Directed By: Sean S. Cunningham
Written By: Victor Miller
Everyone remembers their first time watching Friday the 13th — particularly horror virgins who went into the film having no real experience with other movies in the genre. Even by today’s standards the movie can still bring the viewer to the edge of their seat, thanks to the tight angles, the well-lit night shots, and the nail-biting soundtrack that rivals that of John Carpenter’s Halloween. In 1980 when the film was first released, it was even more shocking: it was a bloodbath set in celluloid. For those horror virgins, their cherry wasn’t just popped, it was ruthlessly torn through with a rusty machete. This unrepentent assault on the senses has earned its place in the annals of horror history, and for good reason — it inspired a generation of films, introduced the legendary monster Jason Voorhees, and is still the yardstick by which modern horror films are measured against, over twenty years later.
From the first frame, we’re thrown into the dark woods of Crystal Lake in the year 1958, where a bright summer moon hangs high above a group of happy counsellors who sit and sing songs —
Hang down your head Tom Dooley… hang down your head and cry…
The camera, with it’s ambiguous perspective, records the scene of a young man and a young lady as they leave the group and sneak off into the darkness, driven by teenage lust. The scene doesn’t last long before the camera perspective is revealed to be the killer’s point of view, bringing the audience behind the eyes of the killer as “he” confronts the teenagers. The moment before the young girl meets a premature end, the camera freezes on her face: eyes wide with terror, caught in the midst of a vain cry for help. Burned into our memories, the frame ignites to pure white, and the opening sequence is complete.
This sets the tone for what develops into an absolute nerve-grinding experience. No one is safe at Camp Crystal Lake, and those who do meet their untimely end are slaughtered so mercilessly there are scenes that to this day, after multiple viewings, still make me cringe. The special effects, masterfully executed by gore maestro Tom Savini, are beautiful and painful to watch at the same time. Friday the 13th is clearly a low-budget production, but much the same as in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” it actually adds to the realism of the film, making it gritty and believable. It is in fact almost preferable (in this reviewer’s opinion) to see the original print of Friday the 13th, and not a digitally restored one. The scratches on the celluloid, and the low-quality film give it an unrefined appearance, and make it all the more grisly and shocking.
As I stare outside tonight, the spring moon is bright and full, like it was at Camp Crystal Lake the night the first murders occured. As the cool breeze blows by, I can almost hear the faint strains of a campfire chorus:
Hang down your head Tom Dooley… poor man is gonna die…