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Review: Friday the 13th (1980)

Friday the 13th (1980)

Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham

Premise: A group of summer camp counselors are picked off by a mysterious killer.

What Works: Friday the 13th is a film to be appreciated primarily as a scary, if somewhat silly, piece of 1980s slasher horror. The limited resources of its production are very apparent but that stripped down quality aids the film, giving it a raw and authentic look. The characters, from the main cast to the extras, look real and mostly carry on in a fairly natural manner. This ends up helping the film in its attacks, giving them a realistic look. The attacks of Friday the 13th actually show an impressive degree of creativity and control in the way kills are staged. The film teases the audience with unusual camera angles and slow zooms that hint at a subjective, predatory gaze. Friday the 13thalso uses darkness very effectively, especially in the second half of the film, and there are quite a few scenes of characters stumbling in the blackness that are much scarier than anything in many of Friday the 13th’s imitators. The use of gore is also fairly judicious; the kills of Friday the 13th are bloodier than most films that had predated the film but compared to contemporary films most of the gore is sparse. This quality also supports Friday the 13th’s realistic style. An overlooked strength of this film is its score by Harry Manfredini. Influenced by Bernard Herrmann, Manfredini’s score uses traditional symphonic sounds that echo Herrmann’s score to Psycho with electronic and synthetic elements that provide subtle and spooky audio effects.

What Doesn’t: Whether or not Friday the 13th should be labeled a “good” film is a matter of taste. The picture is what it is and has no pretensions about being anything other than a thriller. That said, the film has its share of weaknesses. The reveal of the killer’s identity at the end of the film is pretty ridiculous since the film does little to provide clues that the viewer can follow. The main characters are basically teenage stereotypes designed to be picked off one by one and who lives and who dies is not so important as how they die.

DVD extras: There have been various DVD editions of Friday the 13th. The most recent release includes the uncut version of the film along with a commentary track, featurettes, and a trailer.

Bottom Line: Friday the 13th is an important film more for what it inspired than for what is actually in the picture. Nevertheless, the film is a clever piece of filmmaking that does still manage to scare in ways that its later sequels and imitators did not.

Episode: #308 (October 3, 2010)