Friday the 13th (1980) ***1/2
D: Sean S. Cunningham
C: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Kevin Bacon, Robbi Morgan, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson, Peter Brouwer, Rex Everhart, Ari Lehman
Plot Synopsis: A group of camp counselors is stalked and murdered by an unknown assailant while trying to reopen a summer camp which, years before, was the site of a child's drowning.
Review: For a horror fan watching Friday the 13th the first time, they'll be able to appreciate the film's gore soaked special effects. They'll be able to appreciate the play on characters doing amoral things and then being dispatched of. They'll be able to appreciate the effective score. They'll be able to appreciate the film's final attempt at scaring the audience silly. And lastly, they'll be able to appreciate Betsy Palmer's turn as the killer and that they've token an actress who was known for their wholesome image and flipped that right on its head.
These are all fine qualities for a film to have, but that doesn't necessarily make for a great slasher film. Maybe these qualities make for a good slasher, but not necessarily a great one. So what does?!?
In the film, it's revealed that the film's camp setting has been plagued with a series of misfortunes. First, there was a kid who drowned in 1957. Second, it was two camp counselors who were found murdered the following year. Third, it was a series of fires & water poisonings that prevented the camp from re-opening in the 60's. When Betsy Palmer figures into the ending, as the killer, it's revealed that her motive for these killings, is because the camp counselors weren't doing their job while her son drowned. That the counselors were making love when they were supposed to be watching her son. It's revealed that Palmer's character has worked for the camp, at length, as a cook.
Now, when you watch the film for a second time, everything that has happened, has greater significance. Palmer's character killed the counselors who were supposed to be watching her kid. Palmer's character did everything she could to keep the camp from re-opening, including setting fire to the place and poisoning the water. Palmer's character gave her life to the camp, but the camp took away the one thing she loved, her son.
Re-watching the film, for a second time, we see how the characters trust this unseen killer (who is revealed to be Palmer), until they figure out something is wrong. We see how the new owner has persisted (against the odds) to re-open the camp, despite it's history, so now the killer resorts to killing to stop it from happening. We see, how characters are dispatched of when they do things they shouldn't - drinking, having sex, smoking pot, etc., because it all plays into the very things that figured into the drowning death of the killer's son.
Friday the 13th sneaks up on you. The film doesn't try to trick you with red herrings or false scares. Instead, all of the film's motives and strategies are right there in plain sight, yet it's able to pull the rug out from under you when you least expect it. The score is a perfect example of this, as it is only utilized when the killer is on screen. This is a well plotted and well orchestrated thriller that knows how to plays its audience like a violin. This is a film that horror filmmakers should be taking notes from.
What makes Friday the 13th great vs being merely good, is that each time you watch it, more of the history surrounding the characters and the principal setting becomes apparent. Each time you watch it, you discover that there's more nuance to it then you would have expected. Each time you watch it, you can pick up something new or different from it. The best films demand repeated viewings. The best films ask you to constantly re-evaluate them. Friday the 13th happens to be one of those films. [R] 95 minutes.
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