By Simon Miraudo
October 16, 2012
Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).
Friday the 13th has a joint reputation for being a pioneering slasher flick as well as a lesser copycat of John Carpenter's Halloween, and, truthfully, it deserves both designations. More than thirty years have passed since the release of the two movies, and the countless sequels (not to mention the banal remakes) have diminished each brand beyond repair. But that doesn't mean the originals stood on equal footing. Halloween is far-and-away the superior film, and Sean S. Cunningham's feature mostly rips it off with varying degrees of success. It can be pretty sluggish at times, and there is a long break between bloody innings (an issue with the Cunningham-produced Last House on the Left too). That said, the director expertly executes (get it?) the murder scenes, and writer Victor Miller flips the script with at least one decent twist and a first-act misdirection that takes its cues from Psycho. It also depicts what is surely the first recorded instance of the game "Strip Monopoly" and would later inspire Wet Hot American Summer, and we should all be grateful for that.
The picture begins in the late 1950s with a couple of camp counsellors scooting off for some nookie, only for them to be knifed to death by an unseen assailant. The sequence is shot entirely from the killer's perspective, a bold attempt to recapture the POV terror of Halloween's opening sequence (though, admittedly, Dario Argento's Deep Red beat both to the punch). Twenty years later, Camp Crystal Lake is reopened for the first time since the tragedy, and a bunch of new, similarly nookie-obsessed teens are hired to get it back in working condition. One of those young kids is Annie (Robbi Morgan), who unwisely hitchhikes to the site, only to be dispatched in a brutal fashion by the first-person camera. The murders stack up at Crystal Lake, and it isn't until the grieving Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) tells virginal Alice (Adrienne King) about her son Jason drowning there decades earlier that the nefarious origin of the killer is revealed. (Spoilers below.)
Palmer admits on the 'Making Of' how she initially hoped no one would ever see it; however, her prayers fell on deaf ears. The half-a-million dollar production ultimately grossed almost $60 million worldwide, and Jason Voorhees became one of the all-time iconic movie villains. Ironic then that Jason should not turn up until the brilliant final moment, and as a deformed little boy as opposed to the hockey-mask wearing monster we know and love. For all complaints of Friday the 13th plagiarising Halloween, we should remember that it was the sequels that attempted to mimic the hulking, knife-wielding antagonist Michael Myers, whereas the original was content - at least in this one instance - to circumvent our expectations. Then again, gore-master and make-up expert Tom Savini admitted Friday the 13th's closing jump-scare was "inspired" by Brian De Palma's Carrie, so let's not fall over ourselves to celebrate it as a ground-breaker.
Friday the 13th is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.