Slasher films are my favourite horror sub-genre. I know that most people consider them to be the same old recycled shite, over and over, which is true in part but there is something undeniably fun about these films.
Go on. Deny it. Can you? Nope. Told you.
Arguably the first slasher film was Michael Powell’s 1960 horror thriller, Peeping Tom, the same year as Psycho. Slasher movies continued to develop with 1974′s sleazefest Black Christmas and then, in 1978 came Halloween, the quintessential stalk-and-slash movie.
But the slasher film formula as it exists now was cemented in 1980 with the release of a film that has paved the way for almost every slasher film that has come since. It’s had nine direct sequels plus an iconic crossover and spawned a (poor) 2009 remake. It set the legendary back-story for a horror legend and features one of Kevin Bacon’s earliest roles.
It is, of course, Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. The film that broke the mould.
It’s safe to say that Camp Crystal Lake has something of a chequered past. In 1957, a young boy named Jason Voorhees drowned in the lake while the camp counsellors were enjoying a bit of fumbling in the woods. A year later, two camp counsellors have their sneaky sex session interrupted by a killer who brutally murders them both. Now, years later, preparations are underway to re-open the camp…
So now we have a whole new batch of nubile, sexually charged teenage counsellors, all ripe for the slaughter. So one by one they start to fall foul to a faceless killer in the woods. Who is stalking the woods? Why are they killing these kids? Who the hell cares? It’s fucking awesome.
Wanting to set himself aside from his previous association with Wes Craven’s Last House on The Left, Sean S. Cunningham set out to make a fun packed, frightening roller coaster ride of a film and he certainly succeeded. The film received poor reviews but horror fans leapt all over it. Cunningham’s film is now a timeless example of American low-budget horror and the fact that it’s $550,000 budget yielded a box office return of almost $40 million, it stands today as a testament to the fans who saw past the reviews.
The cast of relative unknowns all manage to play their parts well with Kevin Bacon being the only actor involved to go on to great success but this isn’t really a film where the acting is important. Slasher movies are like a series of jokes. We sit through the build up and wait for the punchlines. Only in these films, the punchline is an on-screen slaying. That’s what we want. Acting talent is irrelevant.
However, it isn’t all mindless and the real acting chops are displayed with the arrival of Betsy Palmer late in the game. I’m sure you all know her what her role is and what fate befalls her but in case there is anyone reading this who knows NOTHING of the Friday the 13th mythos, I will not be the one to spoil it for you here.
While there is barely a drop of blood spilt on camera in Halloween, there are lashings of the red stuff on show in this. Special make-up effects come courtesy of everyone’s favourite moustachioed hero, Tom Savini, who also provided SFX work on Dawn and Day of the Dead, Maniac and The Burning. Stabbings and beheadings abound with the most famous death scene (barring the iconic one at the end) has to be that of Kevin Bacon, who having just had some very sexy sex, lies back to smoke a joint only to be grabbed from under the bed and for an arrow to be forced upwards through his neck. It’s gory genius. Sleep well…
Everything about Friday the 13th just WORKS for me. Cunningham’s dark direction, the ropey performances, the gore and of course, Harry Manfredini’s now legendary soundtrack. (Ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma). Friday the 13th is the goofy cousin to serious old Halloween. It’s a much maligned film but it’s simple, gruesome escapism. It’s everything you would want from a slasher movie. The purist in me always heads for Halloween but for those nights when I have people round and we want something fun to watch, I’d look no further than Friday the 13th.
You should do likewise.