Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Friday the 13th: Blogging thru the body count...

I recently bought the Friday the 13th boxset from Paramount, which includes all eight original flicks. This is one of my favorite horror franchises of all time, which is why I plan to post real-time to the blog while I watch each movie. I'll include minute marks for each comment, so anyone who watches them on their own will know what I'm talking about. Needless to say, these posts will contain many spoilers. Now, let's start at the beginning...

Friday the 13th (1980)
Directed by Sean Cunningham
Starring Kevin "The" Bacon, Betsy Palmer, and some people you don't know

Prologue: Camp Crystal Lake, 1958. First use of the famous "chi, chi, chi, wa, wa, wa" sound effect. Two camp counselors decide to take a break and have some naughty premarital sex. A mysterious figure follows them into an unoccupied building and murders them with a knife. The camera operates from the killer's point-of-view, so the audience is unaware of the killer's identity. Also worth noting is that the deaths are relatively bloodless. In the bonus material, Sean Cunningham said that he wanted the first deaths to be simple so as to trick the audience into thinking that this film wouldn't be too gory. People in 1980 were very gullible. (5:20)

Present: Friday, June 13. A teenaged girl named Annie walks through a small town, trying to find directions to Camp Crystal Lake. She talks to a dog like it's a person. I can't wait for her to die. She manages to find a guy in a diner who's willing to give her a lift part of the way there, but on the way to his truck she's accosted by the town drunk, Ralph. He warns her that "Camp Blood" has a death curse. Annie is a dumbass, and heads to the camp anyway. Despite the fact that her ride informs her of the 1958 murders and multiple acts of sabotage that prevented previous attempts to re-open the camp, Annie insists she can't quit. Don't feel bad for Annie: this is just Darwinian law in action. (11:45)

Three more camp counselors drive down the road listening to old-timey country music. The music is annoying, so they deserve to die. But I'm slightly torn, because the Bacon is among them. When they arrive at the camp, we meet Steve, the owner of Camp Crystal Lake, who looks like a 70s porn star. Words alone can't do his outfit justice, which consists of a kerchief around his neck, no shirt, and jean cutoffs. We also meet Alice, the Plain Jane of the group. Everyone is busy because the camp opens in less than two weeks. Steve heads into town for supplies. (10:20)

Another girl, Brenda I think, is setting up an archery target when one of the guys, Ned, shoots the target with an arrow to scare her. For pulling such an incredibly jack-ass stunt, Ned must die. We cut to Annie, still hitch-hiking, who gets picked up by a jeep. We don't see the driver, so we know instantly that it's the killer. Annie yammers on about her love of children, which makes her impending death all the sweeter. When she realizes that the driver isn't going to drop her off at the camp, she gets scared and jumps out of the jeep. The killer pursues Annie into the woods and cuts her throat with a hunting knife. Nice. (22:20)

The other nubile teens (all played by actors in their twenties) frolick by the lake. The Bacon wears speedos. We get more POV shots from the killer, watching them. The teens then kill a snake in one of the cabins with a machete. According to the director, the snake was real. Some shenanigans involving the local police. Then crazy, drunk Ralph sneaks into the dining hall and delivers another death curse warning to the counselors. Ralph rides away on his bicycle, which looks something he stole from a little girl. (31:30)

More boring scenes with the counselors. And about a dozen establishing shots of the rain. I forgot how slow this movie is. Finally, the Bacon gets some, unaware that dead Ned is lying in the bunk directly above his bed. I hate off-screen kills. (40:15)

We get our first bare tits at the 40:40 mark. Bacon's lady lover wanders off to the bathroom (in a different building), while the other three counselors play strip Monopoly in another cabin. While the Bacon is lying in bed, the killer, who's been hiding under the bed the whole time the Bacon was getting some lovin,' grabs his head and then slowly drives an arrow through the back of his neck and out the front. It's fantastically gory. (42:50)

The Bacon's girlfriend gets an axe to face in the bathroom. Good make-up effects, but there's an obvious edit to hide the fact that a real axe didn't actually hit her face. (46:45)

On his way back, Steve's shitty jeep gets stuck in the mud, but he gets a lift part of the way back by a local cop. Brenda is reading in bed, when she starts to hear someone say "help me." She wanders out into the woods, eventually reaching the archery range. The killer gets her off-screen, which is pretty damn lame. (57:25)

Alice and Bill, another counselor, start to look for the others, without luck. They do, however, find an axe in Brenda's bed. Being a dumbass, Bill is only mildly perturbed. While Steve is walking back to camp someone shines a flashlight in his face. Steve recognizes the person right before he gets a knife to the gut. (1:03:50)

The killer turns off the generator, and dumb Bill heads off to investigate by himself. We get a very long scene of Alice making tea. Then she finally goes looking for Bill and finds his body impaled on the generator cabin door by multiple arrows. Some nice make-up effects, especially the arrow through the eye. (1:11:45)

Alice tries to barricade herself in her dining hall cabin. That is, until someone throws Brenda's corpse through a window. She then sees car lights, and runs outside to find a familiar jeep pulling up. Out walks Mrs. Pamela Voorhees. It's pretty damn obvious she's the killer, which raises the question of why they waited to the last act to introduce her. (1:15:25)

Crazy, old Pamela gives the backstory on Jason: he was her son, and he drowned in 1957 because the counselors weren't paying attention. That's why she killed two of them a year later, and made sure that Camp Crystal Lake got closed. In flashback, we see that Jason looks like the Elephant Man's son. Of course, now that Pamela's identity has been revealed, she loses all of her slasher superpowers and gets knocked out by a scrawny teenaged girl. (1:18:45)

Alice makes a break for Pamela's jeep, but finds Annie's dead body in the passenger seat. She's become far less obnoxious. Then she run's into Steve's body, which Pamela somehow found the time to hang upside-down. These slashers are always so efficient with time management. Crazy Pam starts talking to herself, just to make sure that the audience gets that she's crazy. Pam pursues Alice into the tool shed and they start fighting like two people who've never gotten in a fight before. Alice gets the upper-hand (again) but rather than finish off the crazy lady, runs away (AGAIN). (1:22:00)

More chasing follows, and Alice gets cornered in the pantry. Pam goes after her with a machete, but Alice knocks her out with a frying pan and AGAIN runs away. Alice runs to the canoes, and just sits there like a lump until Pamela shows up with the machete. They wrestle in the way that only an old lady and a skinny chick can. As fight scenes go, this isn't exactly Bruce Lee territory. Alice finally wises up chops off Pamela's head with the machete. It's another really impressive gore effect. (1:28:00)

Alice paddles out to the middle of the lake in one of the canoes and falls asleep. When she wakes up the police have arrived, the music is tranquil, and everything seems resolved. And then the half-rotten corpse of Jason jumps out of the water and drags Alice underneath. It's extremely well-done, and I imagine that audiences in 1980 crapped themselves at that moment. (1:30:30)

Alice wakes up screaming in a hospital. When a cop shows up, she asks about the boy who pulled her underwater. The cop informs her that they didn't find any boy. The movie ends with a shot of Crystal Lake, as something makes bubbles below the surface. (1:32:45)

According to Sean Cunningham, the producer/director, Friday the 13th was a small movie that was released at just the right time. I have to agree with him. As slasher films go, it's not bad, but there's nothing in particular about it that sets it apart. It is very gory, thanks to the work of the legendary Tom Savini, but it would soon be outdone by a dozen copycat franchises.

The Ten Little Indians style of killing off the cast one-by-one resembles the slasher films to come, but it actually has more in common with the Italian giallo thrillers of the 1970s. These films combined the whodunit storytelling of crime fiction with psychological themes and excessive gore. Friday the 13th has quite a bit of gore, and Pamela Voorhees has clearly been driven insane by the death of her only child. But Friday fails as a mystery, largely because Cunningham doesn't even introduce the killer until the final act. There's no whodunit because the audience is never given any clues, or even red herrings.

Some feminist critics have asserted that Friday the 13th (and the slasher genre more broadly) attempts to reinforce traditional social values by punishing teenagers who engage in premarital sex. It is true that the teens who have sex get killed. But then again, teens who don't have sex also get killed. The killer in Friday the 13th doesn't seem very picky. But I'll talk more about subtext on the next couple movies.

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