Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sh!#ting on the Classics: Friday the 13th

by JB
I love horror movies more than any other person I know. The proof is in my basement. You might say that I love every horror film ever made. Except this one.

I really wish that I had watched the bonus features on the Friday the 13th Uncut DVD first; that would have saved me a lot of time. Instead, I watched the damn film again, which is a chore, and kept a painstaking list of all of the other horror films it rips off. Then I get to the bonus features, where screenwriter Victor Miller cheerfully admits that he ripped off Halloween and Carrie, as if that sort of thing was okay.

He says, in effect, “Well kids, it made a lot of money and it is beloved for some goddamn reason, so who’s to say?”

Has the statute of limitations on plagiarism lapsed for films made in 1980? Does Miller think theft is okay, as long as one is not secretive or hypocritical about it? Does simply copping to it from the get-go somehow absolve him of the crime?

I, judge and jury all in one, sentence Victor Miller to be 1) stabbed with a large knife, 2) shot in the eye with an arrow, 3) left to drown because the lifeguard is off somewhere having sexy sex, 4) impaled with a second arrow, 5) clobbered in the head with an axe, 6) hung from the rafters to swing down at the moment we least expect, 7) decapitated by a plucky, never-say-die junior camp counselor, 8) grabbed out of a boat by a kelp-covered man-child, and 9) forced to sit through this ponderous, amateurish movie. (A harsh sentence, I know, but the punishment should fit the crime.)

So many adults champion this film that I am left to assume that they first saw it as children and had never seen a horror movie before, so they did not know any better; knew they were watching something that they were really too young to be watching, so still associate the movie with that secret thrill; or were honestly scared by the final “gotcha” moment and give the preceding ninety minutes a free pass.

What we have here is boring summer camp home movie footage occasionally interrupted by gore effects. As if that is why I go to the movies: “Honey, I’m just gonna doze through some of this nature stuff. Wake me when someone gets killed!”

Some random thoughts on the stinking pile of rotting camp counselor flesh that is this film:

•    This film commits egregious wholesale theft from other, better films: we get a prologue set in the past, a first person killer-cam, and sex-obsessed teens from Halloween; a twist ending and almost an entire musical score from Psycho, and that last minute BOO from Carrie.

•    To give you some idea of the quality of the dialogue in this film, at one point a character asks a dog if he can speak English. I am not making this up.

•    The kids in this film inexplicably perform bad impressions of movie stars from the Thirties (Humphrey Bogart, Mae West, and Katherine Hepburn). Does this speak to the availability of these films in the early Eighties on television or does it speak to the age and interests of a much older screenwriter? Is this yet another cool teen trend from the Eighties that I missed?

•    The kids in Halloween were interesting and unique; the kids in Friday the 13th are boring and interchangeable, except for the one that is an even bigger idiot.

•    Strip Monopoly? I think not.

•    I think a real snake was killed for this film. If not, the snake decapitation is actually the best special effect in the movie. If that scene is real, it is disgusting and cruel.

•    Why does the film spend ten minutes introducing the audience to Annie the Cook, only to make her the first victim? Is this more theft from Psycho, or just bad screenwriting? In her short time on screen, we grow to like Annie; why not make her the heroine?

Why do all Halloween clones play the “who is the killer game?” The original Halloween did not: we know the killer is Michael Meyers, and we know that he has escaped from a mental facility and has returned home to wreak havoc. Friday the 13th and other films of its icky ilk play this guessing game, only to spoil it by making it impossible to actually guess. Characters confronted by the POV killer cam exclaim, “Oh, it’s YOU. I didn’t expect to see YOU here. What are YOU doing here?”

We are led to believe the killer could be Steve, who is reopening the camp; the overly suspicious Sheriff, who hassles the kids; the demented local man, who keeps shouting, “You’re doomed!”; any one of the other campers; a waitress at a local diner; or even the helpful truck driver who has a tiny cameo at the very beginning of the film. Surprise! Not only is the killer NOT one of those characters, the killer is a character that has NEVER been shown AND THAT HAS NEVER EVEN BEEN MENTIONED ONCE! Tricky… and by “tricky,” I mean “shitty.”

At least the endings of Psycho and Scream do not feel like cheats. It is difficult to puzzle out who the killer is, but it is possible. The audience does not feel cheated when the killer is revealed. Both endings play fair and pay off.

In another DVD special feature, composer Harry Manfredini crows about how iconic his score quickly became. But except for the film’s signature theme (every website I have visited spells it phonetically in a different way. I prefer Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch! Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!), the rest of the score is completely lifted from Bernard Herman’s famous “Shower Murder for Strings” theme in Psycho. The only thing scary about Friday the 13th is how much its makers stole from other films. Even the composer’s name seems to be a bargain basement rip-off of Henry Mancini… or the name of a kid’s birthday party magician.

FULL DISCLOSURE: There is one thing I love about Friday the 13th: the fact that the killer is psychic. In the scene where Kevin Bacon and his girlfriend steal away for some nookie, they repair to a deserted dorm room with three bunk beds. They choose one. They explore the natural, beautiful act of physical love. The girl leaves to go to the bathroom. Whammo! Kevin Bacon gets an arrow through his chest. That means the killer had to know IN ADVANCE what bunk out of the three the couple would choose, so the killer could hide under THAT bunk. That is a pretty neat trick. If the killer really was psychic, why couldn’t the killer predict that she would be decapitated at the end of the film? Spoiler! Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch! Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!

Oddly enough, the film’s original tagline from its trailer neatly sums up my attitude toward the film: “You may only see it once, but that WILL BE ENOUGH.”

BY THE WAY: Forget about iconic “Hockey Mask Jason.” He doesn’t show up until Friday the 13th Part Three.

BETTER YET: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Cat and the Canary (1927), Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Old Dark House (1932), Freaks (1932), The Invisible Man (1935), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), Cat People (1942), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Curse of the Demon (1957), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Fly (1958), Psycho (1960), Carnival of Souls (1962), The Haunting (1963), The Birds (1963), Repulsion (1965), Wait Until Dark (1967), Night of the Living Dead (1968) The Exorcist (1973), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Jaws (1975), Carrie (1976), Halloween (1978), Dawn of the Dead (1979), Alien (1979), The Shining (1980), or really any other horror film ever made.


  1. Interesting. I will have to watch it again...or not. I remember liking it, but haven't seen it in a really long time. I have seen only about a third of the movies listed above as better, but I remember Wait Until Dark as a comedy. I also really remember the stage play a little more clearly than the movie. I will have to check that out again, too.

  2. That's hilarious. I can't say I disagree with a single one of your points. My wife and I just watched this a few nights ago for the F This Movie challenge, and I hadn't seen it in years. I just read her your thoughts on it and we both thought it was accurate and hilarious. I do think I like the film more than you do, though. It has a camp (no pun intended) charm to it. Plus, there's something about the 1980 aesthetic that truly grosses me out. I have pretty horrid memories of summer camp in the late 80s, and this movie brings them all back. Camps are just terrible. It really captures just how isolated and unsettling the setting of a camp can be. Of course, that doesn't make it good. The snake thing really bothered me, too. I have a feeling that is no special effect. I do enjoy some of the kills, though. The first time I saw the movie, the Kevin Bacon kill really got me. I knew it was coming, but I didn't know how it was coming.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Heath. You know, one of my favorite things is to make people laugh. My other favorite thing? Making them bleed.

  4. (Special thanks to Steve for sharing the link to this blog.)

    Mr. B.:

    This article is, indeed, hilarious. I always appreciate a good deconstruction of why everyone's wrong about a terrible film, but I thought I was the only one who didn't like this terrible, unimaginative, ineptly made film.

    Sometimes, a poorly made film can be made endearing because it's clear the filmmakers have some sort of vision or a message they want to get across despite their incompetence. "Friday the 13th" is a cheesy cash-in, one of many at the time, and I think the reason it endures has a lot to do with your theory that most people saw it for the first time as children, when they were too young and ignorant to know better. That problem was exacerbated by the franchising of it--with a sequel coming out every few years for over a decade, new waves of young, ignorant kids experienced part 2 or 3 (and so on) as their first horror movies.

    The only good thing about it (other than the aforementioned psychic killer) is that it eventually spawned "Jason X," one of the funniest sequels of all time. (Surpassed only by "Single White Female 2: The Psycho," a 100% real movie I have 100% seen and loved.)


  5. You're nuts! "Friday the 13th" has aged way better than "Halloween" - although I do like to watch the latter while carving my pumpkin simply because it is permeated with sights and sounds of the season - however I watch "It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" for the same reason and both are about equally scary. Every movie (especially horror films) borrow somewhat off of films that came before them - Halloween itself borrowed from Psycho, Black Christmas and many others. What "Friday the 13th" did was take Giallo films, holiday themed horror, gore films and summer camp movies - put them into a blender and spurted out the effective mixture - singlehandedly and directly kicking off the slasher craze of the 80's. Yes, Friday the 13th did that - not Halloween! Also, the kids in Halloween are more interesting than the ones in F13?!? You've got to be kidding?! Laurie is a lame ugly man chick with facial hair and NO personality - the other two girls are mildly interesting, Dr Loomis is monotonous and boring ("looking at the wall, staring past the wall") and every one else in the film is just as booooring! However both films have iconic music! Look it all comes down to a personal issue, they are both classics in their own rite and deserve their places in horror film history, but for my money I feel F13 still carries an air of doom, dread and isolation that is creepy to this day. Is it realistic? No! Neither is Halloween. But Friday the 13th is way more of an exciting roller coaster ride than the hundrum scenic choo-choo train that is Halloween.

  6. No mate, you're an idiot. Friday the 13th sucks and always has done. It was a crap Halloween clone, just the all the others. It wasn't as successful as Halloween as it was slow and boring. The only good thing about it was the FX, Other than that it was dull as fuck as so is the cast. It's make by opportunists, not filmmakers. If you want to sit here and defend it fine, but what is say is fact not opinion. Don't be a moron.

  7. You're looking at this movie all wrong. You are not the type of person to be watching this kind of movie. You can't be stuck up watching classic masterpieces like Citizen Kane or Casablanca and then expect to like Friday the 13th. Hell you can't be stuck up watching other horror classics like Psycho or Jaws and then go expect Friday the 13th to be just as good. Because it's not. The fans of this series are well aware of it's flaws. And, in all honesty, no, Halloween's fodder were no more interesting than F13's. I even find Alice more enjoyable to watch than Laurie, she just had more charisma. Laurie was a lot more stuck up and nervous. Loomis was great, however, and the sheriff was enjoyable, too. But other than that it's no better than F13 in that aspect (let's not forget when Laurie's friend is rambling on about her textbooks...). I am a huge Halloween fan, as well. But I find critics give Friday the 13th too much hate. It's bad. Of course it is. But it did not rip off Halloween entirely. It used many mechanics that many other horror flicks have used before, and it was certainly a cash in on the genre, but the actual plot, the actual motive behind Pamela and soon after Jason, was much more different than Halloween. You could say it's a rip off on Psycho in that aspect, and I would agree to an extent, but they still took a different approach to it. And it almost made more sense that Jason (a deformed boy with no friends) would become so attached to his mom. Friday the 13th is like a mixing pot. It takes a bunch of different aspects of different movies and mashes them all together and makes it's own thing. And all art in some way or another rips off something else. It's not that your critiques are wrong, I agree with almost all of them, it's that you're being too hard on it (that rant on Victor Miller? Too much). You have to look past that. You have to enjoy how cheesey it is and just enjoy it. Not everything has to be a masterpiece to be entertaining. Tone it down a little, take off your critic glasses, and look at this movie in a lighter way. Maybe you'll see the series the way the rest do. And on a side note many people are too hard on people who like the F1e movies. Calling them morons is rude and unnecessary. It all boils down to a matter of opinion.

  8. I will always have a soft spot for FRIDAY THE 13TH. I first watched it at a sleep-over at a friend's house in the late 1980s. Being around 10 years old, it was a perfect time to develop a nostalgic attachment. The beheading at the end was quite a shock at that age. While I perceive all the flaws of FRIDAY THE 13TH now, including most of the ones JB brought up, it still is enjoyable to go back to once in a while.

    Looking at the film today, I find that the beginning works well. The flashback sets the tone of the film, and Annie's journey to the camp introduces the environment of the story and lets the viewer know something is amiss around modern-day Camp Crystal Lake. This part of the film does take its time, but that was not uncommon for the period. Of all the deaths, Annie's is the only one that upsets me. As JB states, you get to know her. Annie seems like a good-natured person. Being invested in her character makes her fate feel more savage than the other killings.

    Thinking about Friday the 13th and the early wave of slashers coming out almost 40 years ago makes me realize that time moves on quickly in life and in the movies. The youthful participants in the films are now past middle-age. Adrienne King is over 60 now, for example. In the next couple of decades that slasher period of horror cinema will recede into history. Who can foretell what kind of life the films will have then?

    1. That question is something I think about a lot myself, horror being my favorite genre, and because of the way the perception of genre pictures tends to grow in stages: first, a particular title is considered sensationalism, then as kitsch, then academically, as a document of the social nature of a period. Across that entire lifespan, a movie may of course emotionally resonate with individuals in some way, and inspire young artists and affect young audiences in various ways. I take it as a given that Freddy, Jason, the Gremlins, etc. are timelessly iconic, because I grew up during a period where they'd already been established in the popular consciousness, but am resistant to warm up to new characters or franchises, like, for instance, Jisgsaw, or Leslie Vernon. People 15 years younger than me will not feel the same way. Jigsaw will be that iconic point of inspiration for horror filmmakers that will begin to become the establishment in about another say, ten years. What will they be dissatisfied with in the horror genre of 2027; what will they want to re-introduce into it from their youth? I don't even have much of an educated guess to that, but I'm fascinated by the possibilities.

    2. And apropos to your mention of the "youthful participants" in the original wave of slashers, don't forget that Ryan Phillipe played the middle-aged dad in Wish Upon within the last month! Hell, Sherilyn Fenn was the grandmotherly type who lived next door to them! Joey King will be played the 'mother protecting her kids from evil' lead in Babadook/Insidious-influenced horror movies before we know it!

    3. I am sure that slashers will endure in the collective memory of horror fans, E.S.A.D.D. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and the Universal gothic horror cycle are still known by a large percentage of horror fans, after all. What has changed is that only a small number of titles tend to be familiar to the casual fan. That is what is likely to happen when the generation that grew up with slashers starts to disappear. A narrow canon of essential films will be established, with only the most ardent of horror fans venturing into the vast catalogue.

      Just as monsters and ghosts have not completely faded from horror films, elements of slasher films should continue to appear in the genre.

      Whatever happens in the horror genre, all that we can hope for is that the films that will be made are at least interesting. A little optimism about that is needed sometimes.

  9. So the date is friday the 13th!

    Well, its after mid night now, but earlier in the night I decided to watch this film, as it's been about 15 years at least since my last viewing. I've always known about the rip offs it has spawned but I didnt realise how much it ripped off other films itself. Particularly psycho and black christmas.

    I will say one thing about the killer being pyschic, in defense the killer had just killed and put the body on the top bunk so as they were coming in she just hurried up and hid under the bed and they were just unlucky that they chose that bed.

    One other thing you could have mentioned is how masculine the quick glimpses of the killer were like in the jeep and when they show the hands and arms and legs, that adds to how off the wall the twist was.

    Over all it's a good slasher that is all about setting and treading new waters with the edginess it takes, which also happens to be another ripping off of pyscho.
    Thanks to who ever read all of this.