Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson
Words – Oliver Innocent
Comprising of eight films between 1980 and 1989 (and a further four entries in the decades that followed), Friday the 13th is one of the defining franchises of the ’80s.
Rivalled in popularity only by the Nightmare on Elm Street series, the Friday movies perfectly encapsulate ’80s horror with teen-friendly tales of sex and violence, groundbreaking practical effects, cool soundtracks, and a truly iconic villain. This closely adhered to and extremely reliable formula would ensure fright fans flocked to see the latest entry year after year.
Indeed, the original Friday the 13th plot of teens getting slaughtered in inventive ways in the woods and cabins of the supposedly cursed Camp Crystal Lake would be repeated in almost every sequel with little to no variation. Rather than being a hindrance, this lack of variation is perhaps the series’ biggest asset.
Kicking off the decade in style, the first Friday the 13th scared up big business at the box office, thanks to its successful appropriation of John Carpenter’s slasher granddaddy Halloween and its stalk and slash/teens in peril formula, coupled with more extreme scares and gorier murders.
Courtesy of effects maestro Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead), the over-the-top slayings (knife through the neck, axe in the face, decapitation by machete etc) laid down the blueprint for the series’ penchant for penning more and more elaborate (read; ridiculous) ways of offing people.
Backed by major studio Paramount, Friday the 13th is an odd mixture of independent exploitation-style gratuitous sex ‘n’ violence and straightforward, mainstream-friendly Hollywood scares. To be sure, despite the fact there’s plenty of blood and gore on display, there’s nothing exceedingly grim or nasty about the film when compared with one of its contemporaries like The Evil Dead.
Neither too offensive nor too bloodless, Friday the 13th strikes just the right balance to endear it to both hardcore horror fanatics and more mainstream audiences looking for a fun thrill ride. A surprisingly effective cocktail that not only allowed it to take the box office by storm, but also engendered a pop cultural phenomenon that helped define ’80s horror.
The direction’s pretty solid, the characters – although obvious stereotypes – are fun, the scares work, it has a classic horror score, and Camp Crystal Lake is a memorably creepy setting. There’s no denying it’s effectiveness as an entertainment machine. It also features a very young, pre-fame Kevin Bacon.
These are the kind of horror movies you put on if you just want a fun easy watch that’s sure to cheer you up – the comfort food of horror, if you will. You don’t have to think, you don’t have to concern yourself with any socio-political metaphors, you just have to sit back, grab your popcorn, turn out the lights, and take a trip to Camp Crystal Lake – and see the beginning of one of the most famous franchises in horror movie history…