Friday the 13th (1980) / Horror-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, language, and sexuality
Running Time: 95 min.

Cast: Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Jeannine Taylor, Mark Nelson, Robbi Morgan
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Screenplay: Victor Milller
Review published July 17, 2005

The first in a series of truly awful slasher films, Friday the 13th sometimes gets some undeserved credit for being a landmark film in the genre, although clearly it was Halloween that really nailed down the formula two years before.  I hasten to add that both Halloween and Friday the 13th borrow very heavily from Hitchcock's classic, Psycho, and that 1960 film should really be seen as the one that started it all.  In fact, it's hard to imagine that this film would have been made at all without Psycho, as it borrows so liberally from it in almost every aspect, from the eerily similar score (Harry Manfredini ripping off Bernard Herrmann), similar editing (notice the famous shots of the shower curtain opening and the pendulous ceiling lamp), and the duality in the psyche of the killer.  I doubt anyone expected a huge hit, so the knock-offs seem excusable in what should be seen as typical drive-in fare, but giving this mediocre film any praise for doing anything remotely original is short-sighted.

The plot is all too familiar for genre fanatics.  Some horny teenagers head up to the newly reopened Camp Crystal lake for some fun, sun and frolic, despite the fact that the site is rumored to have had an unsavory past.  There may be truth to the notion that the place is concentrated evil, as the teenagers begin turning up dead one by one.  Just who, or what, is killing people, and why?

By today's standards, Friday the 13th is a very dated film.  Outdone many times over in its shock and gore quotient, the once controversial depictions of murder seem all too tame compared to what passes as horror today.  Without the ability to shock, the set-up and methods of killing seem clichéd and uninteresting, spoofed so many times that the film as a whole almost feels like a spoof itself.  It isn't.  The bad acting isn't intentional, and if it not for the fact that director Cunningham (DeepStar Six, Spring Break) decided to plagiarize Hitchcock and John Carpenter so zestfully, the film would probably have suffered from having no style at all. 

Since this is an antiquated curiosity piece nowadays, Friday the 13th's entertainment value merits this worthwhile viewing solely for genre historians, series completists, and for those masochistic souls that regularly partake of bad movie fodder.  Only the final half hour, where the mystery behind it all is revealed, hold any interest, although this too is marred by some terrible acting and some of the worst fight choreography you're likely to see in a feature film.  While Psycho was truly visionary enough to be the cream of the crop, Friday the 13th, stinker thought it may be, would seem like a classic compared to the most of the swill that would follow -- it's the cream of the crap!

-- Followed by Friday the 13th Part II (1981), Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985), Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986), Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989), Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), Jason X (2001), Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo