Friday the 13th was a big hit when it was released back in 1980. Directed by Sean Cunningham and with a young cast in which Kevin Bacon stands out, it cost very little and made a lot of money. It also became the first of a long saga filled with movies which for the most part are of dubious quality, a bit like John Carpenter’s Halloween (released in 1978 and from which Friday the 13th took a lot of inspiration, let’s put it like that). And since Jason, the “villain” of the film, is now as famous as Michael Myers (or Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street, to name another one), I think that the following question is legitimate: is the quality of this film comparable to that of the masterpiece directed by John Carpenter two years earlier? My answer is a dry no, its’not, and here I will try to explain why.
Although I keep a very good memory of the original VHS of Friday the 13th that was showing off in my collection composed almost entirely of black VHS containing TV recordings, I realized how mediocre this film actually is in practically all its aspects now that I’ve rewatched it from the DVD that I just bought in an edition with a captivating cover with a decidedly modern design.
Friday the 13th was made on a very low budget and it shows (as opposed to Halloween, shot in spectacular anamorphic widescreen Panavision format with an exceptional technique): the image quality is bad, the sound is pitiful, the acting is sub-par, and Cunningham wasn’t exactly a great director, to put it mildly.
Moreover, the film is very derivative: a group of young people is killed one by one by a murderer whose face we don’t see and who punishes couples who dare to have sexual relations… Where have I seen this before? Of course! It’s Halloween! Not only do the subjective shots from the assassin’s point of view recall the legendary initial long take of that film, but also the whole structure of the movie is the same, with the introduction of the future victims followed by the series of murders that culminate in the final revelation (and the last scene is clearly Carpenterian). In short, Cunningham re-proposed a formula which worked two years before and hit the mark.
However, there’s a problem: the plot doesn’t really work, the killer does things that are probably impossible in terms of timing and ways to complete his killing spree. This could have been acceptable with a supernatural being like Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers, but here… Well, everyone knows it, right? It was even revealed at the beginning of Wes Craven’s Scream (1996)!
So, did I like anything in this movie at all? Well, I would be unfair if I said no… The special effects are excellent as it’s normal when it comes to Tom Savini, George Romero’s historical collaborator not surprisingly honored by cult directors such as Robert Rodríguez and Quentin Tarantino in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). And I’m not talking about the in-camera death of a poor snake which cannot be classified as a special effect (at the time there were no laws to regulate the use of animals in films, unfortunately), but here I’m talking about the murders, of course! I also enjoyed the atmosphere of a classic horror movie on the shores of a lake in an idyllic place that turns out to be very dangerous which was then re-used everywhere.
And after all, this is what makes Friday the 13th one of the most revered modern horror films: it had, and still has, a great influence on subsequent cinema and pop culture, perhaps due more to the sequels with Jason and his mask than to the film itself. Even a great movie like Mandy (2018) refers to Friday the 13th by placing the protagonists’ house on the shore of Crystal Lake! In short, I recommend watching it only for its cult status rather than for its quality, ciao!
- The movie trailer su Youtube
- The movie page on Internet Movie DataBase
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