The Jason Voorhees Marathon: Part 1
After the popularity of the Fast and Furious and then the Saw marathon I’d been casting around for another series to dig into. Nothing really seemed like a good fit until Friday the 13th: The Game arrived on the Playstation and put me in the mood for some old-school slasher. I couldn’t remember which of the films I’d seen as over time the memory of them have all bled into each other. So with a fresh pair of gouged eyes we look at…
Friday the 13th
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Cast: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Walt Gorney, Jeannine Taylor, Mark Nelson
Plot: Years after the grisly and unsolved double murder of two teen counselors at Camp Crystal Lake a new owner is working to reopen the site. A new group of counselors arrive to start work but find themselves hunted a killed by an unseen murderer.
Review: The Friday the 13th series is well recognised for helping solidify the ‘slasher’ sub-genre formula. There’s teenagers, social commentary, bloody murders, a masked killer and nudity. Actually, scratch that…there is not masked killer. Unlike his closest contemporaries Freddy Kruger, Michael Myers and Leatherface, who all arrived on the scene fully formed and with fleshed out backstories, Jason Voorhees took a surprisingly long time to take shape. The hockey mask, the machete, the supernatural elements and the backstory will be added piece by piece over the first four films. In this film it’s Pamela Voorhees, the mother, who is responsible for the killing spree.
While some elements of the film may look pretty by modern standards there are some parts of the film that stand the test of time. First and foremost are the effects works from Tom Savini, a legend in the industry who contributes some disturbing visuals. Even new viewers who have become accustomed to more modern effects are likely to be impressed by what Savini has to offer.
The film also takes the time to flesh out the characters a small amount. There aren’t clear cut stereotypes of teens, and they all have believable characteristics. It’s certainly not going to win any awards for screenwriting, but it’s better than the average. There’s also no clear protaganist. The first character we are introduced to is among the first casualties, so the audience doesn’t know who the final survivor is likely to be. The only part of the film that have aged badly is the fashion. Skinny guys in nothing but jean shorts is never going to be a good look.
There’s also the cheap, grainy look of the film. This works in it’s favour, it lends the whole film a bleak, dirty tone. It’s similar to the tone they work to give found-footage movies in post.
Plus there’s the surprise twist that the killer isn’t a hulking madman but a grieving and deranged mother (Scream has pretty much ruined that spoiler for everyone). This works best in hindsight for an audience expecting Jason to be the killer, because there’s little to set it up. We don’t even learn about Jason until after Pamela is revealed as the killer, so it doesn’t carry much weight in this film. Rather than a misdirect it’s just kinda…there. The dream-like scare at the end of the film, where a rotting Jason leaps from the lake to grab Alice, is a great sting in the tale that ultimately led to the building of a franchise.
If you’re a fan of horror cinema and practical effects the film is worth checking out if you haven’t already seen it. While it is the symbol of 80s horror movie cliches it’s also a trendsetter and that sense of experimentation does shine through.
Rating: SEVEN out of TEN
Jason’s Pamela’s Best Kill: There’s nothing terribly creative happening here, but Savini’s effects work adds something visceral to them all. To this extent we rate the axe to the face as the most impressive. That looks nasty.