Wednesday, October 17, 2012

15 Nights of Fright - Friday The 13th

Every night from now until Halloween Matt will be reviewing another of his 15 favorite horror films in a segment called 15 Nights of Frights. Slashers, monsters, aliens, and ghosts will all come out to play in the next two weeks and one day. So, find a safe place and leave the lights on while Matt gives his thoughts on all things frightening. Above The Film presents Ginger Geek Blog's 15 Nights of Fright.

 Tonight's Fright:

Friday the 13th (1980)
Last night, AMC was playing Friday the 13th. I hadn't seen the movie in years and even thought it was edited for cable (yes, even AMC has to cut some things out) it was still Friday The 13th, you don't just turn it off.

For anyone who has been in a coma since the 70's, the basic plot of Friday the 13th is the quintessential slasher film formula. Camp Crystal Lake was shut down in 1958 after a boy named Jason Voorhees drowned in the lake due to negligence on the part of the councilors. These two councilors, who were off having sex instead of watching him, were murdered soon-after. 22 years later Camp Crystal Lake is being reopened and a new group of councilors are spending the week getting the place ready for campers. There is just one problem, someone is killing off the councilors one-by-one and everyone is convinced the spirit of Jason has returned to seek revenge. The story is rather simple and compact but offers enough of a set piece to play around with.

Speaking of sets, it's also a point of personal pride that I spent a week at the camp the movie was filmed at when I was a kid.

Now back to the review: it's a little tough to comment on story and character in a film that has been copied to death because they all feel like cliches by now. The cast of pretty young people all seem to be interested in drugs, beer, and sex...well all except one. The film's main protagonist and "final girl," Alice seems an odd fit with the gang of councilors as any of the virgin good-girls do in these movies. Not to say virgins don't have friends who drink or have sex, but why would someone who makes a moral decision to stay away from the 3 Ds of Teenage Girls (drink, drugs, and dudes) constantly put herself in situations of temptation with people that don't share her personal values? Oh well, when have teenagers ever made sense?

While Friday the 13th was widely accepted as an attempt to ride on the coattails of John Carpenter's Halloween, it made an effort to separate itself in several aspects that made it a film all-it's-own. First off was the killer. Whenever someone mentions Friday the 13th they think of one thing...

Two minutes for slashing (rim shot)

 That is Jason Voorhees as we know and love him, supporting Crystal Lake Sporting Goods single-handedly with his bulk purchases of machetes and retro goalie masks. One of the top 3 icons of the slasher genre, if not THE icon of the slasher genre, Jason has been stalking and murdering naughty teenagers ever since he first appeared on silver screens in Friday the 13th...Part 2.

As anyone who saw Wes Craven's "Scream" should know, Jason was not the killer in the original Friday the 13th. Instead, it was his equally as murderous mother Pamela Voorhees that was killing the teens off.

Yes, Friday the 13th decided to go a different route than it's predecessor, Halloween, and throw the audience through a loop with this little Opposite-of-Psycho twist with a mother, who suffers split personality syndrome, believes her dead son is driving her to kill those who she believes are responsible for his death.

Strangely, the swimming instructor was not on her list

The other aspect that separated Friday the 13th was it's gory kills and highlighting of teenaged debauchery. Psycho, the film that birthed the slasher genre, went out of it's way to only imply the violence of it, and Halloween only killed four people in total, two were stabbed and two were strangled. Friday the 13th racked up a 10-kill-body-count by the end credits and the tamest of them was a mere knife to the stomach in a film that included throat-slashings, an-axe-to-the-face, and multiple murders involving archery arrows being slowly pushed through people.

Even murder goes better with a side of Bacon.

I remember being so frightened of this movie when I was a kid, I wouldn't even play the NES game based on it (well technically based on the sequels) years later for fear of some sort of slasher film PTSD. This is all thank to actor, stunt man, and special effects master Tom Savini and his beautiful work on this film.

The debauchery, on the other hand was another piece of the classic slasher concept that owes it's origins to Friday the 13th. While Norman Bates had an aversion to those who engaged in less-than-nice activities, Mrs. Voorhees strikes like the vengeful hand of God against anyone and everyone involved in some form of underage drinking, drug use, or per-marital sex.

Anything that can be linked to a cliche of a slasher film through the 80's and 90's was born from Friday the 13th, and even the sequels in the Halloween series began imitating the franchise with more gruesome violence and holy-righteous subtext. While Psycho may be the film that created the slasher genre, and Halloween made masked-murderers the industry standard it was Friday the 13th that really set the bar for any film that would follow. This makes Friday the 13th a true horror classic.

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