Pumpkin Person rating: 9.5/10
WARNING THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), PLEASE DO SO BEFORE READING FURTHER.
In honor of Friday the 13th being tomorrow, and falling so close to Halloween this year, I had to review one of my favorite movies of all time: Friday the 13th (1980).
Shortly after Halloween (1978) became the most successful independent movie of its time, a platoon of slasher films rushed into production, hoping to replicate Halloween‘s success. Of these, the most successful and influential was Friday the 13th.
Like Halloween before it, Friday the 13th was a movie about, and for, white America. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing, just the reality of American culture circa 1980.
Both films revolved around most quintessential white experiences. Halloween was about teenagers babysitting in the suburbs of a small Midwestern town, and Friday the 13th was about summer camp.
Both films had not a single non-white character.
Although Friday the 13th was set in 1980 (the year of its release), it seems symbolic that its opening murder takes places in the 1950s: the glory days for white America, and the film begins by focusing on camp counselors who are unapologetically blond and blue eyed. They sneak away from guitar duty to “fool around” in the upstairs of a cabin, not knowing someone is stalking the camp. We see from the killer’s point of view that someone is walking through camp bedrooms as people sleep, and that someone is climbing up the stairs to punish the young couple.
The moon is full.
Fast forward to 1980 and a fresh batch of camp counselors is coming to work at what has been nicknamed “camp blood”. One by one they are killed off, as a demented old man named Ralph tries to warn them they are doomed if they stay there.
Unlike the original Halloween which relied more on suspense than gore, Friday the 13th reveled in blood and guts. We’re talking spears stabbing you from under your bed, bloody corpses pinned to doors, and axes to the face.
But what made this disgusting display so brilliantly ironic, was that when the face of the killer was finally revealed, it was not the hulking hockey masked man we associate with the franchise, but an All-American 1950s style mom!
She was the lady next door, the girl scout leader, the June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver.
In a riveting performance by Betsy Palmer, we watch as this all American mom (Mrs Voorhees) from our TV dreams, who we think is there to save the day, slowly reveals herself to be the machete wielding homicidal slasher of our horror nightmares.
Driven mad with grief after her mentally retarded son Jason was allowed to drown because camp counselors were busy making love, she had been vengefully stalking the camp for a quarter century.
But if that weren’t enough of a twist, Friday the 13th has perhaps the best surprise ending of any horror film ever. After surviving the night of camp blood and beheading Mrs Voorhees, the heroine, Alice, gets into a canoe, and just drifts aimlessly. In one of the most beautiful scenes in horror history, she wakes up in the boat to a glorious new morning. Although supposedly June, the autumn leaves reflect multicolored hues in the morning lake, as she looks up to see the police there to rescue her.
And just when you think it’s a happy ending, the corpse of Mrs Voorhees drowned little hydrocephalic son, Jason, jumped from his underwater grave to pull Alice into the lake.
Alice wakes up screaming in a hospital. Apparently she must have just dreamed being pulled into the lake
But what makes the dream so utterly creepy is that in Friday the 13th part II, Jason shows up at Alice’s home and murders her, except he’s not the corpse of a drowned little boy she saw in her dream, but a grown-ass man in his thirties!
Apparently the mentally disabled Jason had never really drowned at all, but survived in the woods, too low in spatial IQ to find his way home, or, too low in social IQ to realize going home was the thing to do.
And just as Jason’s mother murdered teenagers at the camp to avenge the perceived drowning of her son, in the sequels, it’s Jason who kills teenagers at the camp to avenge the beheading of his mother.
Despite being just another brain dead horror franchise, it requires a certain intelligence to appreciate such plot symmetry.