You know, Friday the 13th always confused me. When discussing the grand echelon of classic slasher movies, it always seems to find its way into the conversation with the likes of Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These films set the standard for the genre and would go on to incite parody and copycats throughout the 80s and 90s. It makes sense, these are all entertaining films with distinct styles and approaches. But, Friday the 13th? In my opinion it can’t hold a candle to these films, yet it always seems to be lauded as this innovative classic that managed to electrify audiences. There’s surely components to appreciate, but as a life long horror fan I’ve never really got what was so special about it outside of campy appeal.
The synopsis? Several rambunctious, horny camp counselors are picked off one by one at a summer camp by a mysterious killer. This setup and character dynamic is now regarded as the backbone of golden-age slashers. You may be thinking that the film at least birthed these tropes so other films could take these ideas and make better films with them, but you have to remember this film came out after films like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Both of these films not only laid this groundwork before Friday the 13th, but arguably did it in a much more effective way. Both of these films had similar if not smaller budgets than Friday the 13th, but the reasons those movies are so endearing is because the talent behind them found ways to work around their monetary constructs to push the envelope. While the low budget gave these films a believable authenticity to them, the low budget for this film just makes it look cheap. It really goes to show just how much of a difference it can make to have a little ingenuity. Outside of a few instances, this film doesn’t really tend to do all that much to tell an original story or be unique.
There is a lot to appreciate here despite my sourness, don’t worry. First off, you can’t say the practical effects done by the legendary Tom Savini aren’t impressive. The man is a horror movie legend whose talents generate the scenes that seemed to stick with audiences the most. Are people remembering Annie’s long, boring walk through town? No, they’re remembering Kevin Bacon getting stabbed through the neck by an arrow. The gore and violence is pretty solid, which is perhaps the biggest task for slasher movies back then and now. But how about some “no duh, Brandon” positive elements? Well, despite its cheesiness, I do enjoy the dialogue. Everyone sounds natural and believable for the most part. The camp counselors all fit their respected, ancient assigned roles (goofball, prude, promiscuous girl, etc.) to a T, striking a sweet spot thats just entertaining enough to enjoy watching and just annoying enough to enjoy seeing killed. The performances aren’t stellar, but they get the job done. The iconic soundtrack (CHH CHH, AHH AHH) is simplistic yet effective, adding a haunting whisper to the film that lets you know no one is ever really safe. Finally, the famous twist that got a girl killed in Scream is actually a bit of a surprise. The unsuspecting killer trope found in films like Sleepaway Camp no doubt owe a lot to this film.
Yet, it’s impossible to ignore how much this film owes to sooooo many horror films. There are many aspects of the movie ripped straight from other more thought-out films. The POV kills from the killers perspective and the “sex=death” mantra from Halloween. The isolation of teens from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The odd mother/son dynamic of Psycho. The final stinger at the end of Carrie. The film isn’t shy about its inspirations, but while other movies use these as a means to offer new ideas, Friday the 13th uses them as a familiar crutch that offers little to no ingenuity. Further evidence of the film’s lack of originality is in its pacing. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed in my revisit is how slow the film is, and not in a slow-burn manner either. Long, unimportant shots are used as padding to make the runtime 90 minutes, and it’s incredibly apparent. A good chunk of the movie is a slog, which is ironic considering it borrows so much from these other classics yet failed to borrow their pacing or atmosphere. What this leads to is very few exciting moments that truly startle, aside from Savini’s impressive work.
So what makes this movie the classic its been crowned as? I’m not really sure, but my guess is it would have to be by association. The character of Jason Voorhees is an undeniably icon figure in horror, whose image and mannerisms have been copied for decades. Jason is without a doubt what makes the series so memorable, but as we all know…Jason isn’t in this one. He’s relegated to a minor, “what-if” cameo and doesn’t fully appear until the sequel. Once Jason finally arrives the films get a lot more entertaining in my opinion, but it appears horror historians and diehard fans couldn’t simply leave the underwhelming original out of the pantheon of classics. While this may have been the spark that lead towards something better, it’s hard to deny the dullness of the spark in hindsight.
Forgiving the campiness and the low budget, the film still plays out like a film that should have come out ten years earlier. Thematically behind and missing the inventiveness that made its predecessors so great, Friday the 13th is like a hole in the drywall and your cheap college apartment of the classic slashers. It really shouldn’t be there, but it’s been there for so long that there’s no point in arguing about it. But that’s not to say you can’t still have fun with these movies, as their still a fantastic way to spend a night with friends and a few drinks. It certainly has its place in the annals of horror, even if its spot near the top seems a bit undeserving.
Crystal Lake S’Mores
Friday the 13th may have tried ti make us afraid of summer camp, but I’d fist fight a crazy lady with a knife just to get a good old fashioned campfire s’more. Keeping with the campy feel of the movie (that goes two ways), I decided to make a s’mores flavored cocktail that’s perfect for the incoming fall weather. Made with sweet and rich chocolate liqueur, the cocktail utilizes marshmallow vodka and cream to really bring it all together. While you can go out and buy marshmallow flavored vodka, I opted to make my own by soaking a few marshmallows with a cup of vodka over night. To finish the drink off, I used strawberry syrup to help the graham crackers stick to the rim and give it a bit of a bloodied look. All you need is a roasted marshmallow on a stick, and you’re good to go!
- 1.5oz chocolate liqueur
- 1oz marshmallow infused vodka
- 1oz heavy cream
- Rim: Strawberry syrup
- Rim: Crushed graham crackers
- Garnish: Marshmallow
- Dip the rim of your glass into the strawberry syrup, then coat the rim with the finely crushed graham crackers.
- Add the ingredients to a shaker and shake with ice.
- Strain into the prepared glass.
- Roast a marshmallow over and open flame or with a blowtorch, skewer it, then garnish the cocktail with it.