Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Screenplay: Victor Miller
Cast: Adrienne King (as Alice L. Hardy); Harry Crosby (as Bill Brown); Kevin Bacon (as Jack Burrell); Jeannine Taylor (as Marcie Stanler); Mark Nelson (as Ned Rubenstein)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #16
I've had the intention of going throughout the Friday the 13th films even if there might've been difficult to get a few of the later sequels (did I get rid of my copy of Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993) or is it lost in the netherrealm of the wardrobe? I really don't want to shell out of lot of money for a bad film like that second hand...). I've however found a roadblock already, knowing how important the first film let alone the franchise is in American horror history but with a weary and ambivalent opinion of the first. This small review has taken needing a rewatch of the first Friday the 13th two times, with the immediate sequel watched inbetween, before I could write this, the one I had the most familiarity to from the series when I watched it years ago. What I realise is that, once my original hatred of slasher films was broken down and I'm starting to go through them, this film is the plain vanilla of the sub-genre and not interesting compared to all the obscurer ones.
I compliment the film in look and tone. Ironically, despite the franchise being the catalyst for a lot of how the eighties American horror films would be in presentation, even the non-slashers, this is a seventies movie entirely in aesthetic. Lust, rugged forest locations and normal people in the cast, the girls you'd met and date from next door and chummy jocks you'd bump into on a street, Kevin Bacon amongst them always seeming to be far more down-to-earth and approachable to the point you could see him transition from this to being a Hollywood star later on. Unfortunately having now caught the bug of appreciating slasher films even for their repetition of plots, I have already found better made, more schlocky, weirder and more entertaining ones whilst barely scrapping the surface of it as a sub-genre.
A lot of this is that it's failed as a horror movie in many ways, intentionally wanting to capitalise on Halloween (1978) but not having any really distinct character to it if it wasn't for its rural camp setting, something that can be found in many other slashers like Madman (1981) and The Burning (1981). It relies on a build up to the kills compromised by the characters being exceptionally bland, even the final girl played by Adrienne King we're meant to finally get behind, the less the memorable dialogue without unintentional camp or menace to it even less interesting than some of these slashers can have. Also, while its great music, I entirely blame Harry Manfredini's score and how it's used for a lot of the problems with overeager and overused scores in modern horror films in terms of jump scares and deflating tension. The famous whispering in the score is excellent and chilling, but altogether the score when it builds up is overbearing. In direct comparison, the score for John Carpenter's Halloween, while signposting jumps, had a greater subtlety and allowed for moments of stillness. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) realise that just a collage of noise, pig sounds and screaming would terrify anyone.
When it leads to the dynamic ending, I feel Friday the 13th lets itself down. While Betsy Palmer is memorable and a much needed injection of charisma, the film doesn't build itself up throughout its narrative to make her inclusion into the narrative have greater weight. Even when it gets to the famous scene on the lake, which is a great sequence possessing a great, serene synth track, the film undermines it by having more scenes afterwards rather than letting it be the last moment before the end credits to leave viewers with a buzz afterwards. Altogether, with these flaws, Friday the 13th is just bland, a film that may have kick-started the slasher craze in the early eighties but not one for me personally that really stands out in the slightest.