January 29, 2012

Movie Review: Friday the 13th (1980)

The slasher film has become an integral part of horror cinema. It's origins can be traced back to the 1960's with movies like Psycho and Peeping Tom. The sub-genre took it's next step in the early 1970's with Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Halloween set the formula in 1978. However, it was 1980's Friday the 13th that thrust the sub-genre into the mainstream, at least that is how it seems to me. I mean, it was the start of one of the longest enduring horror franchises and set the bar for the killer in the woods. It could probably be argued it is as influential as Halloween.

The original Friday the 13th set out to rip off Halloween and ended up adding their own flavor to the mix. It is movie that is not so much about the build up of tension as it was about exploitation. It upped the body count of prior slasher fare, stripped the tension for a little bit of shock. Producer Sean S. Cunningham wanted to rip off the Carpenter film and was even advertising the title before they even had a movie!

As I sit here trying to write about it, I am wondering just what I can say that hasn't already been written before. And, let's admit it, this is not really a movie with a lot of subtext or complexity to analyze. The biggest surprise is the big reveal. No, I will not reveal it here, while most of you already know it, there is always somebody who hasn't and I do not want to be the one to ruin it for them.

The plot is simple. In 1957 a young boy is left at the lake, unsupervised, and is believed to have drowned. A year later a couple of counselors sneak off to have sex and are murdered. The camp is closed, multiple attempts to open it are met with failure. Now, 1979 rolls around and a man named Steve Christy is looking to open it up and has sunk a lot of his own money into getting it ready. After the credits we pick up the story with a bunch of new counselors showing up to help get the finishing touches completed. Of course, they do get a warning of the things that happened there.

Well, we get the blow by blow of the day to day life of these counselors as they get the camp ready. They sneak around and play games of strip monopoly or some such, but the drudgery is occasionally broken up with a murder. The cycle continues until we have one counselor left and we get that final showdown.

The movie really is an entertaining ride. It is never particularly scary, but it does have some decent atmosphere and Harry Manfredini's stalk and slash score helps a good deal (even with it's Bernard Hermann's Psycho influences). This is not my favorite slasher film, and this is not even the best of the series, but it is hard to deny it's place in slasher history.

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