do I get extra credit for Camp Machete?

Sean: Is that real?

Kristine: Yes. There is a signpost that says “Camp Crystal Lake 10 miles, Camp Machete 20 miles.”

Sean: I didn’t catch that. The student teaches the master.

Sean: What’s the name of the Final Girl again?

Kristine: Meredith Baxter Birney.

Sean: Um…

Kristine: Basic Woman. I don’t remember. I don’t care about her.

Sean: Alice. Think Lewis Carroll. Where in the U.S. does this movie take place? What state?

Daddy of the Camp: Howard Hesseman with a perm.

Kristine: Hmm… New Hampshire?

Sean: New….

Kristine: Jersey???

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: So wicked ‘80s.

Sean: I know. Who did the makeup/special effects for this movie? This is the info a horror movie ninja needs…

Kristine: Oh. Something Sovino?

Sean: Close. Tom Savini. Do you know who that is?

Kristine: No, but my roommate was walking by and was like, “Ooooh, Tom Savini” and dropped all this nerd science on me and I was like, “Go away.”

Sean: He is… Sex Machine.

Kristine: Lies.

Sean: True. I told you he was a famous FX guy.

Kristine: I thought you said he directed?

Sean: He is a famous FX guy who then, in 1990, directed the remake of Night of the Living Dead. But his fame is for FX.

Kristine: Huh. Did he work on all the Friday the 13thmovies?

Sean: He came back for Part IV. So since you hated this are you dreading Part 2? Or are you cautiously optimistic?

Kristine: Do you ever get to see waterbrain?

Sean: I cannot answer that question.

Kristine: Your answer affects my answer.

Sean: Yes, you do.

Kristine: Then I am cautiously optimistic. Does Alice get it?

Sean: The Alice thing I really think we should just wait and see.

Kristine: That means she gets it.

Sean: Just fyi, Part 2 has the franchise’s most popular Final Girl. She is beloved by all Friday-superfans.

Kristine: Why?

Sean: Well, let’s wrestle with the “why” after we watch Part 2.

Kristine:  Did you expect this reaction from me?

Sean: Yes, it is a thing that contemporary people are like, that movie sucks. My bf and his sister watched this last year for a bro/sis date night and both were like, that shit was busted. I just want to be clear that I love this movie as a historical document.

Reasons Why Mrs. Voorhees is a Lesbian Avenger #35: She breaks Alice out the closet.

Kristine: You know what this movie is? Mrs. Voorhees is Jessica Lange from that fucking Gwyneth “Fishsticks” Paltrow abortion. Where J-Lange induces Gwynnie’s delivery with horse tranquilizers?

Sean: Kristine, that movie is one of my examples for the Hagsploitation entry on our “Girl Meets Freak Genre Guide.” The movie is Hush.

Kristine: Yes. This movie is Hush. I am glad I don’t have your baggage and can say this movie sucks.

Sean: Well, we had to watch this to get to the rest of the movies, because you must learn the first six in order to be a horror movie Jedi.

Kristine: All six?

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Daaaaaaamn.

Sean: Not all this month. And keep in mind that here’s twelve of them. You will see half. Well, eleven and a reboot.

Kristine: Did you pick this because you know my mother is coming to town tomorrow?

Sean: No not at all, but I love the timing.

Kristine: Did you pick this because it is almost Mother’s Day?

Sean: Love it. There’s a grisly backwoods rape/revenge movie called Mother’s Day, fyi.

Kristine: That figures.

Ratings Roundup

The Girls Rating: This is a horror movie classic… why exactly?

The Freak’s Rating: This is horror movie homework – essential to know but not fun to complete.

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17 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980)

  1. Not one of my favorite horror movies, but it does play up the formula. I remember when it came out, the thought of it was more scary than the actual movie. There’s so much built up around Jason as a psycho (or Kevin in Cabin in the Woods) that when you watch the original you really miss the hockey mask and machete.

    1. Rewatching these movies now (it’s been at least 15 years since I’ve seen them) is seriously surreal and weird. I really loved Mrs. Voorhees at the end of the first movie, and think Jason is scarier in the pillow case w/ eyehole he sports in Part II than the hockey mask he wears in the later movies. Plus those dirty fingernails! Having watched a lot of giallo movies in the past couple of years, I think I almost prefer the deranged older lady killer to the Michael Myers/Jason types…..

  2. A bunch of random thoughts

    After rewatching this I learned that the title comes from that being Jason’s birthday, June 13th. It would only be a friday sometimes. They should have involved that in some of the sequels.

    The snake death was real. Everyone always talks up the turtle death in Cannibal Holocaust but no one ever mentions this. Are turtles more revered then snakes?

    what was up with the zodiac symbol on the sign for Seneca?

    The biker cop was my favorite character. He needed more screen time

    The killer of Annie was definitely a man.

    The “Help Me” sounded like the human headed fly in the original The Fly.

    And hairstyles by “6 Feet Under”?

    The music really makes this movie for me. If it didn’t have that score plus other audio bloops and bleeps I think it would not have even been worth watching. How the sndtrk plays with audience and drops out completely even sometimes, like when Brenda is setting up the archery range and the arrow narrowly misses her, just adds to the experience. It makes sense that the writer Victor Miller had worked and would continue to work in the soap opera field on such shows as Guiding Light, One Life to Live, Another World, and All My Children.

    Gene Siskel was an asshole. “He also published Betsy Palmer’s home address and encouraged fellow detractors to write to her and express their contempt for the film. Siskel and Roger Ebert spent an entire episode of their TV show berating the film (and other slasher films of the time) because they felt it would make audiences root for the killer” wish i could find that youtube clip.