Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Walt Gorney
“You’re going to Camp Blood, ain’t ya? You’ll never come back again. It’s got a death curse!” (Crazy Ralph, Friday The 13th)
You can’t beat a good Jason movie. Not that this is one, of course, because he’s not really in it. And while the reference to Friday The 13th in the opening scene of Scream did its best to inform today’s horror fans that Jason Voorhees was never actually the killer in the original movie, many still believe he’s been the one slicing up teens ever since the series began. They’re wrong. Laugh at them.
Regardless of the big man’s absence Friday The 13th is still a hugely influential film. Much like Halloween inspired the slasher genre in the first place, Friday The 13th was the film responsible for countless imitators in the more specific camp slasher sub-genre. Sleepaway Camp, The Burning, even modern ‘gems’ like Scream Bloody Murder… they all got the original ‘teens at a camp’ idea from Friday The 13th.
The story now sounds clichéd but at the time it was fairly original. 23 years after Camp Crystal Lake closes down following an accident an enterprising young chap decides to open it up again, despite warnings from the locals to leave well alone. As we join the story the counsellors are making their way to the camp early to prepare for the children’s arrival in a few days. But they’re not alone… well, obviously, because the other counsellors are there. What I mean is there’s a killer wandering around too.
As the first important camp slasher movie, Friday The 13th established a lot of the clichés that remain to this day. Gory deaths are a given but it was also responsible for cementing the unwritten rule that if you have sex you die, the subsequent rule that the virgin is the one who’ll become the survivor, and the presence of that camp slasher favourite, the Crazy Old Man™.
Friday The 13th’s Crazy Old Man™ is Ralph, an apparent Grade A mentalist who advises one of the counsellors that Camp Crystal Lake has a “death curse” and that they should stay away. Though it’s not a curse as such, the fact that Ralph was right all along and that he’s smart enough to then piss off after his warning so he can survive past the closing credits (in this film, at least) means he’s a credit to Crazy Old Men™ everywhere. Good work, Ralph.
Of course, all the counsellors ignore Ralph because he’s a Crazy Old Man™ and continue on to the camp, presumably because if they’d said “hmmm, sounds dangerous, let’s go back home and get a bar job instead” the film would perhaps have been less exciting and may not have spawned the eleven sequels it did.
And so, as would soon become traditional, the counselors start getting offed one by one. The deaths surprisingly realistic for a film with such a low budget, mainly thanks to the special effects expertise of a young Tom Savini, who would go on to become a legend of the horror genre with films like Dawn Of The Dead. The most impressive scene of the bunch is the arrow-in-the-neck demise of Jack – played by a 21-year-old Kevin Bacon in his first role – which looks so believable that to this day many are still stumped as to how it was done (though there have been documentaries since that have revealed the secret).
Of course, as is customary in these films the killer has to eventually be revealed, and while I won’t spoil it (in case you’re one of the few people who doesn’t know what happens) it leads to a rather underwhelming final fifteen minutes when you know the killer isn’t exactly the strongest person in the world. Still, the final death and the brilliant twist ending make up for it.
Friday The 13th may be showing its age now and it may not prominently feature the man who would become synonymous with the series but despite this it’s still a great example of the genre at its purest. If you’re relatively new to slasher films and are as a result less likely to be able to tell when the jumps are coming (many films used the Friday The 13th series as templates for the timing of their jumps) then you’ll be in for a scary ride, but for everyone else these days it’s just a dumb, fun movie that happened to give birth to an entire sub-genre. See it.