Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Cast: Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Laurie Bartram, Kevin Bacon, Jeannine Taylor, Harry Crosby, Peter Brouwer, Mark Nelson, Robbi Morgan
Plot: A summer camp reopens, but the camp counsellors find themselves hunted by a figure in the shadows, determined to avenge the camp’s tragic past.
Friday the 13th is one of the most iconic horror franchises out there, the hockey masked Jason Voorhees inspiring more sequels than any other series out there. However, after sitting down to watch it, I am left surprised that it ever reached that cult status. It has to be one of the worst horror movies, or movie of any genre, that I have had the bad luck of watching.
There is hardly any plot whatsoever. The premise sees a group of camp counsellors arriving a week before the reopening of an infamous summer camp to build it up and get it ready for the children. The counsellors hardly feel too professional and as they goof around, definitely not doing very much work, a killer lurks in the distance, slaughtering them horrifically one by one. And that is exactly what happens. There isn’t so much a lead character, but the last character standing. The lead actress is just as bland and one dimensional as everyone else. No one goes through a character arc, starting the movie with a few stereotypes thrown together and not developing from that starting point in the slightest. Few performances hit the mark, perhaps due to a clunky script and a director hanging on melodrama, rather than a lack of acting talents (Kevin Bacon goes on to prove himself a decent performer). The first character to be introduced is played by Robbi Morgan and is so bright and cheerful you cannot wait for Voorhees to smash her skull in. Because the characters are thinly written, their deaths mean nothing and that is the principal flaw that makes Friday the 13th such a misfire from the horror genre. There is nothing but a vague curiosity as to who is going next (one benefit from a lack of emphasis on the lead is that no one knows who is getting the chop next) that keeps you watching. Every bad thing about a horror movie is condensed into this film, making Friday the 13th one of the guiltiest offenders for why the horror genre took so long to claw itself back to a respectable level.
But it is a cult classic! I honestly have no idea why anyone considered making this a sequel. Newcomers will be surprised about an absence of killer. There is no hockey mask, no ominous cult figure in the first part of Friday the 13th. In fact, most of the film has the killer as an invisible threat, a POV tracking shot that looms closer and closer to the next victim. We are not scared, because we have no idea what we are meant to be afraid of. The only time I even jumped in this film is the very final jump scare, which, in fairness, was a pretty good one. When the killer does finally reveal itself (one of the cult fans’ biggest secrets), any chance of being spooked fades away quickly. I have a problem with serial killers in horror movies, because they aren’t powerful enough. They are on equal footing of winning a fight with their victims and their only advantage is that they know they are going to be killing everyone, while the victims don’t realise they are being stalked until it is too late. Few escape this stereotype, like Michael Myers from Halloween, who achieves a supernatural presence, but Voorhees has none as of yet. In fact, when the final fight kicks in, Adrienne King keeps escaping so easily that we are surprised everyone else succumbed to such an inept murderer.
Just to put the final nail in Friday the 13th coffin, there is a massive writing error in one scene. Adrienne King finally (and I really do mean finally, with a roll of my eyes!), figures out she is being hunted and hides in a cabin. In a surprisingly clever move for a brain dead teenager, she uses a rope to hold the door shut, so the killer cannot pull the door open. Yes! However, then, and I honestly don’t know why not one of the crew members chipped in to point out this massive stupid plot hole, but Adrienne follows this up by putting chairs to stop the killer from pushing the door open. Right, so does the door bloody open through pushing or pulling?! We can tell from the hinge that it is not both, making this a really silly moment. Horror took a long time to recover.
Final Verdict: I struggle to wrap my head around how Friday the 13th made it onto a must-see list, because the original really is an awful piece of cinema.