As both a celebrity and horror fan, I was saddened by the news that actress Betsy Palmer passed away this week at 88. Palmer first gained fame as a 1950s game show panelist, but achieved iconic status in the horror community for her brilliant performance as an all-American summer camp mom in the very first Friday the 13th movie, which in my opinion was one of the best movies of all time, largely because of Palmer.
Friday the 13th was the most successful and influential of all the rip-offs of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween, but it didn’t just copy the narrative structure and cinematic conventions of Halloween, it improved upon them, with its atmospheric setting (a summer camp in June), irony, surprises, and poignant ending.
The film hired Palmer because she brought gravitas to the low budget slasher flick. When Palmer read the script she famously called it “a piece of shit” but she needed money for car repairs so she decided to take the part, figuring the movie would come and go, so she would suffer no shame for being seen in it. Little did she know that the movie would spawn the most successful franchise in the history of horror, and would bring her a huge new passionate fan base.
She will be deeply missed.