Horror-A-Thon: Friday the 13th (1980)

Happy Friday the 13th everyone, especially those of you who have been checking out my backwards romp through the Friday the 13th franchise. We’ve made it to the original, and one of the best films in the series. What exactly makes Friday the 13th so special? Well, for starters it’s the first slasher film of its kind to get the backing of a major studio. John Carpenter’s Halloween was released to huge success in 1978 but he did so independently, unable to secure funding from any major studios. Friday didn’t start there though…it was produced independently but after seeing screening Paramount bought out the rights and the rest is history.

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Though Jason Voorhees is frequently connected to this film, he’s actually only shown in a dream sequence. His mother, seeking revenge for her drowned son, is the actual killer in this film, and she does so quite efficiently. The film follows her slowly picking off camp counselors who are working to reopen Camp Crystal Lake, the same camp where her son died years ago. The locals call it Camp Blood and warn people to stay away, but as always, no one listens.

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Though Friday the 13th may have used Halloween as a template, it ups the ante in nearly every way possible. Where John Carpenter’s classic is known for its subtle scares, lack of gore, and focus on tension to build dread throughout, Friday the 13th capitalized on shock value. The kills in this film were brutal, especially for the time. Thanks to special effects wizard Tom Savini, we are treated to some gritty kills. The movie battled the censors and had to cut time of some of these scenes to avoid an X rating. Famed critic Gene Siskel said the film was “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest the movie business” and released the address of the owner of Paramount so that people could write in about their disgust with the film. Siskel’s biggest gripe was that it urged watchers to cheer for the killer, which he found to be morally corrupt. Did his campaign against the film work? No way.

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Friday the 13th went on the be the 18th highest grossing film of 1980, against heavy hitters like The Shining, The Fog, The Empire Strikes Back, Blues Brothers, Urban Cowboy, and Blue Lagoon (among many other classic films). It turned an international profit of over 50 million dollars against a budget of just over $500,000. This would start the slasher craze that would continue to dominate the entire decade until overexposure and declining quality would see the genre fizzle out in the early 1990’s.

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For me, Friday the 13th stands as a true classic, in all its low budget glory. It’s genuinely creepy, the kills still stand up to this day, and you get to see a young (and then unknown) Kevin Bacon bite the dust. It laid the groundwork for countless imitators, and though it was an attempt to capitalize on Halloween, Friday the 13th ended up being something special on its own right.

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