25 October 2012

menopause: the motion picture.

37. Friday the 13th (1980)

If for some strange reason you have never seen the original Friday the 13th but it's written in ink on your to-do list, please refrain from reading the following exegesis, as I tend to be free and easy with the spoilers. It's simply impossible, you see, to approach such an important and seminal text as Friday the 13th without giving up some of its secrets. We, as archaeologists of the creative mind, must analyze these precious cultural artifacts with the thoroughness and care that their profound artistic merit has clearly entitled them to.   

Okay, enough. I don't believe in god, but I half-expected a lightning bolt to strike me dead while I typed those whoppers. Friday the 13th isn't precious, profound, or even terribly creative. It's the work of a huckster. Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to Sean S. Cunningham—often known by his Latin taxonomy hackus excretorius:

Doesn't he just look like a Grade A piece of shit? I mean, his whole purpose in creating Friday the 13th was to capitalize on the recent success of Halloween, and by 'capitalize on the recent success of,' I mean 'shamelessly rip-off without moral compunction.' But—of course—he added more sex and gore. That was his artistic contribution to the genre—more axes to the head and more bouncing boobies. 

And I have another grudge against Mr. Cunningham... I realize that Wes Craven (another lousy director who got lucky a few times) must bear the primary responsibility for the 1972 'horror' film The Last House on the Left, but Cunningham produced it—so he deserves a piece of the blame pie on that one too. I can honestly say—without exaggeration—that I think The Last House on the Left is one of the ten worst films I've ever seen. Let's compare this film for a moment to Nazi war crimes, shall we? After the war, maybe all of the Nazi lackeys and rank-and-file won't be put on trial—because who has the time and resources?—but those in power, the decision-makers, must stand accused and account for their actions. Sean S. Cunningham... J'accuse!

Anyway, back to Friday the 13th...

You know, I thought I had seen the original Friday the 13th before—at a junior high Halloween party, to be precise—but now I realize that that must have been Friday the 13th Part 2, its Palme d'Or-winning sequel. (Just seeing if you're paying attention.) Now I'm not claiming that there's a hell of a lot of variety in the seemingly endless Friday the 13th franchise that would require one to differentiate between the films—unless Jason Voorhees happens to be in Manhattan or outer space—but I was definitely surprised to find out that Jason isn't actually the murderer in the first one! It's his demented mother, who offs the libidinous teens at Camp Crystal Lake in a fetching robin's-egg-blue cable knit sweater:

She looks a little like a young Leona Helmsley, doesn't she? ('Only the little people pay taxes... or engage in sinful intercourse while my poor son drowns.' D'oh!)  I have to ask... Cunningham, this woman was the best you could come up with for your scary serial killer? I was a little dumbfounded. This is what you're bringing to the table here? A vaguely Sapphic suburban mom who probably has a hand-painted wooden plaque above her toilet that says, 'If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie'? Oh, the humanity...

I'm going to go ahead and admit that this movie had a couple of good scares in it—but I was retroactively unscared when I found out that the organizer of the church bake sale was the one slitting people's throats. And again—this is a common complaint in horror films—the murders would have been more affecting if the victims weren't the most annoying people on the face of the earth. How are we supposed to empathize with Ned (Mark Nelson), a self-styled wiseacre whose attempts at witticism make Bob Hope look edgy? Oh, and there's Annie (Robbi Morgan) who is the first nitwit picked off when she hitchhikes to camp. (Did you know that Mrs. Voorhees drives a Jeep? Bad choice, I think. Serial killers, by definition, drive Saturns.) Annie is so nauseatingly perky you almost want to help Mrs. Voorhees track her in the woods. I'm sorry, but nobody does horror movie victim quite like P.J. Soles. She broke the mold.

The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon didn't get much of a boost from Friday the 13th because Bacon is the only well-known actor in the dang-blasted thing. As you can see from the photo above, he didn't come to a good end—but his character has one claim to fame: he is the first 'present-day' post-coital death in the Friday the 13th franchise. You might say he was a trailblazer. On the other hand, you might not. 

At this point in the discussion, I want to pose a question. Why are we so entertained by teenagers getting murdered? It's like potato chips. You can't eat just one—the same way that you're never quite satisfied with just one grisly dismemberment of a young person on the cusp of adulthood. You want more. How many teenage heads can be impaled by how many different household tools? It's just never enough for my money. The only problem is that the cat-and-mouse nature of the slasher film gets in the way of the assembly line optimization of teenage murders... There should be a long line of dumb teenagers, and some deranged lunatic in a cable knit sweater just decapitates them one after the other like a corn husking machine. That way, we could enjoy all of the gory deaths without having to sit through the dialogue.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! (But I had really good material to work off of...)

    2. The guy who plays Jason in the remake of the original (has there ever been a remake of a sequel? Does anything signify more that Hollywood is DOA than all the remakes?) is from Bakersfield.

      When are you going to add Tree of Life to this list? That one even scared me (I also read that Malick's next movie sucks even more).

    3. The horror movie remakes are getting fucking RIDICULOUS! We've had Halloween, Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie, Psycho, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, Evil Dead (coming soon), and so on and so on. Get a new idea, you dumbfucks! You're paid enough money to!

      Anyway... Malick is getting downright prolific. Maybe he needs the money. But in that case, he should try a horror movie remake...

  2. After seeing this movie I began checking under my bed again.

    1. Really? Did you think that housewife in her cable knit sweater was under your bed?

  3. Great review David! Kevin Bacon looks like he's 14 in this. I don't think I saw this one. I'm not sure which 80's horror movies I've seen (although I know I've seen some)- they all look the same. I remember one with Jamie Lee Curtis, where the action is all on a train (I'll guess it's called "Terror Train" or "Horror Train"... maybe "Murder Train"). Also, there's a pretty well done one with Margot Kidder. Oh, and of course Prince of Darkness...

    1. Thanks, BB.

      Yes, Jamie Lee Curtis was in several horror films in the late 70s and early 80s—one of which is called Terror Train, but I haven't seen it. I have read some pretty scathing reviews of it though.

      The Margot Kidder movie you're talking about might actually be the 1974 film Black Christmas, which is in fact a very creepy and effective horror movie and will be featured in Halloween Film Fest in its final week. It's often credited with being one of the very first (if not the first) slasher film.

      And Prince of Darkness sucks.