Friday The 13th: Not Your Mother’s Serial Killer

Published on September 29th, 2010 in: Halloween, Horror, Movie Reviews, Movies |

By Jemiah Jefferson

“Ki ki ki ki, ma ma ma!”

The frequent playground refrain from my childhood, where playing “serial killer” added extra spice to the tired old trope of Tag, came from this movie, not one of the seemingly countless similar others released around that same time.

Starting with the classic Halloween in 1978 (which I was lucky enough to see in the cinema when I was all of seven years old; it didn’t scare me a bit because I fell asleep), the next decade unleashed an onslaught of teen slasher flicks. I wasn’t a fan of gore until my college days, thus most of these movies came and went with nothing more than a dismissive sniff from me. In the interim, though, I’ve become an avid aficionado of gore, shocks, and assorted modes of on-screen death, where no panty shot goes unpunished. It was time for me to finally see Friday the 13th.

friday the 13th original poster

This low-budget classic deserves all of its accolades, if only because of how influential it was to the horror movies that would follow it. Made on an estimated budget of $550,000, it stars a bunch of nobodies, was shot on location in the middle of nowhere, and really, every penny is up there on the screen. Filmed at a Boy Scout camp in New Jersey, it takes full advantage of the contrast between woodsy natural beauty and inexplicable shrieking terror lurching in from the rain-soaked darkness. I never went to camp as a child, but I imagine that if I had, this movie would have been much more frightening to me. I didn’t really expect to be scared by it; to me a terrifying movie is Idiocracy. Still, even for the jaded viewer of 2010, Friday the 13th is worth it as a slice of half-silly, half-badass fun. (Well, make that 85% silly. But I digress.)

Producer/director Sean Cunningham claims to have been influenced by the giallo of Mario Bava (Blood and Black Lace, Black Sabbath), who made stylish, freaky films with more of an emphasis on atmosphere than plausibility. When a movie is truly terrifying, it should manage to derange the viewer; whatever illogic is thrown at the audience just adds to a feeling of uncanny dread. That’s not exactly the sensation Friday the 13th arouses; it was more like polite, patient boredom, like a student struggling to keep her attention on the lecture, knowing there will eventually be a payoff.

And it pays off in spades, culminating in one of the most astonishingly awesome climax battles put on film. There’s a reason why this film is an influential classic; it hits all the beats (which, at the time, had not yet become easily parodied clich├ęs), and then goes bugfuck nuts in seriously entertaining fashion. The true joy of horror films, for those of us who don’t spook easily, is discovery of new tropes and surprising, original twists on mythic stories. And, of course, new innovations in gore.

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2 Responses to “Friday The 13th: Not Your Mother’s Serial Killer”

  1. Danny R. Phillips:
    October 13th, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    great review… I saw this movie as a kid and helped foster a love of slasher/horror flicks that has stayed with me. Hell, that’s probably why Halloween is still my favorite holiday… actually it explains alot about me…..

  2. Kaye Telle:
    October 21st, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    I saw this last year in the theater with the original cast and composer of the score. Betsy is still creepy, but I’ll never be as scared of Jason “I’m in a band – buy my crap” Vorhees.

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