Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.
In 1980, Sean S. Cunningham released Friday the 13th, which starred Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Harry Crosby, Kevin Bacon, Jeannine Taylor, Mark Nelson, Laurie Bartram, Robbi Morgan, Peter Brouwer, Rex Everhart, Walt Gorney, Willie Adams, Debra S. Hayes, and Ari Lehman. The film grossed $59.8 million at the box office and spawned nine sequels, a crossover with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and a reboot in 2009. The film was nominated for the Mystfest Award for Best Film and the Razzie Awards for Worst Picture and Worst Supporting Actress.
Following the deaths of several camp counselors in the late 1950s, Camp Crystal Lake closed down with two attempts to reopen sabotaged. However, Steve Christy, the son of the camp’s previous owners, is hard at work in his planning another attempt at reopening and has hired a number of teenagers as counselors. The teenagers arrive to help get the camp in working order on Friday, June 13 and soon find that someone has something else in mind.
While not exactly a great film, Friday the 13this still pretty decent, mainly because of how atmospheric it is. The fact that there’s going to be trouble is felt early on in the film with Annie asking a diner full of people for directions to Camp Crystal Lake and none of them wanting to even tell her how to get there. This scene itself culminates with a truck driver agreeing to take her halfway and a crazy old man trying to dissuade her from actually going. The film continues to top itself with multiple tracking shots of the killer stalking and going after the kids, really making the viewer feel tense and uneasy every time they are seeing the film through the killer’s eyes. While the teens aren’t killed during every instance of these tracking shots, the way the film is presented to the audience makes it quite clear that none of them are safe and it’s only a matter of when instead of if they die.
The plot itself is pretty interesting too, with a delusional killer out to make sure the camp stays closed so no child can suffer the fate of drowning in the lake. What’s really fascinating is that while this film was the genesis of a franchise that gave the world the well-known hockey mask-wearing slasher, he doesn’t appear in the film until Alice has a nightmare at the end and he rises from the lake to drag her in. The real killer is somebody else and it’s interesting that their demeanor and motive can be taken one of two ways. Either the killer is possessed by the spirit of Jason who wants to kill anyone attempting to reopen or the killer is just psychotic having suffered a breakdown following Jason’s original death.
However, where the film has great atmosphere with a decent plot, the acting leaves a lot to be desired. Morgan, who plays Annie, feels like she’s just trying too hard and instead of coming off as a cheerful and optimistic teenager who loves to work with children, she gives off this unnaturally chipper vibe that feels fake. None of the other actors playing the teenagers are that bad, but they certainly aren’t great either. King as Alice feels wooden half the time and like she’s completely disinterested during the other half. Yet, there is one person in this film that gives a good performance and that’s the killer. Said person is able to make either of the aforementioned interpretations plausible with how they carry themselves, especially when switching between their own voice and the voice of a child out for revenge.
The film also suffers from its pacing as there’s a lot of unnecessary padding throughout its entire 90-minute runtime. There are a lot of moments where a character will exit the frame and the film doesn’t cut away until a few seconds later and when a character drives away, the film won’t cut away until the vehicle completely exits the frame. There’s even a scene where Alice makes coffee that could have been half a minute at the very least but takes nearly two minutes to play out. As a whole, the film could have stood to have been cut by about 10 minutes.