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Friday the 13th-Review

Updated on July 1, 2010

Friday the 13th

In honor of Halloween I recently watched the original "Friday the 13th," directed by Sean S. Cunningham in 1980. It is a movie I pull off of the shelves every few years, and I am always surprised by how much I like it.

As a teenager I was a fan of horror movies, a subscriber to Fangoria, and obsessed with Stephen King. As a result I have boxes of memorabilia clogging the attic, boxes that won't find their way to the trash. I force horror movie bobble-head dolls on my nephew. I spout justifications, "yes it is a bad movie, but it is a horror movie. It is a fun movie." A fan of horror movies always feels vindicated when a horror movie is both a horror movie and a good movie.

"Friday the 13th" falls somewhere between the two... a good horror movie and a good movie... A good movie in the sense that there is very solid acting, something that often lacks in even high budget Hollywood movies these days... and a good horror movie, as when I was a young teenager, I couldn't sleep after watching it late at night on TV, unbeknownst to my parents.

As far as it being a good movie with good actors... There was strong character development, not necesarily a result of strong writing, as much as it was established through basic and honest human interaction, which might again have been the actors. Whereas now you have someone like Quinten Tarantino who will juxtapose someone singing and dancing, right before snorting and overdosing (Pulp Fiction) or four girls banging their heads in a car with the stereo blasting right before a head on collision (Death Proof), "Friday the 13th" has three unsuspecting characters that don't know each other all that well playing strip monopoly, oozing with the innocence of teenage sexual tension, while their colleagues are being hacked to pieces all around them. The characters are most human (and awkward... and uncomfortable... ) as they are closest to their ends.

Comparing it to its many sequels, and imitators (keeping in mind "Friday the 13th" itself was inspired by John Carpenter's "Halloween",) one of the important things that was handled very differently were the victims. In the original, all of the victims were likable. Even the kids that were 'bad' (like Ned) were kids you would want to be friends with. The method now is to have five kids, four of which are liars, drinkers, and cheaters, and one who is blond and innocent. The characters become very flat and you do not invest in them, and you are basically told ahead of time, "this is the character to follow." The writing then is not about developing a theme, or character development, as much as, "we know we have four to kill, so come up with four good kill sequences."

In the original "Friday the 13th" you watch a bunch of likable strangers bond and you invest in the relationships that they are forging. It is this investment into the relationships that makes it all the more horrific when Tom Savini does his magic, and axes start splicing their heads like melons.

It also followed the mold set by Stephen Spielberg's "Jaws," in 1975, which is hold off on showing the monster as long as you can. The unknown is far scarier than anything you can show us. The combination of liking these characters, and knowing that something unknown, but horrific, is going to tear apart these realtionships, creates the necessary tension to make this a worth while viewing.

It is obviously a low budget movie with restrictions and a simple scipt, and obviously lacking the scope of something like "The Godfather," but regardless, it has its place. Mrs. Vorhees and Camp Crystal Lake have permanently imbedded themselves as reality in the mythology of my mind, and I believe it is a movie that vindicates the fans of horror movies around the world.


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