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Worth A Look: 21.18%
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7 reviews, 128 user ratings

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Friday the 13th (1980)
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by Jack Sommersby

"Passable-Enough Stuff"
3 stars

Well, it's better than the majority of its sequels, excepting the best of the series, "Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives."

Friday the 13th is an unimpressive production that nevertheless gets the job done. No one would ever mistake it for high art, yet considering its quite-modest aspirations, it fulfills its obligations more often than not. The name of the game here is scares and gore -- not intelligent plotting and complex characters -- and even when the director, Sean S. Cunningham, has trouble getting in and out of scenes in the latter half and bungles some of the suspense by belaboring the obvious, things play out more smoothly than you have any right to expect from a film that throws subtlety out the window so blatantly as to have a hitchhiking soon-to-be-victim dropped off right outside the gates of a cemetery. Engineered to scare you witless, Friday the 13th (a descendant of Mario Bava's well-regarded Bay of Blood, which I found atrociously made and unwatchable) fails at being the scare-you-witless classic its filmmakers were shooting for; they knew they weren't shooting for the stars, certainly, but neither were they likely intending an overall whole as uneven and clunky as this. Basically, when contextual value and narrative coherence are sacrificed for the good of undemanding entertainment, incorporating an array of ho-hum characters and stilted dialogue around the scares to support them gives them an existing basis but not too much organic clarity -- everything preceding and following them comes off as mere filler material, so the film doesn't really seem grounded in anything. Oh, this isn't such a terrible thing if one is merely expecting blood and T&A, but unless the director is particularly gifted -- which Cunningham is not -- you're stuck with having to toil through a fair amount of undistinguished scenes which should rightfully climax much sooner than they do -- which is, again, a clear-cut case of running-time padding. As a result, Friday the 13th is harmless-enough viewing, but it's not a moment-by-moment unnerving pleasure like, say, A Nightmare on Elm Street and most of the original Halloween. It asks the audience's willingness, their tolerance to help bridge the gap between the creepy-crawly goods and the hopelessly mundane.

The film starts off with a prologue in the year 1958 at a New Jersey-located summer camp called Camp Crystal Lake. The camera starts off with a low shot of the moon at night with clouds passing by and then lowers down to a sight of a moonlit lake below. Subtle. We're then introduced to a group of teenage camp counselors singing along to a corny tune, with two of them sneaking off to a room for a little hanky-panky. Their pre-coital acts are soon interrupted by a person whom we never see (the audience views the startled counselors from the unseen person's point-of-view), who quickly and efficiently slaughters the two with a knife. After the black-screen credits, which Harry Manfredini's uncouth Psycho-like score punctuates like a sledgehammer, we're then transported to present-day 1980, where Camp Crystal Lake, after having been closed down for the last twenty-two years, is set to re-open in two weeks. The new proprietor, Steve Christie (Peter Brouwer), has been prepping the place with the help of counselors Bill (Harry Crosby II), Brenda (Laurie Bartram) and Alice (Adrienne King), whom Christie has been having a strained romance with as of late. The hitchhiking Annie (Robbi Morgan), set to be the camp's cook, is on her way and is warned by the nearest town's "prophet of doom", Ralph (Walt Gorney), that Camp Crystal Lake has a death curse. Rounding out the camp counselors (and most of the entire cast, as well) is Ned (Mark Nelson), and his two friends, Jack (Kevin Bacon) and Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), who are boyfriend/girlfriend. While having been written as fairly limited, these characters are believable, and the fresh-face cast performs with an ingratiating ease that draws us to them -- they're vivid, if not exactly Shakespearean in dimension, which, of course, they're not meant to be. They're simply who we're intended to identify with, so when later episodes require us to be horrified at the horrific goings-on they find themselves in the midst of, we're familiar enough with them to share their apprehension, uncertainty, and fear. (They're not the obnoxious types plaguing the teenager-populated horror films of today -- you don't find yourself cheering for the murderer to put them out of your collective misery.)

For a while, Cunningham shows unexpected patience in laying out the characters and having them go about their chores, with no fussy lighting or erratic editing clobbering us over the head with cinematic artifice. The counselors serve as our ears and eyes, and it's nice to see that a director likes his characters enough to give them their onscreen due and his actors enough to allow them plenty of aesthetic distance to wrangle up some unassuming charm of their own. The characterizations are slight but lived-in; they're not complex, but given the context of things, should they have been? (Aside from Crosby II, who's smug and unresponsive, the cast is quite good, with Bartram and Taylor -- who's very sexy -- the standouts.) What's being presented is done so in a calm and collective nature that winds up meshing nicely with the death of Annie (who's slashed to death before reaching the camp) and a brief sighting by Brenda of a possible figure lurking in the woods while they're swimming and sunbathing; we know the rest of the characters will be subjected to merciless havoc being wreaked upon them somewhere down the line, and until that happens the goings-on between the murders are served up with discretion. This benefits the film because we're caught off-guard more often than not when a murder occurs (like when Jack, after having indulged in a round of sex and currently toking on a post-coital joint, has an arrow thrust through his neck from underneath the bunk bed he's lying on), or we're already made aware of a character's certain doom yet are still brought up short when the actual violent deed takes place (like when Marcie, herself post-coital and wearing only a skimpy t-shirt and panties, is axed through the forehead in a shower room). Unfortunately, after the death of Marcie (which is undoubtedly the highlight -- Tom Savani's f/x work is fantastic considering the low-budget restraints), the filmmakers have painted themselves into a corner by leaving only three camp counselors alive with a good forty minutes left to go in the running time, and this is where director Cunningham's just-average ability deals the film a considerable disadvantage.

Cunningham simply isn't good at sustaining suspense outside of a single internal setting, and he starts relying on overobvious ploys, like false scares, to carry the day. And instead of fastening upon the limited spatial logistics of the camp as an opportunity to point up the sense of isolation, Cunningham just goes from one set to the next without much preciseness, nor even much of a sense of time continuity (when Jack and Marcie kiss and embrace before going into the cabin directly behind them to have sex, it's dawn; yet when they enter it less than a minute later, it's already pitch-black night). Furthermore, he carelessly cuts from the goings-on at the camp to a roadside diner where Steve is making small talk and some unbelievable goo-goo eyes at a waitress so repulsive-looking you'd think he's going to be more of a threat to the counselors later on than the culprit currently knocking them off. Cunningham could argue that once the heroine is in direct mortal danger, the camera stays with her through the duration; but the audience is considerably jarred at being transported to another locale, where there's no danger, from the central one, where the danger has not only been established but the violence resulting from it is currently underway. Sustained suspense is severely dissipated as a result. There's just too much flab in between the murders themselves, which would be somewhat commendable were the moments leading up to them chock-full of nerve-jangling tension; after Marcie's death, they're not, and you could time about five eggs before Brenda meets her untimely demise outside in a rainstorm, where's she gone out to investigate what seem to be cries from a distressed little boy. Things pick up for the better when the identity of the murderer is revealed -- the thespian's manic energy charges things up considerably -- but even then Cunnigham goes the all-thumbs approach by letting the grand confrontation go on far too long (though the head dismemberment ensuing from it is a kicker). Friday the 13th is somewhat of a slasher-film doodle in that the suspense in its latter half (which should be the most effective) is substandard compared to the implied suspense in the former half.

Still, even with all of its flaws, Friday the 13th is still worth a visit. For gore fans, certain isolated bits will satisfy, yet the film isn't nearly as violent as its been reputed to be; the high quality of the gore on display is much more satisfying than if a high quantity of lower-grade gore had been substituted. The efficient camerawork also suffices: for the most part, Cunnighman knows what to look at and how to look at it. He doesn't have much of a visual sense (zoom-ins seem to be his idea of pizzazz), but the plain-Jane look that he and cinematographer Barry Abrams have devised comes off like good wallpaper -- it never draws undue attention unto itself (though it does capture a fairly dandy image: a long shot of Steve, clad in a bright yellow rain slicker, walking hurriedly toward the camera from out of total darkness). It's fun watching these carefree teens lull about, totally oblivious to the validity of the dire warnings of Crazy Ralph; we know perfectly well that their adhering to the standard behavior of victims in horror films -- that of wandering off alone, smoking pot, having premarital sex, and even indulging in a game of Strip Monopoly -- is earmarking them for certain doom. And if Cunningham can't shoot a fight scene to save his life, he can admittedly shoot a sex scene -- the one involving Bacon and Taylor in that bunk bed is erotic stuff (though the T&A factor there is of a lackluster variety: Bacon's butt; Taylor's butt crack, right breast, and a glimpse of pubic hair, with Taylor's previous nipple-pokie action in a skimpy light-maroon t-shirt somewhat compensating). And, of course, there's the fun in seeing a slasher film toe the line in horror-film fashion by having the most sexually promiscuous die in the most gruesome fashion, and having the hero(ine) the one who keeps their duds on (with the one here just about to undo a button before a wind gust blows a door open). Add to this some perfectly eye-rolling dialogue ("If this is a joke, I'm gonna brain 'em."), some howling little flaws (Annie griping about people calling children "kids", when she called them just that a few scenes back), and some noisy lovemaking accompanied by ear-splitting thunder (with a dead body in the overhead bunk, no less!), and you have yourself something watchable but by no means a classic piece of work.

While it's nice that it's available in widescreen on DVD (even the LaserDisc was full-screen), the bare-bones package from Paramount Home Video is bereft of special features.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2168&reviewer=327
originally posted: 08/31/03 19:51:30
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Trilogy Starters: For more in the Trilogy Starters series, click here.

User Comments

10/02/16 morris campbell all the friday the 13th movies are crap 1 stars
12/28/11 David Hollingsworth One of the best gore films of the 80s. 5 stars
6/27/11 art let's not forget APRIL Fool's Day,and my Bloody Valentine!, 1 stars
10/07/10 Jeff Moore Great Review! Made me chortle, completely agree with the points you made. 2 stars
10/02/10 art for the RECORD,the ORIGINAL FRIDAY THE 13TH is the best SLASHER FLICK! 5 stars
9/05/10 art I WAS JOKING when i said i was a fan of friday the 13th! 1 stars
8/23/10 Joseph A bad movie, but for some reason watchable 2 stars
12/26/09 art THIS IS MY ALL TIME FAVORITE FILM!,and so is PART"S TWO AND THREE 5 stars
10/04/08 blarginbadigalnohif meh 4 stars
4/15/08 art I TAKE IT BACK IT"S FOR THE BIRD"S 1 stars
11/01/07 Total Crap Not the greastest slasher in the genre, but defined many aspects of it. 4 stars
10/24/07 art this is the best slasher movie of all time 5 stars
10/21/07 Jacob Marzzarella that was an ausome movie 5 stars
9/16/07 art this is the best slasher movie of all time 5 stars
8/17/07 Ian scary film, tense foreshadowing +music. Well done. 3 stars
2/05/07 action movie fan just okay horror-way overappreciated though 3 stars
12/02/06 David Pollastrini brilliant, frightening 5 stars
11/22/06 Charles Brailey A very good movie, but not as good as the sequels. This movie sets the stage very well 4 stars
10/20/06 MP Bartley Still carries an impact and unexpectedly creative at times. 4 stars
10/19/06 William Goss It is what it is. 3 stars
10/03/06 Jeremy Davies Not bad, but not great 3 stars
8/08/06 Doreen My fav is Halloween but this comes in 2nd! 4 stars
7/31/06 Jake Seeing an old woman killing teenangers is scarier then Halloween?! Think of the mask alone. 2 stars
7/24/06 David Cohen The least bad of the "Friday the 13th" series 3 stars
4/18/06 Dave So So film which started a brash of sequels that for the most part were worse. 3 stars
1/16/06 Anthony Feor This is terrible 2 stars
11/23/05 cr one my favorite horror movies great kills and gore, a knockout ending 4 stars
10/13/05 Darren O Well directed, scored, and the effects are top notch. Grandaddy of all slaughter flicks 5 stars
9/12/05 Total Crap This movie survives as being scarier than Halloween, plus more blood. Has to be seen. 4 stars
8/23/05 Sugarfoot One of those "Why on earth was this popular" movies. Still it has it's moments. 2 stars
8/22/05 Eden Don't know how it made so many sequels. Watch Halloween instead 1 stars
7/13/05 Brandy Harrington Scary, but for all the wrong reasons. 1 stars
6/30/05 Eddie The original slasher 80's movie 5 stars
6/27/05 R "indrid" and "what?," couldn't have said it better. (although that's 3 words, 'what.') 1 stars
5/26/05 tony A keeper in horror movie wall of fame 5 stars
5/16/05 what? 2 words: Halloween rip-off. 1 stars
4/17/05 Indrid Cold Its influence far outweighs its quality. 2 stars
4/11/05 Phoenix One of the classic horror movies. Often immitated but never duplicated. 5 stars
1/31/05 Jeff Anderson Stood the test of time back then, now EXTREMELY DATED & MOLDY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2 stars
10/29/04 Vince The landmark of slasher movies 5 stars
10/12/04 kevin watts VERY GOOD,SCARY 4 stars
8/14/04 Anthony G this movie sucks black salty balls all night long! 1 stars
7/22/04 American Slasher Goddess The next review I find changed, that's mine, I'm reporting them to the Site Admin. 5 stars
7/18/04 Benjamin Petrofsky The best Slasher Film anyone can see! Better that "Halloween" or "Nightmare on Elm St." 5 stars
7/03/04 Samuel i thought mrs. voorhees was a great killer, she did an especially good with kevin bacon 5 stars
6/07/04 Ryan Clark Not as effective as it used to be, and a little slow... but it's very atmospheric and fun. 4 stars
5/16/04 John fairly effective slaher film 3 stars
4/14/04 J Common Jason's mommie sucks at KILLING! 1 stars
4/10/04 valerie hart the first one is not as good as the others coz it lacks interest 3 stars
4/07/04 phoenix The best of all the friday films. Terrific! 5 stars
3/29/04 American Slasher Goddess One of the great slasher movies of the 80's. 5 stars
3/17/04 PAYNE_KillerZ WHAT A SHAME... THIS SHOULD BE REMADE WITH THE NEW JASON (from Freddy VS. Jason)!!!!!!!!!!! 2 stars
2/17/04 Ramey Corny- terrible deaths. Jason was better than his Mommy! 3 stars
2/05/04 c.r Is one of scariest movies in the 1980's and it's gory fun! 4 stars
2/03/04 Chad Foster Awesome 5 stars
1/26/04 Eric Original.A great start to a series that should have stopped 4 movies ago. 4 stars
12/11/03 Captain Spaulding One of my favorite horror movies of all time!! 5 stars
12/11/03 Charlie and the Chocalte FActory Jason's mom was a much better killer!!! 5 stars
11/24/03 homer J. Simpson this was a gruesome good time, but a little slow at times 3 stars
11/08/03 Phoenix Not bad, but very overrated. Why so many sequels????? 3 stars
11/01/03 J This movie really sucks!!!!!! 1 stars
11/01/03 American Slasher Goddess Set the standard for slasher movies. 5 stars
10/16/03 Josh Standlee Boring at times, but thank God it was made because I am a huge Jason Voorhees fan! 3 stars
10/15/03 Erik Van Sant Groundbreaking teen-slash flick. Loved it and some of the many sequels that followed. 5 stars
10/07/03 Double G good movie since this started it all its worth ***** 5 stars
9/16/03 Samuel Justus Good movie, but should have left it at this one! 4 stars
8/30/03 I Would Absolutely saturated with cliches, which I suppose adds to its camp value. 2 stars
7/21/03 Double G It wasn't scary,good, or bad. A Camp Classic 3 stars
7/07/03 Chainsaw Slasher The pioneer of the 80's slasher trend. Long lives Jason 5 stars
6/14/03 Jalophoavbokilova This movie is happening right now. "Kill Her Mommy!" June 13th. 11:57pm. 2 stars
6/13/03 Alice 1 of the first camp horrors ever! Yall should be ashamed to call this crap! 5 stars
6/03/03 Mike Plays the way crap smells after 20 years! 1 stars
5/21/03 Andrew Carden Betsy Palmer Deserved An Oscar Nod. Fun, Original and Scary. 4 stars
4/26/03 Jack Stern It was not scary, and didn't fase me in the slightest. 5 stars
3/29/03 Sugarfoot A Camp Classic:Had me laughing at all the wrong moments!! 2 stars
1/24/03 M.C. Michael Myers taking a shit would be more entertaining than the Jason series 2 stars
1/01/03 Chowie mmmmmmm... 4 stars
12/28/02 Jack Sommersby Kevin Bacon & Jeannine Taylor's sex scene is Hot!!! 3 stars
11/27/02 Kyle Suspensful & scary. And much better than the sequals. 4 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum Undistinguished slasher film that got out of hand 3 stars
9/30/02 Michael Carruthers Funniest movie I've ever seen! Aye, its not a comedy? It's meant to horror? Funnier!!! Ahaa 1 stars
8/16/02 Scott Talk about gore. Sweeet beheading. Scary as hell also. 4 stars
8/15/02 Shaun scary 3 stars
8/10/02 Michael Carruthers What a horrible film. 1 stars
8/07/02 Venthor One of the better parts. 5 stars
7/13/02 Graham McDonald Sucks big time , stay the hell away from this piece of crap! 1 stars
6/26/02 Joseph Morgan Haunting 4 stars
6/22/02 Jake You gotta love Besty Palmer in this! "Kill her mommy!" "Kill her" "Kill her....ahhhh!" 2 stars
6/18/02 Brandon A Classic!! This movie will last forever 5 stars
6/02/02 I'm in (L) with a Jedi yes, nice weather we're having.... 1 stars
4/24/02 maximal01 This old bitch can shove a poke through a bed and clean through a man from UNDER IT? Nooo.. 2 stars
4/02/02 Film Guy If I was being stalked by a old lady I would beat her ass 1 stars
3/30/02 Film Dude They didn't know the old lady was a killer, she walked up to them asking for hel. 5 stars
3/22/02 masin wolliams the first one is kinda wooden, #s 2-6 kick all kinds of ass, 6 should have been the end. 4 stars
3/09/02 Chowie the start of a revolution..................... 2 stars
1/15/02 David A. The best of the slasher movies. Adrienne King is very effective in the head-chopping scene. 4 stars
12/16/01 Jake Betsy gets under Kevin Bacon. Strip Monopoly playing teens bite the dust. BILL!! BILL?? 2 stars
11/29/01 Rutt13 not neccesarily a "good" film, but a classic of the genre 4 stars
11/29/01 Mr. Hat (formerly Joe Zappa) EricDSnider's a smart dude. The movie's a classic, but it's a classic for being so stupid. 1 stars
10/25/01 Sthenno This film was this gay then,but now it's funny as hell! Crappy directing. 2 stars
9/28/01 Phoenix It was allright the first time, but why did they make eight sequels. 3 stars
9/25/01 Shane Robert Myers!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was good, just fine but... Why did it have to be Jason's mother? 3 stars
9/07/01 darrin perrone the first,the best and the greatest scariest horror of all time 5 stars
8/31/01 The Beyond This movie is one of the greatest.See it uncut if you can! it's great! 5 stars
8/05/01 E-Funk Classic...not great, but demands respect. Does somebody smell Bacon? 5 stars
8/02/01 Chris K. This ripped-off Mario Bava's equaly brilliant TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (1971) 1 stars
4/21/01 Sar This film barely managed to hold my attention, although it did hold one or two surprises! 4 stars
4/13/01 LiL I've said it before and I'll say it again. Here's a nice piece of shit 2 stars
11/04/00 ???????????? Even though I'm giving this an awesome rating,i still think that it's otal dog shit 5 stars
9/03/00 TIGGER I liked this movie a lot, but I do disagree with Justin, it was just as good as Psycho. 4 stars
8/11/00 Justin The brilliant original. The best slasher movie of all time! Makes Psycho look like SHIT! 5 stars
7/29/00 Alan Excellent. A terrifying horror film that I will never get tired of watching. 5 stars
7/18/00 Terrie Smith First in the series which is not saying much for the ones that followed. So-so. 3 stars
4/30/00 Bender Not the best in the series, but still pretty scary. 4 stars
4/30/00 Gus Van Sant ahh,wonderful shite! 1 stars
4/29/00 Ehh... Don't watch this,OR scream,because they both bit the big one!Watch HALLOWEEN! 1 stars
4/13/00 SwatchDog Standard horror flick, at least Parts 2+3 had colorful characters and better scares 4 stars
4/04/00 Gary Durso im giving it avergae becuase it was a starting point for other horror films 3 stars
4/03/00 Tom Robinson Jason is Awesome 5 stars
3/23/00 David Rogers I heard so much about Jason in these movie that I was disappointed not to see him. 2 stars
3/01/00 Kyle Broflovski THIS is a landmark in horror history??? Ummm...Whyyyyyyyyyyy??? 2 stars
1/17/00 Jedi15 Bad acting, dialogue, & effects. Only good point is Betsy Palmer. Watch SCREAM instead. 2 stars
1/02/00 Dan Bentn Worth a look if only for historical reasons 3 stars
10/04/99 rob Pretty boring and badly acted until the ending. The second one was better. 2 stars
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  09-May-1980 (R)
  DVD: 05-Oct-2004

  02-Jul-1980 (18)

  02-Jul-1980 (R)

Directed by
  Sean S. Cunningham

Written by
  Victor Miller

  Betsy Palmer
  Jeannine Taylor
  Robbi Morgan
  Kevin Bacon
  Harry Crosby

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