At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Friday the 13th “80”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Jeannine Taylor, Laurie Bartram, Kevin Bacon, Mark Nelson, Robbi Morgan, Peter Brouwer, Rex Everhart, Ronn Carroll, Walt Gorney, Willie Adams, Debra S. Hayes, Sally Anne Golden, Ari Lehman/ Runtime: 95 minutes

I think it can be safely say that, more than any other genre of movie magic, the realm of horror cinema is one that has long been able to embrace a rather unique trend. Namely that the realm of horror is able to construct an entire series of films around a solitary yet iconic killer terrorizing the bejesus out of both numerous victims let alone movie goers and actually get the aforementioned movie goer to continue to shell out money over and over again for what is practically the same exact story. Yet lest you think this trend started back in the late 70s/ early 80s that’s not entirely accurate. Actually, the entire trend started all the way back with the legendary Universal Monster movies featuring such titans as The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, and other assorted and equally as infamous ghastly ghouls and creatures. With that being said however, the successful argument can be made that yes it started with the Universal monster movies, but it was in the aforementioned late 70s and all of the 1980s that we saw this idea of an elongated and bloated to the point of seemingly no return horror franchise complete with a returning psychopathic killer finally begin to make a stab in the realm of cinema. As for why this is the case I can undoubtedly say that it was because of the release in 1978 of John Carpenter’s Halloween. A slice of cinema that not only made a serious killing at the box office, but also ushered in the first of the unholy trinity of slasher franchises which would come forth as well as established quite a bit of the formula that horror franchises even to this day still follow. Yet in-between Carpenter’s iconic film and the release in 1984 of Wes Craven’s masterful first entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, there is another one that most deservedly is worth mentioning. That of course would be the released in 1980 and helmed by Sean S. Cunningham debut entry in the Friday the 13th series. Indeed this is a franchise, which started with a teeny tiny little slice of cinema made on a budget of about 550,000 dollars, which is one that not only is one of the defining examples of what helped to usher in the modern era of horror cinema, but is also one of the first that people will tell you if you ask them what their favorite scary movie is (but not in Woodsboro apparently). Indeed eventually conjuring up no less than nine sequels, a crossover film with Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger, and a Michael Bay-produced remake from 2009, this series is easily one of the finest examples of how to stretch out a franchise for the sake of the almighty dollar ever put to celluloid. Yet whereas the other entries may dip and dive in terms of quality, there is no denying that the first film is very much an iconic film in its respective genre. Of course make no mistake: that honor is not being bestowed on this slice and dice of horror cinema because it is a genuinely great film. Rather, it’s because this slice and dice of horror cinema not only is one of the better made examples of the respective formula it helped to create, but because of one other thing. Namely how it also sets things up fairly well for the rest of the franchise to try and follow suit including competent direction, more than a few gnarly good kill sequences, a twist or two that were actually fairly well thought-out, and an ending that is now nothing short of iconic all brilliantly coming together to conjure up a new blood-soaked chapter in horror cinema.

The plot is as follows: Friday the 13th gets its riveting yarn underway by taking us to a place known as Camp Crystal Lake. A place at one time known as the place where the summers were relaxing, the campers were joyful, and where being a counselor had more than its fair share of perks. Unfortunately in the aftermath of a horrific and tragic drowning following by some of the counselors being brutally murdered, we see that the camp’s image let alone the camp itself is a bit worse for the wear amongst the local populace. Of course that hasn’t stopped some persistent fool from trying to restore the camp to its former glory and in the process welcome not only droves of young campers, but also a terrific group of counselors who have arrived early to help in the restoration process and take part in other counselor pursuits. Namely drinking and other pleasures of a more R-rated variety. Unfortunately, albeit predictably, it isn’t long after the sun sets and a storm sets in that we see history begin to repeat itself for the camp as one by one our group of counselors find themselves being mercilessly hunted by a vicious and maniacal killer….

Now right off the bat I will say that without even coming close to aspiring to spoil just how this slice and dice of horror cinema chooses to wrap everything up, it is a fairly safe statement to make that the original Friday the 13th is one slice of cinema that does manage to quite bravely distinguish itself from the vast majority of entries in the slasher subgenre of movie magic both before and even since due in large part to the rather…..unique nemesis that is the guilty party behind all of the slaughter and blood shed that is afoot. With that being said, when this slice and dice of horror cinema does finally make the choice to pull back the curtain and reveal who’s behind it all it not only is one of the trippiest and finest moments in the entire film, but the ensuing catfight that is had with the proverbial survivor in this manages to be grade-A campiness at its absolute best. As for the rest of this slice and dice of horror cinema, there is no denying that yes this film does make the creative choice to deploy a narrative that follows a distinct formula as straight as an arrow launched at a perfect 90 degree angle. Yet whilst for a lot of other entries in the slasher subgenre such faithful following of the formula might be just a wee bit of a reason to not seeing the film in question, the fact that this one does so well when it comes to just straight up entertaining audiences that I find it really doesn’t matter for this slice and dice of horror cinema. Not only that, but the cast of potential victims (more on them later) are actually fleshed out (pun intended) to just the right degree to make sure that you, the movie goer actually *gasp* care about them let alone what winds up happening to them even if, given the kind of cinema that we are talking about here dear reader, there should not really be any doubt in your mind as to what will eventually happen to at least some of this cast of players. A fact that this slice and dice of cinema takes great delight in by making sure that when it is time for a player to exit stage right as it were to be taken out of the film with a fairly memorable death sequence. Now since I am on the subject of the deaths in this film, of which there are a few that do seem quite visceral and painful to boot, I guess I should tell any parents out there who might be wondering the following. Yes this slice and dice of horror cinema does manage to have a fair degree of moments which can be quite visceral. At the same time though, when placed up against some of what modern horror cinema has seen fit to share with movie goers, the viscerality in this slice and dice of horror cinema is a heck of a lot tamer than you might be thinking. The reason this manages to be the case however is because, unlike a lot of similar horror films that we see around us nowadays, the first entry in the Friday the 13th is one that actually aims to genuinely spook you whilst also conjuring up a fairly well done narrative in place of the void of copious amounts of blood and gore. We also are able to see that this film’s helmer Mr. Sean S. Cunningham is willing to provide his slice and dice of horror cinema with helmsmanship that is both intriguing and even-keeled in equal measure. Perhaps one of the better examples of this which can be found within this slice of cinema is the manner in how Cunningham wonderfully and quite ingeniously utilizes a handheld camera to place the audience (much like Carpenter did with the original Halloween in certain spots) in the point of view of the butcher in a lot of sequences thus raising the creep factor let alone spooky atmosphere present in the film exponentially. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinema manages to show that, contrary to popular belief, it most certainly is acceptable for a slice of cinema to make the choice to go down the well-trodden narrative path. With that being said though, it should only do so if the film in question is willing to back itself up and strengthen itself with at the very least good work in all of the creative departments both behind and in front of the camera.

At the same time however, it also doesn’t hurt the film by any means that the acting in this slice and dice of horror cinema especially with particular regard to the work done here by some unknown who never went far by the name of Kevin Bacon as well as his cast mates Adrienne King, Mark Nelson, Laurie Bartram, and Harry Crosby (son of a certain individual you may have heard by the name of Bing Crosby) to name but a few of the distinct members of our new group of victims ehhh screwed camp counselors not only play these characters as if they are actual people rather than just cardboard cutouts with blood bags attached and waiting for the killer to strike, but also that they each in their own unique ways manage to make their individual characters way more relatable and actually likable than the camera-friendly yet more shallow and one-dimensional than a piece of paper bratty and self-obsessed cast of hormonal teenagers that we wind up getting in a fair amount of the horror cinema that audiences are “treated” to nowadays. Suffice it to say that the acting in this slice and dice of horror cinema is unusually not bad plus each character gets both their own moment as well as their own wonderful little exit stage right in which to shine and they all manage to rise to the challenge admirably. Of course I know there are several characters that might not be included in that mix, but I think it is for the best if I just leave you to draw your own conclusions about them. Trust me when I say you may or may not thank me later for doing so.

All in all I think it can be said that, even when looking at this film just based off its title alone, the very first entry in the Friday the 13th series from 1980 is one of the most fortuitous horror slices of cinema I have had the fortune of seeing. Not just because it was competently made and performed, but because when a movie makes over 59.8 million against a 550,000 dollar budget that is a level of success that even the nit-pickiest of critics cannot try to find fault in. As a result, even if you are a movie goer who has never once sat down and watched this movie you still at least have a rudimentary sense of what you are getting yourself into let alone what the movie revolves around. Thus there is no denying that in many respects the ‘Friday the 13th franchise, and with it this film is one that is an iconic part of the legacy of the horror genre in the world of movie magic. As for if it is deserving of that honor whilst I do have an answer to that question, I also have found it best to let you come up with your own answer. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Friday the 13th “80” a solid 3 out of 5.

 

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