‘Friday the 13th’: Iconic Slasher Still Scarily Satisfies


They Were Warned… They Are Doomed… And On Friday the 13th, Nothing Will Save Them.


After a tragic incident causes a summer camp to close, the owners of the remote, kid friendly (or so they thought) attraction are forced to shut its doors to the public. For years, Crystal Lake has laid dormant, waiting for the perfect person to resurrect it’s vacant cabins for the joyous children of New Jersey. Enter Steve Christy. With cash in his pocket, and passion where it counts, the aging entrepreneur beings working hard to make his fantasies a camp-fire hot reality. After hiring a few counselors, including fragile artist Alice, to help get Crystal Lake ready for a little fun under the summer sun, everything seems to be going smother than Michael rowing his boat ashore. But when the past comes back for revenge on the present, the group of 20-somethings must fight a force they never saw coming. Looking after a band of misfit kids was hard enough. Surviving until camp is even open could be murder. Welcome to Friday the 13th.

‘You see, Jason was my son, and today is his birthday.’ -Pamela


I remember growing up on a steady diet of Crystal Lake cookies and Mrs. Voorhees’ bloody brownies and being unable to satisfy that devilish sweet tooth. I was very young at the time, somewhere around seven or eight years old or so, and crashing every Friday the 13th on the couch with film-loving Uncle. He’s much older than me, and at the time, extremely impressionable on the psyche of my youth. We’d sit there, and devour each film like, well, sugary treats. It was from there that I became obsessed by the tale of the murderess mother and her bullied little boy with a bad case of swimmer’s ear. From then on, it was all Jason and bloody camp counselors at a constant pace on my TV and in my horror-obsessed life. They say the best rides are ones you’ll want to do over and over and baby, this addiction was debilitating; years later nothing has ch-ch-ch changed mu-mu-mu much. So let’s all build a nice hot fire, sing a little Hallelujah, and kill a few camp counselors as I review the 1980 slasher splat classic, Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th.


The acting in Friday the 13th is a mixed bag of machetes. While some of the actors in the iconic slasher film leave a lot to be desired, there’re a few standout performances in the signature horror piece.

Of the entire cast, actress Betsy Palmer is without question the strongest here. Giving one of the best performances in the history of horror, a feat giving her 19 or so minutes of scary screen time, Palmer explodes on the screen like a bomb from horror’s uncivil war. From the moment she appears, you know something isn’t right about the woman who will eventually be revealed as the mother of long ago drowned Jason, Mrs. Pamela Voorhees. It’s in her eyes, it’s in her convictions. She loves her baby boy, and someone has to pay, even if means “Camp Blood” will finally live up to its name. Her timing is great, squeezing the audience of every bit of relief they may have had by her initial appearance, and Friday the 13th wouldn’t have been the same without the actress; a franchise may not have ever been born (and the upcoming game just a hypothetical fantasy).

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Adrienne King is also stellar in Cunningham’s iconic horror film. While she’s not as sharp as Palmer, which is a horrifically high measuring stick to compete with, she’s still a solid addition to what comprises Friday the 13th. What’s so impressive about King’s take on Alice, a taking crucial to Friday’s overall success, is what the actress brought to the role outside of what was on the page. While her character is given little backstory, this is a Halloween ripoff (which eventually became admirable beast of its own) slasher film we’re talking here. She plays the role so repressed, giving the audience a slight glimpse of her fish-out-of-water existence and this acting choice really helped Friday. This choice also helped the picture amplify it’s more dramatic points of the narrative, mostly in the third act when Alice finds the destroyed carcasses of her once blood-pumping friends, and helps take the audience where it needs to be. It’s simply great stuff, creatures of the night.

Kevin Bacon is also cooking up a visual feast in Friday the 13th. While the actor, who would go on to be a staple of 80s and early 90s film, doesn’t have much to do in the film, he’s still so comfortable on screen it’s hard to not see yourself in his portrayal. He could be you, he could be me. We could be the ones with the arrow in the neck, protruding out of the back of our heads like some backwoods death spear. Especially in his scenes that showcase his relationship; the authenticity intensifies Friday the 13th’s integrity. (B+)


Sean S. Cunningham directs Friday the 13th with surprising style and visual intrigue. For years, in my much younger days, I assumed the classic slasher has always been about the kills and not about the art of filmmaking. While some entries are actually quite solid, including Joe Zito’s 1984 sequel Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, I always thought the original was all score and effects. It didn’t help that Cunningham is much more of a producer than a-self proclaimed-accomplished filmmaker. The last few years have changed my opinion on the matter quite a bit.

Though the iconic horror picture is a faded experience compared to other classic of the genre, the full still features a few instances of solid composition. For instance, when Alice is attending to the many chores around Crystal Lake, while engaging in conversation with camp owner Christy, and the composition is crisp as star King in the foreground (on a latter) and Christy is on the ground in the background.

Friday also features a few slow zooms and are used to quite a nice effect. While I would usually say this is somewhat lazy filmmaking, lay some dolly track or get a Steadicam for Jason’s sake, but here it’s a welcomed addition. One shot, for example, starts zoomed in far up the road as the unfortunately doomed (thanks crazy Ralph) counselor’s truck enters frame. As the truck is visible, the camera zooms back to reveal a previously unseen hard-working Christy chopping wood. The result is enough to make you swim without a lifeguard on duty, Fright Fans.

Arguably the most impressive of all of Cunningham’s directorial decisions is his insistence on letting Harry Manfredini’s iconic score have full reign over his picture. Direction isn’t just about shots, it’s about a slew of decisions both on and off set. Sure, Tom Savini’s effects are the most talked about part of the film. But I imagine Cunningham knew the gore galore of Savini would bring an audience most certainly of repeat ticket-purchase value. Manfredini’s score is another beast entirely. Especially in the bait sequence at the picture’s tail end in the immortal final minutes of Friday.

Backed by a beautiful epically-slow zoom shot, Manfredini’s score is absolutely brilliant in the moment before young Jason makes his amazing reappearance (or did he?) it’s one of the most iconic scenes in the history of horror and arguably this moment, in fact, was the true birth of Friday the 13th’s multi-million dollar franchise. (B)


Victor Miller’s script, Friday the 13th, is a stable of the genre, no doubt, but the piece of cinematic literature is far from perfect.

Forget that the film is a huge rip off of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Miller has even publicly stated, in the terrific Crystal Lake Memories documentary, that director Cunningham told him, “Halloween is a huge hit, let’s rip it off.” If you look at Halloween and Friday’s openings, both are almost identical. Both films opening with world building exposition, and both feature youths in jeopardy with the apparent inability to reach out to protective adults. I’m not saying Friday’s script is flawed because of its initial birthing-ground, only it’s something to ponder while taking the script into account.

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Another problem with the script, which was rewritten many times with new pages arriving on set daily, is its attempt to make the audience believe the cook is the protagonist. A failed attempt at what Hitchcock perfected in his iconic 1960 picture Psycho and Wes Craven would later do in the opening of the 1996 classic Scream, Miller’s script tries that gutsy bait-and-switch move. The big difference, other than Janet Leigh and Drew Barrymore’s social and cultural significance, respectively, is the cook isn’t killed before we are introduced to the actual protagonist Alice.

It’s possible the problem lies in the way Cunningham cut the film, as it’s hard to truly distinguish, but it would have been more effective had she been offed before we ever got to Crystal Lake. In fact, to this day, the film could benefit from being recut. While everybody, including their vengeful mother, has seen the film, it would be a much richer experience if the cook’s scene were isolated. Not only is her character classic misdirection, her scene with the truck driver is essentially only for more exposition. That’s all it is, while necessary, and the film would have benefited from squeezing it all together.

Now for what worked in the immortal slasher classic. For starters, the fact that the killer is a vengeful mother not only divides the audience on if she is indeed right in her action, due to her love of her son though drastic, but it’s also a crazy curve ball in a genre ran by murdering men. It’s refreshing, and still is to this day, that the murder is a woman. The film is all POV, up until Mrs. Voorhees is shown to be the killer, so we don’t have unbelievable stuff with a woman in a costume strong arming a man. Not sexist, just a realist, and men are stronger than woman in most cases. So this works in the film to give the reveal a much needed punch.

It’s also a script weighted by Pamela’s motivations. We can empathize with the loss of a love one, and though she no doubt takes it too far, the audience has an easier time understanding this versus say something tragically happening Mrs.Voorhees herself. (B)


Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th is an undeniable classic of our genre. While the film pales in comparison to a lot of the iconic horror films we know and love, it’s still an underrated film packed with solid thrills. Friday features iconic effects, an amazing performance by Betsy Palmer, and one of horror some effective scores by Harry Manfredini. It’s a film that’s often lumped with the worst of the series, as even the best of them are, but is quite effective and a stable of the horror experience. So pop in this baby, as today is Friday the 13th, and watch out next time your out on a cool crisp lake for momma’s favorite mongoloid. Ultimately underrated classic.


Join 1428 next Franchise Friday as I review the series’ second installment, Friday the 13th Part 2, directed by Steve Miner.

Next: In Defense of: 'Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning'