Alice finds herself all on a secluded camp ground late at night. Outside are the dead bodies of all the other camp counselors and the killer who killed them, lurking somewhere in the dark forest under the full moon.
But at least Alice is safe locked in the cabin. Suddenly the corpse of her co-worker Brenda comes flying through the window which means the killer is right outside and can now get in through the smashed window. All she can do is guard the window with a sharp object.
But from the distance she sees the headlights of a jeep driving into the campground. It must be Steve, the owner of the camp finally returning. Little does she know Steve is dead. She runs out to greet him, only to find an all American soccer mom coming out of the jeep.
“Who are you?” she asks
“…an old friend of the Christies”
If Alice looks like the girl next door, this lady looks like the lady next door. She’s the kind of lady every middle class kid in American has known their whole life. She might have been your teacher, or your mom, or your best friend’s mom.
The actress who played her was Betsy Palmer. Palmer was a fixture on daytime TV during the wholesome days of the 1950s, much like June Cleaver. My grandmother used to watcher on the game show I’ve got a secret.
On the most terrifying night of her life, it feels so good to see a face she can trust, the all American soccer mom, the girl scout leader, the lady down the street, here to rescue Alice from camp blood & drive her to safety with her jeep. Alice gives her a big hug as if reuniting with her own mother.
Making matters even better, she’s a strong strapping woman who can protect Alice from whoever is killing everyone. The ultimate girl scout leader. She worked at the camp in her youth and knows the place inside out.
As a kid I remember being so relieved when Palmer took over. She exuded leadership and competence. All I knew about the F13 movies at the time was that the reason Jason killed people was because the camp killed his mother. But why did the camp kill his mother I asked by British Pakistani babysitter one day. Because his mother was a witch who killed people, she said.
I probably took the term “witch” a little too literally and was looking forward to Palmer and Alice heading into the woods like Hansel and Gretel to find the witch’s cabin.
But instead the film took a very different turn which I so stupidly didn’t see coming, despite having had the huge advantage of knowing the killer was a woman. But I was only nine.
The sheer genius of this film is it had the goriest most graphic most spooky killings we had ever seen (axe to the face, arrow through the mattress from someone hiding under the bed) being performed by the most wholesome person we had ever seen cast as a killer (Palmer).
My favorite part was when she said “Oh I could never let them open this place again, could I?” almost asking Alice to talk her out of her killing spree.
But perhaps the scariest moment is when Palmer pulls out her hunting knife and charges Alice while screaming “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH”
Part of what makes this so scary is how insane she is. She is killing people for the drowning of her son, even though those people were not even born at the time. And the way she slips from competent and coherent to batshit crazy is so spooky. Is this schizophrenia do you think? Or early onset Alzheimer’s? I wish the character had taken the WAIS.
One may ask how someone as respectable as Palmer got cast in such a gruesome low budget horror film. Her Mercedes broke down and she needed $10 K to get a new car.
“Universe find me $10,000” dollars she remembered saying. I wonder if she’s an Oprah fan because Oprah is always preaching to put thoughts into the universe though Oprah was not famous until several years later, but maybe how she much later described the story was influenced by Oprah-speak.
Either way, she was soon offered a part which paid $1000 day for 10 days work.
There’s just one catch. It’s a horror film.
“Oh no,” said Palmer. “Well send me the script.”
“What a piece of shit!” she recalled saying after reading it. “This will come and this will go. No one will see it”
Little did she know it would become the influential horror film of the last 50 years, though the role of Palmer herself has been largely forgotten, eclipsed by the iconic hockey masked Jason.
But that’s why I love the film so much. Everyone knows about Jason but so few know how it all began and the brilliant role Palmer played in its genesis. The film is the ultimate hidden gem.
At first Palmer was embarrassed to be associated with such a cheap gory film but over time she came to embrace her iconic status as Queen of the Slashers. Sometimes while shopping in the store she would hear mysterious customers behind her whispering the film’s terrifying sound track:
Ha ha ha
Chu Chu Chu
Betsy Palmer: 1926 to 2015
RIP America’s sweetheart turned Queen of the Slashers