Friday the 13th is Sean S. Cunningham’s archetypal slasher from 1980, in which a mystery killer stalks summer camp counsellors, brutalising each of the attractive teenagers – and Kevin Bacon.
It’s difficult to take a film like this seriously nowadays, thanks mainly to the deconstruction of the genre by brilliant postmodern slashers such as The Cabin in the Woods, Tucker and Dale vs Evil and of course Scream. These aren’t the self-aware horror fans of Woodsboro, these are stupid camp counsellors who head out into the woods in the middle of the night armed only with a poncho. And much as I love the cleverness of Wes Craven’s meta franchise, there’s a certain purity about Friday the 13th.
Sure, the acting leaves a lot to be desired and the story is non-existent but there’s still loads of fun to be had from this body count classic. It’s just a string of inventive murders but each is stunningly executed (excuse the pun) by the godfather of gore Tom Savini, whose faultless physical effects still provide more of a visceral thrill than today’s CGI bloodletting. Harry Manfredini’s atmospheric music is equally impressive, and the film has a scuzzy sort of charm.
Of course the whole thing is an exercise in quick money-making. The filmmakers talk candidly of their financial motives; Cunningham was making family films until he realised that the big money was in horror, writer Victor Miller openly ripped-off John Carpenter and star Betsy Palmer only did it so she could buy a car. The beats of the movie are straight out of Psycho, Jaws and Halloween, but they work. They worked so well that it spawned nine sequels, became the highest grossing horror franchise of all time and earned an obligatory Michael Bay remake.
Is it ruined by the Kevin Bacon advert?
Only insofar as the advert gives away the fact that his character is killed by an arrow, but in a slasher film that’s hardly a spoiler. He’s basically still a kid in Friday the 13th and walks around in a pair of Speedos – a trait they mercifully avoided in that Kevin Bacon advert. And anyone who has had to sit through those ads will be only too happy to watch Kevin Bacon brutally murdered with an arrow.
Should I watch it?
If you’re a horror fan then you have to watch it. Even without the iconic hockey mask, which isn’t introduced until the third film in the franchise, this is a seminal genre flick. Otherwise, just watch Halloween.